How to Refinish Those Old Oak Bannisters with Java Gel Stain to Give Them Some Pop!

refinished bannister with General Finishes Java Gel Stain
The Refinished Bannister

Mrs Woodworker and I finally pulled the trigger and had the carpet and linoleum floors in the house replaced on the first and second floors with hardwood floors.  This house was one of our rentals and after four sets of tenants (who were great, by the way!) the carpet and linoleum were just worn out.  After the floors were replaced, the next step was to update the bannister and kitchen cabinets to match.  I’ll tell you everything you need to know to update the bannisters and will do another post on the kitchen cabinets.

Given that the floors are a java-colored bamboo, we decided to go with a  java stain on the bannister top rail and vertical posts to match the floor.  For the spindles we went with a white semi-gloss paint to match the trim in the rest of the room.

the old oak bannister
The Old Oak Bannister

So where do you start?  It all starts with a lot of sanding.  I recommend investing in an electric sander if you don’t already have one.  This  will save you a ton of time.  I already had a Festool Rotex 150 Random Orbit Sander which was a little big for a job like this, but worked out alright.  If you are buying from scratch, a small sander from Home Depot or Lowes will work.  I recommend using 120 grit sandpaper which matches the grit called for with the stain we used (more on that later).  For those hard-to-reach areas, you will have to do a little hand sanding.  I’m not going to lie; you’ll need to sand all the intricate curves on the spindles by hand.  Turn on your favorite podcast and the time will fly by!  One tip which may help you, is to sand when you have natural light on the bannister.  Then if you see any shine (remaining finish), it’s easy to see where to focus your sanding energy.  Once everything is sanded down nicely, be sure to vacuum really well so no sanding dust gets in the finish.

Before you start applying the finishes, I need to say a few words about ventilation.  The fumes from the stain and varnish were not too bad, but I recommend running your ceiling fans and opening the windows during and after you apply the finishes.  The fumes from the varnish were the strongest  and most important to keep ventilated.  Also, I recommend wearing a dust mask when sanding since you’ll have a lot of fine particles in the air and you don’t want to inhale them.

General Finishes Java Gel Stain and Arm-R-Seal
General Finishes Java Gel Stain and Arm-R-Seal

Next, it’s time to apply the stain.  We used General Finishes Java Gel Stain.  A quart runs about $22.99 at Woodcraft and is plenty for a job of this size.  You can also purchase it for $33.95 with Amazon Prime (click here) and have it delivered right to your door.  It’s very easy to apply and leaves a beautiful color.  To apply, make sure you are wearing gloves then apply the stain using a small rag.  Cut up T-shirts work great for this.  For the tough-to-reach corners, use a small foam brush.  Let the stain sit for about 5-10 minutes then wipe off with a clean rag so it doesn’t leave any splotches.  If you like the color depth at that point, you’re done with the stain.  If you would like a darker color, then apply more coats until you have the color you like.

Our floors have ever-so-slight streaks of lighter color so I only went with one coat of stain on the bannisters.  This left light streaks on the bannister to match the floor.  If your floor is solid, you may want to go with two or three coats of stain.

Next, apply the top coat.  I’ve used General Finishes Arm-R-Seal for years on our Traughber Design projects and it provides a very durable finish.  I typically use the gloss finish when making furniture (see the post How to Make a Beautiful Custom Wooden Mitered Picture Frame for an example of a high gloss finish), but in this case went with the satin finish ($17.99 at Woodcraft).  Why?  Because the bannister rail is a high traffic item and the wear of hands going up and down the stairs on a gloss finish would look unusual over time.  For example, the areas of high traffic would wear to a dull finish and low traffic parts of the rail would still be high gloss.  It would look very uneven.  With the satin finish the rails should have a consistent finish, even after wear.  We went with two coats using small rags to wipe it on.  Make sure you leave at least 24 hours between coats and sand with a high grit sandpaper between coats..  We used 600 grit sandpaper.

Last, paint the spindles.  We went with Sherwin Williams Interior White Semi-Gloss from Lowes.  That’s probably a little more high-end than you need and just about any white semi-gloss interior latex should do the trick.  A quart should be more than enough.  I used a foam brush for a test section, but it was just too slow and I switched to a 2 inch brush.  After two coats and some touch up, the spindles look great.

Check out the pictures.  We think the bannisters look much better than when we started.  Stay tuned for another post soon on how to redo those kitchen cabinets!

Reflections on 2017…Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from Traughber Design!

40 Degrees? No problem.
40 Degrees? No problem.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all of our clients, friends, and family!  Traughber Design just delivered its final sale of 2017 last week, and we thought this was a good time to thank our community of supporters and reflect on the past year.

This was our third full year of operation and the business is now profitable!  We invested quite a bit in tools the first year, and we continued to build our client base the second year.  This year we delivered 17 commissions (plus one pro bono project) with a wide variety of projects and have 1 commission in progress in the shop.

Traffic continues to grow to the blog and we have had over 2,800 unique visitors and 5,900 page views.  We’ve published almost 60 posts now and have many more ideas for posts in 2018.

One of the biggest things I’ve learned over this 3 year journey is persistence.  Most small businesses fail, and I wonder how many were on the cusp of success if their owners had just kept at it.  Speaking of which, I’m grinding my way through David McCullough’s 1100 page biography (called “Truman“) of Harry S. Truman and the President’s persistence when everyone wrote him off is absolutely stunning.  Check out this passage from the book which references a Newsweek poll of the biggest writers of the day:  “Of the writers polled, not one thought Truman would win. The vote was unanimous, 50 for Dewey, 0 for Truman.  “The landslide for Dewey will sweep the country,’ the magazine announced.  Further, the Republicans would keep control in the Senate and increase their majority in the House.  The election was as good as over.”  As we all know from the history books, Truman won the election in 1948.  He never gave up.  The same goes for a small business; you have to believe you are going to win, just as Harry S. Truman did in 1948.

As I’ve mentioned in previous blog posts, please continue to support your local artisan ecosystem.  Local small businesses are all tied together and a dollar spent with Traughber Design flows to other businesses, like hardwood dealers, tool vendors, glass manufacturers, etc.  Along those lines, I’d like to give a shout out to Hardwoods in the Rough up in Manassas (and their Facebook page is here).  They have only been open a year, and I was impressed with their customer service when buying some figured walnut the other day.  I hope they stick around for awhile since they are the nearest hardwood dealer to us.

Looking forward, soon the Air Force will be kicking me out after 30 years of service, and I’m excited to pursue Traughber Design full time.  I will be on terminal leave at the end of 2018, and we will see what other exciting commissions come our way.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year everyone!

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  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, 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.

3 Entrepreneur Revelations from our Largest Commission to Date

Gun Cabinet 2.0
Gun Cabinet 2.0

We were so excited when we inked the deal for our second gun cabinet (see our post Our First Commission of 2017!  Black Walnut Gun Cabinet) for several reasons.  First, I wanted to see how long it would take relative to the first version and whether some efficiencies had been gained since we built cabinet 1.0.  Second, it was a quick start to our third year as a company and we are now profitable!  The Motley Fool says half of all business fail by the fifth year, so maybe we can pat ourselves on the back.  Third, I just like working with wood.  So here are some lessons learned for other budding entrepreneurs out there:

Revelation #1:  Good art takes time.

I was a little surprised the second cabinet took 102 hours to make which was about the same time as the first one!  We added some complexity, however, such as solid walnut panels on the sides and front door, but I thought we would have been much faster in other areas.  Some of the Festool tools I had used on version 1.0 were new to me then and I figured the second time around I would be faster.  For example, it took 15.6 hours to select and cut all the pieces on 1.0 and 17.8 hours on version 2.0.  Apparently, carefully selecting the pieces and cutting them with precision is something that can not be hurried.

Reflecting on how those hours remained the same made me recall an amazing commencement speech I saw on YouTube recently by the author, Neil Gaiman, who talked about making good art (check it out here:  Neil Gaiman – Inspirational Commencement Speech at the University of the Arts 2012).  One of the things Neil talked about, was the consistency of working on your craft, day in and day out.  Those initial steps in crafting the wood for those gun cabinets was very much in that same vein:  spending the time to carefully create.  In Neil’s case, it was writing and editing, but his lessons apply to any craft or art.

Along similar lines, I was reading an article the other day by the entrepreneur, Jason Fried (owner of Basecamp, formerly called 37signals), in Inc Magazine about not concerning yourself with scale before perfecting your craft.  Perhaps it was too early to start thinking about speed of production at this point with cabinet version 2.0.  Jason’s article (Starbucks Wasn’t Built in a Day) tells the tale about a tea entrepreneur who starts a successful tea pop up store, who then asks Jason for advice about expansion.  When the entrepreneur asks Jason for advice, the entrepreneur is already thinking about stores, 2, 3, 4, etc.  Jason told the entrepreneur to perfect store #1 first before worrying about expansion.  Going from a pop up store to a permanent location was going to be difficult enough.

Revelation #2:  Document your processes

I could not have written this blog post or done the analysis of the hours for cabinet 2.0 versus 1.0 if I hadn’t documented my hours.  When I was the commander of a recruiting squadron several years ago, we were facing a big inspection.  My boss, Mark Ward (aka “Wardo”), had always trained his commanders that if something wasn’t documented, it didn’t happen.  The inspectors wouldn’t care if we said we did something a certain way.  They wanted to see the documentation that we had actually done things the right way. The same goes for entrepreneurs.  I’m not real keen on excessive documentation when it comes to being an entrepreneur, but there are certain areas where it is crucial.  For one, it’s important to document where you are spending your time so you can see whether there are opportunities to improve.  As I mentioned in the post on How to Price Your Woodworking Projects: Advice for Entrepreneurs and Startups, documenting hours is critical if you are going to develop a pricing model.  In the case of gun cabinet 2.0, I should have better documented lessons learned from 1.0.  For example, I was happily cutting boards to match the cut list and didn’t realize until assembly, that a couple boards would be too short because they were supposed to be cut extra long, then cut down to size later.  The situation was recoverable, though, since I had some extra walnut laying around.  If I had documented my lessons learned better, that would not have happened.

It’s important for entrepreneurs to always document lessons learned and review them so we don’t commit the same errors.  Time is short in entrepreneurship and there is little time for rework.

Revelation #3:  Design in flexibility

As we say in the Air Force:  “flexibility is the key to airpower” and this applies to woodworking as well.  In the Air Force flexibility means our space, air and cyber forces can do tactical missions in one moment or rapidly perform more strategic missions, depending on what the needs of the commander are (if you really want to dive into the flexibility doctrine click here).  In addition, they can adjust depending on the needs of the military campaign.  In woodworking, where possible, it’s always important to design whatever it is that you are working on so that it can be adjusted later.  For example, on gun cabinet 2.0 I built the door to the cabinet so it fit the case perfectly.  Perfectly, that is, if the case is laying flat on its back.  I hadn’t accounted for not only the weight of the glass in the door, but also the solid walnut panel toward the bottom which was an upgrade for this piece.  When I hung the door, the weight caused it to sag slightly on the side away from the hinges where all the weight was.  Luckly, I had placed the screw holes relative to the hinges so they could be adjusted a few millimeters up or down.  I was able to raise the hinges to level things out.  This would not have been possible if the flexibility hadn’t been designed in from the beginning.

Building this latest commission was great fun, and I hope my fellow entrepreneurs and regular readers can profit from these three revelations: good art takes time,  document your processes, and design in flexibility.


Entrepreneur Innovation: How to Make Your Woodworking Dazzle with Epoxy Resin

Black Resin Filling a Void
Black resin filling a void.  Unfilled on left.  Filled and finished on right.

One of the things I’ve learned as an entrepreneur is to keep innovating and experimenting.  Some things work out and others, not so much.  You just press on.  One of the recent experiments I’ve tried was using epoxy resin to fill in voids in my work.  Ever wonder how they get those really awesome thick “bar top” finishes on tables and bar tops?  In many cases, those are epoxy resin finishes (click here if you’d like to do more research on epoxy resins).  Resin is also very useful for dealing with knot holes, cracks, and other voids.  I recently took the dive into experimenting with resin finishes and thought I’d share some lessons learned to help you get started.  I’ll also provide specific product recommendations you can purchase directly from Amazon and have delivered right to your door.

The most important step is protect yourself before beginning.  These finishes are very toxic so make sure you are in a well-ventilated area.  When I applied my first resin finish it was in the basement shop, so I flung the outer door wide open to let the air in and applied the finish at a table that was very near the door.  In addition, make sure you are wearing long sleeves and are wearing gloves.  You definitely don’t want this stuff on your skin.  I also recommend wearing safety glasses, just in case you splash some up toward your face. This is not likely with the resin since it’s so viscous, but might happen with the hardener or dye.

The materials you’ll need are the resin, a hardener, and dye.  The particular resin I’ve been using (System Three’s MirrorCoat) is mixed two parts resin to one part hardener (also MirrorCoat).  One of the advantages of MirrorCoat is that it’s clear, so you can add dye (I’m using TransTint’s product) to make it any color you like.  I chose black because I was filling in some voids in the black walnut gun cabinet I’ve been telling you about.  Clear resin without the dye might make for an interesting finish in the black walnut as well. Here is the list of materials with links to Amazon if you’d like to purchase them:

Resin and hardener click here
Dye click here

I also recommend a plastic cup, measuring spoon, and scrap stick to use as an applicator.  If you wipe the measuring spoon carefully with a paper towel, you can reuse the measuring spoon indefinitely.  I like to use a plastic cup because it’s disposable and doesn’t require clean up.  I’ve tried a couple different applicators, and a long thin piece of scrap wood seems to work just about as well as anything else.

The procedure.  This stuff is very expensive so you only want to use the bare minimum required.  I recommend finding a piece of scrap wood with a small knot hole to practice on.  A small knot will not require much resin to fill in.  During my first experiment I used two 1/4 teaspoons of resin, one 1/4 teaspoon of hardener, and one drop of dye.  Start by pouring the resin into the cup.  Then add the hardener.  Then add the dye until the color has the opacity you like.  Mix with the scrap stick and let one drop fall from the scrap stick into your void.  Then add another drop, then another until the void has been filled.  You want to slowly add drops, rather than pouring the resin so the air has time to escape and the resin has time to slowly fill all the gaps in the void.  Fill the void to the top then wait about 5 minutes to check it again.  You’ll probably have some settling.  Then add more resin to top off the void.  The resin will take about 24 hours to set and 72 hours to cure completely.

This is very important:  make sure you set aside a time period when you have a few days in a row to check on the settling of the resin. You’ll typically find that overnight the resin has settled, and you’ll need to add some more the next day to level it off with your wood surface.  If you wait more than 24 hours to do this, your resin may not bond together and you could end up with air gaps in your resin which would create an issue during sanding.

The finish.  You may have a slightly convex shape over the void, but not to worry.  You can sand the resin just like you sand the surrounding wood.  I like to use 80 grit, then 120, then 180 as discussed in the post about my go-to finish on the cherry coat rack.  As you can see from the picture, the resin really added some pizzaz to what could have been a distracting knot hole.

One caveat:  the directions recommend using a propane torch to heat the resin and pop any air bubbles at the surface, but I’ve found that in the proportions recommended, the air bubbles escape before the resin hardens.

If you haven’t tried resin, but have always wanted to, give it a shot.  For less than $70 you can be up and running in no time.  This is consistent with our entrepreneurial mantra of fail fast and fail cheap which we wrote about here.  If you have any questions, post below.  I look forward to hearing from you about your experience with resin finishes.


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:



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.


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

Sawmill with Chainsaw
Sawmill with Chainsaw

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

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

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

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

Update on Wood Shop Transformation: We Survived the Move!

wood shop work flow
Wood Shop Work Flow

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

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

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

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

New Work Bench
New Work Bench

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

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

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

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

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 ; )

Update on Black Walnut Gun Cabinet

black walnut gun cabinet glue up
Black Walnut Gun Cabinet Glue Up

(Thursday night) We got kicked out of the house!  Given that we’ve been banished, it seemed like an opportune time to update the blog.  Some of you have asked “Jerry, what’s up with the blog?”  Well, it’s three things.  First, I’ve been busy keeping the world safe for democracy in my day job.  Mrs Woodworker won’t let me retire, so we have 23 more months to go.  Second, Traughber Design has been swamped with orders, which is a good thing.  Third, we’ve been getting the house ready to sell so we can continue our minimalism journey.  That’s the reason we got kicked out of the house tonight:  our realtor told us to beat it for the open house.  That actually turned out to be a blessing since we caught up on our Five Guys addiction and it gave me some time to update you on the happenings at Traughber Design.

As far as those commissions, many thanks to Lisa Love for the furniture repair commission, Jeremy Wood for the woodturning commission, and neighbor Dave Strong for commissioning two home base footstools.  Dave also commissioned some baseball bat stools which we’re working on.  And a huge thank you to Dr Steve Ford for his gun cabinet commission (see our first post about that commission here).  Speaking of which…

The picture above shows the glue up we did today attaching the face frame of the gun cabinet to the cabinet itself.  Believe it or not, it took almost 40 hours to get to that point.  The cabinet involves over 70 pieces and it took some time to carefully select each piece to match grain and avoid knots in the raw boards.  In order to maximize efficiency, I cut all the 70 pieces at once so I didn’t have to keep switching back and forth between tools later.  Not that it wasn’t fun, though.  I enjoy letting the wood talk to me and tell me what each part wants to be.  It’s also important to finish sand certain parts before gluing since they won’t be accessible once they are glued together.  When finish sanding with three grits (80, 120, and 180) it takes some time.  Be sure you are not sanding where the joints glue together, however, or you won’t get a solid bond.  In the next step we’ll cut the two back panels which consist of black walnut plywood.  After that, we start working on the base molding and crown molding which will be three carefully routed pieces glued together in an intricate pattern.

While projects like Steve’s are drying, I flip over to the second project, in this case the baseball bat stool.  Thanks to Jacob Hummitzsch for his engineering prowess on this one.  We jerry rigged a frame to hold the bats  in place and to get the angles right for the stools.  Now I just need to drill the holes and dry fit everything together.  With any luck, I’ll post an update with pictures when that stool is done.

Did you set aside time for making today?

4 Ways for Entrepreneurs to Manage Their Backlog: When the Cup Overflows

An Entrepreneur Working the Backlog
An Entrepreneur Working the Backlog

We just made another deal last weekend to make some baseball bat themed footstools and bar stools, which was terrific.  Then I did the math on our total backlog and it’s over 100 hours!  Remember, this is a part time gig until I retire (Mrs Woodworker won’t let me retire) and I can only comfortably do about 6 hours per week in the wood shop, especially given work travel.  That means my backlog works out to about 17 weeks or 4 months, which is too long for my taste.  Why?  Because there are a few other commissions I’ve been discussing with potential clients that I’d really like to build.  They look like really fun projects.  Doing these new deals is not about bringing in new business, but about making things that are interesting.  How does an entrepreneur manage their backlog when it gets too big?  Read on!

#1:  Throttle Back on Marketing, But Not Completely

An entrepreneur needs to maintain the flow of business, because the backlog could be gone at some point.  We always want new business walking in that door, but not too much or quality will suffer, or we’ll have to turn away too many clients.  To give you a specific example, you may have noticed  I’ve started to tweet here and there with some updates on what is going on in the shop (follow us at Twitter handle @TraughberDesign).  I could be tweeting a lot more, but decided to just tweet occasionally until we’ve worked off more of that backlog.  We also have a Pinterest account and could be doing a lot more other on the social media front with apps like Instagram.  At this point, though, we need that time in the shop.

Something else to start thinking about is what is your ideal backlog number?  That number could be in hours or number of projects to ship, or some other metric.  Then work towards that metric you’ve set.  Over 100 hours is too much right now for Traughber Design, but once I’m doing this full time, that number may be too low if I work a 40 hour week in the wood shop.  What’s the right number for your business?  Have you thought about that?  You want enough of a backlog to keep yourself gainfully employed for a while, but how long?  How frequently does new work typically come in the door?  As I mentioned earlier, this backlog will take me 4 months and I can estimate pretty well how much new work we’ll get in that time period.  That will determine how much effort (or not) we spend on marketing.  We’ve already had 4 commissions this year and it’s only February so we need to manage the incoming and outgoing flow.

We just talked about investing less (time) in marketing, where should the entrepreneur invest?

#2:  Invest in Capital Expenditures that Make You Faster

Maybe buying tools should always be the default answer!  One can never have enough tools, I suppose, unless you’re traveling a minimalist journey as Mrs Woodworker and I are.  But what do I mean by “buy more tools”?  I mean to look for opportunities where a tool or jig will make you faster or more efficient in whatever your creating enterprise is.  To give you an example, I anticipate we may be making a lot of the baseball bat themed foot stools and bar stools.  Is there a tool I can buy that will speed up production while maintaining or improving the quality?  Is there a jig (a specially made apparatus to hold pieces in place to make cutting/sawing/drilling/etc. easier) I can make that makes positioning the bats easier to speed things up? Yes, of course there are.  I’ve made one prototype foot stool from three bats and can see the value in making a jig for the bar stool to precisely align the bats and drill holes for the cross pieces that will hold the bats in place in the stool.  If I make the jigs now, we’ll reap the benefits in the long run with time savings on every piece.

For more on tools read these posts:

Choosing Woodworking Tools, or Why I Love Festool

Woodworking and Minimalism:  If I Buy All These Tools Am I A Minimalist?

3 Reasons You MUST Invest in the Best Tools You Can Afford! 

So we can speed things up with capital expenditures, but how about allocating our time wisely?

#3:  Reallocate Your Time

As I wrote about earlier in the post Get Out of the Rat Race:  How to Manage the Transition from Career to Maker, entrepreneurs have tremendous freedom to decide where to focus their efforts.  That’s one of the reasons we start these journeys:  freedom and creativity.  Not only is it about allocating time after the day job is over, but occasionally an entrepreneur will run across some “bonus time.”  There was a bit of serendipity with this holiday weekend.  We had planned to go cross country skiing in West Virginia, but the snow forecast was abominable.  We cancelled and went out with friends at least one night, but that freed up the entire weekend for some making every morning.  I’m the lark, or early riser, in the family so I naturally get up to write a little then hit the wood shop before every one is up.  Then we spent the rest of the day together.  I try not to work in the shop late in the day because fatigue and power tools don’t go together.  I’d like to keep my fingers.  If you are an entrepreneur, look for opportunities like that to do a little extra making.  For you, would that be early in the morning?  Stealing some time during the day?  Late in the day?  Using a portion of a holiday weekend?

As we’ve written about earlier, if you don’t have enough time you can always pull out that time creation machine we wrote about in the post Time is not Finite and make some time.

#4:  Enjoy the Ride

When you run across a “problem” with a backlog like this, it’s important to step back for a minute and do a couple things.

One thing is to pat yourself on the back for having a backlog in the first place.  Remember when you started as an entrepreneur?  You had zero backlog and were just hustling for revenue.  Now that you have one, congratulate yourself.  Mo Johnson, the owner of Better Display Cases, discusses that more in our entrepreneur interview series.

The second thing is to enjoy that ride every day. Remember in our Ode to Ralph the Woodworking Cat where we wrote about Ralph’s joy for life?  He embraced life to the fullest.  Entrepreneurs need to stop and smell the roses as they are working that backlog.  We also wrote about this in the post on One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, specifically in the portions on flow and contentment.  Why did you start this enterprise in the first place?  Wasn’t to spend more time on your craft?  Enjoy it!  Tim Ferris also talks about this in his recent interview with Entrepreneur Magazine in the article Tim Ferriss: If You’re Not Happy With What You Have, You Might Never Be Happy.  Check it out.

Rejoice, Mr/Mrs Entrepreneur!  You’ve got a backlog to manage!  Don’t forget to:

#1:  Throttle Back on Marketing, But Not Completely

#2:  Invest in Capital Expenditures that Make You Faster

#3:  Reallocate Your Time

#4:  Enjoy the Ride