A veteran’s woodworking journey

 The Journey by Ken Aucremanne

For the first leg of this journey, I head out with only two planned stops: the first at the annual Woodworking in America conference in Kansas City, Missouri, and the second at the Sam Maloof Workshop and Foundation in Rancho Cucamonga, CA. With 10 days between the events, I figured the time could be spent meeting with woodworkers along the way, and doing a bit of carving myself. So I packed for the trip:

  • Cameras, audio gear, and computers
  • Enough camping gear to turn my family minivan into an RV for one
  • Carving chisels for my personal project
  • At least 3 ways to brew coffee.
  • Extra flannel lumberjack attire.

The day before leaving I picked up a piece of basswood to carve on.

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All right, so the “bit of carving” might be an understatement. This honkin’ monster is a 66” long, 28” wide basswood log from a great boutique sawmill, Phillips Sawmill near Buckhannon, WV. It took a crane to get the darned thing into my U-Haul trailer. My plan is to carve a statue of a sailor as a means of self-reflection. Remember, this is my therapy, too. I harbor no disillusions about my ability to finish this carving in this trip, but I do plan on getting it started. Besides, the artist/director in me wants to see some cinematic shots of this log being carved along the trip In hindsight, moving a 400+ pound log by oneself is a logistics nightmare and will reek havoc on the spine, enlist helpers and a winch… but we’ll get to that later.

With log in tow and the van loaded with all requisite sundries (coffee beans, power bars, assorted crunchy goodness, and water) neatly packed away, the last step in the process was to say goodbye to my family. After my time in the Navy, any period away from my family longer than a few days is difficult, but I’m lucky to have a wife that shares in this conviction. She is also a vet, so she keenly understands the necessity of this journey for my own healing, and for the benefit of our brothers and sisters in arms that need an outlet of their own.

The departure was bittersweet. I still don’t know if that last hug was enough to assuage my wife’s fears and uncertainties regarding this trip, but she stayed strong for my sake throughout the goodbyes, and on that day in mid-September, the journey began.

The first stop on the journey was Kansas City, Missouri for the annual Woodworking in America conference held by Popular Woodworking. The 875-mile drive was long but painless, with a brief stop in Kentucky’s bourbon country for antique tool hunting,, a liquid souvenir, and an adze and crosscut saw from Woodcraft in Louisville. Entertainment for the trip was provided by a Roy Underhill narration of the classic The Joiner and Cabinetmaker, which was a delightful way to set the mood for such a journey.  The log and I pulled into Kansas City late in the evening, and we settled into our room for a 4-day, star struck trip into one of the woodworking world’s better events.

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Woodworking in America was a strategic choice indeed, as many of the instructors and experts I wanted to recruit for the film were teaching at the event. If you haven’t been to a large woodworking show like this one or Handworks, you owe it to yourself to check it out. It’s nice to be surrounded by friendly woodworkers that are just as passionate and obsessed about this hobby as you are. As an added bonus, many of the leading toolmakers, large and small, are lined up ready and willing to empty your pockets. It was tempting to blow the entire (limited) film budget on tools, but I managed to escape tool row with only three brag-worthy purchases:

  • A particularly nice copper-backed, walnut handled hybrid tenon saw from Bad Axe Toolworks. Mark is a veteran of the Special Forces… couldn’t help it.
  • A blacksmith-made adze from Black Bear Forge
  • A waxed canvas and leather chisel roll from Texas Heritage Woodworks

 

While a noteworthy addiction itself, tool shopping was certainly not the goal of this trip. I had plenty of questions to ask of this gaggle of master craftsmen, and since I had my own absurd collection of film tools handy, I proceeded to up-end the second queen bed in my hotel room and convert the space into a film studio for interviews.

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In the next articles, we’ll get a chance to meet some of these woodworking masters, and get their take on woodworking as a healing art.

 

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