What You Need to Know From the World’s Greatest Samurai On Entrepreneurship and Woodworking

The Book of Five Rings
The Book of Five Rings

Santa was very good to us this year.  He brought several terrific books on woodworking that were highly recommended by some of the current big names in woodworking.  One of these tomes, “The Book of Five Rings”, is a popular strategy book written in 1645 (available at Amazon.  Click here for the book), which you wouldn’t normally think of as an entrepreneurship and woodworking book; however, the author and samurai, Miyamoto Musashi, talks about working with wood in his strategy analogies which can be very helpful for entrepreneurs and woodworkers.

So who was Musashi?  He was the founder of the Niten-Ichi-Ryû-School of sword fighting and fought sixty duels, the first when he was 13.  Obviously, someone who fought that many duels with swords and survived, to such an age, is someone that might be worth listening to.  They just might have some skill and wisdom.

“The five ‘books” refer to the idea that there are different elements of battle, just as there are different physical elements in life.”  I’ll share three relevant concepts to the entrepreneur and woodworker here.

Become Proficient With Your Weapons (or Tools)

Musashi’s thoughts on artisanship and strategy are particularly useful:

“The Way of the carpenter is to become proficient in the use of his tools, first to lay his plans with a true measure and then perform his work according to plan.  Those he passes through life.”  Musashi then goes on to talk about the importance of training with weapons every day in order to become proficient.  Likewise, the craftsman must build up many hours of hands-on experience to become proficient.  Along those lines, I’m finding my current set of measuring tools are not up to the task as I continue to become more accurate.  For example, using the English system with 1/16 inch increments is just proving to be inefficient when I have to continually add or subtract 1/4, 1/8, 1/16 inch etc.  It’s much easier to do everything in the metric system which increases accuracy because there is less chance of making an adding or subtracting error.  In addition, a millimeter is finer than 1/16 inch which increases precision even more.  That’s why I’ve been gradually acquiring metric rulers and squares and using them more often.

“Like a trooper, the carpenter sharpens his own tools.  he carries his equipment in his tool box, and works under the direction fo his foreman.  he makes columns and girders with an axe, shapes floorboards and shelves with a glance, cuts fine openwork and carvings accurately, giving as excellent a finish as his skill will allow.  This is the craft of the carpenter.”  Musashi brings up a great point here.  It is so tempting to keep working away on a piece when you know you should stop and sharpen the tool, but who wants to stop when you’re making progress and having fun?  In the long run, it will take less time to take a break and sharpen that tool.

Develop Correct Strategy

“The comparison with carpentry is through the connection with houses.  Houses of the nobility, houses of warriors, the Four houses, ruin of houses, thriving of houses, the style of the house, the tradition of the house, and the name of the house.  The carpenter uses a master plan of the building, and the Way of strategy is similar in that there is a plan of campaign.  If you want to learn the craft of war, ponder over this book.  The teacher is as a needle, the disciple is as a thread.  You must practice constantly.”  Probably the most important step in designing a project is to listen to your client (we talked about that in our last post, Traughber Design and Nomades Collection Team Up!) and question them to understand what their vision is.  The next most important is to think through your strategy before shaping a single piece of wood.  This will save much time in the long run.  We see this continuously in woodworking.  It is imperative to have a strategy and plan for piece.  For example, without a cut list the woodworker will continually be shuttling back and forth from teh wood shop to the wood dealer.  I solid plan and cut list will ensure one trip for material and more time spent on the craft.

Another tie to strategy is that the enemy’s actions require the good strategist to adjust.  Likewise, the woodworker needs to adjust their strategy as the work progresses.  I recently finished a serving tray for Mrs. Woodworker.  We got a fine piece of mulberry from fellow woodworker, Jacob Hummitzch (thanks Jacob), and when Mrs Woodworker had seen the raw board (see the post , the original dimensions we had discussed were out the window because the mulberry has so many interesting patterns in it.  What I thought was going to be a simple rectangular board finished with a food-safe oil, is now going to be much different.  Mrs Woodworker wanted to keep at least one live edge, so then I had to think of a different finish to preserve the live edge.  In addition, we followed the  circles of the grain at one end, versus making 90 degree corners.  The woodworking strategy needs to be adjust to the wood, just as a military campaign strategy needs to be adjusted to conditions on the battlefield as Musashi writes.  For more on this read our post about Entrepreneurship, Woodworking, and Clausewitzian fog and friction.

Conquer Oneself

Musashi’s thesis is that “a man who conquers himself is ready to take on the world, should need arise”.  This is very useful advice for entrepreneurs.  If someone wants to scale up their enterprise, they need to get their personal leadership skills in order to be a good boss.  Leadership in an entrepreneurial enterprise is the same as leadership in the military, according to Musashi:  “The foreman carpenter must know the architectural theory of towers and temples, and the plans of palaces, and must employ men to raise up houses. The Way of the foreman carpenter is the same as the Way of the commander of a warrior house.”

“The foreman carpenter allots his men work according to their ability.  Floor layers, makers of sliding doors, thresholds and lintels, ceilings and so on.  Those of poor ability lay the floor joists, and those of lesser ability cave wedges and do such miscellaneous work.  If the foreman knows and deploys his men will the finished work will be good.”  In many cases, the supervisor can do the work, but should he/her?  In doing the work themselves, the supervisor is taking away an opportunity for subordinates to develop.

“The foreman should take into account the abilities and limitations of his men, circulating among them and asking nothing unreasonable.  He should know their morale and spirit, and encourage them when necessary.  This is the same as the principle of strategy”

I hope you enjoyed this deep dive into a Samurai’s view of woodworking and entrepreneurship.  Check out the book, when you get a chance.

Traughber Design and Nomades Collection Team Up!

two tray display for Nomades Collection
Two Tray Display for Nomades Collection

We are very excited about a collaboration we just started with a jewelry company called Nomades Collection to build displays for their retail locations.  The five founders have a fascinating origin story and I recommend checking out their website here.  During our discussions during the build, a few design principles reinforced themselves and I thought I’d share them with you.  First, I’ll talk about the design then about the design process.

 

The Design

A contrast in colors

The sky was the limit when it came to wood color, but the more we talked about it, the more a darker color made sense because the jewelry on the display is silver in color.  The black walnut gives a nice contrast to the silver.  And as you know, that’s probably my favorite wood at the moment as you saw in the black walnut gun cabinets we’ve made (read out post:  Our First Commission of 2017! Black Walnut Gun Cabinet).

Minimal ornamentation

We went with some gentle round overs (quarter inch) on the vertical frame and spinning base with a little more ornamentation on the fixed base at the bottom.  On the fixed base we went with a 3/8 inch round over and 1/16 inch shoulder since the base is farther away from the jewelry and wouldn’t detract from it.  The routing adds a little pizzaz, but doesn’t draw the eye too much.

Low center of gravity

These displays will be sitting on countertops and need to be rock solid as the displays are spun.  Given that, we went from thinner at the top to thicker at the bottom to keep all the weight low to stabilize the display.  For example, the vertical frames are only 1/2 inch, then we thickened to 3/4 inch on the spinning base, then a full inch thick at the bottom.

 

The Design Process

Listen

This is probably the most important step.  In this case, the client was way ahead of the game and had a digital drawing of what they were looking for.  That was a great starting point, and this is where you can add value:  by explaining which features are driving the cost so they can make informed decisions about which way to go.  Some things look great on paper, but can’t be manufactured easily, if it all; however, there are almost always alternatives.

Some other questions you need to ask are:

What is your product all about?  Is it a premium product, bargain item, something else?  This will drive the quality of the materials and how many features you include in the piece.  What does the piece need to do?  How would you like it to look?

Crowdsource It

The thing that kept me up at night on this particular project was the mechanism that allowed the display to spin.  It needed to spin freely and also last for years.  We were initially thinking of having the spinning frame turn on a dowel.  That would require waxing or oiling the dowel, but given that the displays will be all over the country, requiring regular maintenance was not a good plan.  This is where the crowd came in handy.  I pulsed a couple of my fellow woodworkers (read more about plugging into artisans in the post Entrepreneurship and Woodworking Require a Community) and they both suggested a lazy susan mechanism.  Speaking of which…

Experiment

We tried a small two inch square lazy susan bearing set, which just didn’t give enough stability and went with a large 9″ round bearing set from Triangle Manufacturing on the frozen tundra of Oshkosh, Wisconsin.  The wider stance of 9″ versus 4″ made a big difference and minimized wobble.  Remember when we wrote about failing fast and failing cheap (click here to read How to Fail Fast and Fail Cheap in Woodworking, Entrepreneurship, and Life)?  The bearings weren’t terribly expensive and it was worth it to burn through a couple and find the right one.

We’re in the process of iterating on a four sided model now that will also have display space for bracelets and bangles, so I’m sure we’ll have more to follow!  Stay tuned…

How to Build a Little Free Library

little free library
Little Free Library (and Model)

Traughber Design was pleased to recently deliver its latest creation, a Little Free Library, to the Horicon Marsh Education & Visitor Center in Horicon Wisconsin.  If you haven’t heard of the Little Free Library movement that’s sweeping the nation, I’ll give you a quick overview of the revolution, talk about the glorious new Horicon Marsh Education & Visitor Center, then wrap up with some crucial tips for making a little free library.

The Little Free Library Revolution

You may have already seen a Little Free Library  in your neighborhood since there are now over 60,000 Little Free Libraries worldwide and they are in all 50 states and over 80 countries.  The concept is simple.  You take a book you’re interested in from the library and/or leave a book of your own:  easy.  If you make a Little Free Library, you may want to consider registering it so more people will know about it.  Apparently, some people are making pilgrimages to as many of these libraries as they can.  For more on Little Free Libraries visit the official website at littlefreelibrary.org.  There are also many plans on this site if you would like to build your own, and you can even order prebuilt kits.

The Horicon Marsh Education & Visitor Center

The location for this particular Little Free Library is an interesting one.  It’s at the new Horicon Marsh Education & Visitor Center and will allow visitors to “check out” bird books before they hit the trails behind the center.  You can check out the Center’s website here.  The staff at the Center was very supportive of installing this library to commemorate Jerome R. Traughber (Dad), who passed away in 2017, and who was a big supporter of the Center (and reading in general).  If you get a chance, I highly recommend hiking the nature trails behind the Center and also checking out some of the exhibits inside.  For much more on the memorial site and to see much better photography than mine, I highly recommend the blog Horicon Marsh Nature Photography.

How to Make A Little Free Library

This project was a lot of fun to make.  We started with a basic design from Wood Magazine (click here for the link), then made several significant modifications.  Wood Magazine also has a comprehensive YouTube video if reading plans is not your thing.  Click here for the video.  If you are looking for plans, I recommend Googling “little free library plan” on Google or searching those terms on  YouTube.  As mentioned earlier, littlefreelibrary.org has plans as well.

The original plan called for 3/4 inch plywood, but since this library was going to be so visible, we decided to upgrade with cedar for a couple reasons.  Cedar is a little more pleasing to the eye than plain plywood, and holds stain well.  In addition, cedar is insect resistant and should last longer than plywood.

Since cedar boards are not as wide as plywood, you will need to join several 8 inch cedar boards together to get boards that are wide enough.  We used our trusty mortise and tenon joints for extra strength to join the boards along with TiteBond III glue which is well suited to the outdoors.  For more tips on glue technique, check out our post Woodworking Glue Technique, a Metephor for Life.

One quirk of the plan was that it called for an 1/8 inch (or. 125 inch) acrylic window.  Acrylic doesn’t typically come in that width, so we used .08 inch acrylic instead, which introduced a variable you need to be careful of.  Since the acrylic was thinner than called for in the plan, the wooden stop blanks (the thin pieces of wood that hold the acrylic in place) that were to hold them left a slight gap.  Looking back on it, I should have made wider stop blanks, but I was committed at that point, and going back to remill and stain the blanks would have taken a long time.  To ensure you don’t have any visible unstained cedar, including cedar you think is going to be underneath the acrylic, make sure you eyeball the stop blanks from every angle including from within the door and outside the door, or else some unstained wood will be slightly visible through the door.  I was able to easily adjust for this by staining the stop blanks on all sides, which is usually not necessary.

As far as the stain, we tried a redwood stain, but it was a little too “orange” for my taste so we went with the rosewood stain in the original plan.  Always stain a test piece first.  This is part of the fail fast and fail cheap mantra we talked about in our post How to Fail Fast and Fail Cheap in Woodworking, Entrepreneurship, and Life.  Stain is so variable from wood type to wood type that a test piece is a must.  Rarely does stain look like the color palettes you get in the store.

Last, we decided to go with a cedar shingle roof to add some pizzazz and make it blend in with the natural environment.  I had considered asphalt shingles, but when I was poking around the hardware store noticed some cedar shingles that I thought would look much nicer.  To make the shingles, I used cedar shims and laid them out to hang over the edge of the library about a half inch.  I also left about 4 inches exposed in each layer.  I highly recommend the video How to Install Cedar Shake Shingles on YouTube before starting out.  After the shingles were nailed and glued, I added a cap using cedar with a bevel equal to the angle of the roof (see the video).  I screwed the cap on the library using deck screws then coated the shingles with Thompson’s clear stain.

little free library Horicon Marsh Education Center
Little Free Library at Horicon Marsh Education & Visitor Center

This is a view of the Little Free Library as you approach the front door of the Center and you can see the beautiful Horicon Marsh in the background.  If you are ever in Wisconsin, I highly recommend visiting the Horicon Marsh Education & Visitor Center.

 

Rumor has it, there will be a bike trail going from Mayville to the Center soon, then another trail going to Horicon which will connect to the 34 mile Wild Goose Trail.  If you are a rails-to-trails fan, this will be right up your alley, since the Wild Goose Trail is a rail trail (see the link here for more on Rails to Trails).  This new trail should open up the Center for even more visitors to enjoy and spur an innovation boom in Horicon and Mayville (see our post Having a Mental Block with a Thorny Woodworking or Start-Up Problem? Get on the Bike!)

If you get a chance to build a little free library, go for it!  I’d be glad to answer any questions via this blog post’s comments section or the Contact Us page.

Tribute to Dad, the Ultimate Craftsman: 3 Entrepreneur Lessons Learned

Dad, the Ultimate Craftsman
Dad, the Ultimate Craftsman

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.

For more on willing yourself to success, read our Ode to Ralph the Woodworking Cat.

Maybe you Need to Reframe the Problem

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

 

 

 

Product Review: Granberg Alaskan Mark IV Portable Chain Saw Mill

Granberg Sawmill
Granberg Saw Mill

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

 

Advantages

White Oak from Sawmill
White Oak from Sawmill

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

Granberg in Action
Granberg in Action

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

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

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

Cons

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

Sawmill with Chainsaw
Sawmill with Chainsaw

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

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

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

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

3 Entrepreneur Lessons Learned on My Woodworking Expedition to the Korean Furniture Museum

Korea Furniture Museum
Korea Furniture Museum

I just got back from a 6,000 mile woodworking expedition to the Korean Furniture Museum in Seoul and learned several valuable entrepreneur lessons I’d like to share with you.  OK, maybe that’s a stretch.  We went to Korea for my day job and had some time to kill before our return flight and took the opportunity to research some woodworking designs.  The mission’s intent was sound, but it quickly took some interesting turns.  Here are a few lessons learned from the expedition:

Lesson #1:  Surround Yourself with Positive, Like-Minded People

Given our government-mandated return flight time, we had some time to kill in Seoul, so I figured I’d tour the Korean Furniture Museum for some design ideas.  The Lonely Planet Guide for Seoul recommended it and it seemed interesting.  One of my colleagues, Rich Davis (see interview with him here), tagged along since we are both on artisan journeys:  mine in woodworking and Rich’s in photography.  Our first task was to figure out the Korean subway system.  I’d ridden it a few years ago, but was a little rusty.  Fortunately, the digital kiosks had an English option and we were able to quickly purchase a couple tickets and be on our way.  A couple subway stops later we got off and started walking toward the museum which the Guide said was on a beautiful hilltop location.  It was a pretty warm day and as we climbed, and climbed, and climbed we realized we weren’t seeing any more signs for the museum and were lost (more on that in #2 below).

At this point, Rich could have started cussing me out, but he understood it was all part of the journey.  If I hadn’t had him along, I might have thrown in the towel and headed back to the subway station.  That’s why it’s important to surround yourself with like-minded people.  They will encourage you to keep pressing on.

Lesson #2:  People Want to Help You

So there we were, lost in Seoul, but we saw a police “box” which is an extremely small outpost for a policeman or two to stand in.  I figured “what’s the worst that can happen” and went to ask for directions.  The two Korean policemen were extremely young, maybe around 18, and I had no idea if they spoke English.  Luckily, even though they didn’t think so, their English was very good.  One of them even drew a map on my guide book to the museum.  We followed his map and ran into another police box.  The policeman there gave us the final directions and we finally made it to the museum.

I’ve traveled to at least two dozen countries and have found that people, in general, are very friendly and are willing to help you out.  This is a good lesson for entrepreneurs:  if you are stuck, ask for help.

Lesson #3:  Never Quit

We got the museum and asked the security guard about tickets.  He made a chopping motion with one arm against his forearm.  He was either a Seminoles fan or something was amiss.  He was on older gentleman who didn’t speak any English and flagged down a co-worker.  She told us the museum was closed!  According to the guidebook, we were there during normal hours, but apparently they were going through some renovations or something.  Rich and I laughed it off and starting heading back down the hill.  We went back to our hotel and rehydrated with a couple of cold ones.  Rich was able to climb the hill near the hotel at sunset and snap some cool time lapse photographs from the old city wall, so the day wasn’t a total loss.

This could have been a very disappointing afternoon, but the way we looked at, it was just one event in a very long journey to create.  In addition, we’re likely to go back to Korea again next year and can give it another shot.

There you have it:  surround yourself with like-minded people, ask for help when you need it, and never quit.  And by the way, if you are ever in Seoul, please let me know how the Korean Furniture Museum is ; )

Interview with Entrepreneur and Baker, Haleigh Heard, Owner of S’Cute Petite Bakery

This is our interview with our fourth entrepreneur in our interview series, Haleigh Heard, owner of S’Cute Petite bakery.

Haleigh Heard, Owner of S'Cute Petite
Haleigh Heard, Owner of S’Cute Petite

Tell us a little bit about your company.

I am a home bakery which specializes in cupcakes.

What else do you make?

(laughing) Cupcakes.

You make other things besides cupcakes.

I don’t.

You made a cake.

I made a cake for a birthday party.

You made a cake for us, too.

Yes, I did.  I don’t normally do cakes.

What is your biggest seller?

My biggest seller is my chocolate chip cupcake with butter cream or cream cheese frosting.

Is that the triple chocolate one or is that a different one?

It’s a new one.  I’ve improved on it.  It’s pretty good, you should try it sometime.

I should.  Valentines Day is coming up.  Can I place an order?

Sure.  If you buy twelve, you get one free.

I’ll buy twelve then.  Can you make twelve for us?  

Sure, no problem.

How did you get started in baking?

I think I found my passion for baking about 4 years ago.  Every Saturday afternoon I would go on Pinterest and I’d find something to bake.  I’d bake it and bring it to Sunday School.  I’d give it to the people in Sunday school class and say “try this.”

That was probably a ready audience.

I’d say “Did you like it?  Did you not like it?  What can improve?  Is it good?”

Instant feedback.

It was.

Tell us a little bit about your creative process.

My creative process is pretty much I go on Pinterest a lot.  I look at things.  That’s how I got my chocolate chip cupcake.  I forgot a couple ingredients in the recipe, and I decided to throw a handful of chocolate chips in it.  It was probably the best chocolate chip cupcake and everyone was talking about it.

What are some of your entrepreneur lessons learned so far?

I’d have to say, you can never ask too many questions.  I’ve asked my Dad a million questions like how should I sell my cupcakes?  How to price them?  My delivery system?  How I should deliver?  And then I think, just have fun with your business.  You started it for a reason.  It’s not a chore you have to do.  I think that’s what I thought in the beginning was I had to have the perfect cupcake when I deliver it. It has to be perfect, and when it’s not I had a meltdown. I threw the cupcake away and I started again.  That’s just the way my mindset was, that it had to be perfect.  Now I’m having fun with my business.  I’m getting more opportunities to promote myself.

Just have fun.

Or else, why do it?

Why do it?  You have fun, right?

Absolutely.  My time in the wood shop is a lot of fun.

Really, have you ever stabbed a finger?  Did you ever miss?

I stabbed myself with the jigsaw the other day.  It wasn’t too bad.  I rinsed it off, slapped a bandaid on it and kept going.

Shake it off, right?

What advice do you have for beginning entrepreneurs?

Have fun.  You started your business for a reason.  Don’t make it a chore.

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

I am planning on doing coupons and gift certificates, for things like Valentines Day, Mothers Day, and Fathers Day.

That will be a big seller, I think.  Try it.  If it doesn’t work, move on to something else.  Where can we learn more about your company?

You can can go on Facebook and type in “S’Cute Petite” (click here to go to Haleigh’s business Facebook page).  I’m trying to figure out more options.

Are you going to have a website besides Facebook or is Facebook going to be the primary?

Facebook is going to be the primary because you can go straight to Facebook Messenger and let me know what you’d like.

Thank you for your time, Haleigh.  We love the cupcakes.  Readers, go to Haleigh’s FB page and order some!

********

For our other posts in the entrepreneur interview series:

Amazon best selling author Lawrence Colby, write of The Devil Dragon Pilot:  Part 1 and Part 2

Amazing photographer Richard Weldon Davis.

Successful entrepreneur and owner of Custom Display Cases, Mo Johnson: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4.

Stay tuned for our next interview in the entrepreneur series!

 

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!

Interview with Entrepreneur and Photographer Richard Weldon Davis

the jefferson memorial
The Jefferson Memorial

This interview is part of a series of interviews with fellow entrepreneurs.  Our first was with a best-selling author.  In this interview, photographer Richard Weldon Davis shares some of his methods and secrets to success.  Read on!

How did you get started in photography?
 
I was on vacation with my wife celebrating our 20th wedding anniversary about 6 years ago.  We hired a photographer to take pictures of our vow renewal ceremony.  I started asking the photographer about the camera as I had become intrigued with the idea of buying a DSLR (digital single-lens reflex) camera (think digital version of a 35mm camera).  I bought one when we got home and I started taking pictures using the automatic mode, allowing the camera to make all the decisions for me.  For the most part I was disappointed in the shots.  They just weren’t coming out the way I envisioned them.  This went on for a couple years and I didn’t use the camera much.
 
the washington monument at night
The Washington Monument

During a visit to some old friends, both of whom are excellent photographers, I asked for help.  They both worked with me to show me how to take pictures in manual mode and select the Shutter Speed, ISO (think film speed) and Aperture myself.  They patiently explained what selections to make for which shots I wanted.  They also showed me the basics of photo editing in Lightroom, a program from Adobe related to Photoshop.

With this new information in hand I began to experiment with the 3 sides of the exposure triangle (Shutter Speed, ISO and Aperture) to get different shots.  I’m still learning every day, but now I make the camera do what I want instead of allowing the camera to decide.  In order to understand the exposure triangle, think of the camera as a room (that’s actually what the word means in Latin!) and the lens is a window.  To illuminate the room, you open the window.  How long the window is open is the Shutter Speed, how big the window is is the Aperture and how much light you have is the ISO (sensitivity to light).  So for an action shot of kids on the soccer field, you want a very quick Shutter Speed to freeze the action.  For a night photo of stars, you want a long shutter speed to gather more of the starlight for your shot.
 
I was lucky enough to go on one of your shoots as your “assistant” and it was impressive to watch how much effort you put into getting just the right shot.  Tell us a little bit about your creative process.
the golden gate bridge
The Golden Gate Bridge

I really enjoy landscape photography.  You and I were in San Francisco for work and I really wanted a nice shot of the Golden Gate Bridge while we were there.  In general, the best times of day to shoot outdoors is the period of twilight early in the morning at dawn or late dusk when the sunlight takes on a blue hue.  That’s why I dragged you to Baker’s Beach an hour or so before sunset.  I was hoping for a nice blue effect right after sunset.  It turned out pretty nice and I appreciate you humoring me hanging on the beach dodging a random nudist.

night stars
Night Stars

I’m also a big fan of night photography.  I love the way different lights are captured by the camera; from the starburst effect of streetlights during a long exposure to the streaks of red and white lights from cars driving by to capturing the stars that outline the Milky Way galaxy, I really enjoy longer exposures (can’t get that shot in light polluted DC!).

No matter your shot, the key to photography is understanding and harnessing the light, whether it is sunlight, a flash, or starlight travelling for thousands of years to light your scene.
I’ve begun to dabble with portrait photography and that is fun as well.  Again it comes down to light.
 
What lessons learned do you have for other budding entrepreneurs?
 
I’m not much of an entrepreneur yet, but for those exploring photography with a DSLR camera, the equipment is secondary, you need to shoot in manual and learn how to make the exposure triangle work for you.  It helps to look at photographs online where the artist has listed Shutter Speed, ISO and Aperture so you can dissect their shot and figure out how they did it.  You can also find great resources online to better understand your camera and its functions.  Don’t be discouraged if your shots don’t look as good as those you find online, just keep shooting.  Figure out what kind of photography you like and how to differentiate yourself from other photographers.
 
Also, what’s a good link where we can buy your prints?
My best shots are available at Fine Art America:
I also have a sometimes updated blog at http://chartprepping.com/ where I write about early retirement and my hobbies to include photography.
sandals resort
Sandals Resort
 Thanks so much for the interview Jerry!

Entrepreneurship and Woodworking Require a Community

military challenge coin display black walnut
Military Challenge Coin Display in Black Walnut

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.

Artisans

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.

Enablers

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.

Gun Cabinet in Black Walnut

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.

Clients

military challenge coin display in black walnut
Military Challenge Coin Display in Black Walnut – Angle View

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.

We’re very fortunate to have such a great woodworking and entrepreneurial community and look forward to spending time with that community in the new year.