Entering Your Projects at the Local County and State Fair

John Kennedy with a Florida State Fair first: Best of Show and a Blue Ribbon.

I was fortunate enough to be invited to attend the judging event for the woodworking projects at the Florida State Fair. I was not a judge, but an interested observer. It was an education in what the judge looks for in the pieces submitted. (More about that in a different post.)

Before the judge arrived I made several interesting observations.

First, only 20+ projects were submitted in the woodworking category. I don’t have a frame of reference for how this compares to most state fairs, but it seemed to me that for a state-wide event, there would be more projects.

This table symbolizes the lack of youth projects in woodworking.

The second thing I noticed was the absence of younger woodworkers. Everyone (with one or two exceptions) had to be 55+ years old. I guess that’s to be expected in a state known for retirement living. But I noticed the same trend at the Iowa State Fair when I resided in Des Moines for ten years. To me, it’s disappointing. One of my lifelong goals is to encourage the younger generations to work with their hands and be creative with something tangible that they can call their own.

These observations got me to thinking. Why aren’t there more presenters in the woodworking category? Local woodworking clubs are always begging their members to take a project or two to the state fair. Is it our innate fear of embarrassment that our project isn’t good enough? Is it fear of what the judge might have to say? Do we feel our work isn’t worthy of being displayed at the state fair?

Let’s analyze this objectively. First of all, get your kids and grandkids in the workshop. In building projects for one of my recent books, several of my grandkids were helping with sanding, painting, and a number of other tasks. It wasn’t that they were necessarily completing a project but simply being exposed to tools and how they work. Eventually young ones and teens can start designing and building their own projects to present at the local county and possibly state fair.

As for the rest of us, what is there to be afraid of? Realistically, only your close friends and family members are going to know your project and they don’t care about all of the mistakes you may have made in the piece. They’ll be proud of you for being willing to have your project on display. As for the judges comments, let’s look at from the perspective of constructive criticism to help improve your woodworking and not a condemnation of how you built your project. We can take criticisms too personally. They’re opportunities for growth.

And who knows…your project could win a blue ribbon!

So we need to be forward-thinking as we work in the shop. Can the project we are working on (or the next one) be a potential project for display at the local fair?

We need to get over our fear and make it happen.