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Developments on the shop front…

12 Mar

A “family meeting”  about the family  shop space that I want to set up shop in has changed my plans for the space significantly.

Meeting consensus:

The bad news

We’ve decided it’s not a good idea to part with any of the stuff IN the space. Since the shop space is the only place to store it all, there will not be much space to work with after all.

The good news

There is a secondary building 8’x 16′ next to the shop that has working electricity that I can use weekends- after August(once it’s cleared of storage)

I can still use a portion of the original shop space. In fact it will come in very handy during the period between now and August, when the secondary building frees up.

Plan changes blow-by-blow

BEFORE I was planning to get a job in industry to raise funds for all of my shop plans, and start woodworking on weekends

NOW Nothing has changed except my shop space will be smaller, so will need smaller machines

BEFORE I was planning to set up the shop slowly and build it up over time, as a permanent shop space

NOW I am going to use the space  as a temporary fix, and only on weekends

BEFORE I was planning to get the water damaged electrical in the shop looked at, and  rig it to have sufficient voltage and outlets

NOW I plan to just use the secondary building that is wired and heated for light duty shop tools and run extension cords into the shop for jobs that require more space (cutting sheet stock)

In light of all the plan changes, I’m actually quite okay with all of it, this will still be quite advantageous for me. I’ll have use of all the machines I listed in a previous post, plus the space for free during the time it takes to build funds and plan for the start of my business.

There definitely is a lesson to be learnt from these plan changes though. For those who also are looking for a shop space arrangement that works for them, it’s important to do your homework. It’s also important to roll with the punches, if things don’t go according to plan, don’t abandon your goals, instead adjust as best you can. Also keep back up plans. (for example, as a back up plan, I would rent shop time at a co-op in the city or join a shop that shares rent and tools)

Next course of action:

I’m going to start cleaning the shop as soon as I can ( August)  and purchase a bench-top planer and jointer. I can’t wait to start!

My potential shop space…

31 Jan

Here’s the potential  shop space I have to work with.  It had had a fire, then was cleaned and functioned again. Next it sat unused for 5 years and had many leaks in the roof. All the mold covered and soaked items were tossed.

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Now the shop has been outfitted  with a new roof and has been dry for about a year. Because of the previous water damage, the electrical wiring is compromised and will need to be redone. As is clear in the photos the shop has served as  storage space in the mean time. There are many counters lining the walls of the shop and overhead storage galore. The process of sorting and purging the shop might take a while. What a mess!

You may have noticed that I also included photos of the tools in the shop that are relevant to woodworking. These are the tools I’m lucky enough to have right out of the starting gate.

To these I will need to add:

-a planer

-a jointer

The most immediate being a planer. I’ll buy a bench top model if I can’t find an affordable used one. I’ve decided that I can go without a jointer for a little while by using a straight bit in a router table to get edges flat and square. Then I’ll skip plane rough boards taking off small amounts at a time until the faces are flat.

I have to start clearing out the space to get to that point though, so first things first!

As for hand tools, I have what I bought for school- added to the rusty assortment I have yet to sift though in the  shop.

  • a marking gauge
  • a 4″ engineer’s square
  • a handful of 6″ rules
  • a cheap set of chisels
  • a gents dovetail saw
  • a digital vernier caliper
  • a block plane
  • 2 other hand planes
  • a dowelling jig
  • a card scraper
  • 2 handmade mallets
  • tape measures
  • utility knives
  • a contractor’s calculator

So for now this is what I’ve got to work with- looking at it now I can see that it’s a versatile selection that should allow me to start tinkering in the shop on new projects as soon as I clear a bit of space and get the electrical issue sorted.

For those of you who are looking to start a woodworking business as I am and don’t have a space or tools yet- I’d urge you to ask your friends and have them ask their  friends if there’s a shop space and/or tools that are not being used. It seems all of my friends from woodworking school already have a space (a garage will do, or basement) or connections to a space (to share with someone they know), OR have woodworking tools already from someone they knew who was closing their shop.

Ideally I’ll gain some funds from working in the woodworking field and purchase a 10″ cabinet saw, a 15″planer and an 8″ jointer. So stay tuned and I’ll let you know how it pans out!

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.

My Final Project from woodworking school- finally revealed!

27 Jan

I thought now would be a good time to show you my Final Project from woodworking school. I worked for 11 months with very little creative freedom. Most of our projects had strict parameters.

Well not so with the last month of the woodworking course, I had the option of building from existing plans or going for an original design. I chose the latter. I was busting to finally have shop time to create something I could be proud of and had complete creative freedom over! In class we had recently learnt how to use Google SketchUp (a free designing utility) and so I was off to the races. Here’s my attempt at rendering my design on SketchUp:

Don't mind those side panels, I couldn't scale them up properly.

And here it is in reality:

Hall Table / Laptop Desk

It's a hall table, but can also be a laptop desk. I made sure it would also fit behind a standard couch. It's made out of maple and walnut.

I finished it with lacquer, and luckily had access to the spray booths and equipment at school.

And now for the details:

I added butterfly joints for design reasons, but they're still inlaid 1/4" deep! I'll get a wax stick for that little imperfection- no worries!

These are not plugged screws. I ran dados in the legs to hold the shelf up securely, then used a dowelling jig to insert 2" long walnut dowels through the leg to the shelf. Each leg attaches to a walnut apron above with two vertical dowels.

The walnut apron is topped with a sliding dovetail that was slid into the underside of the table top. The apron is pegged in the middle to the top. I plugged the overhang portion of the slot and left a 1/8" space between the plug and the slide for wood movement.

For the back panel I cut mortises into both the back rail and the underside of the shelf, each tenon has 1/8" on either side of it inside the mortises to allow for wood movement. To keep the panel in place as this is a dry joint I pegged the tenons and glued those pegs in.

There are through tenons that pass through the legs into the side rails. They're solid walnut.

The drawer simply rides against a guide which is screwed into the top with elongated holes. The guides fit into dados made into the top.

Both heron panels were cut stuck together on the scroll saw. I ran stopped grooves(at different heights) along the insides of each leg to fit the panels.

The drawers were made with a simple locking joint. I wedged a dowel into the underside of the table top to act as a drawer stop.

Last but not least I designed the table to look appealing from all angles in case the owner didn't keep it butted against a wall.

And this completes the tour of my final project. Hope you enjoyed it!

I plan to post photos of my Vernissage soon, to share with you all of the final projects from my class.

Stay tuned!

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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