How to Make a Kitchen Cabinet Door: Flat Panel Construction

kitchen cabinet panel
Final Kitchen Cabinet Panel

These panels have been hot sellers recently, so I thought I’d blog the directions to you.  There is another variant using raised panels in the center, but we’ll save that post for another day.  I’ll describe the process for making flat panels which typically use plywood in the center which can be very economical.  The panel in the picture was custom made with 4″ wide red oak edges in order to attach the panel to a metal dishwasher door.  2″ wide edges are pretty standard these days for kitchen cabinets.  These panels are relatively easy to make once you’ve made one or two and I’ll share some lessons learned that will make it even easier for you.

rail and stile bit set
Rail and Stile Bit Set

First of all, it’s important to understand the terminology of these panels so you purchase the right bits and understand the orientation of the directions.  The horizontal pieces are called rails and the vertical pieces are called stiles.  The stiles run the entire height of the door and the rails meet them (more on measuring rails below).  There are router bit sets specially made for these panel doors and I recommend Whiteside bit set #6001 (available at Woodcraft).  These run about $115, but will last forever and allow you to make hundreds of panel doors.  In addition, the contours from this bit are common today and appealing to the eye.  If you are redoing your kitchen, you may want to consider investing in one of these bit sets.  A kitchen remodel can run tens of thousands of dollars and making your own doors can save you a bundle (see our post about not skimping on tools).  Once you’ve made one door, the rest are easy.  In addition, you can run all the rails and stiles for all the doors through the router table at one time and really expedite the process.

Step 1:  measure the opening your doors will cover and plan for 1/2″ overlap all the way around.

the raw wood
The Raw Wood

Craftsman Tip:  the width of your door is NOT equal to twice the width of your stiles and the length of your rail!  Due to the nature of the cuts made by this bit set, the rails will overlap the stiles by 3/8″ on each end.  This means you need to add 3/4″ (3/8″ on left plus 3/8″ on right) to your beginning rail length or your doors will be too narrow.  I learned this lesson the hard way on an earlier project and had to toss out the rails and start over.  Said another way, the desired width of your door needs to equal twice the width of the stiles, plus the length of the rail, then add 3/4″.  You’ll lose that 3/4″ during the routing process.

flat panel rails and stiles
Flat Panel Rails and Stiles

Step 2:  cut your rails and stiles in accordance with the tip above.

 

 

 

 

 

stile close up
Stile Close Up

Step 3:  rout the edges of the rails and stiles.  Don’t forget to have a piece of scrap wood behind the piece as it passes the router bit to prevent tear out.

 

 

 

Craftsman Tip:  don’t cut the plywood to fit the gaps exactly because it may prevent a perfect seating of the rails within the stiles.  I like to leave a 1/16″ gap all the way around the plywood to allow for some slight wood movement due to humidity and temperature changes.

Step 4:  cut your plywood panel in accordance with the tip above.

rail and stile good fit
Rail and Stile Good Fit

Once you have all the pieces cut, put them together to dry fit everything.  There should be no gaps between the rails and the stiles.  If there are, it’s time to go back to the router table.  See our post about the gulag,  craftsmanship, and not leaving a job undone.

cabinet flat panel glue up
Cabinet Flat Panel Glue Up

Step 5:  dry fit the panel together then glue it up.  There is an old woodworking adage that you can never have enough clamps and this is definitely true.  There is nothing like extreme clamping pressure to make for an absolutely rock solid joint.  The Jet clamps in the picture are gifts from the Best Sister in the Whole World, but pipe clamps from Lowes will also do the trick. I have a mix of both in the wood shop.

Step 6:  either paint or finish the panel.  For tips on the finishing process, read our blog post on the cherry coat rack commission.

As you can see from the picture, these panels are beautiful when done correctly.  Please let me know how the directions worked for you in the comments below!

Woodworking is like a Soviet Gulag? Solzhenitsyn, and One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich

woodworking flag of the soviet union
Flag of the Soviet Union

How is woodworking like being in a gulag? Do we mean it is drudgery?  Absolutely not!  There are many parallels to woodworking, though, in Solzhenitsyn’s classic, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. For those who weren’t fortunate enough to have this book assigned in high school or college, this book is one of my favorites. It tells the story of one day in the life of a gulag prisoner (Ivan Denisovich Shukhov) and how he survives.  The book was laying around the house recently since the kids had to read it for high school, so I thought I would give it a read again and noticed there are many woodworking concepts sprinkled throughout the book such as craftsmanship, attention to detail, flowfrugality, and contentment.

Craftsmanship

“Shukhov looked about.  Yes, the sun was beginning to set.  It had a grayish appearance as it sank in a red haze.  And they’d got into the swing–couldn’t be better.  They’d started on the right row now (of bricks).  Ought to finish it today.  Level it off.”

Here these poor prisoners were slaving away all day out in the open with the temperature at 17 degrees below zero when the day started, but the main character is more concerned about making sure the bricks are laid properly than about leaving for the day.  Is he being paid for his work?  Will he be rewarded for a job well done?  No!  He is a true craftsman who will not leave the job site until it is done properly. What a great lesson for all of us woodworkers.

Attention to Detail

“Now if some mortar had oozed out to the side, you had to chop it off as quickly as possible with the edge of your trowel and fling it over the wall (in summer it would go under the next brick, but now that was impossible).  Next you took another look at the joint below, or there were times when the block was not completely intact but had partially crumbled.  In that event, you slapped in some extra mortar where the defect was, and you didn’t lay the block flat–you slide it from side to side, squeezing out the extra mortar between it and its neighbor.  An eye on the plumb.  An eye on the surface.  Set. Next.”

Mrs Woodworker and I had a long conversation the other night about whether I should finish the reverse side of some of the pieces I was making.  One the one hand, finishing only one side would cut the finishing time in half since I wouldn’t need to let the finish dry, then flip the piece over and finish the other side.  Since I use a process with five coats of finish (see our post on the finish process here), you can see this would be a significant time savings.  On the other hand, I’m going to know the other side is unfinished and is it exhibiting true attention to detail to leave the reverse unfinished?  The discussion continues to rage here at Traughber Design.

Flow

“And now Shukhov and the other masons felt the cold no longer.  Thanks to the urgent work, the first wave of heat had come over them–when you feel wet under your coat, under your jacket, under your shirt and your vest.  But they didn’t stop for a moment; they hurried on with the laying.  And after about an hour they had their second flush of heat, the one that dries up the sweat.  Their feet didn’t feel cold, that was the main thing.  Nothing else mattered.  Even the breeze, light but piercing, couldn’t distract them from the work.  Only Senka stamped his feet–he had enormous ones, poor slob, and they’d given him a pair of valence too tight for him.”

Back in the day, we used to call this being “in the zone,” but the current terminology is called “flow” or being in a “flow state.”  When I’ve got the radio on and am using my favorite tools, I’m often in that flow state.  Have you ever achieved this in the wood shop?  Is it often or infrequently?  If you are not often able to achieve “flow” in the shop think carefully about the times you did achieve flow and what were the conditions that contributed.  Try to recreate these conditions as much as possible.  Another technique that works well, is to leave a task unfinished at the end of one day so you can quickly pick up where you left off the next day.  This creates a quick condition for getting back into the flow when you start the next day.

Ivan Denisovich Shukhov gives a great goal to strive for:  being so engrossed in our work that we even forget subzero cold.

Frugality

“But Shukhov wasn’t made that way–eight years in a camp couldn’t change his nature.  He worked about anything he could make use of, about every scrap of work he could do–nothing must be wasted without good reason.”

We discussed this to some degree in our earlier post about minimalism, but I’ll add a few thoughts here.  What should we do with those very inexpensive parts from the local big box retailer we aren’t going to use?  I had a couple of screws in a plastic package from Lowes the other day that I wasn’t going to use on a project.  Part of me said it’s not worth the effort to return them since they only cost a buck or two.  The other part of me said I was going to go to Lowes at some point anyway and why not just return them?  In addition, they were going to lay around the shop and take up space.  Not only that, someone has to produce more of that part if it is laying around my house and doesn’t go back to the store. We’re planning a move to a smaller house next year, then a tiny house, so why have any parts laying around we are not going to use?  The minimalist argument won out and now I return everything to the store I’m not going to use.

Contentment

“Shukhov went to sleep fully content.  He’d had many strokes of luck that day:  they hadn’t put him in the cells; they hadn’t sent his squad to the settlement; he’d swiped a bowl of kasha at dinner; the squad leader had fixed the rates well; he’d built a wall and enjoyed doing it; he’d smuggled that bit of hacksaw blade through; he’d earned a favor from Tsezar that evening he’d bought that tobacco.  And he hadn’t fallen ill.  He’d got over it.

A day without a dark cloud.  Almost a happy day.”

We can learn a lot from such a man.  Perhaps we shouldn’t agonize over what tools we don’t have in the wood shop and just be satisfied with what we have.  Along those lines, I try to be thankful every day Traughber Design has work, not matter how big or small.  We are fortunate to have this business and and small jobs lead to big jobs.

I hope you enjoyed this woodworking journey through the gulag and my rant about craftsmanshipattention to detailflowfrugality, and contentment.  If you haven’t read One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, check it out at your local library.

Thoughts?  Leave a comment below.

How to Make a Beautiful Custom Wooden Mitered Picture Frame

black walnut wooden picture frame
Black Walnut Picture Frame

Want a great idea for a birthday gift for Mrs Woodworker? She works hard and a custom made gift like this will go a long way to show your appreciation.  In our case, Mrs Woodworker’s grandmother was quite the artist and had done a neat charcoal drawing that was hanging in our house.  Unfortunately, the frame was not the right size and was falling apart.  The glass in the frame and mat had also discolored over time.  I thought a new frame would be a great gift to let Mrs Woodworker see a little return on all the tool investments I had made.

First, start with the print you want framed.  All of the dimensions will be generated from the size of that print.  Once you have the print in mind, estimate how big the visible portion of the mat should be.  In our example, the print is 9 1/2″ by 19 1/2″ and we overlapped the print by a quarter inch with the mat all the way around.  Given that we wanted a 2″ wide (visible portion) mat all the way around, our matt needed to be 14″ by 24″.  Keep in mind a quarter inch of the mat will not be visible because it will be resting inside the frame.  Continuing with our example, the inside dimensions of our frame are 13 1/2″ by 23 1/2″.

Select a wood type and color that complements the pictures in the print.  Before going to the wood dealer, read up on our post about buying lumber.  In our case, I had some 1″ thick black walnut left over from another project and decided to go with 1 3/4″ wide frames.  If your print is bigger than the one in this post, you may want to go with a wider frame to keep the entire piece in proportion.

cutting rabbet for wooden picture frame
Cutting Rabbet for Picture Frame

Rout your pieces first (see picture), then miter in order to clean up any tear out from the routing process.  One of the techniques that will prevent tear out is to always place a block behind the piece being routed.  This will usually give you a nice clean edge on the trailing edge of the piece after it goes past the router bit.  For our frame, I used a 1″ thick piece of black walnut and routed a rabbet (or notch) 1/2″ deep into the piece from the back and 1/4″ from the middle of the picture for the matting to lie against.  Use either a straight router bit (I recommend the Whiteside bit # 1086) or the bit from a rabbet bit set (Whiteside #1955).  Both bits are available at your local Woodcraft.  This leaves 1/2″ of wood showing in front of the glass and leaves enough room for the glass, mat, and any cardboard or plywood backing.  The rabbet should be 1/4″ wide all the way around the frame.

wooden picture frame tenon
Picture Frame Tenon

Join the corners of the frame with 8 mm x 40mm tenons (see picture) if you have a Festool Domino then glue up.  If you don’t have a Domino, you can make an oval hole with a router straight bit and use Festool tenons (available at Woodcraft), or clean out the corners with a chisel and use rectangular tenons.

After you’ve got the mortises cut, it’s time to glue it up.  Make sure the piece is square by measuring from corner to corner.  If it is slightly off square, use a long clamp to pull the long corners toward each other until the two diagonals across the piece are the same length.

Once the glue dries (best to allow 24 hours), it’s time to add the finish.  I prefer a clear finish on top of premium hardwoods so the grain is visible.  Check out our post on making a cherry coat rack to see the steps in finishing.

You probably don’t have a mat cutter at home and this is where your local frame shop can really come in handy.  If you live near Montclair VA I highly recommend The Framing Outlet.  Osman at the frame shop was extremely helpful in picking out mat colors and suggested the double mat design in the picture at the top.  You can Google “frame shop” and you should be able to find a shop near you that can help with the matting and glass.

Well that was a lot of math!  But if you methodically go through the steps above, you’ll have a beautiful picture frame in just a few hours!

Entrepreneurship, Woodworking, and Clausewitzian Fog and Friction

karl von Clausewitz fog friction woodworking
Karl von Clausewitz

What does a 19th century Prussian military genius have to say about entrepreneurship and woodworking?  A lot!

The great Carl Von Clausewitz was a famous Prussian military leader and strategist who wrote a seminal book in 1832 called “On War” that is studied endlessly in the U.S. military’s war colleges.  Clausewitz wrote about many concepts that are useful for entrepreneurs and woodworkers, but I’ll focus on two here that have come to mind lately:  fog and friction.

Clausewitz says friction is like running in water.  It’s something that can be done very easily on land, but is not very easy in water.  Clausewitz says “Everything in war is very simple, but the simplest thing is difficult.”  After 27 years in the military, I have encountered friction many times, so there is no surprise at seeing some in my entrepreneurial ventures and woodworking; however, it is still frustrating to experience.  How one responds to it is the most important thing.  One of the “joys” of woodworking is that it will force you to be patient.  For example, the other day I was working a piece in cherry which can change color depending on how much it’s been exposed to sunlight.  I was finishing up sanding the piece and was about to start wiping on finish, but was just not happy with the variation in color across the face.  I had inadvertently sanded away too much of the face that had absorbed the sun so the color wasn’t uniform any more.  Clausewitz’ friction had raised its ugly head because I was ready to press on with finishing, but had to stop and consider what to do.  One thing I’ve really strived for in Traughber Design is craftsmanship.  I don’t want a piece to ever leave the shop if I’m not happy with it.  Given that,  I closed the shop for the day and decided to sleep on it.  After a good night’s sleep, it was clear we needed to start over and resand with coarse 60 grit to get a consistent color, sand with 120, then 180, then continue the finishing process.  A calm, measured response is one way to respond to friction, and another is to just power through it which Clausewitz addresses in some detail.

Clausewitz says “Iron will-power can overcome this friction; it pulverizes every obstacle, but of course it wears down the machine as well.”  This is great counsel for an entrepreneur with a startup.  An entrepreneur can “pulverize every obstacle” for a while, but eventually only has a finite supply of will power.  It’s important to survey the battlefield (or business landscape) to assess where to focus that iron willpower, because one only has so much of it.  You can’t do everything and have to decide where to expend your finite time and energy.  This is especially important when you are building a business alongside a career as we discussed in blog post #1.

black walnut crown molding
Crown Molding in Black Walnut

Related to friction is a concept Clausewitz called fog.  This is essentially not knowing what is going on because you can’t see.  Fog, however, can be a good thing.  It forces us out of our comfort zone and also forces us to learn new things.  In some ways, at Traughber Design we seek fog because I like to always learn some new technique or tool on each project.  There have been some woodworking projects we took on where I had no idea (fog) how we were going to do a particular portion of the piece.  An example was the first gun cabinet project.  The plan called for a mitered crown molding (see picture above) made from three intricately routed pieces in black walnut which were then glued together.  We hadn’t made anything quite that elaborate before, but knew that by talking with more experienced woodworkers and researching online we could figure it out.  In that case we sought the fog.

Another example of fog is starting a new business.  When you are an entrepreneur, you are essentially jumping off a cliff into the unknown. The only thing you know for sure is the vision that’s in your head of what you would like the enterprise to be.  Every day you try to take steps to achieve that vision, but certain aspects don’t work out and you need to pivot to where the promising opportunities are.

Clausewitz said “Moreover, every war is rich in unique episodes.  Each is an uncharted sea, full of trees.  The commander may suspect the reefs’ existence without every having seen them; now he has to steer past them in the dark.”  Likewise, an entrepreneur has to attempt to sense the business reefs approaching and steer away from them in the dark.  One of the practical ways to do that is to identify risks and develop a mitigation strategy.  For example, one reef in small business is what happens if there is a fire and the shop burns down?  One mitigation strategy might be to beef up your insurance.  Another reef might be an area with which the entrepreneur is unfamiliar.  For example, operating a WordPress blog was a reef in my mind, but thanks to my sister’s suggestion, taking an online WordPress class mitigated the danger and actually created an opportunity since it showed possibilities with WordPress I hadn’t even anticipated.

If you’d like to read more from the great master, here is a link to the book on Amazon (the blog does not benefit if you buy the book).

Who knew all that study of Clausewitz and Sun Tzu during PME (Professional Military Education) would be so useful in starting a small business?

How to Build a Simple Wooden Coat Rack in Cherry

wall rack in cherry with iron hooks
Wall Rack in Cherry with Iron Hooks

Would you like a quick project you can knock out over a weekend?  Or maybe produce something for Mrs. Woodworker to justify all those tools?

We recently received a second woodworking commission for one of these pieces so I thought I’d open source the instructions into the ether for you. You should be able to knock one of these out in a few hours before applying the finish.

First of all, why cherry? As you can see from the picture, cherry gives you a nice unique reddish hue and the grain really pops once the finish is applied. In addition, it’s very easy to work with. It’s harder than pine on the Janka hardness test, but not so hard that it is difficult to mill.

raw cherry board woodworking
Raw Board

First, plane the board to the desired thickness.  You can have the hardwood dealer do this when you purchase the board, do it with a hand plane, or better yet use a bench top planer, like my trusty Porter Cable (see picture).  In this case, the board was partially planed when I bought it from Woodcraft, but there is still some work to do as you can see from the scruffiness (technical term) on the right hand side of the picture.  Planers generate a ton of shavings, so I recommend doing this step outside.  In addition, most planers create something called snipe at either end which is an ever-so-slight indentation.  I recommend leaving the board with a couple extra inches at either end so this can be cut away in a later step.

squaring a board woodworking
Squaring up the board

Second, square up the sides by using your table saw or Festool Tracksaw to make one clean edge (see picture).  Then mark off a parallel edge on the opposite side and cut.  If you’d like some more intel on the Festool gear pictured in this post, please check out our post on tools.

 

 

 

squaring the end of a board
Squaring off the ends

Next cut the board to length, by cutting from both ends.  This will cut away the snipe mentioned earlier.  Make sure the ends are square.  If you have a sliding compound miter saw like the one pictured, they typically have a laser which will aid in this.  Otherwise, a carpenter’s square will do for drawing a square line perpendicular to the long edge.

keyhole router bit woodworking
Keyhole Cuts

Next make two keyhole cuts (you can pick up keyhole router bits at Woodcraft) in the back in order to hang the piece flush to the wall.  I like to make my keyhole cuts at least 2 inches long to account for the screws not being exactly 32 inches apart in the studs.  This way you can slightly adjust the piece from side to side without any risk of it coming off the wall.  Also, set the depth to 8mm so you get a nice 3mm lip for the screw head to pull against when the piece is hanging on the wall.  This will make it very secure.  I recommend making the keyhole cuts first before routing the edges, because they are the most difficult cuts in the entire process.  If you make a mistake with the keyhole cuts you’ll have to start all over again so it’s best to do the most difficult procedures first so you are not wasting effort if you need to start over again.

round over router bit
The Magic of a Quarter Inch Round Over Bit

Next rout the short edges, then the ends, then the long edges in that order.  The reason is that you’re likely to get some minor tear out when routing the end grain.  When you rout the long edges this will clean up any tear out from the ends.  I recommend a 1/4″ round over bit for the edges which give a very streamlined look.  If you get too fancy with the edge routing, it draws the eye away from the grain of the piece.

 

 

placing metal hooks woodworking
Hook Placement

Next drill the holes for the hooks by spacing the hooks equally across the face of the piece.  In this picture you can see the placement.  Be sure to also center them vertically.  In this picture you can see the client chose gold colored hooks to match the hardware on their door which will be located close to this wall rack.  Contrast that look to the photo of another client’s piece at the top of this post.

hand sanding edges woodworking
Hand Sanding the Edges

Sand the piece using increasing sandpaper grits.  I like to use an 80, 120, 180 combination.  Start with sanding the edges by hand using a sanding block in order to preserve the sharp edges from your routing.  Then sand the large faces using a random orbit sander, if you have one.  Random orbit sanders do a good job preventing visible sanding lines.  If you don’t have a random orbit sander, hand sanding will do, it just takes a bit longer.

 

oil & urethane finish General Finishes
A Fine Oil & Urethane Finish

Next, add the finish.  I recommend a clear finish, like General Finishes Arm-R-Seal which you can find at Woodcraft.  The Wood Whisperer has a five step wipe-on process we’ve adopted which creates a brilliant finish.  I highly recommend TWW’s finishing DVD which is available on his website.

 

 

To add the finish, follow this five step process:

Step 1:  flood the piece with finish then wipe off after a few minutes
Step 2:  carefully wipe on the second coat.  Let dry.  Sand with 320 by hand after finish is dry
Step 3:  wipe on third coat.  Let dry.  Sand with 600 grit by hand
Step 4:  wipe on fourth coat.  Let dry.  Sand with 600 grit by hand
Step 5:  wipe on fifth coat

There you have it.  This is a quick project that is an ideal candidate to impress your client or The Wife.

 

 

How to Price Your Woodworking Projects: Advice for Entrepreneurs and Startups

prayer kneeler in cherry and black walnut
Prayer Kneeler in Cherry and Black Walnut

Are you in a quandary how to price your woodworking projects?  Have no fear.  This post will give you a tried and true solution developed over the past couple years that may help.  This cost estimating model makes pricing a very simple process and generates a number in which you can be confident.  I’ll give you the specific formula at the end, but need to explain a few things first.

 

 

The biggest wildcard for beginning woodworkers is how long will it take to make something and what the labor estimate should be.  Before you get too far down the road, I have one piece of advice for you:  document, document, document.  If you don’t track your hours on projects, you will be shooting in the dark and working at great risk.  If you are working for free that’s not a big deal, but if you’re starting a business you need to manage your risks.  Once you’ve made a few projects, cost estimating becomes very straightforward.  For example, my first gun cabinet took 100 hours.  I made a prayer kneeler (pictured) which took 20.  A picture frame, depending on how fancy it is, is about 5 hours.  With the couple dozen data points I have, it’s easy to estimate how long something will take.  If you are just starting out and have absolutely no idea how long something will take, try this.  I’m finding that in general 60% of my projects are labor and 40% materials.  This varies from project to project, but does not stray far from this median percentage.  I would think this type of percentage (not the actual values) would apply to other maker startup efforts like photography, etc.  So if you don’t know how much the labor will be, you can usually estimate very closely how much the materials will be because the dimensions of your project will require a certain number of board feet (see the post about buying lumber) then you can extrapolate to the labor hours by multiplying the materials cost by 1.5.

So now that you’ve estimated how many hours something will take (based on previous projects or the 60/40 split mentioned above), how much should you charge per hour?  I give a lot of credit to The Wood Whisperer, Marc Spagnuolo, who wrote a post on this years ago that influenced my initial thinking.  My current thinking is that the hourly rate should be high enough that you feel good about working on a project in the wood shop at that rate and don’t feel like you’re giving away your work.  On the other hand, it would be nice to set a very high rate, but the market probably won’t bear it.  A good way to get a feel for the going rate is to search on the Internet, but stay away from researching custom woodworking prices on sites like Craigslist, because custom woodwork is not a bargain basement proposition.  We use Craigslist a lot to declutter and minimize, but it’s not a good fit for selling custom-made pieces.  A better site for researching the price of custom made projects might be one like Etsy.

Materials

I had a client over to the shop the other night and we were discussing the wood type for their upcoming project.  I like to give a range of woods and prices because some people are price insensitive and others want to stay within a certain budget.  It’s all about what the client wants.  In this case, the client decided to go with some nice premium cherry I had leftover from a previous project that had a beautiful grain pattern.  We talked about dimensions and since I knew the price per board foot from having purchased this board before, the calculation was straightforward.  If you’d like more information on how to do this calculation, check out our post on buying lumber.

So now that we’ve laid all of that foundation, here is the formula:

Labor

Hourly rate times estimated hours

Materials

Board feet times price per board foot
Required hardware
Any special tools or bits required for this specific project

Overhead

Overhead Rate times (Labor + Materials)

What should your overhead rate be?  All those tools you purchased have to be paid for somehow.  The trick is to figure out a reasonable overhead rate to amortize this cost over your projects.  I’ve been using 10%, which is probably a bit low, but it will give you a starting point.

Tax

Your Local Tax Rate times (Labor + Materials + Overhead)

Total

Labor + Materials + Overhead + Tax

There you have it.  If you are just starting out, this can be a bit daunting, but I recommend increasing your margin of safety by conservatively estimating the labor hours, making sure you’ve allowed for enough wood in the board foot calculation, and charging a high enough overhead rate.  That should keep you out of trouble.

Other entrepreneurs out there–what are your lessons learned?

How to Make Curvacious Woodworking Arcs: the Fairing Stick

fairing stick woodworking
A Fairing Stick

One of the vexing problems beginning woodworkers face is how does one draw arcs on a piece so the piece can be cut on a band saw?  I’m currently working a commission for some dining room chairs and there are several long arcs involved.  There is a simple solution to making arcs that one can make with scrap from the wood shop.  It’s called the fairing stick.

Some woodworkers like to use french curves (available at Woodcraft), but you can’t beat the flexibility of a fairing stick.  French curves give a very solid edge to rest against, but are limited in size.  Fairing sticks can be made to any length and bent to just about any angle. In addition, they don’t require a run to the hardware store and can typically be made with things laying around the shop, which aligns with our minimalist philosophy.  Here is how to make one modified from the plan in Wood Magazine.

Materials

High Density Fiberboard (HDF).  This is the same material pegboard is made from and is also called “hardboard.”  There’s a strong probability you have some laying around the garage which will minimize your costs.

550 parachute cord fairing stick
550 Parachute Cord

Thick string or twine. I used some leftover 550 parachute cord from a deployment for my fairing stick, but you can use thick string or twine for yours.  No, I didn’t jump out of any airplanes over there, but I did use the 550 cord quite a bit.  It’s very versatile and strong (you can buy some at Amazon).

Steps

toggle fairing stick woodworking
Toggle for Fairing Stick

Cut the HDF into a strip 1″ wide by 2′ long.  Drill a hole in either end to accommodate the cord.  I used a 3/16″ bit which is slightly bigger than the plan in Wood Magazine to accommodate the paracord.  Cut a piece of HDF into a toggle (see picture) measuring about 1″ by 2″ .  Drill a hole in either end to accommodate the cord and an extra hole in one end to tie off the cord.  Weave the cord through the holes as shown in the picture at the top.  To adjust the amount of arc, just pull the string through the toggle until you have the arc required.  If you need to draw longer arcs at some point, just cut a longer strip of MDF.

This is one of those great projects to put on your “if I have time” list in the wood shop for when you are in-between projects.  We discuss this some more in our future post on efficiency.

drawing arc with fairing stick woodworking
Drawing the arc

I hope that helps and I’ll see you in the wood shop.

Get Out of the Rat Race: How to Manage the Transition from Career to Maker

small business lessons learned
Building the Small Business

Tired of the rat race?  Ready to get off that hamster wheel?  Being a maker (like a woodworker, for instance) can be incredibly rewarding.  It’s not easy to get there, but the rewards are incredible freedom and limitless creativity.

 

There are many paths to success, but I’ll share what has worked for Traughber Design.  We’re currently in a position of having as much business as we can handle as a part-time (see blog post #1) enterprise.  We’ve delivered two commissions in the past couple weeks, are currently working on a dining room chair commission, and are about to ink three deals on more projects.  This was after 2 years of effort, though, and we’ve learned some things along the way.

If you’re contemplating such a journey or have already retired, the following principles may help.

You have some amount of time every day you can devote to making.  Everyone’s situation is different, but you can get up early, stay up late, or shoe horn in a few minutes before or after dinner.  That amount of time depends on how badly you want to succeed with the transition.  I experimented with multiple approaches over 2 years and found that allocating a set amount of time every day worked best for me.  I’m currently setting aside 90 minutes every day split in two pieces (more on that below) since I’m about 2 years away from retirement and want to ensure this endeavor supports my family before then.

Along those lines, another key ingredient for success is to just get in the shop.  Some days I get tired and don’t feel like it, but I drag my sorry butt down to the wood shop.   Once I get started I’m energized again and more often than not, find myself in the zone (or flow).

Another strategy is to get up a little earlier every day.  As we learned in our interview with an Amazon Best Selling author and entrepeneur in a future post, getting up early every day before someone’s day job is a way to squeeze in some regular making time.

Split time between making and managing.  I owe a great debt of gratitude to Paul Graham, the founder of Y Combinator, which many view as the pre-eminent start-up incubator in the world.  Graham wrote a great blog post in 2009 called Maker’s Schedule, Manager’s Schedule about the difference between making and managing.  Making to me means unfettered time in the wood shop to create or time to write blog posts.  Managing is all the associated functions like drafting proposals for clients, filing taxes, etc. and includes everything not making. I allocate 60 minutes minimum for making and 30 minutes for managing every day (remember I’m doing this part-time for now).  Sometimes life happens (Back to School Night for one of our kids, for example) and I don’t get to spend any time in the shop, but that is the exception rather than the rule.  If I can’t get the full hour in the shop, I try to spend whatever time will allow.

An hour per day for a year is extremely powerful!  I take Sundays off, and 1 hour per day, 6 days per week over the course of a year comes out to 312 hours.  That is a ton of woodworking projects.  The gun cabinet project took 100 hours, but most projects are in the 10 to 20 hour range.  That means you can potentially crank out around a dozen projects in a year with only 1 hour in the shop per day.  If you leverage holidays and weekends while you are still in a career, you can accelerate your making that much more.

Another very important concept to consider is efficiency.  Between the times I’m in the shop, I’m thinking about how I’m going to use that hour the most effectively.  In addition, I write down exactly what I’m going to do with the 30 minutes of managing time. As I’ve told our kids a million times, “plan the attack and attack the plan.” It’s amazing how you can quickly move through your tasks during managing time when you’ve written them down.  For example, my goal was to spend 30 minutes per night going through a WordPress class this summer, but I found if I focused, it didn’t take 30 minutes every night.  If I had extra time, then I moved on to drafting blog posts, like this one.  I could not have been that efficient if I hadn’t written down what I wanted to achieve in those 30 minutes.

Start your side business now while you have income from your primary career.  Building a business takes a very long time.  I’ve been at this for almost 2 years now and am just now at the point where the commissions are rolling in on a regular basis.  I’m confident this will work.  You want to build enough revenue that you can be confident your small business will be a going concern before you jump ship from your primary career.  In addition, you can build all the start-up infrastructure (company registration, insurance, website, tools, etc.) you need so that when you do transition you can focus on making and continue to build your client base.

Already made the transition?  Share your lessons learned below!

 

The Cornhole Plan, or How to Jazz up your Next Party

cornhole
The Cornhole Master!

Want to make your own cornhole set in just a few hours?

Multiple friends have asked for my cornhole plans and the cornhole sets have been flying off the shelves at Traughber Design, so I thought I’d put this how-to guide out for everyone.  If you’re not familiar with cornhole, it is a very simple game that is a great icebreaker for parties.  It’s so popular there is even an American Cornhole Organization (check out the rules here).

Here is what you need (Lowes has all of this):

A 4′ x 8′ sheet of half inch plywood
Three 8′ 2x4s (you may need four if you don’t have any scrap for the legs)
Four 3/8″ diameter 4″ long carriage bolts with wing nuts
Glue or fasteners (more on those later)

Step 1: cut the plywood in half with a circular saw (or Tracksaw for you Festool fans) so you have two 2′ x 4′ pieces of plywood.  This will give you two regulation-sized playing surfaces.

cornhole circle dimensions
Circle Dimensions

Step 2: cut the holes.  This is probably the trickiest part since not too many people have a jigsaw and jigsaw accessory to cut a perfect hole, but there are ways around it.  First of all, your hole needs to be 6 inches in diameter to be “legal” according to the ACO.  Center the hole 9 inches from the top of the sheet of plywood (see picture).

If you are fortunate enough (remember when we talked about investing in tools in blog post #2?) to own a Festool Carvex jigsaw (another option is described below), then drill a 4mm hole at the center of the circle, insert the circle attachment pin, drill a 10mm hole at the edge of the circle to accommodate the jigsaw blade and cut away.

Festool Carvex jigsaw
Festool Carvex Jigsaw with Circle Cutting Attachment

You will probably need to use a wood rasp to even the edges where you originally cut the 10mm hole.  If you don’t have a Carvex, you can still put a nail where the center of the hole goes and tie some string or twine between the nail and your jigsaw.  Make sure you cut a hole on the arc of the circle with a drill bit large enough for the blade of your jigsaw to start in.  After you’ve cut the circle, clean up the edges with a wood rasp.

 

Titebond III glue
Trusted Glue

Step 3: make the frame.  Cut one of the 8′ 2x4s into four 2′ sections, two for each cornhole frame.  Then cut two 45″ sections from two 8′ 2x4s which gives you two for each frame.  Drill the holes for the carriage bolts with a drill press before joining the boards together so the holes are parallel.  The holes are 3/8″ in diameter and 2 inches from the end of the board.  If you have a Festool Domino, join the two 24″ sections to the two 45″ sections with two tenons at each joint.  I prefer the 10mm by 50mm tenons since the joined boards are 37mm thick (using the 1/3 rule the tenons would be no more than 12mm).  If you don’t have a Domino, you can either screw or nail the boards together.  Make sure you put the holes for the legs opposite each other when you are joining the boards.

clamping cornhold frame
Clamping the Cornhole Frame

Step 4: attach the playing surface to the frame next.  I like to use glue to attach the plywood to the 2x4s since it eliminates ugly metal fasteners which have to be covered with wood filler later.  The glue method will only work if you have a lot of wood clamps, though.  I use over a dozen clamps on each 2′ x 4′ piece of plywood because you want a lot of clamping pressure to ensure the bond stays strong in any weather.  I’ve had good luck with Titebond III glue.  If you don’t have a lot of clamps, I recommend screwing or nailing the plywood to the frame and covering them with wood filler or covering them with paint.  Make sure you align the part of the frame with the leg holes at the same end of the plywood that has the 6″ hole.

cornhole leg dimensions
Cornhole Leg Dimensions

Step 5: make and attach the legs (see picture).  These can easily be cut from some scrap 2x4s.  First drill the holes using a drill press if you have one or a hand drill.  Then cut the 45 degree angles at the top and the 15 degree angle at the bottom.  Attach the legs to the frame and test to make sure the legs swing freely.  If they don’t you may have to trip a bit from the top of the legs.

 

Step 6: apply finish.  Some people prefer paint and some prefer stain.  If painting, I recommend a latex primer then at least one coat of semi-gloss paint.  For stain, I recommend at least one coat of stain then at least two coats of polyurethane varnish to give the surface enough slickness for the bean bags.  For more information on our finishing process, check out our post on finishing the cherry coat rack commission.

Speaking of bean bags, I tested bags from a local discount store as well as the local sporting goods store and they fell apart during the first game.  I highly recommend the double stitched canvas bags from All-American Tailgate.  We’ve used their bean bags for several parties and they are still going strong.

This project should only take a few hours to make and will give you many hours of cornhole-playing fun.  Enjoy!

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

minimalism tools
A Minimalist’s Set of Tools?

Mrs. Woodworker and I have been on a minimalism kick for a long time, way before it became “a thing.”  Our military moves (called Permanent Changes of Station, or PCS’) were terrific opportunities to get rid of things we hadn’t been using.  For example, we’d unpack boxes at our new duty station and say “I didn’t use this at the last house, why do I even have it?” then get rid of it.  We also have had a regular run to the local donation center for quite a while and are long-time users of eBay, Craigslist and Freecycle to get rid of things.

Can you be a minimalist and also a woodworker?  Some might say no, because of all the materials woodworkers use and the myriad of tools in our shops, but I’ll argue you can be a woodworking minimalist for a few of reasons.

First, I think the question needs to be asked why are you being a minimalist?  Josh and Ryan at www.theminimalists.com write about their focus on finding meaningful lives and the things that add value.  We’ve been following their podcast for some time now and just watched their new documentary.  Minimalists get rid of things and extraneous tasks so they can cultivate their passions.  They are aligned with their goals and passions.  If you are passionate about woodworking, then a minimalist would strip away everything that’s unnecessary in their lives so that they can pursue their woodworking craft.  It’s not about minimizing woodworking, it’s about minimizing in order to work wood.

Second, woodworkers can pursue their craft in a minimalist way.  One of those ways is to use sustainable materials and purchase lumber harvested from fallen timber.  Another way is to create our pieces using the minimum amount of wood possible.  That’s one of the reasons a cut list is so important:  to plan every piece out of the larger piece in order to minimize waste.  Along those lines, sometimes you can make something with scrap wood versus buying new wood.  A good example of this is the fairing stick project we wrote about in another post.  That project was made with leftover pieces from other projects.  A third way to pursue your craft in a minimalist way is to buy the minimum set of quality tools required to cultivate our passion.  Do you really need multiple power drills, for example, or can you buy one quality drill that does that job?  I purchased a core set of Festool that does about 90% of what I need to do.  Do I drool every time the hardware circular comes in the mail?  Sure.  But do I really NEED what they are selling?  Most of the time the answer is “no.”  A fourth way is to run a clean shop.  How many times have bought a part or piece of wood and didn’t realize you already had what you needed?  An organized shop will prevent a lot of those redundant buys.  Think about the best way to store your tools, hardware, and lumber so you can easily see what you already have.  Speaking of seeing what you have, it’s probably a good idea to survey all the tools in the shop on a regular basis and see which ones have not been used for a while.  It may be time to pare down and sell some of those tools on Craigslist.  Keeping a tool “just in case” is probably not a good reason to keep it.

Third, woodworkers are generally making custom pieces that are more solidly built than cheap furniture from the big box stores which minimizes the amount of furniture that needs to be produced. Since the pieces last a long time, they can be passed down from generation to generation and enjoyed over a longer period of time, not needing to be replaced as often.  This is a more sustainable model since it requires fewer trees and the large logistical tail to bring additional pieces of furniture to market.  Not only that, purchasing custom-made pieces supports the local economy which is more minimalist than having items shipped halfway around the world.  For example, for most pieces I make I’m buying wood, supplies, tools, etc. locally which help pay the wages of people in the local area and support local businesses.

My ultimate minimalist vision, though, is to harvest fallen wood on our own land and mill it for use in the pieces that we make.  We’re on that road now and are planning to downsize to a smaller house (and wood shop) next year then plan to eventually buy some land with a tiny house and wood shop.  We’ve learned a lot about small personal saw mills from sites like Pure Living for Life.  Check it out if you get a chance.  I’ll share more on our journey and the wood shop move in later blog posts.

I hope I’ve convinced you that we can be woodworkers and minimalists.  Chime in below.  What do you think?