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Woodworker's Gazette
Gazette Archive 4/1/99

Scott Phillips, a Genuine American Woodworker
By Marty Escarcega

Photo©Sylvan Tool Works

The local Woodcraft store here in Tempe Arizona hosted a demonstration featuring Scott Phillips who hosts The American Woodshop television show on PBS. The demonstration ran from 10:00am to 5:00pm. He demonstrated bandsawn boxes in the morning, turned a pen before lunch and after lunch he turned a beautiful maple bowl. I actually hesitated to go to Woodcraft because I thought the place would be packed with people wanting to see Scott Phillips. However I had a "white" grinding wheel I had to exchange, had the family with me and we were in the area so I thought I'd give it a go. If it was too busy I'd just leave.

I walked into the store, exchanged my grinding wheel and saw Scott standing over by the finishing supplies with about 12-14 people standing around and listening. I had thought he'd be just another TV personality. The family and I decided to wander over to see what he had to say. He was talking about a new finish for turnings, pens and bowls; Mylands I think it was. Scott looked at the price and said, "$14.99! this stuff sells for over $20 at home, I tell ya folks, if there's any left at the end of the day its going home with me". He got a chuckle out of the small crowd.

He motioned for all to head over to the lathe, where there were some chairs setup, to watch the demo on pen turning, then after lunch - bowl turning. That got us hooked. My 12-year-old son had gotten into pen turning and wanted to hang around and watch. We took our seats. He brought out a pair of blanks from his little satchel he called "my little bag of tricks". He had already drilled them and said, "you know, there are all sorts of jigs you can buy here in the store to help hold the blank so you can drill a centered hole but I just use a hand screw" That one caught me off guard folks. Woodcraft is a sponsor of the American Woodshop. He proceeded to scuff up the brass insert and then proceeded to show how to glue it in with the Cyanoacrylate glue. He was doing a pen in Zebrawood. He stuck the insert just barely into the blank, put some glue on it and said, "now watch, I gotta do this fast". He proceeded to twist the insert in, then pull it out, then stuck the wet end back in on the other end with about 1/4" sticking out, explaining what he had done.

While putting the last dab of glue on, he then tried to press the insert the rest of the way in but it had already started to set. He jumped up and said comically "Shoot!", ran over to the bench and stuck the blank in the vise. The insert broke loose and it went the rest of the way in. He smiled and said "Whew!" Got another rise out of the crowed and an elderly gentleman said, "Scott, its nice to see you're not just another pretty face". He said, "Thanks, I think?"

The old fellow ribbed him a bit during the rest of the demo. Scott said, "you're a heckler, I get one in almost every crowd." Someone had asked Scott, how much do you charge for something like that, Scott replied, "I don't, I give them away, and I'll give this one away like the bandsawn box". Scott mounted the blanks up on a mandrel and then slid it into the headstock of the low end Delta lathe. He started to turn, the blanks slipped on the mandrel and he tightened it up a couple times making no excuses. He finally got the pen done and gave it away. He had the audience pick a number between 1-20, went around until someone got it exactly and gave his pen away.

When we got back after lunch, Scott was running a bit late as he was held up a bit enjoying conversation with some woodworkers. He brought out a maple burl bowl blank to turn - a really nice blank. He chucked it up and started to turn it using a typical Sorby bowl turning gouge with a fingernail grind. He started the turn. He mentioned that if the blank came loose that this was its direction that it would be headed towards, pointed at another lady and me! Then promptly turned the lathe so it was now aimed at his "heckler" friend and got another laugh out of the crowd.

Scott explained how he was going to do the turn. He said this might look a little strange and then proceeded to climb up on the bed of the little lathe for more ballast and better control while he was hollowing out the bowl - not the least bit worried about getting dirty. He had a button down shirt, typical of what he wears on his show along with nice work pants. He started roughing out the bowl and then proceeded to point the ribbon of shavings flying off the bowl at his "heckler" friend. Keep in mind he was doing all this in fun and the old fellow was getting a kick out of it as well. He commented on how well the bowl looked and how beautiful it was. He said, "did I say I was going to give this away?" He mentioned that so far this year it was his most favorite bowl to turn because of the beauty in the wood. He did the "guess the number" routine again, and got back to the third row where my wife sat and you guessed it, she got it! Everyone clapped for her. She was excited.

During the demonstration, Scott side tracked several times telling stories, once on how he was next to a large tree, hit by lighting and had believed he was at deaths door. He said he had about a 1/2 second to tell God something because he knew it looked like it was his time, his hair stood on end, he felt it before it struck. His words to God were, "Oh shoot, not now Lord!" He followed by, not in those exact words, saying we all have a destiny after life. He wondered why we are all here and after that experience he said we are here just to make the world a little bit better than it was before. There is a place for all of us afterwards.

Scott mentioned several times through his demonstrations, about machines and the features of one over the other. Scott doesn't seem to be brand loyal. He said he lost a sponsor because he didn't want to use their products. Not that they weren't any good but he personally believed he could do without and thought his methods were better without the use of the tool.

Scott learned the furniture making trade from his grandfather. Scott's passion is period furniture. He talked about several projects he had going. He also mentioned that some would be on his show. The shop that Scott tapes his show from IS his shop. More over, Scott purchased all the equipment in the shop! Since Scott is a turner, he mentioned to his wife that he'd like to buy a dedicated bowl lathe. His Delta Top Turn Lathe, that he bought and uses on the show, wasn't really cutting it for the larger bowls. He talked to his wife about buying a Vega bowl lathe for $3000. Granted folks, it's more than many of us can afford but he makes the money and buys what he can afford that will do the job for him. My personal impression is that Scott buys what he uses and buys tools based on the usefulness and need like many of us do. It seems that he doesn't buy based on sponsorship loyalty or because his sponsors want him to use their machines in exchange for the support. He said " I recommend what I do based on experience and need". He did several comparisons and said why he liked one over the other. He continued that he wants to give honest real life opinions to folks.

After the show was over, Scott chatted with folks and signed photos without hesitation, never minded any of the photos taken, infact, he took one with my son and I holding the bowl that he had turned and my wife had won.

Some statistics Scott shared with the crowed about his show were; it takes 3 weeks from start to finish to do one 1/2-hour show at a cost of almost $27,000 per show. He has a 4-person crew to do the taping, 2 of which were camera people. The show is done at his home workshop. Scott spends about 40 weekends a year on the road doing demonstrations and trade shows.

In summary, folks, Scott Phillips is a craftsman. He said pleasantly, "If my show goes off air, don't worry about me, I'll be in my shop or barn when I get it done, doing my woodworking. The Lord has been good to me and my life." He has a very pleasant personality, ad-lib's his demonstrations, nothing is scripted or planned, laughs and acknowledges his blunders, fixes the machine that's out of whack during the demo and does it aptly, never gets too serious and appears to be a very kind hearted man who has a sincere passion about his craft. If you get the opportunity to attend one of his demonstrations please do so. You'll be pleasantly surprised by this human being. You'll enjoy your "visit" with him and might even pick up a pointer or two. If your local PBS station does not air The American Woodshop, contact them by e-mail or snail mail and urge them to do so.

Marty Escarcega

Editor's Note: One of Marty's favorite pasttimes is rebuilding old powertools.

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