The AAW Symposium Spins Through The ‘Burgh – Woodturners Rejoice!

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aaw symposium

Every so often, something comes along to remind me how feeble my woodworking skills are, while simultaneously giving me a kick in the butt to improve them. YouTube is loaded with videos showing the strange and wonderful stuff people with actual skills have cranked out. In the words of the immortal Marvin Gaye, though, “Ain’t nothing like the real thing, baby!” Recently, the real thing blazed a trail right to my doorstep, as the 29th Annual International AAW Symposium turned and burned its way into Pittsburgh. Take a look below, for some pics and Tweets (my first ever!) of the stunning woodiness on display!

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A Woodturner’s welcome…

In case you’re not familiar with them, AAW is the much-easier-to-deal-with acronym for the American Association of Woodturners. If you think a snazzy stair spindle is the coolest thing you can make with a lathe, you need to check out their web site. It’s an incredible source for inspiration and education, along with information on tools, techniques and safety.

Billed as the largest woodturning event in the world, this year’s AAW Symposium was held at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center in Pittsburgh, from June 25 – 28. According to the AAW’s web site, the AAW symposium is an exceptional opportunity for the public to learn about the art and craft of woodturning. The community is invited to browse symposium exhibitions and galleries, acquire turned work through auctions, see tools and equipment and observe woodturning demonstrations in our tradeshow, and support local and national charitable causes.

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Early Friday afternoon, and the joint was jumpin’!

For registered attendees, the symposium offers three and a half days of classroom-type demonstrations and panel discussions led by internationally known woodturners, veteran instructors, and expert woodturning talent. Additionally, registered attendees have opportunities to exhibit work, donate to charitable causes, and network with others who share a passion for woodturning.

Almost Everything Was Free – But If You’re In A Buying Mood…

For anyone searching for inspiration, or a look at some of the finest examples of the woodturner’s craft, the gallery was a great starting point. Billed as the largest display of wood art in the world, the gallery showcased over 3,000 pieces of artwork, across an area of almost 40,000 square feet. The AAW symposium fit nicely into my entertainment budget, too – admission to the gallery and exhibits was free!

The annual AAW symposium also features the largest woodturning trade show anywhere. A slew of manufacturers and suppliers were there, offering the chance to see the newest woodturning equipment, accessories, and supplies, all under one roof. There were plenty of demonstrations, and lots of opportunities to try out various tools and equipment. Dan Brown, manager of the local Rockler store, was on hand with an assortment of sweet tools and supplies. He and other members of their local woodworker’s group provided a band saw, drill press and other tools for use in demonstrations and classes.

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A demonstration of how woodturners from across the pond do it…

Along with the opportunity to see the latest offerings from the big boys, like Jet and Powermatic, many smaller vendors were on hand, with a huge variety of tools and supplies. Outfitting a shop, or looking for something unique for yourself or a woodturning friend? There were vendors selling books, DVDs, every description of woodworking tools, glue, even insoles to soothe your tootsies during a long day of making the chips fly.

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Jet and Powermatic brought along a few modest offerings…

There were several suppliers of specialty woods. One of the more unusual ones was Bone Mountain Bristlecone. According to their web site, bristlecone is a very dense, slow-growing species, and the trees live for centuries. Their supply comes from the area around a family tract, on a remote mountain in southern Colorado. Sustainably harvested from ancient trees that burned in a forest fire in the 1870’s, the wood has beautiful character, and still has a wonderful aroma 140 years later! The young proprietors schlepped a truckload of it cross-country to the AAW symposium, where it was attracting quite a bit of interest.


As part of the AAW Symposium, several works of art were auctioned off in live, silent and online auctions. The proceeds go to help support the AAW’s grant, outreach, and educational programs. There were also hundreds of bowls of various sizes, made by members of various woodworking groups from all over, which were being sold for $25 to benefit Empty Bowls, a local Pittsburgh charity.

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One of hundreds of pieces being auctioned at the AAW Symposium
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Sale of donated bowls benefited Pittsburgh’s Empty Bowls project

In Case The AAW Symposium Isn’t In Your Time Zone…

If you’re anywhere near Pittsburgh, and have any interest at all in working with wood, hopefully you took advantage of this rare opportunity to see some incredible examples of the craft. The annual AAW Symposiums also offer a chance to get some hands-on instruction from some of the best, whether you’re a rookie like me or a skilled pro, like our friend Marc at The Wood Whisperer.

This was the organization’s 29th annual show. If Pittsburgh is a bit out of your way, or you missed this year’s symposium, don’t despair – the dates are already set for the next two years. These folks are WAY more organized than I am! Next year’s show will be held from June 9-12, 2016, in Atlanta, GA, and the following year’s will be in Kansas City, MO, from June 22-25. Go get inspired! While you’re at it, mosey through the trade show, drool over the latest and greatest tools and accessories, and stimulate the economy. Meanwhile, we’ll post several examples of woody awesomeness to fire your imagination. When you’re finished, check out the AAW web site, and get some tips on creating your OWN woodturning masterpiece!

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About Phil

Phil’s path to the pinnacle of success as HomeFixated’s Senior Writer was long and twisted. At various stages of his life, he worked as a framing carpenter, attended motorcycle mechanics school, served as an Army MP, did a hot and itchy stint installing insulation in Phoenix, owned and operated a small contracting firm doing residential renovations, and worked as an employee of a major airline (Motto: We’re not happy ‘til YOU’RE not happy). He is currently semi-retired, but continues to take on little projects, such as the total renovation of an old farmhouse. Yes, he is a slow learner. Future projects include a teardown restoration of his 1965 BMW motorcycle, and designing and building a kick-ass playhouse for his grandsons. Phil loves spending time outdoors, hanging out with family and friends, cool tools, and a cold IPA when beer o'clock rolls around.

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