I was messing around in the wood shop over the holidays and created the military challenge coin display shown in the picture with a piece of scrap black walnut. During the process, I was thinking how many people are necessary to pursue a creative endeavor like this (woodworking) and what a terrific community we have. Some people may have the mistaken impression that woodworking consists of toiling away solo in a wood shop, but nothing could be farther from the truth. There is a large network of people who are generous in sharing their wisdom and help make that woodworker or entrepreneur successful. One way to frame it is by considering three groups: artisans, enablers, and clients.
The Traughber Tribe recently went to Canaan Valley WV for our annual cross country ski vacation. This year we went over Christmas and planned to open some of our gifts there. As a gift, my daughter gave me an allowance to spend in the resort gift shop. Since we enjoy candlelight dinners, I thought I’d buy a locally made candle. But then I got to thinking…for the price I’d pay for the candle in the gift shop, I could get two or three times as much candle at a discount store back home. I tossed the idea out to our daughter and she said “Dad, is that even a question?” Her meaning was, how could I NOT buy the candle from the local artisan, which is what we did.
I receive so much inspiration from my fellow makers. On a recent business trip, after hours a colleague and I went on a photo shoot since he’s big into photography. We were in San Francisco and he knew a particular location where he wanted to take the perfect photo of the Golden Gate Bridge. We spent hours taking photos in different locations, with different lighting, with different camera settings. I know nothing about photography, but it was inspirational to see another craftsman spending so much time to create something beautiful. We’ll have a post soon covering an interview with the photographer and you’ll see the results from the photo shoot.
Fellow artisans are also terrific mentors. They don’t necessarily even need to be skilled in your particular craft. For example, the author (Lawrence Colby author of The Devil Dragon Pilot) we interviewed recently and I chat often about blog ideas, writing and our craft. In almost every conversation he gives me some pearl of wisdom that helps me in Traughber Design. Fellow craftsmen are great for helping keep things in alignment with the business’ vision and goals as we wrote about in our post on glue technique.
Lastly, craftsmen provide fellowship. Recently we spent Christmas with my pal Steve’s family; Steve is also a Festool fanatic (see our post about Festool here). He gets it. He fully understands why someone would spend an exorbitant amount on a power tool and think of it as value. Hanging out with like-minded people is part of the great fun of being an entrepreneur and craftsman.
Woodworkers could not do what they do without hardwood dealers, specialty suppliers, and tool experts. I was up at Colonial Hardwoods recently to buy some wood for our windowsill commission, and the dealer pointed out some wonderful white oak they had recently received. We took a look and I ended up buying some and using it in a recent commission. Where else would a salesperson consider what you are making and make suggestions beyond what you said you came to buy? And where else would they let you wander around the warehouse and pick the pieces you like? Our community is so giving.
Another key enabler is the specialty supplier. In my case, one of these consists of glass suppliers. Del Ray Glass was a company I used for the black walnut gun cabinet (pictured). I don’t know much about glass (in addition to photography), but they walked me through thicknesses, types of glass, frostings available, etc. and delivered on time and at a fair price. They are on my short list the next time I need some glass.
Last there are the tool guys. It would have been very difficult to learn Festool so quickly without Brian Graham’s tutelage at the Festool Ubershop on Baltimore. He set up the equipment before I arrived, gave a demo, I played around with it, then we boxed it up to take home. It’s so much easier to learn a tool hands-on like that.
One of the great things I love about our clients is they reveal the art of the possible. When a client asks “can you build that?” I almost always say yes. I’ve usually got a general idea to begin with, but sometimes get to experiment in the shop with alternate ways of making something. For example, with the military challenge coin holder I could have cut the slots from the bottom with the router table. I also could have cut them from the top using a rail guide and the router. I could have also used a jig. That’s part of the fun in creating is experimenting and mulling over what works best.
Our client network continues to grow. A client may have a piece in their home, then other people see it and word gets around. Most of our business so far has been from referrals. For example, a kitchen cabinet panel commission came about from a Facebook conversation (see our post: How to Make a Kitchen Cabinet Door: Flat Panel Construction). I love the serendipity of where our projects come from.
Speaking of clients, I’m currently reading a book for my day job called The Industries of the Future by Alec Ross. Ross is analyzing which industries will be replaced by robots. One of the beauties of the artisanal movement is our works are not likely to be outsourced. Sure, you can buy mass-produced furniture from overseas, but that’s not the market we’re in. We do custom woodworking which doesn’t lend itself to outsourcing. Our local clients are buying from us, not some company overseas.