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Woodworking on a Half-Shoestring #26: Hemlock woes

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Blog entry by Paul Bucalo posted 02-03-2015 05:43 PM 1482 reads 0 times favorited 4 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 25: The Ghost of Delta Present Part 26 of Woodworking on a Half-Shoestring series Part 27: Slice-n-Dice »

I haven’t been posting much this year, mostly because I have been busy with other projects, but also because some of the cold spells we have had in Update New York have made working in a cold dungeon workshop unbearable when one is felling cold all the time. Fortunately, Spring isn’t too far away. I’ll get through this and soon be able to enjoy spending more time in the shop.

The title of this blog entry comes from a correspondence earlier today with a trusted, experienced woodworking peer that I have been buying plans from for outdoor furniture. I have been using pallet wood for the majority of my construction needs because of its inexpensive (usually free) abundance in my area. Since pallets come from all over the country, the wood used in their construction varies a little. Mostly, the pallets I find in good condition are made of hemlock, a popular wood commonly used in this part of the country for outdoor durability. What I didn’t realize until this morning is that hemlock is considered a toxic wood. Skin irritation from prolonged contact is possible. Breathing in the dust can cause respiratory problems. I didn’t know.

You know what they say about hindsight? I had noticed that when I was creating sawdust in the shop, even a small amount of the dust that I couldn’t see floating in the air would cause my allergies to kick up later in the day or on the next day. Wearing a chemical respirator (a quality filtering mask was not enough) kept me from feeling these symptoms. My wife, who has even more severe allergies, noticed she couldn’t be around the ‘aroma’, back when I had used my newly purchased DeWalt thickness planer to plane down quite a bit of hemlock. I liked the smell, but admittedly I felt some symptoms later on. I never connected the two, really. I just thought I was obviously sensitive to wood dust, as most are who suffer from dust allergies. I mean, I have to take a med year round for indoor and outdoors issues. So it goes without saying I am extremely grateful to learn about this now, before I swung into production.

Along with the relief in knowing there is a great sense of disappointment. Lumber is very expensive in my area. My current half-shoestring budget prohibits ordering practical quantities of quality plywood and exotic woods. An increase in cost of production can’t help but increase the cost of sale. Being a long-time entrepreneur, I know what happens when goods can’t be made cheaply enough to be competitive in the market. The plans I alluded to in the beginning of this blog will require a sizable (well, for me) investment for each unit built. My area is ‘funny’ in that there is no longer any middle class, so whether these goods will sell to those above my station or not is questionable in my mind. At any rate, I am committed to the sale of these units in so far as I have to build at least one of each model and then see whether the market is there in my area. I can still use hemlock for these if I seal the wood with a finish, but really, I don’t want to take a chance on anyone having a reaction to the wood, and I don’t have the best ventilation to continue working with a wood that is probably really bothering me more than I have realized.

-- -- Paul Bucalo, Norwich NY USA



4 comments so far

View BTimmons's profile

BTimmons

2300 posts in 1951 days


#1 posted 02-03-2015 08:26 PM

As for the sales question, I’ve found the whole “If you build it, they will come” has been true for me. And regarding hemlock, yeah, that’s some nasty stuff. Drinking hemlock is what killed Socrates, after all. Assuming he was a legit historical figure and all that, and not just a legend. But that detail is in there for a reason.

-- Brian Timmons - http://www.BigTWoodworks.com

View Paul Bucalo's profile

Paul Bucalo

626 posts in 825 days


#2 posted 02-03-2015 08:45 PM



As for the sales question, I ve found the whole “If you build it, they will come” has been true for me. And regarding hemlock, yeah, that s some nasty stuff. Drinking hemlock is what killed Socrates, after all. Assuming he was a legit historical figure and all that, and not just a legend. But that detail is in there for a reason.

- BTimmons

Brian, thanks for the comments. I think your point about sales is true, to a point. I have been a professional sales person for over three decades. To that end I know what you have said to be true. It’s the woodworking that I am new to and that weights heavily in my decision making for products to sell.

I took a look at your beard combs (as a new ‘beardie’ I find them desirable and myself wanton) and that small-sized, hand crafted item is a perfect example of meeting people’s needs and desires through Web sales. Large furniture isn’t in my immediate future. My plan was to focus on Internet-marketing for smaller items, while locally and regionally reaching out to those where shipping costs wouldn’t be affordable, like in the folding tables I have in mind. Will they come if I make it? Let’s hope so. :)

-- -- Paul Bucalo, Norwich NY USA

View BTimmons's profile

BTimmons

2300 posts in 1951 days


#3 posted 02-03-2015 09:51 PM

Seems like you have the right idea! I also decided to start small, as it were. The combs I make, while a lot more expensive than an ordinary plastic one, aren’t in the same league of “sticker shock” as something like a Nakashima table or a Krenov cabinet.

I was honestly blindsided by how much demand I encountered when I first went on the market. If you put enough thought into your ventures, hopefully you can hit upon something similar.

Best of luck.

-- Brian Timmons - http://www.BigTWoodworks.com

View Paul Bucalo's profile

Paul Bucalo

626 posts in 825 days


#4 posted 02-03-2015 09:55 PM



Seems like you have the right idea! I also decided to start small, as it were. The combs I make, while a lot more expensive than an ordinary plastic one, aren t in the same league of “sticker shock” as something like a Nakashima table or a Krenov cabinet.

I was honestly blindsided by how much demand I encountered when I first went on the market. If you put enough thought into your ventures, hopefully you can hit upon something similar.

Best of luck.

- BTimmons

Thanks for the well wishes! You know, I worry about too much success too soon. I’ve had it happen to me, where I lost business because I couldn’t meet the demand. you have a great product that appeals to a lot of men. I hope I can find something unique and desirable, too. :)

-- -- Paul Bucalo, Norwich NY USA

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