How to Refinish Those Old Oak Bannisters with Java Gel Stain to Give Them Some Pop!

refinished bannister with General Finishes Java Gel Stain
The Refinished Bannister

Mrs Woodworker and I finally pulled the trigger and had the carpet and linoleum floors in the house replaced on the first and second floors with hardwood floors.  This house was one of our rentals and after four sets of tenants (who were great, by the way!) the carpet and linoleum were just worn out.  After the floors were replaced, the next step was to update the bannister and kitchen cabinets to match.  I’ll tell you everything you need to know to update the bannisters and will do another post on the kitchen cabinets.

Given that the floors are a java-colored bamboo, we decided to go with a  java stain on the bannister top rail and vertical posts to match the floor.  For the spindles we went with a white semi-gloss paint to match the trim in the rest of the room.

the old oak bannister
The Old Oak Bannister

So where do you start?  It all starts with a lot of sanding.  I recommend investing in an electric sander if you don’t already have one.  This  will save you a ton of time.  I already had a Festool Rotex 150 Random Orbit Sander which was a little big for a job like this, but worked out alright.  If you are buying from scratch, a small sander from Home Depot or Lowes will work.  I recommend using 120 grit sandpaper which matches the grit called for with the stain we used (more on that later).  For those hard-to-reach areas, you will have to do a little hand sanding.  I’m not going to lie; you’ll need to sand all the intricate curves on the spindles by hand.  Turn on your favorite podcast and the time will fly by!  One tip which may help you, is to sand when you have natural light on the bannister.  Then if you see any shine (remaining finish), it’s easy to see where to focus your sanding energy.  Once everything is sanded down nicely, be sure to vacuum really well so no sanding dust gets in the finish.

Before you start applying the finishes, I need to say a few words about ventilation.  The fumes from the stain and varnish were not too bad, but I recommend running your ceiling fans and opening the windows during and after you apply the finishes.  The fumes from the varnish were the strongest  and most important to keep ventilated.  Also, I recommend wearing a dust mask when sanding since you’ll have a lot of fine particles in the air and you don’t want to inhale them.

General Finishes Java Gel Stain and Arm-R-Seal
General Finishes Java Gel Stain and Arm-R-Seal

Next, it’s time to apply the stain.  We used General Finishes Java Gel Stain.  A quart runs about $22.99 at Woodcraft and is plenty for a job of this size.  You can also purchase it for $33.95 with Amazon Prime (click here) and have it delivered right to your door.  It’s very easy to apply and leaves a beautiful color.  To apply, make sure you are wearing gloves then apply the stain using a small rag.  Cut up T-shirts work great for this.  For the tough-to-reach corners, use a small foam brush.  Let the stain sit for about 5-10 minutes then wipe off with a clean rag so it doesn’t leave any splotches.  If you like the color depth at that point, you’re done with the stain.  If you would like a darker color, then apply more coats until you have the color you like.

Our floors have ever-so-slight streaks of lighter color so I only went with one coat of stain on the bannisters.  This left light streaks on the bannister to match the floor.  If your floor is solid, you may want to go with two or three coats of stain.

Next, apply the top coat.  I’ve used General Finishes Arm-R-Seal for years on our Traughber Design projects and it provides a very durable finish.  I typically use the gloss finish when making furniture (see the post How to Make a Beautiful Custom Wooden Mitered Picture Frame for an example of a high gloss finish), but in this case went with the satin finish ($17.99 at Woodcraft).  Why?  Because the bannister rail is a high traffic item and the wear of hands going up and down the stairs on a gloss finish would look unusual over time.  For example, the areas of high traffic would wear to a dull finish and low traffic parts of the rail would still be high gloss.  It would look very uneven.  With the satin finish the rails should have a consistent finish, even after wear.  We went with two coats using small rags to wipe it on.  Make sure you leave at least 24 hours between coats and sand with a high grit sandpaper between coats..  We used 600 grit sandpaper.

Last, paint the spindles.  We went with Sherwin Williams Interior White Semi-Gloss from Lowes.  That’s probably a little more high-end than you need and just about any white semi-gloss interior latex should do the trick.  A quart should be more than enough.  I used a foam brush for a test section, but it was just too slow and I switched to a 2 inch brush.  After two coats and some touch up, the spindles look great.

Check out the pictures.  We think the bannisters look much better than when we started.  Stay tuned for another post soon on how to redo those kitchen cabinets!

How to Build a Little Free Library

little free library
Little Free Library (and Model)

Traughber Design was pleased to recently deliver its latest creation, a Little Free Library, to the Horicon Marsh Education & Visitor Center in Horicon Wisconsin.  If you haven’t heard of the Little Free Library movement that’s sweeping the nation, I’ll give you a quick overview of the revolution, talk about the glorious new Horicon Marsh Education & Visitor Center, then wrap up with some crucial tips for making a little free library.

The Little Free Library Revolution

You may have already seen a Little Free Library  in your neighborhood since there are now over 60,000 Little Free Libraries worldwide and they are in all 50 states and over 80 countries.  The concept is simple.  You take a book you’re interested in from the library and/or leave a book of your own:  easy.  If you make a Little Free Library, you may want to consider registering it so more people will know about it.  Apparently, some people are making pilgrimages to as many of these libraries as they can.  For more on Little Free Libraries visit the official website at  There are also many plans on this site if you would like to build your own, and you can even order prebuilt kits.

The Horicon Marsh Education & Visitor Center

The location for this particular Little Free Library is an interesting one.  It’s at the new Horicon Marsh Education & Visitor Center and will allow visitors to “check out” bird books before they hit the trails behind the center.  You can check out the Center’s website here.  The staff at the Center was very supportive of installing this library to commemorate Jerome R. Traughber (Dad), who passed away in 2017, and who was a big supporter of the Center (and reading in general).  If you get a chance, I highly recommend hiking the nature trails behind the Center and also checking out some of the exhibits inside.  For much more on the memorial site and to see much better photography than mine, I highly recommend the blog Horicon Marsh Nature Photography.

How to Make A Little Free Library

This project was a lot of fun to make.  We started with a basic design from Wood Magazine (click here for the link), then made several significant modifications.  Wood Magazine also has a comprehensive YouTube video if reading plans is not your thing.  Click here for the video.  If you are looking for plans, I recommend Googling “little free library plan” on Google or searching those terms on  YouTube.  As mentioned earlier, has plans as well.

The original plan called for 3/4 inch plywood, but since this library was going to be so visible, we decided to upgrade with cedar for a couple reasons.  Cedar is a little more pleasing to the eye than plain plywood, and holds stain well.  In addition, cedar is insect resistant and should last longer than plywood.

Since cedar boards are not as wide as plywood, you will need to join several 8 inch cedar boards together to get boards that are wide enough.  We used our trusty mortise and tenon joints for extra strength to join the boards along with TiteBond III glue which is well suited to the outdoors.  For more tips on glue technique, check out our post Woodworking Glue Technique, a Metephor for Life.

One quirk of the plan was that it called for an 1/8 inch (or. 125 inch) acrylic window.  Acrylic doesn’t typically come in that width, so we used .08 inch acrylic instead, which introduced a variable you need to be careful of.  Since the acrylic was thinner than called for in the plan, the wooden stop blanks (the thin pieces of wood that hold the acrylic in place) that were to hold them left a slight gap.  Looking back on it, I should have made wider stop blanks, but I was committed at that point, and going back to remill and stain the blanks would have taken a long time.  To ensure you don’t have any visible unstained cedar, including cedar you think is going to be underneath the acrylic, make sure you eyeball the stop blanks from every angle including from within the door and outside the door, or else some unstained wood will be slightly visible through the door.  I was able to easily adjust for this by staining the stop blanks on all sides, which is usually not necessary.

As far as the stain, we tried a redwood stain, but it was a little too “orange” for my taste so we went with the rosewood stain in the original plan.  Always stain a test piece first.  This is part of the fail fast and fail cheap mantra we talked about in our post How to Fail Fast and Fail Cheap in Woodworking, Entrepreneurship, and Life.  Stain is so variable from wood type to wood type that a test piece is a must.  Rarely does stain look like the color palettes you get in the store.

Last, we decided to go with a cedar shingle roof to add some pizzazz and make it blend in with the natural environment.  I had considered asphalt shingles, but when I was poking around the hardware store noticed some cedar shingles that I thought would look much nicer.  To make the shingles, I used cedar shims and laid them out to hang over the edge of the library about a half inch.  I also left about 4 inches exposed in each layer.  I highly recommend the video How to Install Cedar Shake Shingles on YouTube before starting out.  After the shingles were nailed and glued, I added a cap using cedar with a bevel equal to the angle of the roof (see the video).  I screwed the cap on the library using deck screws then coated the shingles with Thompson’s clear stain.

little free library Horicon Marsh Education Center
Little Free Library at Horicon Marsh Education & Visitor Center

This is a view of the Little Free Library as you approach the front door of the Center and you can see the beautiful Horicon Marsh in the background.  If you are ever in Wisconsin, I highly recommend visiting the Horicon Marsh Education & Visitor Center.


Rumor has it, there will be a bike trail going from Mayville to the Center soon, then another trail going to Horicon which will connect to the 34 mile Wild Goose Trail.  If you are a rails-to-trails fan, this will be right up your alley, since the Wild Goose Trail is a rail trail (see the link here for more on Rails to Trails).  This new trail should open up the Center for even more visitors to enjoy and spur an innovation boom in Horicon and Mayville (see our post Having a Mental Block with a Thorny Woodworking or Start-Up Problem? Get on the Bike!)

If you get a chance to build a little free library, go for it!  I’d be glad to answer any questions via this blog post’s comments section or the Contact Us page.

He Started His Own Company in High School??? Meet Entrepreneur and Co-Founder of Impeesa Coffee & Tea: Adam Mayers

Adam Mayers, Co-Founder of Impeesa Coffee and Tea
Adam Mayers, Co-Founder of Impeesa Coffee and Tea

Thanks for your time.  I appreciate it.

A pleasure to be here.

Congratulations on launching your first startup.  Tell us a little bit about Impeesa.

Impeesa Coffee and Tea was a venture created by three other friends and myself.  We are all Boy Scouts.  The concept behind it was to create a market for a product that we enjoyed that we were passionate about and that had a purpose.  That product being coffee and tea, two things that in the high velocity environment that we were raised in, this kind of area, coffee and tea for a lot of people are a relief and an energizer at the same time so that they cultivate a lot of productivity and efficiency.  We are people that really like to get involved really heavily and really quickly.  We decided to create a marketplace for something like that.  The purpose we brought in, is related to the term Impeesa. Impeesa was how the Matabele in South Africa referred to Lord Baden-Powell, the founder of Boy Scouting.  The translation was the “Wolf that Never Sleeps,” so you can probably see the coffee reference there.  Being Boy Scouts we’ve all gone  through National Youth Leadership Training which is a spectacular opportunity for young men to go in and really understand what leadership really is.  We decided that with this marketplace we had created with something we really enjoyed, that we could also create more opportunities for youth to pursue that National Youth Leadership Training.  So, we decided to really round off Impeesa as an opportunity to raise money for scholarships for National Youth Leadership Training.  That was the main goal and why we started Impeesa.  Something we enjoyed.  Something we were passionate about that we could make a purpose out of.

You talked about creating a market.  How did it go?

All in all, this was probably our most successful failure, is how we refer to it (both laughing).

I’m sure you learned a lot in the process.

Exactly, that’s what it is.  We got to the point in our journey of the red and black line where we were finally coming out of the red and we decided to reinvest back into coffee.  That’s when things kind of went downhill because that’s when the startup hype died down.  That’s something that we had known was going to happen.  We tried to account for it and we to market for it.  We just didn’t do it overtly successfully.  Everything we learned was so much more valuable than any penny or dime that we could have made.  That’s what we enjoy the most looking back on it.  We said from the beginning, if we don’t make a dime out of this we will probably have had a more valuable experience than most people our age do.

It was a heck of an education.  It was almost a mini-MBA.

It’s a mini-MBA.  We threw ourselves into it and we didn’t do great, obviously, which is why we’re putting it on hiatus so we can focus on going to college.

My hats off to you, because a lot of people talk about starting a business. You’ll probably hear that a lot in college, but very few will have done it, especially in high school.

Definitely, when we started initially talking about it, we weren’t just talking about it.  In our heads, the minute we brought this up, we knew we had to do it, because everybody talks about this, but never does it.  That was probably our main motivation, not only creating the opportunity for scholarships, but also just doing it.  What’s the point in talking about it if you’re not going to do anything about it.

You talked about when you started getting into the black.  I think a lot of people don’t understand how hard entrepreneurship is.  There’s the hype in the beginning, but then it’s just hard work.  Can you talk a little about that.  If you continued it, what would you do differently or what would you continue to do?

Some Impeesa Coffee
Some Impeesa Coffee

It is so much work getting out of that initial investment.  It was all personal investment.  We all contributed about $200 in each, so that put us down about $800 total.  Just getting up from that number was such a challenge.  Just paying off that overhead.  We rode that startup hype really, really well.  If we weren’t full time students in high school we probably could have had the capacity to ride that startup hype right out of the red.  Being high school students we didn’t really have the capacity to focus full time on getting a quality marketing plan.  About January or February we started thinking about when our next step should be after the startup hype was over.  That was our frame of thinking.  We tried to anticipate what we were going to be as a brand and how we were going to market as a brand.  We had a really solid plan.  It just didn’t work.  I think that’s the most important thing that we learned.  You can plan for whatever you want, but it might not work.  Your plan might not be the best even if it’s eight pages long and you have your headers and your bullet points.  Your plan might not work and you have to be ready for that.  That’s something that as full time students we couldn’t necessarily do.  And definitely to anybody reading this don’t discourage yourself by your circumstances.  Don’t think because you’re a full time student you can’t have the capacity to plan effectively.  We thought that our plan that we had put all this thought into would work and it didn’t, necessarily.  Things that we could have done differently…definitely just anticipating the credibility of people and utilizing a lot of those quality resources.  Everybody is going to say that they will buy your product.

How many actually buy it?

Probably 20-30% of people actually buy the product. Everybody wants to be part of this cool new thing.  Nobody wants to spend money, though.  I started getting into a lot of Facebook groups where people were like “this is what you’re doing wrong, this is what you’re doing right.”  People with experience not only running tea businesses, but tea snobs.  The tea snobs were probably the best resource.  Your black tea is definitely not worth this much.  Don’t sell it for that much.  You might sell more.  There are quality resources, things like Facebook groups.  Tea Mavens, I think, was one of them.  You jump into one of those and suddenly you have this wealth of knowledge that you as a high schooler definitely could not have.  When it comes to our industry, food and beverage, tea and coffee, those experts, those snobs, were definitely great resources because we know when we were wrong.  They liked to point that kind of thing out. You can put all this thought into a marketing plan and try to get around that startup hype, but at the end of the day your best resources aren’t going to be that plan or the points of that plan, they are going to be the people who know what they are talking about.  And they want to help you out because you’re a young kid and they want to show off their knowledge.

It’s a win win.  Where did you get the first idea for the business?

The four co-founders were Josh Rigby, Keenan Murphy, Hart Lukens and myself.  Josh and Keenan…and we tell this story to everyone because this is how it actually happened…they had just gotten out of a movie at Potomac Mills.  They were in the bathroom and Josh yells from one stall to Keenan “Hey, if we started a business, what would we sell?”  And at the same time they both say “coffee!”  They are coffee addicts without a doubt.  For fun they wrote up a quick operating agreement.  Why not do this just for fun?  So, I’m sitting in AP Literature one day with Josh and I see this operating agreement.  I’m like “Dude, what’s this?”  Because I recognized Impeesa from the name of the National Capital Area Council for NYLT camp.  “Impeesa Coffee?  This seems really cool”  I text Keenan.  I asked him if there was a way to invest in this.  He said “no, it’s an LLC.”  “But, if you want in, you can buy in.”  I’m like “OK, why not?”  If we’re going to talk about this, we need to do it.  We actually looked at the numbers for coffee and realized how expensive coffee was going to be.  Josh and I said we need the money for coffee.  How are we going to make the money for coffee?  So, Keenan shoots us both a text with a tea wholesaler that has like a 12,000% turnaround.  You could buy this stuff for almost nothing and sell it for any amount that you want.  He said this is how we are going to make money for coffee.  A few days later Hart Lukens and I were talking, and he wanted in, too.  You’re part of our solid group of friends, of course you’re in.

How many founders were there?

There were four total founders, including me:  Josh Rigby, Hart Lukens, Keenan Murphy, and me.  After we brought Hart on board is when we really got into the swing of things.  We really decided to buckle down and make sure this happened.  We felt cool.  You feel cool starting a business.  We had this down.  After a swim banquet, we all had the operating agreement, these crazy 17 page long contracts with each other because it was an LLC partnership.  We had them in our hands ready to go.  That was December 14th when we officially filed all our paperwork that we needed.  We had our EINs (IRS Employee Identification Numbers) and all that.  So that’s the weird wonky journey that led up to that.  We didn’t really have a plan in place.  We just had the idea of “Yes, we are partners in business.  We’re not entirely sure how that works yet.”

Let’s talk about FBLA (Future Business Leaders of America) a little bit.  You were the President of FBLA.  How did FBLA help you with the business, if at all?

It definitely did.  What we were doing with coffee and tea…we’re sitting in Starbucks right now.  People who want coffee don’t necessarily want coffee.  They want Starbucks.  They want Keurig.  People want their tea from a particular place.  Creating a market was kind of creating that market, creating demand for our product, was something that we really needed.  Especially if we’re starting off with tea.  So FBLA was more of a social experience than anything else.  You’ve got a lot of skill building in there, but more than anything else when you walk into an FBLA conference you’re shaking hands, and you’re learning how to interact with people.  That interaction with people who already have a heightened expectation of what is supposed to be going down was probably the best skill I learned in FBLA.  Keenan was a member of FBLA, too.  Josh was for a short spell.  So learning how to interact with people and how to really sell yourself taught us how to sell our product.  You definitely want some of this (product).  This is something you want to be a part of.  We’re a bunch of dumb young kids starting a business our product, come join us and tell everyone you love it.  Definitely the social scene of FBLA helped teach Keenan and myself how to sell something in a setting that’s very fast-paced.  And high school is especially fast-paced.  If you want to sell something in a hallway, you don’t have much time:  “we just started this business, check us out.” Sitting in a classroom you’ve got a five minute break between Powerpoints.  I started a business, you should try it and check out our mission.  I think in FBLA there were definitely skills that we learned when it came to business plans and marketing.  The social scene behind FBLA helped us to sell ourselves.

What are some of the habits that you would say have helped you be successful?

Communication.  A big theme at National Youth Leadership Training is communication.  It’s kind of a running joke that NYLT is a camp for talking (laughs).

That’s a useful skill.

For sure.  Communication is something that initially we were really great at.  As we got further into running Impeesa, we started getting distant from each other and that’s when problems started arising.  We started getting really stressed and upset with each other.  That’s because we stopped communicating.  Later in the game we started communicating again.  That’s when we decided to chill for a bit.  Let’s put Impeesa on hiatus.  Communication was probably the best habit we had.  Whenever there was a problem, immediately we were in a Google hangout.  We were trying to plan a business meeting.  We knew if we were all on the same page, we could do anything we wanted.  Communication, definitely.  And then we made it a habit to vote on everything.  Nobody operated outside of the group.  Every purchase, as annoying as it was, we had a poll in our Facebook group chat and voted “yea” or “nay.”  If it’s “nay” then we deal with the consequences.  Everything was a group effort.  That’s what made us so successful was that we were all on the same page.  Successful in our eyes as far as consistently learning and getting out of the red a little bit.  Communication is everything in my opinion.  That was our best habit.  When we really started to get stressed with each other and not like each other so much it’s because we weren’t communicating.  Communication, without a doubt, was our biggest strength.

What advice do you have for beginning entrepreneurs?

It depends if you are going into a parternship…always be on the same page. Expectations are everything.  Going into management and having experience with management in my current job and Impeesa you learn that managing expectations is the only way to really accomplish a task.  Because if everybody is not expecting the same thing, if somebody has a misunderstanding of what they are going to get out of this or what we are working towards, they are going to be operating in a completely different plane than us.  Communicating with each other and being on the same page and respecting each other’s time and schedules.  As high school students and Boy Scouts we all play sports.  We all have jobs.

You guys are busy.

Super busy.  It’s so hard to find time.  There were times we just got frustrated with each other, and decided we cannot function like this.  When you try to cut someone out of the picture it doesn’t work.  We just stopped doing that.  If you’re looking at a partnership, be a good person within your group. Respecting the fact that these other three guys who literally run our company just as much as I do are people, too.  They have schedules.  They have expectations.  They have a way they want to operate, so let’s make sure we’re all operating the same way.  Compromise.  A lot of the time we didn’t need to compromise because we did communicate so well.  But it really comes down to communication and expectations, I think.

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

Starting the business isn’t the hard part.  So just do it, but be ready to fail. Be ready to be wrong because that’s the most important thing you’re going to do.  Is fail and be wrong.  That’s where you learn to be right.

And that’s OK.  Failure is OK.

That’s the best thing.  Succeeding is pretty great, too (laughing).

Where can we learn more about Impeesa?

You can visit our website which we’re kind of revamping for our hiatus so it’s information-based. is where you can learn a little more about us.  Just bear with us as we reconfigure it so it carries more information.

Your Facebook page, too?

The Facebook page is  Then our Twitter and Instagram are impeesact as well.

Thank you.  That’s was great.


Click these links to see our other posts in the entrepreneur interview series:

Amazon best selling author Lawrence Colby, writer of The Devil Dragon Pilot:

Interview with Entrepreneur Lawrence Colby, Author of the New Military Aviation Thriller: The Devil Dragon Pilot

The Devil Dragon Pilot Rockets to #1 on Amazon! Interview Update with Entrepreneur and Amazon Best Selling Author, Lawrence Colby

Amazing photographer Richard Weldon Davis:  Interview with Entrepreneur and Photographer Richard Weldon Davis

Successful entrepreneur and owner of Custom Display Cases, Mo Johnson:

From Military to Entrepreneur: Interview with Mo Johnson, Owner of Better Display Cases

What Everyone Ought to Know About Launching a Business: More Wisdom from Mo Johnson, Owner of Better Display Cases

Do You Have the Courage to Start Your Own Business? Military to Entrepreneur – More Insights from Mo Johnson, Owner of Better Display Cases

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

Incredible baker and entrepreneur, Haleigh Heard:  Interview with Entrepreneur and Baker, Haleigh Heard, Owner of S’Cute Petite Bakery

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

Serial inventor Deane Elliott:  5 Patents??? Meet Superstar Inventor and Entrepreneur Deane Elliott

Stay tuned for our next interview in the entrepreneur series!


3 Reasons Entrepreneurs Should be on a Minimalism Journey

Marie Kondo, Author of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up
Marie Kondo, Author of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up

In 2 days, we start our Second Annual Minimalism Challenge!  What does minimalism have to do with entrepreneurship and woodworking?  Everything!  Minimalism is a movement to pare back on tasks and things in order to focus on what’s important in your life.  If those things that are important to you include entrepreneurship and/or woodworking, then minimalism is a tool to help focus on both of those passions.  We wrote earlier about our minimalism journey in What Do You Mean I Have to Move the Wood Shop???!!!??? Entrepreneurs Need to Be Flexible and will talk about a specific tactic (the Minimalism Challenge) to propel you on your minimalism journey.

So what is The Minimalism Challenge?  Very simply, you get rid of a number of things equal to that day of the month.  For example, on August 1st we will get rid of one thing.  On the 31st, we’ll each get rid of at least 31 things.  By the end of the month, we’ll each have gotten rid of around 500 things.  Our friends Josh and Ryan, The Minimalists, have written out the rules of engagement in their post Let’s Play a Minimalism Game.

So how does one identify the things to get rid of?  One method that was useful for us was to follow Marie Kondo’s example.  Marie wrote a New York Times bestseller called The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up which has a multi-step process (she calls it the KonMari Method) for decluttering your house.  If you don’t have a starting point, Marie’s framework might be useful to you.  For example, one of the first steps is to focus on reducing your wardrobe.  First, you put all of your clothes together then decide what to keep and what to get rid of.  Anything that hasn’t been worn in the last 90 days is a prime candidate to jettison.  Mrs Woodworker and I did that last year and it was amazing how many clothes we each had when we brought every single piece of clothing we owned into one room.  It was a real eye opener.  As you need items to shed for the Minimalism Challenge, you can leverage Marie’s method to find more items.

There is at least one caveat, however.  Some folks are not great fans of Kondo’s method, so use it with your eyes open.  For more, read 5 Reasons I Hate Marie Kondo (Admit It, Deep Down You Do Too).

But why pursue The Challenge in the first place?

#1:  It frees up time for your passion

Stuff has to be tended to.  The larger the house, the more maintenance required.  The more cars, the more trips to the auto shop.  In our post Woodworking and Minimalism: If I Buy All These Tools Am I a Minimalist? we described the rationale behind it, but I’d to explore more about the aspect of freeing up time, one of our most precious assets.  Maria Popova, the writer of Brain Pickings who has millions of blog readers, gave a great overview of the value of time when she unpacked Seneca’s (Seneca is one of the great Stoic philosophers) letters regarding time (I subscribe to her weekly newsletter).  Here is a taste from Seneca:

“It is not that we have a short time to live, but that we waste a lot of it. Life is long enough, and a sufficiently generous amount has been given to us for the highest achievements if it were all well invested. But when it is wasted in heedless luxury and spent on no good activity, we are forced at last by death’s final constraint to realize that it has passed away before we knew it was passing. So it is: we are not given a short life but we make it short, and we are not ill-supplied but wasteful of it… Life is long if you know how to use it.”

If you’d like specific ideas about stealing back more time, read our post Lifestyle Design: Tactics, Techniques and Procedures for Entrepreneurs, and Everyone Else.

For more insight into freeing up time, Ii you haven’t had the chance yet, you have to check out a documentary series on Netflix called Abstract (see YouTube trailer here) on multiple ground breaking makers/artists/designers.  If you watch very carefully, it’s fascinating to watch how they live their lives and put everything they have into their craft.  For example, one of the designers is Tinker Hatfield who designed the Air Jordan shoe for Nike.  These designers are all minimalists, so some degree.

One thing to be aware of, is that as you focus on your craft, you will start to see results.  As your enterprise becomes more successful, the demands on your time will increase.  See our post 4 Ways for Entrepreneurs to Manage Their Backlog: When the Cup Overflows for some suggestions in dealing with this.

#2:  It frees up money for your passions

Whether you realize it or not, your house or apartment is full of buried treasure.  Anything you haven’t used in about the past 90 days is fair game to be converted into $$$.  We follow the following protocol (in this order) for getting rid of stuff and generating dollars:

Sell on ebay.  This is the most profitable way to pare down your possessions.  One of the greatest advantages is that you can see what the real value of things are.

Sell on Craigslist.  Craigslist is a bit of  yard sale in terms of prices, but if you are patient, people will come to your house and actually pay you to take your things away.  It’s like having your own ATM, but you don’t have to go to the ATM.  It brings money to your house.

Sell at a yard sale.  This can be a real time suck, but if the weather is good it’s a nice way to spend a Saturday morning and you usually get to meet a lot of really interesting people and neighbors.

Sell from your yard.  This is a new technique for us.  If there is a garage sale down the street from us and the garage sale traffic will be passing in front of our house, sometimes we’ll put an item with a price tag on it in the front yard.  Everything we have placed in the yard this way has sold.  We were able to sell our oak dining room set very quickly this way.

Donation tax break.  If you can’t sell something, take it to the nearest donation center.  We’ve been using the Vietnam Vets donation site in Woodbridge for years, because you drive up, they come out and take your things away.  It’s very fast and convenient.  You can also get a break on your taxes IF you are itemizing deductions.

Give it away (don’t have to pay to move it again).  I don’t believe in Karma, BUT you’ll get a good feeling from giving something away.  Freecycle is a very easy way to do this and they also have an app which makes it easy.  Visit to learn more.

#3:  It frees up your mind

Before I took command of my first squadron, we had to attend a pre-command class.  One of the lessons that really stuck with me was given by a three-star general.  He said “only do what only you can do”.  That was very profound and I had to mull it over for awhile.  He told us to take a look at our to-do list.  I had over 30 items on my to-do list that day that I planned to tackle when I got to the squadron.  He told us to consider how many of those items could be delegated.  In my case, it was just about all but a half dozen.  There were a half dozen tasks that only I could do as the commander.  The others could be delegated.  He also make the point that by delegating we were creating teaching opportunities to develop our subordinates in the squadron.  His comments were a revelation.  Now I could really focus on the few things that were necessary to lead the squadron.  It freed up my mind.

Along those lines, the French philosopher Montaigne said “My life has been full of many misfortunes, most of which have never happened.” We spend so much of our mental bandwidth thinking about low probability things and can free up a lot of that bandwidth by thinking about more constructive and positive things.

Try the minimalism game for yourself and see if it frees up your time, frees up money, and frees up your mind.  If not, you at least had some fun in the process.  Follow me on my personal twitter feed @jttraughber for daily tweets on what we are jettisoning and our progress.  The hashtag will be #minimalismgame

Tribute to Dad, the Ultimate Craftsman: 3 Entrepreneur Lessons Learned

Dad, the Ultimate Craftsman
Dad, the Ultimate Craftsman

As many of you know, my father recently passed away.  Many of the principles that have driven the success of Traughber Design were learned from “The Old Man” and are applicable to any entrepreneurial venture.  These lessons learned may help you on your entrepreneurial journey as well.

Eat the Elephant One Bite at a Time

When I was a teenager, Dad said he wanted to insulate the house.  You see, we lived on the Frozen Tundra (Wisconsin) where it was routinely 100 degrees below zero in the winter and a little insulation would go a long way.  I figured he was talking about unrolling some bales of insulation in the attic.  Oh no.  He wanted to remove every board of siding (we had vertical cedar siding), nail on 4′ x 8′ sheets of insulation and replace all the siding.  That was the easy part.  He also wanted to dig a 3′ wide trench at least 6′ deep all the way around the house so we could also insulate the cinder block foundation.  That’s where yours truly came in.  This was during the summer, so every day I would go out and dig until my arms fell off.  Then the next day, I would do the same thing.  Eventually, we were able to cover the entire house in well-insulated foam boards to protect us from the elements.  When Dad first proposed the project, I thought he was nuts.  But one bite at a time, we ate that elephant and the house became extremely energy efficient.

That lesson is a great one for entrepreneurs.  We recently delivered our largest commission to date for Traughber Design.  3 years ago, there wasn’t even a company.  There was just an idea in a founder’s head.  But one day at a time we worked on crafting commissions in the wood shop and built our customer base.  Now we have more business than we can handle as a part time enterprise. Not to mention, the blog readership continues to build, one post at a time.  You too can build your entrepreneurial vision the same way.

If you focus on consistently doing the work every day, you’ll be amazed at what can be accomplished in a year.  Eat that elephant, one bite at a time.

Where There’s a Will, There’s a Way

What is holding you back from achieving your entrepreneur dreams?  Is it money?  Time?  Something else?  There is a way, you just need to find it as Dad did with our first house.  Dad was a middle school science teacher and didn’t make a lot of money.  He augmented his income with painting houses in the summers and coaching, but he wanted a house for his young family and couldn’t afford it.  No problem.  In that situation, you just build it yourself.  He drew up some designs, hired a general contractor to make sure everything was up to code, and every day after school went up to “The Hill” and worked on the house.  Dad used what he did have, those few hours every day after school to convert into a house for his young family.  It may be that you are not using what you do have to achieve your vision.

Another example of Dad finding a way was in ice fishing.  When I was a kid, Dad would take me out on the ice during the winter to ice fish.  Initially this consisted of drilling holes with a manual ice augur, then sitting on an upturned bucket and freezing my butt off as we waited for the fish to bite.  We eventually bought a gas powered augur and Dad built a shanty on skis which kept us warm.  One of the vexing problems, though, was finding a better way to check our tip-ups when fishing at night.  Tip-ups are small wooden contraptions about a foot long that have fishing line that run down through the hole we drilled in the ice and had a lure at the bottom.  When a fish bit and tugged on the line, it released a flourescent flag to let us know to come get the fish.  Back in the day, there was no way to tell if you had a fish at night other than continually patrolling your tip-up sites or using a flashlight to see if your flags were up.  Dad the entrepreneur came up with a better idea, though.  What if there was a way for the tip-up to signal you when there was a fish on the line at night? He tinkered for hours on a device that would light up when a fish was on the line.  The tip-up flag would pull a line connected to a small plastic insulator separating two contacts on a battery powered lamp.  When the insulator was pulled out, the metal contacts would connect and the light would go on.  Dad made a small wooden device with a drilled out center to hold the battery, lamp on top, and electrical connectors on the side.  This device attached to the tip-up.  He willed his way to a system that allowed us to ring our shanty with about a dozen tip-ups that would signal us with lights when fish were on the line.  These kinds of devices are commonplace now, but Dad had to invent it from scratch back then.  He even researched patenting his contraption, but couldn’t afford the fees to do the patent and market the product on his meager teacher’s salary.  Nevertheless, we enjoyed using his invention for many years.

For more on willing yourself to success, read our Ode to Ralph the Woodworking Cat.

Maybe you Need to Reframe the Problem

Dad taught middle school science and had the challenge of trying to explain quantum physics for the first time to a bunch of 8th graders.  He started teaching us about electron clouds and valences and our minds started to explode.  I just couldn’t get my mind around the concept of a “cloud” of electrons until much later.  He knew from experience that kids our age were going to struggle with this concept and reframed the problem.  He gave us other frameworks to try such as electrons falling into “buckets” at various levels in the atom.  That idea I could latch on to until the cloud thing made sense.

Another person who is successfully reframing visions today is Elon Musk who is pushing forward in three primary areas:  space launch (SpaceX), solar panels (SolarCity), and electric cars (Tesla).  Musk has been very successful in dramatically reducing the cost of launches to space by building his own rockets and making them reusable.  No one even thought that was possible to reuse a rocket; however, he’s done it multiple times now.  My point, though, is that he didn’t build SpaceX to reduce the cost of getting to space.  He says it is to colonize Mars to ensure man’s survival by being on multiple planets.  He’s framed the problem as the survival of mankind.  Getting a job at SpaceX is extremely difficult because he has rallied young technical talent to his cause.  Would they be more enthused about saving money on launch costs or saving humankind?  If you are running into a dilemma in your entrepreneurial venture, maybe you need to reframe the problem as Elon Musk has.

Here is another example of reframing.  I’m currently reading a book called “Bold, How to Go Big, Create Wealth, and Impact the World” by Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler which provides some examples of successful and unsuccessful reframing.  Diamandis founded the Ansari X Prize and 17 companies while Kotler is a best selling writer.  One of the successful examples they explain in their book is how Kodak reframed itself from a company that “was somewhere between a chemical supply house and a dry goods purveyor” to a company that wanted to make photography an every day affair.  The company grew to 140,000 employees with $28 annual revenue in 1996.  Kodak also highlights an example of unsuccessful reframing.  They were the inventor of the digital camera, but shelved it because they didn’t think it fit within their view of their business.  As most of you know, Kodak went bankrupt as a result.

I hope you enjoyed those three lessons from Dad:  Eat the Elephant One Bite at a Time,  Where There’s a Will, There’s a Way,  Maybe you Need to Reframe the Problem




Entrepreneur Innovation: How to Make Your Woodworking Dazzle with Epoxy Resin

Black Resin Filling a Void
Black resin filling a void.  Unfilled on left.  Filled and finished on right.

One of the things I’ve learned as an entrepreneur is to keep innovating and experimenting.  Some things work out and others, not so much.  You just press on.  One of the recent experiments I’ve tried was using epoxy resin to fill in voids in my work.  Ever wonder how they get those really awesome thick “bar top” finishes on tables and bar tops?  In many cases, those are epoxy resin finishes (click here if you’d like to do more research on epoxy resins).  Resin is also very useful for dealing with knot holes, cracks, and other voids.  I recently took the dive into experimenting with resin finishes and thought I’d share some lessons learned to help you get started.  I’ll also provide specific product recommendations you can purchase directly from Amazon and have delivered right to your door.

The most important step is protect yourself before beginning.  These finishes are very toxic so make sure you are in a well-ventilated area.  When I applied my first resin finish it was in the basement shop, so I flung the outer door wide open to let the air in and applied the finish at a table that was very near the door.  In addition, make sure you are wearing long sleeves and are wearing gloves.  You definitely don’t want this stuff on your skin.  I also recommend wearing safety glasses, just in case you splash some up toward your face. This is not likely with the resin since it’s so viscous, but might happen with the hardener or dye.

The materials you’ll need are the resin, a hardener, and dye.  The particular resin I’ve been using (System Three’s MirrorCoat) is mixed two parts resin to one part hardener (also MirrorCoat).  One of the advantages of MirrorCoat is that it’s clear, so you can add dye (I’m using TransTint’s product) to make it any color you like.  I chose black because I was filling in some voids in the black walnut gun cabinet I’ve been telling you about.  Clear resin without the dye might make for an interesting finish in the black walnut as well. Here is the list of materials with links to Amazon if you’d like to purchase them:

Resin and hardener click here
Dye click here

I also recommend a plastic cup, measuring spoon, and scrap stick to use as an applicator.  If you wipe the measuring spoon carefully with a paper towel, you can reuse the measuring spoon indefinitely.  I like to use a plastic cup because it’s disposable and doesn’t require clean up.  I’ve tried a couple different applicators, and a long thin piece of scrap wood seems to work just about as well as anything else.

The procedure.  This stuff is very expensive so you only want to use the bare minimum required.  I recommend finding a piece of scrap wood with a small knot hole to practice on.  A small knot will not require much resin to fill in.  During my first experiment I used two 1/4 teaspoons of resin, one 1/4 teaspoon of hardener, and one drop of dye.  Start by pouring the resin into the cup.  Then add the hardener.  Then add the dye until the color has the opacity you like.  Mix with the scrap stick and let one drop fall from the scrap stick into your void.  Then add another drop, then another until the void has been filled.  You want to slowly add drops, rather than pouring the resin so the air has time to escape and the resin has time to slowly fill all the gaps in the void.  Fill the void to the top then wait about 5 minutes to check it again.  You’ll probably have some settling.  Then add more resin to top off the void.  The resin will take about 24 hours to set and 72 hours to cure completely.

This is very important:  make sure you set aside a time period when you have a few days in a row to check on the settling of the resin. You’ll typically find that overnight the resin has settled, and you’ll need to add some more the next day to level it off with your wood surface.  If you wait more than 24 hours to do this, your resin may not bond together and you could end up with air gaps in your resin which would create an issue during sanding.

The finish.  You may have a slightly convex shape over the void, but not to worry.  You can sand the resin just like you sand the surrounding wood.  I like to use 80 grit, then 120, then 180 as discussed in the post about my go-to finish on the cherry coat rack.  As you can see from the picture, the resin really added some pizzaz to what could have been a distracting knot hole.

One caveat:  the directions recommend using a propane torch to heat the resin and pop any air bubbles at the surface, but I’ve found that in the proportions recommended, the air bubbles escape before the resin hardens.

If you haven’t tried resin, but have always wanted to, give it a shot.  For less than $70 you can be up and running in no time.  This is consistent with our entrepreneurial mantra of fail fast and fail cheap which we wrote about here.  If you have any questions, post below.  I look forward to hearing from you about your experience with resin finishes.


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:



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.


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?

Time is Not Finite! How to Create Time for Life and Your Entrepreneurial Ventures

No great thing is created suddenly, any more than a bunch of grapes or a fig. If you tell me that you desire a fig, I answer you that there must be time. Let it first blossom, then bear fruit, then ripen.

Epictetus – Discourses Chap. xv

Cut the Cable!
Cut the Cable!

I used to think that time is finite, but have since learned that’s not true. We can create time.  If you are an entrepreneur, or would like to be an entrepreneur and have a dream you are pursuing, you must create time to devote to it, just as the philosopher Epictetus said that we need to allow time for that fig to grow.

Let me share three ways you can create time:


Cut the cable

As we wrote about earlier regarding Stoicism and having correct perceptions, we can change our perception of time to trick our brains into thinking there is more of it by reducing stimuli, in particular, eliminating TV.  Did you know the average American watches 5 hours of TV per day according to the New York Daily News!  By eliminating TV you are creating 5 hours per day, 35 hours per week, or almost 2,000 hours per year!  That’s the equivalent of a full time job (in France).  Not only that, while you are watching TV, the minutes seem to be racing by, but when you eliminate TV time slows down, or at least appears to slow down.  You’ve tricked your brain into thinking you have more time.  So how specifically can you go about it?

My pal Rich Davis turned me onto a blog by a guy called Mr Money Mustache (view his blog here) whose primary focus is sharing lessons learned for achieving financial independence.  MMM, as he’s called, advocates cutting your cable for primarily financial reasons, but my opinion is that the primary reason is to create time, with the ancillary benefit of reaping huge financial savings over time.  I decided to pursue MMM’s advice because we weren’t watching cable much and were paying $180 per month to Verizon.  No matter how much I negotiated with Verizon and cut services the price always moved back up to what I was paying before.  So Mrs Woodworker and I decided to cut both cable and the phone landline to see what would happen.  We had stopped answering the landline because almost all the calls we were receiving were telemarketers, so why pay Verizon for a service we weren’t using?  Anyway, our Verizon bills with the bundles (Internet, phone, and cable) were $180 before we cut the cord.  Now we are paying $85 per month, which is a net savings of about $100 per month, almost $1200 per year, or $12,000 (!) over 10 years.  There is one major drawback which we haven’t fully mitigated, however.

How do we watch our favorite professional and college sports?  I think we’ve cracked the code on pro sports, but college sports are a work on progress.  I was finding that the ending of NFL games were so late here on the East Coast, that I needed a workaround.  A couple years ago I started subscribing to NFL GamePass ($99.99 per year) which allows you to watch all NFL games via replay.  I get up for work at 0430 (remember Traughber Design is a part-time business for now) and if an NFL game doesn’t get over until 0100, that’s only 3 1/2 hours of sleep.  That’s not a sustainable model.  With NFL GamePass I can just watch the game the following night and get 8 hours of sleep (or close to it).

College games are a bit trickier, but I’m finding more games are starting to be streamed on the Internet live and that ESPN is starting to show many games via replay on their website.  A fallback option is to Google the closest watering hole that is showing your favorite college team’s games.  I always feel obligated to keep ordering things while I’m there, since I’m receiving the benefit of watching the game in their establishment, so this can be an expensive option.  Another option is to “invite yourself” to your friends’ (thank you, Kevin Hanson) houses ; )

Truth in advertising here…does that mean we watch absolutely no TV?  Of course not.  We’re not Luddites.  We’ve got Netflix for $9.99 per month and now we purchase about two TV series per year on iTunes (of course, we have to keep up with The Walking Dead).  Each series runs about $30 for a season, which means we are netting over $1000 per year, or over $10,000 over 10 years versus cable.  That’s a whole lot of power tools!

So…you can create time by cutting cable.  How else can you create time?

Do a cost/benefit analysis of Amazon Prime Versus Running Errands

We signed up for Amazon Prime about a year ago as an experiment.  I looked at our orders over the preceding year and we didn’t have enough orders to justify the $99 annual fee, but I wanted to experiment with it (See our post about failing fast and cheap.  This was an inexpensive experiment) to see what all the hubbub was about.  There’s no surprise given the clever mind of Jeff Bezos that we are purchasing more from Amazon than we had before, because it’s so convenient.  That’s not necessarily a bad thing, if we were going to purchase those things anyway.  Where Prime really comes in handy is in creating time by having packages shipped to your house if they are the same price in the local store.  You’ve just created the amount of time required to do that round trip to the local store by ordering via Prime, not to mention the time to stand in line.  To give you an example, recently Mrs Woodworker’s headlight went out.  I was going to run to Advance Auto Parts and buy another bulb.  Then I got to thinking “I wonder what the price is on Amazon?”  Sure enough, the price was about the same.  Now if Mrs Woodworker was going to be doing night driving, I would have gone straight away to buy the bulb to keep her safe.  She was only going to be driving during the day for the next 2 days, so I ordered on Amazon and the bulb showed up 2 days later.  I had just created 40 minutes of time (20 minutes each way, plus any additional time standing in line).

Jeff Bezos just helped you create some time, how else can you do it?

Stop Doing Something

It’s important we evaluate our to-do lists from time to time to make sure we’re not doing things we don’t need to be doing.  I tried to zero in on things that were repetitive which would mean large time savings over the long haul.  One of those things was paying bills.  We’ve been paying bills online via our bank for a long time, but were too lazy to fully automate the process.  Before you pay one more bill, go to the company’s website and sign up for autopay.  You will never have to write another check or facilitate another payment again.  I figure I was spending at least 15 minutes every Saturday paying bills.  I just created 12 hours per year.  Now we just get an E-mail every month stating when our card was charged and by how much.  In addition, I’m using that wonderful Naval Federal Credit Union (NFCU) Visa card that pays 1.5% cash back (thanks Gareth Embrey for the recommendation).

Another great way to eliminate errands is to leverage Craigslist and Freecycle.  People will actually come to your house and pay you for your stuff if you use Craigslist!  Think about how many trips to the dump or donation center that will eliminate.  If I post something on Craigslist and it doesn’t sell, then I usually post it on Freecycle.  For example, as I mentioned in the post about moving the wood shop, we are getting ready to move.  Our realtor recommended replacing two old ceiling fans and an old light fixture with three ceiling fans, which I just finished installing.  I posted the old fans on Craigslist, but they didn’t sell so I posted them on Freecycle.  A very nice lady came and took them away.  Bam!  I just saved the time it would have taken to get rid of them, and she got three fixtures for free.

What else is there on your to-do list that you can eliminate or automate?

Well, that’s enough temporal philosophy so I’d better call it a day and head down to the wood shop.

Thinking about cutting the cord?  Go for it!

For other Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures on managing time, check out our post here.


Green Bay Packers Philosophy for the Entrepreneur: Be Like Aaron Rodgers

Green Bay Packers Logo
Green Bay Packers Logo

The Green Bay Packers and Aaron Rodgers have had an unbelievable run of 9 straight years going to the National Football League (NFL) playoffs.  This is a testament to the leadership of the organization and the team’s principles, which are applicable in life and entrepreneur philosophy in general.  This season didn’t end the way Packer Nation had hoped this year, but getting to the NFC Championship game was quite an accomplishment, especially considering all the injuries the team had this year (they experienced a lot of friction as we wrote about earlier in our post on Clausewitz). Here are some lessons we can learn from The Pack.

Take a Chance Occasionally on a Big Play 

There is a play in football called the Hail Mary, where in a desperate bid to score points with limited time, the quarterback heaves the ball downfield into the end zone hoping one of his receivers will catch it.  Most quarterbacks will never successfully complete a Hail Mary at the professional level.  Aaron Rodgers and the Green Pay Packers have completed THREE, the last during a playoff game against the New York Giants.  Many teams in that situation would just kill the clock with only a few seconds remaining, but somehow the Packers seem to convert those slivers of time into points more than other teams.  In addition, Aaron Rodgers will create more of these Hail Mary opportunities by causing other teams to jump offsides with an offbeat cadence, which generates a “free play.”  Since flags are thrown for the offside, he has the opportunity to continue with the play or accept the penalty.  He always tries to throw a bomb downfield for the chance to make a big play during these offsides calls.  How can this Hail Mary and offsides philosophy help us in life and as entrepreneurs?

First of all, what long bombs can you throw in your entrepreneurial ventures?  Think about what one thing would make your idea just explode.  What is it?  As entrepreneurs, we have to be smart with small bets that cause big payoffs.  We have to ensure those small bets won’t bankrupt the company or damage our cash flow too much, just like Aaron Rodgers with those “free plays.”  He has nothing to lose and everything to gain.  More importantly, the Packers practice those plays continually so that when it’s game time, they are ready.  Rodgers practices that offbeat cadence to draw defenses offsides and the entire offense practices the Hail Mary play just in case they need to try it in a game.  As an entrepreneur, the philosophy of trying the big play occasionally should be in our DNA.  We should continually be asking that question of what is high payoff, low investment and throw that long bomb.

Maybe you’re at the point of thinking about starting a business.  What is that first step?  Take it.

Don’t Listen to The Haters

Mike McCarthy is the coach of the Packers, and has been for some time.  This fall, the press was insinuating his head may have been on the chopping block this season after the Packers had four losses in a row.  Had McCarthy suddenly become stupid after all those seasons of success?  He berated the media during a press conference and told them he was a successful NFL coach and gave them some of his perspective.  Personally, I didn’t think the Packers would make the playoffs at that point.  They looked terrible during the losing streak.  But Mike McCarthy and Aaron Rodgers didn’t listen to the doubters.  Aaron Rodgers said they would need to run the table to make the playoffs (meaning win the rest of their games), which they did by winning eight games in a row, including playoffs.  Not to mention, they knocked off the #1 team in their conference (the Dallas Cowboys) in the playoffs on the road.

Along those lines, entrepreneurs can’t afford to expend any energy on haters or doubters.  There isn’t enough time.  The Minimalists talk about this some on their podcasts.  They talk about how you can’t change your friends, but that you can change your friends.  Their meaning is that you can’t change some people, but you can change who you spend time with.  Why hang out with people that don’t support your vision or aren’t encouraging?  Who else talks about dealing with doubters?  Taylor Swift.

My daughter is a big Taylor Swift fan.  We went to Taylor’s 1989 Tour concert here at Nationals Stadium a while back.  I was probably the oldest Swiftee (Swiftie?) in the stadium that night by far, but we had a great time.  Taylor sang a song called “Shake it Off” where she sang about how the haters are going to hate and that we should just shake it off.  That’s wise counsel from Ms. Swift.  Entrepreneurs:  shake it off.

Everyone on the Team is Valuable

No matter what their job, everyone in the organization is valuable.  Earlier in my career, I worked for a two-star general who gave me some sage advice.  He talked about how the 2-striper (a junior Airman) fixing the water pipes on an Air Force base at two o’clock in the morning was probably the most important person on the base at that moment.  His point was that every last person on our Air Force team was valuable.  The Green Bay Packers follow the same philosophy.  They have been injury-plagued this season and lost their #1 running back (Eddie Lacey), #1 cornerback (Sam Shields), and #1 receiver (Jordy Nelson).  Their philosophy is that the younger guys need to step up and that every last player has to do their part, even if they are not a starter.

The Packers also consider the community to be part of the team.  When there is a large snowstorm in Green Bay, the team asks the local community to turn out and help shovel snow at Lambeau Field, and the locals love to do it.  The consider it to be their team.  Along those lines, the Green Bay Packers have a unique ownership structure.  They are the only NFL team with shareholders and are publicly owned.  I bought a share of the team some time ago and consider the Packers to be my team since I’m a shareholder.  The team makes us feel part of the community by making share ownership seem like a big deal, even if the shares can’t be traded like a real stock.

Well, I hope that’s given you something to ponder:  go for the big play, don’t listen to the haters, and embrace everyone on the team.  I wish you the best of luck on your entrepreneurial journey.  It’s a great ride.