Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all of our clients, friends, and family! Traughber Design just delivered its final sale of 2017 last week, and we thought this was a good time to thank our community of supporters and reflect on the past year.
This was our third full year of operation and the business is now profitable! We invested quite a bit in tools the first year, and we continued to build our client base the second year. This year we delivered 17 commissions (plus one pro bono project) with a wide variety of projects and have 1 commission in progress in the shop.
Traffic continues to grow to the blog and we have had over 2,800 unique visitors and 5,900 page views. We’ve published almost 60 posts now and have many more ideas for posts in 2018.
One of the biggest things I’ve learned over this 3 year journey is persistence. Most small businesses fail, and I wonder how many were on the cusp of success if their owners had just kept at it. Speaking of which, I’m grinding my way through David McCullough’s 1100 page biography (called “Truman“) of Harry S. Truman and the President’s persistence when everyone wrote him off is absolutely stunning. Check out this passage from the book which references a Newsweek poll of the biggest writers of the day: “Of the writers polled, not one thought Truman would win. The vote was unanimous, 50 for Dewey, 0 for Truman. “The landslide for Dewey will sweep the country,’ the magazine announced. Further, the Republicans would keep control in the Senate and increase their majority in the House. The election was as good as over.” As we all know from the history books, Truman won the election in 1948. He never gave up. The same goes for a small business; you have to believe you are going to win, just as Harry S. Truman did in 1948.
As I’ve mentioned in previous blog posts, please continue to support your local artisan ecosystem. Local small businesses are all tied together and a dollar spent with Traughber Design flows to other businesses, like hardwood dealers, tool vendors, glass manufacturers, etc. Along those lines, I’d like to give a shout out to Hardwoods in the Rough up in Manassas (and their Facebook page is here). They have only been open a year, and I was impressed with their customer service when buying some figured walnut the other day. I hope they stick around for awhile since they are the nearest hardwood dealer to us.
Looking forward, soon the Air Force will be kicking me out after 30 years of service, and I’m excited to pursue Traughber Design full time. I will be on terminal leave at the end of 2018, and we will see what other exciting commissions come our way.
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 littlefreelibrary.org. 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, littlefreelibrary.org 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.
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.
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:
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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 ; )
(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 Hummitzsch 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Before we launched Traughber Design, I put a lot of thought into what kind of company I wanted. I wanted a company that gave back to our clients via high quality craftsmanship, but also wanted some of the profits to flow to its employees (currently an Army of One) as well as the community. I wanted that entrepeneur philosophy to be embedded in the company DNA from the very beginning. The first 2 years of operation we invested heavily in tools and ran at a loss which I had fully expected, but here in year #3 we are going to turn a profit and it’s time to put our money where our mouth is and execute the vision we had at the beginning. So this year we are going to invest a portion of our profits in the local community. A percentage of the proceeds from our first commission has been set aside to sponsor a sports team at the local high school. As future commissions roll in, we will disburse that same percentage of our revenue to other causes.
We all have time, talent and treasure. Some of us have more time than money, while others have more money than time. If you are an aspiring entrepreneur, have you thought about giving your time, talent, and treasure directly in your community, if you are not already?For example, in our local church we have a ministry called Helping Hands of Grace where we serve dinner to the homeless on Friday nights during the winter when the need is greatest. Several other churches sponsor different nights of the week. What we are finding is that those service nights at our church get signed up for very quickly by the various small groups in our church. People want to help their fellow man and are being intentional about serving on those Friday nights. Events like those are a great opportunity to give your time to others. If you would like to serve by giving your time, consider contacting your local homeless shelter, soup kitchen, or church for opportunities.
Earlier, we wrote a post about John Rockefeller and his keys to success. One of the things we didn’t write as much about in that post, was his struggle after he become very wealthy to find his way in philanthropy. Setting up a foundation to distribute wealth was a new thing back then and he had to basically invent the model which is used today by some of the large foundations such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Rockefeller established the Rockefeller Foundation, but had a difficult time deciding how it should be run, who should get the funds, and how to ensure the receiving organizations had a sustainable model. One of the first large efforts he started was establishing the University of Chicago, but he fought with the leadership because they weren’t broadening their donor base and weren’t (Rockefeller felt) being frugal. Rockefeller didn’t want the receiving organizations to be solely dependent on his foundation. Of course, when he was a young man he didn’t know he would have this “problem” of distributing extraordinary wealth, but now that we have his example and the example of others, we can incorporate this thinking about giving early on when we craft our entrepreneur philosophy.
It is up to each person to consider what is appropriate for them. To whom much is given, much is required. If you’ve launched an entrepreneurial venture, have you thought about who your stakeholders are and who should benefit if your venture is successful? Should it be solely you? Your employees? The community? All of the above? In what proportion?
I think some of the most important questions a founder can ask themselves are:
“Why am I starting this enterprise?” “Who are the stakeholders?” “How can I support them?”
In addition to philanthropy, an entrepreneur should give back to its employees. I did another of our entrepeneur interviews last week (we’ll be publishing that interview soon), this time with the owner of Better Display Cases, John Johnson. He is giving back to another group of stakeholders, his employees. Here is a veteran who just retired, started his own company and already has two employees and is looking for a third. Business is booming and he is giving back to the community by providing good jobs here in Northern Virginia. BTW, if you’re looking for work, contact him at his website here.
Another great example of giving back to employees is Dan Price, the CEO of Gravity Payments. Dan is a very thoughtful guy and was troubled by the stories from his employees of struggling to get by in a high cost city. He was making over $1 million per year and thought it was unfair that he had it so good, while his employees were struggling. He decided to set a “minimum wage” of a $70,000 annual salary for every employee including himself (you can read all about it here in Inc. Magazine). The reason he picked $70,000 is that studies have shown $70,000 will meet most families’ needs and your marginal happiness does not increase much above $70,000 no matter how much you make. As you can imagine, his employees were shocked and overjoyed. They were so ecstatic that they bought him a new Tesla last year which you can read about here.
My point is, in both Johnson’s and Price’s cases they have thoughtfully considered who the stakeholders are in their enterprises.
So we’ve discussed giving of time, talent, and treasure to two groups of stakeholders, the community and employees, but not much about the third, yourself. This goes back to that earlier question of why you’re starting the enterprise. Are you seeking a certain level of income? Self-fulfillment? Something else? In my opinion, if you take care of your clients, employees, and community, your needs will be taken care of organically. Those stakeholders will support you, if you support them.
These philosophy discussions are best had before launching the venture or early in its development, because once it’s launched you are going to be unbelievably busy as I saw at Better Display Cases this week. John and is two employees are really hustling to fulfill orders and have boxes stacked from floor to ceiling in the entire building. They receive large shipping containers from China monthly and race to unload the containers and deliver their products to all their customers. John’s time to have these philosophical discussions now is extremely limited.
Along those lines, seek out mentors who are farther along the entrepreneurial path who can share what they’ve done. It may not be exactly the correct path for you, but will help clarify your thinking (check out our blog post here on Stoic philosophy for more on clarity).