Category Archives: BlogNotes

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

The Beatles and Me.

BeatlesSo, you’ve heard about this little group called “The Beatles” haven’t you? Four-man rock band out of Liverpool?

Who hasn’t…people continue to find out about them everyday, and each day, all the members make money for performances they gave as much as 50 years ago. Imagine that, work you did when you were a young man still making you money today.

That’s one tested way to make a fortune – making once, and selling many. It’s what the Beatles did, it’s what J.K. Rowling did with the Harry Potter series, made something once, and sold it a gazillion times.

I hate to break it to you, but it’s a long shot to get rich by doing woodworking – or any other work in which you make one, sell one, make one, sell one…rinse and repeat. Their are few exceptions of course; famous artists can create a piece and sell it right away for a ton of money – but that’s a million to one.

So how do we extrapolate this to woodworking? Production.

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Posted by on July 9, 2015 in BlogNotes


Which Cake Tastes Better – and Your Woodworking

cakeSo what does chocolate cake have to do with woodworking?

Just about nothing – just about.

Pricing has often been a topic I’ve tackled on BlogNotes because it’s such a big issue for us – how much do we charge for our work? Obviously, we want the most we can get for our hard work, but when do you price so high that people start telling you to go pound salt?

One clue is this: if you have something people want – really want – price becomes less and less of a consideration. That might be the “must have” latest handbag for a lady, or hot car for a guy. You don’t NEED those things – but sometimes you really want them, even if you can’t really afford them. You have a perception of that product that changes the actual value of it – in your mind. Part of that calculation is the price of that product.

Enter chocolate cake.

Last night, I was watching Brain Games,  a show about psychology, basically. They play out different psychological experiments, and make it interesting to a general audience.

In last night’s episode, they said up a booth in a busy city center in summer. The set-up was they were an upstart bakery, and they wanted to know which chocolate cake tasted better – the cake that was $15, or the one for $55, and why it tasted better. A market research kinda thing. So, people came by, and sampled each one – which looked just like the picture shown here, one round, the other square. Samplers generally described the $15 cake as being dry, and the frosting not too sweet. The $55 cake, however, was nice and moist, the frosting just sweet enough, in general tasted wonderful. They even remarked, that yes, they would even buy the more expensive cake.

Both cakes were from the same cake mix, using the same ingredients, baked at the same time in the same oven in the same molds; they were identical except for shape.

No, the take-away here isn’t shape – but price. People thought the more expensive cake was better, and worth the price. Price subconsciously tells us the value of a product. I mean, if it costs more, it must be better, right? We’ve been conditioned all our lives to believe that. A first class airline ticket is about three times more costly than an economy ticket – but both get you to the same destination at the same time. Only you have a bigger seat, and some better service. A more expensive watch is better than a cheap one, an expensive car better than a cheap one, and so on.

So, just price your work higher than mine, and you’ll sell more, right?

Oh, if only it was that easy.

That pricing strategy falls apart when people can clearly see what the product is made of. A cutting board, for example – if you make the exact cutting board that I’ve made – people aren’t going to buy yours more than my less expensive board. Why? They did it with the cake!

Because there is no ambiguity. People didn’t know exactly what was in the cake – sure, they may have known about sugar, eggs, flour, chocolate – but beyond that, no. There was an ambiguity about the product that they couldn’t discern, which left them open to allowing for a higher price. If I build a side table with the same plans you used, and used the same wood, yet I priced higher, I believe I would do better in sales than you. Why? Because people think that I have better skills at assembly, finishing and fitting than you did. Having said that, if a potential buyer examined both our pieces side by side, and could find no visible differences, they would more likely be inclined to buy yours. Still though, the mystique of a higher price might make the sale for me.

So what’s the take-away here? If you price low – trying to beat a competitor on price – you’re slitting your own throat, if it’s a product that has ambiguity to it. Higher prices tell people – or at least gets them to ask themselves – that the product is worth more, better.

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Posted by on February 3, 2015 in BlogNotes


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How to Make Love to your Customers

seductive lookMetaphorically speaking of course.

I’ve noticed that a great customer transaction is very much like the making of good love. Moreover, a bad – even mediocre transaction- is as satisfying as a similar love experience. Here’s some observations I’ve made, so you can keep that “lover” coming back for more.

• Buildup / Foreplay – Like a great love experience, a great transaction starts with foreplay. In our field, you have to build up the excitement to a fever pitch, so that when the actual event occurs – the delivery of your piece – it’s even more satisfying to the customer. Look at it from a customer’s perspective – and this is assuming you are a contractor woodworker (you build to order, may get jobs on CustomMade or Etsy). The customer contacts you – “Can you build a table like this for me?” This is where the tango starts. Of course you can build that table for her – but you’re not going to build it – you’re going to craft it for her. You’ll draw up a design and get her input on it. You’ll ask questions because you care about her needs and opinions.

You’re creating anticipation, just as a good lover does.

Customers LOVE this. They love telling you exactly what they want. I mean, where else can you do that? A restaurant, maybe, but I can’t think of another retail situation where things are made to order. The more sexier you make this, the better the pay off later. Be friendly, professional. Get back to people ASAP. Keep them in the loop about what you are doing – “Jen, I’ll redesign that top for you, and get it to you tomorrow; I have a great idea I think you’ll love!” Customers really feel flattered that you are paying so much attention to them.

Just what I’ve cited above is reason enough for people to pay more for your product. It’s not JUST about the piece – but the experience, which costs you little, if anything, that satisfies the client.

• The lovemaking – She’s committed to the project, and has sent you half down. Great! Now what? I always acknowledge the payment – “Michelle, just wanted to let you know that I did receive  your payment – thank you! I’ll be starting the table on Wednesday. I’ll send pics and updates often. Thanks again!”

And do just that – keep in touch. Can you imagine sending hundreds – if not thousands – of dollars to someone on the internet that you don’t know, for a product that doesn’t exist? Nerve racking! You owe it to them to show progress pics. You don’t need to go overboard, detailing every tenon, but just a pic or two so that customer has no anxiety about you running off with their money.

And, once again, you are still building up the tension of getting the product delivered. She’s watching it being created; she knows you care enough about her to send her updates, relieving any anxiety. Chances are, you’re her first, so to speak.

•The Climax – Now the project is done. I’ll ask the client if she would want a picture of the final outcome before sending. Some don’t. Some want that big surprise when they open the box. Some want to see it right away. Ask before sending a finished product pic. If they do want a pic, send them one with the piece in a nice setting, like in your living room, outdoors, whatever – but please, not a sheet draped over your table saw in fluorescent light! Ugh!

• The Afterglow – Ship it. I’d advise you to use a new box, and not one that you got your George Foreman grill in. I know you think it might be no big deal, but it is. It’s her first interaction with the piece. How’s it look if the box looks like an ape high on crack wrapped it? I mean, seriously. Show her you care enough to present it in a new box, with the tape fairly neatly applied. Have some pride, will ya? By the way, if you are shipping a larger piece, like a coffee table, and you don’t want the pain, cost and extra shipping cost of a crate, you can get heavy duty cardboard boxes, custom made to your size. Check out CustomMadeBoxes. By the time you buy wood for a crate, not to mention the time, you could have had a box made for you. I made a crate – ONCE.

Of course, you are going to package it extremely well. Another tip: Don’t buy bubble wrap at your local Staples, Office Max, etc. But it on eBay – MUCH cheaper, like 5x cheaper. Also, I buy this foam paneling cheap at Home Depot to pad the sides. I don’t use peanuts, they make a mess and are so expensive.

I recommend using FedEx, if possible. I’ve had nothing but great experiences with them, and their tracking is awesome. By the way, as soon as you ship, send the customer a note. “Jen, just wanted to let you know your clock is on it’s way! The FedEx tracking number is xxxxxxxx, and it should be there Friday”. Once again, building anticipation. Customers often remark to the effect “I can’t wait!”

They WANT to love what you make for them, they really do. There’s been a big build up, and now you have to deliver. They will even overlook minor things, as they wear rose colored glasses, much as people in love do, never seeing the little warts their lover has.

After all that love making, you should have a very satisfied customer, returning, hopefully for more!

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Posted by on August 7, 2014 in BlogNotes


Challenge: What Did I Build from ONE 2×4?

ForkedUpArtI’m always a bit fascinated by what some people can do with what others would consider “junk” or “run of the mill” or ordinary. When someone can take something considered a throw-away, and make it much more than it was, so called “up-cycling” like this guy does on Etsy, using…forks. You can get forks for just about free at a garage sale, or new ones at the dollar stores. He has take materials, probably less than $4 worth, and with a little imagination and welding, turned it into something he can sell for almost $30. That is pretty cool.

Well, forks aren’t my thing, but wood is.

Now, the rage these days are furniture, or furnishings, from wood pallets – again, overlooked utilitarian wood. Usually trashed or used again and again. You can see examples of what can be done with wood pallets on my Pinterest page. There is also reclaimed lumber being used for flooring and furniture as well. My take is it’s just a passing fade. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for recycling and using materials in different ways, but I just don’t see the staying power of pallet furniture.

So, as a little intellectual challenge to myself, I was wondering, what could I make out of ONE lumber yard 2″x4″x8′ – the common stud you’d find in any home’s wall?

So over I went to my local Home Depot, and found a 2×4, the straights, knot-less one I could, a premium fir stud, for about $3. It was actually quite pretty, with a cream color, and growth rings of a pale red.

Now, what to make with this? I had my eye on this plant stand by Limbert out of oak and ebony:


Limbert Ebon-Oak Fern Stand With Square Top So, I set about trying to re-create it in Sketchup. Problem was, there was just not enough material in a 2×4 to do it (incidentally, a 2×4 is not actually 2″ x 4″; it’s 1.5″ x 3.5″). I took into account waste from the kerf of the saw, and tried every which way to make it happen.

Wouldn’t work.

BUT, I was able to make it work when I did it at 3/4 size.

After flattening the board, taking off the rounded edges, and just making a plain piece of lumber, I lost about an 1/8″, and took those dimensions into account in my Sketchup drawing. The project would take precision cutting, and there was no room for error – not even a 1/16″.

I had a little bit of scrap left over, a few little blocks, and I guess if I did it over, I would have tried to work those in somehow, so I had virtually NO waste, save the sawdust…

But anyway, here’s how it came out….

I ended up painting it a brown color with a black top, because staining pine is a nightmare!


Bare 2x4 table








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Posted by on July 22, 2014 in BlogNotes, Sketchup, SkunkWorks


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Look to Make Mistakes in the Shop

safty-glassesI don’t need to tell you that mistakes happen in life, and the shop is no exception. We try to avoid them, but here’s some good reasons why you should look to make mistakes in the shop. I’m not advocating for making mistakes in the shop – rather, looking for where or how mistakes could be made, and taking steps to stop or avoid them.

The shop is a dangerous place. Machines that can tear through flesh like a chainsaw can through butter, or hurl heavy objects at a good speed – or little ones at ballistic speeds – constitutes a dangerous environment. A little mistake you make in the shop can have terrible consequences. For example, I had my riving knife off on my table saw; it was’nt working right ( I think it was bent, map-adjusted, something like that), and of course I thought if I’d just be careful, everything would be fine. Nope. I was cutting off a small piece of scrap – probably a piece about the size of a cigarette lighter – and went to flick it off the table. I mis-flicked it, and it caught the back of the blade, sending the piece right towards my face. I had no time to react. the piece barely grazed my cheek, but hit my ear protection headphones, knocking them clear off my head. Talk about dodging a bullet. Had that caught my cheekbone, it might have broke it. I always wear eye protection, but who knows what that may have done to my eye area, even with protection.

In other incident, an unparalleled saw fence was to blame, catching a small piece of 1/4″ plywood, and hurling it into my gut, like a karate master delivering a chop! Let a black and blue mark for days.

Therefore, you need to be constantly on the look out for a possible safety issue that could occur. I caught one yesterday, when I happened to notice that the belt on my stationary belt sander was ripping apart at the seam that connects the two ends. That stitch coming apart could make for some interesting action!

Better results, less waste. It’s not just about equipment or technique safety either – though obviously that is the most important reason to look for possible mistakes. Look for possible mistakes you could make that could really set you back on your project. Common mistakes:

  • Cutting too short
  • Drilling a pilot hole too deep – and through the show side.
  • Snapping off a screw deep into a piece.
  • Not pre-staining cherry to avoid blotchiness.
  • Forgetting to get sandpaper / stain / hardware when you were at the store just yesterday, and now you have to drop everything and make another trip, wasting time.
  • Glue squeeze-out that you forgot to clean up, has now hardened, and you’re having a hard time trying to scrape and sand away, because of access.
  • That “3” your wrote too sloppy for a length to cut off that piece was actually an “8”, and now you’ve cut 5″ too short.

…and a million other little things.

The upshot here is to look for these little things that could cost you time, money and quality, but more importantly compromise your safety, and being proactive in avoiding them, making your shop experience more productive and safe.

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Posted by on July 15, 2014 in BlogNotes


Why You Need to Buy Expensive Tools!

Festool Router

Festool 574342 OF 1400 EQ Router, $535

Tools. Without them, we’d be sunk as woodworkers – and so many other trades. I don’t know about you, but motor tools are the way to go, usually! If you’re a purist, or a Roy Underhill, and you think that’s the way woodworking should be done, that’s cool and all, but not this boy. More pow-ah!

But like anything, you can buy the right and wrong tools; and again, just about like anything, you get what you pay for, as a general rule. If you put Harbor Freight tools (the majority of which come from China) up against a Festool or Fein (German), I think we know which the better tool is. “Better” meaning better built, better results, longer lasting.

Then again, the better tools cost more – usually a lot more.

Some guys aren’t willing – or able – to pay top dollar for top tools. I get it. I’ve been so poor in my younger days, the rainbows in my neighborhood were in black and white. I’m not slamming the less affluent.

What this post is about is re-thinking about the best – and worst – tools.

I do woodworking professionally, and doing pretty well, I might add, for a one-man shop. Tools are my make-or-break factor; if they fail, I could be dead in the water, trying to explain to customer why they aren’t going to get something when I promised them they would. But, there is more to it then that.

I’m starting to buy better and better tools – that is reasonable for my shop and price point, that is. I don’t need a 36″, 220 volt, closed end belt sander. Would I like one? Hell yes. But I don’t have the room, money, or need to justify it – and that’s where I’m going with all this, justifying better, more expensive tools. I actually have a criteria list I go through to justify a new tool purchase:

  1. Better Results: Will this new tool give me better results than I’m experiencing now? For instance, I just bought a Festool ETS 125 Finish Sander, and sandpaper for about $300 locally. Yes, I bought a lot of sandpaper; the sander itself was $195. I bought it for two reasons. My previous sander, a DeWalt D26451K (about $69), did a good job, but did leave a lot of swirl marks, and the dust collection wasn’t very good. If you happen to drop it on it’s side – even just a few inches, the next time you turned it on, a dust bomb would shoot out the side. The sanding pads I used (admittedly, from Home Depot) didn’t hold up all that long, and the grip on the sander was not all that ergonomically friendly – especially after a half hour or more. It was also quite noisy, and had this irritating issue of having to wait 5 seconds after turning it off and putting it down, so that the disc would stop spinning (and jumping all over where you would set it down). So, impressed with the Festool line I perused at my local Woodcraft, I bought their product. I won’t go into a full review here, but the dust collection is great – even with just the onboard bag, it’s much quieter, and winds down very quickly, so I can put it down and not worry. The swirl pattern is very minute, and results in a virtually nonexistent swirl pattern, and their proprietary sanding discs (albeit expensive) don’t clog up, and last a long time. Bottom line: I can protect my health better, and I get better sanding results.
  2. Time Savings: If I buy this tool, will it save me time? This won’t apply to all tools – a wrench, be it $25 or $2.50 still takes time to turn – but in many cases, great tools can save you time, and of course, time is money – in more ways than one. It maybe the tool is more accurate, or saves the use of two tools – such as a mortising machine.
  3. Money Savings: Is this tool going to save me money in the long run? Good tools can save you money. They can save you time, because they can do the job quicker – or maybe more importantly, accurately. Tools that mess up your work only cost you time when you to go back and fix what it damaged. Maybe that cheap box of screws broke off well into the workpiece, and you can’t get it out; perhaps those cheaper box of sanding discs last for only 5 minutes each, or those cheap saw blades mess up your cabinet grade plywood – this kind of thing. Is something a value when it costs you time and/or money, not to mention the end result of your project?
  4. Safer. Will I be safer if I buy this tool? We often blow off safety, admit it. I’m trying to up my game a little bit more in this area, especially in terms of dust collection. Dust is a pain, not just because it makes a mess of the shop, but because you breath in this crap, for decades on end. Not good. A tool, such as the Festool sander I just purchased, greatly helps in that area. Any tool that is safer is usually a good selling point on that criteria alone. You can always get another tool, but you can’t get a new eye, lungs or finger.
  5. More satisfying experience. I don’t like fighting my tools. I don’t like having to jury rig something, or baby it this way or that to get it to work right. My tools are their for my use, and I’m not there for them. When you use a great tool, the woodworking experience is more rewarding, I feel – the tool might be more ergonomically friendly, easier to use, give better results, quieter – or all of the above.

So I hope this helps you in selecting your next tool; you should never be afraid to buy the very best – you’ll never be dissapointed.


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Posted by on July 5, 2014 in BlogNotes


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Good Reasons to Raise Your Prices

higher prices   In the on-going saga of convincing woodworkers (and general craftspeople alike) to raise their prices, I have cobbled together some great reasons to do so, as seen below. In my opinion, you need to get beyond the idea that you are competing on price with a big box retailer;  they can always make a product, and buy it, cheaper then you can.

But that’s not a disadvantage, so stop thinking it is. You have to present a different narrative to the customer – one in which value, uniqueness and enjoyment have worth beyond the price. Your customer is not looking for a low price, but a unique, custom-made piece that is gorgeous and solid.

   You make more money. If you were paid $250 for that mantle clock a year ago, and today, you’re getting $500 for it, obviously, you’ve made more money on the same labor and materials. I don’t know about you, but that’s a good thing.

   You make less to make more. Ever heard that saying….something about a fast nickel,  or a slow dime? The lesson from it is that it’s better to make more money, and it taking longer, then to make less money sooner. For example, in the previous clock example – would you rather build two clocks for the same profit, or one? Obviously, one. Less wear and tear on YOU, your machinery, supplies, time, etc.

   You raise the public’s expectation on price. Some people are going to snicker at your price; why, $1,000 for a kitchen table! I can go to (insert name of any national furniture retailer) and get it for half that! They try to make you look like a hapless chump. This is where education and salesmanship comes into play. You have to educate the client about the quality of work and materials that go into the piece, and how it’s made just for you. Custom kitchen cabinetry is a great example. Go into a Home Depot or Lowes, and take a look at their boxed kitchen cabinetry – the carcase being something like MDF with what amounts to a photo of a piece of wood stuck to the side. The joinery is terrible, usually done with staples, and pieces of plastic. The door is made of real wood, yes, but the fit and finish is usually terrible. The finish is very muddy and dull – but what can you expect from mass, spray-on “finish”? Then show the potential client one of YOUR cabinets, and how it will help the resale value of the home, not to mention your own personal enjoyment while you still own the home. Also, all the cabinetry is custom to your needs – not shoe-horned in from off the shelf junk at the store. Educate and sell. Once people know the better value, they won’t balk as much (if at all) paying for it. Not only that, but you are helping out other craftsman’s bottom line as well, since the customer understands why you pay more to get more.

   Perceived value can increase. “Perceived value” is what the person believes the piece is “worth” to them. For example, a ring from a great grandmother may have little commercial value, but it might be worth a lot to the family. Likewise, a piece made just for a customer, with design input from them, for a special occasion, etc, increases the perceived value of the piece. When the perceived value increases, the likelihood of the customer paying more does as well.

Some people just aren’t going to pay your price, no matter what it is. Some might feel a bit jaded or afraid of working with a person, because they are an unknown factor, as opposed to an established retailer. My wife and I are constantly amazed at how much money people will send me – a stranger – for an unmade product. She’ll often be amazed at my reply when she asks, “What did you get for that?” – incredulous at my price.  When you think about it though, this kind of customer has expendable income. They know what they want, and they’ll pay for it, as long as you give them what they want, and wow them. Often times, these people are self-made; they may have been a lone entrepreneur like yourself, and can identify with you.

That’s the kind of customer I want.


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Posted by on June 30, 2014 in BlogNotes

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