Category Archives: Spotlight

Important People: Jim Heavey

There have been a bunch of folks who have had a major influence on Tom’s Workbench over the past five years. I wanted to take the time to recognize a few of the folks with which the blog would have never happened.

Today, I send a shout-out to Jim Heavey, Contributing Craftsman at Wood Magazine. 

If there was an all-around nice guy award for woodworkers, I would nominate Jim. I first had the opportunity to meet him at the Woodworking Show here in Tampa a few years back. He was demonstrating some very classy-looking and labor-saving ways of embellishing projects – real rocket science stuff for me. I must have annoyed the crap out of everyone at the booth that day, asking about a thousand questions about the process, but Jim took the time to answer each of them clearly and with a great sense of humor.

After his presentation, we had a chance to catch up, and I offered to do a woodworking spotlight on him. During the e-mails back and forth, I made the causal offer for him to come over the house the next year for some home cooking on the road. He accepted, and the following year, he had his first taste of my jambalaya. I think he’s hooked!

Jim still takes the time to answer all of my inane questions. When I was looking to design a push stick to hold pieces vertically against my router table, Jim was full of intelligent, useful suggestions that made the design safer and easier to use.

Even today, we still ask about each other and our families, and I look forward to his return every spring to the Florida State Fairgrounds to catch up with my good friend.

BTW – today is post number 992



Important People: Eric Poirier

There have been a bunch of folks who have had a major influence on Tom’s Workbench over the past five years. I wanted to take the time to recognize a few of the folks with which the blog would have never happened.

Today, I send a shout-out to Eric Poirier of Bell Forest Products, who has been keeping me in the know when it comes to wood!

Our business relationship began when I was looking for some help with an article about how to buy wood online. Eric couldn’t go out of his way enough for me, describing the harvesting, ordering and shipping process for something that I found totally intriguing. I mean, buying wood, sight unseen….

A few months later, I got a package addressed to me from Bell Forest Products. My wife eyed me suspiciously as I unwrapped the bundle, and it turned out to be a box of sample woods that Bell offered for sale. It was at that point that I approached Eric to see if he would be interested in coming on board as a sponsor.

That turned out to be the beginning of a great relationship that still goes on today. Eric and the folks at Bell are really great people. About every month, Eric recommends some exotic wood for me to spotlight on the blog. Flame birch. Snakewood. Mayan Walnut. This process has opened my eyes to the world of wood that goes far beyond what’s available at the local home center.

The other thing I have noticed about Eric is that when I find myself in a particular situation, he’s more than eager to do a little searching in the kiln for me. When I built my Nakashima-Inspired bench, I was looking for a piece of wood – two live edges, striking figure.. something to really stand out. “Give me a week or so, I think we have something in the kiln that might catch your interest.”

What he sent was something that epic songs are written about – a piece of live-edge, curly and bird’s-eye maple that just jumped to life once it was sanded and finished.

Thank you, Eric, and the folks over at Bell Forest Products for standing by me – and the rest of the woodworking community – for so long.

BTW – today is post number 991

Important People: Kari Hultman

There have been a bunch of folks who have had a major influence on Tom’s Workbench over the past five years. I wanted to take the time to recognize a few of the folks with which the blog would have never happened.

Today, I send a shout-out to Kari Hultman of the Village Carpenter.

I first met Kari at the 2009 Woodworking in America conference in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania. The funny thing is that I had met her virtually before the conference, since we had already became acquainted through Marc Spagnuolo’s Wood Whisperer site.

The one thing that stuck out about Kari when I first met her was her incredible – almost encyclopedic – knowledge of woodworking hand tools. She can pick up a hand saw and notice the smallest details about it. She gave me a primer on hand planes. She showed just about everyone up at the Hand Tool Olympics.

So, when the time came for me to buy a set of chisels, who do you think I turned to for advice? And what great advice she gave me as I went through a used set, then turned to a new and different choice. All of the time, she was there to answer questions – no matter how stupid they were (and did I ever give her a few humdingers!) She offered the same advice on my entry into carving, and has always been encouraging.

Kari shares her experience and expertise freely with the rest of the woodworking community, volunteering to teach classes at her local guild and at other locations.  She has even offered to give me a few lessons on letter carving… I hope that when we meet again in Cincinnati, I can take her up on her offer!

I can assure you that she will probably blush and will give me some grief for listing her today, but she definitely deserves all the kudos that come her way!


Important People: Megan Fitzpatrick

There have been a bunch of folks who have had a major influence on Tom’s Workbench over the past five years. I wanted to take the time to recognize a few of the folks with which the blog would have never happened.

Today, I send a shout-out to Megan Fizpatrick of Popular Woodworking.

A few years back, the Woodworking in America event was just getting off the ground. The idea of bringing together woodworkers from around the country at a centralized event wasn’t a new one, but this one promised to be exciting, with noted woodworkers such as Frank Klausz, Toshio Odate and Roy Underhill in attendance.  I looked at that event back in 2009 longingly, but in a house with two young boys, finding the cash to travel to and stay at the event was going to be a real challenge.

That’s when, out of the clear blue, Megan e-mailed me, offering me the opportunity to attend the event as a member of the woodworking media. What an opportunity that was!  That’s where I met people like Dyami Plotke, Kari Hultman and Shannon Rogers.  I got to become an informal volunteer and carnival barker for Mike Siemsen. I even got to meet Ron Hock.  Everywhere I turned, the up and coming folks in woodworking were very happy to be there, greeted me warmly and shared freely of what they knew.

The best moment? I got to jump up and down on Megan’s workbench to test how strong it was!

This year will mark my fourth Woodworking in America conference, and I am as excited as I was to attend the first one. Thanks, Megan.


A pointed matter

Hey, folks, I was recently approached by John Greco.  Perhaps you remember him as someone in the eye of the storm in the recent issue of the Consumer Products Safety Commission ruling on testing toys for lead content. Well, he’s been a busy guy the past few years, and he wanted to send an article over my way to tell you about what he’s been up to.  Take it away, John!

You might recall a few years back you featured the wooden toys I was making. It was the height of the CPSIA debacle (early ’09 at the time, if I remember correctly). Some time after that, with the inevitability of mandatory destructive testing for toys looming, I decided to stop making toys. It was really a heart wrenching decision and I sort of floundered around for a while looking for something that could become my niche.
I tried making clocks and hourglasses and had some success, but the time invested (no pun intended!) wasn’t working for the price point I felt the pieces needed to be at to sell. After talking to a friend who weaves on a loom, I found myself making a lot of fiber tools. Things like drop spindles for spinning fiber into yarn and stick shuttles for passing the yarn through a loom. That was going alright, but since I wasn’t a fiber-person I didn’t really find myself enjoying it the way I had hoped.
A friend of mine, a hobby woodworker, had been making pens and urging me to try it for a few months. I’m a fan of nice pens and had initially put it off because I didn’t think you could make a pen by hand as nice as some of the big names out there. I finally gave in, and am glad to say I was very wrong. My first pen was turned in February 2011.
I had already been using my lathe for some time by then for the fiber tools, so there wasn’t a whole lot to be learned by way of actually turning the pen. Finishing was another story! I read and read and read, and I watched YouTube videos out the wazoo. I tried a few different methods until finally settling on using cyanoacrylate (CA, the active ingredient in super glue) layered on as my finish of choice. It polishes beautifully after being sanded to 12,000 grit and has phenomenal wear resistance.
Sometime around the Summer of 2011 I was fortunate enough to work out a deal with the Philadelphia Independence Seaport Museum. I got a hold of some salvaged dockwood that had once been beneath the Walt Whitman Bridge and made it into a limited edition run of the pens being carried by the museum exclusively. From there I had some local press and was experiencing a decent amount of success….and enjoying it!
This past April I was contacted by the owner of the Historic Pen Company. He had seen the work I’ve done, is based out of NJ and was looking for a local pen maker to partner with. He stopped by, we chatted for a while and a few days later the details were worked out. The Historic Pen Company acquires the wood, I turn it into pens, and they market and sell it. What’s especially great about it is a lot of the pieces help benefit restoration projects where the wood is originally from.
Some pieces I’ve worked with so far have been from St. Peter’s Church in Philadelphia (250(?) year old Horse Chestnut tree), The Shack – LBI, NJ (a local iconic building seen on the drive into Long Beach Island), Shibe Park/Connie Mack Stadium (Philadelphia, early 1900’s), Wildwood, NJ (an exclusive deal with the city for the boards they rip up from the boardwalk), and the Cedar Bridge Tavern, NJ (c. 1740, believed by some historians to be the location of the final battle of the American Revolution).
Working some of these pieces has been challenging, and the wood from the Tavern was downright spongy. I started to look into sending the pieces out for professional stabilizing but due to the historic nature of the wood there wasn’t a lot of interest in people taking on the task. That’s when I wondered, “How hard can this be?”.
More reading and reading and reading, YouTube videos and even a couple of phone calls with the supplier of a heat cured resin called Cactus Juice. The idea is that you submerge the wood in the Juice inside of a vacuum chamber and draw out all of the air. As you do this, all of the air from the wood is also removed (picture a bunch of straws being squeezed tight). After all of the air is drawn out you release the vacuum and the resin takes the place where the air used to be.
From here the blanks are wrapped in aluminum foil and baked in a toaster oven at 200 degrees for about an hour or so. When they come out they are heavier, hot (wear gloves!), and hard as a rock. As soon as they cool, they are ready to be worked.
I did this same procedure for the piece from the Wildwood Boardwalk, which was really in rough shape. HPC wanted these to have a light blue dye to them, so I added a special reactive dye to the Cactus Juice for this batch. It’s pretty interesting, because you can really see how the fast growth parts of the wood have more air in them, resulting in an almost striped look.
All of my historic pens are listed through the HPC website at:
On a final note, I was reading an interview David Marks had done a few years back, when I was still making toys. He said the wonderful thing about woodworking is you never know where it will bring you. I laughed at the time, because making toys was exactly what I had always wanted to do. And now here I am. Truer words were never spoken.


Important People: Tim and Dan Walter

There have been a bunch of folks who have had a major influence on Tom’s Workbench over the past five years. I wanted to take the time to recognize a few of the folks with which the blog would have never happened.

Today, I send a shout-out to Dan and Tim Walter, formerly of Eagle America Tools.

When I first started woodworking, I quickly discovered that I couldn’t just walk into the local home improvement center and pick up the tools, blades and bits I needed for woodworking.  While there is a Woodcraft store a bit of a drive from my house, I found that it was much more convenient to order the tools I needed and have them sent by mail. One of the first places I found was Eagle America, at the time run by Dan Walter and his son Tim.

After exchanging a few e-mails with Tim, the two Walters approached me about a proposition. “Tom, would you like us to advertise on your site?”  This was a real shift in my time as a blogger… someone actually wanted to be associated with Tom’s Workbench on my home page!  I agreed, and that partnership went very well for years.

Last year, Dan and Tim sold the company, and have since moved on to bigger and better things. That was when our business relationship ended. While initially sad, I ultimately feel great about this experience because it showed me that people were interested in supporting what I had to say, and the risk that Dan and Tim took with me helped open the doors with other advertisers.

Thanks again, Dan and Tim.



Important People: Rhonda Iovino

There have been a bunch of folks who have had a major influence on Tom’s Workbench over the past five years. I wanted to take the time to recognize a few of the folks with which the blog would have never happened.

Today, I send a shout-out to my wife, Rhonda Iovino. It’s only appropriate, since today is our 19th anniversary.  (How does she find the patience to deal with me?)

A million years ago, when I first started woodworking as a hobby, I wanted to surprise my wife with a blanket chest. Something I wanted to build for her so she could stash some items which held important memories (items such as the snorkels we used on our honeymoon in Puerto Rico) as well as some useful, but out-of-season things (winter blankets during the long, hot Florida summers).

While that first project was an abomination (come on, Tom, construction plywood?), she never once wavered in support of my new hobby. Over the years, she has encouraged me to go to woodworking events – both locally and long-trips away from home – to help develop my skills. We have worked together in selecting projects to give as gifts for friends and neighbors. She has recently stepped to the plate and learned how to do some sanding and finishing on projects, and has expressed interest in looking forward to possibly building a few of her own. (How on Earth will we decide who gets time on the band saw?)

The best thing about her being part of the Tom’s Workbench team, though, is that she’s always there for me. No matter how many challenges I face, she lends encouragement – and a wise word or two – to get me back on track. And, when I’m sky-high with excitement after building a project, she brings me back to Earth, encouraging me to look critically at the piece I have built to see how I could improve my technique.

It has been one heck of an adventure, Rhonda. Thanks for being there.