The time came this weekend to divide up my parents’ cremains among the four children. After my dad died in 2018, I put his ashes in a campaign chest until we could decide what to do with them. Then my mother died unexpectedly in May, and I had two sizable boxes of ash to watch over.
The process is essentially like dispensing flour or (I suspect) selling narcotics. You scoop some out from the plastic bag and weigh it so we all get equal parts mom and dad. I wasn’t squeamish or emotional about the event. For me, at least, I carry my parents in my heart and genetic code. But I wanted some way to humanize this odd, plastic-bag process.
So I walked down to my workshop and quickly found my favorite wooden spoon, which was carved by Peter Follansbee.
My dad loved Peter’s work, and my mom always loved every wooden spoon that came into her kitchen. So it somehow seemed right.
The spoon is short, so it was easy to control its motion without shaking off the contents. The narrow neck up by the bowl was perfect for gripping it and keeping everything steady. It was like Peter had carved this spoon for this very operation.
I sealed up the eight bags and took the spoon back to the shop to be cleaned.
It still has a lot of life left in it. And some more joyful tasks ahead.
— Christopher Schwarz
A real phone call from about 2004.
Editor: “This is Chris.”
Caller: “Hi, uh, this is going to sound kind of weird. But I was digging in the dumpster at Barnes & Noble in my town, and I found about 20 copies of your magazine there – all with the covers ripped off.”
Caller: “I like your magazine, and I thought I’d let you know in case something fishy was going on. Like they were cheating you or something.”
Editor: “Nope. That’s perfectly normal.”
Caller: “That’s crazy.”
Editor: “Yup. When we send copies of our magazine to a bookstore or a newsstand, they sell what they can. Then they rip off the covers, mail those back to us and we credit their account for the unsold copies.”
Caller: “And then they throw away the rest?”
Editor: “Well, we wish they would recycle them, but yes.”
Caller: “And so if they threw away 20 copies, how many did they sell?”
Editor: “Well that’s the real crime. They sold maybe five or six copies. That’s typical for the industry. About 25 percent get sold, and the rest get thrown away or pulped.”
Caller: “That seems so wasteful.”
Editor: “Ha! That’s nothing. You should hear how we get new subscribers.”
A real conversation from the early 2000s. The supplier mentioned here is one of the many that are no longer in business.
Woodworking Gear Supplier No. 2 (WGS2): “I absolutely cannot wait for the new Shapton 30,000-grit stone to come out.”
Editor: “Yeah? What’s so great about it?”
WGS2: “It will complete an essential kit of four stones that every woodworker needs. Woodworkers with only three Shapton stones will want to complete their set. And – here’s the great part – it’s going to cost about $400 to $500. The margin on this stone is incredible.”
Editor: “What kind of edge do you get with it?”
WGS2: “No idea. I haven’t used one yet. But I’m sure it’s great.”
Sharpening Gear Supplier (SGS): “I haven’t been sleeping well. And it’s because I have this amazing idea I want to talk to you about. What if sharpening was the new golf?”
Editor: “New golf?”
SGS: “Golf is pointless. You do it simply to get better at it. But there’s all this nice and expensive gear that helps you get better at it. There are classes, experts and competitions. And it’s all for the love of developing this one very refined skill.”
Editor: “You think people will take up sharpening and then not make furniture?”
SGS: “Exactly. You don’t need a shop, machines or even a workbench. You can do it in an apartment.”
SGS: “Do you know how many golf magazines are out there? Think of it. A magazine all about the latest gear, comparing all the different methods, articles on steel, interviews with experts. I think there needs to be a magazine just about sharpening.”
Ten years ago today, I resigned as editor of Popular Woodworking Magazine, which was the best job I ever had. When I handed my resignation letter to Publisher Steve Shanesy that morning, I wasn’t angry or even disgruntled. The truth was that I had simply lost hope in the company I loved and fought for daily. And I was curious to find out if I could do any better.
There are lots of ways to measure a business. My metrics include: Am I eating? Am I happy? Am I sleeping at night? My old bosses at F+W Media preferred to use top-line revenue and EBITDA.
So this post is for them. It took us almost 14 years, but thanks to hard work, a good dose of luck, some close friends and a lot of good customers, Lost Art Press is now as big (actually, a little bigger) than Popular Woodworking Magazine was at its peak in the early 2000s in terms of both revenue and EBITDA.
I’m a Southerner, so I must immediately apologize for that small boast, and I swear on a stack of fried chicken legs that it will never happen again. My hope is that, if you are thinking of starting your own business or trying to leave the corporate world, you will find encouragement in that statement.
You can do it. Without a business degree. And with your ethics intact.
Now back to woodworking.
— Christopher Schwarz