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View poopiekat's profile

Why the Craft is Obsolescent...an observation.

by poopiekat
posted 03-06-2011 04:59 PM


39 replies so far

View Stephen Mines's profile

Stephen Mines

226 posts in 2524 days


#1 posted 03-06-2011 06:46 PM

Hi P,
First, woodworking has not become obsolete. I think ‘what happened’ was the industrial revolution and it’s ongoing refinement. Henry Ford was the first major player that played the ‘interchangability of parts” card while dealing himself a full house from
the ‘economies of scale’ deck.

The adapt or die Darwinian tenent is alive and well. My Windsor chair had 18 parts, but only six different parts. I relied on both of Hank’s insights. My “Country Flowers Collection” of country French furniture did the same thing with carved stiles and rails, parts used in mirrors, night stands, armoires, coffe tables, buffet tables, beds, etc.

I’ve ALWAYS tried to pass three stratagies on to serious furniture makers: the two listed above and thirdly. make products that people buy in multiples, such as chairs, barstools and many others. When you make a sale, you make a multiple sale. This worked for me, still works for me, and will still work for others.

Addressing your last question: if the woodworking guilds could have surpressed common knowledge of how to work with wood, they wood (sic) have. Thank God they couldn’t.

-- Stephen Mines (Saltmines@aol.com)

View poopiekat's profile

poopiekat

4320 posts in 3568 days


#2 posted 03-06-2011 07:08 PM

Hi Stephen!
Though you use ol’ Henry as an example, he himself was a master of obsolescence, both within his industry, and sounding the death knell for the last generation of carriage builders, blacksmiths and other related trades. alas, even the Auto Workers are a dying breed now. Can I draw the conclusion that the concept of interchangeable parts does indeed give you an edge, but will that edge sustain you in the long run? Lastly, I tend to agree that although the guilds did not suppress education, they did nothing to promote the longevity of the independent shop. Oddly, they established a standard that was easier for outsourced, (yes, offshore) labor to achieve economically. I’m grateful for your use of the Darwinian theory to this argument, thanks for mentioning it! We eat, or get eaten! Thanks for your thoughtful comments, Stephen!

-- Einstein: "The intuitive mind is a sacred gift, and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift." I'm Poopiekat!!

View bent's profile

bent

311 posts in 3503 days


#3 posted 03-06-2011 07:13 PM

the reason that the electrical and pipefitting trades conitue to be active aren’t due to licensing requirements. it is due to the fact that the work must be done onsite. if you need electrical or plumbing work done, it must be done in your home. cabinet makers have seen a decline because the product is made offsite (generally cheaper and more efficiently), and then merely installed in the consumer’s home. it is not really possible to prefabricate wiring or plumbing.

View poopiekat's profile

poopiekat

4320 posts in 3568 days


#4 posted 03-06-2011 07:32 PM

Ah, true, bent! And it follows that this is why those trades are safe from offshore competition… so far….

-- Einstein: "The intuitive mind is a sacred gift, and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift." I'm Poopiekat!!

View Sawkerf's profile

Sawkerf

1730 posts in 2902 days


#5 posted 03-06-2011 08:23 PM

P -

I can’t agree with your statement that “big businesses (are) altering the way we spend our money.” They’re certainly offering alternatives, but we still control where our dollars are spent. Those “Mom and Pop” businesses have been (and are being) hammered by economies of scale. They’re harder to find, but they’re still around. Last week, I noticed a tear in one of my shoes. A new pair cost ~$30 at Target. The shoe repair guy wanted $40 to mend it. Not a real fdifficult decsion for me. – lol

Henry Ford brought mass production to a science by perfecting the assembly line process which lowered the unit cost of a car to the point it was affordable by the masses. The other car makers either adapted, or died.

The toasters, TV’s, and auto parts you mention aren’t gone, but they’re much more reliable and far less expensive than their earlier models. Manufacturing for repairability is actually very expensive. With increasing automation, manufacturing costs easily drive replacement prices below repair prices.

Auto parts, by the way, are often repaired and resold. If you’ve ever replaced a starter, fuel pump, water pump, brakes, etc you’ve returned the old parts or paid a “core charge”. Those returned parts are “remanufactured” and resold – often many times.

-- Adversity doesn't build character...................it reveals it.

View Loren's profile

Loren

9606 posts in 3482 days


#6 posted 03-06-2011 08:38 PM

Eventually transportation and material costs to import furniture from China
and Thailand will reach a tipping point. Labor in those countries will demand
better conditions and more money, materials costs will go up as resources
dwindle, and, if the US is smart, we’ll end the carte-blanche trade agreements
that are flooding our country with cheap products that force domestic
manufacturers to move their production offshore to compete or go out
of business.

The looming costs of fossil fuels will eventually, I believe, create a situation
where it’s actually economically attractive for consumers to buy from regional
manufacturers.

Whether today’s young generation of furniture makers gets to have middle
class careers in the marketplace is open to question. Those who work to
develop eye-popping workmanship and market the work to the corporate
and affluent homeowner market will prosper adequately of course, but the
rank and file cabinetmakers who just want to make an honest buck for
cranking out custom kitchens will probably continue to be marginalized.

For awhile, hulking cabinets to house those big, ugly TV sets were the
savior of the custom cabinet-makers. No more. The flat-screens and
streaming media technologies have made those jobs largely disappear,
and the custom shops are back hustling for kitchen-jobs in a market where
the middle-class consumer resents spending a dime more than he possibly
has to – an attitude that drives him to buy his cabinets from the lowest
price provider.

View KnickKnack's profile

KnickKnack

1087 posts in 3400 days


#7 posted 03-06-2011 08:57 PM

What you say is true, but only in some parts of the world – probably what some seem to call the “developed” world (which could lead onto a whole other discussion about whether “developed” is a “good” thing).

I live in a small city on the east side of Portugal – you can still hear the knife-grinder playing his flute as he walks with his “equipped” bicycle down the road. We still have cobblers, and they aren’t expensive. Just down the road from me, where I buy my wood, is a cabinet-maker – it’s quite a big shop, maybe 10 people, and, they tell me, they are always busy. Every Tuesdays and Saturdays the “bread-man” drives around our part of the wilderness and toots his horn at the gate for us to scurry, in our night things usually, to buy his bread, made just down the road in one of the many local bakeries. In central Lisbon, in what you might call “prime real estate” there is a shop selling bulbs and seeds (of the gardening variety). There are several shops selling just buttons. Oh, very quaint it is. And I very much hope they will stay that way. But I fear not – whilst almost all cafes and restaurants here are “one man bands” there’s now a Starbucks (in the awesomely beautiful Rossio station – heresy!) so I’m very much afraid we have started on the “slippery slope”.

Most would, I’m fairly sure, include Portugal in “1st world” countries – certainly Wikipedia says so by all the common indexes (so it must be true!), but we really don’t “suffer” from many of the “ailments” oft complained of, for example in this post. That was one of the main reasons we came to live here.
We are, perhaps, 20 years or so “behind” the “leading” nations – that’ll probably see me through until I’m dead or wishing I were.
Isn’t it ironic that here in a “poorer” country, we buy more bespoke product than do the people in the richer countries, where they can presumably more easily afford it. Something’s wrong somewhere!
And let’s not even get into what goes on in the 2nd and 3rd world.

The reason is, it’s clear to me, money.
We are not rich people here, so the large chains don’t think it worthwhile to set up their shops here, allowing the small people to stay in business. My nearest Ikea is 250km away (thankfully), so it’s simply not an option for most people. Even if it were 100KM away most people wouldn’t deem it worthwhile to spend the money driving there. So they buy furniture from local shops (better quality and cheaper anyway), or order it from the cabinet man down the road.

I’m not sure I addressed your topic very well, for which I apologise, and I tend to ramble. But I wanted to point out that there are other worlds where things are “better”. I apologise also for excessive use of “quote” symbols, I just tend to disagree with much of what is deemed “progress”.

-- "Do not speak – unless it improves on silence." --- "Following the rules and protecting the regulations is binding oneself without rope."

View Loren's profile

Loren

9606 posts in 3482 days


#8 posted 03-06-2011 09:18 PM

That’s interesting insight from Portugal. I expect Asian imports carry much heavier
tariffs than they do in the states. Every country is different in how it tries to
protect and grow its economy.

With fuel so highly taxed in Europe, the costs of going to Ikea in Portugal, in
addition to the distance for you, is probably twice what it would be here in the
USA. This situation allows your regional cabinet man to prosper. He brings
in materials on a flat-bed and saves fuel costs, plus he can turn a stack of
lumber or ply into a value-added product he can distribute to local stores.

I don’t view the big-box phenomenon as good for my country. Even though
our costs for hard goods tend to be jaw-droppingly low compared to what
Europeans pay, our middle class is being assaulted by the outsourcing of
the skilled labor jobs that were once the backbone of the US economy. I
blame labor too, for spending the last 50 years in denial of the obvious fact
that eventually the factory jobs would disappear and the opportunity for
a middle class lifestyle for the guy who didn’t got to college along with them.

View Roger Clark aka Rex's profile

Roger Clark aka Rex

6940 posts in 3269 days


#9 posted 03-06-2011 10:01 PM

My, what an interesting subject.
Whatever conclusions you can offer, the undoubted reason above all else is PROFIT ie making money with as little cost of manufacturing as possible.
The Industrial Revolution mainly started in the 19th century and was an attempt to address the “have” and “have not” citizens, but it did not shut down the bespoke industries that catered for discerning people who were prepared to pay the craftsmen for their sevices. Even today in the auto industry Henry Ford showed that a very affordable vehicle which almost anyone with a weekly wage could afford, and now where a monthy salary might buy you a basic model. The concept of mass production has advanced, but the same premise of cost to produce and huge profits has grown. In Henry Ford’s day he made vehicles that could be repaired and replacement parts availability made it a cinch for anyone to keep their vehicle running. Nowadays if your vehicle won’t run, you are out of luck and must go to the service mechanic for the “computer” diagnostic which enevitably ends up you needing a replacement “computer”. How much will this cost? , well much more than one of Henry’s vehicles, and a colosal amount more than any PC board in the hottest cumputer on earth.
Meanwhile as the big three and other manufacturers are suffering, the likes of Astom Martin, Rolls Royce, Bently, Mercedes, Audi, Maybach, Ferrari etc are pressed to fill orders. So it is obvious that craftsmanship and quality still does existand is alive and doing well.
Know your market is the answer, when the masses fall victim to bad times they have no money and shop Wal-Mart, when well heeled folks hit bad times they don’t change their habits or purchases.
But herein lies a quandry, does the best invention or product earn the most money? NO. If you design and built the space shuttle you truly would have an outstanding product worth a lot, but designing a ladies hair pin seems pityfull, but the sales of hairpins exceeds ALL profits the shuttle will ever make. Similarly the “cats eys” in the road will too, as will “tarmac” ie Tar McAdam (inventor John McAdam, 1816)

The posting about the changing climate of so called 3rd world countries is indeed noteworhy, even China is changing rapaidly. At one time the Chinese masses only had one a “uniform” dress code and one book to read, and now they are protesting about wage differences, so they are experiencing the “have and “have not’s” situation too. I believe the space program is now focused on finding a planet where we can get even cheaper manufacturing and labor …. Horizontal Mike knows all about it.:-) The US is looking for a planet which uses the Imperial System…...good luck. lol

Perception is in the mind of the beholder ..yes true, and that is what it all boils down to. More people masses needing stuff, the same number as ever wanting bespoke items made by Craftsmen. The masses require cheap made barely functional items, the well heeled want the quality and are prepared to pay for it.

-- Roger-R, Republic of Texas. "Always look on the Bright Side of Life" - An eyeball to eyeball confrontation with a blind person is as complete waste of Time.

View poopiekat's profile

poopiekat

4320 posts in 3568 days


#10 posted 03-06-2011 11:05 PM

KnickKnack, please don’t apologize for your post, it is a very important point that you made about how a country can enjoy a moderately high standard of living and yet the artisans hang on to a very relevant place in the market. This gets very close to the point I was trying to make, only said a different way. Perhaps myself, and hundreds of other Lumberjocks, were just born in the wrong place/wrong time. Loren, your words are also prophetic, this big Chinese bubble will burst too, mostly as their own emerging middle class puts such a demand on oil that it will no longer be cost-effective to ship en-masse around the world. Roger Clark: Of course your sage worldview is always welcome here! Your words fit right in with the other respondents, and indeed we are just all passengers on this bus, we must decide to either enjoy the ride, or let the air out of the tires at the next rest stop!

-- Einstein: "The intuitive mind is a sacred gift, and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift." I'm Poopiekat!!

View Stephen Mines's profile

Stephen Mines

226 posts in 2524 days


#11 posted 03-07-2011 03:09 AM

Loren, If I may ask, why a tipping point? If transportation of goods can get cheaper, it will. And it is. Container ships as long as the Empire State Building is tall are a reality, carrying a city each. Do you really think it will cost more to ship in the future? I think USPS is banking (our money) on it, but that is not the way of Whartons world model. And there has not been a break in future think yet to dispute that reasoning. Reasoning? Think rather of floaters, lifters, anti-grav, etc. Don’t get bogged down in now. Darn, that was fun to get that out! :-)

-- Stephen Mines (Saltmines@aol.com)

View poopiekat's profile

poopiekat

4320 posts in 3568 days


#12 posted 03-07-2011 03:29 AM

Yes, Stephen, new freighters from Asia were built wider than the restrictive 96-foot beam of the Panama Canal. They were fitted with engines that can get freight to New York harbor faster than any conventional ship going thru the Canal by going around South America!! I’m still scratching my head at why there are highway infrastructure improvements in Winnipeg attributed to the ‘Pacific Rim Trade Route”...or is somebody banking on an ice-free arctic year-round shipping route? Or is this possibly to facilitate shipping North American goods to China?

-- Einstein: "The intuitive mind is a sacred gift, and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift." I'm Poopiekat!!

View David Kirtley's profile

David Kirtley

1286 posts in 2832 days


#13 posted 03-07-2011 03:57 AM

I honestly have a really different opinion. I think what we are seeing in the economy is the death of many of the old school big corporation type of businesses. I also say good riddance. They have sucked entire countries dry from their Enron-esque financial shell games, planned obsolescence, and other crooked dealings. New companies are springing up large and small but there is a pretty big resurgence of small business because people are getting fed up with the garbage that they have to choose from when they want to spend their money. They are also getting fed up working for and investing in the stock of these corporations .

There are many “boutique brands” of more expensive items that are doing well despite higher costs and bad economies that are proof that people are getting sick of it. If you are looking at computers, people are paying premium prices for Macs, and IPhones. It is not totally conspicuous consumption. They have less problems, do more, and they have a longer life expectancy. Look at tools. The quality brands have done well enough that Stanley is trying really hard to recapture what they lost: being top of the line. It doesn’t look like they are going to make it happen either.

These big companies have gone in and wiped out small businesses in the past but one really promising thing is the way that they are fighting back over the internet and winning. I keep finding things that the big stores stop carrying things and as fast as they drop them, I am finding places online to go shopping instead. Usually they end up being from small businesses and cost less.

About the only thing I have left that I am stuck buying from big corporations is my shipping, electricity, gasoline, telecommunications, and insurance. It is kind of sad that my local small businesses are not succeeding but honestly, many of them suck anyway. Many keep working so hard trying to be the next “big business” and don’t take advantage of being a small business. They don’t want to deal with small customers. They only want to deal with high dollar customers with big orders. Fine. I take my business elsewhere. I buy my lumber from small local places. I buy my groceries from small local markets. I don’t really do it for spite against the big companies. They just have nothing I am interested in. I have not been to the shopping mall here in town 3 times in the last 20 years. They just don’t have anything I want to buy.

-- Woodworking shouldn't cost a fortune: http://lowbudgetwoodworker.blogspot.com/

View Roger Clark aka Rex's profile

Roger Clark aka Rex

6940 posts in 3269 days


#14 posted 03-07-2011 05:07 AM

David:
Your honest opinion is very welcome. Honest opinions that may differ just emphasize that that we are all different individuals with our own views on things, that’s just being human.
Everyone should be able to express their views in complete confidence and know that the LJ membership will receive them as given, your respected honest opinion, not a call to arms for a flame war.
Respectful differences of opinion are good for everyone and may provoke the “little grey cells” start working.

-- Roger-R, Republic of Texas. "Always look on the Bright Side of Life" - An eyeball to eyeball confrontation with a blind person is as complete waste of Time.

View poopiekat's profile

poopiekat

4320 posts in 3568 days


#15 posted 03-07-2011 04:10 PM

@David Kirtley,
Have you bought any 100% solid-wood furniture via the internet lately? Virtually nobody else has, either. I’d be hanging my shingle out again and cranking up some orders..if only it were so. Even the three furniture manufacturers that exist in my town are outsourcing all of the juicy work offshore, leaving little but mind-numbing assembly work for disadvantaged groups or the differently-able. What you posted is pretty much in agreement with everything all Lumberjocks have to deal with on a daily basis. Most of us work our day job, and rush home to spend some time in our workshop. And, we resign ourselves to the fact that our dreams of a woodworking studio or gallery is a feel-good fantasy.

-- Einstein: "The intuitive mind is a sacred gift, and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift." I'm Poopiekat!!

View Dennis Fletcher's profile

Dennis Fletcher

467 posts in 2888 days


#16 posted 03-07-2011 04:53 PM

I don’t know, but, I started my small handyman/building/custom woodworking business at the start of the economic crisis in America, out of desperation for work. I am working on year 3 and each year it has grown. Mostly out of word of mouth, because people get more than what they pay for, but also because my prices aren’t so high that they seem like I am just out to make a buck.
I make a profit, have since i started, so i only change my prices to keep up with other costs.
Most of the “big” companies that I know, or knew, of are either faltering or are gone, save maybe one or two.
I don’t make custom furniture a lot, but I do repair a lot of furniture, mostly older furniture and I make a lot of shelves and bookshelves.
I am small, hopefully able to give my business to one or all of my boys someday, but I just don’t see the “big” companies being that much of a problem anymore. I do what I do, my customer base is growing and I just don’t worry too much about them anymore.
I think one of the reasons that my woodworking studio idea isn’t successful as a shop in my backyard is because i set up shop at the sight, so, all of my tools have to be portable. I have to be good at what i do in all weather conditions, not letting rain, cold, heat, etc to stop my work from being performed while not always knowing where i will perform my work the next day.
I don’t think woodworking, in the general sense, will ever die out, but i wonder if professional woodworkers will begin to do a lot less at their shop and a lot more on site.

-- http://www.ahomespecialist.net, Making design and application one. †

View Roger Clark aka Rex's profile

Roger Clark aka Rex

6940 posts in 3269 days


#17 posted 03-07-2011 05:10 PM

Dennis:
I think you made a very wise choice by opening your services to be a “handy man” of sorts. There will always be work for those that can offer many services which regular people can afford or you can “work with”.
The kind of woodworking you love may not be high on the customer’s list, but you can continue your passion for yourself and being able to show your “handy man” customers what you are capable of will only enhance your reputation and even promote some sales for your projects.
You got it right, variety is the spice of life.

-- Roger-R, Republic of Texas. "Always look on the Bright Side of Life" - An eyeball to eyeball confrontation with a blind person is as complete waste of Time.

View poopiekat's profile

poopiekat

4320 posts in 3568 days


#18 posted 03-07-2011 05:15 PM

Thanks, Dennis! It’s good to see that there are still a few out there who manage to keep it going!
I thought I had the right idea too, about repairing furniture and refinishing. I has stripping by hand, but often there would be damage, or loosened joints, stuff that I could not let go. So I’d spend the extra time cleaning out the joints, removing all the old glue, and whatever else was necessary to improve the structural integrity, often after I’d already given the estimate. In New England, there were always auctions on virtually every day or night of the week. I found it much easier to buy distressed furniture, strip, refabricate, or whatever else was needed, and peddle my work at the antique shows, finding that I could sell my labor for cost plus profit, with the bonus of not having to run the gauntlet of each customer’s demands or complaints! Instead of people putting me over a barrel with complaints about color, finish, smell, or other unresolvable issues, it was so much easier to present my work for sale. Hey, if they didn’t like the item, well, move on! Case closed. End of story. No harm, no foul. Buy something else! It was as if a burden was lifted, not having to get slapped around by largely nebulous customer complaints. Then, in one summer season, the outdoor markets stalled, some went to Asian dollar store type vendors, others simply folded up, the few people like myself with a load of antiques became the anomaly, it all just sorta went away. I got involved with prototype artsy-crafty woodenwares for high-end touristy gift shops, but that went down in flames after a while too, when the copycats picked my bones. That’s a story for another time. If there is yet another niche to be had, perhaps I’ll find it.

-- Einstein: "The intuitive mind is a sacred gift, and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift." I'm Poopiekat!!

View Bertha's profile

Bertha

13461 posts in 2527 days


#19 posted 03-07-2011 05:19 PM

Sawkerf, I use the same strategy with inkjet printers! I am one who expects to (and do) pay dearly for handmade furniture, even though I have a shop at home. I simply value these products higher than some. This is a great discussion.

-- My dad and I built a 65 chev pick up.I killed trannys in that thing for some reason-Hog

View David Kirtley's profile

David Kirtley

1286 posts in 2832 days


#20 posted 03-07-2011 05:26 PM

Poopiekat:

The whole idea of the noble craftsman working quietly towards their quest for perfection and harmony is bunk. It was a fiction invented by the Arts and Crafts movement. These shops of furniture makers and many other crafts were the most egregious abusers of labor in history. Child labor that was indentured servitude worse in many cases than slavery. Slaves at least had monetary value. As soon as someone was to the point where they would be paid a salary, they were kicked out for their “Journeyman” phase of their training and more free labor was brought in. Unthinkable working conditions, low pay, and no security were the rule and not the exception. The only way to escape would be to eventually get your own shop and become the abuser since that was really the only way to make any real money at it.

There are a few artists at any time that are able to spin their vision into a sweet low volume high dollar living. They are pretty rare. Nakashima, Maloof, Krenov. The rest bust their hump with 16-18 hour days and scrape by. Unless you have the social skills to wow rich patrons into parting with $20K for a table and chairs, you are basically out of luck and are competing with the people making $30 a year in India. Another way to get there is to start up some kooky cult and convince people become celibate so they don’t have to support a family, live in barracks, and work tirelessly between prayer meetings. Worked for the Shakers. Of course they were pretty much doomed to failure by the whole celibacy thing. Kind of hard to recruit new workers.

You can go to the beautiful historical Colonial Williamsburg and see people sitting around taking time to talk to the audience and work on a few “authentic period pieces” with authentic tools at a leisurely pace. It isn’t real. It’s a show. It’s Disneyland with tools. They would have been working their rears off from before dawn to dusk. They only reason they wouldn’t have been working late into the night was they wouldn’t have spent the money for lighting.

-- Woodworking shouldn't cost a fortune: http://lowbudgetwoodworker.blogspot.com/

View Dennis Fletcher's profile

Dennis Fletcher

467 posts in 2888 days


#21 posted 03-07-2011 05:35 PM

Thank you Roger, I would like to think I actually made the right choice. Some days it seems harder than others, but you are right, variety is good.
Poopiekat, One of the things I am seeing here, in my area, is that restoring furniture and reselling it has blossomed.
I am actually beginning to do it myself.
I have found that, at the auction, there are quite a few pieces left for the taking, because they are not perfect. I can get a trailer load of these, refinish them and sell them for between $50 to $150 each. Mostly profit.
Even if it suddenly dries up, i will not be out much.

-- http://www.ahomespecialist.net, Making design and application one. †

View poopiekat's profile

poopiekat

4320 posts in 3568 days


#22 posted 03-07-2011 06:15 PM

Great, Dennis! That’s one of the most profitable, enjoyable way to make money! I especially liked fabricating the missing pieces, and making them whole again. I have no way to explain why the market suddenly shifted in my area, though there are things that steer the market like ‘Country Journal’ type magazines. For a while every issue had articles about hand-painted toleware, and I could not keep a funnel, biscuit tin, strongbox or other item made of ‘tin’ as the crowd followed the trends set forth in the magazines. Then it became pincushions and samplers which became all the rage. I was resigned to just ride the wave for as long as the getting was good, and try to stay one foot ahead of the others. These days, I have no idea what’s hot in the antiques market. I go to lots of shows, everyone walks around empty-handed.

-- Einstein: "The intuitive mind is a sacred gift, and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift." I'm Poopiekat!!

View dbray45's profile

dbray45

3295 posts in 2610 days


#23 posted 03-07-2011 07:43 PM

This has been an interesting discusion. The tides are changing here in the US. In the school systems wood shop, machine shop and other trades were taught in every junior high school and senior high school. Jr. colleges had nice shops and taught trades. Now things are condensing into one trades school that teaches carpentry, electrical, and plumbing in the high school only, in place of collegiate studies or direction. They are two different worlds.

The irony is that as India, China, and their neighbors start offering their services in many of the trades (including data services), their economies are quickly matching ours. This competition creates an equilibrium not unlike water.

Ecomomies are ever changing, some are down right challenging. By the same token, there are people that have money and are going to spend it on things they want, craftsmpeople are there to provide these custom services. As the economies grow, so does the need. Being in the right place, at the right time, really helps.

We all are very aware that there aren’t nearly as many custom cabinet and furniture shops out there, like there were. There are fewer people that know how to make quality furniture than there were 50 years ago. As the money starts flowing, you will see more people taking the classes or investing and learning on their own. But the investment, as everyone of us knows, is not trivial. This previous investment will keep every one of us busy even though technology will automate some of the work. Robotics can do a lot, but there is a lot to be said about handmade furniture and cabinets.

-- David in Damascus, MD

View ChrisForthofer's profile

ChrisForthofer

150 posts in 2901 days


#24 posted 03-07-2011 08:32 PM

All have made great points but there is one that hasnt been mentioned yet that I’ve seen. China atificially manipulating the value of its currency to make doing business there attractive to non-chinese companies. How is that “fair” play in a world economy? None of the other “super powers” practice this, yet it is tolerated and a blind eye is turned to it with free trade agreements and most favored nation status’s. I see this poblem as being larger than merely buying preference and education trends (although these play a huge part too).

Chris.

-- -Director of slipshod craftsmanship and attention deficit woodworking

View David Kirtley's profile

David Kirtley

1286 posts in 2832 days


#25 posted 03-07-2011 08:59 PM

Chris:

The US and most other countries have been doing that for a long time. That is why they abandoned the gold standard. It is not necessarily a bad thing, it enables the government to manipulate the value and encourage investment and trade.

It is easy to bash China because they are growing by leaps and bounds while our economy stagnates. China is not to blame though. We ran most of our manufacturing out of the country (or just passively allowed it) years before China’s manufacturing and economy took off. First to Japan, then Taiwan, now to China, India, Mexico, and many other countries.

The biggest problem is the development of the international corporations that operate beyond any law but their own. I remember working for a company that was sending workers to a Libya regardless of the trade embargoes in place. They just routed the people through other countries first.

-- Woodworking shouldn't cost a fortune: http://lowbudgetwoodworker.blogspot.com/

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dbray45

3295 posts in 2610 days


#26 posted 03-07-2011 09:50 PM

Yes, yes , yes – but none of these things can we change or have any real input. The things that we can do, is “not let the bad guys win,” so to speak. Opportunities are dropped at our feet and opportunities are created and acted upon by what we see and do. What we have and what we do are entirely up to us as individuals. If crap happens, and it does, you get up, dust off the sawdust, and get back to work. This is what you do as a small business operator, owner.

What China, or any other country, and the US does, whether it directly affects you or not, doesn’t matter – most of us are not in a position to change these things. So, you adapt and make it work. Woodworking as I see it, is a skill set that takes a while to perfect. There are so many aspects of it as these pages illustrate. I personally have never seen such a diversified and amazingly talented group of people in one place – its humbling.

What can we do to improve the industry, the trade, our products, us? This is why I am here, to help where I can and learn what I can from the great folks here. The international politics – well, it is hard enough for me to deal with the differences between imperial or US measurements and metric. Then there are the challenges and nuances of languages – and I believe that if the world politicians would look at how we communicate, there would be no real issues.

-- David in Damascus, MD

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Stephen Mines

226 posts in 2524 days


#27 posted 03-08-2011 12:54 AM

Mr P, (I still can’t bring myself to address a grown man as Poopiekat), revisiting earlier post to this, your thread, I quote your question thus: “Can I draw the conclusion that the concept of interchangeable parts does indeed give you an edge, but will that edge sustain you in the long run?”
In my long run, absolutely. The venue of Los Angeles is not a small pond to swim in. Talent, skill, determination and drive arrive with each new day, by every form of travel, from all parts of this earth. These arrivals are not dumbheadss…they wouldn’t have made the leap if they were. There is only one arena that is more challenging: New Yourk City where I lived for three years (in Manhatten) in pretty good digs. There were far more talented people than I, in both places, in both of my main endeavors of acting and woodworking. But they were not as determined, absolutely convinced of ultimate success as I. The quirk of genetics aside, I personally processed the miryid input as ‘why nots?’ instead of ‘Oh damn, missed that opportunity.’ The edge, Mr. P, that wits (and an absolutely insatiable hunger for knowledge) allowed me to stay on this planet realitively secure throughout the trek in this realm, has very definitely made the walk more fun, and sustainable, (at least so far LOL) Oh, but I digress…I am not in love with woodworking…I’m in love with life. And life, at least from my POV, is not yet obsolete.

-- Stephen Mines (Saltmines@aol.com)

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DrDirt

4407 posts in 3576 days


#28 posted 03-08-2011 01:09 AM

David K – one thing I see different with China than trade with Japan, is that Japan actually competed – and in many areas simply kicked our butts.
e.g. Sony made the trinitron TV and crushed RCA
Toyota and Honda compete with GM and Ford.
Grizzly competes with Delta and Powermatic….kind of –
What changes in the last one is that the now iconic brands are moved off shore.
If it were really in the consumers power – they would Choose a Tennessee made Unisaw over a Taiwan or China made Grizzly the same way through the 70’s people CHOSE the imported TV over domestic.

Now you are still buying “the same” brands as always – GE, Kitchenaid, Amana, Magnavox, Sylvania etc. but it is all made in 1 or 2 chinese factories and they just do some quick brand engineering and change the paint color.

Although they are supposed to be to US specs – it is only that way when you are watching like a hawk.

What China does increasingly now – is that there are sky high export duties on components and materials to be exported from China, but ZERO duties on finished goods. So now that chicken is home to roost – that the subassemblies that were so cheap and attractive to outsource – now essentially cannot leave China to be assembled elsewhere at a reasonable cost…It is now a matter of company survival – to move the rest of the production to Asia because the raw material supply is there.
The Chinese are holding our collective sacks and are starting to squeeze because we have gone too far down the outsourcing road to say ‘up yours’ and move to domestic.

-- “The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.” Mark Twain

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dbhost

5686 posts in 3066 days


#29 posted 03-08-2011 01:28 AM

One key difference of a plumber or electrician is that they work on fixed targets, meaning they MUST come to the job site and do the work, instead of farming it out to an overseas vendor and having the work done, then having the finished product shipped back. Same goes with house painters, roofers, framers, concrete guys etc….

I have no clue where you get the concept that automobile exhaust systems do not get repaired on a by component basis anymore. Every vehicle I have owned aside from my 2000 Ford Ranger (which I was forced to replace prematurely by an inattentive driver), and my current ‘04 F-150 have had exhaust work done. My current ‘00 Saturn SL2 has had a muffler replaced, the ‘96 SL2 it replaced had a Catalytic converter and the main tube section between the cat and the muffler replaced (got crushed on an overly tall speed bump).

I worked as a mechanic from the late 1980s, through the mid 1990s, and in that time I watched the business change radically. No longer were we rebuilding master and slave cylinders in shop, but rather sending them out as cores to be rebuilt by a centralized almost factory as it were. Same with radiators, alternators, starters, fuel pumps, water pumps. Toward the end of it, if a customer needed an engine rebuild we almost always would just swap in a rebuilt long block, transmissions the same. Customers simply were not willing to wait the time, nor spend the money to have the major assemblies rebuilt in shop… A crying shame too. Quality went WAY down by that point, that was also part of the driving force for me to get into a different career field…

To say that the world isn’t the same as it was 20, 30, 40 or more years ago is an understatement, in some ways the change has been good. In many, well the culture is dying. Those services from the local community were a big part of what made it unique.

Yet while the skilled trades have certainly diminished, there is one aspect of the market that hasn’t and that has been the appetite for the new, unique, and exclusive as a status symbol. Much in the way that the arts thrived through the system of patronage through the middle ages, woodworking in itself is an art, and if it is to survive, it must come to grips with that fact. Woodworkers, and custom furniture manufacturers need to realize that one, or even twenty of the same chair are something to be sought after, to be desired, but when that number becomes twenty thousand, or more of the same item, rarity is no longer on your side…

Just ask the guys doing the work on the boats at the marinas around here, or the folks custom building the furnishings for the homes in upscale neighborhoods. There is still money to be made, you just need to be more creative about your work, and finding it…

As far as a society, and the trades within it remaining constant, just look at your history books. It doesn’t happen in the grand scheme of things. Now admittedly with transportation, and instant communications that change of pace is moving at lightning speed. Just ask the folks in the middle east that are going through all their turmoil right now…

-- My workshop blog can be found at http://daves-workshop.blogspot.com, YouTube Channel https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCoa-AgyeFWqnQfGIJwdzkog

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Pop

427 posts in 3780 days


#30 posted 03-08-2011 06:44 PM

There’s a factor about Chinese products that no one has brought up. The largest retal corporation in the world is Wal-Mart. They are known for forcing their suppliers off shore. I’ve talked to several companies who have experienced this.

Pop

-- One who works with his hands is a laborer, his hands & head A craftsman, his hands, head & heart a artist

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poopiekat

4320 posts in 3568 days


#31 posted 03-08-2011 08:17 PM

We can direct our anger at mega-retailers, emerging Asian economies, or whatever else. The point of my thread is that in this age, woodworking as a self-employed business, nay even an occupation, is largely a thing of the past, except for those fortunate few in the stratosphere. Stephen: You are an inspiration to others, and your story proves that one can swim against the tide and emerge victorious!

-- Einstein: "The intuitive mind is a sacred gift, and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift." I'm Poopiekat!!

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Puzzleman

416 posts in 2778 days


#32 posted 03-08-2011 11:21 PM

Pop: The reason Walmart is the largest corp is that more people buy their wares than any other’s wares. Walmart started in the USA , so Americans are the ones who bought so much from Walmart that they became big. People vote with the wallet. More people vote for Walmart than anywhere else. So people like what Walmart does. If they didn’t like Walmart, then Walmart would have reduced sales. By the way not only Walmart but Target, Kmart, Sears, Macys, Harbor Freight etc. source their product in China also.
Why not rail against them as well?

Poopiekat: Making woodworking as a living is something that I do (to see what I do, check the website below). I know of several people who make their living from woodworking. Running any business such as woodworking is like any other business, you have to be a salesman. You can be the best woodworker but if you don’t know how to sell yourself and your product, you will starve. Just like any business, you have to find a niche and work it and sell it. Not all people have the skill sets to be able to run a business profitably, create quality product and be an ace salesman. Those are the things needed to run a woodworking business (or any other business).

-- Jim Beachler, Chief Puzzler, http://www.hollowwoodworks.com

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biglarry

76 posts in 2522 days


#33 posted 03-09-2011 02:45 AM

This is an interesting topic and as I read through the responses I forgot what the original post was. As Poopiekat stated he is and “old timer” and has seen things morph for a long time. I’m and old timer also and actually delivery glass bottled milk to homes, to keep the milk cold I had to shovel ice into the truck each morning.

Some crafts like making buggy whips went by the wayside just like the buggy. Some crafts were lost automation and mass production. I think that woodworking as a craft probably started die out 200 years ago during the industrial revolution. Most of the old furniture we have around today that we craft people try to duplicate was made in a factory.

If you are making items, no mater how good they are, and they are not selling then you are making them for yourself, not the consumer. It is easy to blame everyone retailers, government, countries, etc but if you can’t supply a product or service that the consumer wants then maybe you are the problem.

The only way any of us can make any money is to give the consumer what they want at a price they want to pay.

They way Dennis is doing it is probably they best way, do any job that you have the skill to do right. If you think that you can make beautiful wood boxes and charge one to two hundred dollars apiece so you can make a living wage, forget it. My wife will find one she likes for $19.99 at Target.

Puzzleman, I’m glad you found your niche. These things you make are not glamorous reproductions and I’m sure that your woodworking skills go beyond what is on your web site but you are making what the customer is buying,

I hope that everyone can find their niche and can make some money or enjoy your hobby.

-- "When the going gets tough, switch to power tools." - Red Green

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poopiekat

4320 posts in 3568 days


#34 posted 03-09-2011 04:19 AM

Thanks, Biglarry, for your insight and kind words. Despite some contradictory tones, we’re all pretty much on the same page as I look back on the replies. Thanks, all for some really great replies!

-- Einstein: "The intuitive mind is a sacred gift, and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift." I'm Poopiekat!!

View dbray45's profile

dbray45

3295 posts in 2610 days


#35 posted 03-09-2011 03:02 PM

BigLarry – Here’s the rub – there are people that make buggy whips, buggies, and carriages. There just aren’t as many and they can get real expensive.

If you make buggies, and want to market them, you can probably sell them – but you may be making tables and chairs as well – don’t know. Having your shop next to the livery stable may not be a requirement any more. As things change, some things don’t. As some things are phased out, they come back in limited form. Remember the ‘80s and ‘90s when there were computer stores on every street corner. Now try to find one, their back to being bars.

Thats one of the really cool things about woodworking, you can make darn near anything if you have a mind to. Whether it pays is a whole different thing but there are probably people out here that will pay the price – how good are you at finding them?

-- David in Damascus, MD

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Sawkerf

1730 posts in 2902 days


#36 posted 03-09-2011 04:48 PM

David -

You’re absolutely right. Carriage makers still exist, but their potential market is so small that carriages cost a fortune. There may be room for a few more, but if everyone who could build carriages tried to go into the carriage business, the available market wouldn’t support all of them and Darwin’s Law would take over with a vengeance. – lol

I’m always amazed at the number of people who try to start a business without doing the homework necessary to make it financially successful. Without a realistic business plan, even the most talented person will go under – and wonder why.

One of the first steps is to estimate the annual dollar volume you need to make it self sustaining. Once you know that number, you have to estimate the available market for whatever business you want to be in – and how much of that market you can ultimately expect to get. If the estimated market share won’t provide the required income, the estimates have to be “tweaked” until they work. If they can’t be made workable, it’s time to fold the tent and try something else.

Being really good at something, or wanting to fulfill a dream, isn’t enough.

-- Adversity doesn't build character...................it reveals it.

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dbray45

3295 posts in 2610 days


#37 posted 03-09-2011 05:50 PM

Sawkerf -
Agreed – been there, done that – operated a business for almost 15 years. There are a whole bunch of things that I could do, doesn’t mean that they would pay. Without the planning to even see if its feasible (unless it is required to feed the family), the odds don’t look good. Even then, sustaining it is no easy task.

I tip my hat to everyone that is making a living solely on woodworking at this point in time. It is not an easy way to go. Nonetheless, there is a serious difference between profitable production and making things for a hobby, even semi production. The rules are very different.

-- David in Damascus, MD

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DrDirt

4407 posts in 3576 days


#38 posted 03-09-2011 06:48 PM

Hey Poopiekat – not intended as any hijack – but as a follow on – is anyone seeing somewhat of a resurgence with the down economy?

I recall all the commercials for kitchen cabinet refacing being all the rage for a while – and am wondering if there has been an uptick in “FIXING” things rather than putting in new kitchens. Are people being asked to make a new cabinet to match existing – or the general trend for kitchens to go with more drawers for storage instead of cabinet doors.

I am wondering if that is an avenue folks are seeing for doing upgrades, and does that extend to furniture repairs versus just tossing things and replacing.

Certainly a lot of Mohawk and Furniture Medic advertisements for training and the like, but is that really a growing market?

Great discussion. thanks for starting the post.

-- “The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.” Mark Twain

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Sawkerf

1730 posts in 2902 days


#39 posted 03-10-2011 03:07 AM

Doc -

I’m a retired engineer who started doing cabinets and furniture five years ago. My “business plan” was to keep myself busy and make enough to cover the costs of being business. Luckily, my 30 years in engineering (much of it in management) made it pretty easy to figure out how to do that.

The first couple of years were pretty iffy, but I’ve increased my business for each of the past three years, and expect to at least hold my own this year as well.

The lousy economy seems to be working in my favor. Three or four years ago, people were buying new homes and most of the people buying their old homes were stretched pretty thin and not doing much remodeling. Now, I’m seeing people putting their money into their existing home – mostly in the kitchens and bathrooms.

Bottom line is that I’m plenty busy and making money. My favorite gripe these days is “When do I get to the retired part of semi-retired!” – lol

-- Adversity doesn't build character...................it reveals it.

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