The large regional woodturning symposium known as SWAT has quite a heritage. It got its start in October 1992, when a modest group of Texas turners decided to get together under some large live oak trees near the Colorado River in Columbus, Texas. They couldn’t have imagined what they were starting. That was the beginning of what has turned into the second largest woodturning symposium in the world. That gathering became known as Texas Turn or Two, and continued for ten years under that name.
The symposium was conceived and organized by a group of Texas turners who met at the home of Bob Rubel in San Marcos. Among those attending that get-together were Gary Roberts, Clay Foster, James Johnson, Larry Roberts and Mark Potter. That gathering led to the idea that it would be great to have a regional woodturning symposium that could be attended by those who had neither the time nor the money to go to a national event. The four or five AAW chapters then in Texas got to work. The idea at first seemed likely to founder since no one could come up with a site that wasn’t too expensive. A few days later, Mark Potter decided that he could move things around in his cabinet shop near Columbus and host it there on Columbus Day. The demonstrators agreed to demonstrate without a charge and the principals decided that if they could get 50 people, they would break even.
On the appointed day, folks began to wind their way down the dirt road a couple of miles outside of Columbus. Soon there were motor homes, trailers, pop-ups and tents scattered all around the area under the big live oak trees. The event was a success! They more than broke even, with approximately 80 attendees. The event returned to Columbus the next year, with John Jordan as the first invited featured demonstrator. By then it had outgrown Mark Potter’s shop!
From 1994 through 2000, the Texas Turn or Two symposium was held at Maricopa Ranch RV Park west of New Braunfels, near Canyon Lake. Eventually, attendance became so large that just accommodating everyone at the demonstrations was a major challenge. Add to that a ferocious rainstorm that very nearly swamped the event in 2000, with cold rain blowing in under the demonstration tents and falling into the dining tent and tent where the vendors had their wares to sell, mainly iron.
It became obvious that larger facilities would have to be found, and the event moved to San Angelo for the 2001 Texas Turn or Two. In 2002, the symposium was reorganized as the SouthWest Association of Turners and held its annual symposium in Wichita Falls. Both the name change and the location were undertaken to make the event more accessible to woodturners from nearby neighboring states. In 2004, the event was moved to Temple in central Texas, to be more accessible to its Texas membership base. The event returned to Wichita Falls in 2005.
The Fifteenth Annual SWAT Symposium, now sponsored by eighteen woodworking clubs in Texas and Oklahoma, was held in Temple in 2006. This was the largest and most successful gathering yet, with some 580 attendees. The large number of attendees and number of demonstration rotations had to be held in two separate buildings. This also pushed the limits that the facility could handle.
The sixteenth annual SWAT Annual Symposium moved back to Wichita Falls, Texas in 2007. Our association now included 22 woodturning clubs in Texas and Oklahoma. The event featured six lead demonstrators and twelve regional demonstrators with a total of 58 demonstrations over the run of the symposium. The symposium was now drawing attendees from Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Mississippi, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas and Washington who came to enjoy the three-day event. That year we ran into space problems in Wichita Falls and need to look into larger facilities.
The Waco Convention Center became the site of the seventeenth symposium in 2008 and has been our home since. The first year in Waco, the attendance was 582 attendees. The symposium offered the largest group of vendors to date, totaling 25. The Instant Gallery was very successful with the added attraction of a Gallery Drawing that was well received. The slate of national leads was the largest number offered in the history of SWAT. The larger convention center allowed growth in attendees and a larger group of vendors. By SWAT's 25th anniversary in 2016, we reached a new record with more than 1,000 attendees and 78 vendors to take care of every woodturner's needs.
Several things make SWAT symposiums attractive. SWAT features world-class demonstrators and an outstanding gallery of art. The registration fee, including lunches, is one of the lowest in the nation. Lunches are included in the registration fee and receive rave reviews from attendees. There is also a Saturday evening banquet. There are classes and activities for the spouses and a large number of quality vendors.
Another popular item is our 3-for-1 Raffle. It is one raffle that has three drawings, with the drawn tickets returned to the bin before subsequent drawings. During the Friday opening ceremony, we will be giving away a Midi lathe and an Arrowmont scholarship, including travel expenses. The second drawing, at the Saturday evening dinner, features about 30 quality pieces of work donated by invited turners. The third drawing, after lunch on Sunday, is for tools, wood and equipment, including over $5,000 worth of tools and the grand prizes, 3 Variable Speed Midi lathes and a full-size Lathe can be won. In 2023 the full size lathe will be a Powermatic 3520C, (20”x35”) lathe. For the price of one raffle ticket, everyone has a chance of winning any prize at any of the three drawings.
In its 32 years of existence SWAT has only missed having a symposium each year except for 2020 due to Covid.
SWAT also supports the Beads of Courage program and in 2022 our attendees donated 400 Beads of Courage boxes which were all displayed in our Instant Gallery and then subsequently donated to various Hospitals.
2023 will be the 31st SWAT symposium and we are looking forward to having an exciting experience meeting old and new friends.