Andy Birkey’s life sounds like something straight out of the movies, but with no hint of the Hollywood fakery.  Just one example of what I am talking about; When he was 22 years old he fearlessly walked into the Miami airport with just a backpack and a desire to travel, but no idea where he was going.  And, that’s how he lived the first 15 years of his adult life.

Andy in his shop

Andy learned the value of hard work at a very young age, helping his missionary father build churches in the pacific northwest.  He spent most of his life doing carpentry work in one form or another.  He has built sidewalks for cows, managed extensive multi-million dollar church restorations, and everything in between.

Andy hardly limits himself to just carpentry!  He is a talented maker and artist with wide variety of skills ranging from woodcarving, photography, drawing, pottery, and much more.

Cheetah by Andy Birkey

Today Andy is very will known on social media, especially Facebook and Instagram.  Andy also makes some really cool videos.  I especially like his “Gimme a Minute” series. In addition to that, he is also one of the co-hosts of the Faking It Podcast.  One thing that really stuck with (or to) Andy is the #blamebirkey hashtag.  When I asked him about this he told me the true meaning of #blamebirkey is to stop and appreciate what is in front of you.

Andy drew his logo

And that brings me to the thing that really sets Andy apart.   He is a philosophical, authentic, and spontaneous person who really cares about his fellow human beings.  That is the real reason why he is so well loved.

Oh, and did I mention that he is a FUN guy to hang around with?

Interviewing Andy Birkey was a LOT of fun, too!

There is so much to say about Andy that I couldn’t possibly cover it all in a single blog post, so please watch the interview video and see for yourself what it is that makes him so special.

If you are not already following Andy on Facebook then I highly recommend that you do!  Also, be sure to check out his website,

Some other noteworthy interviews that you might want to check out:

Watch video on YouTube

Andy Klein is an amazingly creative person. He has 5 patents for various different woodworking related inventions, and certainly there will be more!  His most successful invention so far is a saw blade that allows you to make a box on your table saw like magic. His saw blade invention is now fully developed and will be available through a major woodworking retailer sometime in 2017.

Andy Klein

He is currently trying to find manufacturing and/or retail partner to make two of his other inventions available to the public.

The first of them is new kind of parallel clamp.  This new clamp does everything that a regular parallel clamp does AND it can also function as a panel clamp.  If you have ever had a panel bow up when you tried clamped the pieces together then you would love this one!  I don’t have a good picture of his revised design, but I would encourage you to watch the video that he made about it:

Woodworking in America Video

I attended Woodworking in America for the first time this year and I had a BLAST!  I met so many woodworkers, makers, YouTube content creators, and friends fromFacebook that my head was spinning, figuratively speaking!

The Woodworking Podcast Meetup during Woodworking in America

I signed up for the classes, but I had so much fun meeting people that I spent most of my time in the Marketplace.

Amazing collection of infill planes at the Woodworking in America Marketplace

Lie Nielsen and Lee Valley tools had large booths and I couldn’t resist buying a 45 degree saddle square at the Lee Valley booth. Unfortunately, the saddle square is on back order.

One of my favorite booths was the Rare Woods booth.  I like to keep a supply of black colored wood on hand for marquetry and accent pieces, but of course, that is usually pretty expensive and hard to find, too.  Rare Woods was selling 1-1/2″ x 1-1/2″ x 17″ blackwood blanks for $7 each and I bought 6 of them!  I also picked up a 4″ x 29″ piece of ebony for $20.  I have no immediate plans for them, but I know I will use them on something!

Ebony and Blackwood from the Rare Woods booth

Certainly, one of the high points of the entire event was the Hand Tool Olympics.  This is an event put on by Mike Siemsen of Mike Siemsen’s School of Woodworking.  The event consists of three different hand tool activities.  First is hand cut dovetails, second is crosscutting a board, and third is rip cutting and planing a board.  Each of the activities is judged by speed and accuracy.  I did just OK with ripping a board and just terrible with the hand cut dovetail, but I got the BEST SCORE for SPEED and ACCURACY for CROSSCUTTING A BOARD!  And, the prizes were GREAT!  I won a Knew Concepts Coping Saw and a holdfast from Gramercy Tools!

Me with Mike Siemsen after winning two cool prizes at the Hand Tool Olympics during Woodworking in America

There were lots and lots of great classes to choose from and I wish I had attended more of them!  Chris Schwarz, Mary May, Roy Underhill, Shannon Rogers, and many more.  My personal favorite was Matt Cremona‘s presentation on Risk Mitigation in Woodworking.  One of his main points was to pay attention to what matters and the parts that will actually show.  For example, don’t get too worked up about the inside of a mortise and tenon joint.

Matt Cremona presenting at Woodworking in America

I live in the Twin Cities and WIA was in Cincinnati so I chose to drive there.  I didn’t know what else to do with Zippy so I brought him with!  He loves riding in the car and he stayed with my Uncle while I was at the conference.

Zippy in the car on the way to Woodworking in America

Actually, the drive down there and back were quite eventful for me.  On the way down I stopped in Bloomington, Illinois and spent the day with Andy Birkey.  Andy is one of a kind, and I mean that in a (very) good way! Of course I interviewed him while I was there and that should be on my YouTube channel sometime in October.

Andy Birkey, the Big Guy, and me

On my way back from the conference I visited both Guy Dunlap and James Wright.  I got a nice shop tour and chatted with each of them for a while.

Visiting James Wright’s shop in Rockford, Illinois

Visiting Guy Dunlap of Guys Workshop

I also stopped by Nick Ferry‘s shop and hung out with him for most of the day.  What a fun guy he is!  Expect to see an interview on my YouTube channel sometime late in October.

Charlie Kocourek visiting Nick Ferry after Woodworking in America

Here are some more pictures from my Woodworking in America trip:

Tom Prichard and Me

Tim Holiner

With Ray Mowder of TabLeft Workshop

Nick Ferry at the Hand Tool Olympics during Woodworking in America

Randy Wright

Mike Fulton, Bob Lee and Charlie Kocourek at Woodworking in America

Charlie Kocourek and Juan Vergara with one of his cool infill planes at Woodworking in America

Johnny Brooke of Crafted Workshop and Charlie Kocourek at Woodworking in America

David Proctor, Paul Desmond, Wes Swain, Andy Klein and Charlie Kocourek at Woodworking in America

Gib Clark and Charlie Kocourek at Woodworking in America

Dyami Plotke of Modern Woodworkers Association and Charlie Kocourek at Woodworking in America

Guy Dunlap of Guys Woodshop and Charlie Kocourek at Woodworking in America

Chad Schimmel runs a woodworking business in the Phoenix area and he is one of the few woodworkers I know who earn a good living from it!  Chad does a lot of woodturning, but that is just the start of how he keeps his business going.  Chad revealed some of the secrets to his success during a candid interview with me in February of 2016.

Chad has an 1100 square foot commercial space that includes and office.  He has a laser engraver, a CNC, two metal lathes, and a complete wood shop.  He also hires people to help him with the office work and to assist him in the shop, too.

Charlie and Chad at Schimmel Woodworks in Chandler, AZ

Chad’s primary focus is on extremely fine hand made pens.  He also does one of a kind custom woodworking, but his real passion is designing and making some of the finest pens imaginable!  One of Chad’s many specialties is fountain pens made from vintage watch parts.

Vintage Franck Muller Watch face Fountain Pen

Chad also found a market for pens made from historical materials.

Lambeau Field Bleacher Pen

Chad used wood from Abraham Lincoln’s office for this one!

If you go to Chad’s Impeccable Pen website you will see that he made a point of offering a wide range of products.  One common theme is that he focuses on gift items such as gifts for bridesmaids and groomsmen, gifts for dad, and of course gifts for pen collectors.  He also sells a whole line of pen accessories.

Pen Display Trays

Walnut Fountain Pen Desk Organizer Pen tray

Ah, but how to sell all these great products?  Many if not most of Chad’s sales come through Arts and Crafts shows.  He says you need to create interest in your products and it is important to engage people as they walk by.  He is amazed by the people who go to the trouble and expense to set up a booth at a craft fair and spend their time reading a book or playing on their phone rather than talking to potential customers.

Chad has pens that sell for thousands of dollars!  When I asked him about pricing he said he believes that you need high priced items to sell lower priced items.  If someone sees that you have a $2700.00 pen they might think the $60 pen is a bargain!

Chad also makes sure that he prices his work high enough to ensure that he can make a profit.  This sounds obvious, but many craftsmen don’t actually do this.  You can’t just count the materials in the piece and your time in the shop.  You also must account for vehicle costs, equipment costs, and all the time you spend outside the shop to keep your business alive.  Things like accounting, buying supplies, marketing, time on the computer, and all the other time you spend to keep things going.  Don’t cheat yourself!

Chad Schimmel

Chad is a friendly guy and I enjoyed meeting him.  I was also very impressed by his keen business sense.

Check out my article about how David Marks turns a 400 pound hollow vessel!

I met Braxton Wirthlin in January of this year at his wood shop in Boulder City, Nevada.  Well, actually we met at a local pub first, but I digress.  Braxton is a very creative guy and he loves making things.  His interests range from traditional woodworking, to digital woodworking (with CNC’s), to wood turning, to welding, to ceramics, to cooking, and videography.  I am sure there are others; these are just the ones that I am aware of!

Braxton studied Visual Media Production at the Las Vegas Art Institute.  His creativity and his skill with video production really show through in his videos.  A great example of this is the video where he demonstrated turning a pen and the entire demonstration is filmed in reverse.  It is nice to see YouTube videos that include a bit of artistry.  Not everyone can pull this off, but Braxton does!  See for yourself here: Braxton’s Pen Turning Video

One of his more clever ideas was to to buy an ice cream scoop, a nut cracker, and a bottle opener at the dollar store.  He then stripped off the cheap plastic handles and added custom made wooden handles.  What impressed me about this was that he was able to think out of the box and save a ton of money as opposed to buying similar items from a dedicated woodworking supply store.

He got his start with video production by filming his friends riding their BMX bicycles when he was a kid. Braxon also built the wooden ramps and half pipes that they would ride over and this gave him some of his first exposure to woodworking.  He says that he was one of those kids who was fascinated with all things mechanical, and he was always taking things apart to see how they worked.  Sometimes he couldn’t put them back together again, but that is how we learn!

In addition to making YouTube videos, Braxton also keeps himself busy with commission work.  One of my favorite pieces that he made was a tap handle for a local brewery.  This might look like a simple project, but it required use of his skills with design, traditional woodworking tools, woodturning, digital woodworking and wood finishing.  Not to mention his ability to get the commission to begin with by marketing those skills.

Tap Handles by Braxton Wirthlin

When I met Braxton he was taking wood turning lessons from Jimmy Clewes, so it is no wonder that he is such a good wood turner!  He had also just purchased a new welder and was planning to incorporate more metal into his work.

Lidded Bowl by Braxton Wirthlin

Natural Edge Bowl by Braxton Wirthlin

Vase by Braxton Wirthlin

Wood and Metal Cabinet for a client

With all of his accomplishments, Braxton manages to live a well-balanced life.  He is a true family man and a stay at home dad who keeps his priorities straight.  I very much enjoyed meeting him and I look forward to the day when our paths cross again.

Charlie Kocourek and Braxton Wirthlin

Here are a few of my other articles and interviews that you might like:

Peter Brown Interview – The Epoxy King

Michael Cooper – Dream Shop Tour!

I visited Michael Cooper in January of 2016.  Michael is an unbelievably creative and talented guy.  His body of work is so impressive that you will have to see it to believe it.  He and his wife, Gayle, are as friendly, nice, and down to earth as Michael is talented.  If I had to sum them up in one word it would be “Wonderful”.

Entrance to Michael Cooper’s Shop

Michael has a 2000 sq. foot shop in northern California.  The setting is gorgeous.  Six rolling acres boarded by a creek on one side and wooded hills on the other.  Michael has another large building just a few feet away from his shop that he built to store some of his sculptures.   He called it a storage building, but it looked more like a gallery to me.   One side of that building is sectioned off for a weaving studio for Gayle.

His shop is split into two rooms, a small room serves as a machine shop and everything else is in the remaining space.  The shop has adequate natural lighting, very high ceilings, and an extra set of doors that are big enough to drive a forklift through.

Mike has an unbelievable collection of old, heavy, cast iron machinery.  Sanders, jointer, planer, etc.  He also has a 42″ wide belt sander, 7 drill presses, a 36″ bandsaw, a horizontal mill, and a selection of huge heavy duty sheet metal tools.

Just 4 of Mike’s drill presses

This are just four of Mike’s drill presses!  This is for efficiency so he doesn’t have to change the set up for repeated operations.

Mike made this giant carving duplicator

It is hard to see in this picture, but that is a giant duplicator.  Mike built it for duplicating large sculptures.  It took him 6 months to make it.  It is easier to see this in the video.

Femi Bandsaw. One of Mike’s favorite bandsaws\

Mike swears by this little bandsaw.  But, wow, is it expensive!

Collection of grinders and sanders

You can never have too many grinders!  Actually, this is the same reasoning as the multiple drill presses.  He can keep working and not have to keep changing cutters.

36″ Bandsaw

Holy smokes, look at that bandsaw!  36″ throat and up to a 14″ cut depth.

Michael’s Vertical Mill

The vertical mill in Mike’s machine shop.

You can never have too many clamps!


A 30″ disk sander, a 24″ disk sander, and an old spindle sander.  Notice the poster above the spindle sander of Mike’s “Chopper” sculpture.

Friction Drive Drill Press

This is a very special drill press.  It has a domed shape friction drive for continuously variable speed.  Mike did a nice demonstration of this in the video.

Mike’s metal lathe

Actually, this is now Mike’s only lathe and he uses it for everything.  Aluminum, steel, stainless steel, plastic, and wood.

Old reciprocating metal cutting saw!

This is a first for me.  I have never seen a reciprocating metal cutting saw!
I will also have at least two blog posts on Mike’s sculptures.  Subscribe to my blog and get notified as soon as these are posted.

Peter Brown is known for doing crazy things on his YouTube videos.  He combines woodworking tools with unconventional materials to make some of the most creative videos on YouTube.   He melted a box of crayons into a solid block and turned them on a lathe to make a bracelet.  He made a ring out of a bundle of colored pencils, and he made a knife out of some off the shelf epoxy.  The knife wouldn’t cut anything, but that was not the point.  Because for Peter the destination truly is less important than the journey.

I interviewed  Peter Brown at his woodshop in Santa Rosa, California in January of 2016.   Peter’s shop was a tiny little building in the back yard of his house.  I think the dimensions of his shop were something like 12’x16′, but his little shop DID have a bathroom!

Peter’s YouTube channel is wildly successful.  He has 197,000 subscribers and over 18 million views on his videos and I was quite interested to learn how managed to build such a loyal following.

Peter told me that he enjoyed woodworking, but he especially enjoyed working at the lathe.  He also wants his hobbies to pay for themselves and not be a drag on the family budget.   So, when he first discovered and got good at woodturning he decided to sell some of the pieces that he made.  As it turned out he was also quite good at selling and before long his work was selling both on the internet and in local craft shops.  He was so successful with this that working in the shop and running the business became an all consuming endeavor.

One day he decided that he had enough and he just quit.  He told me that “it stole my joy”.  Not only did he quit the business, but he was so burned out on woodworking that he quit going into the shop altogether.

Some time later he was watching a Jimmy Diresta video and he thought to himself “that looks like fun”.  His take on it was that Jimmy did just exactly what he wanted to do.  That was an ah-ha moment for Peter.  He wanted to reclaim the fun times that he had in his shop before the business got out of hand.  The next day he went back into his shop and made his first YouTube video.

I know how much work it is to run a business and I know how much effort some people put into their YouTube videos.  I find Peter’s decision to do only fun things in his shop and on his videos both counter-intuitive and refreshing.

Charlie and Peter Brown

Peter is a great guy and I genuinely enjoyed meeting with him.  His YouTube channel is called Shop Time and I encourage you to check it out at:

This was an amazing trip, I met and interviewed some of the most talented woodworkers in the country!  The interviews and the videos will be fantastic, but I the best part for me personally is that I made so many new friends.

I was on the road for 7-1/2 weeks, I drove through 11 states and I put 6800 miles on my car. Another unfortunate statistic is that I gained 7 pounds while I was gone, a pound a week! It is a good thing I got home when I did because I would really be in trouble if I stayed out much longer!

I interviewed a total of 11 different woodworkers: The Wood Whisperer – Marc Spagnuolo, David Marks, Peter Brown, Matthew Morris, Andrew Klein, Ray Mowder of Tab Left Workshop, Braxton Wirthlin, Zac Higgins of NV Woodworks, Michael Cooper, Chad Schimmel and Chris Kerschner of Adventures in DIY.

During the trip I met a total of 14 different woodworkers and filmed at least 22 separate videos.  Over the next several months I will post all of them to myYouTube channel and put them on my blog.

During the last leg of my trip I met woodworkers in Phoenix and Denver. The Wood Whisperer, Chad Schimmel, and Ty Moser live in the Phoenix area. I then met with Andy Klein in Denver.

I will post more details about all of the interviews as I complete the editing and get them up on YouTube! Unfortunately, my computer is having trouble handling the huge video files and editing is taking a lot longer than I thought it would. The computer problems is just a bump in the road. I am sure I will work through it and start posting those interviews very soon!

Charlie with The Wood Whisperer, Marc Spagnuolo at his shop outside of Phoenix, Arizona

Chad Schimmel in the pen making section of his woodshop in Chandler, Arizona.

Charlie with Andy Klein in his Denver woodshop.

Charlie with Ty Moser in Phoenix

I also got to meet Ty Moser while I was in Phoenix. I didn’t even know that he lived there, but through the magic of social media we connected. Ty is a great guy!. He and I met for lunch and I liked him very much. In fact, I would like to do some kind of collaboration with him, but I have NO IDEA what that might look like!

It was a wonderful trip, but I am very happy to be back in my shop. The travel and the interviews were an experience that I will never forget, but am a woodworker and I want to get started on my next project!

Until next time –

Charlie from Jack Bench Woodworking!

Charlie and Ray Mowder

Michael Cooper with his latest sculpture in progress.

I really enjoyed meeting Michael. I saw a presentation that he did at the Furniture Society Symposium a few years ago and I have always been a big fan of his work. My time with him far exceeded any expectations I had ahead of time. He and his wife Gayle are two of the very nicest people that I have ever met. Spending time at their beautiful home was icing on the cake. In addition to many of Michael’s beautiful sculptures, their home is tastefully decorated with artwork and custom furniture by some of the great furniture making icons of our time.

Michael still has several of his sculptures on his property and it was great to see them up close. Michael was very generous with his time and we made several videos while I was there. In one of the videos he showed me his most recent sculpture which is still in progress. (See photo above) He also did a video describing his technique for making wooden coil springs and another one on his technique for making the convoluted compound curves that is a signature of his work.

Wooden Coil Spring

Michael showed me how he makes the compound curves as seen in the exhaust pipes of this sculpture.

It so happens that David J. Marks lives very close to Michael. I saw a seminar that David did for the Minnesota Woodworkers’ Guild and, well, he is David Marks! I was quite pleasantly surprised not only that David agreed to meet with me, but by how generous he was with his time. We spent the whole day together and we made two videos. The first one is about the fabulous 30” vase that he is currently working on. His wife Victoria joined us for the second video which was a complete tour of the David J Marks Woodworking School. David and the school are both great and I would encourage anyone who is considering taking a class to take a look at his school.

Not only was David generous with his time, but he also gave me a nice piece of exotic hardwood called Pernambuco as a gift! Obviously, David is very high on my list!

Charlie and David Marks

Charlie and Peter Brown

The trifecta of this portion of my trip was the opportunity to meet Peter Brown. Peter has a very good and extremely popular YouTube channel.   Peter is a very fun guy and really enjoyed myself that afternoon. Even though Peter has made a name for himself with his “crazy creations”, he is not a crazy guy. To the contrary, I found him to have the admirable qualities of being sincere, personable, and fun too!

Until next time –

Charlie from Jack Bench Woodworking!

One of the absolute high points of my 2016 winter road trip was meeting Marc Spagnuolo, aka The Wood Whisperer at his shop outside Phoenix, AZ.

I posted on Facebook when I was in Arizona that I would like to interview another woodworker while I was there.  I had heard that Marc lived in the Phoenix area, but I never expected that he would have the time to meet with me.  To my surprise he responded to my Facebook posting and invited me to his woodshop for an interview!

See the whole interview on my YouTube channel

I was meeting most of the woodworkers that I interviewed for the very first time when I met with them.  Rather than just show up and start interviewing, I usually arranged to meet them at a restaurant for lunch to get a chance to get to know them first.

When Marc arrived at the restaurant I was pleasantly surprised to see that his wife, Nicole, was there too! They were both very nice, down to earth people and I felt very comfortable around them.

Marc and Nicole Spagnuolo

After lunch we headed to the Dream Shop that he built behind his house, and yes it really is a Dream Shop!  There is even extra space around the machines, I don’t see that very often!  Dream Shop Build Video

We broke the interview into three parts:

  1. Marc’s background and how he came to be known as “The Wood Whisper”
  2. The business side of “Wood Whispering”
  3. Marc responded to a few viewer questions that I had solicited through Facebook and YouTube.

I wanted to hear about Marc’s background and how he got started with all this.  I am also a big fan of David Marks and I wanted to hear more about how they got to be such good friends.  The most surprising thing I learned is that Marc is a molecular biologist!  I didn’t see that coming, but it is amazing how many woodworkers have scientific backgrounds.

I was most interested to hear about the business side of The Wood Whisper web site and the Wood Whisperer Guild.  I wanted to ask Marc why he thought that the Wood Whisperer web site and Guild are so successful and what does he do differently than most of the other woodworkers on the internet?  Marc was very open about his business.  His advise to others who want to develop internet woodworking businesses is “Don’t do it”.  The main reason he says that is because there is so much more competition on the internet today than there was when he started out.

We could’t get to all of the viewer questions.  Most of them were serious woodworking questions, but some were just for fun like Peter Brown’s question about why doesn’t Marc like Batman as well as Superman!

The last thing I did before we wrapped it up was to give Marc one of my Jack Bench Woodworking stickers and he graciously pasted it on the wall.

Marc Spagnuolo with Jack Bench Sticker

This blog article is just a recap of the interview, so be sure to watch the Video!

Marc is a fun guy to hang out with and I really enjoyed meeting him.  If you have ever watched any of his videos or listened to his podcast then you have a good idea as to what I mean by that!

Marc and me in his Dream Shop!