Chris Schwarz's Blog

Woodworking Editor Economics 101

One common question we get from readers is what happens to the tools we test and the projects we build. The assumption, I think, is that we live a life of free wood, free tools and the free time to combine those things into free furniture.

I wish.

Most of the tools and completed projects are sold to the employees of F+W Publications Inc., our parent company. And then the money is sent to the manufacturer of the tool, in the case of tools we borrowed, or into our shop account, in the case of tools that we purchased outright from the manufacturer. The shop account allows us to buy glue, rags (so many blinking rags) and band saw blades and screws.

The projects we sell are a good bargain for the corporate employees , the projects are priced to cover the materials and just a little overhead. As a result, the furniture is sold using a lottery system.

Me and my fellow woodworking editors are allowed to keep a piece we built if we follow a few rules. We have to buy the materials and spend a fair amount of our off-hours (nights and weekends) working on the project. And we can’t abuse the privilege. It sounds a mite murky, I know, but it’s worked out fairly well during the last nine years I’ve been here.

For the Creole Table, I planned to keep the prototype for myself, perhaps even sell it to make some money to buy an upgraded table saw guard for my home shop. So I had to buy the materials myself. It was time to kick into miser mode.

When we build for the company, we’ll usually buy our wood from Paxton or Frank Miller Lumber. They always stock what we need and can get it to us quickly, which is always an asset. The wood is always kiln-dried, graded, predictable and sometimes even surfaced for us. As a result, it’s more expensive than if we go off the reservation, so to speak.

During the last nine years, I’ve developed a network of people who sell me wood for my personal use. Some are woodworkers. Some are farmers. Some sell wood as a side business. And though we’re completely up-front about explaining all the techniques and tools we use, we still keep our wood sources close to the chest.

My best source of wood is a guy , let’s call him Donnie — who is a woodworker who sells some wood on the side out of his garage. He’s a voracious builder himself and has a sizable appetite for lumber and very good instincts for buying it. And sometimes he sells me some extra stock he has. Please don’t ask me for his phone number.

The legs for the Creole Leg needed to be monstrously thick to start, which was probably the biggest downside to the project. We try to pick projects that use stock that isn’t too difficult to find or odd-sized. On that point, this project has two strikes against it: the legs and the aprons. The aprons are going to finish up a bit narrower than 8″. I wish that were 6″ so that a common 6″ powered jointer could handle them.

With that in mind, I e-mail Donnie and I’m in luck. He has a couple walnut boards he’d part with. We agree to meet at lunch. Sometimes hunting for the right wood takes weeks. Sometimes it falls in your lap. Ten minutes after pulling into his driveway, I’m the proud owner of two big walnut slabs and $90 poorer. The walnut goes into our wood rack to acclimate to the humidity in our shop , I’m going to give it five weeks or so.

Meanwhile, I need to make some templates for the table and find the best way to mark the walnut for all the curves ahead. A stack of black PostIt notes turns out to offer the solution to that problem.

Christopher Schwarz

2 thoughts on “Woodworking Editor Economics 101

  1. Javier

    Sheesh,I figured you’d have a storehouse of free tools from vendors and a couple of warehouses full of exotic wood. Nah just kidding. Thanks for sharing that info. That’s what I enjoy about your mag and blog.It has the feel of skilled hobbyist who are doing it because they really enjoy working wood.

  2. Christopher Schwarz

    You can make money in magazines using several formulas.

    Our woodworking products (Popular Woodworking and Woodworking Magazine) make most of their money from subscriptions and/or newsstand sales. That’s why woodworking magazines are so expensive to subscribe to and Cosmo is not. Cosmo makes most of its money from advertising, and it even uses that money to reduce the price of subscriptions.

    There are lots of other ways to save money. We’re in the Midwest (not New York). And while we don’t get paid in sand, I’ll never get rich at this job.

    Chris

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