Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Selling Woodcraft Items on Etsy

About two years ago I started selling some of my creations on  If you are not familiar with Etsy, it is a website that offers crafters and artisans a virtual shop of your own to sell your items.  Actually, I have two shops on Etsy. The first is called the Firebird Cigar Box Transformation Studio, or Firebird Box Studio for short.  In this shop I sell repurposed wooden cigar boxes. I use the empty cigar boxes as a medium for my creativity by carving or pyrography or collage.  I have been making these boxes for many years now and they were accumulating in my basement.  My shop on Etsy gives me the opportunity to sell some of my accumulation without the hassle of setting up a booth and selling them at a craft fair. 

I stared the second Etsy shop last month.  It is called “Cast with Wood”.  In it I sell all my other crafted wooden items that are not repurposed cigar boxes.  Most of what I sell in this shop are hand crafted wooden boxes.  I’m not trying to earn a living from these shops, just a little spending money.  (Actually, most of the proceeds go back into tools and supplies.)

If your wooden craft creations are starting to take up too much space in your house, even after you’ve given gifts to all your family and friends, maybe you should consider Etsy. It really works.  But before you jump in, here are a few tips based on my personal experience.
Tip #1 – Browse around Etsy first

Before you set up your shop on Etsy, take some time to browse around.  Search for items similar to the ones you will be selling.  Notice how the seller describe the items and present them.  See what they are charging and what they add for shipping.  Notice the quality of the photographs they use.  Think of a possible name for your shop and see if it has already been used or if there are similar shop names that might get confused with your shop.  Figure out ways to distinguish your shop from the competition, to make it stand out.
Tip #2 – Begin with the end in mind

This tip is straight out of Stephen R. Covey’s famous book: “The Seven Habits of HighlyEffective People”.  Before you start writing a description of any item you plan to put into your shop, look at the item and figure out how you are going to ship it.  Actually, your very first step would be to purchase a postage scale if you don’t already have one.  Once you know the weight and the size you can investigate shipping options.  Will you use the United Stated Postal Service, or UPS, or FedEx?  If USPS, will you ship Priority Mail or regular mail?  Do you have a box to fit the item, or will you use a standard USPS box?  Do you have packing material?   Will you charge the purchaser the exact shipping cost, or will you add an amount for handling?  You get the picture. 
Tip #3 – Take good quality photos

If you are not good at taking good quality photos, get the help of a friend.  I think it is extremely important to present you items as professionally as possible.  In browsing through Etsy, you will quickly notice the shops that use good photography verses the ones that take a quick iPhone shot on the dining room table. Use a background cloth. (Felt or fleece fabric works fine.) Show you items in natural light.  Show close-up details.  Etsy allows you 5 photos per item.  Use all five.
A carved wooden cigar box I sold on Etsy
Tip #4 – Get organized

Use an excel spreadsheet to keep track of every item listed and every purchase.  Set up your own system.  Number each item. If you are not comfortable with Excel, do it by hand on a ledger sheet.  Etsy is good at keeping track of your sales, but it is a good idea to keep your own records so you can personalize them.  If you think that you will only be selling a few items so you don’t need organization and records, you will have a rude awakening.  Things get confused rather quickly.  If you are not organized your efforts will result in problems, not enjoyment.
Tip #5 – Don’t price too low

This is a common mistake for crafters.  Don’t price your turned wooden bowl to compete with the mass-produced turned wooden salad bowl from some sweat shop in Asia, on sale at Wal-Mart.  The things you make with your own hands are valuable, one-of-a-kind works of art and should be priced as such.  People scan Etsy looking for unique crafted item for that special gift.  They are seldom looking for the cheapest item, but rather the best item for their needs. They appreciate your work and craftsmanship and are willing to pay for it.

Tip #6 – Treat the buyer like they are royalty
I’m suggesting you go beyond merely thinking “the customer is always right”.  I believe you must treat them with extra special attention.  Your goal should be to make them happy with their purchase.  Thank them often.  Include a personalized form letter or note with the shipment, and maybe add a short handwritten line.  The making of some of the items I have sold were actually described on this bog.  I pointed that out to the buyer.  It's all part of the personal connection.  There is a practical motive for this customer rapport: positive feedback comments on you Etsy site.  When a buyer takes the time to write a nice comment, it is certainly very valuable for influencing potential future buyers.

Give Etsy a try.  It is a rewarding feeling when someone sees the value in your work and is willing to pay you money to posess the item you created. 


Saturday, August 30, 2014

C. F. Martin & Co. Guitars - Fine Wood Craftsmanship in America

I visited the C. F. Martin & Co. guitar manufacturing plant in Nazareth, PA and took the factory tour. I was very impressed and also very surprised.  For some dumb reason I had expected to see a tiny woodshop with talented luthiers using hand tools, producing a few guitars a day.  Martin Guitar certainly has talented luthiers using hand tools, many with over 30 years of experience; but this all takes place within a humongous factory that uses modern production machinery to produce several hundred guitars per day.  Sure, they use laser cutting of the wood and robots for the final sanding and polishing, but the important woodcraft, all fitting and forming, is still done proudly by hand.
I observed one craftsperson fitting the guitar neck into the body. To me, it looked like a nice tight fit, but it was obviously not up to Martin Guitar standards, or her own personal standards as a luthier.  She tapped the neck out and used a very sharp chisel to shave a tiny, paper-thin slice from each side surface. She then gave it another dry fitting before gluing. It was now perfect.  It makes me feel good to see that exacting wood craftsmanship can still exist in such a high production environment.

The guitar tops are almost always made of spruce.  The sides and back of the guitars is where the “wow” factor comes in.   Martin Guitar uses beautifully grained hardwoods like walnut, tiger maple, mahogany, sapale and rosewood.  Just gorgeous.

Many of Martin guitars are custom made and have special mother of pearl inlays.  Laser assisted, but the final inlay and fitting work is all done by hand.

If you are a serious guitar player, the Martin Guitar factory with its spectacular guitar museum is like Mecca to Moslems or Vatican City to Catholics.  I don’t have to tell you about it.  You’ve probably been there already.  If you are a wood crafter or love objects made from wood, I would recommend that you go out of your way to visit this place and take the tour.  It’s very impressive.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Bandsaw Box for Storing Flies

I love fly fishing.  I enjoy standing in the stream and feeling nature surround me.  I enjoy the challenge of trying to make a perfect cast where the fly line just rolls out to exactly where you want the fly to land.  I enjoy watching the pattern of the water flowing over the rocks.  Someone once told me that, at times, a trout will actually get snagged on the sharp little hook attached to the fly at the end of your line.  I think he was making it up.  I never catch any fish.  But I do enjoy the experience. 

I got an idea to make a fly storage box using band saw box techniques.  I could use magnets for closure, but what could I use for a hinge?  All of the hand-made wooden fly boxes I found on the internet used brass hinges.  They required extra thickness of the wood and, from my experience, were difficult to set perfectly on small boxes.  I got the idea of using a thin leather strip as the hinge.  It was all trial and error from that point, so I made a prototype out of 2x6 pine.  I know nothing about leather, so I made a trip to my local Tandy Leather store, which proved to be very helpful.  I picked out about $2 worth of leather from the scrap bin, which will probably be enough for my next 20 projects ;-).  The clerk/leather expert also recommended a small bottle of neatsfoot oil, which is used to make leather very soft and flexible.  I was not aware of this magic oil, but apparently any serious baseball player with a mitt is very familiar with it.  I used epoxy to adhere the leather hinge strip to the wood.  After a few adjustments, I got the hinge to work just fine.  Here are some photos showing steps in the process.  If anyone else out there has had any experiences with leather box hinges, I would love to hear about them.

A router was used to cut out the groove for the leather
hinge strip, before the box was sawn into two halves.
The leather was 0.07 " thick.
The leather hinge strips were glued on using a strong epoxy. 
The photo shows the leather strip being clamped during glueing.
A scrap of wood was used to provide even pressure.

A prototype was made out of a common 2x6 to test glueing
method and clearances.  I found that a thin strip of masking
tape down the middle of the hinge kept it free from epoxy
so it remained more flexible..

Neatsfoot oil was liberally placed on the leather hinge strip
using a cotton swab.  This provided even more flexibility.

This photo shows the leather hinge flexing

The finished products.  I made one from walnut
and the other from spalted silver maple. 

Friday, November 1, 2013

Rick’s Knife Handle

My son-in-law Rick brought me a beautiful steel knife blade with tang, and a piece of buckeye burl wood, and he asked me if I would make him a knife handle.  I couldn’t say “no”.  He must have thought that just because I make things out of wood, I would automatically know how to make a knife handle.  Wrong.  I’ve never done this before.  If he had asked me to whittle a stick in the shape of a knife, I would have used trial and error until I got it right, but with one expensive blade and one fancy piece of wood, I knew I would only get one single shot at doing it right.  Thanks Rick.  I really needed the stress.

Well the bottom line is that, like so many things in life, I created stress where there was no reason for stress.  The task was actually not as difficult as I had first imagined.  As a first step, I searched the internet (and more specifically YouTube), for information on how to attach pieces of wood to the knife tang and make a handle out of it.  As you might imagine, it’s all there.  Also, as you might imagine, there are a number of different approaches or techniques.  Most of the techniques use epoxy to hold the wood handle parts to the metal tang, and that’s the direction I took.  Of course, you have to use metal pins to hold the whole thing together, but with the use of the epoxy, there is no need to peen the pins to secure the wooden halves as you might expect. I used some common sense and left some exposed wood in all directions for sanding.  Even though I normally hate sanding most wooden objects I make, I have to admit that sanding and shaping the knife handle was actually fun.  My stationary belt sander was quite useful in the shaping.

I wrapped the blade and the exposed metal in duct tape
to protect the finish, and my hands.
During the shaping on the belt sander,
I scraped the metal on the handle.
This came out with steel wool and buffing.
I used tung oil for the
finish, and fine sanded
between each coat to get a
very smooth result.

Of course I couldn’t just hand him the knife, so I fixed up one of my flat cigar boxes as sort of a “presentation box”.  I must admit, I was pretty proud of the final result.  Now that I am an “expert” at making knife handles, I’m starting to look into knife kits on the internet.  Have any of you had any experiences with making knife handles?  If so, I would love to hear about them.

The finished knife in a presentation box

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Inspiration Stagnation Liberation

photo of my zinnias
top of carved cigar box


I’ve heard of writer’s block, but I wonder if there is such at thing as carver’s block.

I had this beautiful discarded cigar box made of thick cedar wood.  It was just aching to be carved, but the box sat for weeks because I had no inspiration what-so-ever about what to carve on it.  I could use one of those graphic Japanese crest symbols, or Celtic designs, but this box had a certain elegance that seemed to cry out “flowers”.  I went through images of flowers on the internet, but nothing popped out.  I then decided to go through my own file of flower photographs that I had taken myself.  Bingo!  I found a nice photo of zinnias taken in my front yard. 
With some tweaking, the design seemed to fit the box well.  It had nice detail, but not too difficult to carve. I printed the photo on plain paper and then simplified the flowers by selected the elements of the design that I thought would make a good carving on the lid of the box. 
As I mentioned in a previous post, these empty wooden cigar boxes are available from my local cigar store for just $1 each, so I carve the design in the lid first, before I attempt to work on the rest of the box.  If the carving doesn’t work out, I just discard the box without wasting time on the finish or interior of the box.  Well, this carving turned out pretty good, so I went on and finished the box.  I added the black walnut corner inserts.  This was the first time I did this on any box.  I used a special jig that I built based on plans in a box making book.  I cut the thin walnut corner inserts to an 1/8 inch thickness to match the kerf slot made by my table saw blade.
interior tray
I finished the box by using the interior cedar side spacers that came with the box to construct an interior tray.  Like anything else, the more of these interior trays I make, the better they turn out. I’m pretty pleased with the resulting box.
The finished keepsake box
Now, I have to get inspired for my next carved box.  Any suggestions?

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Carved Wooden Doors of Europe

door on street in Florence, Italy
detail of door on the left
There is something about carved wooden doors in Europe that captivates me.  Many are beautifully works of art.  Some are centuries old.  Some are in cathedrals, but others are on ordinary city streets. You don't see many doors like this in the United States. 
Here is a collection for your enjoyment.

door to choir loft - St. Peter's Church - Munich
door on street in Florence, Italy


Detail on main door of Basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli near Assisi, Italy
side panel of door shown to the left
Basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli
Cathedral of St. Lorenzo - Perusia, Italy

Monday, April 29, 2013

Woodcarving in Oberammergau - Both Sacred and Profane

Oberammergau is a small village in the Bavarian Alps which is known for its famous Passion Play performed every 10 years, and its woodcarving. It seems like half the shops in this tourist destination are wood carving shops. Some are small, with the local wood carver proprietor actually working on pieces in the shop. Most shops are large and overwhelming with thousands of carved figures appealing to every type of tourist. They range in size from huge carvings selling for hundreds of Euros down to tiny 5 cm animals and saints. Most of the huge carvings are hand-carved in Bavaria. Most of the smaller carvings are from China or Indonesia, although not marked as such. Some items are obviously machine-carved.

For the most part, the subjects are sacred religious carvings of saints and crucifixes mixed in with a few traditional Bavarian figures. The odd thing is that most window displays also include profane or suggestive carvings right next to a Madonna holding the Infant Jesus. One might see a nude woman right next to St. Francis. On some shop websites, anything that is not religious is actually classified as profanfiguren.

One reoccurring carving theme that certainly fits into the profane category is a carving of a chubby man in a squat position, grunting and…defecating. (See photo above) This little man appeared in several shops, right on the shelf with all the religious figures. I discussed it with a shop owner who was actually carving one of these figures at the time. He explained in broken English that it is a traditional Bavarian theme. At one time, long ago, it was actually used as a form of political protest. When Bavaria was occupied by a conquering army, the carvers gave the swatting man the face of the foreign leader. Today, it is the same traditional shape but it is done as just a humorous character.

As a contrast, take a look at the photo below of the grave marker. This is not a famous carving in a prominent place. It is just a simple grave, hidden in the church cemetery. It is not a recurring theme, but rather a unique work of art. No doubt the grave marker was done by a local carver, perhaps by a family member or friend. The symbols and saints probably had some special significance to the person buried there. It is certainly sacred. It will not be found in any shop window.

If you screen out the crass commercialism and tourist focus, without a doubt, the carvers of Oberammergau are highly skilled craftsmen and they produce beautiful work. Oberammergau is a repository of carving skills passed down from previous generations. If you are a woodcarver, you get the feeling you are in a very special place, a place sacred to woodcarvers.

Carving of a Kraxentrager. 
These traveling salesmen carried wood
carvings to villages throughout Bavaria.

Detail of Kraxentrager carving