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Summer Reading: Factory Man  

07/16/2014

"Between 2001 and 2012, 63,300 American factories closed their door and five million American factory jobs went away. During the same time, China's manufacturing base ballooned to the tune of 14.1 million new jobs." Beth Macy - "Factory Man"

I was really excited to get my hands on a copy of Beth Macy's new book "Factory Man". It's a compelling read about how the American furniture industry developed in the twentienth century only to collapse in the face of Asian imports.

The first half of the book is about the rise of the Southern furniture industry, and how, beginning in 1902, the Bassett family turned forests of Southern trees into the largest furniture company in the country, decimating the Great Lakes manufacturers of the 19th century in the process. We read about John Bassett, his family, his factory town, Southern class structure, the ins and outs of "good ol' boy" competition, and of course some family scandals. It's absorbing, wonderfully researched, and a great read. Beth Macy really knows how to write.

It's the second part of the book where things get ugly. Beginning in the 1990's Asian imports decimated the American furniture industry and company after company either folded, or closed their factories in favor of importing. At this time retailers, especially the big ones, dropped American makers and started buying directly from Asia, mostly China. By this time John Bassett III, had parted ways with the original family firm and went on to head Vaughan Bassett, a company founded by relatives back in 1919.

JBIII as he is called in the book, realized that if retailers imported directly, being middleman had no future, and at least some of the Chinese furniture was being sold as such a cheap price that, even taking into account the low wages in China, prices were below cost and the Chinese companies were dumping goods to destroy the American furniture industry (which they largely did). JBII did four things: He was forced to close a lot of his factories, He modernized the factories remaining with the latest equipment, He began offering faster delivery and more customization, and finally, sought protection from the ITC from the dumping. The details of what he did and the opposition and challenges he ran into make for riveting reading. It was clear from the start that the Chinese makers were dumping, but opposition by lobbyists on their payroll, retailers who liked the cheaper stuff, and pundits who deemed globalization inevitable was fierce and not necessarily wrong. It's even a fair question to ask at the end of the book: What was more important to the survival of the company? Government tariffs, or changing the way the company did business. Macy has the knack of showing how a personal story with real people fits into the larger picture of a company and an industry.

This book is not about furniture - it's about the furniture industry. It's about business and very much so how business decisions and trends effect the lives of actual people. Whether you are JBIII trying to protect both the livelihoods of others and your personal fortune, or one of the many employees of Bassett that are profiled in the book and lost their jobs in one factory closing or another, this book is about globalization from a actual people standpoint.

If you run a custom cabinet shop you will be interested to know that the trend of these large companies is to use their close proximity to customers and advanced machinery to become more and more like a custom manufacturer. As an aside Macy mentions one furniture factory that, not being able to complete in furniture, began selling custom drawers to custom cabinet shops. Sound familiar? I know many cabinet shops that outsource drawers and other assemblies to companies like that.

The one flaw in the book is that Macy doesn't include any pictures of the furniture that Bassett and Vaughn Bassett made. These days Vaughan Bassett sell only American made furniture, and you can check out their website here.

As for the book we don't stock it - but Barnes and Nobles does. Even better buy it from your local independent bookseller. This is a Hachette book so Amazon promises delivery in 3-6 weeks so don't get it from them.
Tags:Product News, Sales, and Promotions,Misc.
Comments: 8

The Hand and Eye Blog and some FYI's  

06/19/2014

This isn't a real blog entry - just two cool FYI's

I've mentioned the hand and eye blog before - it's one of my favorite design and maker blogs, and so we were very flattered that John Peabody took an entire afternoon to talk tools and design with Tim and Ben in the Gramercy Workshop. John shot photos, and wrote a bit about us and we'd like to thank him for taking time to come out and visit us. - you're welcome back any time John!

Also - over the last year you may have noticed that we release a new product every Friday - well this Friday were releasing old products! - 20 of them in fact. So check out Assorted Clearance Items on FRIDAY (it's Thursday right now and it's not up yet) and you'll still have cash for fireworks and watermelon come the 4th.

Last Friday's new product was The Festool Cooltainer which is the annual limited edition product from Festool. We don't stock all the specials every year, some of them make no sense to me. However this year is different.

Basic Reasons To Make Fun of The Festool Cooltainer:
1 - It's $95 (free shipping) when you can get a cooler for 20 bucks pretty easily.
2 - It's black and therefore a heat absorber.
3 - It's not actually sealed when closed so if you have melted ice sloshing around it could leak.

Basic Reasons To Order The Festool Cooltainer:
1 - Having a cooler that stacks and carries along with all the rest of your tools make it far more likely that the cooler will make it to the job-site. Having a cooler on the job-site means you get to drink or eat what you want when you want it and you don't have to wander off wasting time hunter gathering. Unless you bring your own supply you probably won't drink enough during the day.

2 - When is anything from Festool reasonably priced at first glance? The main reason for getting this cooler is that it stacks along with all your other tools (see reason one). So in the long run that's worth something important I think. As a regular cooler to take to the beach - see reasons above.

3 - Having a black systainer looks very cool. Having a black cooler is just dumb. Most of the time, on a jobsite, it won't matter, but if it does just swap out the interior foam with another sys4 and you end of with a cool looking distinctive case for one of your tools, and a light colored cooler.

4 - It isn't watertight. I never use ice in my coolers - I use those freezer packs. You could of course put the ice in a zip lock, but most of the time when I have a cooler it doesn't just have bottle in it, it also has lunch and other stuff that I would rather not get wet. So that's why I almost never use ice. Also my fridge at home doesn't have an icemaker. You can of course dump the water before you drive home. I shudder to think how much a watertight Festool Systainer would run.

Note: The Cooltainer is a limited edition - when we run out we run out. The main picture above of work in progress in our shop is by John Peabody.
Tags:Product News, Sales, and Promotions
Comments: 0

Relentless Self Promotion (and a Small Freebie)  

06/11/2014

I personally know a bunch of fairly young woodworkers who have made a real niche for themselves. They are busy, they have a good client list, and they get good projects. How did they do it? In a phrase: "Relentless self-promotion".

The people who succeed in woodworking are usually pretty good at making or designing stuff, but what they also do, and what a lot of talented people who give up don't do, is that they not only make furniture, they present a professional package to architects, designers, and end users. They are also doing constant, relentless promotion that gets their name out and they follow up with a proper portfolio. A website, business cards, and of course reliable pricing and delivery. Professional people want to work with professionals.

Just a small aside that might help illuminate this to people who don't get what I am saying. Back in 1999 when TFWW was first starting a friend of mine was just starting out as a graphic artist and she volunteered do to a lot of work for me. A few months later she went home to Germany and a grateful Joel wanted to give her a useful present. My present was I took her to "The House of Portfolios" and after careful thought she ordered her own custom portfolio to show off what little work she had. Complete with her embossed name on the cover, it looked a million (and cost a couple hundred IIRC).
Back in Berlin a few months later she told me that the portfolio not only was a confidence builder but it helped her get a job right away. Why? Of the beginners competing for the same jobs, she had one of the most professional presentations and a proper portfolio.

This was before personal website portfolios were common, but even today the professional (or the professional wanna be) will have something to show. Giving someone a URL and say look at my website - sure. Most busy architects won't type in the info. Give someone a card with a picture on it and a URL, if they like the picture you have a shot at it. A larger more formal presentation on an IPad can also be very effective and a proper portfolio gives you something can people can leaf through - which is fast, and far more satisfying than just having a website. It gives you something to talk about that will hopefully resonate with the prospect. What I am saying is that you will get most of your jobs by "word of mouth" the trick is that when you are given the opportunity to put in that word, you have materials and a presentation that reenforces your professional strengths and hopefully glosses over your weaknesses.

Aside from our website we don't have a portfolio but we try to do a little self promotion too. When we do shows or in the store we try to have a little giveaway so that you always come away with a little extra that helps you keep us in mind. When we decided to do this we wanted something that first of all had our name on it. Second of all was a tool, third of all was made in USA, forth of all had some connection with wood, fifth of all was unique, and finally, sixth of all was inexpensive enough to give away. We ended up with a wooden, made in USA ruler. Which by the way, while out of fashion now is in the long tradition of give-a-way rulers. What makes ours unique is that on one side of the ruler is a standard 12" rule, on the other we have Victorian era diagonal scales that will allow you to precisely set a divider to 100th of an inch. And when you buy something in the store we put it in a brown paper Gramercy Tools bag.

Now I get it, lots of you wouldn't mind a ruler but have logistical issues with coming to the store. And frankly, even if you live locally, it's far easier to order on the net and get it the next day. So for the next week or two or so we will be putting rulers into every package we ship that measures at least 12" diagonally. (while suppliers last)





Tags:Product News, Sales, and Promotions,Misc.
Comments: 2

Lettercarving In Wood and Chris Pye's Free Offer.   

05/28/2014

I hate the phrase "self taught". It's a master of inefficiency. I like to tell people that in a lot of subjects I'm "self-taught" but it isn't true. I just didn't learn in a classroom. These days, most of the time, regardless of the subject, I learn from a combination of books and videos.

When it comes to woodcarving, books can only go so far. It's a great thing seeing a master actually make something, or in the case of Chris Pye, deconstucting the act of carving into understandable chunks. Now don't get me wrong, Pye is one of the great woodworking writers out there, but even the best organized book can't replace actually seeing work being made.

When Lettercarving in Wood first came out I thought it by far the best book ever written on the subject and when it went out of print I thought it a real loss. So I am incredibly happy to announce that yes - Lettercarving in Wood is once more available. But wait - There's MORE!

A few years ago Chris Pye set up the Woodcarving Workshops, a subscriber site containing hundreds of videos by Pye on all aspects of carving. And these are properly produced videos, by someone who is a master teacher. Most important because the videos are all by PYE there is a real coherence in the quality of instruction.

People learn differently. Some work better from a book, some like videos, but I think both together work great The videos become the class demonstration for amplifying the book's contents. And the book becomes the easy to refer to record of the classroom demonstrations.

The book Lettercarving in Wood doesn't work in lockstep with the multitude of lettercarving instructional videos that are on woodcarving TV but it's all by the same guy and everything goes hand in hand.

Chris's videos aren't free, and they shouldn't be. He has to eat just like everyone else, and to produce the several hundred lessons such a high level of instructions requires time and effort. The deal is a fairly inexpensive subscription that gives you access to all the videos. However, to familiarize yourself with the quality and utility of the instruction Chris has a promotional offer of a week free on the site. All you do is sign up and that's it. They do take credit card info but unless you EXPLICITLY agree at the end of the trial to subscribe your credit card won't be charged. BTW - we don't get a commission or anything for mentioning this offer.

Another great thing about a subscription is that it's an incentive to get off your duff and do something while you are subscribing - just like a gym membership.

Here's the link: Link To Free Trail of Chris Pye's Woodcarving Workshops. You also need a coupon code (or else they charge you a £1.50 ) The code is: TRIAL14AFT0001

So give it a shot!

N.B. If you have never ordered anything in a foreign currency have no worries - your regular credit card will work - the credit card company does the conversion when they bill you.

Tags:Product News, Sales, and Promotions
Comments: 0

Handworks May 2015, Amana IA - Probably a Bad Idea  

05/21/2014

1 - Almost twice as many vendors as last time. Two barns full! It will be hard enough for a visitor to see everything but how the heck is an exhibitor like myself going to have the time to see anything at all? I gotta work after all.

2 - Amana has most excellent beer except the bars close really early - which is just not fair to exhibitors.

3 - Probably my turn to by the beer - that adds up.

4 - The butcher which is a few blocks away has those amazing German style sausages but they are only open when I'm at the show.

5 - You can get used to those thin pancakes at breakfast really fast - and you can't get them anywhere I have been to in the US.

6 - Do I really need to see, yet again, that my friends Raney and Konrad make far nicer stuff than I could ever hope for. Makes me depressed that I don't spend more time in the shop. And can you imagine - they don't offer show specials.

7 - Jameel and everyone at Benchcrafted work like dogs getting the show ready for us. They don't even get paid for it. They do it for free. It's tons of work and very stressful - that can't be good for their health.

8 - Larry Williams and Don McConnell of Old Street Tools will be there. This means that all those myths you have in your head about wooden planes will be exploded. You will also discover that they know a lot more about woodworking than anyone else in the room. Even Matt Bickford, who wrote a great book on the subject. Makes you humble. Except, at last report, they aren't taking orders for their tools - their backlog is too great. That means you need to find Matt Bickford to get your hands on some fabulous wooden planes. It's not easy - it means walking maybe 20 or 30 feet IN A CROWD.

9 - Unlike a proper exhibition hall there is no food in the barn. If you want a sandwich or some coffee you have to go all the way across the street. Not a big deal for me - but you car people - it's too short a distance to drive. Maybe 70 feet. If you want a fancy lunch there's some excellent places in town a few blocks all around but you might be forced to walk or lose you parking space at the barn.

10 - TFWW, LN, and LV will all have new tools to show off. While I can't speak for other manufacturers, sometimes we here at TFWW show off stuff we haven't started to manufacture. Don't you hate seeing stuff you can't have - YET!

11 - There isn't a lot to do in Amana except spend all day at the show, meet some nice people, buy some tools, walk around the village.

If you still aren't convinced - I guess I'll see you there! I'M looking forward to it!

Tags:Product News, Sales, and Promotions
Comments: 4

NYC Design Show at Industry City  

05/14/2014

May 9 - May 20 is NYCxDESIGN, where designers from all over the city exhibit their work at various venues and events around the city. We were invited to join the celebration and contributed an exhibit on saw-making at Industry City / Design. The exhibit is open most days and there lots of events locally to explore. Click here for a full schedule.

We are really proud to have been invited by Wanted Design, the outfit that curated the show at Industry City. Our own exhibit, which explores saw-making was the first time we unbolted any of the specialized equipment we use to make our backsaws. We also showed some prototypes of some new ideas and also the Exploded Dovetail Saw (picture above).

The most interesting part of the show, for me anyway, was how as tool makers we saw our work presented as art. Or at least as objects of design. Most of the time we are too busy thinking about production and function to step back and think in those terms. It was also great to be in the company of some of our design colleagues. We are the only woodworking tool makers in Industry City, but I saw some great modern furniture along with modern lighting, musical instruments, & etc. Check it out. Our shop is open m-f 9:30-5:00, and the show itself is open for another week. We are located about 3 blocks from the exhibition. Click the link above for the schedule for a complete listing and also a listing of all the design events all over NYC.

BTW - The same building houses the Industry City Food Court, which is just finding its legs, but let me tell you the Mini Chocolate Croissants are up there in my book.

If you want to read more about the show take a visit to The Hand & Eye blog, which is one of the top design blogs I know of and well worth your time. I also want to thank John Peabody, who runs The Hand & Eye for letting me use his picture of the Exploded Dovetail Saw.

Tags:Product News, Sales, and Promotions,Misc.
Comments: 2
The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the blog's author and guests and in no way reflect the views of Tools for Working Wood.
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