Friday, April 29, 2011

A tour of McKillican's new facility

Let me share something that happened a while ago, when I was still teaching for the University of Akron. At the end of each class session, I would pass out a large handout to help people set up their own woodshop at home. It included information about what tools to start with, shop lay-out, and several tool brochures from the main tool store that I used as my supplier. For many years, my students went to that supplier, buying everything from tablesaws to router bits.

Then the internet started growing like mad, and online retailers started giving that supplier some competition. So they opened up their own online shop. They grew and grew, and gradually, their customer service for walk-in customers suffered. They became less interested in selling one router to someone, preferring to focus on their larger customers - the builder who could drop thousands of dollars on nails and screws. For a while, they were the only game in town for tool repair, but they changed direction - preferring to sell new tools, rather than repair perfectly good tools that people wanted repaired.

Fast forward a couple years - you guessed it. They went out of business. Not just their one store, but all of their stores, I think there were three.

All of this is to illustrate how companies think they know how to serve their customer base. One or two bad decisions can cause catastrophic repercussions. In their case, many people lost their jobs and their customers were left scrambling to find a replacement supplier in the area.

Knowing your core customer is key. Knowing what they want to buy, and how they want to buy it is even more important.

So when one of my local lumberyards here decided to switch things up a bit, moving their location and radically changing their warehouse layout, I was curious to see if it was going to be for the better. Or was is going to be just another upper-management pencil pusher making decisions that were not an improvement.

I'm here to tell you that McKillican, here in Las Vegas, has made the right choice, and gone in the right direction. They held a grand-reopening of their facility this week, and let me say - this is the beginning of something great for woodworkers here.

Let's start by noting that their staff is friendly, helpful, and actually return your call! Drendia actually greets you with a smile and makes it a point to let you know about some of the new products they're carrying. I can't tell you how many of my students come back from a visit to McKillican raving about how they felt as if their business actually mattered when talking to Drendia. Nice.

Charles, their warehouse genius, goes out of his way to help you find what you need, whether it's pulling a whole load of wood down, so you can sort through it, or suggesting alternatives, if he knows of something that will work for you.

You'll find both at the new service counter, out in the warehouse. They're now going to be surrounded by row after row and rack after rack of lumber, hardware, supplies, and much more.

The display of Kirei Board, Kirei Wheatboard and Kirei Coco Tiles was very nice, showing some of the products that McKillican is going to carry. These products are manufactured from renewable or reclaimed agricultural byproducts and low-or no-added-formaldehyde adhesives.

The Kirie board is manufactured from reclaimed sorghum straw. Even cooler - the Kirei Coco Tiles are a new family of decorative tiles and panels manufactured from the reclaimed coconut shells left over after harvest. Effin' awesome, if you ask me.

At the open House, they held a drawing for an iPad. How nice - one of my students won it! (Congrats, Jim!)

The layout at the new facility feels comfortable to me. Someone put a lot of thought into it, making it easy to find what you need. The displays of adhesives shows the line they sell, and if you walk over to the display, you can find the glues in various sized bottles, from pints to five-gallon buckets.

Lumber that is on sale is displayed up front, as you walk in, so that you can browse through it. If you're looking for material, but don't really have something specific in mind, this is a great way to save some cash. Flexibility is always a good thing in a lumberyard.

Of course, the grill was a popular spot during their open house. They had a nice selection of food, and it sure seemed like everyone was enjoying the spread.

On a personal note, I'm starting to become a big fan of green materials, like the bamboo products shown here. I like just about everything about them - the appearance, the sustainability, and the products offered. For example, the parquet countertop panels are just gorgeous. My only beef? These products are only offered in a few different thicknesses. When I build furniture, I like to go with beefier panels, usually one inch thick, and the bamboo products aren't available in that dimension. OK, I have more than one beef - these products are a little pricey.

So - how about it, Teragren - any chance of coming up with a one-inch panel? I'll be willing to forego my beef with your prices if you come up with one.

Here is a nice display of the laminates that McKillican will stock. The metallic laminates, textured and available in everything from hammered copper to weathered steel. VERY exciting stuff.

I particularly like the layout of the moldings that allow you to browse through their inventory. People who work in my shop know that I'm very finicky about grain management, so allowing me to sort though all the sticks is very much appreciated. Having a good selection is even better! And this end-cap is filled with various items - from safety goggles to earplugs, edgebanding to stain pens. A very nice selection.

Let's not forget their FastCap inventory. I've been wanting a couple of FastCap's folding chisels, and ended up buying a set. Here is their display of FC's goodies - everything from personal gear like gloves and goggles to their specialty tape measures, and their "Third Hand" - very helpful when remodeling. I know, I have several! (Yes, confessions of a tool junkie.)

Just to clear the record, NO, I'm not related to McKillican, nor do I have any ties to the company. But as a local woodworker, I'm always excited to see new materials and facilities, and I think McKillican has created something very exciting here. Competition in the lumber market is good for woodworkers, and if you haven't stopped by their new place, I highly recommend it.

Tell Drendia & Charles that I said hello!

Monday, April 25, 2011

Weirdest video on YouTube? You decide.

Anyone who knows me knows that I'm a HUGE fan of the Internet. It has connected me with woodworkers, and normal people, all over the world. (That's a joke.)

But somewhere, sometime, people just have to draw the line. Enough is enough. This is officially the weirdest GD video I've ever seen.

What the hell is wrong with people?

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Springtime, 2011 - A Garden Tour

How can you not be inspired by Spring? There are so many plants exploding in the yard, it's amazing. Shoots that were barely inches tall a month ago have sprouted up into bursts of color, and frankly - seeing everything go crazy sends me into hyperdrive. As if I need that.

The artichokes are starting to pop up.

These are amazing plants - why did I never plant these before? These are about the size of a lemon, right now.

On the other hand, the eggplant is developing a little more slowly.

Lots of new growth, the hummingbirds love these yucca shoots.

And the new growth on the cactus is so interesting to watch. It's as if something is hatching right out of the plant. That sculpture on the right is a Deirdre Logue
piece - an amazing potter who I met years ago, at Kent State.

You know Ruthie is only thinking about one thing, however. And it's not the zucchini.

This is one happy parsley patch.

And the basil, whose leaves will be the size of the palm of my hand in just a few months, contains the most incredible shades of green.

There may be a bit of a problem down the line with the zucchini. The nursery didn't have individual plants; they were out of them. So I bought a flat. Now every one I planted is starting to flower and grow like crazy. Yes, I love zucchini, but I may have gone a little overboard here. Here are three different plants, all very happy and doing their jobs.

Meanwhile, Springtime usually pushes my ceramic buttons, so I've been working up a storm, playing with clay. Here are some dinner plates, fresh from their bisque-fire.

And here is one of those plates, glazed and cooling in the kiln.

Potsticker platters are one of the most popular pieces I make, I can never seem to get ahead of the demand for them. Here is a lovely set I listed on Etsy this week.

I hope your garden is doing well, and you're enjoying the season. It's pretty amazing here.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Military flag/shadowbox coffee table

It started with a phone call.

Could I possibly design a coffee table to hold two military casket flags? It sounded like a really sad project. But then I learned that the flags belonged to a husband and wife, both who had served in the military many years ago. This table was being commissioned to honor someone's grandparents. To hold their flags, and to display some of their memorabilia, including medals, patches, coins and dogtags. What a nice tribute. I love a good challenge, especially one that is near and dear to my heart.

I grabbed my sketchbook and drew a few different versions. Once I had a few ideas, I drew them using my favorite drawing program - MacDraft. Mac lovers, I highly recommend this! Here is what I present to my clients, when designing a piece for them.

Once we nailed down a few details, like the type of wood she wanted, whether or not she wanted a shelf below, and the color of stain, I started this project by laying out the table legs on a full sized template of the tabletop. This table will eventually get a glass top, and the whole piece will be shipped back east to a family member. So I decided it would be best to plan on using a stock size of table top glass - a 24" x 48" piece. Designing that way works well, especially when the buyer is on a tight budget. These days, that's most of my customers!

Once the legs were positioned, I could figure out the lengths of the aprons (or skirt boards) and the position of the diagonal pieces that would encase the flags.

I'm very particular about grain management on the pieces I build, so I positioned the legs to ensure that the best (i.e. straightest) grain would be visible on the long sides of this table. Once I had the correct leg lay-out, I labeled them. (FL - Front Left, FR = Front Right, and so on.)

It's easy to screw this up, and I've been known to tear apart a table because I couldn't stand the way the ways the legs looked.

Since I'd already determined the length of the aprons, I cut them to length, remembering to add an extra 2.5" to the length, for the tenons on each end. The "inside" measurement is sometimes called an s/s meansurement, meaning shoulder to shoulder. Don't forget to add the extra inches for the tenons or you'll come up short. I cut a sample mortise so that I could do a "test-fit" when I cut the tenons.

Here are the tenons; they fit into that test piece perfectly.

After the tenons are cut, it's easiest to mark the mortises is to lay the apron right on top of the leg and mark their location. My 1-2-3 block helpsto align the tops of both pieces.

The tenons needed a little cleaning-up, because the shoulders were a little wonky. So I clamped it down and used a shoulder plane to clean them up a bit.

A Lee Valley shoulder plane is the perfect tool for this task.

And this bench clamp held the board down perfectly while I planed. If you hang around my shop for any length of time, you know how much this clamp gets used. It's simply indispensable.

The joint fit perfectly, so it was time to cut a small slot for the bottom to slip into. I put the joint together, and used a small saddle square to mark the location of the slot. I usually mark things like this with an X-acto knife, rather than a pencil. The line is much finer, and allows me to be more accurate.

I pulled out the double whammy of saws - this dovetail saw for most of the cutting, and then a Japanese saw for finishing the very corner of the notch.

Here is a short video, showing how I cut the slots in the aprons.


It only took about two minutes per leg, maybe less.

Then I tested the fit with a scrap piece of the plywood bottom material. This was a great fit!

It's easiest to build furniture by breaking it down to a series of sub-assemblies. That way, you don't have to struggle to glue and assemble the whole piece at once. I've always found that assembling a piece into it's various components works best for me. So here, I assembled a mortise-and-tenon leg joint and pinned it together with small dowels. Pinning the joint together makes it incredibly strong.
I used three pins per leg and left the sub assemblies to dry overnight.

The next morning, the girls and I headed back to the shop.

You know what they had on their agenda.

Here is one side of the table, unclamped and in need of a little touch-up sanding. The other side is sitting on my saw, behind the cart.

I did a quick dry-fit of the table, to test fit everything one more time before it's final assembly.

This isn't a good time for any surprises. Here is the table, assembled and ready for the final fitting of the flag frame.

I cut a piece of scrap for a sample divider, to see where it would fall inside the table's "shadow box" area. The bottom sagged just a tiny bit, so I marked the location of the diagonal pieces and decided to run a small screw up from the bottom, to eliminate the sagging. Sort of like a wood plastic surgeon.

Then I transferred the length of the sample piece to the pieces of wood I'd cut.

One end was mitered, and then I marked the other end so that I could cut it to it's proper length.

A saddle square is perfect for this, especially one that has a 45˚ end.

The sizes that military flags are folded into are very precise. So the length of this piece is critical.

Here are the two pieces in place, similar to the drawing at the beginning of this post.

I decided to stain everything separately, instead of staining around these cross pieces. Here is the first coat. (Thanks for the help, Dan!)

Since this piece is going to be shipped across the country, I probably won't get to see it finished, with the folded flags inside and the top in place. But I always ask my clients for a picture of their piece, once it's placed into their home. If I receive one, once this table finds it's final home, I will post it here.

Now all that is left for me to do is call my client and tell her the piece is ready for pick-up. Those are always the best phone calls to make!