Woodworking in America 2015
Woodworking in America 2015
On the close of another Woodworking in America conference it is with an excitement and enthusiasm for my craft that I leave Kansas City. After missing WIA14, it was great to return to the predominant woodworking conference of the year.
As I learned years ago, WIA classes are an important – but not central – aspect of the conference. As a rule, I don’t look at the class schedule until I check in on the Thursday before the conference.
I don’t mean to say the classes aren’t worthwhile – they are. For the most part, the classes are fantastic. It’s just that I’ve learned a few things from attending so many WIAs. I’ve learned that what makes or breaks a class is the instructor, not the topic. I offer Adam Cherubini as an example from WIAs past. I will never work as he does, however I’ll attend every WIA lecture he ever puts on. Adam is a nice, interesting instructor who is fun to watch and learn from no matter how your work.
As the conference is always bringing new instructors in, it’s hard to know which classes will be best until you meet the instructors. Other attendees you meet at the conference are helpful at learning who is good and who is not. My advice is to look at the schedule when you arrive, make a preliminary itinerary of classes, and then relax. Enjoy the conference and let it take you where it may. Some of the most fun I’ve had in classes are the ones where I simply followed my friends in and was surprised by the presentation.
This year, I saw phenomenal classes on bent lamination and chair design from Jeff Miller. Alf Sharp’s class on classical furniture design influences was wonderfully informative and entertaining. I also saw great instructors put on great classes on topics foreign to me, such as Tom Fidgen’s kerfing plane and Vic Tesolin’s minimalist woodworking.
As I’ve come to expect from WIAs past, there were wonderful classes and instructors.
I missed WIA14, so I can only compare to WIAs in years passed. However, in that context the marketplace was a disappointment. It never seemed full. There were empty vendor spaces and the isles never seemed crowded. Even the Hand Tool Olympics – normally a hub of activity and participation – was calm and quite. There was sometimes a crowd at the video woodworkers booth, but this was more of a meet and greet than the interaction and instruction which surrounds the Hand Tool Olympics.
Of the vendors who were there, Lie Nielsen and Lee Valley anchored the marketplace as usual. I had fun seeing my friend Scott Meek of Scott Meek Woodworks showcase his wonderful planes. It was also great to meet Mark of Plate 11 Workbenches and Jason of Texas Heritage Woodworker. I had fun teasing and being teased by Mike Siemsen of Mike Siemsen’s School of Woodworking.
Woodworkers are why Woodworking in America works. You meet like-minded, friendly folk and spend three (3) days and nights with them. Of course I hung out with my fellow Modern Woodworker, Tom. We met and hung with too many old and new friends to list here. Sorry if I didn't include a photo. I only included the clear photos I had of individuals.
The evening activities of WIA are always fun, and I think one of the most enjoyable parts of the conference. This year we had a well-attended MWA meetup on Thursday, a great trip with old friends to a small Barbeque joint on Friday and the Woodworking for Mere Mortals meetup on Saturday. There were too many evening activities to attend them all and each night you could always find a bunch of conference attendees hanging out in the hotel lobby/bar after the events were over.
The people of WIA do not disappoint.
The venue and location were the big disappointments of WIA15. The venue, Sheraton Kansas City Hotel at Crown Center was a nice enough hotel, but a mediocre conference venue at best. The class rooms were not all grouped together, though they did manage to all be across the hotel from the marketplace and registration. Compared to the home venue of the Northern Kentucky Convention Center used when WIA is in Cincinnati, the Sheraton Kansas City Hotel at Crown Center was sub-par.
The real failure was the location. I’m not familiar enough with Kansas City to say if this was a result of the area of the city we were in or if this how the whole City is. Regardless, it was not conductive to a conference which supports community the way WIA does. If you attended WIA without a car (as you should be able to) you were stuck walking for 10 to 30 minutes to find anything – Breakfast outside the hotel bar, coffee when the hotel coffee shop closed (at 2:00 pm), Lunch, Dinner – anything.
I have said it before and I will say it again. What makes WIA great is that you live and breathe woodworking. Setting it in a venue which interrupts this, only detracts from the event.
Venue aside, WIA15 was a great event. The classes, marketplace and people made it one of the best weekends I’ve had in a long time and a worthy successor to past WIAs. While I hope next year’s event is at a better venue, I’ll be there no matter where it is. I’ll be there with bells on.