One day, Mrs Woodworker decided that she needed one of those gargantuan stainless steel refrigerators to spruce up the kitchen. I reckon’ I don’t have a problem with that, since the other appliances were already stainless steel or were about to be upgraded to stainless steel to jazz up the kitchen. Being the awesome husband that I am, I told her to buy whatever she wanted. She’s pretty frugal so I figured this was a low risk offer. So she did some serious refrigerator reconnaissance, ordered one she liked, and the company delivered it. Lo and behold, it didn’t fit in the alcove in the kitchen! Now if I was buying a refrigerator, I’d measure the opening and buy an appliance that fits the hole. But that’s not how the mind of Mrs Woodworker works. She thinks “Aha, I’ve got a husband that makes things and has really awesome Festool tools. I’ll buy whatever I like and he’ll figure it out.” Which is what we did. Thank goodness we had invested in good tools. Here are 3 reasons you should invest in the best tools you can afford:
Reason #1: Speed
All sarcasm aside, it was fun to whip out this project over an hour or two last weekend. We had to knock out some of the drywall to the left of the fridge when we installed it, and there was an ugly jagged edge there where the drywall was missing. Given how close the refrigerator was to the wall, we couldn’t just slide the refrigerator out and replace the drywall. Using the planer, track saw, mitre saw, and router, we were able to cut moulding as shown in the pictures to 1/4″ thickness, 1″ width, and then routed the edges with a 3/8″ round over to make it blend into the wall a little. In addition, I mitered the upper corners to make it look nicer. After a coat of paint to make it match the walls, we were done. That sounds like an incredible amount of work, but it only took and hour or two.
There are a couple ways that buying into a system of tools increases your speed. One is that if you have the entire core of tools, you don’t have to jury rig something to make the desired cut, which I’ve had to do in the past. You already have the right tool for the job and can get right down to the work. In addition, if I had had a myriad of tools that weren’t part of a system, switching the dust vacuum back and forth between tools could be an issue which would reduce our speed. For example, with the Festool system you can very quickly switch the vacuum from tool to tool. Speaking of the dust vacuum…
Reason #2: Your Health
I can’t emphasize enough the importance of buying quality power tools along with a dust collection system. For this project, I was able to shift the dust collector from the sliding compound mitre saw, to the track saw, to the router in no time flat. Unfortunately, the planer generates a ton of shavings and dust so I just did that outside. When cutting small pieces like this moulding there is usually plenty of ventilation outside, but for planing large boards, use a mask. But most of the work you do will be inside, and that’s where a HEPA dust collection is so important. Those tiny particles you are generating with all those tools will lodge in your lungs over the long haul and you will be incapacitated. I have read multiple articles over the years about woodworkers who didn’t think carefully through this and developed lung issues. No one wants that. Get the dust collection system.
Reason #3: Simplify Decision-Making
I was giving a shop tour to a young fella the other day who was trying to get some ideas for setting up his own shop and was deciding whether to invest in Festool. If he does go that route, he’ll have the advantage of owning great tools much earlier in life. I didn’t start buying my high end tools until 2014. Now when I buy tools, I don’t have to agonize over it. I’ve bought into a system of tools that interconnect and have proven themselves in the shop. If I need a new tool, I just buy Festool if they have that tool.
Truth in advertising here, I’m not a Festool affiliate and receive no compensation from them. I’m just a Festool Fan (see our post here about why I love Festool and our post here about tools and minimalism).
As we said in the title, buy the best tools you can afford. They will increase your speed, save your health, and simplify your decision-making. You won’t regret it.
Are robots going to put you out of a job? What should you do about it? Alec Ross recently came out with a book titled “The Industries of the Future” where he writes about the coming disruption due to robots and artificial intelligence that got me wondering “what does this mean for entrepreneurs and woodworkers?” Will robots replace us all? Let’s take a look. I’ll give you three entrepreneur strategies to survive the robot invasion based on some of the prognostications in Ross’ book.
#1 Make Your Own Job
Some folks may think the widespread adoption of robots is in some far-off future, but Ross says “Japan already leads the world in robotics, operating 310,000 of the 1.4 million industrial robots in existence across the world.” As you can see, the robots are already here and there will only be more. We’d all better think very carefully about the career we have or the career we want, because it may not exist in the future. For example, about a year ago I went on a trip to Japan. My buddy and I went to a restaurant to grab a bite and when we walked in there was a kiosk facing the door with large buttons with pictures of entrees on them. We picked what looked good, plopped in our yen, and the machine spit out a ticket. We sat down and a few minutes later, a human delivered our food. There were only two staff in the entire restaurant: the food-deliverer and the cook. That restaurant model already exists in other countries and is on its way to the United States. All those workers at McDonalds and Burger King may be soon be gone.
Ross talks about this move to automate: “Boiled down to economic terms, the choice between employing humans versus buying and operating robots involves a trade-off in terms of expenditures. Human labor involves very little ‘capex’ or capital expenditures–up-front payments for things like building, machinery, and equipment–but high ‘opex,’ or operational expenditures, the day-to-day costs such as salary and employee benefits. Robots come with a diametrically opposed cost structure: their up-front capital costs are hight, but their operating costs are minor–robots don’t get a salary. As the capex of robots continues to go down, the opex of humans becomes comparatively more expensive and therefore less attractive for employers.” Almost every business today is doing the cost/benefit analysis of whether to make those capital expenditures comparing the cost of humans versus robots. As the cost of robots come down, more humans will be replaced.
It is clear that many of traditional jobs will be going away, which is all the more reason to start preparing for the robotpocalypse. Ross writes “How much harder will it be to get a first job? How about a second?” One of the ways is to make your own job, as Mo Johnson did at Better Display Cases, Lawrence Colby did in writing his first book, or some of the other entrepreneurs did that we are about to profile in this blog. Mo and Lawrence are each earning some good $$$ because they decided to make their own jobs, but that requires some solid planning and execution.
I recently ran across an article in Popular Woodworking that is another great example of creating your own job and is also a good model for people transitioning out of the military. The story (click here for link) called “End Grain: Marine Corps to Shop Floor,” talks about Grant Burger’s journey from Marine to full time craftsman. Grant knew he was getting out of the military and created his own job, by using his education benefits to attend a furniture making school in Boston. Now he is selling rocking chairs that cost more than $2000 each and are absolutely beautiful. To see some of his work, check out Grant’s blog here.
This automated, robotic future is not something to fear, but is a fertile playground of opportunity for the entrepreneur, as we’ll see below.
#2 Go Microentrepreneur With The Codification of Money, Markets, and Trust
“But the codification of money, markets, payments, and trust is the next big inflection point in the history of financial services. Understanding what it means for your and your business will be important regardless of whether you are a plumber or the CEO of a fortune 500 company.” Entrepreneurs need to embrace these changes or run the risk of being left behind. Ross goes on to profile Square, the company that created the attachment you can use with a tablet to swipe and process credit cards: “From its inception, Square has been about enabling the kind of small-scale transactions…Its approach has been to try to eliminate the costs and complication of standard credit card transactions.” This creates a tremendous opportunity for woodworkers, or any craftsman, for that matter. Many of my fellow woodworkers sell their pieces at arts and crafts fairs. With tools like Square, any entrepreneur can charge a sale anywhere at any time, such as at craft fairs.
“Square and its competitors are trying to reduce friction in the marketplace. They are trying to dial down the complication and the tens of billions of dollars spent in the form off credit card fees, exchange fees, or the cost of lost transactions…” As we wrote about in our post on Clausewitz, entrepreneurs are continually trying to overcome friction, and companies like Square will only help. The CEO of Square “believes that Square is part of a larger trend refocusing the economy toward bottom-up innovation. He explains, “one of the reasons we started this company, from a personal standpoint, is this trend toward more local experiences. So I think the fabric of the neighborhood and how online is pointing to more offline local experiences is a very, very interesting trend.” As we wrote about in our posts on Community and the post on Reflections artisans can thrive in this environment.
“Anyone can pick up a device they already own and suddenly become a powerful commerce engine in that particular area.” This could also be useful for entrepreneurs involved in services such as Uber drivers or freelancers doing work on sites like TaskRabbit. Ross goes on to say “But as with other mass infrastructure deployments, like railroads in the 19th century, the full potential of the network is borne out only when other entrepreneurs layer their creativity and commerce on top of it.” He also says “I think of the sharing economy as a way of making a market out of anything and a micro entrepreneur out of anybody.”
It is the golden age of entrepreneurship. Let’s take a look at the third tip to survive the robot invasion.
#3 Go Local, Then Global
Robots will thrive where there are many automated, repetitive tasks. Even as artificial intelligence gets smarter, there will be opportunities for entrepreneurs. “With coded markets available to even the smallest vendors, a trend has arisen that pushes economic transactions away from physical stores or hotels and toward individual people, as they connect either locally or online.” Today, any one of us can process credit card transactions using companies like Square, as mentioned above. This is incredibly freeing and allows anyone, anywhere to process payments. Along those lines, Ross writes: “Though the world’s major cities are fueling the global economy, one does not need to be in an alpha city to succeed. In fact, Internet technology allows people to be almost anywhere and operate a successful business.” An entrepreneur couple I’ve mentioned previously (see Pure Living for Life) runs a blog, YouTube channel, Instagram presence, Twitter presence, etc. profiling their move to off the grid living. They started on a bare piece of land in Idaho, but technology allowed them to create this multimedia presence to document their off grid journey. Come to think of it, if they have Internet are they off grid??? They started local and are now global.
Another concrete example of this starting local then going global is one of my favorite woodworkers, Marc Spagnuolo, The Wood Whisperer. Marc started locally building commissioned furniture, but then realized the amazing potential of the Internet. He started teaching fellow woodworkers via his blog, then videos on his website. He now has a global empire and operates globally via his blog, videos, DVDs, etc. Woodcraft Magazine just ran a great profile of him. Check out the article here.
This concept of starting local then going global has been a good model for Traughber Design. We started custom woodworking locally and the blog is now read around the world, in 33 countries at last count.. It’s interesting to look at the metrics and see what far-flung countries are reading it.
We’ve covered a lot of ground today. Follow these three keys and you’ll be well on your way to surviving the robot invasion:
#1 Make Your Own Job #2 Go Microentrepreneur With The Codification of Money, Markets, and Trust #3 Go Local, Then Global
The Green Bay Packers and Aaron Rodgers have had an unbelievable run of 9 straight years going to the National Football League (NFL) playoffs. This is a testament to the leadership of the organization and the team’s principles, which are applicable in life and entrepreneur philosophy in general. This season didn’t end the way Packer Nation had hoped this year, but getting to the NFC Championship game was quite an accomplishment, especially considering all the injuries the team had this year (they experienced a lot of friction as we wrote about earlier in our post on Clausewitz). Here are some lessons we can learn from The Pack.
Take a Chance Occasionally on a Big Play
There is a play in football called the Hail Mary, where in a desperate bid to score points with limited time, the quarterback heaves the ball downfield into the end zone hoping one of his receivers will catch it. Most quarterbacks will never successfully complete a Hail Mary at the professional level. Aaron Rodgers and the Green Pay Packers have completed THREE, the last during a playoff game against the New York Giants. Many teams in that situation would just kill the clock with only a few seconds remaining, but somehow the Packers seem to convert those slivers of time into points more than other teams. In addition, Aaron Rodgers will create more of these Hail Mary opportunities by causing other teams to jump offsides with an offbeat cadence, which generates a “free play.” Since flags are thrown for the offside, he has the opportunity to continue with the play or accept the penalty. He always tries to throw a bomb downfield for the chance to make a big play during these offsides calls. How can this Hail Mary and offsides philosophy help us in life and as entrepreneurs?
First of all, what long bombs can you throw in your entrepreneurial ventures? Think about what one thing would make your idea just explode. What is it? As entrepreneurs, we have to be smart with small bets that cause big payoffs. We have to ensure those small bets won’t bankrupt the company or damage our cash flow too much, just like Aaron Rodgers with those “free plays.” He has nothing to lose and everything to gain. More importantly, the Packers practice those plays continually so that when it’s game time, they are ready. Rodgers practices that offbeat cadence to draw defenses offsides and the entire offense practices the Hail Mary play just in case they need to try it in a game. As an entrepreneur, the philosophy of trying the big play occasionally should be in our DNA. We should continually be asking that question of what is high payoff, low investment and throw that long bomb.
Maybe you’re at the point of thinking about starting a business. What is that first step? Take it.
Don’t Listen to The Haters
Mike McCarthy is the coach of the Packers, and has been for some time. This fall, the press was insinuating his head may have been on the chopping block this season after the Packers had four losses in a row. Had McCarthy suddenly become stupid after all those seasons of success? He berated the media during a press conference and told them he was a successful NFL coach and gave them some of his perspective. Personally, I didn’t think the Packers would make the playoffs at that point. They looked terrible during the losing streak. But Mike McCarthy and Aaron Rodgers didn’t listen to the doubters. Aaron Rodgers said they would need to run the table to make the playoffs (meaning win the rest of their games), which they did by winning eight games in a row, including playoffs. Not to mention, they knocked off the #1 team in their conference (the Dallas Cowboys) in the playoffs on the road.
Along those lines, entrepreneurs can’t afford to expend any energy on haters or doubters. There isn’t enough time. The Minimalists talk about this some on their podcasts. They talk about how you can’t change your friends, but that you can change your friends. Their meaning is that you can’t change some people, but you can change who you spend time with. Why hang out with people that don’t support your vision or aren’t encouraging? Who else talks about dealing with doubters? Taylor Swift.
My daughter is a big Taylor Swift fan. We went to Taylor’s 1989 Tour concert here at Nationals Stadium a while back. I was probably the oldest Swiftee (Swiftie?) in the stadium that night by far, but we had a great time. Taylor sang a song called “Shake it Off” where she sang about how the haters are going to hate and that we should just shake it off. That’s wise counsel from Ms. Swift. Entrepreneurs: shake it off.
Everyone on the Team is Valuable
No matter what their job, everyone in the organization is valuable. Earlier in my career, I worked for a two-star general who gave me some sage advice. He talked about how the 2-striper (a junior Airman) fixing the water pipes on an Air Force base at two o’clock in the morning was probably the most important person on the base at that moment. His point was that every last person on our Air Force team was valuable. The Green Bay Packers follow the same philosophy. They have been injury-plagued this season and lost their #1 running back (Eddie Lacey), #1 cornerback (Sam Shields), and #1 receiver (Jordy Nelson). Their philosophy is that the younger guys need to step up and that every last player has to do their part, even if they are not a starter.
The Packers also consider the community to be part of the team. When there is a large snowstorm in Green Bay, the team asks the local community to turn out and help shovel snow at Lambeau Field, and the locals love to do it. The consider it to be their team. Along those lines, the Green Bay Packers have a unique ownership structure. They are the only NFL team with shareholders and are publicly owned. I bought a share of the team some time ago and consider the Packers to be my team since I’m a shareholder. The team makes us feel part of the community by making share ownership seem like a big deal, even if the shares can’t be traded like a real stock.
Well, I hope that’s given you something to ponder: go for the big play, don’t listen to the haters, and embrace everyone on the team. I wish you the best of luck on your entrepreneurial journey. It’s a great ride.
Before we launched Traughber Design, I put a lot of thought into what kind of company I wanted. I wanted a company that gave back to our clients via high quality craftsmanship, but also wanted some of the profits to flow to its employees (currently an Army of One) as well as the community. I wanted that entrepeneur philosophy to be embedded in the company DNA from the very beginning. The first 2 years of operation we invested heavily in tools and ran at a loss which I had fully expected, but here in year #3 we are going to turn a profit and it’s time to put our money where our mouth is and execute the vision we had at the beginning. So this year we are going to invest a portion of our profits in the local community. A percentage of the proceeds from our first commission has been set aside to sponsor a sports team at the local high school. As future commissions roll in, we will disburse that same percentage of our revenue to other causes.
We all have time, talent and treasure. Some of us have more time than money, while others have more money than time. If you are an aspiring entrepreneur, have you thought about giving your time, talent, and treasure directly in your community, if you are not already?For example, in our local church we have a ministry called Helping Hands of Grace where we serve dinner to the homeless on Friday nights during the winter when the need is greatest. Several other churches sponsor different nights of the week. What we are finding is that those service nights at our church get signed up for very quickly by the various small groups in our church. People want to help their fellow man and are being intentional about serving on those Friday nights. Events like those are a great opportunity to give your time to others. If you would like to serve by giving your time, consider contacting your local homeless shelter, soup kitchen, or church for opportunities.
Earlier, we wrote a post about John Rockefeller and his keys to success. One of the things we didn’t write as much about in that post, was his struggle after he become very wealthy to find his way in philanthropy. Setting up a foundation to distribute wealth was a new thing back then and he had to basically invent the model which is used today by some of the large foundations such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Rockefeller established the Rockefeller Foundation, but had a difficult time deciding how it should be run, who should get the funds, and how to ensure the receiving organizations had a sustainable model. One of the first large efforts he started was establishing the University of Chicago, but he fought with the leadership because they weren’t broadening their donor base and weren’t (Rockefeller felt) being frugal. Rockefeller didn’t want the receiving organizations to be solely dependent on his foundation. Of course, when he was a young man he didn’t know he would have this “problem” of distributing extraordinary wealth, but now that we have his example and the example of others, we can incorporate this thinking about giving early on when we craft our entrepreneur philosophy.
It is up to each person to consider what is appropriate for them. To whom much is given, much is required. If you’ve launched an entrepreneurial venture, have you thought about who your stakeholders are and who should benefit if your venture is successful? Should it be solely you? Your employees? The community? All of the above? In what proportion?
I think some of the most important questions a founder can ask themselves are:
“Why am I starting this enterprise?” “Who are the stakeholders?” “How can I support them?”
In addition to philanthropy, an entrepreneur should give back to its employees. I did another of our entrepeneur interviews last week (we’ll be publishing that interview soon), this time with the owner of Better Display Cases, John Johnson. He is giving back to another group of stakeholders, his employees. Here is a veteran who just retired, started his own company and already has two employees and is looking for a third. Business is booming and he is giving back to the community by providing good jobs here in Northern Virginia. BTW, if you’re looking for work, contact him at his website here.
Another great example of giving back to employees is Dan Price, the CEO of Gravity Payments. Dan is a very thoughtful guy and was troubled by the stories from his employees of struggling to get by in a high cost city. He was making over $1 million per year and thought it was unfair that he had it so good, while his employees were struggling. He decided to set a “minimum wage” of a $70,000 annual salary for every employee including himself (you can read all about it here in Inc. Magazine). The reason he picked $70,000 is that studies have shown $70,000 will meet most families’ needs and your marginal happiness does not increase much above $70,000 no matter how much you make. As you can imagine, his employees were shocked and overjoyed. They were so ecstatic that they bought him a new Tesla last year which you can read about here.
My point is, in both Johnson’s and Price’s cases they have thoughtfully considered who the stakeholders are in their enterprises.
So we’ve discussed giving of time, talent, and treasure to two groups of stakeholders, the community and employees, but not much about the third, yourself. This goes back to that earlier question of why you’re starting the enterprise. Are you seeking a certain level of income? Self-fulfillment? Something else? In my opinion, if you take care of your clients, employees, and community, your needs will be taken care of organically. Those stakeholders will support you, if you support them.
These philosophy discussions are best had before launching the venture or early in its development, because once it’s launched you are going to be unbelievably busy as I saw at Better Display Cases this week. John and is two employees are really hustling to fulfill orders and have boxes stacked from floor to ceiling in the entire building. They receive large shipping containers from China monthly and race to unload the containers and deliver their products to all their customers. John’s time to have these philosophical discussions now is extremely limited.
Along those lines, seek out mentors who are farther along the entrepreneurial path who can share what they’ve done. It may not be exactly the correct path for you, but will help clarify your thinking (check out our blog post here on Stoic philosophy for more on clarity).
Several years ago when I was going through a military course, we had a reading about Admiral James Stockade, who won the Medal of Honor for his actions during 8 years as a Prisoner of War during Vietnam. In the article, Stockdale was describing the mission where he was shot down over North Vietnam and talked about how he was flying along at hundreds of miles an hour, had to eject, and realized he was suddenly entering the world of Epictetus. I had never heard of Epictetus and thought how significant it must be that in that moment, of all the things that might have been going through his head, Stockdale was thinking of someone named Epictetus. Intrigued, I started to do a little research and found that Epictetus was a Greek philosopher who belonged to a school of philosophy called Stoicism. I wanted to learn more and during one of my business trips, found a copy of Epictetus’ Discourses in a used bookstore. The Discourses are lectures written down by one of Epictetus’ students. I don’t agree with everything in the Discourses, but there are some useful concepts for designing our lives, entrepreneurs and woodworkers in Stoicism. We can learn much from studying philosophers. As Socrates said, “the unexamined life is not worth living”. We can get so caught up in the tactical details of life that sometimes we don’t step back to ask the question of whether what we are doing is even important. Shouldn’t we be continually asking that question?
That being said, Stoicism seems to be enjoying a resurgence these days. Some of the more popular Stoics are Epictetus, Seneca, and Marcus Aurelius. Epictetus was born a slave, taught philosophy in Rome, then was exiled to Greece. Seneca was a Roman Stoic philosopher and advisor to the Emperor. Marcus Aurelius was a Roman Emperor who wrote the Meditations on Stoic philosophy. It’s important, though, when someone declares “Stoicism says” that you take that with a grain of salt. Each of the Stoics has a slightly different take on things. If you’d like to read more, I highly recommend The Daily Stoic.
There are three principles of Stoicism that I think are very relevant to lifestyle design, entrepreneurship, and woodworking.
Clarify our perceptions
Many times what we perceive is going on is not what is really going on. For entrepreneurs it’s especially important to think about what data you need to gather to tell you if you are on track to your vision. Sometimes entrepreneurs analyze the data that’s readily available, rather than what’s important. The important data may be difficult to get, but is not usually impossible to develop. If someone asks you “how is your business doing?” how do you you know rather than just saying “fine”? For example, if you are writing a blog it’s important to install at least a couple plugins that gather metrics to let you know how you are doing. The blogger needs to look at the data to find out what ground truth is. They tell you exactly how many users there are every day, where they are coming from, what they are looking at, etc. For example, if someone asks me how the blog is doing, I’ve got the data and it’s clear this blog is growing. This month’s traffic is on track to be double last month’s. In addition, we can see that the hits from search engines are increasing, which means the search engines are finding us or we’re writing about things that more people are interested in, or just having more published posts is drawing more search. We’ve made mistakes with the blog such as running into a photograph interface issue between WordPress and Facebook, but it’s clear we are on the right path. We wouldn’t know that if we hadn’t decided which data to collect to clarify our perceptions.
Another aspect of clarifying our perceptions is to control our thoughts, which is especially important for entrepreneurs. I think over the past 2 years, I’ve gotten much better at banishing negative thoughts about what could go wrong. This is a skill any small business owner can exercise and develop. For example, I noticed that most of the time these thoughts are late at night before I’m going to bed or in the middle of the night. Knowing that, if one of these thoughts rears its ugly head, I can say to myself “oh, it’s late and I’m just tired” and let the negative thought go.
As the famous French philosopher Montaigne said “My life has been full of terrible misfortunes most of which never happened” (see brainy quote.com. Why dwell on something if it will probably never happen?
Act reasonably and wisely
In an earlier post, I wrote about failing fast and cheap which aligns with acting reasonably as the Stoics recommend. An entrepeneur probably shouldn’t do an experiment that would bankrupt the company, but should instead place small well-thought-out bets. For example, many entrepreneurs following a strategy of doing A/B experiments. This means “A” is the current method and “B” is an experiment trying something new. If “B” is successful, you switch to that method even if it’s only an incremental gain. If “B” wasn’t successful, you default back to “A” then dream up some more A/B experiments. Over time, these incremental gains of the “B”s that worked will add up to big gains. It’s important to not agonize over “failed” experiments, but to consider that you learned something in the process. Make sure you know how much you want to pay for those failed experiments ahead of time to cap your risk.
The third Stoic principle is related to the second.
Know what is in our control and what is not
This is one of the most fundamental Stoic principles. Epictetus says at the most basic level, all we can really control is our will. That’s why Stockdale referenced Epictetus when he was shot down. He realized that if he was captured, he would be in a test of wills with his captors, which he was…for 8 years.
This relates to entrepreneurship as well, especially blogging. One of the most successful bloggers right now is Maria Popova who has 5 million readers per month and writes a blog called Brain Pickings. I’ve listened to interviews with her and done some reading of her blog and she shares some terrific points on successful blogging. One thing she emphasizes is to write for yourself. This is within our control as the Stoics would advise. Popova’s point is that we shouldn’t chase an audience. We won’t be interesting if we try to write what we think most people will like, rather than what we are really passionate about. In addition, we’ll likely lose interest if we are constantly writing about what we think others want to read rather than what really interests us. Readers can tell if a blogger is passionate about something.
This also relates to woodworking in that woodworkers should focus on the task as hand; it’s in our control. We can control the level of craftsmanship in our project as we’ve written about previously in the post on the Soviet gulag and the post on glue, but have limited ability to control external factors.
It’s important to be present when we create which is something I have not mastered, but am always striving for.
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!
Well, Dear Readers, this time comes in just about every woodworker’s life: the time to move the wood shop. In our case, we are moving in about 6 months which means the shop has to be moved lock, stock, and barrel to the new house. Not only that, we are going from a cushy basement shop, back to a garage shop since we are on a path to downsizing and minimalism which we’ve written about earlier. Kudos to Mrs Woodworker for letting me monopolize the basement as long as I did. Unfortunately, in the garage during certain weather we’re just going to have to suck it up. If I figured right, this will be the fourth time moving the shop and there are definitely some tricks to doing it wisely. When it comes to woodworking, we can’t let obstacles stand in the way as we wrote about in our Ode to Ralph the Woodworking Cat.
Sequence Your Projects
I read a great book early in my Air Force career called Lean Thinking, Banish Waste and create Wealth in Your Corporation by Womack and Jones. One of the concepts in the book was to start from the end of the process and work backwards to pull resources through the production process. Lean thinking helps us in this case of moving the shop as well. One way to make the move as efficient as possible is to only move the tools, raw material, and project pieces that are required to the new house then only bring others as required. This keeps the production line going smoothly. However, this only works if you have some overlap while you are in both houses AND the houses are relatively close together.
In addition, the work should be planned so that large projects are completed and delivered to clients before the move, then other large projects started after the move is complete. For example, this week we received a commission for another large gun cabinet (we’ll be writing a post about that soon). I don’t want to move a cabinet with that much glass twice (from one shop to the other, then to the client), so I’ll press to deliver it before we move. Smaller projects like our cornhole sets can easily be moved while they are in progress to the new shop.
Adjust to the Environment
The new shop will be in a garage which does have its advantages. One advantage is that we can bring in lumber much easier through the large garage door or stage large or unwieldy pieces near the outside of the garage as they are being assembled so they can be easily loaded into the pickup for delivery. I recommend having some lumber racks immediately inside the large garage door to minimize the movement of lumber around the shop. As soon as you bring a load from the hardwood dealer, you can stack the lumber right on the rack.
A second advantage is that when the weather is nice, you can open that large shop door to let in the fresh air and see some grass and trees. On nice days I also like to move the Festool MFT/3 table (where I do much of my work) out onto the driveway to catch some of that great sunshine. If you are doing a finishing project this also helps greatly with ventilation.
A third advantage is when the shop door is open the neighbors can see you are working on something and stop by. I’ve had many conversations over the years that were started because I had the garage door open and a neighbor would yell “what are you working on?” It’s a great conversation starter and this is all about that great community we wrote about in an earlier post.
A fourth advantage is the symbiosis of having the shop in the same room as our favorite mountain bike. As we’ve written about earlier, that bike can be a real problem solver when it comes to woodworking. Having it at the ready will make it even more likely to be used.
One disadvantage of a garage shop is the temperature variability which adds some Clausewitzian friction. This is not such a big deal during the summer, but if you are doing finishing work in certain climates, cool weather may put the kibosh on adding varnish or paint to a project until the temperature warms up. I bought an inexpensive digital clock with thermometer so I can make sure the piece I am finishing is in the right temperature zone before I start applying finish. Be sure to read the required temperature ranges on the can so you know if it is warm enough to wipe on that oil and urethane mix.
Related to that are the human factors working in temperature extremes. Northern Virginia is pretty mild in the winters, but I still need to wear a light jacket and gloves in the winter while I’m working in the garage or my fingers will get numb. Try to find some gear to wear that you can sacrifice to the woodworking gods because it’s going to get a lot of finish, wood chips, and paint on it. Likewise, in the summer it can get to 100 degrees around here which is not conducive to long hours in a garage shop. On those days, I try to work early and late, but not in the middle of the day.
Use This Opportunity to Start With a Clean Slate
Moving a shop also creates a golden opportunity to rethink how to design the tool layout to optimize flow and increase efficiency. For example, think how the wood moves through the shop. It’s going to come in through the big door, so why not just stack it by the big door as mentioned earlier. What is the most likely next operation? For me, that would be the TrackSaw (Festool TS55) or Kapex (sliding compound mitre saw) so I should probably have those lined up next. I love the router, but that doesn’t usually get used until later in the process after the boards have been squared. That means the router can be shoehorned into a corner. Oh, and I forgot about the planer. That’s probably the first tool that’s going to touch the wood. So given the sequence the wood is going to go through, you can lay out the tools so the wood can flow from tool to tool to tool.
If you don’t get it right the first time, don’t worry about it. Remember when we wrote about failing fast and failing cheap? Try one iteration with the tool layout and if that’s not working for you, try another one. If you don’t have enough space, just tell your spouse their car is banished from the garage, too. After all, why would you have cars in your garage when it could be a wood shop???
Entrepreneurship is a team sport. This is our first interview with Mrs Woodworker, which may give you some insights and recommendations for dealing with your entrepreneur spouse. Entrepreneurship is a wild ride and both spouses need to be on board. Read on!
What is it like leading the crazy life of an entrepreneur’s spouse?
It is maybe not always crazy. I guess to balance out the entrepreneur’s craziness you have to be patient and you also have to ignore some of the craziness of the entrepreneur.
Like what kind of craziness?
Well, sometimes the entrepreneur wants to tell you all of their ideas and you just kind of nod and smile and you kind of ignore some of that unless it involves your time or space or things. Some of the other craziness you have to help harness and say that idea is maybe a little bit much, I don’t think we can do that right now. You might have to do that idea in the future
That all sounds pretty negative; is their anything positive about it?
Well, yes, there are a lot of positives. It’s nice to have someone who is so creative, and who wants to make things better. There are not that many people who want to do that. And not that many people who then take action to change things. With an entrepreneur’s spouse, you on the other end of it, would go ahead and do things that you never thought that you would do.
I suppose it’s a little bit like jumping off a cliff. In our case we have a salary so we don’t have to worry about starving, but still I suppose it could be a little bit scary. What do you think?
It’s very scary, and the bigger the risk or the bigger the cliff, the bigger the chance for success, but also the bigger the chance of failure. I think you have been very modest in what you are willing to spend before you see some results. I have read some things from about other entrepreneurs’ spouses where they have mortgaged their house twice. They were knee deep in debt right before they hit it big.
So you’re saying the Festool was a good investment?
(laughing) The Festool (see our post on that one) was a hard investment for me, but I guess I could live with it because you found the money for itwithin our budget. You found some extra money to pay for it. It didn’t affect our lifestyle.
The deployment bonus came in handy.
Yes. But at the same time, (laughing) I have to rein you in so you don’t go too crazy. It’s kind of like our old rule about how you were not allowed to shop at REI by yourself.
Alright, that’s pretty enlightening. What tips do you have for other spouses?
One, you have to be a bit of a parachute. You have to let your entrepreneur take some risks, but not go so crazy that he’s jumping off the cliff without a parachute. I think you have to remain calm and realize that an entrepreneur has to go through many ideas before they find one that strikes it rich. You have to be encouraging. I’ve found that I’m a sounding board even though I don’t know anything about woodworking. I’m often get asked questions sometimes more broad sometimes more specific about woodworking and somehow I can come up with some Yoda-type answer that seems to work (see our post on Mrs Woodworker’s Yoda-type wisdom).
Anything else you’d like to share with our readers?
Yes, just as an entrepreneur’s spouse you should be encouraging. You have to be steadfast, and not get all crazy that this is going to take over your life. I think sometimes you can set limits, too. You’ll have projects or want to take on more things, even outside of woodworking. I’ll say you really need to think about that. We need time for this for our family or we need to schedule time for this house project. Not all entrepreneurs are good at balancing their family responsibilities with their entrepreneurial goals. I think as a spouse you have to rein that in, but you have to do that carefully so you don’t totally squelch the spirit.
I was messing around in the wood shop over the holidays and created the military challenge coin display shown in the picture with a piece of scrap black walnut. During the process, I was thinking how many people are necessary to pursue a creative endeavor like this (woodworking) and what a terrific community we have. Some people may have the mistaken impression that woodworking consists of toiling away solo in a wood shop, but nothing could be farther from the truth. There is a large network of people who are generous in sharing their wisdom and help make that woodworker or entrepreneur successful. One way to frame it is by considering three groups: artisans, enablers, and clients.
The Traughber Tribe recently went to Canaan Valley WV for our annual cross country ski vacation. This year we went over Christmas and planned to open some of our gifts there. As a gift, my daughter gave me an allowance to spend in the resort gift shop. Since we enjoy candlelight dinners, I thought I’d buy a locally made candle. But then I got to thinking…for the price I’d pay for the candle in the gift shop, I could get two or three times as much candle at a discount store back home. I tossed the idea out to our daughter and she said “Dad, is that even a question?” Her meaning was, how could I NOT buy the candle from the local artisan, which is what we did.
I receive so much inspiration from my fellow makers. On a recent business trip, after hours a colleague and I went on a photo shoot since he’s big into photography. We were in San Francisco and he knew a particular location where he wanted to take the perfect photo of the Golden Gate Bridge. We spent hours taking photos in different locations, with different lighting, with different camera settings. I know nothing about photography, but it was inspirational to see another craftsman spending so much time to create something beautiful. We’ll have a post soon covering an interview with the photographer and you’ll see the results from the photo shoot.
Fellow artisans are also terrific mentors. They don’t necessarily even need to be skilled in your particular craft. For example, the author (Lawrence Colby author of The Devil Dragon Pilot) we interviewed recently and I chat often about blog ideas, writing and our craft. In almost every conversation he gives me some pearl of wisdom that helps me in Traughber Design. Fellow craftsmen are great for helping keep things in alignment with the business’ vision and goals as we wrote about in our post on glue technique.
Lastly, craftsmen provide fellowship. Recently we spent Christmas with my pal Steve’s family; Steve is also a Festool fanatic (see our post about Festool here). He gets it. He fully understands why someone would spend an exorbitant amount on a power tool and think of it as value. Hanging out with like-minded people is part of the great fun of being an entrepreneur and craftsman.
Woodworkers could not do what they do without hardwood dealers, specialty suppliers, and tool experts. I was up at Colonial Hardwoods recently to buy some wood for our windowsill commission, and the dealer pointed out some wonderful white oak they had recently received. We took a look and I ended up buying some and using it in a recent commission. Where else would a salesperson consider what you are making and make suggestions beyond what you said you came to buy? And where else would they let you wander around the warehouse and pick the pieces you like? Our community is so giving.
Another key enabler is the specialty supplier. In my case, one of these consists of glass suppliers. Del Ray Glass was a company I used for the black walnut gun cabinet (pictured). I don’t know much about glass (in addition to photography), but they walked me through thicknesses, types of glass, frostings available, etc. and delivered on time and at a fair price. They are on my short list the next time I need some glass.
Last there are the tool guys. It would have been very difficult to learn Festool so quickly without Brian Graham’s tutelage at the Festool Ubershop on Baltimore. He set up the equipment before I arrived, gave a demo, I played around with it, then we boxed it up to take home. It’s so much easier to learn a tool hands-on like that.
One of the great things I love about our clients is they reveal the art of the possible. When a client asks “can you build that?” I almost always say yes. I’ve usually got a general idea to begin with, but sometimes get to experiment in the shop with alternate ways of making something. For example, with the military challenge coin holder I could have cut the slots from the bottom with the router table. I also could have cut them from the top using a rail guide and the router. I could have also used a jig. That’s part of the fun in creating is experimenting and mulling over what works best.
Our client network continues to grow. A client may have a piece in their home, then other people see it and word gets around. Most of our business so far has been from referrals. For example, a kitchen cabinet panel commission came about from a Facebook conversation (see our post: How to Make a Kitchen Cabinet Door: Flat Panel Construction). I love the serendipity of where our projects come from.
Speaking of clients, I’m currently reading a book for my day job called The Industries of the Future by Alec Ross. Ross is analyzing which industries will be replaced by robots. One of the beauties of the artisanal movement is our works are not likely to be outsourced. Sure, you can buy mass-produced furniture from overseas, but that’s not the market we’re in. We do custom woodworking which doesn’t lend itself to outsourcing. Our local clients are buying from us, not some company overseas.
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.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all of our clients, friends, and family. Traughber Design just delivered its last commission of 2016 (see picture at left) on Friday, and we thought this was a good time to thank our community of supporters and reflect on the past year.
This was our second full year of operation and the business continues to build. We delivered 8 commissions this year with a wide variety of projects and have 1 piece in progress in the shop.
One of the most exciting things this year was the launch of the new and improved website and blog. SiteGround’s servers will give us a lot more space and room to grow than our previous website. There was a little bit of a learning curve with our blogging software, WordPress, but the functionality is much greater than we had with the last website and we’re much more comfortable now with using WP. Traffic continues to build and we had over 350 unique visitors in the past 4 months (the blog went live in September with post #1) and 1,500 page views. The metrics show our users are spending more and more time on the site, which probably makes sense given we’ve published almost 30 posts now and have more content.
We’ve been very blessed with not only commissions from clients, but also just words of encouragement. If you can, support your local artisans in 2017. If you know of someone trying to get their enterprise off the ground, consider throwing some business their way. Every sale can be critical in those first few months or years of operation. We will continue to do our part by sharing the exciting stories of other up and coming makers, and have three more interviews in the queue for early 2017.
The future looks bright and we are talking to multiple clients about potential commissions for 2017 including another black walnut gun cabinet which will keep the wood shop humming. Our last one took approximately 100 hours to make, so we are very interested to see how long the next one will take.