One of the great things about custom woodworking is you can design a piece to fit perfectly in the space available. In this case we designed a kitchen cart to fit in a small breakfast nook. The final measurements were 48 inches long, 12 inches wide, and 32 inches high from the floor to the top shelf. This design is very scalable, though, and the dimensions could easily be modified to fit your space. In addition, we went with three shelves here, but two or four would work just as well.
The metal handrails on the side beg a bit of discussion. You could easily make a handhold out of wood, or buy a simple handle from a hardware store to go on the side. In this case, we collaborated with Black Oak Forge in Juneau, Wisconsin which crafted the side rails to meet our specifications. One of the benefits of this type of rail was that I could raise it up and down to get the client’s feedback on the height then screw it into the frame. Another benefit was we could specify the exact width and height to meet our needs. Another is that I’d say it’s much more esthetically pleasing then a hardware store handle. Lastly, it was fun to work with another small business owner on a project like this.
Here are a few thoughts to consider in your piece:
The Top. The top is 1″ thick which sets it apart from your usual store-bought furniture which tends to be 3/4″ think. Also, I joined two 6″ boards to achieve the 12″ width since flawless 12″ wide boards are difficult to find (and expensive).
The Aprons. We designed this with somewhat thick aprons (the horizontal supports under the shelves), due to the length of the piece. A 4 foot long shelf could easily sag in the middle, but with these 3/4″ thick aprons that run 2″ wide, there is plenty of support.
The Legs. We chose 2″ thick legs so that we could drill long tenons from the aprons into the legs. Lastly, the bottom shelf is attached to the legs with very thick tenons.
The Edges. We couldn’t very well leave the sharp edges as they were so I gave each edge five strokes with a piece of sandpaper at varying angles to give them a nice smooth edge. I had debated routing with a 1/4″ roundover bit as I’ve done a several other pieces, but was inspired by some of the craftsmen I had seen recently in Door County (Wisconsin) who used a more subtle edge. We may try this approach more in the future.
The Casters. Be sure the casters are set far enough out to the edge of the piece so that the brakes can easily be engage with a toe. Also, we added a 3/4″ pad underneath each caster so the screws that attach the casters had enough wood to “grab.” The casters at the local hardware store will do the trick, but we went upscale and ordered this model from Woodcraft online.
The Finish. The client was adamant about a matte finish in order to minimize the dusting required, and given that a matte finish is uncommon for an oil finish we tried Minwax Polycrylic water-based matte finish, which was quite easy to apply and dried quickly (2 hours between coats). Three coats did the trick.
If you have any questions, feel free to fire away at the “comments” link on this page.
To see our daily shenanigans in the wood shop, check out our Instagram posts here.
I absolutely loved the process on this commission, because the client (thanks Kevin Hanson) had a brilliant idea, we bantered back-and-forth, and the result is (in my humble opinion) a really cool heirloom table with sentimental value that will be in the client’s family for a very long time. What a great conversation piece that table will be for years to come.
Where did it all begin? Kevin got the chutzpah to propose on July 4th, 1994 on a wooden porch swing owned by his girlfriend’s father. Rumor has it there was a shotgun involved, but that’s unconfirmed. Later they had the swing engraved with the date and moved the swing to their own home. After 25 years in the weather, the swing was taking a beating so Kevin wanted to salvage the best pieces and repurpose them into something special for his bride. Let’s take a look at the transformation…
First, taking apart the swing may sound more trivial than it really was. It took several hours to very carefully pry apart the boards with a flat pry bar while trying to prevent the wood from splitting. Once all the boards and nails were removed we were left with what you see in the picture.
It was readily apparent that there wasn’t enough solid wood left for all the pieces required in the table, so we decided to save the best for the table top and lower shelf. Then it was a matter of deciding on a complementary wood for the legs and aprons (cross pieces). We took a look at several species and settled on white oak, which is very hard and perfect for furniture. In addition, the light shade of oak contrasts nicely with some of the darker pieces remaining from the wooden swing.
Next, we had to plane down the boards to remove the old finish. After that we trimmed the edges to make them square and laid them out to align the nail holes and see which ones would look best on the table top. We used some 1 x 2s to create a rectangle (see pic) in the same dimensions as our desired top then moved the rectangle around until we had an optimal-looking top and shelf.
Our next step was to trim the top to 45 inches (finished length was 44 inches) then join the boards together with mortise and tenon joints (see pic at left). Our trusty Festool Domino made quick work of that task. After we glued everything up we trimmed the top to its final length.
As far as the legs, we went with 1 3/4 inch wide legs, and aprons of 3/4 inches by 1 7/8 inches by 38 1/2 inches. Cutting the legs to width and length was pretty straightforward using the tracks and mitre saw. We joined the cross pieces to the legs using mortise and tenon joints as well (there are no metal fasteners in this table). The table height is 36 inches, the length is 44 inches, and the depth is 17 inches. The shelf is 6 inches off the floor.
After we refinished our floors to a beautiful dark half inch bamboo (see pic), the hand rails going to the basement just weren’t cutting it. The old blonde colored oak finish no longer matched the floor. In the post (link here) regarding upgrading our bannisters, I wrote about how we refinished the bannisters going upstairs from the first floor. Since we’re in the market for a new house as I wrote about in the Reflections on 2018 post, it was time to get in high gear on the remaining projects in this house. Let me give you the low-down on a very simple refinish to the railings that you can knock out in a long weekend.
First, remove the rails. This will save you endless heartache since you won’t have to cover the stairs with a drop cloth, worry about getting finish on the walls, getting sanding dust throughout the house, and bringing the varnish fumes into the house. In addition, you can put the rails on a bench or work table at waist height (the Festool MFT/3 works wonders for something like this), which will make the refinishing much easier. If you do it while they are attached to the wall, you’ll be doing all kinds of contortions to access the side against the wall and the underside.
Second, sand, sand, sand. Use a coarse grit sandpaper like 60 or 80 grit and I highly recommend using a power sander. I used my Festool RO150 random orbit sander which worked surprisingly well given how big it is. The sanding disc is pretty large relative to the piece, but was able to hit just about every surface except for the small bead that runs near the bottom. I hand sanded that part. Sand until there is no more shininess to the finish. You don’t have to take it to bare wood: just rough it up enough so that the new finish will adhere.
Third, prepare. Do this in a well ventilated area and wear gloves. Also wear eye protection in case any of the finish splatters upwards. It’s not likely, but don’t take any chances.
Fourth, apply the gel stain. I used General Finishes Java Gel Stain. I did a test run underneath the shortest hand rail to see how dark the stain looked and how evenly it spread. Then give it 24 hours so you can evaluate the test area. If you like it, then press on and stain both rails.
Fifth, apply the topcoat of oil and urethane varnish. General Finishes Arm-R-Seal works really well for this and I recommend the satin finish.
Sixth, reinstall the rails and enjoy!
I hope that helps! Catch up on the latest Traughber Design project videos on Instagram here.
Many thanks to fellow entrepreneur Tim Pittman for the recent article about Traughber Design in FIRE Stories. Mrs Woodworker and I hope some of the wisdom we’ve gained in the past several years might be of use to you. If you have any questions, FIRE away in the comments section.
Mrs Woodworker and I finally pulled the trigger and had the carpet and linoleum floors in the house replaced on the first and second floors with hardwood floors. This house was one of our rentals and after four sets of tenants (who were great, by the way!) the carpet and linoleum were just worn out. After the floors were replaced, the next step was to update the bannister and kitchen cabinets to match. I’ll tell you everything you need to know to update the bannisters and will do another post on the kitchen cabinets.
Given that the floors are a java-colored bamboo, we decided to go with a java stain on the bannister top rail and vertical posts to match the floor. For the spindles we went with a white semi-gloss paint to match the trim in the rest of the room.
So where do you start? It all starts with a lot of sanding. I recommend investing in an electric sander if you don’t already have one. This will save you a ton of time. I already had a Festool Rotex 150 Random Orbit Sander which was a little big for a job like this, but worked out alright. If you are buying from scratch, a small sander from Home Depot or Lowes will work. I recommend using 120 grit sandpaper which matches the grit called for with the stain we used (more on that later). For those hard-to-reach areas, you will have to do a little hand sanding. I’m not going to lie; you’ll need to sand all the intricate curves on the spindles by hand. Turn on your favorite podcast and the time will fly by! One tip which may help you, is to sand when you have natural light on the bannister. Then if you see any shine (remaining finish), it’s easy to see where to focus your sanding energy. Once everything is sanded down nicely, be sure to vacuum really well so no sanding dust gets in the finish.
Before you start applying the finishes, I need to say a few words about ventilation. The fumes from the stain and varnish were not too bad, but I recommend running your ceiling fans and opening the windows during and after you apply the finishes. The fumes from the varnish were the strongest and most important to keep ventilated. Also, I recommend wearing a dust mask when sanding since you’ll have a lot of fine particles in the air and you don’t want to inhale them.
Next, it’s time to apply the stain. We used General Finishes Java Gel Stain. A quart runs about $22.99 at Woodcraft and is plenty for a job of this size. You can also purchase it for $33.95 with Amazon Prime (click here) and have it delivered right to your door. It’s very easy to apply and leaves a beautiful color. To apply, make sure you are wearing gloves then apply the stain using a small rag. Cut up T-shirts work great for this. For the tough-to-reach corners, use a small foam brush. Let the stain sit for about 5-10 minutes then wipe off with a clean rag so it doesn’t leave any splotches. If you like the color depth at that point, you’re done with the stain. If you would like a darker color, then apply more coats until you have the color you like.
Our floors have ever-so-slight streaks of lighter color so I only went with one coat of stain on the bannisters. This left light streaks on the bannister to match the floor. If your floor is solid, you may want to go with two or three coats of stain.
Next, apply the top coat. I’ve used General Finishes Arm-R-Seal for years on our Traughber Design projects and it provides a very durable finish. I typically use the gloss finish when making furniture (see the post How to Make a Beautiful Custom Wooden Mitered Picture Frame for an example of a high gloss finish), but in this case went with the satin finish ($17.99 at Woodcraft). Why? Because the bannister rail is a high traffic item and the wear of hands going up and down the stairs on a gloss finish would look unusual over time. For example, the areas of high traffic would wear to a dull finish and low traffic parts of the rail would still be high gloss. It would look very uneven. With the satin finish the rails should have a consistent finish, even after wear. We went with two coats using small rags to wipe it on. Make sure you leave at least 24 hours between coats and sand with a high grit sandpaper between coats.. We used 600 grit sandpaper.
Last, paint the spindles. We went with Sherwin Williams Interior White Semi-Gloss from Lowes. That’s probably a little more high-end than you need and just about any white semi-gloss interior latex should do the trick. A quart should be more than enough. I used a foam brush for a test section, but it was just too slow and I switched to a 2 inch brush. After two coats and some touch up, the spindles look great.
Check out the pictures. We think the bannisters look much better than when we started. Stay tuned for another post soon on how to redo those kitchen cabinets!
Congratulations on launching your first startup. Tell us a little bit about Impeesa.
Impeesa Coffee and Tea was a venture created by three other friends and myself. We are all Boy Scouts. The concept behind it was to create a market for a product that we enjoyed that we were passionate about and that had a purpose. That product being coffee and tea, two things that in the high velocity environment that we were raised in, this kind of area, coffee and tea for a lot of people are a relief and an energizer at the same time so that they cultivate a lot of productivity and efficiency. We are people that really like to get involved really heavily and really quickly. We decided to create a marketplace for something like that. The purpose we brought in, is related to the term Impeesa. Impeesa was how the Matabele in South Africa referred to Lord Baden-Powell, the founder of Boy Scouting. The translation was the “Wolf that Never Sleeps,” so you can probably see the coffee reference there. Being Boy Scouts we’ve all gone through National Youth Leadership Training which is a spectacular opportunity for young men to go in and really understand what leadership really is. We decided that with this marketplace we had created with something we really enjoyed, that we could also create more opportunities for youth to pursue that National Youth Leadership Training. So, we decided to really round off Impeesa as an opportunity to raise money for scholarships for National Youth Leadership Training. That was the main goal and why we started Impeesa. Something we enjoyed. Something we were passionate about that we could make a purpose out of.
You talked about creating a market. How did it go?
All in all, this was probably our most successful failure, is how we refer to it (both laughing).
I’m sure you learned a lot in the process.
Exactly, that’s what it is. We got to the point in our journey of the red and black line where we were finally coming out of the red and we decided to reinvest back into coffee. That’s when things kind of went downhill because that’s when the startup hype died down. That’s something that we had known was going to happen. We tried to account for it and we to market for it. We just didn’t do it overtly successfully. Everything we learned was so much more valuable than any penny or dime that we could have made. That’s what we enjoy the most looking back on it. We said from the beginning, if we don’t make a dime out of this we will probably have had a more valuable experience than most people our age do.
It was a heck of an education. It was almost a mini-MBA.
It’s a mini-MBA. We threw ourselves into it and we didn’t do great, obviously, which is why we’re putting it on hiatus so we can focus on going to college.
My hats off to you, because a lot of people talk about starting a business. You’ll probably hear that a lot in college, but very few will have done it, especially in high school.
Definitely, when we started initially talking about it, we weren’t just talking about it. In our heads, the minute we brought this up, we knew we had to do it, because everybody talks about this, but never does it. That was probably our main motivation, not only creating the opportunity for scholarships, but also just doing it. What’s the point in talking about it if you’re not going to do anything about it.
You talked about when you started getting into the black. I think a lot of people don’t understand how hard entrepreneurship is. There’s the hype in the beginning, but then it’s just hard work. Can you talk a little about that. If you continued it, what would you do differently or what would you continue to do?
It is so much work getting out of that initial investment. It was all personal investment. We all contributed about $200 in each, so that put us down about $800 total. Just getting up from that number was such a challenge. Just paying off that overhead. We rode that startup hype really, really well. If we weren’t full time students in high school we probably could have had the capacity to ride that startup hype right out of the red. Being high school students we didn’t really have the capacity to focus full time on getting a quality marketing plan. About January or February we started thinking about when our next step should be after the startup hype was over. That was our frame of thinking. We tried to anticipate what we were going to be as a brand and how we were going to market as a brand. We had a really solid plan. It just didn’t work. I think that’s the most important thing that we learned. You can plan for whatever you want, but it might not work. Your plan might not be the best even if it’s eight pages long and you have your headers and your bullet points. Your plan might not work and you have to be ready for that. That’s something that as full time students we couldn’t necessarily do. And definitely to anybody reading this don’t discourage yourself by your circumstances. Don’t think because you’re a full time student you can’t have the capacity to plan effectively. We thought that our plan that we had put all this thought into would work and it didn’t, necessarily. Things that we could have done differently…definitely just anticipating the credibility of people and utilizing a lot of those quality resources. Everybody is going to say that they will buy your product.
How many actually buy it?
Probably 20-30% of people actually buy the product. Everybody wants to be part of this cool new thing. Nobody wants to spend money, though. I started getting into a lot of Facebook groups where people were like “this is what you’re doing wrong, this is what you’re doing right.” People with experience not only running tea businesses, but tea snobs. The tea snobs were probably the best resource. Your black tea is definitely not worth this much. Don’t sell it for that much. You might sell more. There are quality resources, things like Facebook groups. Tea Mavens, I think, was one of them. You jump into one of those and suddenly you have this wealth of knowledge that you as a high schooler definitely could not have. When it comes to our industry, food and beverage, tea and coffee, those experts, those snobs, were definitely great resources because we know when we were wrong. They liked to point that kind of thing out. You can put all this thought into a marketing plan and try to get around that startup hype, but at the end of the day your best resources aren’t going to be that plan or the points of that plan, they are going to be the people who know what they are talking about. And they want to help you out because you’re a young kid and they want to show off their knowledge.
It’s a win win. Where did you get the first idea for the business?
The four co-founders were Josh Rigby, Keenan Murphy, Hart Lukens and myself. Josh and Keenan…and we tell this story to everyone because this is how it actually happened…they had just gotten out of a movie at Potomac Mills. They were in the bathroom and Josh yells from one stall to Keenan “Hey, if we started a business, what would we sell?” And at the same time they both say “coffee!” They are coffee addicts without a doubt. For fun they wrote up a quick operating agreement. Why not do this just for fun? So, I’m sitting in AP Literature one day with Josh and I see this operating agreement. I’m like “Dude, what’s this?” Because I recognized Impeesa from the name of the National Capital Area Council for NYLT camp. “Impeesa Coffee? This seems really cool” I text Keenan. I asked him if there was a way to invest in this. He said “no, it’s an LLC.” “But, if you want in, you can buy in.” I’m like “OK, why not?” If we’re going to talk about this, we need to do it. We actually looked at the numbers for coffee and realized how expensive coffee was going to be. Josh and I said we need the money for coffee. How are we going to make the money for coffee? So, Keenan shoots us both a text with a tea wholesaler that has like a 12,000% turnaround. You could buy this stuff for almost nothing and sell it for any amount that you want. He said this is how we are going to make money for coffee. A few days later Hart Lukens and I were talking, and he wanted in, too. You’re part of our solid group of friends, of course you’re in.
How many founders were there?
There were four total founders, including me: Josh Rigby, Hart Lukens, Keenan Murphy, and me. After we brought Hart on board is when we really got into the swing of things. We really decided to buckle down and make sure this happened. We felt cool. You feel cool starting a business. We had this down. After a swim banquet, we all had the operating agreement, these crazy 17 page long contracts with each other because it was an LLC partnership. We had them in our hands ready to go. That was December 14th when we officially filed all our paperwork that we needed. We had our EINs (IRS Employee Identification Numbers) and all that. So that’s the weird wonky journey that led up to that. We didn’t really have a plan in place. We just had the idea of “Yes, we are partners in business. We’re not entirely sure how that works yet.”
Let’s talk about FBLA (Future Business Leaders of America) a little bit. You were the President of FBLA. How did FBLA help you with the business, if at all?
It definitely did. What we were doing with coffee and tea…we’re sitting in Starbucks right now. People who want coffee don’t necessarily want coffee. They want Starbucks. They want Keurig. People want their tea from a particular place. Creating a market was kind of creating that market, creating demand for our product, was something that we really needed. Especially if we’re starting off with tea. So FBLA was more of a social experience than anything else. You’ve got a lot of skill building in there, but more than anything else when you walk into an FBLA conference you’re shaking hands, and you’re learning how to interact with people. That interaction with people who already have a heightened expectation of what is supposed to be going down was probably the best skill I learned in FBLA. Keenan was a member of FBLA, too. Josh was for a short spell. So learning how to interact with people and how to really sell yourself taught us how to sell our product. You definitely want some of this (product). This is something you want to be a part of. We’re a bunch of dumb young kids starting a business our product, come join us and tell everyone you love it. Definitely the social scene of FBLA helped teach Keenan and myself how to sell something in a setting that’s very fast-paced. And high school is especially fast-paced. If you want to sell something in a hallway, you don’t have much time: “we just started this business, check us out.” Sitting in a classroom you’ve got a five minute break between Powerpoints. I started a business, you should try it and check out our mission. I think in FBLA there were definitely skills that we learned when it came to business plans and marketing. The social scene behind FBLA helped us to sell ourselves.
What are some of the habits that you would say have helped you be successful?
Communication. A big theme at National Youth Leadership Training is communication. It’s kind of a running joke that NYLT is a camp for talking (laughs).
That’s a useful skill.
For sure. Communication is something that initially we were really great at. As we got further into running Impeesa, we started getting distant from each other and that’s when problems started arising. We started getting really stressed and upset with each other. That’s because we stopped communicating. Later in the game we started communicating again. That’s when we decided to chill for a bit. Let’s put Impeesa on hiatus. Communication was probably the best habit we had. Whenever there was a problem, immediately we were in a Google hangout. We were trying to plan a business meeting. We knew if we were all on the same page, we could do anything we wanted. Communication, definitely. And then we made it a habit to vote on everything. Nobody operated outside of the group. Every purchase, as annoying as it was, we had a poll in our Facebook group chat and voted “yea” or “nay.” If it’s “nay” then we deal with the consequences. Everything was a group effort. That’s what made us so successful was that we were all on the same page. Successful in our eyes as far as consistently learning and getting out of the red a little bit. Communication is everything in my opinion. That was our best habit. When we really started to get stressed with each other and not like each other so much it’s because we weren’t communicating. Communication, without a doubt, was our biggest strength.
What advice do you have for beginning entrepreneurs?
It depends if you are going into a parternship…always be on the same page. Expectations are everything. Going into management and having experience with management in my current job and Impeesa you learn that managing expectations is the only way to really accomplish a task. Because if everybody is not expecting the same thing, if somebody has a misunderstanding of what they are going to get out of this or what we are working towards, they are going to be operating in a completely different plane than us. Communicating with each other and being on the same page and respecting each other’s time and schedules. As high school students and Boy Scouts we all play sports. We all have jobs.
You guys are busy.
Super busy. It’s so hard to find time. There were times we just got frustrated with each other, and decided we cannot function like this. When you try to cut someone out of the picture it doesn’t work. We just stopped doing that. If you’re looking at a partnership, be a good person within your group. Respecting the fact that these other three guys who literally run our company just as much as I do are people, too. They have schedules. They have expectations. They have a way they want to operate, so let’s make sure we’re all operating the same way. Compromise. A lot of the time we didn’t need to compromise because we did communicate so well. But it really comes down to communication and expectations, I think.
Anything else you’d like to share with our readers?
Starting the business isn’t the hard part. So just do it, but be ready to fail. Be ready to be wrong because that’s the most important thing you’re going to do. Is fail and be wrong. That’s where you learn to be right.
And that’s OK. Failure is OK.
That’s the best thing. Succeeding is pretty great, too (laughing).
Where can we learn more about Impeesa?
You can visit our website which we’re kind of revamping for our hiatus so it’s information-based. www.impeesa.us is where you can learn a little more about us. Just bear with us as we reconfigure it so it carries more information.
As many of you know, my father recently passed away. Many of the principles that have driven the success of Traughber Design were learned from “The Old Man” and are applicable to any entrepreneurial venture. These lessons learned may help you on your entrepreneurial journey as well.
Eat the Elephant One Bite at a Time
When I was a teenager, Dad said he wanted to insulate the house. You see, we lived on the Frozen Tundra (Wisconsin) where it was routinely 100 degrees below zero in the winter and a little insulation would go a long way. I figured he was talking about unrolling some bales of insulation in the attic. Oh no. He wanted to remove every board of siding (we had vertical cedar siding), nail on 4′ x 8′ sheets of insulation and replace all the siding. That was the easy part. He also wanted to dig a 3′ wide trench at least 6′ deep all the way around the house so we could also insulate the cinder block foundation. That’s where yours truly came in. This was during the summer, so every day I would go out and dig until my arms fell off. Then the next day, I would do the same thing. Eventually, we were able to cover the entire house in well-insulated foam boards to protect us from the elements. When Dad first proposed the project, I thought he was nuts. But one bite at a time, we ate that elephant and the house became extremely energy efficient.
That lesson is a great one for entrepreneurs. We recently delivered our largest commission to date for Traughber Design. 3 years ago, there wasn’t even a company. There was just an idea in a founder’s head. But one day at a time we worked on crafting commissions in the wood shop and built our customer base. Now we have more business than we can handle as a part time enterprise. Not to mention, the blog readership continues to build, one post at a time. You too can build your entrepreneurial vision the same way.
If you focus on consistently doing the work every day, you’ll be amazed at what can be accomplished in a year. Eat that elephant, one bite at a time.
Where There’s a Will, There’s a Way
What is holding you back from achieving your entrepreneur dreams? Is it money? Time? Something else? There is a way, you just need to find it as Dad did with our first house. Dad was a middle school science teacher and didn’t make a lot of money. He augmented his income with painting houses in the summers and coaching, but he wanted a house for his young family and couldn’t afford it. No problem. In that situation, you just build it yourself. He drew up some designs, hired a general contractor to make sure everything was up to code, and every day after school went up to “The Hill” and worked on the house. Dad used what he did have, those few hours every day after school to convert into a house for his young family. It may be that you are not using what you do have to achieve your vision.
Another example of Dad finding a way was in ice fishing. When I was a kid, Dad would take me out on the ice during the winter to ice fish. Initially this consisted of drilling holes with a manual ice augur, then sitting on an upturned bucket and freezing my butt off as we waited for the fish to bite. We eventually bought a gas powered augur and Dad built a shanty on skis which kept us warm. One of the vexing problems, though, was finding a better way to check our tip-ups when fishing at night. Tip-ups are small wooden contraptions about a foot long that have fishing line that run down through the hole we drilled in the ice and had a lure at the bottom. When a fish bit and tugged on the line, it released a flourescent flag to let us know to come get the fish. Back in the day, there was no way to tell if you had a fish at night other than continually patrolling your tip-up sites or using a flashlight to see if your flags were up. Dad the entrepreneur came up with a better idea, though. What if there was a way for the tip-up to signal you when there was a fish on the line at night? He tinkered for hours on a device that would light up when a fish was on the line. The tip-up flag would pull a line connected to a small plastic insulator separating two contacts on a battery powered lamp. When the insulator was pulled out, the metal contacts would connect and the light would go on. Dad made a small wooden device with a drilled out center to hold the battery, lamp on top, and electrical connectors on the side. This device attached to the tip-up. He willed his way to a system that allowed us to ring our shanty with about a dozen tip-ups that would signal us with lights when fish were on the line. These kinds of devices are commonplace now, but Dad had to invent it from scratch back then. He even researched patenting his contraption, but couldn’t afford the fees to do the patent and market the product on his meager teacher’s salary. Nevertheless, we enjoyed using his invention for many years.
Dad taught middle school science and had the challenge of trying to explain quantum physics for the first time to a bunch of 8th graders. He started teaching us about electron clouds and valences and our minds started to explode. I just couldn’t get my mind around the concept of a “cloud” of electrons until much later. He knew from experience that kids our age were going to struggle with this concept and reframed the problem. He gave us other frameworks to try such as electrons falling into “buckets” at various levels in the atom. That idea I could latch on to until the cloud thing made sense.
Another person who is successfully reframing visions today is Elon Musk who is pushing forward in three primary areas: space launch (SpaceX), solar panels (SolarCity), and electric cars (Tesla). Musk has been very successful in dramatically reducing the cost of launches to space by building his own rockets and making them reusable. No one even thought that was possible to reuse a rocket; however, he’s done it multiple times now. My point, though, is that he didn’t build SpaceX to reduce the cost of getting to space. He says it is to colonize Mars to ensure man’s survival by being on multiple planets. He’s framed the problem as the survival of mankind. Getting a job at SpaceX is extremely difficult because he has rallied young technical talent to his cause. Would they be more enthused about saving money on launch costs or saving humankind? If you are running into a dilemma in your entrepreneurial venture, maybe you need to reframe the problem as Elon Musk has.
Here is another example of reframing. I’m currently reading a book called “Bold, How to Go Big, Create Wealth, and Impact the World” by Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler which provides some examples of successful and unsuccessful reframing. Diamandis founded the Ansari X Prize and 17 companies while Kotler is a best selling writer. One of the successful examples they explain in their book is how Kodak reframed itself from a company that “was somewhere between a chemical supply house and a dry goods purveyor” to a company that wanted to make photography an every day affair. The company grew to 140,000 employees with $28 annual revenue in 1996. Kodak also highlights an example of unsuccessful reframing. They were the inventor of the digital camera, but shelved it because they didn’t think it fit within their view of their business. As most of you know, Kodak went bankrupt as a result.
I hope you enjoyed those three lessons from Dad: Eat the Elephant One Bite at a Time, Where There’s a Will, There’s a Way, Maybe you Need to Reframe the Problem
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?