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Judged the Best – Winners in Finishing from the San Diego County Fair

Jul 1, 2016 | Expert's Corner | 0 comments

Each year, John Darroch, President and CEO of Apollo Sprayers and, judges the awards for the Excellence in Finishing at the prestigious Design in Wood (or @designinwood) show at the San Diego County Fair. Winners receive gift certificates from

This combined competition and exhibit is a collaboration between the San Diego Fine Woodworkers Association and the San Diego County Fair. Woodworkers from all over the world compete for honors in the largest show of its kind anywhere (according to Fine Woodworking magazine). Exquisite furniture, musical instruments, carvings, clocks, children’s toys and more — many museum quality — are included. Many pieces are for sale directly from the crafter.

This year, as always, the standards were extremely high. David Marr’s “Art Nouveau/Deco Vanity” won First Place in Finishing and was also awarded Best in Show.

Speaking to David Marr after his win, he acknowledged spending many hours, perhaps 450-500, to perfect the piece, in between other woodworking jobs. He’s been a professional woodworker for more than 20 years. He took as his initial inspiration the work of Emil Gallé, who designed furniture in the art nouveau period, and then put his own spin on it.

Woods used by David Marr were were olive, macassar ebony, pomelle sapele and the inlay was Honduran mahogany.

The whole piece is veneered, except for the inlay on the top. On top David used conversion varnish and the rest was sprayed with nitrocellulose lacquer. Interestingly, he used an Apollo Sprayer. Some years ago he won an Apollo Spray Gun in the Design in Wood competition and bought himself an Apollo 3-stage Turbine.

David Marr’s advice on how to produce a prize piece: “have a lot of patience.” He took his time since it was a really complicated piece where every joint is curved. It was difficult to build but he was determined to push his skill level further. As you can see, it paid off.

Second prize in Finishing went to Thomas Stockton, for his “Morning Glory Cabinet.” He’s been a woodworker doing custom work for 23 years and last year won the Master Woodworker’s Trophy.

Stockton was inspired by his love of morning glories and looked at lots of pictures of them before starting work. The wood is curly maple with the morning glories inlaid.

After he made the doors, he routed a cavity for each visual element, cutting the flowers with a jeweler’s saw, and then gluing them in with superglue. Next he sanded the inlay flush with the rest of the piece and sprayed with 8 or 9 coats of waterbased lacquer. The whole process took him approximately 200 hours.

His tip was to step away if you reach a problem. Go and think about it and come back later when you have a solution. He worked on this project in between other jobs for over a year.

Third place winner Donald Van Winkle was the exception in that this was the first time he’d entered Design in Wood. His “Chinese Display Unit” was inspired by an item he saw in China. A retired aerospace engineer, he took up woodworking in 1998 and took classes at Ceretos College in Norwalk, CA.

Van Winkle took 2-3 months just designing and researching the project. There are 7 types of traditional Chinese joints and he studied how to apply the appropriate joint in the appropriate place.

The wood frame is walnut and the shelves are made of MDF with olive ash burl veneer. The main feature was the unique joinery. In total the piece has 190 mortices. He constructed the piece at Ceretos College where they had a morticer that was essential to the project.

The finish was multiple coats of oil varnish applied and rubbed. He added a coat of colored wax on the walnut and clear wax on the shelves.

In all, the project took 650 hours. Donald Van Winkle, like all the winning finishers in this article counsels patience. His tip is “You have to be patient, and a little bit nuts.”

If you qualify, consider making a piece to enter in a show!