Friday, October 31, 2008

Two steps forward

So, just as I was feeling like the new place was starting to feel settled, Don and Chris brought up a very good point. The floor was just plain grungy. Dirty, filthy, nasty. And something had to be done about that.

I was reluctant at first to consider sanding and refinishing the floor in the bench room. So much work, you know? But we did, and it looks really good. The only problem now is that we're going to have to do something about the machine room, too, since it's become pretty clear that we're tracking grunge from the machine room onto the nice new bench room floor, every time we walk through the door. Moving pallets and piles that are still piled up is pretty easy to do. Moving large machines around is something else entirely. I'm really not looking forward to moving heavy equipment around in order to repeat this procedure.

From Failure we learn

So, the old shop is officially no more. What you see here is the shell that remains, with a bit of conduit sticking up where my table saw used to be.

It's a weird feeling. This was my first shop. It was originally supposed to be a 2 year lease... and a much longer-lasting enterprise. The up and coming lab space was part of the reason I'm leaving, as was the solitude that I mentioned in previous posts. But at the end of the year, it feels like this shop was a failure for me. As I was packing up pallets of lumber and plywood and bits and pieces, there were so may unfinished projects that were sitting on top of each other. In some cases, it was lumber that was to have been one thing, on top of lumber that was intended to be something else, and half-finished jigs and fixtures... so many fits and starts and thrashings around. It's been a learning year, that's for sure. And while I learned a lot, I didn't actually finish very much. So, in a sense, I'm closing the doors on a failed enterprise, while simultaneously setting up a new one. I'm changing some of the things that I knew contributed to my having a hard time, but I'm very much aware that there are other possible factors that I haven't identified yet. The lease on the new place will run for 3 years. A lot can happen in that time.

The quote that comes to mind is from a recent favorite movie of mine. "From Failure we learn; Success, not so much." The challenge for me right now is to allow the failure part to sink in, so that it's appreciated properly. Blindly going forward with my chin up and a can-do attitude is all fine and good, but I really need to figure out a few more things to make sure that this next try doesn't end the same way.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

So much stuff...

So, after loading all this stuff into my shop, and getting the shelving set up, etc... it was decided that we should sand the floor... at least, in the bench room. I have a feeling we'll end up tracking in the grunge from the machine room, but whatever, it'll probably be helpful to have the place looking nice.

Anyway, point of the story, all the stuff you see in the picture is now on the other side of the wall... so we can sand the floor tomorrow. It still boggles my mind that I managed to collect so much stuff over the past year. And I'm pretty concerned that this is simply going to be a bigger fishbowl for me to grow into.

Chris laughed at me last night. I showed up late with my final full pickup truck load of stuff. Among other things, I drove up with 2 barrels full of ductwork for the dust collector. The pipes are mostly 4 feet long, and have an elbow or some other attachment mounted on the end, making them around 5+ feet tall in the barrels. Clearly this was going to be an awkward load, so it took some head scratching. What I finally opted to do wa to set up my little giant step ladder in the back of the truck, and lash it securely. Then I tied the ductwork to the ladder, and lashed everything in place. So the resulting construction was enormous, standing 5+ feet out of the bed of the truck, and looked pretty crazy going down the road. Chris was surprised that I hadn't been pulled over. Honestly, I am too.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Plodding along.

So, the second big move day came and went with very few issues. There are pallets of boxes and lumber and tools sitting around the shop, which is entertaining... it's amazing how quickly the space fills up. I can say that I've driven my fill of rental trucks for a while... those 26' Penske trucks are pretty simple to operate, but driving a big truck is still a pretty stressful thing, and there are some pretty air-headed people on the highways sometimes.

The big wall has been taped and filled with joint compound, and we'll paint it sometime soon, I'm sure.

All that aside, I'm starting to get antsy. The economy has its issues, but the bottom line right now is that it's time to start making money, and moving forward. That requires a functional shop space, with workable tools, and a steady head to wrap around everything that needs to be done. I won't lie, the last go around with the space in Medford was pretty rough. With noone around to bounce ideas off of, I was pretty aimless, and it was really hard to be productive. There were a lot of things I didn't get figured out right away. And between running a business, learning the differences between one-off and limited production work issues, as well as how to manage projects effectively and balance my time... it was a really rough year. As I was filling pallets with materials and tools last week, it was impossible not to notice just how many projects got started, but not finished. It's a real ego-bruiser, and a wake-up call. I've been in business for just over a year, and it's been a rough year. I might have had an easier time working for someone else. But frankly, even with all of my failures this year... all of them were learning moments. And as stressful as it is to do this kind of work and make it pay, I can't really picture many other options.

I have a few ideas that have been dormant for a while now, and a few more that need developing. I think I'm going to spread myself out a little bit, and do a few different kinds of work. In addition to furniture, I have ideas in mind for toys and puzzles. And maybe for some entry-level basic furniture that I can market to smaller, local chain stores.

But eventually it all comes back to where I am right now, and what needs doing next. Clean out the old shop, and get the new one up to speed... and get ready to start running when the ground is under my feet again.

Friday, October 17, 2008

End of week 3

So, as things are now, I have one more big truck load of stuff to go up to the new place. I still have a few big power tools to move, and I still have piles of smaller stuff that's on the way out. I figure this Thursday I'll rent another truck, and have another go at it. But this trip will be different from the first one. The first time, everything had casters, or mobile bases. This time, it's mostly boxes, chunks, bits and pieces, and a big stack of lumber.

BUT, I'm still pretty lazy, and I have one big advantage, working out of industrial spaces, that I wouldn't have if I was moving an apartment or a house... loading docks. The joy of these miracles is that I can rent a nice big box truck from Penske, and roll everything right onto the truck.

"But wait," you might say. "You said you didn't have casters on everything."

This is true, I don't. I have pallets, and a pallet jack. And I have to say, there's something fundamentally satisfying about loading up a pallet full of boxes. No, I don't yearn for days of yesteryear, working saturdays at the grocery store, and breaking down the weekly order. It's just that, I know that I won't have to lug any of these boxes anywhere. No lifting, no dragging, no schlepping, no stairs, no 2-man carries, no pizza party, no hassles. Pallet jack lifts the whole pallet up, I wheel the thing down the hall to the elevator, down to the truck we go, and roll it onto the truck. My only regret is that we don't have wider hallways and a second pallet jack so that we could have races. I still have to pack and unpack the boxes, but that's less of a hassle, I think.


All that aside, the place is finally starting to look like a shop, which is nice. There's still a lot of work to be done, but all in due time.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

A few more pictures.

Things are slowly moving forward. The wall is up, machinery is slowly trickling in. Wiring is getting close to being done. We still need to build doors to finish separating the space. And after that... well, there are shelves to build, lumber racks, counter tops... there's still plenty to do in order to turn it into working, functional space that will accommodate and assist in productivity. I think it's going to turn into a longer project than the other guys had in mind... but one thing at a time.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Fits and Starts and Harvey

The truth is, the new place has been moving forward in fits and starts. i think the original idea was first spawned sometime in July, and the lease didn't finally happen until this month.

For the past 2 weeks, we (Chris, Don, and I) have been building a dividing wall to separate the space into two areas, one will be the bench room, one will house the machines. The basic idea is that the noisy dusty stuff will happen in one room, and the quieter stuff will happen in the bench room, where we'll be free to breathe without dust masks on.

By "the past 2 weeks," I mean, a few days last week, and a few days this week. Chris and Don both live in the area, and they have had other things to do for the latter half of each week so far. So it took us basically a week and a half to get the wall put together. But it's up. Mostly... it still needs doors to fully separate the space.

One side note about the shop... there's a peregrine falcon that lives on the side of the mill building on the other side of the parking lot. For no apparent reason, I've decided his name should be Harvey. We heard about him from Jimmy, who takes care of the building maintenance, and is also doing our electrical work. He said that he found the next on the other building.

Jimmy also had a recent story that happened in our space shortly after we started negotiating with the building management. He was working with his assistant, and the pigeon was perched up near the ceiling on something. Jimmy told his assistant to watch, as he poked a stick at the bird. Jimmy said that if the bird got onto the stick, that would mean that he's tame. Well, sure enough, the bird was tame, and had a band around his ankle, and Jimmy's pretty sure it was a homing pigeon. So, he took the bird in hand, walked over to the window, and let it go. Around this time, he realized "Oh, shit... the falcon!" He's pretty sure that's why the pigeon decided to hide indoors in the first place.

We have no idea if the pigeon actually made it home or not. But it's a pretty cool story.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Clean slate

So, the shop is moving to a new, undisclosed location. Tufts University owned the last place I was working in, and they've decided that it's going to be turned into a shiny new lab space for their sciencey people. They're not sure when, but they now have the money to make this plan a reality.

Well, it might be a while until they get the whole plan together. But I'm not going to wait around until they do and be the last guy in line at the loading dock.

So, as of Oct 1 the lease started on the new place. Of the space you can see, we're renting about half. If you look at the green and white pillars that break up the windows, our space goes down two more pillars from the left side of the picture. Altogether, it'll be about 3500 sq ft.

The shop will solve a few problems I've been dealing with lately:

-Loneliness. My first shop was pretty good, as first shops went. But it was specifically designated as a one-man space. When I was going to school for woodworking, we had 40 woodworkers on the same floor, every day. Lots of people to talk to, harass, and listen to. That, and I was still working at a woodworking retail store, so I had co-workers to spend time with, and customers to mistreat. It was great. But leaving the store and starting up my own shop, I went from all that, to nothing... just me. It took me a while to figure out how much of a problem that would be, psychologically... and what a potential problem it could have been, safety wise. I'll be moving into the new shop and sharing it with two classmates from school who are good friends of mine. It's not the same as interacting with a school full of people, but it's better than yelling at the walls.

-I needed a little more space to work in. My first shop was around 8-900 sq feet, for just me, and it was functional, but a little cramped after a while. Part of that had to do with the fact that the layout wasn't everything I could have hoped for. Over the course of my first year, I've learned a lot about what I like and don't like in a shop, and how the layout of the shop can work with, or work against, the way I like to do my woodwork.

-Layout! I'll get the chance to do this all over again, knowing now what I didn't know then. There's a proper work flow that my old shop lacked. Basically, there were times when I'd spend half of my time walking from one side of the shop to another, like a bumblebee. And I'd rather be spending my time working, instead of bumbling around. Of course, with almost 4 times as much space to bumble in, the shop layout had better be good.

-Separation of machines and bench space. Machines are great for the quick and dirty stuff, but they make a lot of noise and raise a lot of dust. In my own space, there really wasn't room, or need, to divide up the space. But that meant that I was walking around in the cloud of dust created by whatever machine I'd been working with, even when I was finally working at the bench. Now I'll be able to step out of the dusty area. And with 2 other guys, the wall will provide a nice sound barrier, so I won't have to listen to screaming machines while I'm doing (bang, bang, bang) quieter work at the bench.

-A commute will probably do more good than harm. I found out the hard way that working very close to home was a problem. At first, I'd go home during lunch, and end up wasting a lot of time. Later on, I'd get caught up in something at home sometimes, and it was easier to do that, knowing that work was only 5 minutes away. "I'll just get this done and go to work. It's not like it'll take me any time to get there... " Live and learn. The new space isn't quite so close.

So, stay tuned, I'm sure there'll be more news on a regular basis.