Thursday, February 23, 2012

Fine Modern Woodworking

The guys at Fine Woodworking are a nice bunch. How do I know? On February 17, 2012 I was lucky enough to be among a group of Modern Woodworkers to attend a private tour of the Fine Woodworking offices and shop. Unfortunately, space was limited so we weren’t able to publish detail of the tour before hand, but here’s my best recounting for everyone who wasn't able to attend. We're hoping to make events like this a more frequent occurrence, so hopefully everyone in the MWA will be able to attend one soon.
No, you sit first.
We began in the Fine Woodworking / Fine Homebuilding break room where, to the man, we were too polite to sit after the late arrivals (Me, Chris & Doug). In the break room Matt Kenney began by explaining the history of the magazine and a little about the great Taunton publishing empire that has grown up around it. Taunton is still a family run business, even 37 years after starting. They maintain a strict firewall between advertising and editorial staffs. Matt said he won’t even take a complaint from a manufacturer (that’s the advertising staff’s issue if manufacturer’s don’t like their reviews). Also, they are apparently named after the local Taunton Lake. Mike Pekovich then wrapped up the discussion of the corporate history and structure and we moved into the offices proper.
We squeezed into a narrow isle between cubicles and gazed at the magazine spread out on the wall. Matt & Mike then explained that once the articles are laid out and the draft of the magazine is assembled it is hung on the wall here for all to see. Everyone is then encouraged to look it over and over for mistakes, incongruities or other errors.
Make a list (or magazine) and check it twice.
They also discussed how articles are formed. I’m sure I’m not getting it all right due to my lack of notes, but the process involves editors pitching ideas to the entire staff, then going back to the authors to form the story. Finally the editors visit the author and take the photos. Due to space restrictions in the magazine, the articles tend to focus on the unique aspects of projects, rather then the fundamentals the projects are based on. They have regular, occasional articles on fundamentals to supplement the basics left out of project articles.

After the talk of how the magazine is built we moved onto the meat of the tour, the workshop.

Jointer/Planers to test and lumber racks against the wall.
Fine Woodworking has three (3) workshop areas. The first, and largest area is most often used for tool tests and photo shoots. At the time of our visit, it was still housing the Jointer / Planer combo machines that were tested for the April 2012 issue. This first area also houses both the magazine’s and staff’s lumber racks. As a staff member, you’re allowed use of the workshops for personal use and by all accounts all the staff does.
More power tools than fit in a standard photo.
The second room is the power tool room. This room has the tools you'd expect (a Saw Stop and an old Powermatic drill press). It also houses a 16” jointer and a monster Powermatic planer that probably weighs more than my truck. The power tool room doesn’t get as many photos, as they try to only show tools that most readers could own.

The third room is the hand tool room. This is a small room, with a bench in the center. The walls are lined with counters and tool racks. This room gets its share of photos and it was home to the demonstrations that Matt and Mike provided.

When they asked me what we’d like to have demonstrated, I immediately replied: “efficiency.” I never have enough shop time, and I’m sure most of you don’t either. The Fine Woodworking guys didn’t disappoint.
The key to efficient hand tool use in the shop is
to have another woodworker do the work.
Matt gave a great demonstration on how he used bench jigs; a plane stop, a saw hook and a shooting board, to work efficiently with small pieces on the boxes on small cabinets he like to make. Mike showed us a very cool method of making dovetails using a custom ground table saw blade to make the tails and repeated, accurate hand saw cuts to make the pins.
Hybrid dovetails begin at the table saw with a custom ground blade.
After the demonstration we all headed over to the main Taunton building down the road for lunch in the “T”. As we ate, Matt and Mike were great company (as they had been the whole time). We all talked of our shops, our projects and everything else woodworkers talk of.
L to R: Steve Branam, Nick Roulleau, Me, Morton, Michael McCoy, Doug Plotke
Chris Adkins, Jim Ashley & Freddie Ellis.
On behalf of everyone who attended, I need to thank Matt and Mike and express how much I’m hoping we get to hang out at Fine Woodworking Live. I know it’ll be a great event, because the guys at Fine Woodworking are a nice bunch.
Be safe, my friends.


  1. Looks like you guys had a blast. I would have loved to see that place. Chris Adkins, the MWA Good Will Ambassador, spreading the word. Good job.

    1. Glad you enjoyed the post, Bill. I'm not sure how frequent they'll be, but we'd like events like this to become a regular part of the MWA so that everyone can participate.

  2. Hey, it looks like at least some of the links to Picasa have stopped working.

    I was most interested in this one:

    1. I'm not sure why it had issues with Picasa on this post. I had to go back and redo all the photos. They should all work now.