I’m just making the trek back to Seattle from a whirlwind trip to Texas during which time I was a guest demonstrator for the Lie-Nielsen Dallas event, spent some quality time with my good friends Jason and Sarah Thigpen and family, and continued the wild ride that has been dubbed (not by me) my “Instagram World Tour.”
Some of the highlights from the Lie-Nielsen show were seeing old friends and making new ones, sharing my passion for handtools and the Community Toolchest Project, and getting two straight days to dink around at a workbench with fancy hand tools and no agenda. Jason and I got to eat absolutely phenomenal Greek food two nights in a row with great people, the Lie-Nielsen crew and Mr. and Mrs. Dowd of Dowd’s tools came out the first night, and the second night, Frank Strazza and his daughter Katilee joined us as well.
A side note on Katilee here, she is probably the coolest, smartest, most responsible and mature 14 year old I’ve ever met. At 14, she already has more knowledge about farming, animal husbandry, country living, and craft than I can hope to learn in a lifetime. We talked for quite a spell about raising goats, chickens, gardening and her passion for cooking. Every Thursday, she cooks a gourmet, many course, from scratch meal for her whole family. And all this amidst juggling her homeschool studies, farm chores, weaving classes, studying violin, and babysitting duties for her five younger brothers.
After hearing about Mrs. Dowd’s famous pies all the way in Seattle, I had no complaints when our bench was placed right across from theirs for the weekend. Usually a pie purist, I was shocked about the heaven that was each bite of her Jalapeno Cherry pie, her apple crumb pie, and her chocolate espresso pecan pie. You should know the weight a pie endorsement from me comes with: up till now, I refused to eat any pie that was not: Plain Apple, Plain Huckleberry or Rhubarb Custard (NO STRAWBERRIES), and hand made from scratch by myself, my mother, my sister, my grandmother. I had the time of my life talking pies with Mrs. Dowd and sitting in Jason’s Roorkhee chair talking to Mr. Dowd about vintage tools during the show lulls.
I was excited to reconnect with John Parkinson, who I’d met at the LN show in Seattle and hear about his upcoming move. I was also pretty excited I finally convinced him to join Instagram- give him a follow @parkinsonfurniture.
I finally got to meet Curtis Turner in real life, an Instagram favorite of mine and turning legend. He later invited Jason and I to his shop for a private lesson- but more on that later. I also got to watch Frank Strazza from the Heritage School of Woodworking make the dovetail marker I’ve watched him make so many times in his videos. He autographed it and donated it to the Community Toolchest, then invited Jason and I for a private after hours tour of the Heritage School of Woodworking. I’m still pretty giddy about that one.
Charlie Simpson remembered that I had really loved a painting his wife made of our mutual friend Roy Shack’s horse a few months back. He brought me a print that I cannot wait to build frame for and put up in my shop. Dan Phillips, an insanely talented woodworker out of Dallas brought me a vintage chisel I’ve been looking for to complete a set for months, then invited us to come hang out at his AWESOME space in an old Ford Manufacturing plant after the show. We had a great time talking woodwork and hanging out with his super cute kids.
Jason and I were floored at the steady stream of people throughout the weekend who came up and introduced themselves, saying that they’d come out to meet us in person after they’d seen our post on Instagram. One of the most memorable conversations we had was with Jim from Alaska who had no shortage of encouragement for the two of us getting a young start in the Handtool Woodworking world.
Another thing I’m not soon to forget was the spoon carving session of epic proportions Jason and I had in his hotel room Friday night. I don’t quite understand how the few branches we brought along with us turned into the colossal mess of shavings we sheepishly left for the maid service when he checked out, but even after a concerted effort to clean up, it looked like a tree had literally exploded in his room. We talked about life and family and beliefs as we laughed a lot and carved a little. Jason’s first spoon broke and I gave up on mine around 3am, but I’ll try to get it finished at home before it dries out.
Packing up after the show was just the beginning of our wild adventure though, because we drove straight to the Homestead Heritage Village for a private tour with Frank and his daughter Katilee. They took us in the gift barn where we were able to get up close and personal with several pieces of furniture Frank and his students had made. We looked at gorgeous examples of the type of weaving Katilee is studying, caressed smooth hand carved spoons and hand thrown pottery, and saw some of the work of Caleb, the Community’s resident blacksmith. Then we headed to the woodworking shop and saw the facilities that are turning out the next generation of handtool woodworkers. Frank convinced us (no hard task) to make the 1.5 hour drive back a few days later so we could see the whole facility in operation during working hours. We bade them both goodbye and drove the rest of the way home to Austin.
We spent the next three days hanging out with Jason and Sarah’s three precious kiddos Jackson, Barrett, and Turner. Amidst tickle fights with the kids, Jason and Sarah taught me how to stitch leather and I gave Jason a few tips on turning on the lathe.
Jason and I had been talking about collaborating on a project together while I was visiting, and we were able to churn out three super fancy fly swatters, one for each of us, and one to give away as a thanks to the Instagram community that kindled our friendship and opened doors for relationships that have literally changed both of our lives forever.
Tuesday came, and that meant it was time to head over to Curtis Turner’s shop for a celebrity turning lesson. He taught me that I’ve been turning bowls all wrong and that my face shield should no longer be a decoration on my wall, but a fixture on my lathe so I never forget to wear it. He explained when to use a bowl gouge and when to use a scraper (it was also nice to learn the proper names for those two tools, I am not quite sure how I missed those bits of information in my many prior lathe instructionals. He and Jason worked on leaving a smooth edge and the ABC’s of lathe chisel safety, Angle, Bevel, Cut. After leaving half a tree in the hotel in Dallas, I was excited about having a nice, light suitcase on my return flight to Seattle, but alas, Curtis sent me home with a half finished bowl (homework) and a nice big chunk of Texas Osage Orange (and I’m not complaining one bit!).
We then headed back out to Waco to take in the rest of the Homestead Heritage Village. Since we had Jason’s wife Sarah with us this trip, we started back in the gift barn, a hand hewn structure the Heritage community saved from being demolished on the East Coast, then brought back to Texas and re-assembled. As it turns out, many of the structures in the Heritage village have a similar story- including a fully functional water powered stone grist mill for grinding flower! We showed Sarah the furniture, crafts, and quilts, the local honeys and jams, and all the other awesome things the Gift Barn offered.
We went from the Gift Barn to the woodshop ogled the handtools and watched a class on building a rocking chair taking place, then moved on to the blacksmith shop, where we got to meet Caleb, the Community’s resident blacksmith.
Caleb spent the better part of an hour explaining his work, his training, and some future plans. He showed us his hand forged dividers he hopes to have ready for Handworks. He then forged a leaf shaped key ring for Jason right before our eyes. I’ve often heard it said that an expert will make the most difficult of tasks look easy. Let’s just say I walked out of there thinking I should take up blacksmithing.
Frank shared an outstanding meal with Jason, Sarah and I at the Village café. Many (perhaps all, but I’d need to confirm that) of the ingredients in our meal were grown right on the Community property. The grassfed beef burger and sweet potato fries were hands down the best I’ve ever eaten. Jason and Sarah had similar sentiments about their meals as well. Frank then took us to an outlook from which we could see much of the Community’s farming property. I looked out at the old style windmills, turning in the breeze, the quiet fields, the gentle mooing of distant cows, watched two kittens chasing each other below, and thought “this is the kind of life I want.”
Having recently purchased a small farm and started a woodworking business, I know the amount of work a life like that entails. Making a living building things and farming is no walk in the park, but eating food you grew on a table you built with people you love is a fairy tale I can stand behind. The time I spent at the Homestead Heritage Village left me feeling inspired, energized, and excited to jump into the busy spring season at my farm with both feet upon my return. And the great thing is, I now know a 14 year old I can call and ask for advice the first time my goats have kids and the next time I try to tan a hide.
The drive home from Waco was a somber one, because it also indicated the end of my visit to Texas. Our “real” lives being spread across the country, Jason and Sarah and I decided early in our friendships to dig deep and make our times together count. In a world full of nodding acquaintances and surface level friendships, we wanted to share something real and not waste a single moment; to encourage, to support, and to share life, knowledge, joys and hurts with one another. I’m honored to call these Internet buddies some of my most beloved friends, and I cannot thank Instagram enough for connecting us. We most certainly did not waste a single moment this trip, and I’m liable to sleep for a week when I finally get home, but WOW. What a ride.