Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Mission Statement

I've added a page to the blog: Mission Statement for the shop. For those of you who are only passingly familiar with the term, a mission statement isn't a motto, it's a statement of purpose.

In Lawrence, the purpose of my shop changed a lot over time. Sometimes the shop was a learning space. Sometimes it was a productive space. Sometimes it was just a storage space, while I took side jobs to get through the recession... or while I was figuring out how to actually run a business. Sometimes it was just a place for me to stare out the window, philosophize, and decompress, while the Merrimack river slid slowly by. I never took the time to define the mission of the shop. Honestly, I'm not really sure I knew enough about how I wanted to work to be able to define it. I'd been out of school for a year and a half, it was my third shop, and I was still pretty scattered.

It was a 3500 square foot shop, shared between three people. There was a lot of room to do all of the above, without feeling constrained by square footage. There was a lot of room to collect equipment, materials, and scraps that I didn't, and wouldn't need. And so, I was able to amass so many things that I'd never be able to get to, that would never stop distracting me. It was too much room.

My new shop is smaller. I've had to streamline, and make a lot of decisions about what's important to the space, to me, and to the business. And that has meant some hard looks in the mirror. I started out as a hobbyist. After 10 years, I still want to learn, and to try as many new things as possible. But  I've learned the hard way that I need to keep the business healthy before I can afford to keep learning and doing new things.

Machines will play a bigger role in the new space, simply because they're faster. I can plan and execute complex designs that require a lot of hand work. And I love doing that kind of work. But after 5 years, it's become clear that the way I have to do things differently than I learned in school. I still want to keep my skills sharp, but I'm going to have to pick my battles on that front. Once the structural work on a piece is done, the process of adding the fine details... carving, inlay, hand planed surfaces, and so on... can begin. The more time I save with machines, the more time I have to add the little details that make such a difference. That won't always be a lot of time... but it'll be enjoyable all the same.

One side note... I have a feeling that I'll be consulting the esteemed Mr. Leach when it comes to new tools. I have a feeling that there are some old hand tools that were designed to be more productive and efficient than others. I also have a feeling that he knows which ones are which, and that he probably has things that I'd never even thought about... like the draw knife he sold me recently, with the chamfer guides that can hold a specific spacing. The ability to move the guides along the blade as sections of the blade get dull, without having to go through the process of setting up the spacing again.will be a time saver.

The other reason to focus on the machinery is that I enjoy the process of solving problems... and I'm good at it. I like coming up with jigs and fixtures, and evolving them to set up more easily or quickly, and to work more accurately. The end goal for me is two-fold:  to come up with a better piece of furniture for my client, and to give myself more time with my family. So my focus right now is on reducing lead times without sacrificing quality of construction. That's leading me towards building modular jigs, working with industrial aluminum extrusions, and figuring out what's most relevant in a jig or fixture when I use them.

So, that's where the shop is headed for now, and it's what you'll be seeing in the blog. I'm still going to wax poetic in here about craftsmanship, inspiration, the learning process, and so on. But I no longer have time in the shop to watch the river slide on by.

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