The ‘Sharpen This’ Speech – Now Available

Highland Woodworking has published my “Sharpen This – the Hand-tool Backlash” speech that I gave at the Lie-Nielsen Open House a couple years ago. You can read the whole thing in Highland’s newsletter here.

(Note: You can subscribe to the free newsletter here and also read all the back issues.)

Chris Bagby at Highland asked if I would tweak a few sentences of the speech to take it from an R rating to a solid PG. But he didn’t ask me to pull any punches. So now the speech is an article called “Sharpen Up or Shut Up.” It’s basically the same speech but without a few Bozo-no-no words and my Southern preacher imitation.

Check it out. And if you like it, you might like the short series I wrote for the blog (also free). You can check that out here.

Thanks to Highland for asking to publish this.

— Christopher Schwarz

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Winner of the ‘Hammer in Hand’ Raffle

Thanks to everyone who donated money to help toolmaker Rob Hanson recover after losing everything to the recent Camp Fire in California. Your donations to this raffle raised $4,040 that went directly to Rob – no middleman.

The winner was Wolfram Herzog, who was a student in my most recent class on building a staked stool in Munich, Germany.

I am always amazed at the generosity of the people in our craft. Thanks so much for helping a fellow woodworker and toolmaker recover from an unspeakable tragedy.

— Christopher Schwarz

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Demonstrating at Fine Woodworking Live

I will be one of the demonstrators at Fine Woodworking Live on April 26-28, 2019, along with four other Lost Art Press authors – Christian Becksvoort, Matt Bickford, Peter Galbert and Nancy Hiller.

As you would expect from FWW, the roster of teachers is top-notch – check it out here. I am honored, humbled and entirely nervous about the whole thing. Will I be able to make eye contact? Will I inadvertently rub my nipples during my demonstration? Will Steve Latta call me out as a fraud?

I’ll be happy to discuss the topic of my class when it is announced. For now, however, mum is the word.

Surprise, it’s Fine Woodworking

I’m sure that some readers will be surprised that I’m signing on with Fine Woodworking. But to be honest, most of the woodworking press has hung together during the last couple decades. We were not in competition with each other as much as we were in competition with extinction.

Plus, I’ve always admired Fine Woodworking. It was the first woodworking magazine that I read back in 1993. And, also out of respect, we always tried to take Popular Woodworking in its own direction.

So will you start seeing my byline in Fine? I can’t say. I’ve been approached by several magazines about contributing to their pages. And I have not said “yes” to any of them. What I have said is that I don’t want to jump in bed immediately after leaving Popular Woodworking as a contributing editor (my tenure ends on Dec. 31). Also, I don’t think that my writing these days would suit an advertising-based magazine.

Some magazines (not FWW) have pressed me a bit. One magazine said: We are ready to try something really different. What ideas do you have?

I sent them a proposal for seven-part series I have been working on for many months about setting up a workshop. It’s good enough to be a book, but I think it should start as a magazine series. Here was their response.

Crickets.

So I suspect that my series will end up as a serial on the blog (such as “Sharpen This”) or a book. Stay tuned.

— Christopher Schwarz

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More Soft Wax Now Available

Not to be outdone by her sticker-selling sister, Katherine has just cooked up a big batch of soft wax and it is now available in her etsy store for $24 per 8 oz. jar.

This fall, Katy has made significant improvements to her soft-wax production process. You can read about them in detail here. Bottom line: She eliminated water from the process, she reduced the price per ounce and she improved the packaging – it now ships in durable glass jars with screw-on lids.

What is Soft Wax?

Katherine’s recipe started based on research done by Derek Jones in England on a high-solvent wax made using beeswax, mineral spirits and turpentine. While Katherine still uses those same basic ingredients, she’s adjusted the formula during the last few years to ensure all the solvent is combined with the wax.

Soft wax can be used on raw wood. It is particularly nice on the interiors of drawers where it imparts a pleasant smell and leaves a smooth, tactile surface.

It also can be used over other finishes, such as oil, shellac or similar film finishes. It is easy to apply because it is soft compared to paste wax. It flashes quickly because of its high solvent content. And it is easy to buff.

Soft wax is not a durable stand-alone finish. It is suitable for covering other finishes. And for finishing items that don’t see abuse – turnings, shelving, chairs.

People who own antiques like to use soft wax over old finishes that have deteriorated. It doesn’t repair old finishes. But it does add a soft sheen to finishes that have deteriorated.

We also use it on metalwork for Crucible Tool, where it helps protect steel from rusting and gives the metal a smooth feel.

Do not use soft wax as a skin lotion or beard balm – turpentine is an irritant to many people. Soft wax is for wood and metal.

— Christopher Schwarz

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Do This, and Your Stones Will Stay Flatter

For 15 years I shared my sharpening stones with my students. Now, my stones hide beneath my bench. Why?

Students tried to turn my sharpening stones into tacos.

Sharpeners who are beginners (or indifferent) tend to work only the middle of a sharpening stone. This activity quickly turns a flat stone into a soup bowl. After a few sharpenings, the stone becomes 100 percent unreliable. And when you go to flatten this stone, you are in for a workout.

So I made a video.

If you have been sharpening for many years you will roll your eyes when you watch this. Don’t. I know you did this, too. If you are a beginning sharpener, watch it with care. It’s only 14 seconds long, but it shows something important. You need to spread out the wear on your sharpening stones with every stroke.

Sharpening stones, especially waterstones, dish quickly. A few ill-placed strokes will set you on a path to wondering what the heck is going on with your edges.

Flat sharpening stones are reliable. Yes, you can deal with a wonky stone if you are experienced. But I always prefer dead flat stones to dead anything-else stones.

So spread out the wear with every stroke. And flatten your stones after every sharpening.

Or don’t. Just don’t use my stones. They are still in hiding. Poor stones.

— Christopher Schwarz

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New Stickers Now Available

My daughter Madeline has an etsy page set up for the latest set of stickers. You can place your order here – the stickers are $6 for a set, and the price includes domestic shipping. (Overseas orders are $10 per set, which includes shipping.)

I’m afraid she isn’t able to do the “send $5 and an SASE punk rock thing” because of her work schedule and that she doesn’t live near a post office where she can rent a P.O. box.

As always, these are nice U.S.-made stickers – 100 percent vinyl. And they can be used outdoors, too. If you want a set, I’d act quickly. She ordered 300 sets and is down to 214 by word of mouth only.

— Christopher Schwarz

Posted in Stickers | 8 Comments

Pricing Your Work

office

The office corner in my shop. My stand-up desk, file cabinet, bookcases, catalogs and, yes, a dial telephone on the file cabinet. It has a ring that cuts through any machinery noise.


This is an excerpt from “Shaker Inspiration: Five Decades of Fine Craftsmanship” by Christian Becksvoort. 

One of the most difficult tasks when starting a business is pricing your work or product. Many woodworkers, especially those just beginning, seriously underprice their work. Hobbyists, especially, have no idea. Let me tell you, it’s really tough to be at a show next to Joe Basement, who is selling his very nice coffee table. He has no concept of the actual hours he spent, but his $140 worth of wood has turned into a $200 table. Wow, a $60 profit…wrong. The most basic pricing involves the cost of materials + overhead + profit. Let’s take a look at these one at a time.

Materials are your wood, hardware, glue and finishes – anything that ends up in the customer’s possession. When working with a variety of woods, you’ll have to refigure the price for each species. That can run the gamut from a couple of bucks for No. 3 pine or poplar to $60 per board foot for exotics, to more than $100 per sheet for top-grade plywood with fancy veneers (in 2017 dollars, as are all prices in this book).

Working almost exclusively in cherry, and paying roughly the same amount for the past 20 years, makes pricing for me much easier. Not only that, but I get to use leftovers and offcuts for the next project. At this point in my career, I know the exact board footage for all pieces in my catalog. When starting out, you’ll have to do a bit more math. When you come up with the board footage, add 10-20 percent for waste, depending on how fussy or frugal you are regarding knots, defects, sapwood and general waste. Besides the wood, also include screws, hinges, locks, knobs, glides, glass, hangers and your glue and finish of choice. Speaking of hardware, I always buy the top grade. It takes just as long to install a cheap hinge as an expensive one. Cheap hardware will come back to haunt you, and result in unhappy customers.

hardware

Buy the best-quality hardware you can get your hands on – including extruded hinges and cast locks. It takes just as long to install cheap hardware as that of highest quality. These are by Whitechapel, Horton Brasses and Ball & Ball.

Overhead is an all-encompassing term that includes the expenses you pay as the cost of doing business, but of which the customer does not take possession. Here is a partial list: your shop building or rent or mortgage, insurance, vehicle, electricity, heat, office supplies, telephone, internet, tools, advertising, freight charges, accounting, postage, licenses and taxes, and a few others that I may have overlooked. The bigger items, such as the mortgage, vehicle and large power tools can be amortized over a long period of time. Don’t, however, forget to include small tools such as routers that need to be replaced, specialty bits and tooling for a specific project, etc. Again, it will be difficult to estimate these costs when first starting, but after a year or more of good bookkeeping, you’ll have a pretty good handle on what it takes to run your shop. Divide the yearly total expenses by 12 to give you a monthly figure, divide that by 30 to give you a daily figure, and divide the last by eight to give you an hourly overhead cost.

Finally, your profit. Yes, we’d all like to make $100 per hour take-home pay, but let’s be reasonable, especially when you’re just starting out. My profit, or hourly wage, when I opened my shop in the mid ’80s was $20 – which I thought was pretty good. It has since gone up considerably, but only after a few years. You can’t start out with astronomical prices when you have no track record, no reputation and no customer base. That comes with time, working efficiently, keeping your nose clean and keeping your customers happy.

A few random thoughts on prices and shop finances in general. First, if you give a customer a price quote, stick with it. You’re only as good as your word, and your word is your reputation. I’ve eaten my fair share of underpriced projects. It’s all part of the learning curve. Customers don’t want to hear “This took a lot longer than I thought….” They want results, not excuses. On the other hand, if a customer request changes for alterations to the original design, then a change in price is warranted. Keep track of any additions or alterations made after the original quote.

I don’t dicker, and I try to be fair. I don’t gouge customers because they drive up in a Mercedes. The same hourly rate applies to everyone. Once that price is established, it’s fixed, unless times and circumstances change. My shop rate is based not just on time, materials, overhead and profit, but also on my experience, craftsmanship and reputation as a craftsperson. When potential customers try to talk my prices down, I tactfully end the conversation. Now they are messing with my self-worth. Remember, once a customer asks for and receives a discount, they will expect one from then on. And word spreads.

Meghan Bates

Posted in Shaker Inspiration, Uncategorized | 12 Comments