Monday, January 25, 2016

Shop Talk Episode 7

Weekly shop update, what's going on in the coming week, what I did the past week, etc.

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Sunday, January 24, 2016

Reclaimed Wood Projects

A gentleman contacted me a few weeks ago, saying he had a bunch of reclaimed barn wood that he'd like to use for a coffee table and some end tables, and if I thought I could build them for him. Below are the videos of those builds.

To start with, the wood he provided me was in rough shape. It was old, very dry, cracking, and prone to splitting and splintering. To further complicate matters, he and his wife had decided they wanted to preserve the look of the old, weathered wood, which meant they did not want me to resurface the boards in any way, shape, or form. That mean I couldn't run them through the planer or do any sanding.

Since I couldn't alter the wood, I had a difficult task when it came to joinery. Wood glue will not stick to dirt, and this stuff had plenty of dirt, grime, old paint, and who knows what else on it. I could have went with mortise and tenons with wedges, but I've never really done anything like that before. And I also wasn't too sure how well this wood would have held up to being cut that way (the wood, being as dry as it was, could very well split when I went to drive a wedge in). Basically my only other option was pocket holes, so that's the route I took.

The first step I took was to make the table tops and shelves. I did defy them in one regards, I had to joint the edges of two large boards in order to glue them up into one big piece to make the top for the coffee table. My concerns about the condition of the wood was justified. When I ran them over my jointer, I got some splintering, so I used my hand planes, instead (I did the same for the large shelf that was to go on the coffee table). Glue up went smoothly, so I moved onto the leg construction.

They had some 4x4 posts they wanted to use for the legs of all three tables, so I cut four legs and left them at that size for the coffee table, and took two more 4x4 blanks and resawed them into legs for the end tables (I basically cut the pieces in half, then cut them in half again).

I moved onto making the aprons (or rails, or stetchers....whatever you want to call them, they're the pieces of wood that join the legs together and hold the tops/shelves in place). Again, not trusting the condition of the wood, I did a rough cut of these on my bandsaw, and then used my crosscut sled on the table saw to cut them to exact length. I drilled the pocket screws in each piece and set them aside, and prepared to assemble the tables.

Assembly went pretty good, I only had a couple of issues overall with keeping everything square (remember, I couldn't mill the wood up, so there was bound to be issues of proper alignment).

It was at this stage that they informed me that instead of putting on a clear coat of finish, they'd just leave them as is, mainly because I mentioned that with the wood being dirty and still having residue on it (as they requested), then any finish more than likely would start to come off over time. I also mentioned to them that in cutting the wood, I had exposed fresh wood on some of the edges, and gave them some options for me to try and get these edges to match the original look. Staining was out of the question, as I couldn't find anything that matched. I tried to use the baking soda trick and vinegar and steel wool, but neither produced the results I needed. So instead I mixed up two different colors of stains (water-based), diluted them, then lightly brushed it on. I did this in several passes, letting it dry between coats, and that seemed to do the trick. I did make a suggestion to them that, when they got around to it, they could coat them with some kind of penetrating oil, like Tung oil or Danish oil.

I delivered the tables and they loved them. Would I build something like this for my own home? Probably not, as they're not my style and would also look awkward in a 115-year old Victorian home. Will I build something like this again? It depends, really, on what condition the wood is in. I certainly would not attempt to do this again with wood like what I just used, I will say that.

Coffee table

End tables

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Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Lessons Learned The Hard Way

I recently completed a commissioned project that, much to my chagrin, taught me a few lessons when it comes to doing woodworking for pay.

A lady contacted me for an "L"-shaped desk for her craft room (video is here). After discussing the basics of what she was looking to do, I went over to her house, took some measurements, and discussed in more detail what the desk was going to be used for. This was so I could get an understanding of how it should be built and what it would have to withstand in its day-to-day use (and abuse).

I went home, priced some materials, did a few sketches, figured out the joinery, and so on, and then went back over to her house to present her with the plan and a couple of quotes based on different materials (I priced oak, maple, pine, hickory, and even plywood). She decided on the pine option, as she was going to have me paint it anyway. We looked over the sketches, and I got her final approval (and a deposit), so I went home and got to work.

It didn't take long before the messages started coming in, asking for changes to the design. At first, it was a concern about the height of the desk. She had initially said she wanted it at 27 inches, but after thinking it over for a bit, she decided that perhaps that wouldn't give her enough leg room, so she asked for it to be 30 inches tall, instead. Since I hadn't started on the legs yet, I said it would be no problem, and that was my first mistake. By agreeing to the late change, I opened the floodgates to further design changes down the road that would, unlike this change, delay the completion of the project, set my schedule back (which interfered with other projects I had lined up), and ate into my time.

By the second day, she had contacted me asking for that the corner piece be a stand-alone unit, also. When I showed her the plans, I offered her the option of having it a table in and of itself, or it could just be a top that dropped into place and bolted to the other two portions of the desk. She opted originally for the dropped in unit, but now she had decided that she wanted it to be its own table, as well. So that meant making more legs and adapting the already-constructed top to take them. That wasted another day of my schedule.

On the fourth day (remember, if I had been able to stick to the plan, this would have been the final day and would be ready for delivery) she contacted me yet again. She had asked me to send pictures as the build progressed, and I did that. When I presented the plans to her, there were rails/stretchers under the table tops, but she decided against those, citing the leg room concern. I had told her that without them, the drawer runners would be exposed and there would be a certain loss of sturdiness and stability to the overall tops. She said she understood. Now, having seen the pictures, she decided I was right, and asked that I at least put a rail/stretcher on the portion with the smaller drawers. Since the runners were already glued and screwed in place, I couldn't remove them without damaging what I had already built, so I had to come up with a workaround plan, which I did. It took me another day, basically, to complete this simple task. Had I been allowed to just do it from the start, it wouldn't have taken any time at all.

On the fifth day, she decided she wanted a special kind of paint, instead of the semi-gloss white I told her I had on hand, so I had to go get it. And this is where I decided it was time to stop this endless changing of the plan. I told her, as politely as I could, that after I had the paint, I would do no more alterations to the plan. Once I started the painting, I was not going to cut back into the wood to add or remove something from the desk. That, as they say, was that, and I finished it up five days after I started, and delivered it the next day.

The entire project was supposed to take me three days, four at the very most, but by allowing her to make changes to the plan, I ended up extending the build time to five days, plus an extra day for painting and allowing it to dry. It set me back in my schedule, as I have other projects lined up for people that I was supposed to start on after this was complete. So I learned my lesson: once the plan is finalized and the deposit paid, make it abundantly clear that once that first cut is made, no more changes will be allowed to the project from that point on. In doing so, you allow the customer to eat into your precious time and your costs could very well rise. If you have set the price in stone, that means your profit will fall as a result. I was fortunate in that I did tell her early on that this was merely a quote, that the final price could be higher (it was, but that was due to her changes, not due to my actual figuring the cost of materials).

Your time is probably your most valuable commodity. I spent about 60, perhaps even 70, hours on this project, and even though I made a decent profit on it, it certainly wasn't enough to pay me for the amout of time I spent on it. It's just me in my shop, and in order to make it worth my while, I either have to charge more or crank out projects as fast and as efficiently as I can, or a certain combination of both. By allowing her to dominate my time, it seriously impacted my bottom line when I did my week-ending analysis. My original plan, as I said, was to do her project and immediately move on to a less-involved project, thus completing two in one week. Those two combined would have paid enough to make it worth my time, but spending the entire week on one project, and only getting paid for one project, made it not really worth the effort.
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Monday, January 18, 2016

Shop Talk Episode 6

Shop update for the week.

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Sunday, January 17, 2016

Making A "L" Shaped Desk

Recently I had a lady contact me about building an "L"-shaped desk to use in her craft room. I sketched out some rough details with her, took some measurements, and came up with an idea of what she wanted. She gave the go-ahead, and this is the build (sped up, of course....took me several days to build).

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Monday, January 11, 2016

Shop Talk Episode 5

Shop update for the week.

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Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Build A Quick And Easy Marking Gauge

I uploaded this video a while back after hearing/seeing something on You Tube by Paul Sellers It's really ingenious because of its simplicity.

All you need is a hole saw, a drywall screw, and perhaps a file or some way to sharpen the edge of the screw:

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Monday, January 4, 2016

Shop Talk Episode 4

I talk in this video about what's going on in the shop and also a little bit about potential clients, which kind of ties in nicely with my previous article.

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Friday, January 1, 2016

Can You Make Money Off Of Woodworking?

As I've mentioned before, I got started in woodworking about two years ago. In that time, I've built several projects, and made some money off of them. The question I've seen asked most often of other woodworkers is "can you make money off of doing this?" They've given various answers, all of which are valid and very insightful. My answer? A qualified "absolutely".

By "qualified", I mean yes, you can make some spare cash from doing things like this. But can you make an actual living doing it? I'd have to say that depends on several factors.

First, where do you live? If you live in a rural area or an area without much of a customer base, then you're going to have a rough time of it, unless you can market yourself and ship your items (or even deliver) to your customers. I live in such an area, and the customer base just isn't there to support a family, let alone the hobby in general, so if I ever did decide to go full time, I'd have to consider marketing outside my local area and either shipping or delivering my finished product.

Second, what kind of customers are in your area? Lower, middle, or upper income? Upper income clients are ideal, because they have the disposable income to throw money at someone willing to build them that custom-made garlic crusher out of some exotic wood that nobody's ever heard of. Middle income are more selective in what they purchase. They will weigh the pros and cons of spending, say, $400 on a hand-made oak dresser, as opposed to going to a big box store and purchasing them pre-fabricated and ready to assemble. Lower income, not to disparage anyone, will not usually purchase something from a woodworker, because they just don't have the disposable income to spend on stuff like this, regardless of how long it will last them.

Third, how good are your skills? Have you developed into a master craftsman, or are you simply screwing two boards together, slapping some paint on it, and calling it done? If you can build quality items, then yeah, you have a marketable skill that people will, usually, be willing to pay a little extra for.

Fourth, what is your source for materials? Are you able to buy directly from a lumber mill, or do you have to go to a home center or something like that? If you can get wood from a lumber mill, not only will you have a wider selection available to you (which translates into offering something more to your customers), your costs will be significantly lower, as well. If you can cut and mill your own wood, even better.

Finally, do you have other sources of income to fall back on? If you're trying to make a living as a woodworker, sometimes clients thin out and work becomes scarce. If you have other sources of income, related to your overall work, then that makes it easier to weather any storms. For example, you can cut down trees and turn them into usable lumber for other woodworkers. Or you can have a website, make videos, etc., and make a small income online (not that there's a lot of money in it, but every little bit helps). You could also do furniture repair or refinishing.

Before you leap into trying to make this a career, you should first have a way of figuring out what prices you need to charge to make an actual living. Not only do you have the cost of wood, you have to factor in your time, any extra supplies you need to make the project (such as stain, finish, hardware, etc), delivery costs, overhead, etc., and then see how much of a profit you have to make per month to keep the lights on (not just in your shop, but in your house, too). Don't be surprised when some people balk at what you end up quoting them.

The mentality these days is "why should I pay that when I can go get it at the Big Box Store for a fraction of that cost?" That's when you need to be able to market yourself and explain why they should buy from you, rather than go the cheaper route. I always explain that yes, they could go to the BBS and get it for a lot less, but they should expect to replace it within a few years, because nothing beats real wood and solid construction, and that's the service you're offering.

The key to making a living by doing woodworking is to know your customers, what the local market will tolerate in the way of prices, what sells and what doesn't, and what you can do to supplement the business income in case things go south. In any case, don't expect to get rich off of doing this.

Like I've said many time in the past, I don't make a living doing this, nor do I expect to right now because my skills are just not at that level. Currently, any money I make with the shop, goes back into the shop. Still, I have made a decent amount of money from this, and it's allowed me to invest in more tools and expand my horizons. I've learned more skills by building things for other people than I probably would have learned had I simply stuck to making stuff for my own family and close friends. I know that right now I couldn't make a living at this for most, if not all, of the reasons above. But there may come a day in the not too distant future when I could actually consider it and not laugh myself silly, and it's nice to know ahead of time what you need to be aware of should you choose to go that direction with your life and career.
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