Visit to the WA Wood Show

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After a few weeks of heady anticipation, I today had my first visit to the WA Wood Show. To sum it up: I can’t wait ‘til next year!

The show was held at the Claremont Show Grounds across three days from Friday through Sunday. A few of the Friday talks caught my eye but as I ended up working Friday, I went on Saturday; apart from a chainsaw mill setup outside, everything was indoors at the Jubilee Pavilion—the pavilion is big but it was busy from the time I arrived just past ten and stayed that way until 3:30. Parking was free—where can you say that these days?!

My wife was sleeping off a night at work and I decided to go on my own since I didn’t want to be worrying about boring a friend or family member who’s not really interested in wood. My “style” at these kind of events is a bit weird: I circulate frequently but quickly, surveying the layout and goings on and slowly zeroing in on my interests. My wife would have been bored stiff but I’ve got to say thanks to the handful youthful women who did come along with their men and made what would have otherwise been a Viagra-filled sausage party much more tolerable for younger gents like myself—WA woodworker’s girlfriends and wives are hot!

Despite being busy, the stands felt generally well laid-out and not squeezed in. It was great having all of the big shops with a lot of their large equipment displayed in the one spot, although—despite having all hands on deck—chatting with the sales reps was difficult. In addition to Carbatec, Power Tools and Machinery Sales were there along with Beyond Tools, Timbecon, and the local Felder reseller. I don’t recall an Alltools booth labelled as such but they were there in some form.

On the manufacturer side, most of the retailers listed above had side stands set up showing off Festool (it was actually quite a large display) and Makita (I’m pleased to know I paid a bit less—with shipping—for my Makita LS1214 SCMS than the one I saw advertised today ;-). There was also a Dewalt and Black and Decker break out; Jet and Powermatic were covered by PTMS and Hitachi, Bosch, and Metabo were covered as well by other retailers. On theWA Wood Show hand tools side, Lee-Nielson had what looked like all of their hand planes and a bunch of chisels, saws, and rasps on display—a good effort considering the only way to purchase their gear that I’m aware of is through their US web site. I didn’t see much on the Veritas side.

I want to single out Lee-Nielson in particular because it was really nice to be able to hold their stuff and actually try it out on a block of wood they had in the vice for that purpose. The reps were Australian but I don’t know of anyone selling Lee-Nielson planes in WA; since Lee-Nielson make expensive stuff, it was awesome touching/feeling/trying. Until today I had yet to have a really positive plane experience so it’s good having something to compare against even if I don’t buy top of the range. That said, I really liked the low angle block plane with the adjustable mouth and I’ve got my eye on the mid and large-size shoulder planes (I didn’t see the bull nose plane, now that I think of it). I also tried the 4 1/2 smoothing plane and it was a pleasure to use.

Apart from new tools, there was also a display of used and antique hand tools, many of which were for sale. I’m not a subscriber but the Australian Wood Review magazine was also there and I think Australian Woodsmith were too—both selling back issues.

Forget the tools though, it’s all about the wood, right? What’s that ever-growing collection of tools in the garage then?! Anyway, the volume of wood for sale was stupendous. Apart from the chainsaw mill setup outside where the guys were milling full logs, a surprisingly large number of timber suppliers turned up with their wares in tow—one outfit even came from afar away as NSW!

I’d never previously seen a proper slab up close and the number of beautiful slabs on sale was incredible—big, small, and everything from local jarrah to red cedar and rosewood. Considering their size I was surprised how economically priced they seemed: $500-900 for something, say, 1m wide by 2-2.5m long? There was also a really nice selection of other wood for sale. I hadn’t yet found a lot of these guys in previous internet searches so today was a great opportunity to get a feel for some of the local mills and compare prices.

On the talk/demo side, I found myself glued to Richard Vaughan and I actually attended all five of his sessions (scrapers, glue, rasps and files, planes, tips and tricks). As someone fairly new to all of this, I hadn’t previously heard of Richard but he seems to be a regular speaker on the wood show circuit. Richard is an inspiring speaker and by the looks of his work, an Richard Vaughan amazing designer craftsman. Despite working at the high end of the art form, he’s remarkably connected to the basics of woodwork and people like me just starting out. I couldn’t stay away and had to force myself to check out the rest of the show between sessions. I also attended the jigs talk by the Fine Woodworkers Association of WA and finally understand how to to attach wooden tops to wooden frames!

Speaking of the Fine Woodworkers Association, they seemed to be responsible for the student furniture exhibition at one end of the pavilion. The exhibition was primarily comprised of projects by year eleven and twelve students. The work was stunning and I hope the parents of these kids are tremendously proud because there were some beautiful pieces of furniture on display. Sure, I spotted a few imperfections but what have I built on that scale recently? And a better question: what was I doing in grade 11/12?!?.

On my final lap around the show floor I stopped to watch Stan Ceglinski doing his thing. I’d seen his area earlier in the day and heard some hoohar about an axe race or somesuch and continued quickly on my way. I regret that now—or at least not coming back to watch Stan in action before he knocked off around 4pm to join the bluegrass band—it’s an incredible experience watching someone like Stan work. I did catch the tail end of him making a whacking board for an older woman to use on her husband: he roughed out the piece with some kind of axe and finished it off with a draw knife. Seeing his understanding of the wood structure put to practice and his ability to extract a three-dimensional form from what was a log moments before is a really earthy experience.

Last but not least, I stopped by the Carbatec setup to price up the 8” jointer and 15” thicknesser. Both were on special for $50 off their regular prices and I was promised a further $50 for buying both together; an okay deal but not quite the discount I’m after for nearly $3000 worth of machinery. The show sale is extended until “the end of next week” (I’m not sure what that means) and they’ve promised to extend the double purchase discount while I mull over my choices—of which I don’t have many. I’ve ruled out Sherwood because the forums suggest their stuff is rubbish; the next step up is Jet and the 8” Jet jointer is $2500; nope, that doesn’t include the thicknesser. Metabo may be an option but I have yet to see anything of theirs I like and I’m not sure they make decent jointers or planers. Other options at the Carbatec prices? Dunno.

Apart from a stack of business cards for the mills and the PTMS catalog, I left empty handed but completely buzzed by the experience. The only thing I’d really like to see at a future show is some kind of woodie’s collective. The FW Association seems a bit too formal with nomination forms and membership fees… it would be great to have a booth setup for the sole purpose of introducing yourself to other WA woodworkers interested in chatting further.


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