It was already shaping up to be a busy market season when somebody messaged me wanting to know if I could make 125 little spoons and/or spreaders. A local company wanted to put together gift baskets with locally-made items, and somehow somebody had gotten ahold of my business card, so there I was, negotiating to make over a hundred pieces–in three weeks!
So, partly because I wanted the business, and partly because I hate saying “no,” my wife and I got to work. Providentially, she had been practicing making little coffee spoons already and had several already completed. I had enough wood on hand for the rest of the items. (I’ve always got a lot of spoon wood laid aside in one form or another.) But I also had to finish my semester, and I was staring down the barrel of about 75 research papers as well as final exams that would have to be finished, too. The order would have to be filled during our “free” time.
We went into production mode. I began cutting out blanks as quickly as I could. We kept our spoon-making tools out on the workbench at all hours.
We worked on opposite ends of the workbench. My wife would take a few minutes here and there for spoon making whenever she had the chance.
Me, I’m a marathon woodworker if I get the chance, so I planed down dozens of blanks at a time.
We both wielded spokeshaves and card scrapers until our hands were sore. Piece by piece, the order started to take shape.
Fifty six down… and a lot more to go. We also had to make additional items for upcoming Christmas markets, which promised to be the busiest of the year.
About 60 of them, all laid out along our dining room table. Some are oiled, and some aren’t. It’s a mix of woods–whatever I happened to have available, really. Most are cherry. Others are walnut and pecan. Still others are random woods I had lying around.
Naturally, each of these little items needed to be tagged with a card that gave both care instructions and contact information.
I also thought it would be nice to identify the wood species, so I printed out some simple cards. We got a roll of jute twine to complete the look.
I divided up the items by wood species. My wife wrote the name of the wood on each card. We conscripted one of the kids to help us cut twine to length and punch the holes in the cards. (In case you’re curious, 10 1/2″ is the perfect length for tying a card to a little spoon.) We all tied knots.
It took us a couple batches to get everything done.
Because I delivered this order in two batches, I don’t have a picture of all 125 items tagged. But this gives you an idea. The above picture is 40 items.
In reflecting on this experience, I feel that I’ve learned a few things:
- Even when making things individually by hand, you can make things easier on yourself by streamlining your workflow: preparing stock in batches, focusing on doing one thing at a time.
- Production work makes you conscious of little inefficiencies in your work. I was on about my fifth butter spreader when I realized that one of the little design elements was giving me fits on every single one. I modified the design just a little bit, and the resulting change was not only easier to make, but more pleasing to my eye.
- Hand tools are not slow. I shaped 25 of those butter spreaders in a single afternoon. Soon I could do 10-12 of the little spoons in the same amount of time. (What IS slow is learning to use the hand tools, hence hand tools’ reputation for being slow.)
- Teamwork works. My wife made at least 50 of the spoons. Without her, I’d still be racing to finish this order. (Without her, I also never would have finished my dissertation, but that’s another story.)
- Business cards work. They often work slowly, and 95% of them don’t lead to any business. But that 5% sure makes up for it sometimes!