Pretty close to the eleventh hour, I was contacted by Jim Wulfekhule, the VP of IWF, to see if I were interested in being part of a small group, dubbed the “GoPro Guys,” that would walk around the show floor and conduct video interviews with any company or product that sparked our interest. Of course I would! Along with me, Ethan Abramson and Corbin Clay would also be taking part.
 
IWF 2016 was the fifth major national show that I have attended, with IWF 2012 being my very first experience, and this was the first year that I was going to be attending the show on my own dime. . .since I was not doing any press work with the Woodworking Network.
 
I did not need to attend the show to scope out any particular products or machinery, as I have pretty much purchased all the big equipment I will need for the foreseeable future, but I wanted to attend mostly to catch up with people that I have met over the years, and the show floor is a great place to reconnect and touch base.
 
 
The unique thing about this format, versus a typical advertorial, is that we had complete control over where we stopped and what we talked about. We only stopped at a company’s booth if their product or service actually interested us and was relevant to our business.
 
This lead me to several of my current suppliers, to learn about new product offerings, or investigate existing products more in-depth,:
  • Grass (Vionaro metal drawer box system)
  • Royce/AYR (TurboTec dust extraction)
  • SurfPrep (LED light bars)
  • American Fabric Filter (shop made bag house system)
  • Kerfcore (BalsaCore panels), and
  • JLT (door clamp machine)

I also wanted to visit brand new companies, like Poettker, for its table extension hardware; and FastenLink, to see its RTA hardware fittings. The fun thing about this format was the fact that nothing was scripted, which gave the videos a more relaxed and natural feel.

I opted to travel to the show early in order to attend the all-day Veneering Symposium. The first half of the symposium was more geared towards the large panel processing companies, with lots of information on hot and cold presses and veneer stitching, but the second half of the day was right up my alley.
 
Paul Schurch, the owner of Schurch Woodwork, talked about the specifics of veneering furniture, and Keith Morgan, owner of Bespoke, discussed how using veneer as the material of choice, allows his company to produce some of the highest quality woodwork available. The symposium was good for me because it whetted my appetite to use more veneers in my custom work, both to stretch my design skills and creativity, and as a way of setting ourselves apart from the competition.
 
The GoPro videos were filmed throughout the three days of the show, but in between sessions, I played my normal role as a business owner, and perused the thousands of booths. I did not have any specific agenda this year except to wander around and see what I could discover, which is the beauty of a show like this. Given its immense size, there are so many previously unknown products and vendors to discover.
 
The first of these discoveries was the table extension hardware from Poettker, which will once and for all solve the issue of how to add leaves to a dining table without inducing a sag in the top. We have used the dovetailed table extensions before, but the top is practically guaranteed to sag, which is unacceptable. Our response has been to fabricate our own table extension slides from 250 pound rated ball-bearing slides.
 
The final product is strong and rigid, but it takes a bit of time to create and is not without its own drawbacks. Poettker makes quite a few table extension systems, so no matter the requirements, they have an offering. Now, I am actually excited for our next dining table commission requiring extensions. They also have a system for installing hidden butterfly table leaves, which I have had requests for in the past, but have come up empty handed during my internet searches.
 
The next round of discoveries involved RTA fittings. As we grow, the custom aspect of our business brings us all sorts of new projects, and lately some of those projects require a hidden fastening system. We need this system to be simple, with a low-cost entry point, yet solid, flexible, and versatile. Among the offerings I came across - Lamello, FastenLink, and Lock Dowel - I was most intrigued by Lock Dowel, mostly because the cabinet software we use, Mozaik, already had the GCode integrated into the software, so using the fastening system would be incredibly easy, and my only investment would be an additional router bit for our CNC machine and an 8mm drill bit. This is not a system we would use all the time, but for specific instances, like the display cases we are building for a local hotel, it may fit the bill perfectly.
 
The show was capped off with the 40 Under 40 awards banquette where I, along with 39 other business peers, were recognized as innovators and leaders in the woodworking industry. Besides receiving the award, this was such a cool event because it brought together so many other people that can directly relate to my struggles and victories as a shop owner. This kind of networking and camaraderie continued long into the night, over dinner and beers, with Corbin Clay and his girlfriend, Ethan Abramson, Brian Grabski, and Matt Buell and his wife.
 
This year's IWF was different that any of the others I have attended over the past four years. I felt more at ease on the show floor, maybe due to the fact that I had no pressing business agenda, I collected all kinds of information and methods that gave me new energy to take back to the shop, and enjoyed some great food and conversation with friends. This year’s show opened my eyes to the fact that the biggest selling point for me is not the show itself, but the people that you meet, the contacts that are made, and the relationships that are created.