Top Tips for Teaching Woodworking – Prepare but be Flixible – (4 of 12)

SLG_0189Broad knowledge is as important as specialized for a teacher. Communication is the main activity of a good teacher and being able to communicate with the broadest background of population means you need a pretty broad background of knowledge. I will say a good general knowledge of physics is beneficial in teaching woodworking. Not because everyone out there is a physicist but because it will allow you to translate a lot of motions from one activity more relevant to the student into woodworking skills.

The reason you need this broad knowledge base is because your students have such a variety of backgrounds. If only you could schedule a class made up entirely of engineers, of moto-crossers, of gamers, or of knitters. Then you could have a consistent knowledge of interest baseline among your students to draw upon. Ahh… a teachers dream class…

Wake up, that’s never gonna happen.

Part of your prep for class is figuring out multiple ways of explaining the same thing. Repeating the same words over and over to a person not grasping a concept is like shouting English in Borneo thinking the volume will communicate meaning. It’s not the responsibility of the natives to understand the interlopers. It’s your responsibility as teacher to make sure you’re understood by the students.

So if in your conversations you learn one student has an interest in golf then having a general knowledge of the sport would be useful. So if you don’t have it, get it. You don’t need to be an expert but having a basic understanding of putters, irons, woods, and balls can translate to analogies explaining smooth, fore, and jointer planes or body mechanic requirements of different saws, or tracking while cutting miters by hand.

So besides working to bring back crafts let us all root for a resurgence in Liberal Arts Degrees! Woodworkers need ‘em.

 

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Top Tips for Teaching Woodworking – Complement Intelligently – (3 of 12)

OSLG_0015dds are that most people the majority of us will be teaching will be woodworking beginners, kindergarteners so to speak. And at that level many of us are tempted to slather praise and encouragement on as if it was butter and syrup on hotcakes.

Encouragement is a seemingly generational thing. I’m not of the opinion everyone should get a trophy or that absence makes the heart grow fonder. I’ve also learned that encouragement is only a reward if it’s recognition of a person exceeding their own expectations. Otherwise it’s only a recognition of what they knew they could do.

So it’d be smart at some point on day one set a baseline for student project expectations so that encouragement can be doled out intelligently and appropriately. A prekindergarten student can’t be expected to color in the lines and a new woodworker can’t be expected to make gap free joints consistently at first. But even a gappy joint can work out in the end and be functional so set the expectations accordingly.

A good way of doing setting expectations without sounding condescending in a brief class is to take advantage of the time constraint. Talk about history and the quality/time craftsmen had to adhere too. Maybe show photo’s of old work for students to see what they’ll be able to accomplish and then a close up to show how even the masters took liberties in quality to produce quantity.

“With class time in short supply we (the class) are working on the quantity scale because I want you to get as much information as possible with just enough experience to sink it in so you can refine your skills when time is more abundant.”

With expectations set you can then dole out encouragement as needed to help persuade a student to accept a lesson.

But in an educational environment should you really be praising the result or the process? Try to make what encouragement you offer more meaningful by focusing on the action and not the results. If a student’s smoothing skills with planes improves it’s not the result of the board. So why complement the glass smooth finish. Complement tool control, body positioning, apparent comfort level, speed, finger pressure, eye hand coordination, etc…

When you complement these actions and skills then the motivation extends beyond that specific project as they transfer a classes value from a finite activity/project to a skill they’ll have forever.

Praise is a powerful tool in the hands of the respected. And with great power comes great responsibility. Use your power well.

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Top Tips for Teaching Woodworking – Admit to Limits – (2 of 12)

“I don’t know” is the most powerful thing a teacher can say. Especially when followed up with “Let’s find out.”

It’s unrealistic for a teacher to be an expert on everything. And while it isn’t hard to ‘fake it’, why bother, students will know and that’ll call into question everything you’ve ever taught them and will definitely affect how much they absorb from you in the future.

This is an educational environment. Showing others how to learn is just as important as providing what to learn. It leads to reduced anxiety to experimentation and a willingness to fail among your students. Two incredibly beneficial characteristic’s to develop.

So if you don’t know something just say so and be in awe of how it leads to greater learning.

There are also times where you might know something or have done it before, but might not be the most skilled at. Just straight up explaining it like that goes a long way towards credibility.

“Ok class, we’re going thru different dovetails today and to be complete I want to show you the double blind. Now I’ll admit, I’ve never used this joint in a project. I’m not very good at it. But it has some unique techniques that you will use elsewhere. Understanding both the joint and how it’s cut will open up new ideas for you in the future. So forgive me if we fumble around a bit…”

The hard ones are when you know something but not the why. Make sure you’re up front about that too as this kind of situation opens up great opportunities for discussion which can lead the whole group to deeper understanding. Personally I know that certain modern steels are greatly improving the cutting edges of modern tools and I can explain that to a class. This holds it’s edge longer, this gets keener. But I can’t explain why.

There are also those things that “it’s always been done that way.” So telling students that up front in the context of “my experience has shown me” gives students permission to disagree. Also a good thing in an educational environment.

“I don’t know.” Who woulda thunk that’d be the an opening to learning.

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Top Tips for Teaching Woodworking (1 of 12)

2017 is going to be a milestone for ‘wortheffort’.

First off we are hoping we can shift our retail business to the ‘net so as to spend more time creating content. Working approximately 80 shows a year is murder.

Secondly is a renewed focus on educational content in print and online. I’ve decided to reformat the teen woodworking series I was teaching in the old brick and mortar school into a book accompanied by a video series. I started the “classroom video series” on YouTube before deciding a printed book would bea more in depth medium and writing the books outline. We’ll continue on with that video series this month but will skip Ch.2 and jump to Ch.3 since it’ll fit with the outline of the book better. There’ll be 12 chapters in all with multiple sections in each and I’ll go back and redo Ch.1 & 2 with my NEW AV EQUIPMENT! (Yipppee!).

But to get the ball rolling I’ve written 12 “Top Tips for Teaching Woodworking” series of blog posts and will be posting a couple a week for the next month or so.

So here we go!


Teaching is a milestone in every woodworker’s career. Be it helping a boy/girl scout troop assemble derby cars, helping a neighbor repair a fence using your tools, or showing your local club a technique you just learned, that marker can come fairly quickly in your career too. Passing what you know to those that don’t is the human way. What’s cool about this transition is the dirty little secret every teacher knows. Teaching best benefit is a selfish one as your own learning curve will turn sharply up with a greater understanding of the subject taught and a stronger foundation to leap and grasp more knowledge for yourself.

Now I’m of the opinion that someone does not need to be a PhD., Master, or Expert to teach. History and life experience has taught us we generally learn best from those that know just a little more than us likely because they can better relate to us. We strive to reach the next step, not the summit, and it’s the person right above us not the wizard shouting from up high that has a hand out we can reach. Kindergarteners model the 1st graders. 1st graders learn from 3rd and so forth. (Everyone knows 2nd graders are nuts.) A “teacher” just needs to know information a “student” wants to learn and have the ability to pass it along thru modeling /explanation. It’s that second part where real risk presents itself.

We’ve all known incredibly knowledgeable individuals who couldn’t translate that knowledge to others or well-meaning individuals who’ve been more a hindrance than help to growth. So it seems logical that learning some teaching skills at the start will make you more effective teacher and recognizing a teachers faults might help yourself learn from someone more skilled.

So let’s open a discussion that can be continued within your woodworking clubs, fellow parents, families, and classrooms. In no particular order here are some Top Tips for Teaching Woodworking.

 

  1. Safety

Teaching woodworking is quite a bit different than a subject like Algebra. It’s an activity with physical risk. Unfortunately there are few hard rules here. It’s just one big grey area. How you teach your kids versus other kids or those adult kids who paid for a class will differ. But safety concerns has to be top of mind when teaching a subject that involves so many blades.

We’ve all seen overprotective parents who put helmets, pads, and mouthpieces on their 4 year olds to go play at the park and rush to the hospital when a kid skins their knee. Then others who depend upon the catch phrases, “They’ll learn.”, “That’ll teach ‘em.” when those skinned knees occur. The thing is, both extremes are right. It’s their kids so their rules. And adults in protecting themselves are of the same extreme and both attitudes are right, for them.

That is why it is important to begin a course with the standard speech, “Woodworking can be dangerous if you are stupid about it.”, or a variation thereof. These usually include a “Hell and Brimstone, Your safety, your responsibility” diatribe along with rules and reasons. (Personally if it’s going to be a long class I’ll also take a few minutes to tell students the teaching tricks I’ll be pulling on them at this time. More on why later.)

But it can’t end with those speeches because there’s two more things you’ll need to do. Make sure students know where your comfort level is and manipulate attitudes.

Those who have a little more loose set of safety morale need to understand you’ll be reining them in and those more strict… that you encourage them to trust their gut and have the teacher figure out a another way. That’s part of your job after all.

The hardest thing to do as a teacher is to judge and manipulate attitude and attention. It’s a never ending task that you’ll not nail every time. This skill also affects your effectiveness as a teacher. While most people who sign up for a woodworking class are eager and excited to be there you as the teacher don’t know what happened to them the 5 minutes or 5 months before the class. You don’t know where their minds are or what their current frustration level is. And unless you’ve had months of relationship building it’s incredibly hard to uncover every persons perfect motivational hot button. Now if you are leading a classroom, club, or meeting where not everyone there has bought in 100% at the start, your work is even harder. (Have you thanked your kids school teacher lately?)

Be it a formal classroom, symposium hall, woodworking club, or single car garage it’s a good idea that before anybody shows up and enters your ‘classroom’ to greet them at the door like a Baptist Preacher. Look ‘em in the eye, shake their hand, get their name, offer some 5 second small talk, then thank them by name for coming with some kind of team statement (“We’re gonna have some fun”). This guarantees you have some kind of positive personal contact with the students at the start, sets the relationship as a team effort, reduce apprehension among both parties (it really does get rid of your nervous heebie jeebies of teaching), and is your first chance at reading your students that day so you can make note of those who are anxious, nervous, and agitated.

Plus you’ll find that the audience will pay much greater attention when they’ve had personal contact with you. Something about knowing that the prof knows who you are makes you not want to snore during their lecture.

If you are teaching a class involving student participation then these anxious, nervous, and agitated people are the ones you want to focus your attention on at the start of the class. Do it in some way that attention isn’t drawn to them. Perhaps when the class breaks to do the exercises offer your assistance to them first. If their agitation or anxiety makes you even slightly nervous then you have no choice to separate them and discuss before things escalate.

This kind of confrontation can be incredibly uncomfortable for a teacher. We aren’t trained for this and it isn’t why you become a teacher. But, ya gotta do it because ignoring it will makes things worse, possibly derail the whole class, and will definitely make your day unpleasant.. So the trick is to not make it a confrontation in the first place.

One of the easiest tricks I’ve come up with to do this is sharpening.

Every woodworking class is going to involve sharpening of some kind. So I start most classes with a quick discussion/demonstration of this and a mandate that I’ll work with everyone at some point during the day. Now if all you do is run your hand over a persons chisel and comment “nice job sharpening” you’ve fulfilled that mandate. But if you need to separate a student for a semi private conversation then, “Hey, let me quickly show you some tricks at the sharpening station.” or if it’s a long term class then “Hey, it’s your turn to help me sharpen up some…”. I’m sure there are many other stand-alone quick lessons that can be used in a similar fashion.

Now incredibly most times a short conversation is all it takes to turn these kinds of things into a non-issue. Many times will also be a turning point for a student in your class for no other reason than they have personal experience showing that you are paying attention to them.

To avoid making things adversarial  always start with a general, second nature, tame open ended question (“How’r things going?”). You’ll get one of two responses here. Either “Fine” or a diatribe about all that’s happened to them that’s top of mind. If any of the gushing gives you an opening to recognize the behavior that concerned you note it and then continue listening sympathetically. “Oh, that’s why you appeared anxious/agitated/nervous/…”

If they clam up then just proceed to your sharpening lesson. If you see the behavior when the student tries sharpening then make a note of it in terms of motion. “Oh, when you’re doing that it looks kinda aggressive…” If you don’t observe the behavior then move on, you might have misinterpreted.

Wrap it up by asking for a favor. “Hey, you know from earlier where I was talking about my personal safety morale. Well at the bench/lathe/module would you watch appearing [behavior modification] so I don’t get nervous. I’m not as effective when distracted and want everyone to get their full value and you to be able to finish the class.” This identifies what you want changed  and why without being accusatory along with a hint of consequences.

Rarely will behavior modifications in this type of classroom involve much more than that if you do it sincerely and without accusations. But if you just ignore behavior that concerns you then it will get worse. You have no choice but to jump in early as the leader in the class.

For a second warning of the behavior many times I’ll just offer a knock on desk/computer/workbench with a hand motion to tone it down.

Third is a straight up this is not acceptable behavior and if it continues… If you go that route you have no choice but to follow thru but at this point generally the classroom will be behind you and will respect you more for taking action. It’s their safety to after all.

Sometimes being a good teacher means being a jerk when people’s safety is as risk.

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The Bleeding Edge of Risk

In the day of helicopter parents, litigious lawyers and cubicle life how is a person going to experiment with a risk vs. reward model with relative safety?  Woodworking gives us an outlet to analyze, and take the risks that can provide great reward while avoiding the risks don’t.

One example is pushing a board through a saw. It doesn’t matter what type of saw you’re using, if you push the board through in an unsafe manner there is risk of losing limbs or digits. Yes, you may have to performed that action 100,000 times safely but the risk still isn’t worth it. Analyze the situation, determine the risk vs. reward and take action. You should cut the wood using a push stick, or any other safety tool to reduce the risk to acceptable levels but still get the work done.

Now, let’s examine dovetails. One of the hardest things I do when teaching new woodworkers, especially teens, is convincing them that they have the ability to cut to the line. Invariably they’ll analyze the situation themselves and decide, “I’ll just cut a little off and chisel back.” But, there is just as much chance they’ll butcher the work chiseling. You can’t put the wood back in once it is chiseled out.

Read the Rest on Popular Woodworking’s Blog

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SWAT

DSC_5352For the past 4 years I’ve been going to the Southwest Area Turners Association Symposium (SWAT) held in Waco during the summer. This is the second largest turning symposium in the country and it is by far the biggest inspiration for me every year to try more and do better. Applying what I see and learn to everything from cabinet making to, of course… turning. I could spend the entire weekend exploring the 734 pieces in the instant gallery alone. The quality you find, designs you see, and level of execution is awe-inspiring. What’s more amazing is almost all of them were provided by attendees with a few from presenters. These are items that with a little practice and forethought even I might be able to create! (well, roughly create)

DSC_5356DSC_5345Most years I blast thru the gallery on day one taking lots of pictures and seeing what I think will be my inspiration piece of the year. And then it’s to the vendor’s area and lectures. But during each break I make it a point to go back in and linger. Giving yourself time lets you notice things that were so subtle as to be overlooked in a casual glance. I find that the more time I spend it’s these little things that keep drawing me back and holding my interest. The best ones are the pieces I didn’t even notice on the first go around because of their seeming simplicity but on closer examination your mind explodes as the execution is so perfect it hides the complexity and skill needed to accomplish the task. To me… that is quality art. A piece so perfect as to hold your attention and make your imagination go wild.

2One of the pieces that intrigued me this year was this small, slightly offset, turned box. At first glance you say, ‘oh, nice shape’, and then move on as you know how to make boxes and it only takes a cursory glance to register the overall shape for future use. But then on the next day I spend time some with it. I noticed how thin the walls are yet the weight is appropriate and nicely balanced. The flare down the sides was a graceful curve blending with a slight offset to create a visually different curve at all angles of the box yet the grain itself matched perfectly top to bottom when angled right. The base was sized just right to hold the off center weight of the piece. The clincher in the piece was the slightest of cutouts in the top. And then it hit me, this wasn’t just a single offset, it had a multitude! The forethought that went into this piece was phenomenal! I spent the next hour with this little piece in my palm (that’s how big it was) showing other attendees asking questions on how they thought she did it. Boom… mind blown.

Another piece I saw was a simple small platter. Curly maple that had a dye treatment to the rim. Sure in had a slightly different shape in that it didn’t use a traditional ogee but it wasn’t a piece I noticed my first time around. Or the second. Or even the third. It wasn’t until late in the second day did a little glint of light draw my attention to the rim. And there I was for 30 minutes racking mine and every other brain around me to figure out how this guy created this oblong spherical brass rim embedded into the ridge while maintaining depth. I think by the end of the day I figured it out but my theory is he used 3 different types of epoxy, hand braided brass wire, and formed it all into a mold in three steps just to get glint of light on the edge. I’m definitely going to try this in place of holly in a federal piece someday!

IMG_9049Can you tell my mind was swimming with ideas. And these were just 2 of the 734 pieces present. Another nice thing at SWAT is that several hundred of these pieces are given away! Yes, items you’d think would sell for several $100’s in a gallery are given away to kids with cancer thru the Beads of Courage Program. Woodworkers really are a generous bunch. The contributions took up 2 tables.

This year SWAT broke every record with the exception of total attendance. More vendors, more instant gallery participants, more raffle entries, more raffle donations, more, more, more…

What I like so much about symposiums like this, be it turning or hand tools, is the breadth of people that come together from all walks of life. You have retired executives and extrusion workers, artists and accountants, oil field workers and optometrists all laughing, learning, admiring and ogling together with non of the barriers you might find in normal life. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention, turning is a decidedly ‘white’ hobby and I haven’t a clue why.

IMG_9069What SWAT does so well is keep costs low. The event is organized by local clubs, each of whom host a room and arrange it’s presenters. Most have one nationally known ‘name’ instructor who puts on several presentations in a day and a couple of the clubs more talented presenters filling in gaps. All in all you got 24 presenters in 36 classes and 5 special interest groups. More than enough variety for the 880 full registrations sold.

Yet thru careful planning they still provide a pen turning area for first time turners, a ‘spouses’ area providing a chance to show off other crafts, and some really great food for the 3 lunches and 2 dinners they provide.

IMG_9010I’m also told they keep the costs to vendors low so you get a larger group and larger variety. It attracts locals such as the small sawmill in S. TX run by a lady and her friends in addition to the international brands who bring along crowd pleasing presenters such as Jimmy Clewes, Stuart Batty, Alan Lacer, and Carl Jacobson. The vendor gallery alone draws a huge crowd every year and since those people aren’t counted as registrants it’s likely attendance this year was way above 1000!

Because the place is so conducive for the vendors they contributed wildly this year to the raffle. I’d say they provided several times the value in prizes as SWAT did with the three grand prizes of Jet and Vicmarc lathes. All I know is the give-a-ways took well over an hour to get thru even moving at the auctioneers fast pace.

Next year is SWAT’s 25th anniversary and they promise it’s be the biggest one yet because they’ve been holding some funds back the past few years in preparation. They hinted that they will be opening up a few more rooms (each meaning another 9 classes and a special interest) and a handful more of nationally known presenters.

DSC_5301This year I went to see Lyle Jamieson demonstrating his hollowing techniques. I gleaned some good tips on reducing vibration, face plates, and using hunter style bits. Plus a simple pen laser makes blind measuring easier. Kirk DeHeer gave a nice presentation on using iron infused finishes and the patina possible. Kevin Felderhoff did a crotch turning that took advantage of a cool tail stock jam chuck that I just need to now make. Dennis Ford showed some small hollow forms. And Derek Weidman… ya, that guys brain works differently. I actually watched him turn a longhorn bull on the lathe. Or was he carving in the round. I was confused and in awe.

By the end of day 3 I was wiped out and all I did was eat and sit the entire time. Talk about brain overload. Which is a good thing as I now have an entire year to try out new things.

If you ever get a chance to go to a symposium or meet up like this make it a priority to attend. Even if it’s just to attend the free gallery of works.

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It’s the story man, the story.

1832 Market in Bastrop Texas on 1-15-16

This past weekend we worked a small local market in Bastrop. Having now moved close by this will likely become a standard market I’ll work monthly even though sales will likely be lower than desired. Hopefully I’ll be able to drum up some commission work interacting with this group regularly plus there is a local city museum being developed that’ll have opportunities for a ‘living museum’ that might open up so I’d like them to keep me in mind via all those live demonstrations.

I chose this weekend to work the event because it was their yearly chili cook off so there would be added traffic. A point of order, when working markets always ask about upcoming events so you can time your visit and get cross promotion.

The demo was tops as again and we sold a fair share of them in the event. But my Dad and I were also in production mode making them at top speed when an audience wasn’t present. He has a retail store in San Marcos that’ll purchase all the extras we make so while it’s slow… might as well make guaranteed sales even if it’s small ones.

Art sales where OK, left with a little under $400 after booth fees and such due to a few bowl and box sales. But the key thing is telling people that we’d be there monthly so they’ll expect us and telling the stories of the pieces we had on display.

Stories about where the tree grew, it’d history, the process we use to produce the work, and special features and such… these do two main things. Most importantly it increases the value of the piece in most customers minds thus making them happier purchasers and it develops an image of us as real craftsmen that at future dates they be more likely to remember when in the market.

In fact it is quite common for past customers to contact us to retell the story so they pass it along to another when they give away the piece.

So if at all possible remember the story of your pieces, especially if you do the harvesting yourself. Not doing so is the same as throwing away both cash in hand and future sales.

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Tool Storage for the Rest of Us

Tool storage – is it the most controversial subject in the craft? People have debated it. Great books have been dedicated to it. Philosophies have developed and wars fought over it (well, at least flame wars). I’m quite sure many woodworkers spend their entire woodworking careers pursuing it.

Here, I’m going to put the subject to rest. In my opinion, the cheapest, most efficient and flexible way to organize and protect tools for the majority of woodworkers is to just hang ’em on the wall. The literal and proverbial nail in the wall to hang your hat works equally well for chisels, planes, saws and whatnot.

I say it’s the most efficient method because storage, organization and use are all rolled into one. There is no forethought on what tools must be removed from a chest or drawer then temporarily stored on a bench or shelf for the task at hand. When it’s on the wall, you just grab it, use it and put it back. You won’t forget where you put it last because it’s always in the same spot. It’ll always be ready and waiting for use. It’s this efficiency that I love so much.

It also completely eliminates the traditional woodworking characteristic of an underdeveloped object-permanence due to the refusal to leave the “sensorimotor” stage. No more, “where did I put that?” Undoubtedly, those who don’t store tools within eyesight end up with drawers filled with the same screwdriver, tape measure, chisel and uneaten snacks. All drawers eventually become junk drawers. It’s an evolutionary fact.

Read the rest and see the video on Popular Woodworking’s Blog.

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The first weekend of the year.

In an attempt to keep y’all updated on weekly market news I’ll quickly describe the markets worked so far.

The first weekend of the year I attend a market I’ve been very consistent with so people expect me. The Barton Creek Farmers market. I did something this time I’ve never done. Had a sale. Specifically an inventory reduction sale. Over the past 4 years there have been some items that just haven’t moved or that I wasn’t to proud of. Some items that have become devalued due to damage at events, storage, transportation and such. So since I want 2016 to be the year we go a bit upmarket with higher value items I decided to put ridiculously low prices on items I wanted gone. Thus the first ever for wortheffort inventory reduction blowout sale.

It was a success in that it got rid of items that hadn’t moved, eliminated most all my ‘lower market’ merchandise. And got a little cash in hand.

We sold a little over our target goal of $500 per set up selling only clearance items. But January, especially the first weekend after the holidays, is as a rule horrific for sales so this was pretty good. Plus the weather was COLD!

The next day I worked Hope Farmers Market in East Austin and sold the last of my clearance items. But we barely covered the booth fee and such so this ended our weekend with about a $400 loss on our goals.

This is to be expected in January as discretionary money is likely gone after the holidays.

Next weekend I’m working a very small Farmers Market in Bastrop TX with exceptionally low inventory and am attempting to try a new market in West Austin around the Bee Caves area.

More news to come.

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How much do you need to make at a market.

Success is not absolute. What some people deem a successful event others consider a complete and utter failure. It all depends upon what you want out of an event.

I know many woodworkers who enjoy the experience of working an art show. We spend an inordinate amount of time in our shop alone with our thoughts. The social interaction with new clientele and the family atmosphere developed with other vendors has an intrinsic appeal to many. Even if they don’t make a single sale it was an enjoyable way for them to spend the day. So success is determined by the experience.

That is a perfectly acceptable attitude.

There are others that utilize markets to ‘dump’ product to support their hobbies. (Yes I use that ‘dump’ term derogatorily.) You’ve enjoyed the experience of making new and exciting stuff. Learned new techniques and expanded your skill set. The reward is creation and thus sales goal is to be able to continue making. I’m willing to bet more than half of all casual vendors at events, which includes an inordinately large percentage of woodworkers, fall into this category. If you every hear someone say “It supports my hobby.” they are likely in this category.

I have to admit this category of artist very often makes some incredible products and I’m completely jealous of their skills and talent. They might take an entire weekend perfecting a bowls carvings or weeks applying dozens of coats of finish to a box. Maybe a project takes days of work spread out of months of time. And it is the experience of creation they enjoy and the product is almost secondary to the pride of accomplishment at level of execution.

The main goal of many of this type vendor is to just be able to continue and grow in the craft. So if they are able to make enough money to cover the costs of production or buy a new tool to make even better stuff they are happy. And that is success in their mind and perfectly appropriate for their goals.

Unfortunately these groups are your competition and if you are trying to earn a living off of your effort you start out at a disadvantage. Accept it, deal with it, learn, and work to overcome it. I forget where I heard the saying but it’s quite common and rings true. Striking out on your own to make and sell provides you the freedom to work three times as hard, twice as long, for a fraction of the income.

Despite that, if you can make it work it’s a nice way to exist.

So having said that lets discuss what a person trying to earn an income needs sell in order to say an event was a success.

I’ve worked hard lately and made major changes in order to reduce my costs of living and operating my business. So I’ll use my personal numbers to illustrate a point. You adjust to your circumstance.

There are large costs in setting up a booth at an art market. Commonly these include tents, tables, displays and all the labor needed to organize, design, and build such items. I’m making the assumption with my numbers that you’ve already got these items, deducted and monetized them, and thus they don’t count as a cost in my numbers. But if you are just starting out understand this might be hundreds or thousands of dollars. Same with vehicles, tools and material to make that first inventory. What I’m going to discuss is ongoing costs.

Here are my assumptions used to determine my break even sales:

  • retail price is double material cost
  • you wont sell more than 10% of inventory on hand in any one event if you plan properly
  • total rent/mortgage/insurance/utilities/maintenance cost/repairs of your living + work + storage establishment(s) is $1000
  • you have a set vehicle expense (payment, insurance, maintenance, fuel, etc…) of approximately $800/mo.
  • your work week is a 5 day 40 hrs, (add about 10 hrs per event worked (with a goal of working 2 day events on the weekends) on top of that.
  • booth fees plus buying food and water at the event averages about $70 per day set up
  • your goal is to earn only $1000/mo above and beyond basic living/work expenses.
  • you work the event alone and pay yourself minimum wage to work it.
  • you want 2 weeks off a year

So lets add up what you need to sell in dollars to meet these fairly meek goals.

  • $250 a weekend to make your income goal of $1000/mo.
  • $250 a weekend to cover facilities
  • $200 a weekend to cover vehicle expense
  • $90 a weekend day for min wage hourly pay per person working (10hrs x $9) (1 person)
  • $70 per event for fee and sustinance

So far we are at $860 in sales to work a weekend event. Now if you work two events that means you need $475 in sales per day (remember you add another $90 in labor)

Here’s the heart breaker. If you are using a pricing model of selling your work at double it’s cost to produce then you now need to sell $950 each day of a weekend to make your life goals.

In all seriousness, what I’ve layed out here could easily describe a retiree needing to earn a sustenance living. A situation I see very frequently on the circuit.

Now take away all income expectations (like those who are just ‘supporting their hobbies’) for someone who just wants to work a Saturday market once a month what must they sell in order to meet that goal.

Well paying for your hobby still requires overhead expenses such as a place to work, materials and such. Supporting your hobby for me means it doesn’t cost you anything other than time. So I’ll use the same numbers as above minus any income. I’ll also say they only work 1 event per month because that seems pretty common for this type of seller.

You would need to sell at least $1040 per time you set up. Anything below that and your hobby is costing you money.

Now does anyone want to look at the numbers for an individual who just enjoys the atmosphere of a market?

You will quite often hear me talk of a $500 an event break even point. This is because I don’t use the ‘double costs’ pricing structure because many times I collect free material. So when I work a market until I hit $500 I am paying the difference for the privilege of being there. $500 is the equivalent of a goose egg.

After reading all this what are your thoughts about trying the art/farmers market scene yourself. Do you see how the measure of success you set for yourself can affect both your enjoyment of the event and success of others?

In the next article I’ll talk about picking markets I see will give the best chance for success.

Posted in art market and marketing | Comments Off on How much do you need to make at a market.