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


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.


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?

Web Hosting

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?


Woodworking Glue Technique, a Metaphor for Life

woodworking glue up
Spreading the Glue

A woodworking glue up can go wrong in so many ways, but some solid preparation will keep one out of trouble.  One of the consequences of poor planning can be sections of a work piece hardening before you are ready to complete the glue up.  Another consequence can be having to sand away globs of glue after all the glue has hardened.  Yet another consequence can be something called “white haze” which won’t show up until you apply your finish and it is too late.  All of these issues can be eliminated with proper glue technique.  Sounds kind of like life, doesn’t it?  With a little preparation and wise living, we can make things a lot easier.  Let’s explore in more depth, Dear Reader…

Make the complex simple

It’s very important to think through how the glue up is going to be done before starting to apply the glue (Titebond III, available at Lowes is my go-to glue), because once it starts setting up, there is no going back.  I was working on a kitchen cabinet project a while back that had 38 tenons.  I was working as fast as I could to coat every surface with glue using a small brush along with coating every surface on the tenons.  Multiply this times 38 and that was just a bridge too far.  By the time I got to the last joint and had to adjust the first joint, the glue had set pretty well and I had a heck of a time adjusting the first joint.  Next time, I’ll break the job into smaller, more manageable pieces.  The same goes in life.  As I mentioned in an earlier blog post, we’re preparing to move to a smaller house.  It’s daunting to think of all the things that have to be done to prepare the house for sale.  But sitting down with Mrs Woodworker to write everything down that needed to be done and then breaking the projects up into small pieces made things much more executable.  We essentially split the house into three parts (each floor being a part), then went room by room until we were done.  Tiling the basement was probably the hardest part, but with the four of us working together and doing it in pieces, we were able to knock it out.

Take the time to do things the right way

Another element of proper glue technique is making sure every surface is coated well and that maximum clamping pressure is applied across the entire joint.  This will give you a rock solid bond.  After the clamps are applied, wait 20 minutes for the glue to begin setting.  Then take a dull chisel to scrape away the now-gooey (technical term) glue, and wipe off any excess with a wet rag.  I’ve experimented with the timing on this and 20 minutes seems to work best.  If improper technique is used, you may end up doing a lot of sanding of hardened glue.  If you try to wipe the glue with a wet rag right away, the glue will be absorbed into the wood fibers and create the white haze I talked about earlier.  You may not notice it immediately in a light colored wood, like maple or cherry, but after the finish is applied you will definitely see the haze.

How many times in life do we rush into something knowing that we should take a step back and be more deliberate?  One of the great things about military training is we are very deliberate.  As a cadet, we knew when we went on one of our summer field training events after sophomore year that we would have to execute something called “The 54 Commands“.  This consisted of ordering a flight (a couple dozen cadets or more) through a series of difficult commands over a large parade field.  The flight had to be positioned and moved perfectly in order to pass the steely-eyed gaze of our instructors.  The only way to prepare was to practice, practice, and practice (see our post on grit) some more back at our home bases before we went to training.  The cadets from our detachment did very well that summer because we had taken the time to do things the right way.

Make sure you are in alignment (also see our post about yoga and alignment)

Another element of proper glue technique is making sure the piece is oriented so the glue flows along the joint and not in rivulets along the joint.  This not only makes it easier to clear the glue, but exposes less of the wood grain to the glue which causes white haze.

In one of my earlier assignments I was the commander of a military recruiting squadron.  When I took over the squadron it was the second-to-last squadron in the country (out of 27 at that time).  The leadership team and I got together and decided that since we were in a competitive business (recruiting) we might as well go for broke and set a vision of being #1.  It seemed preposterous at the time, but that vision helped us align our people and resources.  After 1 year, we were #7 then after 2 years we were #1.  That would not have happened if everything and everyone had not been in alignment, just as our woodwork needs to be aligned for a proper glue up.

Just as in woodworking glue ups, we need to make the complex simple, do things the right way, and make sure we are in alignment.  The next time you are approaching a wood glue up, I hope you consider these existential questions ; )


How to Make a Kitchen Cabinet Door: Flat Panel Construction

kitchen cabinet panel
Final Kitchen Cabinet Panel

These panels have been hot sellers recently, so I thought I’d blog the directions to you.  There is another variant using raised panels in the center, but we’ll save that post for another day.  I’ll describe the process for making flat panels which typically use plywood in the center which can be very economical.  The panel in the picture was custom made with 4″ wide red oak edges in order to attach the panel to a metal dishwasher door.  2″ wide edges are pretty standard these days for kitchen cabinets.  These panels are relatively easy to make once you’ve made one or two and I’ll share some lessons learned that will make it even easier for you.

rail and stile bit set
Rail and Stile Bit Set

First of all, it’s important to understand the terminology of these panels so you purchase the right bits and understand the orientation of the directions.  The horizontal pieces are called rails and the vertical pieces are called stiles.  The stiles run the entire height of the door and the rails meet them (more on measuring rails below).  There are router bit sets specially made for these panel doors and I recommend Whiteside bit set #6001 (available at Woodcraft).  These run about $115, but will last forever and allow you to make hundreds of panel doors.  In addition, the contours from this bit are common today and appealing to the eye.  If you are redoing your kitchen, you may want to consider investing in one of these bit sets.  A kitchen remodel can run tens of thousands of dollars and making your own doors can save you a bundle (see our post about not skimping on tools).  Once you’ve made one door, the rest are easy.  In addition, you can run all the rails and stiles for all the doors through the router table at one time and really expedite the process.

Step 1:  measure the opening your doors will cover and plan for 1/2″ overlap all the way around.

the raw wood
The Raw Wood

Craftsman Tip:  the width of your door is NOT equal to twice the width of your stiles and the length of your rail!  Due to the nature of the cuts made by this bit set, the rails will overlap the stiles by 3/8″ on each end.  This means you need to add 3/4″ (3/8″ on left plus 3/8″ on right) to your beginning rail length or your doors will be too narrow.  I learned this lesson the hard way on an earlier project and had to toss out the rails and start over.  Said another way, the desired width of your door needs to equal twice the width of the stiles, plus the length of the rail, then add 3/4″.  You’ll lose that 3/4″ during the routing process.

flat panel rails and stiles
Flat Panel Rails and Stiles

Step 2:  cut your rails and stiles in accordance with the tip above.






stile close up
Stile Close Up

Step 3:  rout the edges of the rails and stiles.  Don’t forget to have a piece of scrap wood behind the piece as it passes the router bit to prevent tear out.




Craftsman Tip:  don’t cut the plywood to fit the gaps exactly because it may prevent a perfect seating of the rails within the stiles.  I like to leave a 1/16″ gap all the way around the plywood to allow for some slight wood movement due to humidity and temperature changes.

Step 4:  cut your plywood panel in accordance with the tip above.

rail and stile good fit
Rail and Stile Good Fit

Once you have all the pieces cut, put them together to dry fit everything.  There should be no gaps between the rails and the stiles.  If there are, it’s time to go back to the router table.  See our post about the gulag,  craftsmanship, and not leaving a job undone.

cabinet flat panel glue up
Cabinet Flat Panel Glue Up

Step 5:  dry fit the panel together then glue it up.  There is an old woodworking adage that you can never have enough clamps and this is definitely true.  There is nothing like extreme clamping pressure to make for an absolutely rock solid joint.  The Jet clamps in the picture are gifts from the Best Sister in the Whole World, but pipe clamps from Lowes will also do the trick. I have a mix of both in the wood shop.

Step 6:  either paint or finish the panel.  For tips on the finishing process, read our blog post on the cherry coat rack commission.

As you can see from the picture, these panels are beautiful when done correctly.  Please let me know how the directions worked for you in the comments below!

How to Make a Beautiful Custom Wooden Mitered Picture Frame

black walnut wooden picture frame
Black Walnut Picture Frame

Want a great idea for a birthday gift for Mrs Woodworker? She works hard and a custom made gift like this will go a long way to show your appreciation.  In our case, Mrs Woodworker’s grandmother was quite the artist and had done a neat charcoal drawing that was hanging in our house.  Unfortunately, the frame was not the right size and was falling apart.  The glass in the frame and mat had also discolored over time.  I thought a new frame would be a great gift to let Mrs Woodworker see a little return on all the tool investments I had made.

First, start with the print you want framed.  All of the dimensions will be generated from the size of that print.  Once you have the print in mind, estimate how big the visible portion of the mat should be.  In our example, the print is 9 1/2″ by 19 1/2″ and we overlapped the print by a quarter inch with the mat all the way around.  Given that we wanted a 2″ wide (visible portion) mat all the way around, our matt needed to be 14″ by 24″.  Keep in mind a quarter inch of the mat will not be visible because it will be resting inside the frame.  Continuing with our example, the inside dimensions of our frame are 13 1/2″ by 23 1/2″.

Select a wood type and color that complements the pictures in the print.  Before going to the wood dealer, read up on our post about buying lumber.  In our case, I had some 1″ thick black walnut left over from another project and decided to go with 1 3/4″ wide frames.  If your print is bigger than the one in this post, you may want to go with a wider frame to keep the entire piece in proportion.

cutting rabbet for wooden picture frame
Cutting Rabbet for Picture Frame

Rout your pieces first (see picture), then miter in order to clean up any tear out from the routing process.  One of the techniques that will prevent tear out is to always place a block behind the piece being routed.  This will usually give you a nice clean edge on the trailing edge of the piece after it goes past the router bit.  For our frame, I used a 1″ thick piece of black walnut and routed a rabbet (or notch) 1/2″ deep into the piece from the back and 1/4″ from the middle of the picture for the matting to lie against.  Use either a straight router bit (I recommend the Whiteside bit # 1086) or the bit from a rabbet bit set (Whiteside #1955).  Both bits are available at your local Woodcraft.  This leaves 1/2″ of wood showing in front of the glass and leaves enough room for the glass, mat, and any cardboard or plywood backing.  The rabbet should be 1/4″ wide all the way around the frame.

wooden picture frame tenon
Picture Frame Tenon

Join the corners of the frame with 8 mm x 40mm tenons (see picture) if you have a Festool Domino then glue up.  If you don’t have a Domino, you can make an oval hole with a router straight bit and use Festool tenons (available at Woodcraft), or clean out the corners with a chisel and use rectangular tenons.

After you’ve got the mortises cut, it’s time to glue it up.  Make sure the piece is square by measuring from corner to corner.  If it is slightly off square, use a long clamp to pull the long corners toward each other until the two diagonals across the piece are the same length.

Once the glue dries (best to allow 24 hours), it’s time to add the finish.  I prefer a clear finish on top of premium hardwoods so the grain is visible.  Check out our post on making a cherry coat rack to see the steps in finishing.

You probably don’t have a mat cutter at home and this is where your local frame shop can really come in handy.  If you live near Montclair VA I highly recommend The Framing Outlet.  Osman at the frame shop was extremely helpful in picking out mat colors and suggested the double mat design in the picture at the top.  You can Google “frame shop” and you should be able to find a shop near you that can help with the matting and glass.

Well that was a lot of math!  But if you methodically go through the steps above, you’ll have a beautiful picture frame in just a few hours!