Giving Thanks

Our Thanksgiving meal is being prepared as I write, and it seems an opportune time to give thanks for all the blessings in our life.

On a day to day basis it can be easy to overlook the good – It’s a fast paced  world and the business of woodworking can be more about what’s not perfect, not going fast enough or what’s never going smoothly enough.

It’s fitting for woodworkersweekly to think about thanks in terms of what we do for a living.  Working in the wood shop provides a living for myself and family.  That’s a big deal.  While always challenging – the saying goes ‘if it were easy everyone would do it’ – we get the benefits of seeing our works come to fruition.  We think, we see, we build.  Not everyone gets to work in this world.  No job looks the same at the end of the day as it did when we arrived.  Few people get to live that.

We take a day to concentrate on the positives, truly understand the fruits of our labors.  When the first Thanksgivings were celebrated, it was about food.  Enough food for a long winter.  And they were thankful, truly thankful.  Food for the winter meant survival.  That was a pretty big deal.  Nowadays food is plentiful – to the point that it can be taken for granted.  But today, on Thanksgiving, we pause and reflect on what it took to put this magnificent feast on the table.  Not just the work of preparation, but the work to purchase.  It doesn’t represent survival of days past, but it does represent hard work.

That is something to be truly grateful for.

And that’s a big deal.


Today’s Math Lesson

Math lesson for November 20th

If severity of mistake + degrees of pissed off = Force

Then  Force + Velocity + Concrete = Need for a new wooden rule

wood rule

The fact we’ve all come to understand is that mistakes do happen.  This particular one was on a relatively simple shelving project, where there was no plausible reason for such a simple mistake in measurement.  A relatively simple project with a relatively simple mistake that cost HOURS of time!  There in lies the math for substantial frustration.

The only people that don’t make any mistakes are those that don’t do anything (commonly referred to as liberals)  The more you do in a day the more chances of making a mistake – as well as increasing your odds of doing something right!

The main issue with mistakes is how you handle the situation.  Here’s the breakdown:

*choose to ignore it (the -it’s good enough syndrome)

*get pissed off – get over it – figure out the best way to fix it (usually this means start over and make a new piece)

*suppress or hide the anger for as long as you can – then explode elsewhere (the – I’m better than you syndrome)  I had a fellow tag on to my golf round a few years back. He seemed nice enough as we golfed, and I had a really nice round going.  On our third hole I shanked one into the water, the worst shot of the day which ruined my chances of a great score.  I followed it with a single, muffled profane word.  He turned and proudly proclaimed he had decided his game wasn’t worth using profane words. I turned to him and replied “Well my game isn’t good and I swear plenty – you must really suck!”

I explained to wife, who was helping at the time, that I could have sacrificed a much more expensive piece of equipment.  As my old weathered rule lay in it’s vulnerable state on the floor, she was neither buying nor impressed.  In my defense I relayed the story of the old cabinet maker I worked with on my first job.

We were assembling a vanity and top we had made at the shop.  In order to attach the top he had to crawl into the cabinet upside down shoving his elbows in tight to make it in.  He then had to attach two L brackets without adequate work space or light.  I heard a screw hit the cabinet bottom a few times.  Then the loud clank of the L bracket hitting the bottom.  He crawled out of the cabinet, turned over to his belly to brush together the bracket and screws, then to his back again rocking side to side as he slithered back in for another try.  Each time a screw hit the bottom it was followed by a groan.  Each ‘clink’ brought a louder and more animated groan. When the last L bracket hit the bottom an exasperated groan came from the cabinet “That’s IT!!”  Ed’s ‘used to be white’ sneakers flailed back and forth, trying to gain purchase but going nowhere.  He managed to get an elbow free of the cabinet, then a hand, which he used to pull against the cabinet.  Feet still flailing.  He finally managed to get out of the opening, his hair looking like Albert Einstein, eyes lit on fire.  As he stood bent over slightly he gave a grunt and growl reminiscent of  an olympic weight lifter ready to squat 600 pounds.  He then turned to the north wall and heaved his 25′ stanley tape measure with all the might he could muster against the concrete wall 30′ away.  (actually 31’6″ – I used the remnants of the tape to measure it- pretty impressive for an old man, I thought)  With that he left for the day.


We expect things to go according to plan.  When they don’t, frustration can take hold.  No matter how experienced we are, no matter how well we plan, things don’t always go our way.

Momentary lapses in the heat of the battle.

Experience is not making mistakes you didn’t realize you didn’t make.

I never seem to eliminate mistakes, but maybe make a few less, and a bit less costly.

So I explained to my wife that I actually saved by sacrificing the old ruler that needed replacing anyway.

She still wasn’t buying.


Until next Friday morning – take five!


Just Saying

The other morning as I turned on the shop lights and radio, the lyrics “War – what  is it good for?  Nothing!” filled the room.  A powerful relic from the Vietnam era. It got me thinking – Experience what is it good for?

Then I stopped. I certainly hoped that it was good for something.  I learned a lot of what I know and still practice from the experience of others.  Couple that with my own experience and abilities, the outcome is what I produce.

Is this enough? Is experience enough?  I questioned while pondering some jobs that I have failed to sign this year.

A particular stair job – the architect was hell bent that we would be able to supply  CAD drawings.  CAD standing for computer aided drawings.  Let’s fully understand the concept – computer aided.  The computer does nothing in full, it doesn’t envision the stair, it doesn’t plan and it certainly has nothing to do with the actual build.  That’s what we the craftspeople do – hands on ability and experience – build it.  The computer only aids.  Unless the plan all along was to pin a CAD drawing to the wall and walk up them – we’re giving way to much credit to the computer.

The premiss is that if your have full CAD capabilities then you can pull off the job.  We’re at a point where the CAD drawings are given more importance in the build process than the ability and experience of the craftspeople doing the build.

I just don’t get it!

Another bid that pops to mind is one that was lost to a smooth and/or unscrupulous salesperson.  One thing that I have come to accept from the business end of woodworking is that we are salespeople first.  After the job is booked – then we become woodworkers.  That doesn’t mean we’re good salespeople, it’s the reality of the situation.  The hope would be, with years of experience and a portfolio packed with successful jobs- work would sell itself.

It doesn’t.

If you go shopping for a car, you can view, drive and compare the actual products.  In our world the customer doesn’t get to compare a finished product.  It’s easy for the smooth salesperson to cast doubt, to build up what they have, to cut down what we do.  The simple truth is that a smooth pitch usually wins.  They want clients to  assume that all of the finished products will be equal.

Another simple truth is that most gifted craftspeople are not gifted salespeople.  Besides -what salesperson doesn’t drop the term ‘experience’ in their pitch!  Years ago I worked for an area contractor that had an ad claiming the years of experience the owners had – it added up to more years than they were old!  I guess they calculated exponentially. The slightly awkward craftsmen with years of experience just doesn’t sell for a lot of people.

But it still sells to some.  Those are the ones we call customers – our customers!  They appreciate the difference between an acceptable job and a great job.  They appreciate quality.

One of the craftsmen I learned from would say “You have to know a great job to build a great job.”

The same goes for the customer.

We will leave that thought for another week.

Until then – take five!



Log Stairs

Log stairs – simple!

To follow up last week’s overview of our jig usage at the shop, we’ll take a quick peek at an interesting and challenging job that required a couple of jigs.  One of the jigs we came up with is a one time jig.  It’s truly custom for the task at hand and will end up wood stove fodder.  Obviously we want to keep this a simple and inexpensive build for a jig.

We got a call from a repeat customer,  needs log steps and I think simple- Carve out a few stringers, throw on a few log treads. Until you actually start the build process.  A round stringer.  How on earth do I even get a reasonable layout on the darn thing – let alone cut it out with some precision and accuracy?

I started by turning the project flat.  Do the layout on piece of plywood the same dimensions as your over log width – the length will be determined in the stair layout.  Next I did a normal stair layout on that plywood

log stair layout

Here I used two widths of plywood (photo above) to be able to trace the whole log.  Because of the depth of the log, this allowed me to work off the tread line and mark down – still ending up with the desired amount of material left after carving (photo below)


log stair layout 2

I made two of these stringers as sister stringers.  After I cut the outline of the log I made a bottom and screwed the two side pieces on.

Effectively making the round log square

scored log using a chain
scored log using a chain saw

Here’s the constructed jig with a log in.  Note the ends are cut at the proper angle on the bottom and top  (the same layout as a flat stringer).  We made relief cuts with a chain saw – knocked them out with a chisel……

log grind

and finished off with an angle grinder equipped with a carbide tipped carving blade.

log string

Here’s the finished string!

And here is the finished stair

log steps

Very Nice!

Until next week  – take five, I might just take ten after this project!