Category Archives: BlogNotes

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

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 BlogNotes, Furniture, SkunkWorks


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Help Me! I’m Turning Green!

Kermit the frogNo, it’s not St. Patrick’s Day (which is, interestingly, my birthday), but I’m starting to turn green.

Not with envy, either. The big thing today is “being green”, or “environmentally friendly”. As a conservative, politically, you might think I’d bristle at that notion – but I don’t anymore.

The people you usually associate with being green – liberals – believe that the Earth is warming due to our use of fossil fuels; I’m not getting into discussing that, but that is a large part of their push for people to go towards more Earth-friendly forms of power, such as solar, wind, water, etc. The people you usually associate with being against that – like us conservatives – aren’t into that movement so much; Liberals vilify us for not agreeing with them, because of course, we want pollution, and for oil companies to become rich; they’re can’t possible be any other reason, such as the power and convienence of gas driven engines.

However, this conservative is starting to see the green light in being green. No, it’s not easy being green, as Kermit the Frog lamented, but it can be a win-win situation.

As a woodworker, obviously, I’m into sustaining my wood supply, especially the more exotic and hard to find woods. I want those woods in my tool chest, so to speak, should I need them. I don’t want entire forests wiped out – though I don’t think we could possibly do that, or would need to. I live near the Adirondacks, and while driving up to the family camp there, I can’t help but wonder how many tens of millions of trees there are in the nation’s largest public park. Let’s face it, there will always be pine, oak and maple, unless some bug or bacteria wipes them out, akin to the Dutch Elm disease.

So why am I turning green(er)? Because it saves, and even generates, money. Making things out of recycled wood (pallets, barn wood, etc) is a big seller because people want to support the green cause; people feel good about buying a “green” product, usually. The wood in this case is usually free or next to nothing, putting green in my pocket. As a woodworker, working with recycled wood makes for a challenge artistically, and I’m sure, technically. How do you make an attractive weathered wood piece? Will joinery be a pain? How do you finish it, yet keep it’s weathered wood attractiveness? All challenges for woodworkers.

As far as saving energy – turning off lights, using LED bulbs, etc – well, that also saves me money.

I don’t know about climate change – however I do believe that less pollution is always better, assuming you don’t have to live in a cave to make it happen;  that it’s reasonable. I would love to have solar panels on my roof, and be off the grid, and save a couple of hundred bucks a month – but that’s not technically possible or economically feasible right now; I wish it was.

Going green(er), as a woodworker can be a win-win situation.

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Posted by on August 15, 2013 in BlogNotes


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Is the Simplest Design the Best Design?

Design is really the thing in woodworking, in my opinion. Without a good design, It doesn’t matter how good technically you are at woodworking, the piece will still be awful; it won’t look or perform right. On the other hand, if you have a great design – such as a simple mission style table, you can have a nice piece of furniture with only mediocre woodworking skills.

Look at Maloof and Krenov, two icons of woodworking. I’m sure they were excellent woodworkers, technically speaking, but it’s their designs that people remember, not their joinery work (Maloof’s rocker and Krenov’s cabinet).



What then, is a good design? Well, I would say that a good design, at least as it applies to woodworking, is a design that fulfills it’s purpose well, and is pleasing to the eye, such as this highboy seen here.

Obviously, it can hold a lot of clothes, and with so many separate compartments, you can divide them up nicely. It’s pretty to look at, so aesthetics are certainly there, and it’s been reproduced a million times in some variation, so you know it’s a classic. My only problem with highboys is – you need a stepstool to see what is in those upper two drawers, unless you are a pro basketball player.

Building a highboy, even for the master woodworker, takes hundreds and hundreds of hours. The queen anne legs, the finials, the crown, the fan carvings – all take a lot of time and expertise.

Nevertheless, the classic highboy is a good design, if not a real chore to produce.

So now we’ve established what a “good” design is; but what is a “great” design then?

Certainly, a great design will have what a good design does – it carries out it’s purpose wonderfully, and does it while being pleasing to the eye….but it needs even more than that. In my opinion, that extra quality would be simplicity.

I’ll need to explain what I mean by simplicity, and how it’s important.

I think when someone comes up with a simple design, with minimal woodworking skills needed, that doesn’t depend on embellishment to make it interesting, then that designer is a genius. He’s a genius because he has created something that performs it designed purpose well, if not perfectly, and who’s design is easy to the eye, not overwhelming, a lot to see and try to appreciate. Also, the design is easy and quick to carry out technically.

Rustic Reclaimed Wood VaseTake a long look at this reclaimed wood vase, for example. I can across this here on Etsy, by a guy that sells a good amount of work using reclaimed wood.

Personally, I find this design to be even more striking then the highboy shown above! I’m sure some of you will bristle at that, but let me explain myself.

FIrst, we have a design that is very simpe – essentially, an open-ended rectangular box; it must be easy, even for the beginner woodworker, to produce. Next, the beauty of the wood, a light creamy color with dark vertical streaking. No complicated beading, carving or contrasting woods. In my book, he gets bonus points for using reclaimed wood; you can enjoy the look AND know that you are being “green”. The woodworker probably paid next to nothing (if anything)  for the wood. The woodworker states “Removable narrow glass vase” comes with it, so you can use water in it (as opposed to putting in dried flowers or branches, or even fake flowers). Minimal construction and finishing (he doesn’t specify a finish, there may be none) also means a positive environmental impact. Though not part of the design, it’s worth noting that this piece must be highly profitable, at $28, given the very lost cost (if not free) of materials, and the simple construction.

Contrast these things with the highboy – expensive wood (probably mahogany, which had to be shipped here from a foreign country ( and is possibly an unsustainable wood), hundreds of hours of work, some type of finish, hardware, and (for me at least) questionable design because of the unreachable upper drawers.

Let me again say that I think the highboy design is a very good design, no doubt, and I highly respect the skills and determination of a woodworker that can pull it off successfully; but for me, the simplicity of a design really makes a design great.


Posted by on August 7, 2013 in BlogNotes



The Joy of Woodworking

“0 Degrees” by Patrick Ashley

I am a craftsman, and I work with wood.

I don’t make the kind of excellent money some people make; I don’t always have a paycheck every week, but I do love what I do, and have a passion for it; it is not work, but my life.

I don’t sit in an office all day, pushing around electrons, rearranging pixels; I don’t wear nice clothes, and eat in a hip cafeteria. My office is dusty and noisey, my clothing tired, but there is a zen and solitude I don’t find anywhere else; it is a church of sorts.

I don’t have a prestigious title, nor a pension; but many men in offices would like to do what I can do – yet I know no fellow craftsman that would like to be in the office. At the end of my day, I have something to show for my efforts, a tangible object, not things done on a computer. When I am done, I have have crafted an object people like to take in, to touch.

I don’t sit in meetings all day that bore me; the only meeting I might have is with my sawyer, a coffee cup and some tools, and they are good company.

I make my own hours, and I determine my own course. I know what I need to get done, and I know when I can do it. If I don’t believe the course of my business is going in the right direction, I change it; there are no endless meetings, no debates with egotistical personalities.

You can’t buy what I make anywhere else; there is only one of what I make, even if I make several from the same plans; the wood determines the personality – I determine the body.

I don’t have a frustrating commute, and I don’t have to put up with office politics. There are no social agenda activities that I have to feign an interest in; I don’t have to work with people I don’t like, who get ahead unfairly, are obnoxious, or don’t pull their load. I don’t have to go through three people and five committees just to make a simple decision; I can make a decision on a dime, and execute it quickly. I am not simply a cog in the machine; I am the machine.

I work with wood.  I take it with my hands, in raw form, considering and appraising it for worth, and using my machines, cut, shave and bend it to my mind’s will, where I worked the wood first, even before my hands did. If, after all of the planning, the conjuring of a vision, the careful selection of the wood, the experience of my hands upon the wood creates something that, if I am a credit to my craft, I coax it into a beautiful and useful object, contributing to peoples lives, and speaking to them for me, reciting my passion and vision, evidence of the work of my hands and the impression of my thought, long after I am gone. What I create is it’s own; it has a voice, though silent, and can hear you, though mute. How many people can say that of their work?

I work with wood. I take what God has made, and I reveal the beauty within, posing it into a creation which can serve.


Posted by on August 5, 2013 in BlogNotes



Are Production Runs the Only Way to Make a Living in Woodworking?

Fine Woodworking MagazineIn the most recent issue of Fine Woodworking magazine (#235), they have an article on making a living as a woodworker in their article, “Dreaming of Going Pro?“. It could have been a bit more extensive, but nevertheless, it was still very enlightening, because the article had case studies of various woodworkers, and how they were making a go at it. If you don’t have this copy of Fine Woodworking, you might want to get it. In fact, subscribe to the magazine – it’s hands down the best woodworking magazine out there, at least for woodworkers that want to advance their skills and make a living at woodworking.

The last woodworker featured, Don Green, had what I believed to be the winning formula for making money at woodworking, which can be summed up in one word: runs (or batches). His philosophy (and more and more, my own) is that making a living in woodworking can really only be had through, what amounts to, mass production. That doesn’t mean  you are becoming a mini IKEA or Sauder, where every piece looks identical; that just can’t be if you have real wood, due to the woodgrain alone, let alone the hand work involved.

In his designing process, he not only goes for a form and function factor, as any good designer should, but he also tries to maximize efficiency and minimize hand tool use, stating, “The minute I go to hand tools, I can’t make any money. So I design based on how close I can get to a finished piece right off the machine.”  That alone should be a head slapper. If you have to spend time (and therefore, money) hand tooling an inlay, making a custom jig or other such contrivances for a custom piece, you really can’t make money. I’m making a custom desk right now, and I can verify that – but live and learn. He goes on to say that when he’s designing a piece, “I edit out processes that are too time- consuming.” Too much finicky work, he says, “will bury you.”  That’s not to say you should never do custom work, if you love to do it, or have the clients for it; it’s to say that it’s not an efficient way to make money.

Shipping is even factored into his design – another head slapper. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve made a custom piece, and had to buy a special size box that it will fit into. Often, I have to cut and break down the box somewhat, or even a second box into the mix, which not only frustrates me, but costs time and money. I really hate packing and shipping, but it is usually necessary, unless I have a local client. If you design to have the piece fit into an readily available box, and you can add just enough cushioning material easily, that’s a very good thing.

You’re probably going to think this guy is my hero – and I believe you’d be right – at least in having figured out how to make money at woodworking, for the article continues to explain that Don will make a full size mock up out of 2x4s and sheetrock screws so he can get a real feel for the form – and refine it until it feels right. Once again, an efficient method. My process has been build a prototype out of the actual wood I had in mind, sell a few, refine, sell a few more, refine, and then i have it about right. What that means is I’m redrawing plans several times and probably re-making jigs as well – not to mention adding confusion.

So then, the question is begged, can you make a living in woodworking just doing commissions? Well, I suppose that also begets the question “What is ‘a living’?” – just how much money is that?  Only you can define that. If your income is secondary income to your spouse’s primary income, the answer is probably “yes”. If it’s your primary income, it might be “no”. Commissions, can be feast or famine, and many guys don’t have the stomach (or the savings) to make it. When you have troubled economies, as we have had, then our type of work is usually the first to go.

In my opinion, at least for now (as making a living at woodworking is an ongoing learning experience ), the answer is probably, no, that making a living is not in commissions, but rather in making runs of a great pieces that sell well. This is just what Stickley does (see my three part article on that); they make runs of pieces – maybe it’s a dresser, table or bed for the next three days, then a coffee table and chair the three days following that – but they set up their factory so employees are all making vast batches of the legs, tops, shelves or drawers that are needed to make that certain piece, maximizing efficiency, and therefore, income.


Posted by on August 5, 2013 in BlogNotes


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Thinking Like the Big Boys


Picasso“Good Artists Borrow, Great Artists Steal” -Pablo Picasso

Making a profit in woodworking is really a simply mathematical formula – did you make more money then you spent, and was that money, when divided by the number of hours you spent on the project enough for you?

Wood and hardware aren’t something you can really control. Sure, you can shop around, but the money you’d save probably wouldn’t offset the time you spent looking for the deal.

How much you charge for the project is somewhat under your control; obviously, people will only pay so much for the piece.

Your time spent on the project is the most malleable factor of them all; the less time, the better. The sooner you can move on to the next project – and the next profit.

This is where the big boys – like Stickley – get it right. Having taken their factory tour, I saw firsthand how they turn out tens of (if not a hundred plus) thousands of dollars worth of product every day. They have a two-pronged advantage – they have the benefit of mass production, and the advantage of specialized machinery.

We’re the little guys – we don’t have that advantage; or do we?

Let’s steal from the big guys.

Do things in batches (or “runs). When you make one, you can make several. It’s much more efficent – and accurate – to set up a table saw (band saw, router, etc) once, and make many cuts of the same type, then to make many cuts and as many set-ups.

If it adds quality and saves time, buy it. I’m talking about tools, but also help, whether in-house, or contracted out. Consider investing in a tool such as a CNC router, which is very accurate, and can cut parts on it’s own while you do something else. In lieu of that, contract out some time consumptive task, such as a rocker seat, to another shop with a better CNC router that can pop them out with great quality. Get the picture? At Stickley, I observed this – they didn’t spend a lot of time (and therefore money) on things that didn’t add value for the customer. Yes, hand cut dovetails are great and all, but a typical consumer won’t be able to tell the difference between hand cut and those done by a highly accurate machine. Instead, they spent money (i.e, craftsman hours) on things that DO matter to the customer, fit and and finish.

Be Original. Yes, you can make a reproduction of say, a federalist table, but….so can other guys. If other guys can do it, that means…competition. You don’t want any competition. If you are putting out original (tables, chairs, cutting boards, etc), and it’s a good design, you have no competition, and therefore, should have more sales.

Look around and steal something! No, I’m not encouraging you to go on some felonious caper; what I’m saying is, look at what other guys in your line of work are doing and observe them. Look at their website – they often give off tips unknowingly about what works for them. I’m not saying steal their product idea – but how they market or sell.

I would encourage you to take a look at my three part series on what I learned at the Stickley factory tour. Part one is here, part two is here, and part three is here.

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Posted by on August 4, 2013 in BlogNotes


Artisan Interview: Brad Sears

Brad SearsI like to find other woodworkers that are doing well, and try to glean some inspiration and business advice from them. The following is an interview with Brad Sears, a woodturner who specializes in Salt and Pepper mills, and does very well selling them. Brad website is here.

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Posted by on July 8, 2013 in BlogNotes


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New Mission Workshop on TV

My shop was featured in a local new station’s story about an improving economy….

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Posted by on July 5, 2013 in BlogNotes


What Makes a Great Woodworker?

Sam Maloof

Sam Maloof and his signature rocker.

Most woodworkers fall into the “OK” or “good” category; but what makes a great woodworker? What is a “great” woodworker, anyway?

I’d like to try to answer that, and further, what makes a great woodworker great?

In my mind, a great woodworker stands out; his work is distinguishable from others, because it is technically perfect, useful and creative.

It’s technically perfect, in that joints are done right, a correct wood is used, as are adhesives and fasteners. The finish is flawless. In general, there are no flaws to be found – or if there are, you really had to look for them – e.g,, wood putty.

It’s useful, in that it suits it’s purpose extremely well. When we say that an object is “good” we mean to say that it carries out it’s purpose extremely well, if not perfectly. A chair, for example – it’s comfortable, sturdy, and attractive; it’s a good chair. Artful woodwork, such as carvings, can also be termed “good” – a good piece of art evokes an emotion; that maybe a wow factor, a feeling of beauty, and so on. Good art does that.

Creative – without creativty, woodworkers just become Xerox copiers, in effect. Yes, that’s a great copy of an 18th century grandfather clock – but, it’s still just a copy. It’s like these “tribute” musical acts – guys that sound just like Frank Sinatra, the Beatles or Elvis – ok, they do sound and look like the original – but they will never be as good as the original, nor as popular. Likewise, great woodworkers are creative; they take a fresh approach on an old theme – Maloof did it with a rocker, Krenov with a cabinet, Eames with a chair. All these great woodworkers took the common and made it…better.

So now we have some qualities of what may be considered a “great” woodworker; but what makes them that way?

I’ll take a crack at this.

I think the greatest attributes are creativity and passion.

Passion means you are very interested in the subject, you have a love for it. It may be on your mind often, almost like a love interest. You might consider it your life’s work, your drive, your reason for living even.

Creativity is the quality of being able to formulate something new with existing materials; that may be taking a set of oils and making a classic painting; it may be taking food ingredients and creating a delicious dish, or it maybe taking wood and making something useful and beautiful. You have the ability to visualize something new and interesting in your mind.

However, you also need to be able to carry out the ideas that come from passion and creativity. You need technical skill. I may be able to think of a wonderful guitar song in my mind, but I can’t play guitar, and me trying to make it happen on a guitar would be horrendous – I have no technical skill for the guitar. Likewise, a great woodworker has a great deal of technical skill at his/her disposal; they can make happen in the real world what they have seen in their mind’s eye – and do that exceedingly well. This includes everything from selecting beautiful and appropriate wood to that last brush swipe on the finish.

Another “skill” or at least need that a great woodworker must have (or has someone that can do it for them) is a marketing campaign of sorts – awareness. What good would it be to have a Maloof rocker in a storage closet, or a Mona Lisa behind another painting? Mustn’t others be aware of it to be great? I’m not sure the answer is yes here, honestly. I can build a great desk, beautiful and functional, perhaps even on par with a Maloof rocker or Krenov cabinet – yet if no one else saw it, would it still be great? Well, yes it would, because how great a desk it is isn’t dependent on other’s awareness of it. However, if I want to be considered a great woodworker, others would need to be aware of my work. “Great” people of any kind need to be in the mind of the public to be known as such.

So there you have my idea of what a great woodworker is; what say you?

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Posted by on June 15, 2013 in BlogNotes


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My Favorite Internet Woodworking Sites

There are lots of great woodworking places on the internet, and I thought I’d share my favorites; if you have one not listed, but let me know in the comments section!

FineWoodworking Magazine – The premier woodworking magazine. A wide variety of articles, and for everyone from beginners to masters. I’m a member of their online community as well, and I love that I can download PDFs of articles from the magazine, and can keep them conveniently on my hard drive.




lumberjocks_logoLumberjocks – a place for the average to advanced woodworker to show off his projects; a robust forum; classes. Lots of traffic, well laid out.





twitterTwitter – You can find lots of varieties of woodworking disciplines on Twitter. I follow WoodworkingNetwork (@WoodworkingBiz), Popular Woodworking ‏(@pweditors), and WoodworkersInstitute ‏(@woodworkers), to name a few. Problem with some woodworkers when they tweet? They put up useless stuff – like “I just got done with my cabinet!”. Nobody cares! By the way, you can follow me at @NewMissionWkshp. I promise to tweet only relevant stuff!



facebook logoFacebook Woodworking Groups page – A pretty active and interesting group on FB.



custommade logoCustomMade – The best place to sell your stuff, if you are a pro woodworker than can run with a client’s request. They bring makers (like you and I) together with folks out there looking to have stuff made (“Round dining table with leaf. Approximately 40″ to 48″ with a leaf. No inlay necessary.”) I do about 90% of my work through them. No fee, except when you sell – they get a reasonable 10%.

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Posted by on June 12, 2013 in BlogNotes

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