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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,


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.


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 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.


I love working with a sharp blade in my handplane

Tonight I was in the garage, working on a clients project, a tv console. This particular project is a huge deal for me, as I’ve designed it completely myself. No pictures to go by, no magazines to look it. This is truly an original design.

I got the legs all dimensioned properly, and then I started working on the side stretchers….the horizontal pieces that connect the legs together. There are 2 on each side, top and bottom.

At one point after cutting them to final width, it appeared to me that they weren’t quite the same width. They may have varied by as much as 1/64th, maybe 1/32″. A few passes with the handplane knocked down all the high spots and brought them all down to the same width. And the finish is absolutely satin….

And it made for a cool picture.


In memoriam of J. A. P.


Dear sir, I bought your saw off of eBay at auction, and I just want to gush about it. This is a picture of your saw.

It is a Disston 14″ back saw. I don’t know how you acquired it, but the guy I bought it from got it an estate auction near Chicago. I’m weighing it because it is so much heavier than a similar saw that I bought a few months ago. Same manufacturer, too. I have a theory about the weight difference, if you’ll allow me the courtesy of going into somewhat of a focused ramble.

This saw cost $8 dollars in 1880, based on the purchase price of what I bought the saw for in 2017 and the inflation of the dollar over the 137 years since then. The math nerds that are following my site (if there are ANY math nerds following my site) will quickly say, “to the internet!!” and deduce that I paid $185 dollars for the saw (shipping included!). Whatever. It’s a beautiful saw, and it was built when craftsmen made their living from their tools.

Your saw weighs over 22 ounces, back when steel was relatively expensive. The modern saw weighs just over 12 ounces, when steel was relatively cheap. Why is that?

I think that your saw was made to be used and resharpened and used and resharpened. The weight makes it easier to cut wood, but it isn’t so heavy that the user gets tired. Your saw was made for a person who earned his livelihood, while the modern saw was stamped out and given a plastic handle and made to be as cheap as possible and then disposed of when it got dull because hey, it’s cheap, right?

Your saw cuts BETTER, the kerf (the groove or slot that the saw leaves behind) is THINNER, and it cuts FASTER. These are all things that are benificial when you are making a living from the tool.

Truly, in this case, they don’t make them the way they used to.


What did you make with this saw, J. A. P. Is any of your work still in use today? how did you acquire it? Who did you leave it with after you slipped the mortal coil? Was the chip in the handle there when you got it, or did you drop it? Did you wonder, as I do, who used it before you? Did you feel, as I do, that I need to craft fine things with this saw so as to honor those craftsmen before me?

I love your saw. I treasure it. I am going to make great furniture with it that will last for generations. Thank you, good sir.

I like you get excited about these old beauties. This was obtained at an estate of a elderly carpenter / woodworker who passed here in Northern Illinois. You could tell though that he was a perfectionist by the amount of quality tools he had obtain and how he cared for them. Also some of his work was on display in several toolchest he had made that were all finely dovetailed [ it is possible he might of used this saw to make, who knows. ] My uncle was a master cabinetmaker and taught me how to identify quality work and tools at a early age. When I retired I decided to search out these fine hand tools with all their character from use in the trade, and get them back into circulation for others to appreciate. I wish I had more to tell you but as I said the gentleman had passed – I wish I could have talked to him.
I have and will be listing other tools from the same estate [ I have this saws’ younger brother – a 12″ backsaw ] up now along with a nice take down square of his. I hope your new saw serves you well and the spirit of the older gentleman guide you in your projects. Thanks again for putting this beauty back into service.

Sharp tools, revisited

I’ve always wanted to learn how to sharpen a saw.  Yesterday, with the power of the Internet (praise be unto Al Gore for his creation), and a file and a special tool called a saw set, I took a dull saw and turned it into a less dull saw.

I had bought a book off of Amazon called  “Keeping and Cutting Edge: Setting and Sharpening Hand and Power Saws” .  That gave me the fundamental knowledge.  Then, to the YouTubes!  I ended up watching a few videos by Paul Sellers, got my saw and a file as I watched the video, and went to work

It turns out like most any task, the actual execution is simple, but mastering the skill is hard.  However, I was able to smoothly and easily handsaw through a bunch of poplar and red oak, so I must have been doing something right.

I saw this saying the other day, attributed to Abraham Lincoln...“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.”  I think it is applicable to saws as well.