Product Review: Granberg Alaskan Mark IV Portable Chain Saw Mill

Granberg Sawmill
Granberg Saw Mill

How cool would it be to mill your own wood directly from the source?  Very cool, indeed.  I had the opportunity to do just that the other day when fellow woodworker, Jacob Hummitzsch, and I tried out the Granberg Mark IV Alaskan Portable Chain Saw Mill to cut some slabs out of a downed white oak nearby.  If you are considering sourcing your own wood, I highly recommend it.  Here is some of the intel on the Granberg:

 

Advantages

White Oak from Sawmill
White Oak from Sawmill

End Result.  As you can see from the picture at the left, there is minimal waviness in the boards we cut.  If you use a large bandsaw, which is typical for this kind of work, there can be some pretty significant waves in the wood to deal with.  The slabs we cut with the Granberg should be very easy to plane.  The boards we cut were as large as 16 inches across and my planer can only handle 12 inches, so if I want to keep the entire width would need to take the boards to a hardwood dealer or sawyer for planing, OR I could build a rig using a router to plane the wood.  I’ll likely go the router route at some point in the future when I get more into making table tops.

Granberg in Action
Granberg in Action

Ease of Use.  Once we got the hang of it, cutting slabs was a breeze.  You just lean forward and rock the saw a bit from side to side, so the entire saw blade is not engaged with the log and it’s easier on the chainsaw to make the cut.  The Granberg can easily be maneuvered by one person, but it’s a good idea to have a Wingman tapping in wedges behind you to keep the void behind the saw open as you cut.  It’s also good to have a Wingman to alternate cutting slabs with you because it does get tiring.

Cost.  In only 2 hours we cut six boards which were 1.5 inches thick, 16 inches wide, and 64 inches long.  That works out to about 65 board feet.  The last time I bought white oak (which I selected and costs more), it was $9.90 per board foot.  Jacob’s and my little expedition netted over $600 in retail white oak with a couple caveats.  One caveat is that our wood is not kiln dried and will require some time and space to dry out.  Another caveat is that the white oak I purchased was S2S grade (read our post here about wood grades), and the slabs we cut will need some additional milling, particularly planing.  However, for the cost of the Granberg and the chain saw we saved hundreds of dollars.  Over several years, this could add up to thousands saved.  If you read our post on pricing your work, you can see that sharply reducing your expenses over the long haul can really add up.  Could Mrs Woodworker be right when she says she saves money when she goes shopping?  Nah.

Controlling entire supply chain.  There is a lot to be said for sourcing your own wood, since you are controlling the level of quality from start to finish.  In addition, you can select trees with unique characteristics, and dry them in a method you know and trust.  You can also be more selective in which boards are used for which purpose which is an important aspect of craftsmanship.  In building our current commission, the black walnut gun cabinet, it was important to have half a dozen raw 8 foot boards to choose from so I could match grain and color for different parts of the cabinet. If you are sourcing your own wood, you will have a much larger selection of grain and color to choose from.

Cons

Stability at Beginning and End of Cut.  One of the disadvantages we saw was that when you first start cutting and when are at the end of the cut, the saw can flop around a bit because there is not as much of the frame to rest on the log.  Once the saw gets going, the entire frame is resting on the log.  There may be extensions available to mitigate this, but we didn’t have any and had to eyeball it a bit to make sure the saw was horizontal.

Sawmill with Chainsaw
Sawmill with Chainsaw

Saw Sharpening.  This is not really the Granberg’s fault, but we had to sharpen the saw after every two boards, or so.  We sharpened it by hand, and can probably speed this up with an electric sharpener.  There are four bolts to loosen, so freeing then tightening the saw did not take too long.  It’s important to take the time to sharpen the saw, or you’ll be wasting your time over the long haul (see our post about efficiency and sharpening the saw here).  Here is a link to some sharpeners available on Amazon.

Storage.  As you can imagine, storing many boards that are around a foot wide and eight feet long will take up a lot of space.  Given that my current shop is in half of the garage, I don’t have much room for storage.  If you have some land, this may not be an issue and you could store your wood in a shed, or outside if it is covered with a tarp.

If you’re looking to mill a lot of wood, for example to build a house, a larger portable saw mill like a Wood Mizer might be more appropriate.  Jesse and Alyssa at Pure Living For Life have a great video on their experience with using one of these larger mills (in this case, the Wood Mizer LT15).  Click here for the video.  We referenced their journey in our post on the RSS hack and they seem to be making a lot of progress in their journey to living off-grid and debt free.

Overall, I’d give a “buy” recommendation for the Granberg.  It was a lot of fun to use and can save a serious woodworker hundreds, and maybe thousands, of dollars in the long run.

Update on Wood Shop Transformation: We Survived the Move!

wood shop work flow
Wood Shop Work Flow

Other than the moving truck ramming the house 2 weeks ago (more on that later), our move went pretty well. We declared Initial Operating Capability on the wood shop and are in the process of wiping varnish on the gun cabinet commission we posted about here and here. We have drying parts scattered all over the garage, so I’m a little reluctant to finish setting up the wood shop for fear of kicking up dust which could mar the finish. There is nothing like wiping finish on a raw piece of black walnut because it magically transforms the wood from a dusty light grey color to a lustrous, rich dark brown/grey.  Once all the finish is dry, I’ll get to work putting the shop into its final configuration then we can declare Full Operational Capability.

I thought I’d take this opportunity to talk more about the design of a wood shop from scratch. I wrote about this earlier (click here), and my thinking has evolved some. We’ve had to move the shop three times now since we started Traughber Design in 2015 so we’re getting more experience in moving than I’d like!  The diagram at the top lays out the overall scheme, and we’re going with a counterclockwise flow around the shop. The raw lumber will go immediately onto the lumber racks at the right of the garage when I return from runs to the hardwood dealer. The next tools that typically touch the wood would be the planer, track saw, and sliding compound miter saw, so I’ll have those next to the raw wood. Routing is usually near the end of the process so we’ll have the router table near the end of the loop. In the middle, against the house, will be the assembly table. At the very end, we’ll have some shelves to display finished pieces for visitors to the shop.  One of the primary things I’ve learned over the years is to take advantage of the sun, fresh air, and view outside of the garage, so I’ll have the Festool MFT/3 (Multi Function Table) work table near the outer door since that’s where I do most of the work.  In addition, I invested in an anti-fatigue mat, which has helped greatly with standing on concrete, and that will go in front of the MFT/3.

site of new Traughber Design wood shop
Site of New Traughber Design Wood Shop

The picture at left shows the almost empty garage when we moved in.  As you can see, the first thing we moved was the commission in progress (the cabinet) and the Festool MFT/3 work table so we could keep working on the project during the move.  The tenants took good care of the garage before their move to Germany, so we don’t have to make many modifications.

New Work Bench
New Work Bench

This picture is of the workbench I built against the house. That was one of the first tasks after moving in because the workbench is an “enabler” which allows so many other tasks to be done.  My pal, Tim Ferriss, talks about how it’s important to identify the “first domino” in any endeavor which knocks down all the others.  The work bench is one of those first dominos, since it speeds up getting other tasks done. Luckily I had kept all the pieces from the workbench and marked them before dismantling it years ago at a tenant’s request since they wanted to move a boat into the garage.  Putting it back together was a snap.

Once we get all the finish applied to the gun cabinet (five coats with sanding in between), we’ll put everything in its final configuration.

Back to the moving truck saga…I can’t get into the particulars too much since we are working the claim with the mover’s insurance company, but suffice it to say a lack of situational awareness caused the moving truck to be backed into our new house. All is well. The mover’s company said the claim was legit and we should be able to kick off the repair work soon.

What lessons learned have YOU had from setting up your wood shop?

3 Entrepreneur Lessons Learned on My Woodworking Expedition to the Korean Furniture Museum

Korea Furniture Museum
Korea Furniture Museum

I just got back from a 6,000 mile woodworking expedition to the Korean Furniture Museum in Seoul and learned several valuable entrepreneur lessons I’d like to share with you.  OK, maybe that’s a stretch.  We went to Korea for my day job and had some time to kill before our return flight and took the opportunity to research some woodworking designs.  The mission’s intent was sound, but it quickly took some interesting turns.  Here are a few lessons learned from the expedition:

Lesson #1:  Surround Yourself with Positive, Like-Minded People

Given our government-mandated return flight time, we had some time to kill in Seoul, so I figured I’d tour the Korean Furniture Museum for some design ideas.  The Lonely Planet Guide for Seoul recommended it and it seemed interesting.  One of my colleagues, Rich Davis (see interview with him here), tagged along since we are both on artisan journeys:  mine in woodworking and Rich’s in photography.  Our first task was to figure out the Korean subway system.  I’d ridden it a few years ago, but was a little rusty.  Fortunately, the digital kiosks had an English option and we were able to quickly purchase a couple tickets and be on our way.  A couple subway stops later we got off and started walking toward the museum which the Guide said was on a beautiful hilltop location.  It was a pretty warm day and as we climbed, and climbed, and climbed we realized we weren’t seeing any more signs for the museum and were lost (more on that in #2 below).

At this point, Rich could have started cussing me out, but he understood it was all part of the journey.  If I hadn’t had him along, I might have thrown in the towel and headed back to the subway station.  That’s why it’s important to surround yourself with like-minded people.  They will encourage you to keep pressing on.

Lesson #2:  People Want to Help You

So there we were, lost in Seoul, but we saw a police “box” which is an extremely small outpost for a policeman or two to stand in.  I figured “what’s the worst that can happen” and went to ask for directions.  The two Korean policemen were extremely young, maybe around 18, and I had no idea if they spoke English.  Luckily, even though they didn’t think so, their English was very good.  One of them even drew a map on my guide book to the museum.  We followed his map and ran into another police box.  The policeman there gave us the final directions and we finally made it to the museum.

I’ve traveled to at least two dozen countries and have found that people, in general, are very friendly and are willing to help you out.  This is a good lesson for entrepreneurs:  if you are stuck, ask for help.

Lesson #3:  Never Quit

We got the museum and asked the security guard about tickets.  He made a chopping motion with one arm against his forearm.  He was either a Seminoles fan or something was amiss.  He was on older gentleman who didn’t speak any English and flagged down a co-worker.  She told us the museum was closed!  According to the guidebook, we were there during normal hours, but apparently they were going through some renovations or something.  Rich and I laughed it off and starting heading back down the hill.  We went back to our hotel and rehydrated with a couple of cold ones.  Rich was able to climb the hill near the hotel at sunset and snap some cool time lapse photographs from the old city wall, so the day wasn’t a total loss.

This could have been a very disappointing afternoon, but the way we looked at, it was just one event in a very long journey to create.  In addition, we’re likely to go back to Korea again next year and can give it another shot.

There you have it:  surround yourself with like-minded people, ask for help when you need it, and never quit.  And by the way, if you are ever in Seoul, please let me know how the Korean Furniture Museum is ; )

Update on Black Walnut Gun Cabinet

black walnut gun cabinet glue up
Black Walnut Gun Cabinet Glue Up

(Thursday night) We got kicked out of the house!  Given that we’ve been banished, it seemed like an opportune time to update the blog.  Some of you have asked “Jerry, what’s up with the blog?”  Well, it’s three things.  First, I’ve been busy keeping the world safe for democracy in my day job.  Mrs Woodworker won’t let me retire, so we have 23 more months to go.  Second, Traughber Design has been swamped with orders, which is a good thing.  Third, we’ve been getting the house ready to sell so we can continue our minimalism journey.  That’s the reason we got kicked out of the house tonight:  our realtor told us to beat it for the open house.  That actually turned out to be a blessing since we caught up on our Five Guys addiction and it gave me some time to update you on the happenings at Traughber Design.

As far as those commissions, many thanks to Lisa Love for the furniture repair commission, Jeremy Wood for the woodturning commission, and neighbor Dave Strong for commissioning two home base footstools.  Dave also commissioned some baseball bat stools which we’re working on.  And a huge thank you to Dr Steve Ford for his gun cabinet commission (see our first post about that commission here).  Speaking of which…

The picture above shows the glue up we did today attaching the face frame of the gun cabinet to the cabinet itself.  Believe it or not, it took almost 40 hours to get to that point.  The cabinet involves over 70 pieces and it took some time to carefully select each piece to match grain and avoid knots in the raw boards.  In order to maximize efficiency, I cut all the 70 pieces at once so I didn’t have to keep switching back and forth between tools later.  Not that it wasn’t fun, though.  I enjoy letting the wood talk to me and tell me what each part wants to be.  It’s also important to finish sand certain parts before gluing since they won’t be accessible once they are glued together.  When finish sanding with three grits (80, 120, and 180) it takes some time.  Be sure you are not sanding where the joints glue together, however, or you won’t get a solid bond.  In the next step we’ll cut the two back panels which consist of black walnut plywood.  After that, we start working on the base molding and crown molding which will be three carefully routed pieces glued together in an intricate pattern.

While projects like Steve’s are drying, I flip over to the second project, in this case the baseball bat stool.  Thanks to Jacob Hummisch for his engineering prowess on this one.  We jerry rigged a frame to hold the bats  in place and to get the angles right for the stools.  Now I just need to drill the holes and dry fit everything together.  With any luck, I’ll post an update with pictures when that stool is done.

Did you set aside time for making today?

How To Cut Your Work Hours 40% to Focus on Making: Interview with Writer and Award Winning Photographer Lisa Traughber

Entrepreneur:  “a person who organizes and manages any enterprise, especially business, usually with considerable initiative and risk.”  (dictionary.com)

Lisa Traughber, Award Winning Nature Photographer
Lisa Traughber, Award Winning Nature Photographer

This interview is our fifth in a series of interviews with entrepreneurs and makers, this time with magazine writer, blogger, and photographer Lisa Traughber, the Best-Sister-In-The-Whole-World.  Lisa has been published in multiple magazines and also won several photography awards.  Our readers may find her move to slash her work hours in order to create very interesting.

Thank you for doing the interview.  You have many creative talents and I think our readers will be interested in how you were able redesign your life to shift your time from working to making.  You only work 3 days per week and spend 2 days per week creating:  writing for magazines, blogging, and doing photography.  You made that shift some time ago, and how you made that shift might be very interesting to our readers.

You’re welcome.  Thank you for your interest.

You started with writing for magazines and have had several articles published.  Tell us a little about how you got started.

I took a week long class a number of years ago that was devoted to writing articles for inspirational magazines.  The class was held at the beautiful Glen Eyrie located in Colorado Springs.  The class taught me everything I needed to know to properly submit articles for publication.

How were you able to go from 5 work days per week to 3?

I changed job locations within the same organization.  The location change was the right time to cut down my work hours so I could pursue other things. The change also gave me more time to spend with my family. The people in administration at the organization were happy because they wanted someone who would be flexible with their hours when they opened the new location.

Was that a difficult transition?

It was a very easy transition.  I simplified my expenses and had my mortgage and car paid off, so I had more freedom in cutting down my work hours.

Tell us a little about the focus of your blog.

My blog is specific to nature at the Horicon Marsh in Wisconsin.  This includes the Horicon National Wildlife Refuge and the Horicon Marsh State Wildlife Area.  My blog focuses on wildlife and plants along with talking about photography.  My main goal is to share the beauty, creativity, and artistry found in nature.

How did you get started in photography?

I have been interested in photography since I was in high school.  I set up shots around the house and took pictures in the yard.  Later, two of my favorite subjects were (and still are) my niece and nephew.

You’ve won some awards.  What does it take to get to that level?

It takes practice and study.  I have taken thousands of poor photos.  That part is necessary to arrive at an exceptional photo.  I have also taken online classes and done a lot of reading.  That has been helpful in learning the technical aspects of photography that can improve a photo.  I am still learning and I share mistakes with my readers so they can learn with me.

The blog is something new you added in 2016.  How is that going?

The blog is going well.  I want to do at least one post per week.  This motivates me to get out and shoot regularly.  The blog is a wonderful outlet for me to work on my photography and writing skills.  I have new readers checking it out every week.

How often do you write?

I write for the blog at least once a week.  I also write in a journal occasionally.  My focus is on the blog rather than writing magazine articles now. I enjoy the creative freedom that writing for a blog provides. When you write for magazines, you have to follow their writer’s guidelines.  You may also receive more rejection letters than acceptance letters.  That becomes discouraging.  When you write for a blog, you may receive immediate feedback and, in my experience, it has been encouraging.  Bloggers are often good cheerleaders for each other.

What have you learned on your blogging journey?

Prior to starting the blog, I took the class “Creating WordPress Websites” through Moraine Park Technical College.  It is a 6 week online class.  I learned everything I needed to know to get a website up and running.  Knowledgeable instructors answered all of my questions.  I highly recommend it.

Any big plans for 2017?

I plan to take the class “Writing Effective Web Content” (www.ed2go.com/mptc) to help me to develop my writing skills.  I also plan to watch a photography DVD series I purchased a while back to improve my photography skills.

Tell us a little bit about your creative process.

My blog is photography driven.  I will go for a drive or hike at the Horicon Marsh and whatever happens to be there that day can become the subject for my blog.  I develop the written content from the photos.  I try to include interesting, educational content as well as personal insights.  At times, I will decide to look for something specific, like macro shots. I may also talk about the process of taking the photo if I think it is helpful for my readers.

What advice do you have for beginning bloggers or photographers?

I recommend taking classes, reading, and talking to other bloggers and photographers.  You can avoid a lot of mistakes by learning what has worked for others.

Where can we learn more about your photography?

The best place you can learn about my photography is at the blog, horiconmarshnaturephotgraphy.com.

Anything else you’d like to share with our readers?

Don’t be afraid to jump in and start your own blog.  It is a great opportunity to learn and to meet others who share the same interests.

Thank you, Lisa!

For our other posts in the entrepreneur interview series:

Amazon best selling author Lawrence Colby, write of The Devil Dragon Pilot:  Part 1 and Part 2.  Colby has finished his draft of his second book, The Black Scorpion Pilot.  Stay tuned for another interview with him after the book is available on Amazon.

Amazing photographer Richard Weldon Davis.

Successful entrepreneur and owner of Custom Display Cases, Mo Johnson: Part 1Part 2Part 3, and Part 4.

Incredible baker and entrepreneur, Haleigh Heard.

Stay tuned for our next interview in the entrepreneur series!

 

Interview with Entrepreneur and Baker, Haleigh Heard, Owner of S’Cute Petite Bakery

This is our interview with our fourth entrepreneur in our interview series, Haleigh Heard, owner of S’Cute Petite bakery.

Haleigh Heard, Owner of S'Cute Petite
Haleigh Heard, Owner of S’Cute Petite

Tell us a little bit about your company.

I am a home bakery which specializes in cupcakes.

What else do you make?

(laughing) Cupcakes.

You make other things besides cupcakes.

I don’t.

You made a cake.

I made a cake for a birthday party.

You made a cake for us, too.

Yes, I did.  I don’t normally do cakes.

What is your biggest seller?

My biggest seller is my chocolate chip cupcake with butter cream or cream cheese frosting.

Is that the triple chocolate one or is that a different one?

It’s a new one.  I’ve improved on it.  It’s pretty good, you should try it sometime.

I should.  Valentines Day is coming up.  Can I place an order?

Sure.  If you buy twelve, you get one free.

I’ll buy twelve then.  Can you make twelve for us?  

Sure, no problem.

How did you get started in baking?

I think I found my passion for baking about 4 years ago.  Every Saturday afternoon I would go on Pinterest and I’d find something to bake.  I’d bake it and bring it to Sunday School.  I’d give it to the people in Sunday school class and say “try this.”

That was probably a ready audience.

I’d say “Did you like it?  Did you not like it?  What can improve?  Is it good?”

Instant feedback.

It was.

Tell us a little bit about your creative process.

My creative process is pretty much I go on Pinterest a lot.  I look at things.  That’s how I got my chocolate chip cupcake.  I forgot a couple ingredients in the recipe, and I decided to throw a handful of chocolate chips in it.  It was probably the best chocolate chip cupcake and everyone was talking about it.

What are some of your entrepreneur lessons learned so far?

I’d have to say, you can never ask too many questions.  I’ve asked my Dad a million questions like how should I sell my cupcakes?  How to price them?  My delivery system?  How I should deliver?  And then I think, just have fun with your business.  You started it for a reason.  It’s not a chore you have to do.  I think that’s what I thought in the beginning was I had to have the perfect cupcake when I deliver it. It has to be perfect, and when it’s not I had a meltdown. I threw the cupcake away and I started again.  That’s just the way my mindset was, that it had to be perfect.  Now I’m having fun with my business.  I’m getting more opportunities to promote myself.

Just have fun.

Or else, why do it?

Why do it?  You have fun, right?

Absolutely.  My time in the wood shop is a lot of fun.

Really, have you ever stabbed a finger?  Did you ever miss?

I stabbed myself with the jigsaw the other day.  It wasn’t too bad.  I rinsed it off, slapped a bandaid on it and kept going.

Shake it off, right?

What advice do you have for beginning entrepreneurs?

Have fun.  You started your business for a reason.  Don’t make it a chore.

Anything else you’d like to share with our readers?

I am planning on doing coupons and gift certificates, for things like Valentines Day, Mothers Day, and Fathers Day.

That will be a big seller, I think.  Try it.  If it doesn’t work, move on to something else.  Where can we learn more about your company?

You can can go on Facebook and type in “S’Cute Petite” (click here to go to Haleigh’s business Facebook page).  I’m trying to figure out more options.

Are you going to have a website besides Facebook or is Facebook going to be the primary?

Facebook is going to be the primary because you can go straight to Facebook Messenger and let me know what you’d like.

Thank you for your time, Haleigh.  We love the cupcakes.  Readers, go to Haleigh’s FB page and order some!

********

For our other posts in the entrepreneur interview series:

Amazon best selling author Lawrence Colby, write of The Devil Dragon Pilot:  Part 1 and Part 2

Amazing photographer Richard Weldon Davis.

Successful entrepreneur and owner of Custom Display Cases, Mo Johnson: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4.

Stay tuned for our next interview in the entrepreneur series!

 

4 Ways for Entrepreneurs to Manage Their Backlog: When the Cup Overflows

An Entrepreneur Working the Backlog
An Entrepreneur Working the Backlog

We just made another deal last weekend to make some baseball bat themed footstools and bar stools, which was terrific.  Then I did the math on our total backlog and it’s over 100 hours!  Remember, this is a part time gig until I retire (Mrs Woodworker won’t let me retire) and I can only comfortably do about 6 hours per week in the wood shop, especially given work travel.  That means my backlog works out to about 17 weeks or 4 months, which is too long for my taste.  Why?  Because there are a few other commissions I’ve been discussing with potential clients that I’d really like to build.  They look like really fun projects.  Doing these new deals is not about bringing in new business, but about making things that are interesting.  How does an entrepreneur manage their backlog when it gets too big?  Read on!

#1:  Throttle Back on Marketing, But Not Completely

An entrepreneur needs to maintain the flow of business, because the backlog could be gone at some point.  We always want new business walking in that door, but not too much or quality will suffer, or we’ll have to turn away too many clients.  To give you a specific example, you may have noticed  I’ve started to tweet here and there with some updates on what is going on in the shop (follow us at Twitter handle @TraughberDesign).  I could be tweeting a lot more, but decided to just tweet occasionally until we’ve worked off more of that backlog.  We also have a Pinterest account and could be doing a lot more other on the social media front with apps like Instagram.  At this point, though, we need that time in the shop.

Something else to start thinking about is what is your ideal backlog number?  That number could be in hours or number of projects to ship, or some other metric.  Then work towards that metric you’ve set.  Over 100 hours is too much right now for Traughber Design, but once I’m doing this full time, that number may be too low if I work a 40 hour week in the wood shop.  What’s the right number for your business?  Have you thought about that?  You want enough of a backlog to keep yourself gainfully employed for a while, but how long?  How frequently does new work typically come in the door?  As I mentioned earlier, this backlog will take me 4 months and I can estimate pretty well how much new work we’ll get in that time period.  That will determine how much effort (or not) we spend on marketing.  We’ve already had 4 commissions this year and it’s only February so we need to manage the incoming and outgoing flow.

We just talked about investing less (time) in marketing, where should the entrepreneur invest?

#2:  Invest in Capital Expenditures that Make You Faster

Maybe buying tools should always be the default answer!  One can never have enough tools, I suppose, unless you’re traveling a minimalist journey as Mrs Woodworker and I are.  But what do I mean by “buy more tools”?  I mean to look for opportunities where a tool or jig will make you faster or more efficient in whatever your creating enterprise is.  To give you an example, I anticipate we may be making a lot of the baseball bat themed foot stools and bar stools.  Is there a tool I can buy that will speed up production while maintaining or improving the quality?  Is there a jig (a specially made apparatus to hold pieces in place to make cutting/sawing/drilling/etc. easier) I can make that makes positioning the bats easier to speed things up? Yes, of course there are.  I’ve made one prototype foot stool from three bats and can see the value in making a jig for the bar stool to precisely align the bats and drill holes for the cross pieces that will hold the bats in place in the stool.  If I make the jigs now, we’ll reap the benefits in the long run with time savings on every piece.

For more on tools read these posts:

Choosing Woodworking Tools, or Why I Love Festool

Woodworking and Minimalism:  If I Buy All These Tools Am I A Minimalist?

3 Reasons You MUST Invest in the Best Tools You Can Afford! 

So we can speed things up with capital expenditures, but how about allocating our time wisely?

#3:  Reallocate Your Time

As I wrote about earlier in the post Get Out of the Rat Race:  How to Manage the Transition from Career to Maker, entrepreneurs have tremendous freedom to decide where to focus their efforts.  That’s one of the reasons we start these journeys:  freedom and creativity.  Not only is it about allocating time after the day job is over, but occasionally an entrepreneur will run across some “bonus time.”  There was a bit of serendipity with this holiday weekend.  We had planned to go cross country skiing in West Virginia, but the snow forecast was abominable.  We cancelled and went out with friends at least one night, but that freed up the entire weekend for some making every morning.  I’m the lark, or early riser, in the family so I naturally get up to write a little then hit the wood shop before every one is up.  Then we spent the rest of the day together.  I try not to work in the shop late in the day because fatigue and power tools don’t go together.  I’d like to keep my fingers.  If you are an entrepreneur, look for opportunities like that to do a little extra making.  For you, would that be early in the morning?  Stealing some time during the day?  Late in the day?  Using a portion of a holiday weekend?

As we’ve written about earlier, if you don’t have enough time you can always pull out that time creation machine we wrote about in the post Time is not Finite and make some time.

#4:  Enjoy the Ride

When you run across a “problem” with a backlog like this, it’s important to step back for a minute and do a couple things.

One thing is to pat yourself on the back for having a backlog in the first place.  Remember when you started as an entrepreneur?  You had zero backlog and were just hustling for revenue.  Now that you have one, congratulate yourself.  Mo Johnson, the owner of Better Display Cases, discusses that more in our entrepreneur interview series.

The second thing is to enjoy that ride every day. Remember in our Ode to Ralph the Woodworking Cat where we wrote about Ralph’s joy for life?  He embraced life to the fullest.  Entrepreneurs need to stop and smell the roses as they are working that backlog.  We also wrote about this in the post on One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, specifically in the portions on flow and contentment.  Why did you start this enterprise in the first place?  Wasn’t to spend more time on your craft?  Enjoy it!  Tim Ferris also talks about this in his recent interview with Entrepreneur Magazine in the article Tim Ferriss: If You’re Not Happy With What You Have, You Might Never Be Happy.  Check it out.

Rejoice, Mr/Mrs Entrepreneur!  You’ve got a backlog to manage!  Don’t forget to:

#1:  Throttle Back on Marketing, But Not Completely

#2:  Invest in Capital Expenditures that Make You Faster

#3:  Reallocate Your Time

#4:  Enjoy the Ride

Veterans MUST Read This Post! Key Transition Tips from Mo Johnson, Owner of Better Display Cases

This is Part Four, the last portion of our interview with Mo Johnson, the owner of Better Display Cases.  For Part One click here, Part Two, click here, and Part Three click here.

I want to be respectful of your time, I know you’re busy.  Last question.  Anything else you’d like to share with our readers?

Showroom at Better Display Cases
Showroom at Better Display Cases

One thing I want to say is vets have a big leg up.  I don’t know if people understand that.  There is a lot to being successful on Amazon and on the Internet.  Of course, you need to have a good product.  The most important thing of all is your reviews by customers.  So that’s super duper important.  So generally speaking, people want to help out a vet.  That’s what I put on every product we sell, which has a little slip of paper in there explaining who we are.  The business was started by a vet.  We get a lot of good feedback.  You’ve probably seen those things.  We just get a lot of good feedback.  We have a good product, and we have outstanding customer service.  I believe that vet thing really is the difference.  The key thing that has put me over the hump.  It’s the difference maybe between 90% positive and 99% positive.  That difference is everything.

Who doesn’t want to support a vet?

Yeah, all things being equal.  On Amazon, the difference between ranking #1 and #10 is everything.  #1 gets 90% of the sales, and #10 gets no sales.  #2 maybe gets, 10% of the sales.  That vet thing is huge and I don’t know if vets really understand that.  I just point that out.  Especially if you’re competing in a big way.  I’m sure people like to help vets locally, too, but I’m not sure there are a lot of vets that sell locally.  It’s a good thing.  I just stumbled on this, I didn’t know.  I’m competing against big sellers all across the country and when the buyer looks at two things all they know about it is “vet” or “no vet.”  It’s a really big advantage I think.  A lot of people comment on that and say “thank you for your service” so I know it’s a pretty big deal.  I know it’s not much of a difference between the good sellers and the outstanding ones, as far as the metrics go.  It’s not just Amazon, it’s eBay, it’s Walmart, Etsy, all these places we’re on now.  That’s been a really important factor.

If you have more thoughts, send them my way.  This is probably going to be a two or three parter, which is good.  Thanks!

Mo Johnson sent the following thoughts via E-mail after the live interview:

Hey Jerry, thanks for the interview.  Love the blog you are doing — great idea. One thing we didn’t talk about is how we came up with the motto:  “display your story”.  That happened after I was floored by customers contacting me, sharing very personal stories about how much our cases meant to them.  Usually it involved an item that they were displaying that had belonged to a loved one who had passed away.  I mean people have called me, literally crying and telling me they wanted me to know that our cases were much more than just a display case.  That all really surprised me and changed the way I thought about the business.   We weren’t just in the business of creating, manufacturing and selling a product.  Rather, it is more about the item the customer is displaying.  More about their story.  Displaying their story.  That’s really what it’s about.  We are helping people to display (and thereby tell) their life stories, the things most important to them.
OK, so that’s one thing I wanted to mention.   Also, one point of that is that once you start down the entrepreneurship road, you really don’t know where it will lead.  So, that’s both scary and exciting.

Another thing, related to that, is I think you and I spent a good amount of time with me dwelling on the negatives of entrepreneurship — the long hours and stress of it.  And the impact of that.  That’s definitely true and important to understand.  I was tired yesterday so thinking more about that side of things 🙂 

On the other hand, it is also very rewarding to know that you are building something from nothing to what it has become.  The impact that it has on so many people.  It may sound corny but in its own way, Better Display Cases has changed the world — for the better.  Many display cases we design, make and sell are new and different and never been seen before.  Most were things customers asked for.  They are being used to display people’s stories that maybe would never have been told otherwise.

That’s what I was getting at when I mentioned before that I work all the time.  That’s true.   The business is on my mind pretty much all the time (unless something more urgent replaces it) — but my mind is always wandering to what we can do better and solving problems.   And, I have piles of notes and calendars and audios — all with notes of ideas I’ve had that I wrote down or recorded and need the time to go over again and implement.   I also have a never-ending flow of emails and online blogs, audios, articles, etc — all with ideas, tools, etc that can improve the business in one way or the other. 

Right now I’m initiating a huge change that hopefully will put all our selling channels on one place where we can change all listings from one central locations if we want to make changes and also keep track of inventory — and also do shipping.  Part of that is negotiating a better deal with FedEx — anyway, all that is a long story, but just a small example of the kind of things I’m always working on.  Many things you try don’t work.  So, it’s not a straight line.  Which is part of why the process of innovating and getting better is never ending.  Each one of those things involves not only the technology but the people and the partners and all the issues that go with all that.

Then, as a small business owner I’m also building manager (yesterday just before you got there, a pipe burst that I was dealing with).  I’m chief technology officer (anything breaks, my problem).  Chief tax officer (have a part time accountant, but I still have to gather all the info for her which is the most time consuming part).  Custodian (thinking of hiring a cleaning crew, not sure if worth the money).  Head of HR.  On and on.  There’s no substitute for the owner.  Only the owner cares like an owner.

Theres nothing as hard, or rewarding, as starting and building a small business.  So, there is not enough time in the day to do all I would like to do.  Which is why, there’s never a spare moment because I always have good stuff I could be doing.    That’s the working all the time piece.

But, importantly, I don’t think of it as work at all.  It’s just me.  It’s who I am and what I do — as much as I can.  There’s almost no where I’d rather be than in my office, “working”.  So, I both work all the time and not at all — if that makes sense.  It’s very cool to wake up every day and know that your time will be spent building something of your own — rather than something that belongs to someone else.
Another thing — I mentioned how being a vet is a big advantage for me.  The other thing that has really helped is that I have little competition.  The reason for that is that my business is a terrible business in many ways.  When I started, I mentioned those groups I was part of that were looking at importing from China.  I mentioned my idea to them.   Unanimously — everyone said it was the stupidiest idea they’d ever heard.  “Of all the things you could import from China, why pick something so large, expensive to ship, and so likely to be damaged in shipment — nightmare.” 

I replied:  “yes I agree, show me something else I can import that has the same profit  margin” 

crickets.. 

So, I gave it a shot (by the way the profit margin has turned out not to be as great as I thought when I started, but still, fortunately, it’s good) .

Really that is a common thread in the business.  Most of the important things I’ve done that have proven to be really successful were things I was told not to do. 

1.  go into the acrylic display case business
2.  sell them on Amazon
3.  make cases without mirrors
4.  make cases with silver risers (in China they told me “no body like silver; everybody want gold” — this is what I began to tell you at one point yesterday — if one of my competitors wanted to do something like sell with silver risers — first they’d have to convince their supplier to go to the manufacturer and then the manufacturer would have to agree to make them.   Plus, the big supplier in the U.S. is HUGE and orders millions of cases many months in advance.  So, probably won’t even listen to a small seller.  We are small, nimble, responsive, willing to take risk.  We cut out the middle man and design/manufacture ourselves and sell direct to the customer..    Anyway, China was wrong.  Lots of people want silver risers.    
5.  make cases with black risers (see 4 above) 


So for me, it’s truly been the road less traveled that made all the difference.  Well, that should about cover it I think.  Again, thanks for the interview.  Talk to you later
***
Sorry, one more thing, then I’m done.
I didn’t talk much about all the customization work we do.  I’d say about half the cases we ship require some major customization — changing riser color or mirror or turf, etc.  You probably had the impression we just ship what we receive from China.  But, because we have soooo many options, it doesn’t usually work out that way.  Which is a huuuge challenge.
Many thanks to Mo for not only his time during the original interview, but also taking the time to document and send his thoughts after the interview.  I don’t know about you, but I learned a lot listening to his story of success!
To visit Mo’s company website click here.
To read our first entrepreneur (Amazon best selling author Lawrence Colby) interview Part 1, click here.
To read our first entrepreneur interview, Part 2, click here.
For our second entrepreneur (photographer Richard Weldon Davis) interview, click here.
Stay tuned for another entrepreneur interview next week!

 

Over 1000 Users! Thank You to Our Readers!

Over 1000 Users!
Over 1000 Users!

Last week we passed 1000 readers of the blog!  Many thanks to all of you for spending the time here and your support.  As you can see from the picture, the blog seems to be really taking off, which is encouraging since we just launched on September 8th.

 

We’ve learned many things about blogging and launching this digital side of Traughber Design which I’ll share in a future blog post, but just wanted to mark this milestone and pass along my thanks to all of you!

3 Reasons You MUST Invest in the Best Tools You Can Afford! Festool Saves the Day: the Refrigerator Saga

Have I told you the story about the refrigerator?

fast moulding project
Fast Moulding Project

One day, Mrs Woodworker decided that she needed one of those gargantuan stainless steel refrigerators to spruce up the kitchen.  I reckon’ I don’t have a problem with that, since the other appliances were already stainless steel or were about to be upgraded to stainless steel to jazz up the kitchen.  Being the awesome husband that I am, I told her to buy whatever she wanted.  She’s pretty frugal so I figured this was a low risk offer.  So she did some serious refrigerator reconnaissance, ordered one she liked, and the company delivered it.  Lo and behold, it didn’t fit in the alcove in the kitchen!  Now if I was buying a refrigerator, I’d measure the opening and buy an appliance that fits the hole.  But that’s not how the mind of Mrs Woodworker works.  She thinks “Aha, I’ve got a husband that makes things and has really awesome Festool tools.  I’ll buy whatever I like and he’ll figure it out.”  Which is what we did.  Thank goodness we had invested in good tools.  Here are 3 reasons you should invest in the best tools you can afford:

Reason #1:  Speed

unfinished fast moulding project
Unfinished Fast Moulding Project

All sarcasm aside, it was fun to whip out this project over an hour or two last weekend.  We had to knock out some of the drywall to the left of the fridge when we installed it, and there was an ugly jagged edge there where the drywall was missing.  Given how close the refrigerator was to the wall, we couldn’t just slide the refrigerator out and replace the drywall.  Using the planer, track saw, mitre saw, and router, we were able to cut moulding as shown in the pictures to 1/4″ thickness, 1″ width, and then routed the edges with a 3/8″ round over to make it blend into the wall a little.  In addition, I mitered the upper corners to make it look nicer.  After a coat of paint to make it match the walls, we were done.  That sounds like an incredible amount of work, but it only took and hour or two.

There are a couple ways that buying into a system of tools increases your speed.  One is that if you have the entire core of tools, you don’t have to jury rig something to make the desired cut, which I’ve had to do in the past. You already have the right tool for the job and can get right down to the work.  In addition, if I had had a myriad of tools that weren’t part of a system, switching the dust vacuum back and forth between tools could be an issue which would reduce our speed.  For example, with the Festool system you can very quickly switch the vacuum from tool to tool.  Speaking of the dust vacuum…

Reason #2:  Your Health

I can’t emphasize enough the importance of buying quality power tools along with a dust collection system.  For this project, I was able to shift the dust collector from the sliding compound mitre saw, to the track saw, to the router in no time flat.  Unfortunately, the planer generates a ton of shavings and dust so I just did that outside.  When cutting small pieces like this moulding there is usually plenty of ventilation outside, but for planing large boards, use a mask.  But most of the work you do will be inside, and that’s where a HEPA dust collection is so important.  Those tiny particles you are generating with all those tools will lodge in your lungs over the long haul and you will be incapacitated.  I have read multiple articles over the years about woodworkers who didn’t think carefully through this and developed lung issues.  No one wants that.  Get the dust collection system.

Reason #3:  Simplify Decision-Making

trim piece
Trim Piece

I was giving a shop tour to a young fella the other day who was trying to get some ideas for setting up his own shop and was deciding whether to invest in Festool.  If he does go that route, he’ll have the advantage of owning great tools much earlier in life.  I didn’t start buying my high end tools until 2014.  Now when I buy tools, I don’t have to agonize over it.  I’ve bought into a system of tools that interconnect and have proven themselves in the shop.  If I need a new tool, I just buy Festool if they have that tool.

Truth in advertising here, I’m not a Festool affiliate and receive no compensation from them.  I’m just a Festool Fan (see our post here about why I love Festool and our post here about tools and minimalism).

As we said in the title, buy the best tools you can afford.  They will increase your speed, save your health, and simplify your decision-making.  You won’t regret it.