shellac wax

Prices and Postage

This is not a “happy” bog post.  It might be a little too much “inside baseball” but I thought you should know what is going on and what is coming down the pike.  It’s probably bad form to discuss openly the costs of running a business, even a hobby one, and I will give that concern all the consideration I think it deserves.  Okay, I’m done with that consideration.

It has been almost a decade since rediscovering the amazing surface prep and finishing tool called the polissoir, or polisher, and connecting up with a local craft broom maker to supply me with them.  In that period I have sold and shipped thousands(!) of polissoirs and blocks of beeswax etc., and I hope to continue that success and match it with that of Mel’s Wax in the coming months and years.  I delight in sharing the polissoir-and-beeswax’s almost magical qualities with the enthusiasts who have joined me in this trek taking a giant leap backwards in wood finishing.  To encourage these tools’ adoption by the woodworking world I have kept the pricing stable almost since the beginning, folding the postage into the purchase price and keeping that unchanged since we went “official” with the Shop function on the website.

Unfortunately the postage increases implemented by the USPO over the past two years have affected me to the degree that, all by itself, postage now consumes over 15% of my gross sales revenue (and nearly 25% of the net), a nearly 100% increase in just the past year.  This is so far out of whack I can hardly wrap my head around it, but the unavoidable result is that some of the heavier items in the Store will necessarily increase in price to reflect this grim reality as soon as we can edit the page.

(I am not griping about the post office, they provide excellent service to me and are convenient; I do not realistically have any other parcel carrier option out here in the hinterlands.  I usually make the five-minute drive to our one-window post office in town once a week with a canvas tool bag full of parcels to mail.  Making a three-hour round trip over the mountains to a parcel depot is not in the cards for me.)

To respond to this new cost reality, after long thought I’ve decided to raise the price of hand refined beeswax by $1 to $14, raising the Blend 31 to $17, and the shellac wax to $21.

All three models of the one-inch polissoirs will remain at their current price since they are so light weight and have apparently — thus far — remained below some postage threshold, but you never know with the USPS.

The large polissoirs, the two-inch woven-sheath and the Model 296 wrapped polissoirs, will be going from $47 to $49, and the two-pound bag of shellac flour will now be $75.  Postage for Mel’s Wax is also 50% higher per unit than expected but I will leave that price alone for now as a strategic move.

I’m not apologizing for the increases: even though this is a labor of love for me I simply can’t keep selling and shipping products at the previous prices given the rising costs of postage.  That is just a plain and simple fact whether I like it or not.  I will be sad if these price increases diminish interest in polissoirs and waxes and such, but as the pundit says, “Facts don’t care about your feelings.”

And, given the recent disruptions in the bee hive health I am doubly glad I bought a lot of raw beeswax for us to hand-process into blocks and polishes just before the colony collapse crisis.  I’m hoping that the raw material comes back down in price before I need to buy more at the end of this year, but at the moment the prices for beeswax are about double from when I bought some last.

Stay tuned and wish me luck.

Mel’s Wax on Instagram

My friend LenR posted this in his Instagram page, featuring his use of Mel’s Wax.  It is much appreciated, and prompts me to think seriously about how to market this remarkable product.  At this point I am selling about one unit per month, when in reality I should be moving it by the case load.  I’ll be turning my attention in this direction imminently.   I’m definitely interested in ramping up production, but refuse to sub it out and am not really interested in wholesaling it.  Those might be two intractable problems with my plan.

Any thoughts?

Rethinking, or, “State of the Barn Address”

 

It’s been almost thirteen years since the skeleton of the barn was erected, nine years since it was outfitted with the first of more than a dozen workbenches, and over six years since the first blog post.  Now safely ensconced in my 65th year, lately I’ve been contemplating the entire enterprise, reflecting on how blessed I have been and continue to be.  Whether it is good news or bad news, after serious consideration I have no plans to change the fundamental structure of activity on the homestead for several more years, but at some point life in the mountains will simply become too physically taxing and the barn and cabin will be in my rear-view mirror.  Until then, however, it is still full(?) speed ahead with a big smile on my face, albeit not necessarily in the exact same direction nor the exact same speed.  I’m working just as hard as I did when I was 30, but the output is demonstrably less.   My Mom is 102 and lucid so I’ve got to think about another forty years of engagement and productivity.

Here is a sketch of what future activities might look like.  No telling if it is accurate.

Conservation Projects

Early on I maintained a fairly vibrant furniture and decorative arts conservation practice but have no plans to continue much of that except for specific projects and clients.  Yes, I will continue to work with the private collection of tortoiseshell boxes that I’ve been working on for more than a decade.  Recently I was approached to collaborate on a couple high profile on-site projects and if those move forward, fine. I love it but at this point I’ve got other things I want to do on the priority list.  And I want to truly perfect my artificial tortoisehell.  And I want to explore new uses of materials in furniture preservation.  And invent new materials, or novel uses of existing materials.   And, and, and…

Making Furniture

I make no claim as a furniture maker of any note, but I hope to concentrate on making more in the future.  I would love to maintain a small output of Gragg chairs every year, and even modify them and take them in directions Samuel Gragg never went.  I also have enough vintage mahogany for eight more Daniel Webster Desks, so perhaps there are some clients who might want one.  Only time will tell.  I’ve always had a hankering to make some furniture in the milieu of Charles Rennie Mackintosh or Alar Aalto, so maybe that becomes part of the equation.  And I have these sketches for pieces representing a collision of Roubo and Krenov while they are sitting on the porch of a Japanese temple.  And Mrs. Barn has a list of things she would like for the cabin.  And exploring parquetry more intensely.   And finally get pretty good at woodworking in general.  And, and, and…

Metal Work

I’ve always had a interest in metalworking since my boyhood when I would spend time with my Dad in his shed, melting lead weights and doing a little brazing and welding.  Many of those skills have grown fallow but I am trying to get them back and take them to new places.  My love of tool making has been rearing its lovely head in recent times and I have every intention of bringing that focus closer to the bullseye.  And part of that has to include getting my foundry back on-line.  And tuning up all my machine tools like my machinists’ lathes and mill.  And getting really good at brazing and silver soldering, maybe even welding.  And, and, and…

Finishing Adventures

I remain committed to looking both backwards and forwards into the realm of finishing materials, ancient and super modern.  I truly believe Mel’s Wax to be a transformative furniture care and preservation product for which I have not yet discovered the key to marketing.  But I will keep at it because of my knowledge of its performance and my commitment to Mel’s vision for it.  And as for beeswax and shellac wax? Finishing with them may be among the oldest and simplest methods, but they can be extremely difficult and I cannot pretend to have mastered them.  And what about my fascination with urushi and its non-allergenic analogs and the beautiful things I want to make from them?  And what about the fifty bazillion things I do not know about shellac?And, and and…

Writing

My plate of writing projects is full to overflowing, building on a strong foundation of completed works.  Notwithstanding my current struggles with the manuscript for A Period Finisher’s Manual, due entirely to my having too much esoteric material to include in a reasonably consumable book (really, how much solvent thermodynamics does the typical woodworker need to know?), I enjoy every minute I am writing even when it is driving me crazy.  I’d better because my collaborator Michele Pagan is one full book ahead of me in the Roubo Series.  And there are two or three more volumes after that one.  And some day I need to finish the almost-completed manuscript for A Furniture Conservation Primer created with a colleague while at the SI and thus will be necessarily distributed for free via the web site.  And what about my treatise on the technology and preservation of ivory and tortoiseshell?  And the dozen mystery/thriller novels I have already plotted out?  And who knows how many short stories about the life of First Century craftsman Joshua BarJoseph?  And, and, and…

Web

My first of almost 1,200 web posts went up six-and-a-half years ago, which I understand in the world of hobbyist blogging, where blogs come and go like the tides, puts me as some sort of  Methuselah.  But certainly not in the same class as The Accidental Woodworker, who has been blogging daily for even longer IIRC.  Ralph, I tip my hat to you, sir.

I once thought the web site/blog would be a useful portal for soliloquies about my projects and things I’ve learned over a long and rewarding career, but now I am not so sure.  A while back I decided to make a concerted effort to blog at least five times a week for a year, and I think I came pretty close.  Surely this would increase my web traffic!  Well, not so much.  At the end of this effort my web traffic was 2% lower than when it began.  Despite fairly consistent blogging my visitorship has dropped by almost half over the past four-plus years.    So I just scratch my head.  I’m not whining, but instead recognizing that the flock who is interested in my musings is shrinking, not growing.  Oh well.  This is not a good or bad thing, it is just a thing, helpful in me making decisions about priorities.  I have no plans to really change anything about the blog, we’ll just wait and see where it goes.  When I am not somewhere else, with someone else, or doing something else, I will blog.

Recently I was chatting with someone who informed me that web sites and blogs are now passe and the currency du jour is the unholy trio of Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.  Given that and my antipathy towards the latter two it is likely that I will undertake the former at some near date (yes, I know the relationship between Instagram and Stalkerbook) .  Something inside me rebels at the notion of validating the post-literate world, however.  Still, the economic treatise presented by Larry the Liquidator is not only dramatic but accurate.  Even the Professional Refinisher’s Group is moving forward, transitioning from a moderated email forum to a private Facebook Group, which will leave me behind.  But they will survive without me and I intend to maintain contact with that circle of fellowship regardless.

Trouble is, I am by temperament a bizarre mélange of buggy whip maker and hardline “emergent order” Hayekian.  Hmmm.  Not really sure how that works out.

Workshops

Integral to my vision for the barn was to have it be a place of learning.  As the facility was coming together, whenever I spoke to any kind of woodworking gathering the verbal response was overwhelmingly enthusiastic.  The reality that unfolded was anything but.  I now realize that my vision was a faulty one and the enthusiasm was superficial.  Quite bluntly, almost no one wants to come to such an isolated location where local amenities are practically nonexistent, to spend a few days engaging in subjects I want to teach.  Fair enough, the barn is too remote and my topics are too arcane.  Like I said before, this is not a good thing or a bad thing, but just an instructive  thing to add to the equation.

As a result and in recognition of reality I plan to deemphasize workshops at the barn, perhaps even eliminating them altogether, notwithstanding that I created dedicated spaces for the undertaking.  Should a small group of enthusiasts approach me with the request to teach them, I will do so.  That is precisely what a quartet of guys have done for next June.  And, I might do an occasional blockbuster-type workshop (a Gragg chair class would be such an example, if that ever occurs; I had thought a ripple molding machine class might be such an event, but with zero response…), or I might travel a bit to teach but otherwise that part of the portfolio is likely to close.  Not definitely, but likely.

Videos

Hence my transition to teaching via video.  If I cannot get folks to come here perhaps my best strategy is to go to them.  I have a multitude of ideas (more than twenty full-length [>30 mins.]video concepts on the list) and a brilliant local collaborator to work with.  I am committed to this path to the degree that I have the time, energy, and resources.

Further I have decided that making shorter, self-produced and thus less polished “shop technique videos” might be a useful undertaking to post on donsbarn.com, youtube or Vimeo.  I will explore this avenue in the coming weeks and months.

The Homestead

With several buildings, several gardens, and a power system to maintain and improve there is never a shortage of things to do here on the homestead.  I want to build/expand more garden capacity for Mrs. Barn to spend time doing the thing she loves best.  And fruit and nut orchards.  And I want to finish creating a rifle scope for shooters like me who have lost most of the vision in their dominant eye.  And another hydro turbine downstream from the current one.

And, and, and that’s all I’ve got to say on the subject.

That is The State of the Barn Address, 2019.  To quote one of Mel’s favorite songs, “The future’s so bright I gotta wear shades.”  Yes it is.  I am living the dream.

Making Paste Wax From Blend 31

One of the applications for the Blend 31 block wax (due in the Store momentarily, I keep checking back to see if it is there yet) is to melt and dissolve it to make paste wax.  My process for that is thus:

  1. Melt a pre-weighed portion of the Blend 31 in a small canning jar, usually a 4 oz. wide mouth jar.  A coffee cup warmer is generally adequate to the task.
  2. Once molten, add an equal weight of solvent to it.  My current solvent of choice is Sunnyside TRPS, although it is sometimes hard to find.
  3. Let the liquid cool and put the lid on.

There, you are done.  The result is a fairly stiff paste wax, you can make it softer by adding a little more solvent.

This paste wax is awfully nice, but it takes a bit of elbow grease to buff it out.  The addition of the shellac wax makes it a mick harder, slicker surface than the beeswax alone.

Where Did I Put That Stinking Knife Handle?

Recently I was sitting down ready to incise the pattern into the block that would become the pattern for the mold for making my soon-to-be-available Blend 31 block wax.  It was at that moment that I realized I had put the handles for my detail knives someplace for some reason I could not remember.  It was not that I had misplaced one of my handles, I could not find any of them, suggesting I had collected them for some purpose that I could no recall.  Fortunately they will be found as soon as my task is completed.

In the mean time, I needed a handle for the knife blades I needed to use.  So I made one.

Taking a piece of dowel stock from inventory I sawed a small slot with a fine Japanese back saw, inserted the blade into that and bound it with twisted copper wire, much in the same manner as quill brushes.  It worked just fine for the carving of the mat board that was the detailed surface of the block pattern.

An hour later I had the design incised into the surface and the block was ready for making the rubber mold.

 

And sure enough, the box with my micro tools was found right after this was finished.  Sigh.

The Waxerie

My recent mysterious bout of vertigo (still ongoing but mild, I describe it as being “fuzzy around the edges”) limited my work in all phases, but in the latter part of the acute phase I could gently walk the driveway and putter in the barn.  One of the techniques I used was employing a long walking stick held diagonally across my torso, planting it solidly on the ground with every step in order to be a sturdy hand-hold as I wobbled my way up the hill.

One thing I could do was tidy up, put stuff away and clean the shop.  Since a hand-hold was never more than arm’s length away it went pretty well.  One of the chores I attacked was organizing the west end of the shop, a space opened up this year to remain heated all winter long and serve as my place to mix and make wax/finishing products.  I had an idea of the spatial configuration and it turned out to be terrific.  I also moved an 8-foot workbench in there to go with my six-foot folding table and the huge map case so I have plenty of counter space for my work there.

I know, famous last words.  Especially coming from my mouth.

Look at me being all science-y and stuff in my new lab coat.  I am not certain that my LAP cap is laboratory-grade, though.

I spent a couple days working out some production details for Mel’s Wax (a big announcement due SOON).

Shellac Wax Now Available in The Store

At long last, pure shellax wax is now available from the donsbarn.com store.  I know a few of you have already found it as I have the orders in my “Pending” box to go to the Post Office next time I am in town.

Shellac wax, extracted from raw stick lac, is the second hardest of the naturally occurring waxes.  Because it is so hard and tends to be brittle at cooler temperatures it is generally used as a blend with beeswax to render it more useful as a block wax.  It is especially useful for polishing turnings by placing the block of blended wax directly against the surface of the rotating workpiece to melt it into the surface, followed by burnishing with a polissoir. It is also highly prized as an ingredient in paste wax/grain filler used with a polissoir.

My shellac wax is imported directly from the factory in east central India and is further refined here by molten filtering and forming into quarter-pound blocks for packaging.

Shellac wax is $19/quarter-pound, domestic shipping included.  For foreign or overseas shipping please contact me.

“Are You Sure You Want To Do This?”

Those were the words of the manager of our locally owned bank as she held her finger poised over the compewder keyboard.  “Once it goes, you can’t call it back.”  I nodded, and she did it.

Turn the clock back several months prior as I was searching for a direct source for shellac wax in bulk.  It was a Goldilocks sorta thing, most of the bulk suppliers in India wanted to sell hundreds of metric tons, and  already-processed and packaged quantities here in The States were simply too expensive.  One quote I got for an intermediate amount of 50 pounds was $3000 plus shipping!  Earnestly I continued my search, even attempting to work through Alibaba.  Finally I received a response from a small-ish (by industry yardsticks) supplier whose web site included a “Contact Us” function.  What was intriguing about this response as opposed to the many others I received from similar information requests was that this came from a real person, not a bot.  In every other case, I got a bot response.

As a result of that initial correspondence I requested a sample of their product, which they promised to send.  Fully expecting disappointment, much to my delight a week later a sample with an analytical report arrived here in the hinterlands.  It was splendid.

I melted it, cooled it, formulated some blends and products with it.  It was perfect.

Further rounds of correspondence led me to the point of visiting my bank.  We had negotiated the price for several hundred pounds of shellac wax, but the supplier was not plugged in to the world of credit cards nor Paypal.  They dealt only in bank-to-bank direct transfers.  My bank manager did some research and found out that such a transfer required going through two intermediate banks between my bank and the supplier’s bank.  Since our bank was a locally owned enterprise it needed an American bank with international transaction capability, and the terminal bank at the other end was similar.  Their bank needed a domestic (to them) bank to import the money and send it to them.  It turned out that their funds transfer portal was a British bank based in Mumbai.

Finally those details were all ironed out and the paperwork was prepared and signed.  That’s when the bank manager asked me what she did.  “Are you sure?” she asked.  “You can’t get it back if something goes wrong at the other end.”  Given that the funds transfer involved several thousand of dollars flowing out of my account she was correct in making sure.

I took a deep breath and reflected on the risk.  With the experience of the supplier complying with everything I had asked and everything they promised, I nodded my assent.  She pressed the key.

Ten days later the UPS truck arrived with 500 pounds of shellac wax.  I was not even home at the time, so the driver unloaded the cases into the barn himself.

In a series of interactions that eventually rested on risk and trust and eventually having to put my faith in the person at the other end of the interwebz that they would keep their word, the reward was heartening.

Thus the Age of Shellac Wax at the barn was born.

Periodically my contact in India drops me a note just asking, and one of these days I’ll respond with, “Yes, please send me another five hundred pounds.”

So now you know the rest of the story.