At last week's Association of Woodworking and Furnishings Suppliers Fair (AWFS) in Las Vegas, I expected to see the booth for RIKON Tools crowded with new and updated machinery. And in that regard, the company didn't disappoint. (See our video blog
coverage of an exciting new 14-in. RIKON band saw and another big change to RIKON's tool line by clicking here
.) But what I didn't expect to find was the crowd of attendees gravitating around a "non-tool" being showcased by RIKON: it was a fully functional, custom-built wooden bicycle made by Chris Connor of Connor Wood Bicycles
. Considering all of the popping camera flashes and stir the bike was creating, you would have thought a woodworking celebrity was signing autographs.
But closer inspection made it easy to understand the crowd's hullaballoo. The bike, a Connor Woody Cruiser, customized with RIKON's logo and a RIKON license plate hanging under the seat, begged to be fawned over. The frame was made primarily of white ash with a thick center lamination of walnut running stem to stern, and it was finished to a high gloss with marine spar varnish. The bike was sleek, surprisingly lightweight and, according to Connor, who was there to share it with attendees, more than strong enough for casual pedaling or a serious tromp off-road. Kevlar® fabric laminations reinforced the wood at key stress points, and aircraft-grade epoxy held everything together. And while Connor insisted that his custom-built creations are made to be ridden, this beauty seemed too pretty for the garage or a muddy trail. It was without question a functional work of art.
"That's exactly what came to mind for me when I first saw Chris's bikes," said Rod Burrow, RIKON's vice president of technical support. "When I saw those curved lines and the seamless joinery, I immediately thought of a Maloof chair. If Sam had decided to build bicycles when he was alive, they would have looked like this."
Burrow explained that he first met Chris Connor last December over the phone, when Connor called to order a replacement table insert for his 10-325 Deluxe 14-in. RIKON band saw. "Chris has been building custom bikes for a few years in his Denver shop, but he's also a talented furniture- and boat-builder, as well as a luthier. After that conversation, we took a close look at his website and were impressed with his work and his small-business approach. That's when the idea came to commission Chris to build a bike on behalf of RIKON and bring it to share with attendees here at AWFS."
Rod says this is the first time RIKON has sponsored a small-business owner at a trade show. But the opportunity seemed perfect for Chris to both inspire others with his product and discuss how his RIKON band saw helps him fabricate these handmade bicycles.
"We try to have close connections to our customers and small-business owners, and some of them are almost like part of our staff. We want to learn about how they use our tools in the projects and products they make."
He went on to explain some of RIKON's other outreach efforts to the woodworking community lately. Last summer, the company hosted the biannual conference of the Northeastern Association of Woodworking Teachers at RIKON's Billerica, Massachusetts, headquarters. At the conclusion of the conference, each teacher was presented with a RIKON wood lathe as a gift for attending the event. The company has also recently donated tools to an outreach program for troubled teens and adults in Hawaii. The donations have helped the facility set up a woodworking shop for its residents.
This year's AWFS also marks RIKON's third major sponsorship of the Fresh Wood Student Competition. It's an event held at each AWFS Fair where projects built by high school and post-secondary students are on display and critiqued by a panel of judges and up for a "People's Choice" vote during the show. Students compete for cash prizes. RIKON sponsored the "Best of Show" award this time.
"For this 2013 Fresh Wood competition, we also launched a fundraising effort in April of last year with a major woodworking retailer. Customers could make an online donation when they placed their order; the retailer matched customer donations up to $10,000. That effort was tremendously successful, and the proceeds are all being donated to Fresh Wood," Burrow says.
Also during this year's AWFS show, three cabinetry students were competing in the 2013 WorldSkills Cabinetmaking Qualifying Trials. Each was building a complex cabinetry project designed by woodworking educators for the AWFS Fair. It was a timed build-off, and the student with the best project at the conclusion of the three-day competition, as evaluated by a panel of judges, will advance to international competition. It will occur at WorldSkills 2015 in Brazil.
Burrow revealed that RIKON's Connor custom bike would be donated to SkillsUSA at the conclusion of last week's AWFS Fair. SkillsUSA will auction off the bike, and proceeds will be used for various WorldSkills activities.
"By supporting woodworking students, or showcasing business owners like Chris Connor, we hope that we at RIKON are planting seeds for the next generation of woodworking professionals," Rod says. "We want the woodworking industry to continue to flourish, and this is our way of doing our part and giving back to it."
Learn more about other charitable work RIKON has done, as reported in a previous Industry Interview, by clicking here. Or, to find out more about RIKON's woodworking tools, click here.