I absolutely loved the process on this commission, because the client (thanks Kevin Hanson) had a brilliant idea, we bantered back-and-forth, and the result is (in my humble opinion) a really cool heirloom table with sentimental value that will be in the client’s family for a very long time. What a great conversation piece that table will be for years to come.
Where did it all begin? Kevin got the chutzpah to propose on July 4th, 1994 on a wooden porch swing owned by his girlfriend’s father. Rumor has it there was a shotgun involved, but that’s unconfirmed. Later they had the swing engraved with the date and moved the swing to their own home. After 25 years in the weather, the swing was taking a beating so Kevin wanted to salvage the best pieces and repurpose them into something special for his bride. Let’s take a look at the transformation…
First, taking apart the swing may sound more trivial than it really was. It took several hours to very carefully pry apart the boards with a flat pry bar while trying to prevent the wood from splitting. Once all the boards and nails were removed we were left with what you see in the picture.
It was readily apparent that there wasn’t enough solid wood left for all the pieces required in the table, so we decided to save the best for the table top and lower shelf. Then it was a matter of deciding on a complementary wood for the legs and aprons (cross pieces). We took a look at several species and settled on white oak, which is very hard and perfect for furniture. In addition, the light shade of oak contrasts nicely with some of the darker pieces remaining from the wooden swing.
Next, we had to plane down the boards to remove the old finish. After that we trimmed the edges to make them square and laid them out to align the nail holes and see which ones would look best on the table top. We used some 1 x 2s to create a rectangle (see pic) in the same dimensions as our desired top then moved the rectangle around until we had an optimal-looking top and shelf.
Our next step was to trim the top to 45 inches (finished length was 44 inches) then join the boards together with mortise and tenon joints (see pic at left). Our trusty Festool Domino made quick work of that task. After we glued everything up we trimmed the top to its final length.
As far as the legs, we went with 1 3/4 inch wide legs, and aprons of 3/4 inches by 1 7/8 inches by 38 1/2 inches. Cutting the legs to width and length was pretty straightforward using the tracks and mitre saw. We joined the cross pieces to the legs using mortise and tenon joints as well (there are no metal fasteners in this table). The table height is 36 inches, the length is 44 inches, and the depth is 17 inches. The shelf is 6 inches off the floor.
After we refinished our floors to a beautiful dark half inch bamboo (see pic), the hand rails going to the basement just weren’t cutting it. The old blonde colored oak finish no longer matched the floor. In the post (link here) regarding upgrading our bannisters, I wrote about how we refinished the bannisters going upstairs from the first floor. Since we’re in the market for a new house as I wrote about in the Reflections on 2018 post, it was time to get in high gear on the remaining projects in this house. Let me give you the low-down on a very simple refinish to the railings that you can knock out in a long weekend.
First, remove the rails. This will save you endless heartache since you won’t have to cover the stairs with a drop cloth, worry about getting finish on the walls, getting sanding dust throughout the house, and bringing the varnish fumes into the house. In addition, you can put the rails on a bench or work table at waist height (the Festool MFT/3 works wonders for something like this), which will make the refinishing much easier. If you do it while they are attached to the wall, you’ll be doing all kinds of contortions to access the side against the wall and the underside.
Second, sand, sand, sand. Use a coarse grit sandpaper like 60 or 80 grit and I highly recommend using a power sander. I used my Festool RO150 random orbit sander which worked surprisingly well given how big it is. The sanding disc is pretty large relative to the piece, but was able to hit just about every surface except for the small bead that runs near the bottom. I hand sanded that part. Sand until there is no more shininess to the finish. You don’t have to take it to bare wood: just rough it up enough so that the new finish will adhere.
Third, prepare. Do this in a well ventilated area and wear gloves. Also wear eye protection in case any of the finish splatters upwards. It’s not likely, but don’t take any chances.
Fourth, apply the gel stain. I used General Finishes Java Gel Stain. I did a test run underneath the shortest hand rail to see how dark the stain looked and how evenly it spread. Then give it 24 hours so you can evaluate the test area. If you like it, then press on and stain both rails.
Fifth, apply the topcoat of oil and urethane varnish. General Finishes Arm-R-Seal works really well for this and I recommend the satin finish.
Sixth, reinstall the rails and enjoy!
I hope that helps! Catch up on the latest Traughber Design project videos on Instagram here.
Many thanks to fellow entrepreneur Tim Pittman for the recent article about Traughber Design in FIRE Stories. Mrs Woodworker and I hope some of the wisdom we’ve gained in the past several years might be of use to you. If you have any questions, FIRE away in the comments section.
Ah, the entrepreneurial road is a long and bumpy one…my grand plan to ramp up Traughber Design at the end of calendar year 2018 did not survive first contact with the enemy. As I’ve written about before, Mrs Woodworker and I are winding down a 30 year military career, while continuing to ramp up this business (see post Why Did I Write This Blog About Woodworking and Entrepreneurship). The community has been very supportive and we’ve had at least half a dozen requests for work in the past few months, BUT life had other ideas. We were a little short-handed at the unit in 2018 so I had been working a double load which meant very little, to zero wood shop time : ( It has been a mad sprint to complete everything required for military retirement. I’ll write about that transition soon.
We did; however, have 5 commissions in 2018 and broke even, which is a pretty good result in my book given that we essentially closed the shop in the second half of the year and turned down about a half dozen commissions.
Never fear, this month we will be able to pursue entrepreneurship full time AND we will be looking for another property, ideally one with a heated shop. Doing finishing work on wood has proven to be a challenge in the current shop which is in our garage. If we want to operate 24/7 in all conditions, we need a climate controlled shop. For example, today it’s 12 degrees outside this morning. Brrrrr! I still plan to bundle up and try to gut out at least an hour in the shop, but could do more work if the shop were heated. Not to worry, if it’s one thing that woodworking teaches you, it’s patience!
We hope you had a stellar 2018 and are off and running on your 2019 resolutions!
Back in Afghanistan, my pal Steve Patoir and I would commiserate about woodworking from time to time and one of the things we’d talk about was “the pivot” for some of the woodworking guys we’d run across. For example, we heard about the “Bunk Bed Guy” who had started out making all kinds of things, then made a bunk bed which was so popular that everyone began asking him to make bunk beds. Then there was the “Shadow Box Guy” who ended up exclusively making shadow boxes. Am I “The Corn Hole Guy”? I always try to keep a spare set of these corn hole sets in the shop in case a client wants to buy a set for a party or something and we are all out so I just made another one (see picture) this week. There is absolutely nothing wrong with being The Corn Hole Guy since I enjoy making them and hearing clients talk about how much fun their party was with some good old fashioned bean bag tossing and friendly competition (if you’d like to make your own set, check out the plan at our post The Cornhole Plan, or How to Jazz up your Next Party). This small project is relatively quick to make, and shouldn’t take more than 3-4 hours to build.
Speaking of small projects, I was talking with a potential client this week about making a table, and she said she thought her project might be too small. Nothing could be farther from the truth! I love these small projects, because they bring almost immediate gratification and you can see the results of your work in a matter of days or weeks. Corn hole sets fall in that category since I can easily crank out a set in a week (we do have to allow for several consecutive days of glue-up). Some of our bigger projects have taken several months and it requires a lot of patience to wait to see the results of our handiwork.
Or then again, maybe I’ll be the “Jewelry Display Guy.” Did you see Christy Dewitt and Nomades on Fox and Friends Friday morning? If not, check out the clip here. Nomades just ordered three more displays and I picked up the walnut at a couple wood dealers yesterday for that commission. We’re off and running.
Corn Hole Guy. Jewelry Display Guy. It’s all macht nichts to me. I’m glad for the work. Bring it on!
Getting back to corn hole, if you have a party coming up, these things are great. Swing by the wood shop and you can pick one up. We can always make more.
We turned down two commissions this week. Is that how to start a business? Am I crazy??? Maybe so. My pal Derek Sivers who wrote Anything You Want says that when you are starting a business you should say “yes” to everything, because you can’t afford to be choosey. On the flip side, he says that entrepreneurs are creating their own universe with its own set of principles, and why would they do work that doesn’t align with those principles? Don’t get me wrong. One of those commissions was a large refinishing project which I very much wanted to do, but I’ve already told about a half dozen people I would do their kitchen table, bookcase, entertainment center, etc. and there isn’t much time left in the year. The other project was for six dining room chairs, but those chairs would have required upholstery which is not really my thing, and would require a lot of hand carving which is not currently my thing. I guess the good thing is knowing here in year #4 of Traughber Design what “my thing” is. I guess it’s time to start saying no.
Another one of those principles was to migrate to a business that didn’t require a lot of commuting. I’d like most of the work to be in the shop rather than on site, because after 11 years of commuting in DC during two Air Force tours, I’d rather not sit on I95 any longer. Clients can come to the shop and pick up their pieces, which preserves my new 5 second commute to the garage. Yes, I still have that lovely I95 commute because this is a side gig for now (I wrote about this some in the post Reflections on 2017…Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from Traughber Design!), BUT my retirement papers were approved (hurray!) and we (I use “we” because military service is a TEAM sport as Mrs Woodworker will attest) are within 1 year of official retirement and 8 months of terminal leave.
We’re not aiming to be a Rockefeller with Traughber Design (see our post Lessons Learned from John D. Rockefeller on Life, Entrepreneurship, and Woodworking) but make just enough to get by on military retirement (by the way, if you are making that transition also, I highly recommend Doug Nordman’s site The Military Guide on military transition and financial independence. He also has some great content on how to start a business). Given our current backlog of projects, making a go of it shouldn’t be an issue.
On to more positive things, like saying “yes”! We just completed a four sided jewelry display (see picture) for Nomades Collection in black walnut this week and are pretty happy with the result. You may have seen two of our recent Facebook posts on this. This was an evolution from the two sided version we profiled in the post Traughber Design and Nomades Collection Team Up! Some of the new features are:
100% more display space. The original display had two vertical jewelry trays back-to-back within a wooden frame. While the two-tray model is perfect for a smaller store, this one has space for three trays and a fourth side with posts to hang bracelets and bangles (I don’t know what bangles are, but they seem to be popular with the ladies). This allows for twice as much jewelry to be displayed.
A slot for brochures. This was trickier than it looks. The lazy susan bearings have to be reached from underneath to screw them in, so we had to make a removable bottom to be able to access the holes. It killed me to use metal fasteners for that removable bottom since we always strive for 100% wooden joinery, but I couldn’t see a way around it. At least the fasteners are not visible. I’m still noodling around on ways to access the lazy susan without the removable bottom and metal fasteners. If you have any ideas, leave them in the comments below.
Well, we sold out of the corn hole games, so I need to go tell the elves in the wood shop to get busy! Now, that’s how to start a business…
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.
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.
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.
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).
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
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?
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…
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…
Mrs Woodworker and I finally pulled the trigger and had the carpet and linoleum floors in the house replaced on the first and second floors with hardwood floors. This house was one of our rentals and after four sets of tenants (who were great, by the way!) the carpet and linoleum were just worn out. After the floors were replaced, the next step was to update the bannister and kitchen cabinets to match. I’ll tell you everything you need to know to update the bannisters and will do another post on the kitchen cabinets.
Given that the floors are a java-colored bamboo, we decided to go with a java stain on the bannister top rail and vertical posts to match the floor. For the spindles we went with a white semi-gloss paint to match the trim in the rest of the room.
So where do you start? It all starts with a lot of sanding. I recommend investing in an electric sander if you don’t already have one. This will save you a ton of time. I already had a Festool Rotex 150 Random Orbit Sander which was a little big for a job like this, but worked out alright. If you are buying from scratch, a small sander from Home Depot or Lowes will work. I recommend using 120 grit sandpaper which matches the grit called for with the stain we used (more on that later). For those hard-to-reach areas, you will have to do a little hand sanding. I’m not going to lie; you’ll need to sand all the intricate curves on the spindles by hand. Turn on your favorite podcast and the time will fly by! One tip which may help you, is to sand when you have natural light on the bannister. Then if you see any shine (remaining finish), it’s easy to see where to focus your sanding energy. Once everything is sanded down nicely, be sure to vacuum really well so no sanding dust gets in the finish.
Before you start applying the finishes, I need to say a few words about ventilation. The fumes from the stain and varnish were not too bad, but I recommend running your ceiling fans and opening the windows during and after you apply the finishes. The fumes from the varnish were the strongest and most important to keep ventilated. Also, I recommend wearing a dust mask when sanding since you’ll have a lot of fine particles in the air and you don’t want to inhale them.
Next, it’s time to apply the stain. We used General Finishes Java Gel Stain. A quart runs about $22.99 at Woodcraft and is plenty for a job of this size. You can also purchase it for $33.95 with Amazon Prime (click here) and have it delivered right to your door. It’s very easy to apply and leaves a beautiful color. To apply, make sure you are wearing gloves then apply the stain using a small rag. Cut up T-shirts work great for this. For the tough-to-reach corners, use a small foam brush. Let the stain sit for about 5-10 minutes then wipe off with a clean rag so it doesn’t leave any splotches. If you like the color depth at that point, you’re done with the stain. If you would like a darker color, then apply more coats until you have the color you like.
Our floors have ever-so-slight streaks of lighter color so I only went with one coat of stain on the bannisters. This left light streaks on the bannister to match the floor. If your floor is solid, you may want to go with two or three coats of stain.
Next, apply the top coat. I’ve used General Finishes Arm-R-Seal for years on our Traughber Design projects and it provides a very durable finish. I typically use the gloss finish when making furniture (see the post How to Make a Beautiful Custom Wooden Mitered Picture Frame for an example of a high gloss finish), but in this case went with the satin finish ($17.99 at Woodcraft). Why? Because the bannister rail is a high traffic item and the wear of hands going up and down the stairs on a gloss finish would look unusual over time. For example, the areas of high traffic would wear to a dull finish and low traffic parts of the rail would still be high gloss. It would look very uneven. With the satin finish the rails should have a consistent finish, even after wear. We went with two coats using small rags to wipe it on. Make sure you leave at least 24 hours between coats and sand with a high grit sandpaper between coats.. We used 600 grit sandpaper.
Last, paint the spindles. We went with Sherwin Williams Interior White Semi-Gloss from Lowes. That’s probably a little more high-end than you need and just about any white semi-gloss interior latex should do the trick. A quart should be more than enough. I used a foam brush for a test section, but it was just too slow and I switched to a 2 inch brush. After two coats and some touch up, the spindles look great.
Check out the pictures. We think the bannisters look much better than when we started. Stay tuned for another post soon on how to redo those kitchen cabinets!