Product Review: Granberg Alaskan Mark IV Portable Chain Saw Mill

Granberg Sawmill
Granberg Saw Mill

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

 

Advantages

White Oak from Sawmill
White Oak from Sawmill

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

Granberg in Action
Granberg in Action

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

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

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

Cons

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

Sawmill with Chainsaw
Sawmill with Chainsaw

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

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

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

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

Update on Wood Shop Transformation: We Survived the Move!

wood shop work flow
Wood Shop Work Flow

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

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

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

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

New Work Bench
New Work Bench

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

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

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

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

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.

 

Our First Commission of 2017! Black Walnut Gun Cabinet

black walnut gun cabinet
Black Walnut Gun Cabinet

We were very excited to receive the deposit for our first commission of 2017 only 9 days into the new year and we’re jazzed about sharing philosophical musings regarding our maker journey as we build the piece.  This commission is for another black walnut gun cabinet which we’ve made before (see picture), but we’ll be making subtle design changes in this version.  Also, the last one took approximately 100 hours to make, so we’ll be very interested to see how far up the learning curve we’ve gone.  For example, we’ll be putting that fairing stick to work that we wrote about in September to streamline making the curve at the top of the door.  Several additional techniques we’ve learned since then should speed up the work.  Then again, the design changes will add some time to the project so it may be a wash to the overall hours count.  As we mentioned in our post on moving the shop, we’re a bit under the gun since we’d like to complete this piece before the wood shop move this summer.  A little pressure is good : )

We picked up the raw lumber from Dunlap Woodcrafts yesterday (for tips on buying lumber, read our post here). One of the most fun parts of the process was chatting with some of the other woodworkers and the owner.  There was a young guy there looking at a board and I asked him what he was making.  He was making a coffee table for his wife.  Another guy walked in and said I should buy all the boards I was gazing at (which I did) and said he was making a guitar for his son.  We just have a great woodworking community here in Northern VA.

The walnut we purchased is S2S cut and we’ll square it up in the shop with the planer, tracksaw, and mitre saw.  Carefully cutting all the pieces with precision will take a long time.  We tracked all of our hours on the last cabinet and have a pretty good feel for how long each operation will take.  That’s why it’s so important to always document your hours.  Then you can more actually predict how long future projects will take.

Let’s not get ahead of ourselves, though.  The first step is to to stand the wood up, take a look at it for awhile, and listen to what the wood tells us it wants to be.  For example, we need to think about what the most visible parts of this piece are and where it is going to sit in the client’s house.  In this case, I’ve talked with the client and have a good idea where it is going to be and how people are going to see it.  In this case, the door, face frame, and crown moulding at the top will be the most visible parts so I’ll look at the raw wood to see which boards are knot free, have matching color, and pleasing wood grain.  I need to ensure the opposing sides of the glass door and opposing sides of the face frame have not only matching color, but matching grain.  That means I’ll cut those pieces immediately next to each other from the same board.  Likewise, I need a long enough board that will allow the entire crown moulding pieces to be cut from it, so the grain flows all the way from the top left to the front to the top right of the piece in one seamless flow.

We’ll keep you updated how it goes.  As I stand in the shop looking at the boards, I’m thinking I have 100 hours of joyful creating in front of me.  As I wrote about in blog post #1, this is a part-time business for now so I’ll continue to follow the time management framework I laid out in the post on making versus managing.  Working 6 days per week with Sundays off, we’ll make good progress.  As I mentioned in the last post, we’re also getting ready to move:  talk about a self-inflicted time management challenge!  Ay caramba!

Stay tuned.  We have several more interviews with entrepreneurs queued up, some random thought pieces, and a couple other potential commissions we may be writing about soon!

What Do You Mean I Have to Move the Wood Shop???!!!??? Entrepreneurs Need to Be Flexible

400 square feet of basement wood shop bliss
400 Square Feet of Basement Wood Shop Bliss

Well, Dear Readers, this time comes in just about every woodworker’s life:  the time to move the wood shop.  In our case, we are moving in about 6 months which means the shop has to be moved lock, stock, and barrel to the new house.  Not only that, we are going from a cushy basement shop, back to a garage shop since we are on a path to downsizing and minimalism which we’ve written about earlier.  Kudos to Mrs Woodworker for letting me monopolize the basement as long as I did.  Unfortunately, in the garage during certain weather we’re just going to have to suck it up.  If I figured right, this will be the fourth time moving the shop and there are definitely some tricks to doing it wisely.  When it comes to woodworking, we can’t let obstacles stand in the way as we wrote about in our Ode to Ralph the Woodworking Cat.

Sequence Your Projects

I read a great book early in my Air Force career called Lean Thinking, Banish Waste and create Wealth in Your Corporation by Womack and Jones.  One of the concepts in the book was to start from the end of the process and work backwards to pull resources through the production process.  Lean thinking helps us in this case of moving the shop as well.  One way to make the move as efficient as possible is to only move the tools, raw material, and project pieces that are required to the new house then only bring others as required.  This keeps the production line going smoothly.  However, this only works if you have some overlap while you are in both houses AND the houses are relatively close together.

In addition, the work should be planned so that large projects are completed and delivered to clients before the move, then other large projects started after the move is complete.  For example, this week we received a commission for another large gun cabinet (we’ll be writing a post about that soon).  I don’t want to move a cabinet with that much glass twice (from one shop to the other, then to the client), so I’ll press to deliver it before we move.  Smaller projects like our cornhole sets can easily be moved while they are in progress to the new shop.

Adjust to the Environment

Advantages

The new shop will be in a garage which does have its advantages.  One advantage is that we can bring in lumber much easier through the large garage door or stage large or unwieldy pieces near the outside of the garage as they are being assembled so they can be easily loaded into the pickup for delivery.  I recommend having some lumber racks immediately inside the large garage door to minimize the movement of lumber around the shop.  As soon as you bring a load from the hardwood dealer, you can stack the lumber right on the rack.

A second advantage is that when the weather is nice, you can open that large shop door to let in the fresh air and see some grass and trees.  On nice days I also like to move the Festool MFT/3 table (where I do much of my work) out onto the driveway to catch some of that great sunshine.  If you are doing a finishing project this also helps greatly with ventilation.

A third advantage is when the shop door is open the neighbors can see you are working on something and stop by.  I’ve had many conversations over the years that were started because I had the garage door open and a neighbor would yell “what are you working on?”  It’s a great conversation starter and this is all about that great community we wrote about in an earlier post.

A fourth advantage is the symbiosis of having the shop in the same room as our favorite mountain bike.  As we’ve written about earlier, that bike can be a real problem solver when it comes to woodworking.  Having it at the ready will make it even more likely to be used.

Negatives

One disadvantage of a garage shop is the temperature variability which adds some Clausewitzian friction.  This is not such a big deal during the summer, but if you are doing finishing work in certain climates, cool weather may put the kibosh on adding varnish or paint to a project until the temperature warms up.  I bought an inexpensive digital clock with thermometer so I can make sure the piece I am finishing is in the right temperature zone before I start applying finish.  Be sure to read the required temperature ranges on the can so you know if it is warm enough to wipe on that oil and urethane mix.

Related to that are the human factors working in temperature extremes.  Northern Virginia is pretty mild in the winters, but I still need to wear a light jacket and gloves in the winter while I’m working in the garage or my fingers will get numb.  Try to find some gear to wear that you can sacrifice to the woodworking gods because it’s going to get a lot of finish, wood chips, and paint on it.  Likewise, in the summer it can get to 100 degrees around here which is not conducive to long hours in a garage shop.  On those days, I try to work early and late, but not in the middle of the day.

Use This Opportunity to Start With a Clean Slate

Moving a shop also creates a golden opportunity to rethink how to design the tool layout to optimize flow and increase efficiency.  For example, think how the wood moves through the shop.  It’s going to come in through the big door, so why not just stack it by the big door as mentioned earlier.  What is the most likely next operation?  For me, that would be the TrackSaw (Festool TS55) or Kapex (sliding compound mitre saw) so I should probably have those lined up next.  I love the router, but that doesn’t usually get used until later in the process after the boards have been squared.  That means the router can be shoehorned into a corner.  Oh, and I forgot about the planer.  That’s probably the first tool that’s going to touch the wood.  So given the sequence the wood is going to go through, you can lay out the tools so the wood can flow from tool to tool to tool.

If you don’t get it right the first time, don’t worry about it.  Remember when we wrote about failing fast and failing cheap?  Try one iteration with the tool layout and if that’s not working for you, try another one.  If you don’t have enough space, just tell your spouse their car is banished from the garage, too.  After all, why would you have cars in your garage when it could be a wood shop???

The Wonderful Crazy Life of an Entrepreneur’s Spouse

an entrepreneur's spouse
An Entrepreneur’s Spouse

Entrepreneurship is a team sport.  This is our first interview with Mrs Woodworker, which may give you some insights and recommendations for dealing with your entrepreneur spouse.  Entrepreneurship is a wild ride and both spouses need to be on board.  Read on!

 

What is it like leading the crazy life of an entrepreneur’s spouse?

It is maybe not always crazy. I guess to balance out the entrepreneur’s craziness you have to be patient and you also have to ignore some of the craziness of the entrepreneur.

Like what kind of craziness?

Well, sometimes the entrepreneur wants to tell you all of their ideas and you just kind of nod and smile and you kind of ignore some of that unless it involves your time or space or things.  Some of the other craziness you have to help harness and say that idea is maybe a little bit much, I don’t think we can do that right now.  You might have to do that idea in the future

That all sounds pretty negative; is their anything positive about it?

Well, yes, there are a lot of positives.  It’s nice to have someone who is so  creative, and who wants to make things better.  There are not that many people who want to do that.  And not that many people who then take action to change things.  With an entrepreneur’s spouse, you on the other end of it, would go ahead and do things that you never thought that you would do.

I suppose it’s a little bit like jumping off a cliff.  In our case we have a salary so we don’t have to worry about starving, but still I suppose it could be a little bit scary.  What do you think?

It’s very scary, and the bigger the risk or the bigger the cliff, the bigger the chance for success, but also the bigger the chance of failure.   I think you have been very modest in what you are willing to spend before you see some results.  I have read some things from about other entrepreneurs’ spouses where they have mortgaged their house twice.  They were knee deep in debt right before they hit it big.

So you’re saying the Festool was a good investment?

(laughing)  The Festool (see our post on that one) was a hard investment for me, but I guess I could live with it because you found the money for itwithin our budget.  You found some extra money to pay for it.  It didn’t affect our lifestyle.

The deployment bonus came in handy.

Yes.  But at the same time, (laughing) I have to rein you in so you don’t go too crazy.  It’s kind of like our old rule about how you were not allowed to shop at REI by yourself.

Alright, that’s pretty enlightening.  What tips do you have for other spouses?

One, you have to be a bit of a parachute.  You have to let your entrepreneur take some risks, but not go so crazy that he’s jumping off the cliff without a parachute.   I think you have to remain calm and realize that an entrepreneur has to go through many ideas before they find one that strikes it rich.  You have to be encouraging.  I’ve found that I’m a sounding board even though I don’t know anything about woodworking.  I’m often get asked questions sometimes more broad sometimes more specific about woodworking and somehow I can come up with some Yoda-type answer that seems to work (see our post on Mrs Woodworker’s Yoda-type wisdom).

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

Yes, just as an entrepreneur’s spouse you should be encouraging.  You have to be steadfast, and not get all crazy that this is going to take over your life.  I think sometimes you can set limits, too.  You’ll have projects or want to take on more things, even outside of woodworking. I’ll say you really need to think about that.  We need time for this for our family or we need to schedule time for this house project.  Not all entrepreneurs are good at balancing their family responsibilities with their entrepreneurial goals.  I think as a spouse you have to rein that in, but you have to do that carefully so you don’t totally squelch the spirit.

OK.  Thanks!

Having a Mental Block with a Thorny Woodworking or Start-Up Problem? Get on the Bike!

mountain bike maintenance
The Happy Machine Getting Some TLC

One of the hazards of being a maker is hitting the occasional mental block.  These blocks can strike woodworkers and entrepreneurs alike as we discussed in our earlier post about Clauzewitzian fog and friction.  Should we throw up our hands in despair and gnash our teeth?  Absolutely not!  There are tried and true methods to power through mental blocks and one sure fire cure is a bicycle ride.  You may be thinking “what on earth is he talking about?”  But think back to when you were a kid.  What were your memories of riding a bicycle?  Most likely it was a terrific sense of speed racing down hills.  Or the feel of the wind in your hair.  Or having an incredible feeling of freedom as you expanded how far you could ride away from home.  Does anyone ever have bad memories of riding a bike as a child?  So why don’t we ride more as adults?  Good question.  We should ride more because it’s a great cure for what ails us in the wood shop or as an entrepreneur.

I started out calling my bike “Gary” because it was a Gary Fisher mountain bike.  When I told Mrs Woodworker I was going for a ride I’d say “Gary and I are going for a ride.  See you in an hour!”.  Now I call it The Happy Machine because I’m almost always happy after a long bike ride.  It must be the endorphins (or the speed, or the wind through the hair, or riding far from home).  The Happy Machine is almost guaranteed to increase joy and help solve problems.

I’m finding whatever thorny problem I’m facing in the wood shop or as an entrepreneur is usually solved on a bike ride.  And I’m not the only one.  Brent Bellm was the head of Paypal Europe for 4 years and is currently CEO of a company called Bigcommerce.  Here is what he had to say about the magical quality of bicycle problem solving in the Apr 2016 issue of Inc Magazine:  “Every autumn, he ramps up of the Texas State Road Race cycling championship.  Las year, he finished fifth overall and third in his age group.  But to him, bike riding is more than mere competition.  ‘If there’s a problem at work or in my personal life, or an issue that needs to be resolved, that’s what my mind gravitates to.’ Bellm says. ‘It will work it through until it’s done.’ ”

One of the dilemmas we were facing in Traughber Design recently was improving the way we cut curves into our pieces.  It sounds easy, but in practice is not quite so straightforward.  I hopped on the bike and thought through some of the courses of action.  One thought was to just freehand the curves.  Another was to buy some french curves, but then you are limited to the size of curve you have purchased.  Another was to make something called a fairing stick.  The ride clarified that I should experiment with the fairing stick and see how it worked out.  It worked great!

Some of the most successful Americans in our history used cycling to recuperate and recharge their physical and mental batteries.  In Ron Chernow’s biography of John D. Rockefeller, he writes how Rockefeller’s doctors ordered him to rest in June of 1891 because he was overworked.  J.D. was in his early 50s at this point and was physically and mentally exhausted from building his business empire.  To recover, Rockefeller spent 8 months at his Forest Hills estate doing manual labor with his workers in the fields, cycling, and going for long walks.  Rockefeller said in one of his letters “I am happy to state that my health is steadily improving.  I can hardly tell you how different the world begins to look to me.  Yesterday was the best day I have seen for 3 months.”  Cycling was part of the cure to clear the fog from this titan’s brain.

There can be a lot of excuses for not cycling, but most can be mitigated:

If it’s cold, layer up.

If you’re too tired, sometime you have to give energy to raise your energy level.

If you don’t have enough time, you can’t find a half hour during the week?  Really?

What problem has cycling helped you solve recently?  Let’s hear from you.

 

Juggle Several Balls at the Same Time: Maximizing Efficiency in the Wood Shop and as an Entrepreneur

black walnut keyring holder in progress
Black Walnut Keyring Holder in Progress

An effective woodworker always wants to have at least two projects going on simultaneously in the wood shop.  Why?  In order to maximize efficiency.  If you are woodworking as a part-time gig, as I am, there is all the more reason to make every minute count as we discussed in the blog on making and managing.  There is not a minute to spare when you are working a full time job during the day and working in the wood shop on nights and weekends.  Let’s get into the mechanics.

 

How does it work?  

Woodworking by its nature entails a lot of waiting during certain portions of the build such as glueing or waiting for finish to dry.  It’s important to take advantage of these pauses to flip to another project(s).  For example, once a glue up has been done on one project, why wait for the glue to dry when you can just pick up where you left off with the other piece?  Another example is once you’ve applied finish to the first project, flip over to the second project.  However, it’s important to consider that if you are doing finish work on the first project, make sure the second project is not going to generate dust that will settle onto your finish on the first project.  A way to mitigate that risk is to rig a dust shroud around the first project while the finish is drying or to take the second project outside.  If you are looking for more information on finishing, check out our post on the cherry coat rack project or Marc Spagnuolo’s DVD on finishing at The Wood Whisperer.

What if I don’t have a commission right now?

If you are between commissions, I’m sure Mrs. Woodworker or your significant other is looking for something that needs to be made around the house.  These projects are great for continuing to build your skill set.  In addition, this valuable shop time may spark an idea for another project.

Another approach is to build something that doesn’t take a lot of time that you know sells well.  For example, it only takes me about 3 1/2 hours to build a corn hole set and I always like to have one set available in case a client wants one.  If I have some dead time and don’t currently have a set ready, I know that time is well spent to get another one built.  In general, I don’t like to build on spec as I’ve written about earlier, but if I know that something has sold in the past and is likely to sell again, then it’s pretty low risk to build another one.

Another reason to have multiple balls in the air applies to entrepreneurship in general.  If you get stuck in one area you can always shift focus to another area.  For example, if I don’t have a lot of work in the shop I can always spend more time working on the blog, or vice versa. We were working four commissions at once not too long ago, so I spent a little less time on the blog until we caught up in the wood shop.  You can extend that concept to entrepreneurship in general.  No matter what your business is, it likely involves sales.  If sales are slow, you can shift focus to other value-added tasks in the business that don’t involve sales.  If you are swamped with sales, you can shift to fulfilling orders until you catch up or hire more staff.

Better opportunity for flow

prayer kneeler in cherry and black walnut
Prayer Kneeler in Cherry and Black Walnut

When you have multiple projects there is also less starting and stopping in the shop and this can be less jarring to your system.  You are always seamlessly transitioning from one project to the other and it’s just part of your normal routine.  In addition, there is also a greater chance for serendipity.  You may learn something on one project that benefits the other.  For example, on one project I was contrasting light and dark woods, which gave me an idea to try the same thing on a prayer kneeler I was building (see picture to left). That wasn’t in the original design, but I went with the flow and I think it turned out pretty well as you can see in the picture.

Increase production.  If woodworking is your business, you need to be continuously producing and delivering in order to bring in revenue (you especially need to be producing if it’s on your honey-do list).  Advertising completed projects on social media generates new bids, which generates more production, which generates more advertising and bids.  It’s a  virtuous cycle.  In addition, increased production means you can build things quicker at the same level of quality and either pass on your costs savings to your clients (see our blog post about pricing for more information on what is reasonable to charge clients) which will make you more competitive, or you may decide to increase your profits, or both.

What efficiency hacks work well in your shop?

 

The RSS Hack, or How to Curate Your Favorite Woodworking and Entrepreneur Blogs

Feedly RSS feed aggregator
Feedly, an RSS Aggregator App

How would you like personalized information that gives you only the blogs you’d like at your fingertips?  With an RSS feed, you can have exactly that.  But what is this RSS feed thing all about?  It’s only the coolest thing ever and acts like your very own newspaper front page.  Newspapers used to be these arcane things made of paper that were delivered to your front door every morning, that had the news actually printed on them.  Now we have something just as radical as that newspaper, but updated instantly on your smart phone, tablet, or computer.  It’s made possible by something called RSS, formerly called Rich Site Summary, but now commonly called Really Simple Syndication.  But before we get into the “how to”, let’s first ask “why?”

Garbage In, Garbage Out

Why should we bother curating our information flow?  One of our most valuable assets is time and there is only so much of it.  This is all part of optimizing our lives (see related post on making and managing) and focusing on sources of information that add value.  For example, I was a long-time subscriber to the New York Times, but cancelled my subscription the day after the election.  I had liked nothing better than to have a cup of coffee and read that physical newspaper in the morning.  There was something about the tactile sense of a newspaper that was better than reading online.  However, I felt that given the results of the election, I was not getting objective news and that something the paper had totally missed what was going on in the country.  In fact, the editors of the newspaper were actively campaigning for one candidate and wrote many editorials about why that candidate was the right one.  That’s not what I want in a newspaper; I want one that at least attempts to be objective.  That’s part of the beauty of RSS aggregators.  You can assess blogs and other sources and add or trim them from that aggregator to receive the best content for you.  Speaking of curating things…

How to Set It Up

I’ve been using an app called “Feedly” which is a free app available in the App Store.  There are Android equivalents and Web-based versions, but I’ll zero in on how to set up Feedly, for now.  Once you’ve downloaded Feedly from the App Store to your smart phone, walk through the start-up screens provided by Feedly.  To add a favorite blog, type in the search terms then click on the magnifying glass in the upper right of your screen, then hit the plus sign when Feedly finds your favorite blog.  One of my favorite features organizes the blog posts on my smart phone in chronological order starting from the most recent to oldest.  Click on the parallel lines in the upper left of your screen, then click “All.” That will organize your incoming blog posts from most current to oldest.

Some useful blogs on my Feedly app and what they are about

Colby Aviation Thrillers (terrific blog by new author & Amazon Best Seller, see our interview with him here)
Horicon Marsh Nature Photography (absolutely beautiful photography)
Mr. Money Mustache (financial independence guru)
Pure Living for Life (how to homestead from scratch)
The Blog of Tim Ferriss (lifestyle design & traits of successful people)
The Minimalists (how to simplify)
Traughber Design (where woodworking and entrepreneurship meet)
The Wood Whisperer (probably best site I’ve found for learning WW)

Well, I hope that was useful for you.  What blogs are you following?

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Lifestyle Design: Tactics, Techniques and Procedures for Entrepreneurs, and Everyone Else

lifestyle design and entrepreneurship tips
A Powerful Time Management Tool

I’m so thankful to the military for all of the great training, education, and experience gained over the years.  Many of the TTPs (Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures) we’ve learned over the years have translated directly to being an entrepreneur.  Here are some of those TTPs.

 

Plan the Attack and Attack the Plan

One of the most effective time management tools I learned as a second lieutenant many years ago during an 8 hour Franklin Covey time management class.  Before taking the class, I was perplexed how we could possibly spend EIGHT HOURS on a time management class.  Boy, was I wrong.  I was a classic procrastinator in high school and college, but the time management class broke that habit.  Franklin Covey teaches that we should break our tasks into A, B, and C categories.  “A” tasks absolutely must be done that day and you can’t leave for the day until they are done.  “B” tasks are important and must be done at some point.  “C” tasks are nice to get done, but can wait.  Once all your tasks are written down, something to consider is does everything on your list need to be done (this also relates to our blog post on minimalism)?  Do YOU need to do everything on your list, or should your subordinates do it?  Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should.  You are taking away an opportunity from your subordinates to learn under your mentorship.  I learned a very valuable lesson from a 3-star general during one of our pre-command courses.  He said “Only do what only you can do.”  That was pretty profound when I heard it.  His point was to focus on the tasks that only I as the commander could get done and delegate everything else.

Delegating a task is just the beginning, however.  Follow-up is extremely important.  I learned that from a 2-star General.  Some of his staff thought he would forget about some of the things that he had asked for.  He almost never forgot and those that didn’t follow through, paid the price.  The time management class taught us to post follow-ups forward in our calendars.  Back then we were using paper planners and today’s software makes this very easy.  For example, I use the Google Cloud calendar and if I need to follow up with something, create an event in the future.  If something is time sensitive, I usually give someone 2 days to work it.  For most tasks, I create a follow-up event a week afterwards.  Most of the time, I’ll find the other person has completed the task by then and I can just delete the follow-up reminder.

In addition, it’s important to plan every day.  For me, first thing in the morning works best, but for other folks the previous evening works best.  I also recommend hand writing the task list.  I had a Colonel boss several years ago who used to fold a piece of paper in half and write his tasks down.  I thought “how quaint”.  He also only had a handful of tasks on that list.  I can see now the wisdom in focusing on a handful of tasks every day.  They tend to get done that way.  Another advantage of hand writing the tasks is that you’ll have better situational awareness of what you have to do that day because writing aids in retention.

Another key aspect of making a task list is do nut update the task list once it is set.  Keep in mind you don’t need the perfect plan, you just need one that will work.  If you are continually updating the task list as new tasks come in during the day, you will not tackle those tasks you decided were important at the beginning of the day.  In addition, there is a psychological component at play here.  You will get discouraged if your task list continually grows during the day and is growing faster than you are completing task.  Instead, write down any new tasks and start them tomorrow so you can execute today’s plan.  Of course, if your boss asks for something or something absolutely has to be done today, then by all means get cracking on it today.

Time is one of your most valuable assets.

I hate meetings.  Don’t get sucked into meetings whenever you can avoid it.  Is there another way to accomplish the task?  If you absolutely have to attend a meeting, one technique is to just leave if the meeting goes long.  This requires some assessment.  For example, I typically don’t walk out of a meeting with my boss, but most other times there are few repercussions of walking out of a meeting that is taking too long.  Those wasted minutes are taking away your ability to knock out your task list.  Another tactic is to make sure there is an agenda for every meeting and to help the leader of the meeting keep everyone on track even if you’re not the facilitator.  For example, you might say “this sounds like a pretty involved issue, maybe we should work it offline.”

As Seneca said in “On the Brevity of Life”:  “We’re tight-fisted with property and money, yet think too little of wasting time, the one thing about which we should all be the toughest misers.”  Conserving time allows us to do important things, like make gifts for our spouses like we did with the picture frame project.  Or to do important things like spend time with our children.

Manage your E-mail or it will manage you.

E-mail is an activity, not productivity.  Just because you are reading or sending a lot of E-mails doesn’t mean you are doing what is important.  One tactic I learned early on is to turn off that automatic notification of inbound E-mails.  Studies have shown it takes several minutes to get back in the flow after switching gears to that new E-mail.  I have found that checking E-mail three times per day is very effective:  first thing in the morning, at lunch, and before leaving for the day.  Another aspect of that is to work any E-mail immediately that takes a minute or less to answer.  Other than that, I write it on the task list.  A related procedure is to clean out the inbox those three times per day.  That gives a clear visual that all tasks have been dealt with or added to the task list.

Another great time sink is looking at social media.  Ryan Nicodemus had a great tip on one of the Minimalists podcasts to only look at social media once per day.

Face-to-face is the best method of communication

Face-to-face communication takes longer but passes much more information.  60% of our face-to-face communications is non-verbal.  If you’re always communicating by E-mail, you are missing most of the information someone is sending you.  For example, if I need to work an issue with someone and they are in my building, I go to their office.  They almost always provide some nugget of information that would not have been included in an E-mail, because typically we just answer what is in an E-mail.  If someone sees you face-to-face you are likely to strike up a conversation which allows for more serendipity.

I’ve found the best protocol is to first meet someone face-to-face.  If that isn’t possible, I use the phone.  Last, I try E-mail.  E-mail, unfortunately cannot convey tone and can be easily misunderstood.  That is why it’s the last resort.

Sometimes, if you want to get a lot done, do nothing

If like me, you can’t sit still this strategy works well.  If you tend to like Netflix binge watching, you may need to tailor this strategy.  Recently we had a 3-day holiday weekend.  Typically I plan a weekend like this out to maximize the amount of projects I get done, but in this case my only plan was to read the newspaper, have a cup of coffee, and eat breakfast.  After that, the question was “now what?”  I had to do something.  I moseyed over to finish a painting project in the first floor bath, did some woodworking, and found I was naturally knocking out projects around the house but in a very relaxed manner.  Doing “nothing” was actually very productive.  Sometimes it’s a good idea to just pitch the to-do list and go with the flow.  Mrs Woodworker will be very shocked to read this coming from a Type A personality.

Well, Mrs Woodworker and I have a whole additional set of TTPs for running the household, but that’s for an upcoming blog post.  What TTPs work best for you in the workplace or at home?