Thursday, January 31, 2013

Marketing, step 2

     The other day I talked a little about doing marketing for your woodworking business and we started with the very basics.  Like I said before, a lot of us wouldn't really consider the name of our business as part of marketing, but it really can have an effect ( positive or negative) on how the general public may view your company and if they may or may not do business with you. 
     The next thing to consider when marketing is your company sign.  If you have a business, you should have a business sign.  Even if you are working from your garage or a shop in the back yard, you should have a sign to show you are a business.  The size of the sign is not near as important as how professional it looks.  Again, this is one of the very first impressions someone will have of you and your business and as the old saying goes; "you never get a second chance for a first impression"
   Another place that is very important to remember about your company sign is if you ever do a show/exhibit and have your work on display, in fact, any place you have your work on display should have some sort of professional company sign.   For almost 20 years I would have a display at the Southern Ideal Home Shows in Raleigh, NC.  They would have a 3 day show in the spring and another in the fall.  With over 300 vendors displaying their goods and somewhere between 20,000 to 30,000 prospective customers coming through in 3 days, you better be able to stand out in the crowd and I found my company sign was a major part of my display.  We will talk about doing shows and having an exhibit later in another segment.

     I'll use my sign again as an example.  I actually built this sign from scrapes I had laying around the shop. Once I built the sign, I took it to a professional sign company and had them do the lettering.  The sign always hangs on the back wall of my shop and I would also use it for my company sign whenever I did a show.  Very inexpensive to make, but very effective when I had a display at the home shows. 

     Let's put this in perspective;  I was a one man shop located in a small rural town of about 1,500 people (mostly a farming community) and I wanted to build and sell high end custom made furniture and cabinetry. Marketing was very important to me!  I had to figure out how I could reach the clientele that would be interested in having a custom piece of furniture built and for them to have enough confidence in me and my company to do so. I knew it was going to be very important for me to set a professional image for my company if I ever expected to be able to make a living doing my woodworking. 

     I realize that not everyone will be building custom built furniture, but it doesn't matter what type woodworking you're doing and trying to sell, but it does matter for you to look professional.  If you're a woodworker, you should be able to show some of your talents in your company sign, which is your first impression you are giving your prospective customer.

     Your next marketing tool is Business Cards!  I put that in BOLD for a reason.  This has to be one of the most effective (or least effective) marketing tools you can have and often the most overlooked or taken for granted!  When marketing you need to take advantage of every opportunity to get your name in front of people and give them a reason to buy from you.  I can't think of a better way then a business card.

     Here I go again with cutesy and crafty.  Be careful and stay away from it as much as possible.  Remember, a business card is used to introduce yourself and your company and hopefully interest someone in doing business with you. It is also very much a part of that "First Impression" they will have of you and your company, It's not to entertain them!  It too needs to be very professional, which brings me to what I feel can be the biggest problem with business cards and why they may not be as effective as you may think.  

     Do Not make your own cards!  Before you get all bent out of shape with me, I've been guilty of doing it too, but it is one of the biggest marketing mistakes we can make.  I don't care how good we are or how creative we can be, making our own business cards look exactly like that........Home Made!
Whenever someone hands me a home made business card, the only thing I can think of is going to a car dealership and have the new salesman hand me a business card with his name either hand written in or his name printed on some generic card and he tells me he hasn't gotten his regular business cards back from the printer yet.   That's right, a hand made business card gives the impression you're either brand new in business or "temporary" and either way, it doesn't give me a lot of confidence that you know what you're doing or that you may even be here next month!   Have you ever heard the expression; "Fly by night company"?  I'm not saying that every home made business card gives that impression, but why take that chance. 

     Time and effort should be taken when designing and having a business cards printed.  The more professional your business card is the more effective marketing tool it can be for you.   Today with places like Vista Print, you can have 250-500 business cards printed that look and feel very professional for just a few dollars.  Look at it this way, since a business card can be like a little salesman for you, would you rather have 250 professional salesman working for you or 250 jack-leg wanna-bee's?   I consider myself pretty creative and professional when it comes to a lot of things, but I know when it time to turn certain things over to the professional in their fields.  I could build a professional looking sign, but when it came to the lettering, I knew if I really wanted it to be totally professional, I needed to let someone else do the lettering.  Business cards are the same.

     Once you have your business cards printed the best advice I can give you then is hand them out like candy.  They won't do you any good in your pocket or in your desk drawer.  Don't waste your time trying to pr-qualify someone if they deserve to have one of your cards or whether you think they may keep it or throw it away.   I can find a million excuses to hand someone my business card and it may have nothing to do with my business at the time, but I still want them to have one of my cards.   Write a note or a phone # on the back on my card, draw out some directions for someone,  write the name of a good restaurant, or mechanic, anything for an excuse for them to take one of my business cards.  You will be shocked how many times one of those cards will get you a response later on down the road. 

     I've handed out business cards at shows and have someone call me 2-3 years later and ask me about my work. Never take your business cards for granted and always look at your business cards as one of the most effective marketing tools you'll ever have.  The more you hand out, the more "little" salesman you have working for you, 24/7.

     If I was only allowed one marketing tool for my business, I would want that to be a business card!




Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Marketing, when and where

     There is so much to marketing, I think I'll do a running series on it for the next couple months.  Not every day or every posting, but mix it in with some of the other topics along the way.  My mind races when I think about marketing for a small business like woodworking and it's really hard to decide where to start.

     It's one thing when we do woodworking as a hobby, but we're talking another ball game all together when it comes to actually making a living at woodworking.  Today I would like to start at the very beginning; deciding you would like to sell your woodworking projects and how do we let people know we even exist.

     First things first; if you are going to sell your products, then you are considered a business and you have to treat it as such.  I'm not going into getting your business liscense and everything that is involved with doing it legally, but once you have all that done, how do you let people know what you do and you have projects to sell?  We're talking about marketing today.

     So, let's start by talking about your business name.  What does my company name have to do with marketing and selling my product you ask?  Simple; that's the very first recognition anyone will have that you even exist in the market place.  Your business name will be what they see on your company sign, your business cards, your letter head and anything else that has to do with your company.   Too many times we don't put enough thought into what we decide to call our company.  We either want something clever, cutesy or we have to somehow have our name incorporated in it.   Nothing wrong with any of that, but we do need to be careful how we present our company to the general public and how they may view our company.  Another words, what you or I may think to be clever or cutesy may not be that clever or cutesy to someone else, especially the buying public.

     One thing to consider when trying to name your company is to look at what you build and want to sell and who might be interested in buying your product.   Let me try to explain; if you are building craft type items, then you would be selling to a totally different market then if you were building high-end custom furniture, so a company name that may be cutesy or crafty and work well for marketing to a customer base that's looking for that type product would not be such a good name for a high end custom woodworking business.

     I can give you an example by simply using the name of my company, The Hufford Furniture Group.  Yes, I'm one of those that wanted my name incorporated in the business name, but I carried it a little further and decided to add "Group" to the company name and why would I do that?   It sounded like a great idea at the time, I had two sons I thought would be coming into the business with me in the future and as the company grew with family members it just seemed natural to call it the Hufford Furniture Group ( I didn't think the Hufford Furniture "Gang" sounded that professional).   Like I said, it seemed to be a great idea at the time, but I realized over the years what a mixed reaction I got from talking with my customers and other businesses about what their perception of my company was based on the name.

     It worked to my advantage some of the time but others got the wrong impression and it was almost a turn off for them.  Some customers, designers, contractors or other businesses like to deal with bigger companies and rarely have anything to do with a small shop or one man shop, so in those incidences it worked to my advantage because when they saw The Hufford Furniture Group, they thought I must be some large company and at least they would check me out and what I did.   That also worked in the opposite at times when people would ask me if my "manufacturing facilities" were here in the United States or overseas? Sometimes they were intimidated thinking about dealing with a large company.  What?..........I'm a one man shop!   Yep, that's right, my sons decided not to be part of the business and I was simply a one man shop.   There were many times I had to explain that one!

     By the time I realized that my company name could be confusing or giving people the wrong impression I had been using it for a few years and decided I would rather live with it and explain then start all over again with a new name for my company.    So you can see that a company name can play a part in marketing.  Whatever you decide on, make it professional.  Try to make it so people will become familar with it, that it becomes natural for them to think of or remember.

     A lot of companies use a tag line below their company name to basically tell about the business in a nutshell, again, I'll use mine as an example.

  Custom Designed & Built Furniture 
     That's the first step in marketing.  Everything from here pertaining to marketing should relate to your company name and logo and the more you can get that in the public eye, the better chance you have of recognition.  One thing I haven't mentioned so far that also plays into wisely choosing your company name, and tag line would be your logo.   That might not be the right word for it, but what I'm talking about is the look, the style of lettering (Font) that you choose to use in conjunction with your company name and tag line or logo.  Once you decide on the overall look of your business logo then that should be used in everything that pertains to your company.  The sign on your business, your business cards, letterhead, invoices, etc.   The more continuity you have the easier it is for a prospective customer to recognize you and your company.
    Your company name can play an important role in marketing you and your company, so don't overlook it or take it for granted.  My next area I want to cover in marketing are some of the most basic things you can do, but again, I find a lot of woodworkers either don't think much about it or just take it for granted and they lose out on some simple but effective marketing.    We'll cover that in my next series. 



Wednesday, January 23, 2013

"Plans" or "No Plans"? Part 2

     As I mentioned before, I usually don't work with very detailed plans when I'm building a project and there's a number of reasons why;

One:  I can visualize most projects in my head and as I've developed my woodworking skills, I pretty well know how I would like to build a certain project.

Two:  Owning my own custom woodworking business for over 25 years, I've built hundreds and hundreds of projects and even though they are custom pieces, you use a lot of the same techniques from one project to the next, so it's not really necessary to draw out ever detail or know every dimension from the very beginning.

Three:  I used to do all my drawings by hand with a lot of detail and it would become very frustrating when a customer decided they would like to change something and wanted to see what it would look like and I would have to do another set of drawings.  I invested in a CAD system for the computer that allowed me to do basic drawings and make changes without starting all over again.  I learned over the years just how much detail I had to show a customer to get the job without putting in every little dimensions.

Four:  I also learned that a lot of my designs I wanted the option to change things as I progressed with the project.  Things like the style or size of moldings used.  I've even found that what might look good on paper looks out of proportion when actually built to size.

Five:  I like to start with the very basic dimensions:  width, height and depth and kind of design and build from there.  Let me show an example.

         This is a large wall unit I designed and built for a customer in Raleigh, NC.  As you can see, It's huge (approx. 9 ft. tall x 15 ft. wide).  Wall to wall, floor to ceiling.  This is pretty much the drawing I used to sell the project to the customer. 

     Why not more detailed drawings?  I really didn't need more details then that to build from and I found most customers have a hard time visualizing something from a drawing anyway so it is usually a waste of time to go into much more detail then that. 

     Actually what really sold this piece is the top doors in the center section housed the 50" TV.  They are bi-fold pocket doors that open and slide inside the columns.  The upper section of the center columns open and the pocket doors slide in and the columns close.  The doors totally disappear and the unit looks like there are no doors at all for the TV section, so I built a small prototype of how the system would work and took that with me for the final sale. In fact, all the bottom fluted columns opened so they could be used for storage for CD's, albums, etc.

     Here's a few pictures in the building process:
     The basic design and dimensions where worked out in drawings to start with, but most of the details where worked out as I went.  The whole design process started around the TV they had and also designing to allow for some expansion in the future for a larger TV.  That opening dictated a lot of the overall design and dimensions. Then having columns that not only where functional for what we wanted to do for storage and hiding the bi-fold doors for the TV, but also looked in proportion to the rest of the unit.   Base board and top for Crown molding was dictated to what the rest of the house was.   Here's a couple more pictures taken while I was installing it.  No pulls yet (customer still hadn't decided what she wanted for pulls.
I built a face frame around the existing TV that would allow 6 more inches in both width and height for a larger TV in the future.

     Anyway, very few drawings or plans.  Probably not the best way for most woodworkers, but for me, that's the way I love to build. 

    I envy the woodworker that can draw out all the details before they ever start cutting wood!  What ever works for you, then that's the best way to do it. 

BTW.  It took the customer 3 months to decide what she wanted for pulls.  She used the blue painters tape I had attached to the back of each door and drawer all that time.  She had a hard time making decisions and her husband was shocked that I ever got her to commit to the design.  He felt it was because I didn't give all the little details that would only confuse her in making a decision............Go figure.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

"Plans" or "No Plans"?

    How do you like to approach a project?  Do you like to work with a set of detailed plans when building your project or would you rather just sort of "wing it" as you go along and work out details as you go?  I'm sure it's a little of both for most of us, but I have found that some woodworkers have to work from a very detailed set of plans to be able to build their project and some have to rely totally on someone else to work out all the details of the plan.  There's absolutely nothing wrong with that, but it does make me realize how different we are when it comes to woodworking.   I guess you could say I was pretty naive when I first started woodworking, thinking the only difference from one woodworker to another was simply his level of experience, but there's a lot more to it then just simply woodworking.  The planning, engineering, drawing and working out all the details is such a big part of each project and how we deal with that part of it can be quite different from one woodworker to another.
     I know we all have different taste when it comes to style of furniture we may like to build or the building techniques that we may use, but today I would like to talk a little about how we even get started on a project and how we work out all the little details.
     I'll share with you how I like to build, not that it's the right way or best way of doing it, but what works for me and for you to compare how you like to do yours.  It's fun to see the different ways of looking at the same type project. I know a lot has to do with the actual type of project  we may decide to build, but let's think more along the general lines of how we like to approach a project.
     Most of the time I want to design my own project.  I may get some general ideas from either something I've seen and or a picture of something, but 99% of the time I never want to copy it in detail and I hate to work from someone else's plans.............and with that being said, I've been building a train from someone else's plans.  There's always an exception to the rules, even my own!
     Anyway, here's an example of how I like to approach a project.  The following picture is of an open shelving unit I built and it was based on a shelving unit I saw in a store years earlier that caught my eye and loved the simplicity of the design.  I never took any pictures, never took any dimensions and have no idea how many shelves the original unit had or what it was made out of.  It was probably 8 to 10 years later before I ever got around to building it and started my design relying strictly from memory.    Basically, I remembered the basic concept and created my own version.  I've seen many versions of the same basic idea over the years, but I designed mine for what I liked and what I wanted it to do for me.

     The vertical stands are hinged in the middle so they can fold flat for moving or transporting and the shelves simply slide in from the end and lay on the cross supports.  Easy to set up and easy to take down and move and it's very stable when set up.   I made mine out of Mahogany.  I used a simple butt joint for the cross supports using biscuits.  I did a soft round over along all edges and rounded the corners of the shelves.   I've used this unit in a lot of Home Shows to display some of my smaller projects.

     As you can also see in the photo, I like making band saw boxes and again, I like to just come up with an idea and go from there. A lot of times while I'm cutting out one band saw box, my mind will be racing with ideas for another one and can't wait to try that idea.


    Here is another example of getting ideas or plans for a different project.  Above is a picture of one of the band saw boxes I made from an idea I got from one of the books I had on making band saw boxes.  While I was cutting it out, I was thinking how neat that would be to make something like that in a full size dresser.  I knew it could not be cut out like a typical band saw box, so my challenge was to figure out what building techniques it would take to build a full size box like that.
     Here's the results:

       Other than a couple sketches that I made of the outside shape and overall dimensions, that was the only plans I had to build from.

     Not the best way for most woodworkers to approach a project, but designing and figuring out all the little details as I go is just part of the fun for me.  There was no way I would have been able to draw all the details out with dimensions before I started.  Part of it has to do with it being truly one of a kind and nothing to base anything on and also that it was much more of a free form design that could change some as I went along, but I still do pretty much the same thing when building more traditional pieces.  

    I would like to talk a little more about this in Part 2; "Plans" or "No Plans".



Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Neat Freak or Slob

     Let's talk about our shops for a few minutes.  Would you consider yourself a Neat Freak or a Slob?  Or take it another step; a Pack Rat or Hoarder?  For me, it's been kind of a roller coaster ride most of my life, but I've been paying more attention to my habits lately and I can only laugh at myself.   I've been guilty of all the above at one point or another in my life.

      Take a moment and think about your shop. How would you describe it, home to a neat freak or a slob?  Do you consider yourself a pack rat?  Are you happy when you go out to your shop and wouldn't change a thing about it or are you frustrated every time you try to do something in your shop because either you don't have the room or you can't find what you're looking for so you end up giving up and would rather not spend time out there.

     I have come to the conclusion that the size of our shops really shouldn't be the excuse we use to say we just don't have enough room to organize everything.   Not always will a bigger shop solve our problem.  I've actually seen where a "bigger" shop only makes the problem "bigger".   Here's an example:  When I first went into business as a woodworker, I sub-leased a 3,000 sq.ft. shop with another guy that ended up moving out just a few months later, leaving me with the entire building and all the rent.   I did not need that much square footage for a one man shop, but I ended up staying there for over 16 years before I moved my business to another state. 

     When it came time to move and decide what to keep and what I was actually going to move to the new location, I realize just how much of a Pack Rat I had been over the years. I found things that I hadn't seen in years (actually forgotten about).  I found things that made me wonder what I was thinking at the time to posses me to keep it in the first place.    Some things where really easy to decide to get rid of, but some things where another story.  I was so afraid that if I left it behind or threw it away, I was surely going to need it next month and be sorry I got rid of it.  Sound familiar?

     That was probably the best move I ever made to help me with my "Pack Rat" syndrome.  Knowing there was no way I could take all that "stuff" with me, I had to force myself to make some harsh decisions.  I finally had to develop a formula to help me decide what to do with each individual item.  It can be pretty over whelming when you have 3,000 sq. ft of stuff you've been collecting over the past 16 years.  I started with the very first item and first asked myself if I had used it in the past two years?  Did my life depend on me keeping it or could I possibly live without it?  Could I sell it and make some money to help pay for the move? Could I give it to a friend or donate it to a good cause?...........or should it just go to the trash like it should have years earlier?   It was ridiculous how much value I had put on so much worthless junk.  After going thru most of it, I finally contacted a fellow I knew that was known to be a pack rat and hired him to clean out the rest of the shop and haul to the land fill.  I told him if he found anything of value, he could keep for himself. I had a good laugh when I returned a couple months later to see some things I recognized from my old shop sitting on his front porch and in his front yard.

     Over the past few years, I've been slowly downsizing my shop and thinking seriously about what I would be keeping and what I would probably have to get rid of when it came time to retire my company and turn my love of woodworking into a hobby and not a full time business in a commercial building.

     When we moved to Delaware this past March, the property we acquired was far from move in ready!  I have a two story 24 x 28 shop that was filled to the brim and took many loads to the land fill to empty it out enough to start putting my stuff in there.  I realized this past week-end I was adding more to what was still there.  I was hanging things on nails that where driven in the wall years ago and I was doing nothing more then filling up the spaces that I just spent the past 10 months hauling off.

     So that's what inspired me to write today.  This week-end I started my total transformation of the shop I will be calling "My Shop".  I've started in one corner and removed everything; whether it was mine or left over from before, every nail, bracket and storage cabinet back to the bare walls.  I know I won't be happy until I have everything organized and put away. This should keep me busy for a while, but already one little corner has made me feel a lot better about my shop and myself.

     So after spending the past few years downsizing, cleaning out and throwing away I've come to realize I have not  suffered any unusual consequences in my actions.  No mental anguish, no financial loss and no project suffered because I threw something away 6 months earlier!   I'm beginning to like this new me.................the neat freak! 




Friday, January 11, 2013

Let's "Ramble"........No, not "Rumble"!

     One of the hardest things for me when it comes to writing on my blog is subject matter.  It's not the lack of subject matter, but trying to decide what I would like to write about next.   Too many thoughts race through my head at times!

     If there is one thing that is pretty common with most woodworkers is; we have a tendency to have some strong opinions about things pertaining to woodworking.  Like our favorite brand of tool, the best way to do a certain technique, what's the best wood to work with, what's the best finish and the best way to apply it.  All you have to do is ask the question and before you know it, you're sorry you even asked.  Well, maybe not all the time, but I've been part of a number of woodworking clubs, woodworking forums, groups of woodworking professionals, classes and I find a lot of "strong" opinions coming from a lot of woodworkers (myself included).

     So I've decided this year when writing in my blog, no matter what the subject, I would like to tone it down a little and get off the high horse and not come across that It's my way or it's the wrong way, but instead make it more "food for thought". 
     I try not to jam my opinions down your throat, but I am passionate about my woodworking so I'm sure it's comes across that way now and then.  I try to remember back when I first started woodworking and the difficulty I had and how I learned with time what worked best for me, not just because some other woodworker said that was the only way it should be done, but actually trying different things and settling on what was best for me, my skill level and the tools I had to work with.

     A few topics I get pretty passionate about is; pricing your work, selling your work, marketing, being professional and quality work.   I made my living from woodworking for over 25 years and one thing I've noticed, the topics I just mentioned had more to do with whether a woodworker would have a successful business than his woodworking skills alone, what type tools he had, what building techniques he used, what lumber was his favorite to work with or his favorite brand of stain or finish. 

     I never felt sorry for the woodworker that built crap and tried ripping off the customers and failed in business.  They deserve to fail in my book.......But it always makes me sad when I see a very talented woodworker that builds beautiful projects and tries so hard to be fair to the customer only to fail because they don't know how to market themselves, how to price their work or have the confidence to sell their work for a fair a profitable price.

     These are areas that I feel I can help the beginning woodworker as much as trying to teach him the best way to build a drawer or what table saw he should buy. So I will probably spend a lot of my time covering those topics this year and may even revisit them from time to time.  Trust me, I won't be writing just about that, I do have a few projects I would like to do this year, so will try to keep you posted on those also, but for now, I've Rambled on enough     

Monday, January 7, 2013

Choosing wood for a project (part 2)

     I recently read a comment made by a beginning woodworker that made me think about how many times I heard this exact sentiment stated over and over by many woodworkers over the years and it still gets a reaction from me.    Have you ever heard someone or maybe even yourself say:  I'm going to build my project with cheap lumber because I'd hate to screw up or ruin an expensive piece of wood. 

     I know this statement is usually based on the fact that we feel we don't have the woodworking experience to warrant using expensive wood to build a project, that we may mess up and then we wasted a good piece of wood for nothing.  I've seen this excuse used with woodworkers that have actually been building for awhile but still lack the confidence to spend some money to buy beautiful lumber instead of shelving boards to build a project.

     So let me make something perfectly clear before continuing;  there is no right or wrong answer for this, but there are definitely two totally different ways of thinking about choosing lumber for a project (especially in the beginning).   I've always been on the opposite side of the fence with this one.  I've always felt that if I allowed myself to think that way, then I was giving myself an excuse to fail or screw up. 

     This started very early for me, in fact when I was in 9th grade shop class.  We were to design and draw a set of plans for a project we would build later in the school year in wood shop.  I drew a set of plans for a shelf unit to hang on the wall with 3 small drawers along the bottom.   Later when I started wood shop, my instructor ask me what type wood I was going to make it from.  We had a choice of pine, poplar or a wood called obeece.(looks a lot like Mahogany).  Most of the other students where building their projects with poplar because it was cheap and easy to work with.  Nope, not me, I decided I wanted to work with the obeece.  I really liked the looks of the wood and since nobody else was using it, I had the best selection to pick from.  It was more expensive then either the pine or poplar and I believe my teacher even tried to talk me out of it since this was really my first serious woodworking project, but I had no intention of failing and I was going to give it my best shot not to mess up or ruin any of the wood. 
     Here's the moral of the story;   You can't make a silk purse out of a sows ear!    The project turned out great because I took my time and made sure I thought out each process of building before I cut anything.  At the end, I was very proud of my project and my Mom loved it.

     Remember I said I built that project when I was in 9th grade, well I'm 63 years old now and when my Mom passed away this past October, I took that shelf down from her den and it's now in my home. (and I'm still proud of it!).  
     I never regretted building it with expensive wood, but I would have kicked my ass if I had spent all that time and effort and built it with some cheap wood.  I'm just saying......Don't let the lack of confidence make you choose what lumber you build a project with, but let it motivate you to do the very best you can and you'll probably surprise yourself.

     Over the years, I've realized there are a lot of reasons we may choose a certain wood for a particular project. It may be for strength, durability, color, beauty and yes, even the cost factor, but let's hope that's because of other reasons then just the lack of confidence in our abilities.  

     What else is important when choosing your lumber for a project? Selection, quality, variety and the ability to hand select my own lumber are all important factors for me.   The big box stores don't give you much choice when it comes to different species of hardwoods.  Your hobbyist woodworker stores like Woodcraft  may give you a little more variety of hardwoods, but your selection in each species is usually pretty limited and you do pay a premium for their lumber.

     It will take some searching and time to find a real lumber yard that carries a good selection of hardwoods, exotic woods and sheet goods, but it's well worth the effort.   That's why I've always enjoyed buying lumber from the Hardwood Store in Gibsonville, NC. When I first started woodworking, one of the hardest things I had to learn was where to buy lumber and supplies.  Finding a reputable lumber dealer should be one of your first priorities if you plan on doing much woodworking at all, even as a hobbyist.

     When I'm selecting lumber for a project, I'm looking for a number of things from each board.  I want as much consistency in color from one board to the other, I'm looking at grain pattern and/or figure.  I'm not real particular with width, as long as it's not ridiculously narrow or way too wide.  I'll forgive a little warp, twist or bow if it's got great color or grain pattern.  It's it's not too bad, I've learned to work around some defects.   Speaking of which, even if a board has a bad spot in the middle, if the rest of the board has the color and grain I'm looking for I'll consider it.   One thing I've learned over the years is to buy a little more lumber then you might have figured in your plans.  If I figured I need 100 bd. ft. of Cherry to build a project, I will probably pick out 115 to 125 bd ft. just to be on the safe side.

     I would much rather have a little lumber left over at the end of a project, then have to try to squeeze some scrape lumber into my project to finish it or even worse, having to go get more lumber to even finish the project.    If I have 10, 15 or even 25 bd ft. of lumber left over from one project, you can bet your bottom dollar it will get put to good use down the road.  It's always handy to have a piece or two of different hardwoods available at any given time. 

     Once I select my lumber and get it back to the shop, I start the selection process all over again.   I like to lay out all my lumber so I can see all the boards at once and select which boards I'm going to use for each part of the project.  For example; if my project has a lot of raised panel doors and drawer fronts like a set of kitchen cabinets or even a large wall unit or home entertainment center, I would pick out the lumber I want to use for the panels since that will be making the biggest statement when looking at the front of the project.  I want the most consistent color and grain pattern for those so when everything is built the wood flows nicely from one door or drawer front to another and one cabinet to another.  Next I'll pick out the lumber for the stiles and rails for the doors trying to keep color as close as possible to the lumber I picked out for the panels and drawer fronts.  The grain pattern won't be quite as important for these since they will only be a few inches wide and usually have a profile around the edge, so the grain doesn't show up as much.  Next would be the stiles and rails for the cabinets and finally moldings, etc.   I will even mark each board with chalk so I can keep track during the building process. 
     Another thing I will do and I'm sure a lot of shops won't do because it's not the most effective way to use your lumber, but if I find a board that I really like the grain pattern in the middle, but the rest of the board is just so so, I've been known to take that piece right out of the middle of a board so I can use it for a door panel or something that I feel the grain pattern will highlight the best.  I can always use the rest of the board for something small and insuffinicant elsewhere.   Sometimes not the best use of wood, but as long as I get the look I'm looking for, then it's worth it.  I don't waste wood, just selectively use it elsewhere.

     That brings me back to what I said earlier about sometimes buying a board that may be a little warped or twisted simply because the color and grain is what I'm looking for.  If it's not too bad, then a lot of times you can either straighten it out when you get to the shop or work around it. Example:  I always cut my long stiles (whether it's for a door or cabinet front) from the flattest, straightest boards I have.  A lot of times, the rails are so short that you can work around a board that has a small about of bow or warp to it. That's why I like to select the different lengths because I would much rather work the bow or warp out of a shorter board then trying to work it out in a 8 or 10 ft. board first and then cut it down to shorter lengths anyway, besides, if the board has much bow or twist then you will end up having to take way too much off from a long board to get it flat. 

     Also going back to what I mentioned earlier about buying more lumber then the project may call for gives me a chance to pick out a board or two that is really different then anything else in the pile.  I've found some really awesome boards in the middle of a bundle of lumber.  There may be only one board like it, so it's almost impossible to use it in a bigger project, but I love adding something like that to my order just to have for making a special box or an accent piece.( for the really fun projects).

     I realize most of the projects I've built have been large and requires a larger quanity of lumber then maybe what you would normally use doing a project or two as a hobbyist, but I've also built hundreds of small projects and I like to be just as fussy about picking my lumber for those also.

     I'll finish by challenging you to try this if you are a beginning woodworker and have been a little intimidated by using more expensive lumber on a project.  I would challenge you to pick a very small project (maybe a small box) and buy a really nice piece of lumber and build it for a friend or loved one.  Take your time, keep it simple and let the beauty of the wood make the statement.  It will make you feel good and I'll guarantee they will love it. 







Sunday, January 6, 2013

Choosing wood for your projects (part 1)

     I'll start off by giving you a quick update on building the passenger cars for my steam locomotive.  It's been pretty cold so I usually stay away from much finish work in this type weather, but I was getting pretty anxious to see how the passenger cars would look with some final finish on them.

     I finished building the wheels and trucks for the passenger cars so all the building is complete now.  I did take a couple space heaters out to the shop and warmed things up the other day so I could do some spraying. I've had the passenger cars here in the house since I finished building and brought the lacquer and spray gun in the house also.  I have an insulated cabinet I keep my finishes in, but they still get pretty cold so I like to fool the finishes and warm them up for a day or two in the house before using them.

     Once I got the shop up to temp. I shut the heaters off so I could spray.  Exhaust fan in the window and ready to spray.  I love using pre-catalyzed lacquer because of the fast flash over time.  I can spray two or three coats of finish on in a very short period of time (before the shop drops much in temp.).

     Since the shop is warm, the product is warm from being in the house and the projects are warm because they also have been in the house, the lacquer thinks the spraying conditions are perfect and sprays and flows out perfectly.  Before the shop cools down too much, everything is dry enough to move back to the house.    Tracy is getting used to the smell of freshly sprayed lacquer in the house when I bring a project back to the house to finish curing.   The smell is usually gone in a few hours (or at least we get used to it). 

     The passenger cars look pretty good, but I will actually rub them down with #0000 steel wool here in the next day or two to really get the look and feel I'm going for. 

     No pictures today, but will post some later.  Now this brings me to the title of this post; Choosing wood for your projects. I usually don't pick a certain wood for a project simply because it's inexpensive or it's easy to work with or it's easy to finish. I like my wood to make a statement for my project, even building something like this train.

   The next car I want to build for my steam engine is a coal hopper.  I've been building the entire train so far out of walnut and using a little maple and cherry now and then for some accent pieces, but now I want to work with something all together different for an all together look for this car.

     Here is one reason I'm considering using a different wood this time for the coal hopper.  When I originally started this train over 10 years ago, I had a bunch of walnut left over from a number of different projects so decided that would be a good wood to build the steam engine from.  I loved the look!  I had planed the walnut to different thickness for building the steam engine, so when I finished building the steam engine and coal tender (and bridge), I kept the remaining wood in a box.  It's hard to believe, but after all those years and moving my shop a couple times, when I decided to build the passenger cars, I knew exactly where my left over walnut was and I knew I had enough to build the passenger cars.

     What really surprised me, when I finished the passenger cars and put them with the steam engine and coal tender I realized there was a huge difference in the darkness of the walnut from the steam engine and coal tender to the passenger cars even though they were built from the same lumber, just 10 years later.   At first this really bothered me, but then had to convince myself that a real train is not all the same color so there was no need to get my skives in a bunch.

     So all that being said, I decided since the passenger cars looked different then the engine and coal tender, then why not make the coal hopper another color also.

     If you've ever been around a train yard or you've seen a train that is hauling coal, all the coal hoppers look the same.  They're Black!  So I want to make my coal hopper black but I don't want to paint it, so since I have a bunch of scrape Wenge left over from a project I did a couple years ago, I believe I'll use that to build this next car.   If you're not familiar with Wenge, It's a wood native to Africa that's very dense and very, very dark, almost black when finished.  It almost looks like Oak with an Ebony dye applied.

     Like I said, Wenge is a very dense wood and can be quite difficult to work with because it likes to splinter and blow out when trying to mill it.  That's all part of the challenge though.   I love the look of the wood and think it will be the perfect choice for this project. 

     So for this particular project, even though the wood is very dense and difficult to work with, I think it will make a nice contrast for the rest of the train.   Just wait until I get to the caboose!  I already have a couple ideas of what wood I would like to use for that.  What color are most cabooses?  Can everyone say "RED" ? 

     I believe I'm going to make this a 2 part entry for choosing wood for your projects, because the actual idea for writing this entry had nothing to do with my train and is based on other factors all together, so check out my next blog entry and follow along and see if any of this will relate to you and your woodworking.




Tuesday, January 1, 2013

" 2012 " in reflection

WOW! What a year!   How bout you?

     Was it a bad year for me?  Not really; in fact, it turned out to be quite a life changing year overall.  Part of it was planned, but the major changes were totally unexpected.   I knew I was going to retire my company this past year and had been slowly down sizing the shop and scheduling work accordingly.  

     The biggest change accured when Tracy's great aunt passed away and she inherited a house, land and a couple rental properties in Delaware.  After 14 trips from South Carolina to Delaware trying to handle the estate and take care of the properties, we decided that we would be better off if we just moved to Delaware until we could decide what to do with everything.

     That's pretty much it in a nutshell!.  Retired the company a couple months early, packed up everything we owned and moved to Delaware in March, 2012.   Sounds simple enough, but for anyone that's moved both a shop and home 5 states away knows what's involved!

     Oh, and to throw a monkey wrench in the middle of all this, the house we moved to was anything but "move-in" ready.   We've worked our tails off this year and I still have an endless list of "honey do's" to accomplish, but all-n-all, it's been a pretty rewarding year. 

     So what's planned for 2013?  I'm not sure I would call them New Years resolutions, but I do have a few things I would like to accomplish this year.

1. The work around the house and rental property is a given,  I'll just have to work on things as time and budget allows.

2. I have a great garage/shop that I've been working on, so this year I would like to focus on setting up more for woodworking so I can get back to making some projects. (other then just repair things for the house and duplex).

3.  I finished writing my first book, but haven't done a thing about it, so this year I would like to find a way to get it published.

4.  I've started writing again in my blog and would like to continue writing on a regular bases.

5.  I would like to join at least one of the local woodworking clubs in the area and be more involved with other woodworkers.

6.  I have a set of kitchen cabinets to finish building for Tracy's mother that was put on hold this past year, so it's time to start working on that project again.

7.  And in all my spare time, I would like to do a little part-time work to help supplement our income.

Today is the first day of 2013, so if I plan on getting any of this done, I better get busy. 

Happy New Years to everyone!