Notes from the 2013 American Association of Woodturners Symposium

This was my first time attending the AAW Symposium, hosted by the American Association of Woodturners. Here are some quick notes:

  • I registered on site for just one day attendance, $175. Very nice printed and spiral bound program guide, full color. Profiles and contact info for the presenters included, plus some tips and projects.
  • Schedule was three days, Friday-Sunday, with four sessions of 1.5 hours each. Breaks are an hour, lunch is an hour and a half. I like the longer sessions, especially given the nature of the presentations. Longer breaks were a bit too long for me, but that might also be because I didn’t have as many people I wanted to talk to during breaks.
  • 16 tracks! That includes one for kids and one devoted to more general craft-y work.
  • Food is not included. Hot breakfast was $8 for food, $3.50 for coffee. Given the registration price that seems fine to me, gives people an option, I imagine many ate at the hotel before coming to the event.
  • I spent Friday afternoon wandering the expo and gallery. Lots of vendors, big and small. Nice to see a lot of smaller companies there. Overall the turning market seems like a decent one, lots of innovation. The stuff in the gallery was simply amazing – so far beyond what I can do or even think of doing it awes me, and inspires me to try more.  I saw prices ranging from $50 to $24,000. Yes, $24k.
  • They do a silent auction on quite a few items made by exhibitors/contributors. Low tech, just a sign up sheet in front of each piece, you write down your name, bid, and phone number. I bid on two items that had no bids and ended up being the sole bidder, so I brought home two nice gifts for my wife!
  • Every room has a full sized lathe. There is a Plexiglas shield in front in case something goes awry.
  • There is also a metal frame around the lathe to support two cameras. Think something about the size of an aluminum ladder in a U-shape about six feet high and eight feet across. One camera was mounted for an overhead view – works well unless the presenter really leans forward. The other was set to view from the side. One at a time would be projected on the main screen. It also had additional lights mounted focused on the work and a monitor so the presenter could see what the camera was capturing. For some presentations one camera was set on the flip chart so we could see the drawings that explained things.
  • It’s interesting to see the ways that they’ve solved some problems. For example, one presenter had two lathes, one with a motor and one without – he used a big belt and a home made pulley to transfer power from one lathe to another. Another made a small parting tool out of a bandsaw blade just for making a tiny 1/16” glue relief cut. The solutions don’t have the polish of a store bought tool (if you could find one that did the same), but they are elegant in that they directly and inexpensively solving a problem.
  • The demographic here is white men age 40 and up, incredibly noticeable from the back of the room as there is a sea of silver, gray, white, and bald heads! I chalk that up to it being a hobby that requires time and money, something that comes in middle age or probably more often in retirement.
  • One presenter showed a video of a technique but did live narration. Very interesting. Can pause, rewind, and it’s something an attendee can look at again afterward for a refresher. Not as compelling as a live demonstration, but nice when used as a supplement.
  • The Tampa Convention Center is very nice. It’s ranked 22nd on the list of convention centers, so possibly big enough for a PASS Summit. It’s on the Riverwalk which is a very nice view.

Here is one of the more interesting projects I saw, a vase made of colored pencils encased in acrylic:


Here is a lathe (about $5k) with an extension bed (anther $2400 or so), so I have some lathe envy! That’s about a 6 foot long turning, the wheel looking thing in the middle is a ‘steady rest’ that damps down vibration on long and/or thin turnings.


Here is a typical room, showing the lathe at the front and the metal frame for lights and cameras.


Looking back, I had a good time. I’m definitely thinking of doing the full event the next year. Just like any conference, seeing the variety of ideas and techniques is a good way to grow and recharge. I wish I had signed up in advance just to see more of the messages to attendees. I can also see that I would probably do better to spend on a class instead of the conference for one year, boost my skills so that I could get even more out of the presentations.