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Here Comes the Judge

By Bill Browning


Between telling Ole and Lena jokes and making gentle ribs at Swede (about, among other things, eating ribs), Dave Halvorson explained how scroll saw contests are judged.
When asked to be a judge, Dave said jokingly, he’d do it only if he had a way to make a quick exit when the judging was done, to avoid the wrath of those who felt their entries were not highly enough rated.

Dave asked one judge how to evaluate scrollsaw art. The man replied that you need to look at everything: the cutting, the gluing, the sanding, the finishing. Dave asked him if anyone ever got mad. The man laughed and said, yeah, there was one case. The scroller had confronted him afterwards in the parking lot and had torn into him. “You blind so-and-so! This thing took me hours to make! You don’t know nothin’!” The judge was saved by an attendee, not an entrant, who happened to come by at that moment. She pointed out the flaws in the man’s work, ending with, “And didn’t you ever hear of sandpaper?”

Dave pointed out that there’s a difference between viewing a piece from eight feet away and examining it closely when judging it. He said, “What I do is start at one end of the line and keep in my mind that I don’t like any of this stuff.” That way, he’s less likely to show any favoritism.

He said that glue squeeze-outs “will get you every time.” In one case, someone who entered a very nice-looking clock didn’t get a ribbon because of one glue squeeze-out and a couple of other minor flaws. When asked what is important, he said, “Usually cutting and gluing is going to kill you.”

Someone asked Dave if the depth of an intarsia piece is a factor in judging. Dave said that early in doing the hobby, he learned how important building up the piece and rounding the edges was.

Another question concerned how cuts are judged. Dave said that smoothness in cutting is important. “There was one fella, brought in a wooden fireplace mantel. It looked really good from a distance, but up close I found one mark. I wrote that there’s one saw mark; I’m not going to tell you where it is. You can look for it this winter.”

There often are tie scores, Dave said. One year two entries tied for the blue ribbon. Dave and two other judges examined the pieces carefully, looking for the slightest differences. One piece had four fuzzies (from a spiral blade on the fretwork) and the other had six. That was how the judges broke the tie. In another case, the entrant who took second place asked Dave what kept him from getting first prize. He was told that the difference was a gap one place on the piece.

Dave passed around an example of a score card from the State Fair. Someone in the audience said that now intarsia is a category by itself. Dave mentioned that the categories for the judging at the Northstar meeting were sanding, finishing, wood selection, workmanship, usefulness, design, and originality. Someone questioned the appropriateness of the usefulness category. Dave replied that something can be useful because it is decorative.

Dave feels that this hobby isn’t about winning; it’s about doing what you love, keeping busy, trading stories with others, and generally just having a good time. But some scrollers feel that they are the best there is. To which, Dave says—well let’s just say we won’t print it here. Dave concluded, “I’ve won, I’ve lost. So what. At least I learned something.”