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Blog hiatus is over

22 Feb

It’s been a busy while since I last posted. But a lot has happened and I’m going to post about my woodworking progress (and process) again.

If you’re just tuning in: I started woodworking not long ago. I took a 14 month course and graduated almost exactly a year ago today. This blog follows me as I begin my career in woodworking. My ultimate goal is to become a self employed woodworker.

A brief recap of my woodworking career over the last year:

  • I had an apprenticeship last winter that lasted 6 weeks. I enjoyed learning in an environment that had completely different methods of operation than I’d experienced at woodworking school.
  • I lined up a woodworking job about a week after my apprenticeship and worked for a studio that specialized in high end corporate gifts such as vases, bracelets and desktop organizers. I stayed on for six months.
  • I then lined up a new job to diversify my experience and skill sets and worked in the aerospace industry building cabinetry for private jets.
  • Now I’m looking for a new job again and also spending time in my own shop making furniture

A brief recap of my personal shop activities over the last year procuring a space, furnishing it with tools and working wood! :

Winter 2011

  • I made arrangements with my family to use a 16’x8′ outbuilding on my family’s property. It’s heated, and wired for 110.
  • I took inventory of the tools I had available to me through family connections. Mainly hand tools, a few portable power tools, a drill press, and a bandsaw.
  • I also  planned which tools I might need to purchase next and which ones would run on 110.
  • July was the month that I took possession of the outbuilding on my family’s property
  • A LOT of time was dedicated to cleaning out and preparing my new shop space
  • I put up peg board, fashioned a work bench out of an old collapsible table and some fence 4x4s, and dismantled some giant shelves that took up too much floor space.
  • My first major purchase was a table saw-  a 1.75hp professional cabinet SawStop saw. It was a demo model so I got $1000 off the ticket price. I paid for it in installments and had it delivered by mid summer.

If the blade touches skin a brake is activated and the blade drops down under the table.

  • I soon realized that my shop space was very humid and so I picked up a dehumidifier for $50 at a flea market, and some wax for my cast iron surfaces, and finally a magnetic cover for my table saw
  • I also needed a dust collection system so I found a small portable model for $100 second hand. I sold the hose and fittings that came with it for $40 and bought a rockler extendable dustright hose and attachments to easily hook up to any machine. I didn’t have the space to run hoses along the walls and or ceiling.
  • Late summer and early autumn saw me painting the shop floor and re-roofing the shop to seal out the moisture of the impending winter.
  • Autumn was when I made some serious plans to start my shop up. In my mind it came down to not having all the necessary equipment for that to happen. I made a series of purchases. A cheap drill $50 brand new. A second hand 6″ jointer for $125. A brand new lunch box planer with helical cutters $890. I also got a cheaply made but fully equipped router table from a local home improvement center for $120.
  • With birthday money I bought a bench vise which was an adventure to install, and a kit of 4 bessey parallel clamps. $200 for everything.
  • Leading up to Christmas I finally had (in my opinion) amassed enough equipment to tackle a project that would effectively christen my shop. I decided on building a set of toy trucks for my nephew. I didn’t have a drop of glue so bought my first 4liter bottle. The gift went over well!
Winter 2012
  • While building my first project I saw many areas that needed improving around the shop for my work to be accurate, predictable and repeatable. I adjusted my table saw fence correctly (second time’s a charm). I built a collapsible infeed table  and a crosscut sled for my table saw. I built a fence for my bandsaw, and I built a rolling base for my planer. I also got a set of drum  sander bits for the drill press, a quick change drill/counter sink and driver kit,  and hallelujah I finally bought sandpaper. I’m finally free to throw out sandpaper AS SOON as it doesn’t cut efficiently.
  • I replaced an old mitre saw that didn’t have a guard with a basic dewalt mitre saw and it’s 10 times better, the fence, the guard, and the cut quality. I bought it used for $100 and it came with an 80 tooth fine crosscut freud blade. I also caved into a sale and bought new porter cable drill for $50 because the drill I had needed 24HOURS to charge! Check the fine print when buying!
  • Now I’m out in the shop building a series of tables, I’ve just started but I’ve already made a jig and my table tops are done.
  • I’m making the tables out of wood I pulled out of the scrap bin at school (a year ago!) so I’m trying to use what I have on hand. In so doing I’ve paired each top with possible blanks for legs and stretchers and popped the measurements of the pieces I have into Google Sketch up. Spent some time on the designs and now I’m ready to go back to the shop to build them!

I’ll be posting regularly again, and I’ll be posting about any and everything that comes up. The journey continues! I promise a shop tour soon!

Pricing and pace… what’s a woodworker to do?

28 Jan

I recently gathered with my fellow woodworking graduates to have a catch up session. They are at the half way mark in their apprenticeships. The issue of pace came up. This was one of my worries, what pace does industry run at? It varies!

I learned that one of the shops was scary fast. All operations carried out with speed in mind. Production had to be quick.

In another shop the owner admitted to being the slowest worker he knows. He gets teased for it but insists on working at his own pace.

This led me to thinking about how price and pace are linked.There are a myriad of different ways to run a successful business but to simplify:


There are those who focus on speed to keep costs down.


There are those who focus on quality to keep prices up.

I realize there is a large grey area in between the two. As I said, all kinds of business models lead to success. And success is a  subjective term.

But this thought process helped me to plot out a definite direction for my future business. I decided I want to head more towards quality and a slower pace. Especially since I envision staying a one man shop. I don’t want to manage a larger shop. I also don’t want to spread myself too thin trying to work at the speed of light every day AND stay safe AND still take care of the administration, marketing, sales, accounting, and designing. Of course the direction you choose will be unique to you and the goals you have for your own business.

So with the pace figured out for myself I move on to pricing…


Do you charge based on  materials + markup + hours+ overhead?


Do you charge based on the value and quality of the product?

Can’t I just make some hybrid of the two? If  I can, I probably will.

In the research I’ve done on the topic, most people start small, selling to friends.  At this point you’re not charging on an hourly wage, nor on the value of the product, you’re giving a discount. It’s a trade-off for building a name for yourself and starting to spread your network to get that target client that you need. Then gradually you build the right clients and start to price according to that market.

Some Pros and Cons for both types of pricing

Cons: sticking to an hourly wage that was prematurely high or just ran over the time estimated can scare off clients when you’re just starting out. Whereas if you do a job based on the value of the product and you find you’ve lost money on it,  that doesn’t make sense either.

Pro: Pricing by the value of a product could help you profit from a product line, where production is fast and quality is predictable.

Pro: Knowing that the materials, time, and the cost of the shop will all be taken care of in the pricing can set a business owner’s mind at ease.

Pro: Pricing by the value and quality of the product can remove limitations to a project. When the limit is however much your clients are willing to pay, you could potentially build a whole different type of furniture by pursuing this pricing model. The highest of the high-end, always challenging yourself more than you would when you have a set hourly wage.

PERSONAL Conclusions

I think that pricing by the hour is for businesses that want to do well financially through strategic pricing, but pricing by the value of the product can mean that you are not worrying about getting by, you just want to be a creative free spirit and the client is happy to pay for that end product.

So… ultimately I guess what I’m saying is:

I’ll probably start  my business by charging by the hour with all my costs etc.

But I’ll aspire to raise the level and quality of my work until I don’t need those training wheels anymore!

I expect as I gather more and more information that I might even change my mind about this, but for now this is where I am and I’m documenting it as such. EVERY single woodworker that I’ve spoken with or whose opinion I have read has had very different ways of tackling pricing, so it’s definitely worth forming your own opinion.

Shop equipment; what kind do I need to get started?

26 Jan
Stocking a shop with equipment can be a large stumbling block for us woodworking upstarts. It’s hard to know what the best path is.
Do I start small and then upgrade as I go?
Do I try to start with all the best equipment?
How do I get the money to pull that off?
I had the opportunity to speak with the man my friend is doing her apprenticeship with. I visited them at his shop which is a stand alone garage behind his house  in a well populated neighbourhood. My friend had filled him in on my goals to set up shop, and he was VERY helpful and was more than willing to let me pick his brain for two hours.
The ah-ha moment I had was when we talked about shop equipment. Let me preface this by letting you know that at the school I had attended we were using industrial sized table saws,  panel saws, drum sanders, jointers and planers. We did 9 shop visits to small, medium and large-sized shops and all of them had industrial grade machinery (except for the luthier we visited!).
This was the first successful shop I’d visited where a portable planer, and a contractor’s table saw were in evidence. Now I’ve seen countless videos online with shops like this in them, but I didn’t know these woodworkers personally and couldn’t ask “Can your machinery handle the everyday milling of a woodworking business?”. The answer in this case was yes. What I had passed off as hobbyist machinery could actually get the job done for my purposes too. And that’s because just as in this situation I will be running a one “man” shop building one-offs, versus a production line. Another reason this will work for me and for you is that upgrades will follow.
Which leads me to the two tips that he shared on machinery:
  • get the best machines that you can afford (as in now)
  • when buying used, never pay more than half the retail value of the machine  (you never know what that machine has been through, no matter how shiny and clean it looks.)
My own apprenticeship “boss”, Tim also debunked the myth that woodworkers starting a business need all the best tools. Tim said that he started out with a canvas bag of tools and now owns solid, good quality stationary equipment that still isn’t beefed up on horsepower, isn’t large capacity (6″ jointer, 12″ planer), and was not bought new. But Tim is able to do the quality he promises to clients, the volume of work he’s capable of, and he told me that he doesn’t have any debt.
Recently I stumbled across a website for woodworkers starting a business that I found very inspiring with a lot of useful content run by a guy named Adam King. If you read the article I just linked to up there, you’ll note that there are just 3 things you need to start a woodworking business today:

A Work Space (borrow a nook in a basement if you need to)

A Creation to sell (go on start to create with the tools you do have!)

A Client (start with friends and friends of friends)

So this is the conclusion I’m sticking with- start small and work your way up. That way you can start now and stop holding things off until everything is perfect, or your funds are there.

That said, my next step is to fix the electricity in my shop space as it’s been through a fire and could be dangerous to use as is.

I’ll be sure to update you in future posts with the:

  • Machinery I currently have and how I came to acquire it
  • Tools I find to be essential
  • How I plan to start with what I have
  • And finally what I may have to buy on the cheap to cover my bases

Apprenticeship is Locked In

18 Jan
I’m all set to start my apprenticeship February 4th. I decided to go with a one-man shop, as that’s what I will have in the future. I want to of course gather valuable info on how a one man shop operates successfully. For the sake of privacy I’ll refer to my future “boss” as Tim Timberland. Tim was very easy to talk to. The hours will be from 10am every morning (sweet!) until 5pm, but he made it clear that he is self-disciplined and expects quality work. He’s a former graduate from the same school as me, and checked my references at the school to make sure I’d be up to the challenge. The work will mainly consist of built-ins and one-offs, as well as helping to complete projects that have been collecting dust.
His shop is located in an industrial building filled with a nice little community of woodworkers, finishers, and other artists- as it turns out this set up is beneficial to all involved. They trade services, shop time, and even client orders. Tim has someone to deliver all of his pieces to client’s homes. This little-big building of peace, love and productivity is literally across the street from Home Depot. Now I cannot think of a more ideal situation- except for the fact that it is also a short 5 minutes from a wealthy community that provides the building with a lot of work and is adjacent to downtown.
Tim’s shop was small, approximately a 24′ x 18′ space, but flooded with daylight. It was all very tidy and stocked with some solid milling machines but an overall modest selection of tools compared to the ones we had at school. That certainly made me feel less overwhelmed at the prospect of stocking my own shop’s equipment.

Going into this a freshly graduated woodworking student I have some concerns:

  • will I be expected to work as quickly as the pros
  • will I be expected to produce flawless work
  • will I be asked to do procedures I feel unsafe carrying out (due to unfamiliarity or due to the nature of the set up)
Once I start my apprenticeship, I’ll let you know how it’s working out.
Hold this for a few secs while I pop across the street for some screws…

There Are Offcuts Under The Bed

16 Jan
Twelve months ago I started a woodworking course. Now I’m freshly out and hunting down an apprenticeship or two. I find myself looking for a larger woodworking community to bond with and so I turned to the inter-webs. I also wanted to share what my year one  and on of woodworking is going to be like. I’m looking forward to having consensual shop talk- enough with the glazed over eyes of loved ones!
Topics in line for the immediate or not so immediate future:
  • some back story (no tissues needed, no worries)
  • my final project (aka first original piece designed & built)
  • what woodworking school was like
  • the safety lessons learned
  • the projects we covered and why you should care
  • how the apprenticeship is going (starts feb 4th, lasts 6 weeks)
  • ok so… I have this shop space…(getting it cleaned out & ready for action)
  • finding work in the industry to raise funds and add to experience
  • rewiring, adding dust collection and lighting to the shop
  • what it will take to start a business (the ultimate goal for this woodworker)
So- let’s get started!


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