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Bowl turning - making your wood go farther?

Discussion in 'Woodturning Discussion Forum' started by Daniel Miller, Jan 7, 2020.

  1. Daniel Miller

    Daniel Miller

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    My wife and I have a small woodworking side business that we've been doing for almost a year now. While we're in the process of getting our business online with a personal website, at the moment we have most of our pieces in two local consignment shops. For any of you who live in smaller towns who do similar, you can probably relate to what I'm about to say next...

    Our town is about 20,000 people in middle Georgia. I wouldn't say that there is a wide gap between lower income and middle income, but one thing that's been said by other woodworkers in the area is that "the people around here don't appreciate the time it takes to make these products". We do a lot of comparison "shopping", looking on Etsy, eBay, and retailer stores to try and price our products similarly and we've created a pricing calculator that can price our products in the ballpark of comparable places. The big issue is that I'm afraid that, due to the lack of sales, we're still priced higher than what most people would pay based on the lack of sales.

    That being said, I'm curious how you all make your wood go farther? For example, if I buy a "salad bowl" blank (10x4) and it costs me around $50 in materials alone, it would be difficult to sell it in our market for much above that. While I'm certain that selling online will do better than selling in our community, I do want to produce products here for the local market that may lead to higher priced sales in the long term. I'm wondering how you all do it, for those of you who are in similar markets where $80+ bowls don't fly off the shelves. I've thought about laminating woods like walnut and maple together in hopes that this would be a way to both create some unique looking bowls but also keep costs down. Any thoughts?
     
  2. Doug Freeman

    Doug Freeman

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    Get or use your chain saw to cut your own blanks from free wood sourced locally. Make friends with local tree service/arborists/saw mill operators/lumber cutters. Tree lumber cutters usually burn the best pieces, crotches. Neighbors that get trees cut down. After wind storms pass through there are usually trees down, etc.

    The only blanks I buy are somewhat exotic woods, and those are generally small for ornamental pieces that are part of a larger piece.
     
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  3. Gerald Lawrence

    Gerald Lawrence

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    I agree with Doug on the wood source. You cannot afford to buy a 50 blank and sell for 65. As for sales in our market they want if for 5 or 10 . I noticed on the last show which was 11 days before Christmas that the bowls were maybe looked at but rarely picked up to see the price. I do not have a solution but online may be an answer but not the only one. The point for my market is that bowls just do not sell well. Ornaments and small toys such as tops are the easiest to move.
     
    Daniel Miller likes this.
  4. Daniel Miller

    Daniel Miller

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    I've considered giving ornaments a try. Right now, pens are what I do the most, but even with those most people are wanting the cheap $20-30 pens, not a nice burl pen that's $75. I think if I could put out the turnings quick enough that ornaments could be more profitable than any other product I'm currently making.

    I will say this though... honestly, my intent and desire isn't to produce a bunch of $5-20 products because I feel like I'd burn out and not make enough money to make the hassle worth producing something for so little profit, but then again it's difficult to fight a cheap market!
     
  5. charlie knighton

    charlie knighton

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    go to Atlanta....see Nick Cook's shop/market.....$$$ not really object of turning because buyers will not support it....now I understand Hawaii is different..
    .
     
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  6. Richard Coers

    Richard Coers

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    If you want to make better money selling bowls, start advertising that you do "heritage" turning. That is where you turn wood from a tree that the owner has an emotional attachment. Every time I get that kind of order, it's usually for a minimum of 6 bowls for the family. Print out a nice color brochure and give them to all the arborists in your area. Pay the arborist a commission if they get you a job. It's been decades since I paid for a bowl blank. A free bowl to an arborist will even get you free burls! And as we all know, ash trees are being clear cut everywhere! I also find that about the only vision the general public has about wood bowls is salad. Make sets of those. That is usually a 6 bowl set. BUT, they have to be pretty close to identical. Last advice, round and brown can really take over a display. Get some color in your display. If for nothing else, to slow them down by looking at the unusual color. It's been decades since I paid for a bowl blank.
     
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  7. Mike Johnson

    Mike Johnson

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    Another option for turning wood is find a local or regional sawyer that slabs trees, they usually offer wood blanks for turning. Purchase in bulk you can usually negotiate a fair price for the wood blanks and get a good variety of wood types. You could also visit a firewood cutter and find decent pieces of wood to turn on a lathe paying a firewood price for the pieces you find.
     
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  8. Dean Center

    Dean Center

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    Daniel, I have an observation that probably doesn't apply to you, but here it is. I have seen a number of turners in our area start selling their work and been shocked to see that the pieces are poorly shaped and unartful, and sometimes they aren't even truly finished. I've seen unsanded bowl bottoms and bottoms with screw holes in them. The harder thing for the maker to see, however, is that the shape may be unappealing to other people. If you're not moving your work, you might want to have someone who is a skilled and successful turner, or an artistic friend or relative, give you some honest feedback.

    Most likely it's that folks in your neck of the woods don't want to pay a realistic price for craftmanship. It's that way in many of our communities. Also, superfast turners like Glen Lucas and Mike Mahoney have saturated the world's markets.:D
     
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  9. Emiliano Achaval

    Emiliano Achaval Administrator Staff Member

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    I have yet to see a Mahoney or Lucas bowl in Hawaii. Lots of mine around...
     
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  10. john lucas

    john lucas AAW Forum Expert

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    I'm in a small.town and therefore have the same issues. Many many years ago when money was a lot less I bought a chainsaw. I have never paid for a bowl blank. I cut up wood into all sorts of sizes and shapes.and dry my own. When i cut bowl.blanks i often save the corners for things like boxed and ornaments. If I want to sell.around here I have to keep my costs down. I do this by increasing the speed that I can produce work, and keep my material fee down.
     
  11. Daniel Miller

    Daniel Miller

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    Dean, I appreciate the feedback! I won't ever claim that my work is perfect, or anywhere close to master craftsmanship, but I do take immense pride in the pieces that I turn and do everything I can to make it something that I am proud of. I'm a bit of a perfectionist, to a fault really because I probably more hard on myself and my abilities than I should be given the length of time I've been doing this (about 10 years). Typically, I try to keep my designs rather plain for utilitarian purposes, and my lathe can only turn up to 12", so I'm not really making large fruit bowls that are going to go on somebody's end table. I will say that nothing aggravates me more than shoddy craftsmanship being put off as something that it isn't. We do charcuterie/serving boards, and nothing grinds my gears more than seeing someone taking Home Depot fir, staining it brown, slapping some cabinet handles on it, and then putting it up on Etsy with the title "Charcuterie Board Walnut Color", selling it at the same price as others usual ACTUAL walnut, and then the description mentions nothing of the fact that the wood isn't walnut. Anyone of us who have taken a stroll down that aisle in Home Depot more than once and actually use what I like to call "premium woods" immediately recognizes the grain pattern of Home Depot whitewood. BUT... most people who AREN'T craftsmen would never know the difference, or understand the price difference between Home Depot wood and walnut or maple from a sawyer. And people just slap the cheap stuff together and flood the market on Etsy with it.

    Thanks for the insight John! I try to save my cutoffs for pen blanks and other small turnings when I can. How are you seasoning your wood? Do you have a kiln or just have them under a shelter air drying?
     
  12. odie

    odie

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    Most bowl turners power sand their bowls into submission. They will never compete with the best, and will always be competing with the 99% of turners who do the same, and end up competing with the bottom end of the market. Learn to turn with very little reliance on sanding, and it will open doors to you that you never knew were there!

    -----odie-----

    Details like this are impossible, if you have to rely on sanding to get a fine finish:
    1787 maple burl (19).JPG
     
  13. Daniel Miller

    Daniel Miller

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    Odie, that is beautiful! I'm a self-taught turner, so all of my habits are usually from watching others on YouTube or from other sources. I've always taken sanding as just a part of the natural process, though in my own experiences I can definitely say that when I'm trying to cut small details like you have there, it definitely is very hard to keep the detail and sand everything at the same time!
     
  14. Daniel Warren

    Daniel Warren

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    @Daniel Miller you might consider running a craigslist ad seeking downed hardwood trees. I’ve been running an ad for a few months and I am at a point where I turn down offers. Only one person has asked for a turned item in return. Unless I want an exotic wood I haven’t paid for wood in a long time, though I don’t actively sell my work.
     
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  15. robo hippy

    robo hippy

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    Being able to sell your work as at least as much of an art as making it. Like others have said, don't buy bowl blanks, make your own. I now have some one who delivers prime myrtle and madrone logs to my drive way for less than I could go and pick them up for. That might be cheating a bit, but the cost is less than fire wood. Figuring out what to sell and where to sell is difficult because that constantly changes. Figure that since you are starting, a 4 by 10 inch bowl may take you half an hour or so to turn out and almost as much time to sand. After you get a thousand or two done, that same bowl might take 15 minutes to turn and sand. The problem I run into with trying to sell bowls is that people need to pick them up and fondle them. Hard to do that with on line sales, but some manage. I always considered myself to be semi-pro, which means I made enough to support my habit, in style, but not enough to make a living on.

    robo hippy
     
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  16. odie

    odie

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    Thanks, Daniel.......I'm also a self-taught turner, but I must admit that I've gotten some early advice from a few books and videos. From there, it's all a matter of practice, practice, practice! Be careful what you learn from videos on YouTube.....I've seen a few that have received praise from other turners, when I wasn't impressed at all.....even thought some of them were dangerous! If I could give advice, I'd say to stay away from the free videos, and get some of those that are commercially available instead......then watch them over, and over, and over again!.....and, don't just read the books......study them!

    The reason why fine details don't hold up under excess sanding, is the wood is removed at different rates, grain patterns, end grain vs long grain, varying hardness levels, etc. For anyone who wants crisp, cleanly cut details, corners, intersecting planes, smooth flowing curves.....geometric integrity is paramount. If your tool work has any tear-out at all, there isn't a way to sand the amount that it needs, and still keep the details.......so, the obvious conclusion, is to work on tool technique, sharpening, tool grind shapes, turning speeds, presentation, getting a mental connection/coordination between your brain and what you feel in your hands, tool rest heights and placement, etc,etc,etc......all those things, and more, all working together are important in an overall orchestrated effort that only comes with practice, making mistakes, observation, and correctly evaluating the causes. This means you probably won't get the answers right on the first, second, or third try.....it might be the 22nd, or 45th try before you get the results that culminate with a thrill in your soul! :D

    -----odie-----
     
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  17. John Jordan

    John Jordan AAW Advisor

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    You can buy an entire log from a logger or local sawmill for $50. I have enough wood here for hundreds of bowls still in log form. I offer to share with the local club, but its very rare for anyone to come get it.

    John
     
  18. Daniel Miller

    Daniel Miller

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    That's a really good idea! I've thought about contacting some of our local tree cutting services in the area... haven't thought of Craigslist though.

    That is a lot of really great advice! I've been turning about 10 years now, but I still don't have a very good understanding of wood movement. I've picked up some of Richard Raffan and Glenn Lucas's DVDs and watched them, though I'm certain that seeing someone turn in person would be so much more productive than through video.

    That's a great idea. I have a 14" bandsaw and a 20" chainsaw that I haven't gotten running yet. I need to try milling my own lumber some time...
     
    odie likes this.

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