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Category Archives: ShopNotes Blog

Blogging about my adventures in woodworking. Yes, you will read it.

New Mission Workshop Catalog

NMW catalog TBWe finally have a catalog to offer, and a pretty darn nice one at that! To get it (in PDF format), click here.

 
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Posted by on April 14, 2014 in ShopNotes Blog

 

Ukelele & Mandolin Stand

Ukelele stand

$225

I recently took up playing the ukelele; I’ve always wanted to play a string instrument, but the guitar was just too obvious – everyone plays the guitar! I wanted a different sound, and something relatively easy to play, and the ukelele was the ticket.

However, when not practicing, I had no real good place to put it down; a table top took up too much room, and just leaning it into a corner was too iffy. The commercial stands sold are very ugly and metallic; functional, yes, pretty, like my ukelele, no.

So, I created this mahogany stand for it (after several prototypes). It hangs the ukelele (or your mandolin) in a bendable, yet solid foam covered cradle, so the instrument is not having it’s bottom or side roughed up, had it been laying down – and it’s very easy to shape the cradle arms in or out to suit your instrument’s needs. My ukelele’s head is asymmetrical, so adding a slight twist to the cradle when installing it was right for me – we can discuss your instrument’s needs upon ordering.

Perhaps just as important as a great way to set your instrument, this piece just looks great – a fine complement to your beautiful ukelele or mandolin – unlike some cheap ugly metal stand. This piece would look great in your living room, office – or wherever you practice.

While this piece is in mahogany, obviously other wood choices are available, and can be combined. I could see this piece in cherry, with the top of the two “boomerangs” on the base being ebonized, or blackened, for contrast. Or, if you are the more adventurous type, we could try Zebra wood, or Purpleheart, or Yellowheart. Possibly, I could match your instrument’s woods as well.

ukelele stand

 

 

 
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Posted by on April 3, 2014 in Furniture, ShopNotes Blog

 

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Simplicity in Design

Ukelele stand

My new ukelele / mandolin stand.

   What IS simplicity in design? For me, simplicity in design is taking away from a preliminary design, until you can take away no more, and still have function. A common chicken egg, for example; You cannot take anything away from the egg – the shell, and yolk, the white – and still have an egg. Likewise, a human cell. If you take any part of the cell away – the Nucleus, the Cytoplasm, the Membrane – it cannot be a cell anymore; it ceases to function. Likewise, I feel great design reduces a form to just what is needed, an no more. That is not to say that there can be no embellishment, such as a corbel that may add a feeling of balance, or a chamfer that might make a top look lighter; however, adornments that are only there for the sake of themselves, should be avoided, in my opinion.

“Any darn fool can make something complex; it takes a genius to make something simple.” – Albert Einstein.

   Why is simplicity important? People have an innate habit of adding to something to make it more desirable. A woman puts on jewelry; a woodworker puts dentil moulding on a shelf. The thought is, “more is better”. In my view, less is more. It’s easy to add adornment; it’s much harder to take away what is already there and achieve better form and function.

   Is simplicity subjective? It can be. A motorcycle is not as simple as a bicycle, yet they are essentially the same form. Yet a bicycle with the bare minimum needed to move, stop, and provide comfort and safety, is simplicity. There are points when a form becomes as simple as it can be.

“The ability to simplify means to eliminate the unnecessary so that the necessary may speak.” Hans Hofmann.

“Form follows function – that has been misunderstood. Form and function should be one, joined in a spiritual union.” Frank Lloyd

   Is simplicity the best design goal? No, not always. Sometimes, people want ornate furniture; Federalist or french period furniture comes to mind ( the French were especially ostentatious). They may want to impress themselves or company. They may feel more really is more. However, even in these cases, “more” can be overdone. Can you put too much jewelry on a woman? How much inlay can you put into a piece before it’s too much? If the piece could produce a sound, would it sound like a world class philharmonic, or a 3rd grade jazz band? Even classical music can have too many instruments that don’t add to the experience. Likewise, furniture designs can have too much ornamentation that doesn’t move the piece forward (design-wise), and harmonizes with the function, but rather pulls it in different directions.

“You know you have achieved perfection in design, not when you have nothing more to add, but when you have nothing more to take away.” – Antoine de Saint-Exupery

   Simplicity in the workshop. What type of shop do you have? Are you trying to make a living at woodworking, or do you just do it as a hobby? Somewhere in between? Simplicity in design can serve a craftsman very well in building the piece, as it keeps the number of requires parts to a minimum. The benefit of this alone is increased safety, due to number of machine operations; cutting down on environmental impact (from the amount of electricity used to the amount of wood and harsh chemicals like polyurethane and mineral spirits), wear and tear on machines, let alone the craftsman. Less pieces to make and assemble, less chance of making mistakes – all add up to more profit.

This is why I strive for simplicity in design, and feel it is the best way.

 
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Posted by on March 12, 2014 in ShopNotes Blog

 

A Slow Nickel, or a Fast Dime?

coins   Often, I come across woodworkers (or other similar artisans) that sell their goods too cheap, in the mistaken belief that people will only buy low-priced items, and certainly, many businesses do well with the high-volume, low-price model; just ask Sam Walton, or William Wrigley.

But just like fishing, the more expensive bait or lure you throw in the water, the larger fish you should get.

In an ideal situation, in woodworking, making a “X” would take minutes, and we could sell it for thousands.

Of course, that doesn’t happen; but we should get as close to that as possible, if we are in woodworking to make a living, or make some extra cash.

You have to get out of the frame of mind that selling more is good; usually, it’s not. Yes, we want to sell as many units as possible and make in turn, more profit. But there are other things to consider.

The benefits of selling items at a higher price:

  • Less units to build for the same profit.
  • Higher profit margin
  • Less sawdust, tool abuse; less materials to buy, including finishing materials.
  • Less likely to get hurt
  • More time to market, design, or free time.

The drawbacks of selling at a higher price:

  • Less customers

The benefits of selling at a lower price:

  • Exposing yourself to a wider audience

I think that aiming for the slow dime is best – I would rather build one (for example) clock at $800, then two at $400 each. This is why I advise against selling wholesale to retailers that mark up 100%. I just don’t see the benefit in that for the artisan – unless you can make a decent enough profit, but still….

Just some meandering thoughts on this subject….

 
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Posted by on February 1, 2014 in ShopNotes Blog

 

The Goldilocks strategy

goldilocksGoldilocks and the Three Bears – the classic fairy tale about breaking and entering, and appropriately choosing a bowl of porridge and a bed. It can teach us about selling our woodwork.

No, we shouldn’t break and enter into our customer’s homes; the real lesson here is three choices – a good, better and best selection. It takes advantage of part of a potential customer’s psychological make-up. While shopping, people (myself included) usually buy the “better” labelled choice. It’s been shown that most people avoid the “best” category because they fear they are paying too much; conversely, they avoid the “good” choice because they feel it is too cheap, not very good quality; hence they tend to go with the “better” choice. So providing a middle choice is the crux of the good, better, best tactic.

So then, if you currently only offer two versions of a product – maybe it’s jewelry boxes – you should consider a third that has more features and a higher price. You are trying to steer your customer to the “better” choice, which of course, will have your greatest profit margin, putting more dollars in your pocket.

The procedure called “Goldilocks Pricing” is growing more common. So if you currently offer two versions of your product, the act of adding a third (more expensive higher margin) option will almost certainly increase your profitability because people will choose the middle price.

 
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Posted by on December 15, 2013 in ShopNotes Blog

 

The Cheapest Add-On That Sells Products

coffeeAs woodworkers, we often fret over what wood to use, and if using contrasting wood, which one, and in what proportions. What hardware, what finish? However, most of us don’t use an add-on that really helps sell the product, and at no cost.

That add-on? Experience. Let me explain.

Why does Starbucks do so well? Why does it attract the upper crust in society? You really don’t see blue collar workers in there; it’s more white collar workers, more likely women then men, and are usually dressed very well (incidentally, check out the women at Target as well for the same phenomenon). A more affluent class of people goes to Starbucks then McDonalds for coffee.

Why?

The cost of the coffee beans for companies is in the same price range, in terms of wholesale cost. Yet Starbucks charges (around here) $2.11 for a medium “bold pick of the day”. McDonalds, on the other hand, get about $1.19. That’s about 77% higher. Why? Some would say “the coffee tastes better” – and that may be, since Starbucks paid 10¢ more per pound. But still, a much higher price for the consumer. So why are they so successful?

Because of the experience of Starbucks, that’s why. You have a “barista” making your coffee for you however you want it; you have a hip, relaxed atmosphere with comfortable chairs and tables, like you were in an upscale nightclub. Free WiFi. The decor. The status. It’s more like Disney then Dennys. That is what you are paying for, and this is why the more affluent go there. The coffee? I like Tim Hortons better, actually. They have an “ok” atmosphere, nothing like Starbucks.

Are you getting my point? People with money are willing to pay for the experience, not just the product. If I took a Starbucks coffee and a McDonald’s coffee, did a side by side taste test on the street, where people don’t know which is which, people might choose Starbucks more often on taste, but I’ll bet they wouldn’t want to pay the same price that Starbucks charges. So the question is, what experience can you put into your woodworking product? More then you know.

At shows in which woodworking is displayed, I watch the women – who are the major purchasers of our pieces – as they peruse a vendor’s goods. What she touches, she is interested in; she’ll glide her hand over it’s silky surface, taking in the beauty of the wood and design. Yet, she will still likely walk away. However, if that piece has a story behind it, then you have another sensation she can add to her experience of the product that may cause her to buy. Let me illustrate here:

Suppose we have a beautiful hanging mission fixture for sale:

Mission ceiling lampWoodworker A tries to sell it like this: “Yes, it’s beautiful, isn’t it? It takes three bulbs, up to 60 watts each. The straps are real leather, and the stained glass is real too. The wood is cherry. It’s $7,000. You’ll have to have an electrician install it, I can’t.

Woodworker B: “Yes, isn’t this a gorgeous piece? I’m sure you’ve never seen one like this before. Can you see this hanging over your dining table? It would certainly be admired by your friends during parties! The stained glass is done by an artisan in New Hampshire I picked myself. The leather straps are from an artisan in a small town in the Adirondacks; the cherry wood comes from a sawyer in Maine, where some of the best cherry is grown. It took me about 125 hours to craft this, and I’ve been working wood for 23 years. (After some back and forth with her, he also throws in this -) I’ve had a passion for woodworking since I worked in my grandfather’s shop as a kid. I’ve made a good living pursuing my passion.

So, which woodworker would get the sale, if a sale could be made? That’s right, the second one. Why? Because he gave an experience to the lady – he explained woodworking is his passion, he put many hours into this piece, he gathered the best materials and artisans he could to build it, there’s nothing like it, wouldn’t your girlfriend’s be jealous, etc. He was upbeat, and painting a nice picture. Contrast that to the first guy – he tells about the piece like it was a sports car, and throws on the wet blanket of the price and having to have it installed. Ugh. And by the way, that lamp? It’s real, and yes, it is $7,000. It’s made by a premier woodworker, Kevin Rodel. See it here.

Part of the beauty of places like CustomMade – and to some degree, Etsy – is that the experience for the consumer is one of having something made just for you. When you think about that, that’s pretty awesome, when you can tell someone how you want something done, and they can do it. I mean, think how nice it is at a McDonalds, for a cheap hamburger, let alone a piece of furniture! In my experience, it excites the customer, at least my customers. Adding to that, I also update the customer regulary with pictures, so they can see how it’s coming along, building anticipation. Even when I ship it, I give them a shipping number and ask them (or someone else) to be there to sign for it. Once again, building anticipation, like a little kid at Christmas – do you remember that excitement as a kid? Same thing here. They can track the package all the way to the door! All of this adds to a richer experience and adds value to the product, and it didn’t even cost you much, if anything.

Can they get that experience at a big-box store? No. So your task is to find a way to build an experience around your product so customers will pay more for it.

The affluent love exclusivity. They want to have what no one else (or few others) has, or what’s the point of being rich? Nobody buys a $1.4 million Lamborghini to get to work. A $32 million Picasso is just a piece of art, oils on a canvas –  yet, when you own one, you are part of a very exclusive club. That experience – of being one up on their peers – is what they are paying for, be it as something as everyday as a coffee at Starbucks, or a million-dollar car, they are one step up. Sure, they probably enjoy that car or art, but having what very few others have, drives these people as well.

My point? Build the best damn “X” you can, and charge a lot for it; use experience of the piece (whether that be a back-end story, exclusivity, etc) to help sell it.

 
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Posted by on December 12, 2013 in ShopNotes Blog

 

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Secrets to Marketing on the Internet (So Far)

routerAs woodworkers in the age of the Internet, we are very fortunate. Twenty years ago, the only way we could make ourselves known to possible markets is through magazines, with costly ads. You wouldn’t place a radio or TV ad; though maybe an ad in a local paper. Making yourself known was expensive and limited. Not only that, if the big guys came in with heavy pockets, they could crush you.

Today it’s a different story; you can have the same footing as any other woodworker no matter how good they are, thanks to cheap – even free – websites.  You can reach anyone anywhere, opening you up beyond the very narrow vertical market of a magazine; people are much more likely to accidentally come across your website, or store, on places like Etsy or CustomMade.com.

Additionally, you can also avail yourself to much more helpful information instantly. I’ve been able to learn a tremendous amount from places like FindWoodworking.com or YouTube. Forums, as the ones your find on sites like Lumberjocks,  or wherever Google might take me. I can be inspired by viewing what other woodworkers are doing, as I view their pieces. I can get help very quickly when I need it, bottom line.

So, I think I’ve made he case that if you want to sell more of your work – or even if you just want to learn more to improve your skill set – you need to engage the Internet.

I’m no expert on Internet marketing, let me just say that. I’m sure I still have a lot more to learn – but I would like to share with you what I have learned so far, what’s worked for me, so hopefully you might be able to sell more as well.

Your Website. In my opinion, a website is not a great way to sell your product; it’s more of a brochure, a business card, a way for people to reach you. The big problem is that search engines – Google – hold the key to your success here. If you make, for instance, guitars – if you aren’t on that first page (if not the top three) of search results Google delivers when someone searches on “custom acoustic guitars”, or whatever narrow search term, then you might as well forget it, people aren’t going to find you. I’ve tried Google’s ad program, and found it expensive and ineffective. However, if you have ads in a magazine, then yes, you drive them to your website.

About your website – if you’re going to have one, please, have a good one. Make it professional looking. If your website looks like crap, people are going to think your stuff is too. That maybe unfair, but in my opinion, that’s what will happen. I don’t know about you, but if I’m looking for a restaurant, and I go by a place that looks like crap – I’m not stopping in – even though the food might be great. My site uses WordPress, which is platform you can use for free! Very user friendly, you can use free templates for a good look, or purchase even better ones, and search engines are very friendly to it. For a free website, your domain would be something like workshop.wordpress.com, or woodshop.wordpress.com. I would encourage you to get your own domain name though, which would look more professional – workshop.com, woodshop.com, whatever you name is. I use GoDaddy.com. Again, all this is very affordable. If you want to pay a professional to hook you up with a nice site, you can do that too.

What to put on your website – people have a shorten attention span on the Internet – if they can’t find what they want in several seconds, they are going to move on. Your website needs to be succinet and things easy to find – if I’m looking for mantel clocks on your website, and I’m having trouble finding it – I’m moving on. I really don’t want a huge description of the piece either, but I do want a price, and if possible, if I can buy it right away, that’s great too. Your shop? Nobody cares about it. Woman are going to be the majority of your customers, and they don’t care, neither do most guys. A blog – your customer probably isn’t going to read it – mine is mostly for other woodworkers, as a sharing and learning experience. A Contact page – yes; people want to know how they can get a hold of you. They want your phone number and physical address, so they can feel comfortable about sending $1,000 for an unseen product to someone they’ve never met.

Great photography. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen what appears to be a decent piece, but photographed so badly, it makes it look bad. You’ve put all this time into this piece, don’t you think it’s a good idea to put, say, 1/2 hour, into photographing it nicely? Problem is, guys think that you have to take the piece to an expensive photographer for that – not true. You can do it with an iPhone, for pete’s sake, if you have the piece properly lit and in the right setting; and no, that doesn’t require all kinds of pro photography equipment, either I’m sorry, but throwing a white bed sheet over a chair and setting your burl bowl there isn’t professional.  If you belong to FineWoodworking.com (and if you don’t, you should), they have great piece here. On my blog bucket list, I want to make an article on how to photograph your stuff – stay tuned.

Search engine optimization. This is black magic. Basically, it’s getting Google to make your website one of the top few search results when someone searches for your type of work. It’s the holy grail. Don’t waste your time doing it. Go with WordPress, keep your site updated, and that will take care of itself.

Where to sell. Yes, you should sell on your website, and you should take any and every means of payment known to mankind; why would you want to impede a sale because of your fear of Paypal? Some guys complain that they will only take paper checks, or they are afraid of Paypal getting their personal info, or other reasons. I’ve used Paypal for years, and had no problems. Their business is security – getting money from person A to person B – quickly, easily and safely. If they don’t, they won’t get their 2.9% commission. It’s easy to set up an account, and people buying don’t need to go thru the hassle of creating a Paypal account either – they just hit a button on your website to buy the the product, enter their credit card number, and they pay you. I can even take payments in person, on my iPhone. Why would you not want to use them? Don’t put up barriers for people to pay you! Yes, accept checks, money orders, etc, but online transactions is the way to go. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather get paid right now, have money to use towards the project and move on to the next project, rather then waiting three days for the check to arrive, hiking it over to the bank, and sweating 5 days waiting for it to clear.

Until you get established, you won’t sell anything from your website, because no one knows about you. The way around that is to wander into marketplaces where you’ll find your customers. The top sites I know of are Etsy and CustomMade. Etsy is more for craft showy type stuff; whereas CustomMade is perfect for woodworkers. If you sell items up to the $500 range, and those items would appeal to women and are home decorating pieces, you would try Etsy. Their fees are very low. CustomMade’s fees are around 15% as I recall – not terrible, but enough. However, they bring buyers that are looking for some custom piece together with makers like you and I; it’s not some aimless, mall-wandering experience. Potential customers put up a job, looking for, say, an oak medicine cabinet, and you can get in touch with them and start a dialogue, and hopefully, win the commission. You can also put up your portfolio so people can get a good feel for what you do. I’ve received a lot of work from both these sites – smaller stuff from Etsy, bigger from CustomMade. Forget eBay – people are looking for deals.

Print media. I’ve haven’t tried it yet, but you can also put in ads into target magazines. I make a lot of Craftsman stuff, so I would put an ad in a magazine like American Bungalow. People interested in Craftsman products would pick up this magazine, and I’d have a focused audience. But they are expensive. Last time I checked, about $500 for a space about the size of a business card, as I recall, and I understand that just doing it once is not that effective, but doing several issues is, because people are more likely to see it, and save a particular magazine copy out of several. I checked into newspapers, here in Rochester NY – a good size market, and they were about the same price! And that is for a one time shot in a newspaper! Granted, you are reaching tens of thousands of people locally, but wow.

So, that’s about all I have to offer on this subject – for now. I’d be interested in hearing from you on your Internet marketing experiences, so comment below!

 
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Posted by on December 10, 2013 in ShopNotes Blog

 

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The Secret on What to Build

top secretWoodworkers that have found their sweet spot – what they make well, and make money at – seem to be, in my estimation, few and far between. I’m speaking about guys that want to make a living at it, not hobby types, not even craft show guys.

Have you found that item line that works for you? You’d like me to tell you what to make, what will sell well, wouldn’t you? It’s what everyone wants to know that sells something – whether it be the “it” toy of the Christmas season, or a livelihood, people want to sell what people want to buy. 

Well, actually, I think I CAN do that.

It’s pretty simple, really – you need to build what you are passionate about.

If you’re not passionate about it, why are you building it? Some will answer, “Because I have to, it’s what is selling.” Maybe you’re making cabinets or cutting boards by the dozen. Your’e bored, but it’s paying the bills.

Maybe worse, you’re making a lot of money, but you really don’t like, or are ambivalent to, what you’re making. It’s worse, because the good money are a type of golden handcuffs. I know a person that really doesn’t like her job, but they pay her so well, she has to stay. 

Passion in your work means everything; it means your satisfaction with your work; it means you’ll want to do your best at it – and then even better. It means wanting to get up and the morning and get back to it. That leads to excelling, which in turn leads to excellence, which will take you to the top. The top means prosperity, because people will pay top dollar for the best – and I don’t care if you’re making 18th century period furniture, mid-century atomic ranch, or cutting boards.

Cutting boards? Yes. “But…they’re….cutting boards”. That’s right, and you need to make they best out there – not just in terms of construction – any wood monkey can do that – but unique designs, materials, shapes. Use your imagination – and passion fuels the kiln of imagination. Think cutting boards are a bore that can’t go anywhere? Talk to the Boos Block company then.

If you’re passionate about something, you really never rest – there is never a “good enough” – there is only, “how can I do it better?”  If you become content – it’s then you stop growing, and others catch up and run past you. Many of the world’s great thinkers and artists had a driving passion. Einstein felt that he was a genius, not so much because his brain was special, but because he had a passionate curiosity about things, and how they worked. Edison loved his work so much, he hated sleeping, and really only took cat naps – and in his shop. Then you have Picasso and Pollock who were very passionate – maybe even a bit tortured – with love for what they did.

Myself, I can make a piece “perfectly” – that is, no technical errors, no gaps, no finish foul-ups, and then I’m only, ok with the piece. If I didn’t make that joint quite tight enough, or some other little thing a customer would likely never see – well, that’s all I ever see. And If I do make it “perfect” the first thing I’ll do is wonder how I could have made it better – a contrasting wood perhaps? Lighter color stain? Different shape top?  But it’s that kind of passion that moves me forward to better and better designs. 

I have a passion now for what I do; it is both satisfying and never satisfying, but in a good way, as in eating chocolate, lol. I’ve had crap jobs before, believe me, and hated them, and it’s really a lousy way to live when you hate going to work – but I’m fortunate enough, and yes, passionate enough, to do what I love.

No, I can’t tell you to make cutting boards, side boards, surf boards or head boards – you’ll have to figure that out; but I can tell you that a passion for whatever you do will take you to the top….and that’s a good place to be.

 
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Posted by on December 6, 2013 in ShopNotes Blog

 

Piper’s Folding Table

My friend, Travis Piper, showed me this table he has had since he was a kid; it’s thought to be from the 1930s. It’s very unique the way it folds up when picked up in the middle. I really like the design, shaker-esque in nature. I modeled it in Sketchup. My only change was to the skirt, adding and arch, instead of the mild scallopy profile that is on the original. My rendering’s metal support rails are a bit too slivery; I think I would make them a flat black, if I were to make a reproduction.

Piper's Folding Table Piper's Folding Table Piper's Folding Table Piper's Folding Table Piper's Folding Table Piper's Folding Table Piper's Folding Table

 
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Posted by on November 18, 2013 in ShopNotes Blog, Sketchup

 

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Modern Mission Desk

I challenged myself to design a modern mission style desk. The contrast between the two styles was challenging. I enjoy designing with Sketchup (and the rendering engine, Kerekythea) as much as actually being in the shop.

Some specifics: The drawer pulls are hammered copper, and sunk into cutouts in the drawer, as contrasted to being attached through the drawer front by a screw. All cherry and ebonized cherry. 6′ 4″ long by 32″ at the deepest. The top is 30″ high, and has 25″ of leg clearance.

Modern Mission Desk

Back CLose Handle close upOblique 2 Overhead

 
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Posted by on November 14, 2013 in Furniture, ShopNotes Blog

 

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