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AWFS Fair: The Top 10 Killer New Things You Can Apply To Your Shop Now

I think it’s vital to go to both industrial-level and hobbyist-level trade shows. This will give you a more complete perspective of what’s available to you and your shop.

The things I learn from going to the AWFS Fair in Las Vegas always rockets my woodshop to a new level.

I had been going to the various woodworking shows that are geared toward hobbyists and small business shops for years.  But when I first went to AWFS, I was totally stunned by what was out there and in use every day in industrial woodworking shops.  I had only been exposed to the hobbyist-level tool catalogs, so my view of what I could do to my shop was limited. I felt like a caveman entering the Jetson’s house.

This is the third time I’ve gone to this event.  Let me take you through all the inspiration, narrow down the most valuable ideas I picked up, and point out the innovations that will matter to you.  I’ll share with you ways you can expand your shop’s efficiency and capabilities far beyond what you’ve been imagining this whole time.

Why I Go

The first time I went was because I was curious.  Now I go because I know my shop design will be propelled to new heights.  Every minute I’m exposed to efficiency-driven industrial shop solutions that I can apply, even if on a smaller scale, that I wouldn’t have otherwise imagined.  It’s in-person, hand-to-metal touch, with access to the factory representatives of dozens of tools, accessories, and supplies.

I also get to see what the landscape ahead looks like if I choose to expand my woodworking operations.  Sometimes, I see outsourcing options should I need those in the future, such as sharpening services in my area, and furniture components that I’m not interested in fabricating myself.

There are also educational seminars available to help you with sales and marketing techniques, production methods, software optimization, industry trends, and resources like help with OSHA regulations, Small Business Administration services, and the new Woodwork Passport Credentialing Program for certifying employee skills.

There is also the student woodworking competition that provides some additional eye candy and inspiration.

I think this was a crowd favorite. This person took their vision and forced it into reality no matter how hard it was to fabricate. Good lesson for me and my shop; don’t just make stuff that’s easy to make. Make stuff that you envision.


Who couldn’t use one of these in their rec room?

What is AWFS?

The Association of Woodworking and Furnishings Suppliers focuses on residential and commercial furniture manufacturing.  The AWFS Fair is geared more towards the larger industrial shop, but does have plenty of resources for the small to medium-sized shop.

The local hobbyist-oriented woodworking shows tend to focus on tools and accessories that are affordable to the small shop, whereas the AWFS Fair really has no limits.  Tools can be a few dollars all the way to tens of thousands, giving the attendee a full range of what exists.  It allows the small shop to sharpen their vision and set the horizon for growth to a much higher level.

You can become a member of this association, where you can network with fellow manufacturers and distributors of woodworking materials (lumber, hardware, upholstery, fasteners, etc.), cabinet parts suppliers, tools, software, blades and bits, and tool accessories.

Now THIS is a panel saw.

10 Things I Learned

While it is tempting to head straight toward the booths you’re familiar with, I made sure to systematically go up and down every aisle.  If something looked like it would improve my shop design, or at least give me ideas, I took their literature and sometimes chatted with the rep.

Of course there were a few booths that were overly pushy about talking to me before I had a chance to look at their stuff in peace (I kinda skipped by those).  I also noticed a lot of missed marketing opportunities with how the some booths were designed vs. others.  The booths that had a free, welcoming feel without being bugged by used car salesmen tended to get way more of my time and attention than booths with a sales person guarding the entrance.  Good lesson for us woodworkers; marketing and customer experience from the beginning can make a huge difference.

WoodChip Tip: Don’t take EVERY piece of literature you see.  Take only what you KNOW you’ll actually look at later.  I brought one of those mesh-net type backpacks with cords for straps.  There is a practical limit to how much it can carry.  This kept my hands largely free to try out and touch tools and other products.  Of course, you can make a trip back to your car if you had one and parked reasonably close by.

So here we go…10 things I discovered and will be implementing in my shop over the next year.

AWFS Top Ten
  • The new Rikon 10-350 14” Ultimate Bandsaw
    • I saw a brief article on this on Fine Woodworking’s Facebook page, so I made sure to visit Rikon’s booth.  There I met Steve Mangano, President at Rikon Power Tools, Inc., who gave me an overview of the differences between the 10-325 14” Bandsaw and the 10-350 “Ultimate” 14” Bandsaw.
    • In about 120 days, they plan on rolling out an enhanced performance 14” bandsaw, featuring two motor options.  You can either get the 2.5 Horsepower Rikon motor, priced at $1499, or the 3 hp Baldor motor, at $1799.
    • It has 2 dust collection ports compared to the 10-325 model’s one port, improved blade guides, increased resaw capacity, beefier column, bigger table at 21-1/2”x19” cast iron table with two miter slots (the same as their 18” saw), 3-1/2” tall fence, a handy brake operated by your foot to shut the motor off and stop the blade, quick-releases on both the front and back of the tool to release tension, disconnect micro-switches on the access doors and quick-releases for increased safety, and a reconfigured stand.
    • This new saw will be 220V, single phase power.  The 10-325 saw is 120V.  This creates a bit of a dilemma for me; my original shop design calls for a 120V outlet where the 14” bandsaw should go, and 220V on the other side of the shop for a 20” resaw bandsaw.  If I decide to buy the 10-350 model in lieu of the 10-325, I’ll need to retrofit a bit of electrical work.
    • My friend bought the 10-325 model recently, and I helped put it together.  Not only did this saw get good reviews, I saw firsthand that it is well-built, easy to set up, and works as advertised.

With this saw, Rikon responds to bandsaw reviews and customer suggestions. Nice when industry gives us what we want.

    • This one I didn’t know about.  Bessey has new toggle clamps that are self-adjusting.  Normally, when you close a regular toggle clamp, you have to unscrew the nut to adjust for the the thickness of the stock.  These new ones “find” the material thickness by applying consistent pressure (which you can set) regardless of the distance of travel of the clamp, within a certain range.

A whole universe above the typical toggle clamp. I’ve been using the “normal” ones for years and it’s so annoying to have to keep adjusting them for stock thickness. This solves that problem.

    • I’ve been using grout floats as push blocks, because the rubber pads provide more grip than the typical push blocks designed for woodworking.
    • I bought a pack of Rockler Bench Cookies, and use those a lot for gripping stock when sanding, routing, and general assembly.  The non-slip surface holds quite well, even when it gets dusty.
    • I went to Rockler’s booth and played with these new push blocks, and they do grip very well.  I plan on getting a few of these to use at the Jointer.  Can you make your own?  Sure, but I like the extra-grippy surface.  You could use rubber shelf-liner, but I notice that when those get dusty they start to slip.  With Rockler’s, dust doesn’t seem to be a big factor.
    • I use MicroJig’s GRR-Ripper at my Table Saw to make thin rips and for any operation that might take my hand near the blade.  These also have a very grippy surface.  But, since I need multiple push blocks at several stations, my solution is to have two GRR-Rippers and two Rockler push blocks also at the Table Saw.  Then I’ll have two Rockler push blocks at the Jointer.  I’ll probably keep my grout floats for use at the Router Table where less force is required.
    • I’ve known about this due to advertising, but I wanted to see this for myself at the show.
    • I have a Jet DC-1100 1-1/2 Hp central dust collector, and it works very well.  I’ve never had a lack of dust control, and it always performs.  I bought it around 7 years ago and it still kicks butt.
    • This new version features a pleated filter instead of the traditional bag or felt for greater surface area and more efficient filtration.  Of course the main idea of this new model is the Vortex Cone, which turns a single-stage dust collector into a cyclone unit.  The airflow swirls the dust into the lower bag first, which dramatically reduces filter clogging.  So if you’re upgrading from a shop vacuum or roll-around collector, and want a central dust collector, definitely consider this one.
    • I contacted the Jet factory to see if they have a retro-fit kit for my particular model, and they don’t.  So what I might do is see if I can retrofit it myself by drilling a few holes and fabricating the cone.  Then I’ll go to American Fabric Filter Co. to get a larger felt filter bag that goes down to 1 micron.  I’ll keep you updated on how that goes.
    • I have a 3 Hp SawStop Cabinet saw that I got from Eagle Tools a few years ago.  Totally love it, and see nothing that compares to its quality and beefiness.  I actually bought the SawStop for its quality and meeting my engineering requirements, not exactly the safety feature.  That was secondary to me, but I also thought I’d feel dumb if I got cut and didn’t get that feature, knowing the saw is top quality as well.
    • Their new model has an overarm dust collection tube fitted to a specially designed blade guard that directs the dust from the blade throat to the dust hose.  The retrofit kit is quite pricey, so I think I’ll fabricate something on my own.  What I may do is have the flex hose hang from the ceiling on a spring to give it some ability to move if I need to roll the saw a few feet.  By suspending it from the ceiling I keep the hose out of the way of most operations, and omit the need to fabricate a sideways U-shaped tube out of metal conduit.

The hot dog demo gets me every time; it’s much cheaper to watch them do it at these shows than trying it myself.

  • Rikon’s New Dust Extractor
    • As I was talking to Steve at the Rikon booth I didn’t even notice the little canister device on a table.  When we were done discussing their new bandsaw, I was about to leave when he pointed out that they have a new dust extractor, the 63-100.
    • It’s designed to use at a single tool.  I may get it to use while sanding.  It’s incredibly quiet.  I mean ridiculously quiet.  It has 12 gallon capacity, provides 106 CFM, filters down to 5 micron, and has a 4” inlet hose.  The discharge air comes out of the top rim.  What I really like about it besides its silence is that it’s slim.  Typical shop vacuums are these bulky blobs with wheels that stick out the sides.  If you’re already hurting for room, you should look into one or two of these.

You can see the dust extractor between the two bandsaws.

  • Rockler’s Steam Bending Kit
    • I’ve never done steam bending before, mostly because I don’t want to invest the time into making the devices to do it.  I have used hot water to make gentle curves, but I typically just cut really thin strips and laminate them.  Now this new Steam Box Kit from Rockler has me intrigued.
    • Rockler is just awesome.  They come up with truly useful gadgets, many of which I now own and use.  Their catalog was my primary source of inspiration and ideas over 10 years ago when I was designing my first shop.
    • Ok, here it is.  This kit comes with a steam generator device, hardware accessories like a tube to deliver the steam, and plans so you can make your own box the size you want (I’ll be adding a thermometer in mine).  It also has a built-in heating element to ensure the box stays 212 deg. F.
    • Oh, and as a reminder, if you do steam bending inside your shop, please do it near a fan that exhausts to the outside, or you’ll risk adding too much moisture to your shop’s air and forming rust on your tools.  Also, buy a moisture meter.  You’ll use it quite a bit to see if your stock is ready for machining, but for steam bending you’ll want to start with wood that already has a high moisture content.  If it’s too dry, there’s not much you can do.
  • Using Kitchen and Closet Organization Ideas for the Workshop
    • Every woodshop needs places to put stuff.  You can choose to line your walls with cabinets and be done, but I encourage you to really think through your design.  What should be stored where?  How much future growth will there likely be to store more?  What level of access do you need for each item?
    • One part of the AWFS Fair is full of machinery and tools, but there’s another hall that’s chock-a-block full of cabinets, hardware, and casework.  I visited the Rev-a-Shelf booth, where I found closet and kitchen organization doo-dads that are really creative and efficient in their use of space and providing access.  We’ve all probably seen the corner-shelf lazy-Suzan things, the pull-out vertical drawers to store pans, and the little sponge-holder drawers at the front of sinks.  But there’s so much more out there.  You can peruse these closet and kitchen cabinet websites and use those ideas in your design.
    • Top-shelf mechanisms that allow stuff to be stored high but pull down to your level to get at the items is something I’ll definitely be using.  Bins that pivot at the bottom with baskets attached to the door, soft-close hinges and slides, rare-earth magnets that hold containers, and built-in dispensers will make shop clean-up only take minutes instead of 2-day sessions.
    • At the Grass booth they have soft-close hinges, both with soft-close features integrated into the hinge and a retrofit device for existing hinges that are already installed.  The retrofit device is called Unisoft, and it screws on the hinge-side stile.  They had samples at the booth so I could look at it and try it.  The simple instructions are printed on the bag and on an insert inside in case you lose one of them.
    • Reval is another company that caught my attention.  They make room organization accessories for the cabinet industry.  Their products are sleek and simple with no fluff.  They even make access ladders for bunk beds and libraries that you can use in your shop if you have high storage or a mini-loft.

There are just dozens of good ideas that you can incorporate into your shop furniture. Imagine if your shop was both a showcase for your design skills as well as a brilliantly functional space.


Soft-close hinges are just plain cool. It’s a WOW factor you can add to your furniture’s drawers if you want, but I’m adding these to my shop’s cabinets.

  • Cool Wheels
    • I had to wait for a guy to stop talking so I could get at this catalog, but it was worth the wait.  The Rotola Collection by Adriano Design are a series of casters that have a futuristic look to them, emphasizing design and simplicity.  The area where the axle should go is an empty hole.  I’m thinking of using these for my shop carts.

This is the kind of design element I want in my shop.

    • I don’t know how long this stuff has been available, but this could solve a lot of finishing problems for me. Whether you carefully meter your glue to avoid squeeze-out, wipe any excess with a wet Scotchbrite pad, wait until it skins over and then scrape it off, or use painter’s tape, you inevitably will get some glue-smear on the wood.  Any glue that dries will show when you apply a finish, especially if you use anything that tints the wood such as dyes or stains.
    • This Titebond II, which I use the regular version as my standard, now comes in a “fluorescent” version that is detectable with a black light (UV), which you can get pretty cheap from discount or hardware stores.

I was watching this for awhile.

Special Mentions

Some booths I made sure I visited before I entered the show floor, and others I discovered that I hadn’t seen last year.  At the Wood Magazine booth, Andy Chidwick was busy sculpting a chair he was demonstrating.  He holds classes in Montana.  I like his sculpting and wood-shaping style.

I saw MicroJig’s demo, where they were showing the GRR-Ripper, a product that I’ve had and used for years now.  I got the brochure, and I didn’t know they make a ZeroPlay guide bar system.  It’s what I’ll be using for the small sleds and guide fixtures I have planned for my Table Saw and Router Table.  They make a splitter too, but I have one on my saw already.  If you have an older saw, you can use the MJ Splitter to retrofit your existing throat plate.

American Fabric Filter is a company that will make you custom filter bags to increase the particle capture capabilities of your dust collector.  They also make sure they increase the surface area of the filter fabric so you don’t lose air flow.  Their ordering system is easy, and contains enough information so you can be assured it arrives ready to fit.  This way you can keep your existing dust collector if you don’t want to spend the money to buy a new one but aren’t happy with its current filtration.

SuperMax Tools, maker of drum sanders, has wire-brush drums used for distressing, nylon abrasive brush drums, and also flap-sanding drums to get odd-shaped pieces sanded.  You can use them on a finished piece too to get rid of dust nibs, or to run molding with complex shapes.  If you run a medium-sized production shop, or specialized in something you make a lot of, this is worth looking into.

SuperMax sanding brushes.

Browsing the Show Floor

Now go edit your woodshop design with these and other ideas you’ve been collecting.  To me, besides the actual experience, I really value the literature I got for later reference.  Sometimes I’ll flip through it and get inspired to do something.  Having some of this material in front of you will spark a good design session, if you’re in the right place.

But real quick, below are some more shots I took while at the fair.  I hope to see you there next year!

Bandsaw blades for your logging operations.


The GRR-Ripper is one of those things I use all the time, like my MagSwitch featherboards.

A signed Rough Cut card. I have Norm’s autograph on a tape measure too. Now I just need Scott Phillips’.

I wouldn’t mind this being above my mantle.

I was looking at this for Assembly Table ideas.

Where are the landing lights??

Another look at that giant bandsaw.

See this is an example of awesome marketing. I wish more companies had this sense.

This got me to turn down this aisle.

Powermatic’s new look for their anniversary.

The possibilities of CNC uses are really endless.

I thought this was brilliant…a mat for underneath your sink that prevents damage to the cabinet should it leak.

Where am I? Got lost a few times.

More from the student competition.

General has a new small-shop CNC machine that I’ll be looking into...

A computer-controlled fence stop for repeatability.


For more guidance in assembling your Woodshop Design, click on the Starting? Go Here! category and read those first.

Connect with me on Facebook, and follow me on Twitter for more ninja tips to Optimize Your Woodshop!


Gotta get more clamps,



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7 Responses to “AWFS Fair: The Top 10 Killer New Things You Can Apply To Your Shop Now”

  1. Paul Ryan says:

    A great and informative post. Keep up the good work.

    • Bobby says:

      Thanks, Ryan! I went again this year and took a bunch of brocures and photos. I bought a Grex 23mm pin nailer too. By seeing what the big shops are doing, it gives me ideas for mine. They have to be efficient to compete, and that helps me and my laziness flourish.

  2. Vic Hubbard says:

    Great post, Bobby! I went a few years ago and got to take a veneering seminar with Paul Schurch and a bending seminar with Michael Fortune. I still follow both. Schurch has much more online presence than Fortune, but Fortune more closely follows my taste for furniture design and he has a business model I admire. Both are incredible artists. I got to meet Marc, Nicole and David Marks on that trip, too. Marc was demoing Festool at the time.

  3. Bobby says:

    There’s nothing like something on the outside to motivate. I notice my house gets really clean before someone visits. If I know I’m taking pictures for the blog, sometimes I’ll accelerate a project so it’s done for the photo. Then I get to enjoy it from that point on.

    Let me know if I can be of any help!


  4. Great post. I had hoped to be able to go but I’ve got the grand kids visiting for a month. Thanks for all the pictures.

    and from the months of babes department: I took them to a friend’s shop to pick up some parts he milled for me. He’s got a dream shop – lots of space, well built, every tool you’d want. I, on the other hand have a shop that is small, partly in a carport and lacks a jointer and planner (hence bribing my friend to mill a few parts for me).

    Well the kids (7 and 9 year olds) were wowed by my friend’s shop and on the way home the youngest asked, “Gandpa, when are you going to get a real shop like that?”

    Guess I’ve got more work to do on my shop layout. Got a 7 year old to report to.

  5. Bobby says:

    Yeah, I guess I am! I was like a tourist at AWFS…mesh backpack, camera on my belt, and notepad in my back pocket. Wouldn’t a toggle clamp look just great in a lighted acrylic display box??

  6. Chris says:

    A display of European hinges over your mantel? I’m pretty sure that certifies you as a geek.

    Good post. I especially enjoyed looking at the photos and captions.

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