An Excess of Choice

There are a lot of competing businesses out there, whether it is woodworking, telecommunication, hardware stores or RC (radio controlled) vehicle retailers. So it can be a relief for the customer (and very surprising on behalf of the retailer) when one puts up its hand and says (or implies) “I am really not interested in your business- I don’t need you as a customer”.

I’ve seen it a fair few times recently, and it doesn’t seem to matter the industry, it tends to go the same way. You walk into a store looking for a product, or you are looking for a bit of expert advice, and to make some anciliary related purchases.

Let’s say in this instance it was an RC car. The shop keeper claimed he owned the same model (although the electric version), and asked where it had been purchased (being that they no longer stocked that brand – apparently a falling out with the importer).

Then, without any understanding of the customer, claimed he would never have sold a nitro car to someone unfamiliar with nitro engines – they are just too hard for the inexperienced to learn. Then after begrudgingly providing some basic supplies (air filter oil, a couple of clips) I was brushed aside for some other customers that were apparently more important. (How does one learn about nitro engines if one never gets to own one?)

I was looking at spending a $hundred or so when I walked into the shop, and with every likelihood that there would be future vehicle purchases in the future. (If a novice to a hobby is prepared to shell out $450 or so for their ‘entry’ vehicle, how much more could be gained by fostering the relationship??). Instead, I will forget that business exists- no further sales, no potential referrals.

This situation may have been about an RC car, but as I mentioned at the top, I have seen pretty much the exact thing in woodworking as well on a number of occasions.

All the advertising in the world achieves one thing- a customer standing outside your shop door. What you do from there, how you manage the customer’s needs and expectations will be the difference between a sale and the loss of a valuable asset (and indeed the only real asset a business has) – a satisfied customer. A satisfied customer is a gold mine- they will keep coming back, coming back, (referring others along the way) and the more that asset is fostered, encouraged, the more they will return and purchase from you, potentially bigger and better each time.

Drive them away, and don’t bother wondering why in 10 years time your business has failed. It would have died of 1000s of micro cuts- each customer ever so subtly encouraged to take their business elsewhere.

If anyone was wondering, for our 10th wedding anniversary- my wife got Pandora stuff, and some NZ glassware. I got a GV Cage.

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New Year’s resolutions

Nup, not a fan of them, simply because I can’t think of one I ever stuck to. What is the point of setting a ‘resolution’ if it is doomed to failure? Perhaps I should set some that by their failure, I will achieve my real goal (and if they don’t fail, I’ll have managed to stick to a resolution for once)!

I will not write a book in 2012
I will not loose weight and get fit
I will not make a blog entry every day on both Stu’s Shed or Stu’s Darkroom
I will not make $1,000,000 (ah well, if it doesn’t happen, at least it will be one resolution I’m sure to keep!)

I also had some thoughts about Stu’s Shed as well, prompted by a recent comment of one of the site’s readers: Terry, a payment from Rockler from the affiliate page (the ‘Shop’ tab) and that it is still only for US companies Rockler and Amazon, last night’s post on ‘Buying Timber’, and a general desire to revitalise the site.

Simply, I want to start putting out more posts that added together are start-to-finish on working wood. Starting with choosing timber, choosing tools, preparing and dressing timber, machining operations etc. Along the way I may actually finish some projects I have either started, or have planned to start! There will still be plenty of time for other content- commentary, reviews, opinions, news, and I may even find time to get some podcasts out there as well!

So I’m not sure what the final resolution for 2012 should be:

I will not get any sleep
or
I will take things easier

Because one is likely to be the result of trying to get everything done, and the other is a conflicting desire. Anyone know a good cloning company?

Buying timber

Buying timber is a frustrating business at the best of times. In fact I’d go as far as saying it is my least favourable part of the entire woodworking experience.

Our usual experience starts off by buying timber (a very loose definition if force-grown, crapiata (aka pine)) from the local box hardware store. It is twisted, warped, cupped, and all the other faults you could possibly find in this timber is guaranteed to be there, often in every piece you pick up. You don’t even know if it has finished twisting and warping- the timber seems so green it hasn’t realised it has been cut down and milled yet! It might be fine for houses, but it might explain why you can never seem to find a straight wall in a house too.

Some stores get very shirty with you if you even try to pick and choose (although if you get one of these, I’d encourage you to stop patronising their store and take your money elsewhere. Life is hard enough without being forced to buy crap timber).

Even if you can pick and choose, you can get SO frustrated. Because it is all pretty useless.

Bunnings once used to stock (overpriced) jarrah, and at least that was a reasonable timber, but that stopped years ago and the average backyard shed dweller was left with little options.

So we are stuck with rubbish, or heading to a specialist timber merchant, and the prices (at least in Melbourne) can leave one wondering why bother woodworking at all. It is very hard for the amateur to know if they are getting ripped off or not- sure feels like it.

So the next step is to source a timber yard, and try to get something better, without taking out a second mortgage.

I’m still stuck around this stage: I don’t make enough large projects to have found a supplier I have a good relationship with, and I won’t buy from the box hardware store if I can possibly help it. The standard penance is three Hail Marys.

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I don’t have a good answer yet, and probably goes a long way to explain some of the tools in my workshop, or at least why their predecessors were first purchased.

The bandsaw for resawing timber to close to final dimension.

The jointer to get a side flat, and an edge square to that side.

The thicknesser to get the remaining side parallel to the first, and the timber to the required thickness.

Finally, the moisture content meter, hopefully to help ensure the timber is at least dry enough to ensure it won’t continue to twist & cup any more than it has to.

You will notice I don’t use either of the two conventional naming systems:
Jointer & Planer is the typical US naming convention
Planer & Thicknesser is typical for UK/Australia

I bastardise them both and use jointer & thicknesser as I feel this is less confusing. Having two different machines both called planer: bound to confuse! Of course, a thicknesser thins, but that is another idiocyncracy best solved another day!

The Ozone

I’ve been down to Indented Head for a few days break, and had a bit of a look at the Ozone while there. It was a paddle steamer that was beached as a breakwater for the local beach, but skewed around on the sandbank while being placed and couldn’t be repositioned. A few years later it was burned (I guess every decade has its share of losers), which is a shame for seeing how long it would have survived otherwise.

One of the two wheels has collapsed and gone, the other looks in a bad way as well.

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As seen in better days, it was a wooden, twin wheel, steam powered paddle steamer.

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After its beaching, it had (and still has) a significant presence. It is close to shore – a stone’s throw (depending on your arm!), so would have been quite a sight early on.

As it is today:

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I’ve always been interested in wrecks, and when heavily involved in diving I used to go far and wide to find them, including dives in Melbourne, Darwin, even the Red Sea on a dive boat running out of Egypt.

Dives were anywhere from a few metres down to around 50 metres, and included penetration dives on J class submarines (WWI) and the Rainbow Warrior. It has been a while since I went wreck diving, but each have been pretty memorable. Whether it was on the dive when the bell for the Eliza Ramsden was found, running head on into a shark in very low visibility, ‘standing’ on the hull of a submarine 30 metres below the surface, or seeing coral that was the exact shape of the WWII Harley Davidson motorcycles that had been on the deck of the suppy ship that had sunk in Darwin harbour (all the while dodging some rather curious and mean barracuda).

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So forgive my little diversion while I recharged (if only a little) in preparation for the onslaught of the new year.

I plan (optimisitically) to return to consistent daily posts for 2012, so energy, motivation, content, and support of both readers and the woodworking industry will all be important factors to achieve that.

Xmas Wrapup

So time for some feedback/dialogue: how did Xmas treat you? Any interesting tools come your way? Or timbers? (Or any other shed- related pressies?)

In the past few days, I’ve passed by 42nd birthday (but who’s counting), my 43rd Xmas, and as of tomorrow, my 10th wedding anniversary. Busy time of year as always.

I do have a new, nice collection of Stihl corded garden tools to show for Xmas. Perhaps more garden shed related than workshop, but close enough!

I also have a brand new, large Masport BBQ – another essential tool if ever I saw one!

Anyone else get anything interesting?

SSYTC043 Merry Christmas!

SSYTC043 Merry Christmas!

What is old is new again (and vise versa)

I found a phone the other day – sadly the owner had lost it, and it had subsequently been run over as well (not a happy phone!) To have a look at the contact list to find the owner, I had to dig up an old phone to put the SIM into and in my diggings I found my first digital mobile that I had while still in the Navy, and had last used in 1998.

(the AA battery I included for scale).

When I went to charge it, I was stunned to find that not only the phone still worked (that was pretty much expected), but that it still retained about 3/4 of its charge.  After 14 years!!!!

We retire these tools with scary regularity, to replace them with the latest and greatest.  The newest ones do have all sorts of amazing features, they are smaller, smarter, play more games, and have become mini-computers.  But what is a phone really for?

In my office at work, I still have an Apple ][e computer from 1984

It still works, and is (although tiring) capable of everything it was valued for when it was new.  Still capable of word processing, spreadsheets, and still has some great games.

What I am trying to show is although there are some things to gain from getting the latest and greatest of anything, the items that are left behind are still perfectly capable of doing what they were intended to do, even in a market a volatile as computing, or mobile telephony. (And I am as much an enthusiastic consumer of the latest and greatest techno-gadgets as anyone).

So what about in woodworking? Such a volatile market indeed, it is hard to keep up.  All those new hammers, tablesaws, and ruler technology.

Now there are advancements to be sure.  And as we equip our workshops, it is always interesting to source the best of these (as far as budgets stretch) to increase the capacity of our ‘shops.  Who doesn’t love a new tool (and hopefully there are a fair few sitting under trees around the world of Stu’s Shed readers!)

It is still worth remembering that despite all the ‘advancements’, very few reflect a real improvement, a true redesign rather than just a fad to generate sales.  We’ve seen a few: lasers on tools (even on handsaws ffs), magnesium casings, snake oil salesmen at wood shows, and all their wares.

Think back to how artisans of old managed to produce the most stunning of work, with the most basic of tools.  Some of what we buy is to fasttrack the process of being able to produce equivalent work without the days, months and years of practice, finessing the craft.   Some of what we buy turns out to be snake oil.

That is not to say there hasn’t been some inventions in recent times that have really added to the woodworking world.  Some of the things produced by Bridge City certainly would count, the SawStop and Incra both definitely rate, or going back a few years now, some of the stuff Teknatool came up with to revolutionise workholding on the lathe.

Others are redesigning and reworking existing products, such as Woodpeckers, and they are producing beautifully refined tools.

But there is still a group who are quite prepared to take a laser, stick it on a hammer (or a saw) in the hopes to deprive you of your hard-earned without actually providing a real benefit.

Back to the phone again, and what it made me think of when I saw it (and how functional it has remained).  It is worth having a look through your workshop, see what has been pushed aside because of upgrades, refinements, space constraints or whatever.  You may well (re)discover some treasures out there.  I found some tools recently I had completely forgotten I even owned.  Nothing wrong with the tool, or its functionality, or why it was purchased.  Just lost in time.  The benefit of buying quality: it remains a quality item for many years past when lesser examples have long fallen by the wayside.

So I hope that you find under your Christmas trees some new, functional, quality additions to your workshops.

But don’t forget you already have an awesome tool already, just waiting for you to pick it up and yield it: your existing shed, and all the tools contained therein.  Imagine an artisan of old walking in there and falling over in amazement at what we now have at our disposal, and what they could achieve with them.

And yes, I did track down the phone owner, from the number on the SIM card. Who wants that sort of hassle, especially at Christmas time?

Brand Loyalty

Where it comes to shopping, I am quite the typical sort of male. When I find something that suits my purpose, I stick with it. Whether it be the brand of jeans, the shampoo I use, the boots I buy, the tools I use. Deviation is rare, and provoked only because of extenuating circumstance.

What I have been finding over the course of the past decade or so in particular, that it is worth challenging my rules for choosing tools, and using brand quality as my determination rather than price.

Each time I have done this, I have not regretted the decision, each and every time I have used the tool ever since (and by that I mean, every single time I use the a quality-branded tool I remember to be grateful I chose to spend enough to secure the brand name). Whether that be the waterblaster I was using today (Karcher, purchased for the quality of brand) that replaced a GMC model I had previously (purchased because of price), ROS (now a Festool, rather than Triton), or garden equipment.

I’m becoming increasingly brand-loyal, and once I have found a brand of product that I trust and respect, it will be hard to shift me away.

As much as this represents (in some cases) a significant investment, in time I forget the cost and am left loving the quality.

Without trying to be comprehensive with the list, these are some of the brands I turn to by default:

Festool
Incra
Woodpeckers
HNT Gordon
Tormek
Carbitool
Teknatool
Hamlet
Stihl
Husqvarna

Now, have a look at the list again, and notice what is in common- such as stores that don’t stock the product, countries not involved in manufacture etc.

I do know how this list looks- I have been at the end of the spectrum where GMC was the brand of choice (and often more by cost-necessity than actual choice), and then I found myself in a position to afford Triton (before GMC got their hands on it and destroyed it), and I commenced the walk on the path towards greater and greater quality.

Take a product like the Tormek T7. I’d have argued against the need for one over the other, cheaper brands as well, until I got one for myself. Now I wouldn’t go back, or perhaps better to say I would make the same choice if I had my time over (especially when there is a promotion running for free wheels for life, or a free axe or something- nothing like a bonus when the decision is already made).

Of course we can’t afford every perfectly branded tool so there will always be compromise, but it is worth aiming for the quality brands wherever possible. You remain remembering the quality long after the pain of the cost has faded.

One final point- I was out in the garden the other day, and made a decision I needed some new garden power tools. I made the decision to go Stihl simply based on brand, researched the range and made some tentative choices. Before locking it in, I went to Bunnings to look at the equivalent, and was faced with cheap brand after fluro colour scheme. And the price was not that much different to the Stihl. So it is worth checking out the quality brands- sometimes they are not that much more expensive than the cheap crap. And the customer service is a ballpark removed from the box store.

iWoodwork

Had a quick look at what wood- related apps were now out there. Didn’t find much I wasn’t already aware of, expect perhaps for iWoodwork.

It seems to just be a different delivery mechanism for podcasts, other than going through the iTunes store, but in that respect it looks a very clean interface.

The podcasts seem ok too- what you can do when multiple people are involved! Production quality is good. Only thing lacking is the amount of videos- look forward to seeing somenew arrivals.

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Not bad for a couple of buck. Bit jealous actually!

Waste Management in Frankston- letter to the Mayor

The following is not shed or woodworking related. If not interested, there is no need to read further.

A letter I sent to the Mayor of Frankston 3 days ago, and included the standard council contact, the local MP, the Frankston Leader, and the Herald Sun. I am yet to get a response from any of them. The rubbish remains (although the horrific mess in Cadles Road has quickly vanished- coincidence? That’s what you get putting higher density cheaper housing in outer suburbs- a slum.)

Dear Mayor Cunial

I wish to express my level of disappointment in how rubbish has been managed in Frankston in recent times.

The first step towards the current mess that is Frankston City was the closure of the sorting station off Ballarto Road. I understand the necessity of the closure of this facility, but given how well it was running, the way you could drop off different types of materials so they were presorted before processing was excellent, and subsequent issues have shown how much this now represents a keen loss to the residents.

A new tip then opened under licence, run by a private firm. Not only overpriced, run by rude gate staff, unable to take delivery of basic waste types such as polystyrene but was also a return to an archaic form of tip where you drive over rough, corrugated dirt, risking puncture and damage to then have to toss your trash out on the ground in an unmanaged, uncontrolled way. Fortunately, this facility was shut down, and we looked forward to a return to decent tip management.

This has not eventuated, and we have been left with no ability to dispose of rubbish without driving to a tip outside of the Frankston region.

But what of the subsidised rubbish collection where we could organise up to a 2 cubic metre collection for a cheap $50? For some poorly thought-out reason, it was determined that residents could only do this if they kept the rubbish on their property and not use the nature strip. May I remind the council that we are at the end of 10 years of drought, and may of us no longer have grassed areas at the front of our property, choosing to replace grass with drought-resistant gardens. (Before the annual hard rubbish collection, in the middle of the drought, we were allowed to place items on the naturestrip and organise a collection for free).

I contacted the council by phone, and was told my only options were to block my driveway until the council arranged a pickup, or to ask my neighbours if they minded me placing my 2 cubic metres of trash in their yard. Not only are they in the same situation of having replaced grass with drought-resistant gardens, but how on earth the council thought that was something reasonable to request is beyond me. I ended up paying full price for a skip instead where I could contain the trash, and control the pickup time (and not have the drive blocked for more than a single day).

Which brings me to the current situation. I have not been south of Carrum Downs to see what the rest of the city looks like, but certainly in my local area we are sinking into a quagmire of trash. I cannot fathom what the council was thinking when they decided to arrange the hard rubbish collection to happen so late in the year. At a time when we should be presenting the area in its best light, with visitors admiring our Christmas light displays, we have piles of trash illuminated in flashing multicolour.

It has been there for weeks, spread and scattered across the ground, being blown around the neighbourhood, picked over by scavengers (curb burglars) and with non-locals driving in and dropping off their additional piles (and yes, I have seen this being done, and that situation is worsened the longer the opportunity is presented). The council should know by now that rubbish will always be put out earlier than the 2 days specified. Some individuals have done so 2-4+ weeks early, with no council intervention apparent. This is potentially exasperated due to a lack of tip facility, and trash piles seem much larger this year. The sight on Cadles Road has to be seen to be believed, with trash spread over 20-30 square metres, and it has been that way for weeks (without exaggeration).

It is now the 18th of December. Collection was meant to be during the week starting the 12th (and has been further delayed without notification) which was already way too late in the year, too close to Christmas. If not picked up in the next day or so, it will be there on Christmas Day when many have interstate and international visitors. I am embarrased having my rubbish still sitting on my naturestrip, with my neighbours being left having to tolerate it.

The collection used to be in November, which was a good time for the spring cleanout. Allowing the city to be covered in crap during the festive season is unacceptable. The Carrum Downs Christmas festival is tomorrow night. This place, that now looks like a lower class trailer park will have its unmentionables illuminated by the light of fireworks for all to see and ‘enjoy’. Please, can we have the neighbourhood cleaned up as soon as possible, and in the next few days, and please, please, never arrange a hard rubbish collection this late in the year again. Finally, it is LONG overdue for Frankston to have a council-run facility reestablished to replace the one taken away. Properly managing the city, whch includes waste management, is what we pay rates for. It is about time we got our money’s worth.

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