Lessons Learned from a State Fair Woodworking Judge

As I mentioned in this previous post, I was able to attend the judging event for woodworking projects at the Florida State Fair. And boy, did I learn a lot.

This year, the woodworking judge was John Stine. His company, Stine Custom Woodworks, LLC, creates a lot of artistic, creative pieces for commercial and private commissions. He is highly qualified to be a judge. He had judged all of the projects on the previous day and made his comments on the judging sheets. On this day, he went around to each project and presented his comments to the woodworker. His personal demeanor was pleasant and very helpful to those displaying their projects at the fair.

Here are some highlights as the judge commented on every project:


John was a stickler for finishing. “A poor finish will overwhelm the design and presentation,” he said. Some projects were just short of his standards for a quality finish. Most had to do with inadequate sanding. John likes to wet-sand his final coat with 1000 or 2500-grit sandpaper and then apply a wax or the final finish coat. He likes to add a little tint or color to the finish for patina (even on “natural” pieces) to make it an original piece.

Treating all of the “unseen” parts of the project with the same sanding and finishing technique was high on John’s list also. For example, the inside and outside of drawers, including the drawer bottoms.

During his comments on one project, the question came up about the use of polyurethane. John prefers to stay away from it. And one woodworker piped up, “Minwax should be thrown in the trash.” I can’t say I disagree with either of these statements. John goes on to say that the type of finish depends on the project, the materials it’s made from, and its intended use.

There was a hall table on display that had a highly figured veneered top. John was a little disappointed in the finish. “Figured wood can really sing if it’s finished properly.” More sanding.


And speaking of sanding, John mentioned that, as woodworkers, we need to take extra care and time to remove all machining marks from all surfaces. This includes scratches left from sanding, planing marks, and saw marks. And to give the project a pleasant “feel” when it’s touched, John likes to lightly ease all of the sharp corners and edges.


John made a few comments about the overall design of some of the projects. He suggested using contrasting wood species for visual impact and a focal point. And little things like adding drawer stops to drawers add a practical feature that helps your project stand out.

All in all, listening to John’s comments was a great lesson on how I can improve on my woodworking skills on future projects.