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

Saturday after Open Shop

The girls were so happy when I got home from work yesterday. All they wanted to do was PLAY. All I wanted to do was sleep.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Wood Lathe Accident at Yale

There is a headline that has bothered me all day. Actually, it's broken my heart for everyone involved.

It's with a heavy heart that I'm writing to tell about this horrible accident on a tool that most woodworkers take for granted - a wood lathe. A Yale University student died in an accident Tuesday night in a campus lab while using a wood lathe.

I was actually thinking about woodshop accidents this week, after noticing that a couple of students were getting a little careless in the shop. When classes are full and people feel rushed, they tend to work too quickly. That is never good in a woodshop, and over the years, I've seen some awful things occur from to trying to rush through something.

Losing a finger is one thing, but losing your life - horrible beyond belief. My sympathies go out to her family and friends at Yale. RIP

Please! Relax and take things slowly in the shop. Your time in the woodshop is supposed to be fulfilling and enriching. Remember - it's about the "dance of doing" rather than who crosses the finish line first.

Friday, April 08, 2011

Friday morning zen moment

This has been making the rounds on the internet (you know, those "tubes" that we use every day) and it's quite fascinating. It's a live stream of an eagle's nest in Iowa, with three babies inside.

I'm not sure why, but it's rather hypnotizing. Sort of like sitting by a campfire and watching the flames. It's raining there right now, so the picture is a little blurry from the drops on the lens. Still, pretty relaxing - just what I need on this Friday afternoon!

Webcam chat at Ustream

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Furniture Design 101 - full sized mock-ups

One of my favorite design books is Craig Vandall Steven's - Creating Coffee Tables (An Artistic Approach). Craig is a graduate of James Krenov's woodworking program at The College of the Redwoods in northern California. His work is thoughtfully conceived, innovative, and best of all - creative. (There is a link to the book just to the left of this paragraph, in the Amazon box)

Reading Craig's book is like taking a visit to his studio while he's building a table. The photographs allow you to follow along, step by step. In the book, he branches off into some interesting information, like giving you a tour of his workspace, showing his collection of planes and other tools, and even providing a very detailed lesson on sharpening.

I've been fascinated with his five sided table leg for a long time. Let's face it - it's been said that there is nothing new in the world of design. Everything we've done has been done before; everything is just a variation of something else. I have to agree.

Craig's five sided leg is perfectly simple and elegant, yet feels fresh. And it's design allows for some experimentation and creativity - a great combination.
Here's a small table that I made, using Craig's five sided leg. My twist on his design was twofold - I cut a severe taper on the legs - at the bottom, they were a scant half inch wide.

Better yet, the curved fronts of each leg were carved to match the carving on the top of the table.
So when I found myself in need of a new dining room table and chairs, my mind returned to Craig's table legs.

I found an amazing supply of wood - some 2" thick Ash that was not only gorgeous, but had the grain that I like best - straight, without much figure. Funny how some people love wildly figured woods, and others want the straightest lines possible.It's what makes the world go around.

From the moment I saw it at the lumberyard, I knew I had to use it for my dining room set. (Thanks for helping me unload and stack it, Rick - I owe you some Advil!)

First, I sketched the leg full size, using my favorite drawing program - MacDraft. There are actually two ways to glue this leg together - the easiest way would be to simply cut the wood and stack one piece on top of the other, like this.

But that would have given the leg an unsightly, off center glue line. So I re-drew the leg, this time placing the glue-line front to back, so that the two pieces of wood are bookmatched.

It's a subtle but completely necessary step.
I took a small cut-off from one of the boards and glued it into the shape I'd drawn.

This was done more for size and scale, rather than to see the bookmatching. I know what that will look like, I just wanted to see how massive the leg will be, once it is cut to size.

Next, I placed a few pieces of wood next to the leg, to simulate how the aprons (or skirts) will look attached to the leg.

This arrangement gives me two choices, and it's a crucial part of the design phase.

I can either have the top of the leg flush with the table top, or I can tuck the leg back, under the top.

Playing with full sized mock-ups always helps me decide.

Now the hard part begins - which design do I choose?