Failure

There are no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation, hard work, and learning from failure. Colin Powell

I messed up on a job last weekend.

My client is building a beautiful house on the top of a hill with a million dollar view.  They asked me to build them some white oak tops; one for the desk, one for the island, and one for the attached dining area.  Because of the size of the rough slabs, I had to build the tops in place.

And did I mention that the dining table top was round, except at the end where there was a square extension from the round top?

I was trimming the rough blank to size with my jigsaw…tight to the line, everything is going good.

Until I saw that the top had shifted on the pedestal base and I had sawn into the trim of the island itself.  I swore when I saw the damage I had done.

I’m going to pay for this, both out of my pocket and from future jobs that I don’t get word of mouth.  Don’t get me wrong, the pieces that I supplied are gorgeous.  Beautiful.  Beyond amazing. I’m hoping that the client will focus on that and less on the oopsie in the future

But I screwed up, and I’m going to learn from it.

-Secure workpieces before working on them.  Better yet, when on the jobsite, put the workpiece on either sawhorses or a site-built work table or a workbench.  Don’t work in/on the installed area.

-Use furniture pads.  This helps to prevent scratches, segregates the area to store tools, and generally protects everything.

-You can never have too many clamps on the job site.

 

What ‘Custom’ means to me

I’m not creating something that you can buy in a store.  I can’t compete with them in cost, and I’m not trying to anyway.

Custom means that you are getting something that is a reflection of you.  Sometimes it’s easy…a recent client wanted doors to cover the openings in their brickwork grill.  But they wanted them in cedar, and in the ‘barn door’ fashion. Good luck buying those in the right wood, in the right dimension, and then you’d probably have to take them home and install them yourself.  Ha!  I smile just thinking about the improbability of that.

Let me put this another way….If you had the skill and the tools and the machinery, what would you build?  I’d like to think that my sole purpose for my business is to give YOU access to the skill and the tools and the machinery.  I think I’ve mentioned this in an earlier blogpost, but I want you as a client to be actively involved in the design of the piece.  I can come up with ideas and suggestions and such, but I crave your feedback.  You need to provide input.  Without it, I’m just building a piece of furniture.  With it, I’m building a piece of furniture FOR YOU.

I built a sofa table for a client last fall.  She gave me the general dimensions, but she wanted it flush to the wall behind the sofa and flush to the back of the sofa.  The thing was, it was a curved back sofa.  One side of the table was straight, the other was curved to fit the curvature of the sofa.  Good luck finding that at Haverty’s or Ashley furniture.  I built her something that was custom to her needs.  I’m particularly proud of that piece, as I had to use ALGEBRA (no really, I sincerely used algebra) to determine the curvature of the sofa.  And who says that you can get through life without ever using algebra.  I laugh in the faces of all of the non-algebraic people in the world.  I know who they’ll go to when they need a custom piece of furniture!  HA!  But I digress…..

I’m soon going to finish a project that is a combination of wood, metal, and leather.  I designed it with input from the customer.  It is going to meet all of their desires and fit in with their existing taste.  I guarantee they will love it.

 

More leather!

Because seriously, who can’t use more leather in their life.  Am I right, or am I right?

 

The size of the pouch is 8×8, the fringes are 5″ long.

I see leatherwork as an extension of furniture making and upholstery.  I’m working on developing this skill to the point that I can create and upholster furniture as needed.  Not all furniture is just plain wood construction….

The first year is in the books

I got my business license one year ago yesterday.  That is the day I use to keep track of ‘business time’.  Yesterday was my first anniversary.

I’ve learned so much, both from the business side of things and also on the woodworking side of things.

Hand chopping mortises in white oak is an exercise in patience.  Also, white oak chips smell like fine whiskey.  Or is it that fine whiskey smells like white oak chips?

-I think I know how much custom is valued.  I’m going to charge accordingly in year 2.

-When I build something that goes into a customer’s home, I need to be very careful about what I call the ‘interface’.  How is this piece that I’m building going to fit onto/into/around the pre-existing structure/mount/furniture?  How my piece fits with what is already there is the hardest part of ‘custom building’.  I’ve gotten so much better at that…planning and measuring and making my piece fit with what is already there.  I learned that lesson from repeated trips back to the jobsite…

-I need to build a ‘travel box’, a toolbox that I can grab and throw in the vehicle and take to the jobsite.  I can’t tell you how many times I got to the job site and forgot the battery charger, or the right drill bit, or the left handed monkey wrench.

-I’m more than just a woodworker.  I’m getting decent as a leatherworker also.  To me, leatherworking and woodworking go hand in hand.  What use is a sofa frame if it isn’t upholstered?  Furniture making and woodworking are synonymous, and I see upholstery as an extension of woodworking.  I’m looking at a chair right now that is disassembled.  It needs a new seat.  I’ve cut out the seat blank from some plywood, and I’ve got upholstery foam.  I’m deciding if I want to use leather as the seat cover or a cheaper fabric.  If I use leather, I know that I won’t be able to sell the chair for what the leather costs.  If I use fabric, I may be able to sell the chair for the cost of the fabric and foam.  And I found the chair on the side of the road!  The cost of making the chair was free to me!

-Such is the quandary I find myself in….I’ve found that people often don’t understand what goes into making things.  I mean, everything comes from Wal-Mart, and by extension, China, right?  You go to the nearest big box, plunk down your dollars,and walk out with a chair/table/dresser drawers.  But very few people understand that there is a difference between solid wood and sawdust mixed with glue and pressed into a shape and coated with a paper that mimics grain.  Fewer still understand why solid, hand-made goods cost more than particle board crap.

-I love creating.  I love the look on the clients face when the light switch is flipped and a lighting fixture that I built and wired and mounted lights up.  Or watching the client rub her hands over the smooth oak table, relishing the texture and character of the wood.  I take immense pride, joy, and satisfaction from taking a client’s sometimes nebulous idea and turning it into reality.

I’m grateful for all of the clients that I’ve had this year.  I hope that I’ve met and exceeded expectations.  I look forward to building solid, multi-generational, functional and beautiful things for many more people in 2018.

 

Yours in custom creations,

Drake

Ruminations on being in business almost a year

-Making sawdust is easy.  Updating the blog is not.

-I struggle with determining how much ‘custom’ costs.  I’m building one of a kind creations.  What I’ve found is that people come to me to build something that they can’t buy at Wal-mart/Target, can’t find in a flea market or antique store, but there’s a picture of it on Pinterest.  So how much value does that have to the customer?  How much should I charge, given my relatively new status to the custom building market?  There’s a balance there, and I don’t think I’ve found it yet.

– I always forget to mention this, so I’m going to mention it now.  I’m a retired veteran, and I get 10% off on all purchases at the big box home improvement stores, like Lowe’s and Home Depot.  I pass those savings directly on to YOU, my friend!

-Taxes suck at any level.

-I’ve learned more about business, customer relationships, future goals, and even woodworking in the last ten months than I would have ever expected.  I’m excited to continue to expand my skill set, master new techniques, and build my gallery by putting projects into homes and businesses in the greater Huntsville area.

Chris Schwarz is a workshop hero of mine.  He makes it look so easy.

-I’ve never NOT had a project waiting for me to work on.  That is encouraging.

-I’m excited to build a ‘proper‘ workbench.

 

 

Coming Soon! A Product Line tab

I’ve always thought that I needed a product line.  Something that the customer can browse through and say, “I need that!”.

Also, it gives me something to work on when I don’t have a client.  Hopefully, I can build the product line out into a series of creations and products.  As usual, it will be along the line of A Home for Everything, and Everything in its Home.

First up in the product line:  Storage racks for the garage

I built this rack for a client back in May.  Simple 2×4 construction, lag bolted to the wall, sturdy as all get out.  This one was 6 1/2′ tall, 2′ deep, 11′ wide.  That’s 143 cubic feet of storage.  Who can’t use 143 feet of storage?

I was so impressed with myself over this simple rack that I decided to build one to store all of the lumber in the garage, I mean, woodshop.  Who uses a garage to PARK a VEHICLE, right?  Garages are for woodshops, and making sawdust, and storing both useful and un-useful items.  That’s what storage racks are for!  Here’s a picture of that one.

This is the rack I built to hold my lumber. 16′ long, 8′ high, 3′ wide. About 335′ cubic feet of storage.

Other things in the product line that I’m thinking about….really nice tool boxes.  Tool chests.  Leather work.

Grateful

Shortly after I went to the courthouse and got my business license and such, I wrote up a 5 year plan.  I laid out what I wanted to do, tools I wanted to buy, business processes I wanted to have in place.  I put them on a timeline, culminating in having my own dedicated and environmentally controlled woodworking shop after 5 years.

My goal for the first year was to get 10 jobs, among other things.  I thought it was a modest, but achievable goal.

So far, after about 6 months in business, I’ve gotten 10 jobs already.  I’ve bid for 2 others that I didn’t get.  I’ve completed 7, the other 3 are in various stages of development.

I am grateful to each and every client that allowed me to build for them, to listen to them, and to fulfill the idea they had in their head.  I am grateful that they allowed me to put something into their homes.  I am grateful for that trust.  I hope to build many more projects, to build much more trust, in the future.

Flexibility

Flexibility is the key to air power, yoga instructors, and the custom experience, apparently.

I went to a client’s house this weekend for the final install.  I get there and the client says, “I’m going to throw you a curve.  I want to change how the lid is going to open.”  “OK”, I say, “Show me how you want to change it.”  “I want to move the hinges from where I had originally told you, to the front.” “Sure thing.”

 

I strive to provide the custom experience with the service the customer is paying for.  If I can’t be flexible in meeting the customer’s needs, I’m not really providing the custom experience.

Fortunately, I was able to make the changes the customer wanted right there in his rec room, with little time or expense added.

This is the second time that I’ve delivered what I thought was the final product and the customer ‘flipped the script’ on me.

Flexibility.  It’s key to the custom experience.