Saturday, July 30, 2011

New Summertime Woodworking grads

There were a couple of TDs (technical difficulties) that I encountered when trying to make this slide show, but luckily, I solved them. If anything - I'm one persistent blogger.

Here are some recent graduates of two classes I was teaching; these classes ended a few weeks ago. These students might have been one of the most inexperienced group of people that I've had in the shop in a long time. In the end - they all managed to not only make great projects, but also gained a thorough understanding of all the tools. That's a goal of mine - I want people to figure out if woodworking is actually something they want to do, or if it's just something they wanted to try. There's a big difference!

Congrats to all!

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Final thoughts on the AWFS show

The AWFS Show has come and gone, and it was an incredibly hectic week. I attended a handmade chairbuilding seminar with one of the best builders out there - Jeff Miller.

Jeff was intense about his work - I like that passion in a woodworker. He complimented his discussion with some slides and an array of tools and techniques.

The cool part about attending a class like this is that they set up a woodshop in the classroom, and actually build things in front of you. There is nothing like seeing angled tenons cut right in front of you, to understand the process.

I sure wish I could justify purchasing one of these tenon cutters, but they're pricey and - frankly, I would probably use it twice a year. Still.... a girl can dream...

The Fresh Wood competition was fierce, as it always is. This is a furniture competition featuring work from high school and college students. Amazing work! Here are some of my favorite examples.

A guitar built by a high school kid! I don't know many adult woodworkers who could pull that off!

Someone must have been studying Wendell Castle's work. This laminated and carved table gave me flashbacks of the 70's.

There were quite a few excellent examples of seating.

And more musical instruments. Nice.

Ping pong and game tables seemed to be popular, too.

But finally, my two favorite pieces - both by students of The College of the Redwoods. This simple but gorgeous bench in Walnut was amazing. It's funny how I can spot work by students who study at this school - their style is similar, yet each one puts their own thumbprint on their work.

Here is my favorite piece of the show - Bonner Armbruster's cabinet entitled "Miss Peaches" was just gorgeous, with it's understated lines and handmade hardware. I would have loved a chance to open the doors and peek inside.

I just looked online to see who won Best of Show, and well... I've got to tell you - I wrote this blog before I knew who won. Wow - do I know how to call it! Congrats to Candice and Bonner for their winning entries. (How did I do that?!)

Finally, some last thoughts about the show. There seemed to be more enthusiasm in the air, but still - many of the major tool manufacturers didn't attend.

In a perfect world, I would own this jointer.

The guys at the Jet booth were tools. I was with someone who would have bought this lathe, had they bothered to come over and speak with us. Apparently it was more important to sit and BS with each other, than actually go over and speak to someone who was looking at their tools.

This laser engraved software program made some amazing carved panels,

and did some amazing things to plywood panels.

A little swag to bring home. I mean, who doesn't need a miniature caster keychain?

Some nice stainless steel waterbottles from the Wurth/Louis & Company booth.

The KerfKore booth

had one of the coolest set-ups, with it's never ending automated flexible door opening and closing.

After a long day of walking through miles of aisles, I was ready for a cold one when I got home. Luckily, Rockler took care of keeping my beer cold

with a very cool wood grained can cooler.

Friday, July 22, 2011

AWFS® (Association of Woodworking & Furnishings Suppliers) show in Vegas

Well... this is exciting. The AWFS is finally in town, and I'm headed there for the second time this week. You can feel excitement in the air, unlike two years ago, at the last show. There are more exhibitors, with better booths, stocked with everything from abrasives to ... well, I can't think of anything woodworking thing that starts with a Z right now. It's too early in the morning.

The crowds have started lining up well before the doors open. That's probably a good sign.

Belt sander races. Need I say more?

It's hard not to get excited when these signs greet you.

My agenda for the day is to check out the Fresh Wood student woodworking competition display and the AWFS Fair bookstore. Hopefully, I'll squeeze in another visit to the tool hall, to check out the wide belt sander that I'm considering purchasing.

Hopefully, I'll get some good pics and maybe some swag. Stay tuned!

Monday, July 18, 2011

If you think technology is stagnant right now...

This is absolutely amazing. I'm at a loss for words.

Friday, July 15, 2011

SawStop customer service - maybe best in the industry

It has been a couple of months since I bought the second SawStop for the school, and it's been a huge help in eliminating log-jams in the shop. A couple of nights ago, a chair-design class was in session, and we were making some tricky cuts on the saw. Those cuts took a little bit of time to set up, and having two saws was a huge asset.

The new Contractor's saw is a pretty sweet tool, considering it's price and power. I noticed something that puzzled me - on this new saw, the blade raises and lowers with remarkable ease, while on the other saw - the big-mama Industrial Cabinet Saw - the crank that controls blade height has been getting harder and harder to turn.

A call to SawStop assured me it wasn't my imagination - they immediately knew what the problem was, and how to fix it.

A few days later, the new part - this shaft key - arrived.

Darrin in customer service has never let me down. In fact, after we discussed this repair, he thought about it and called me back to tell me he was going to ship out a device to help pull that handle shaft out of the saw. He said that it's sometimes difficult to remove, and thought I would probably need the puller, so he just shipped that too, asking that I return it when I was finished. He even included a postage paid return label - pretty nice of him to do that!

Luckily, after loosening the set screws that held everything in place, the handle and shaft came right out. Here is the culprit of the problem - a key that apparently mushroomed out a bit, causing some metal-on-metal rubbing.

Out with the old, in with the new.

I cleaned the shaft and lubed it with some grease.

The shaft, cleaned and ready for the new key.

Slipped in place.

The hardest part was getting everything into position to re-align these gears. There were a few washers

as well as another key to install. Plus - this isn't the most convenient location in which to preform this repair. Still, at the most, it took about twenty minutes.

Those gear teeth are razor sharp, and my thumb has some small slices on it that prove that point.

It doesn't matter what the size of the repair is - I make a hell of a mess when working on a tool!

I want to congratulate SawStop on their excellent service. I've probably called them for information or parts a half dozen times, and they've never let me down. They might have one of the best customer service departments I've ever dealt with - period.

There is a huge debate about these saws - are they worth the money, are people who buy them simply lazy woodworker - looking to keep their fingers safe? The debate goes on and on. But I'll tell you this - I find three major reasons to own own of these saws.

First - they are excellent machines. I've owned many other tablesaws in the past - and before I purchased this, I would have to saw that my Unisaw was my saw of choice. This beats the Unisaw hands down.

Second - the safety factor is a huge plus. I still urge my students to always be attentive and act as if the flesh detection system isn't there. You still much maintain a high level of concentration while using this saw, because there is always the chance that the brake cartridge could fail.

Third - customer service. Have you ever owned a car and loved the way the dealer took care of you? Lexus owners know what I'm talking about - everything from the "food court" inside the service area to the fact that they'll wash your car after they've worked on it. It's the little things that add up, making you want to purchase another one from them. That's how I feel about SawStop. Their machines are great, but their support is even better.

Apple Computer is another company that comes to mind when I think of great customer support. I can't tell you how many times I've gone to one of their stores to have some problem diagnosed, like with an iPod or an Airport, and if they couldn't fix it on the spot, they've simply replaced the item, even if it's out of warranty.

Now that is customer service. Keep it up, guys!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Is a Festool vacuum worth the price?

There's a good reason why I bought the biggest vacuum that Festool makes.

It's all about the dust control!

As a woodworker with asthma, I'm constantly trying to minimize the dust I that make in the shop. That's not always easy. But - when I connect a sander to this vacuum, there simply isn't any airborne dust at all. Period.

That's the good news. Even better - when I recently had to empty the dust bag in this machine, I was shocked (in a great way!) to find not a single bit of dust inside the machine. Amazing. Not a speck.

Changing a bag is simple - pop the top

and disconnect the bag from it's port. Pull it up and out.

The fitting is a rubber hose that fits tightly into a port - but even cooler - there is a cap attached to the bag. When you disconnect a full bag, you can quickly pop on the cap, so that no dust can escape.

Pretty awesome, in my book.

What wasn't necessarily so awesome were the instructions for installing a new bag. I know, it should be pretty simple, but I wanted to make sure I was going it correctly. I looked in the vacuum manual, which was incredibly lame - no instructions. It basically said - read the instructions on the bag.

So here's what the bag said:

and this:

Ummm.... OK, I guess I can figure that out. I put the new bag in the vac, making sure the hose was in the correct position.

They press together quite nicely, forming a tight seal.

Festool really put some thought into this tool - I especially like the lid support.

It locks the lid up in place, so you have full access to the bag cavity. Sweet.

Ready to go back to work!

This is the first woodshop vac that I've ever owned that utilized bags. All the others have simply been open containers, and frankly, emptying them is way too messy. I could get very spoiled with this Festool system, despite the fact that the system is ridiculously expensive. I mean, this vac is over $500! Even the bags are pricey - over $7 a piece. Ouch.

So my opinion about the vac? Would I buy it again? Would I buy another one? One thing I haven't mentioned is how quiet this vacuum is - which is another amazing feature about this tool. There are times when I've actually walked over to the vac while I'm sanding, to make sure that it's running. That's sort of silly, since the first givaway would be airborne dust. But this machine is so quiet, you barely know it's there, unlike other shop vacs I own.

Next - an amazing feature is it's tool integration plug. Simply plug any tool into the vac - be it a router, sander, saw - whatever, and when you turn that tool on and use it, the vac automatically comes on. I know, you're probably thinking - big deal, for $500, it should give you a backrub at the end of the night.

But the plug feature, as well as it's delayed shut off (to clear the hose of dust when the tool is shutting down) is pretty awesome. I can't tell you how many times I'll turn on a sander for just ten or twenty seconds, just to touch something up. If I had to manually turn on my vac - well, I just know myself and know that I would neglect to turn the vac on for such a short time. But with them being connected, it happens without fail. This feature alone makes me swoon with tool appreciation.

Hell yes! I'd buy this machine again. In fact, I wish I could afford another one right now!