Backstory on the Fireplace Prototype in WOOD Magazine

Here is the story on the fireplace prototype that is published in the current issue of WOOD Magazine (May 2014, Issue 225.)

My clients have an old fireplace and had a gas insert installed. The insert did not fit in completely and the fireplace surround was just outright hideous. This is when I got the call to see what I could do for them. 

The original fireplace with an ill-fitting gas insert, poor design, and just outright hideous. 

We had an initial meeting and talked over some ideas. They wanted to move forward with the project even though I had not hammered out anything solid. They really liked my ideas and trusted me since I had done work for them before. 

At that time, I was hitting a point of serious burnout. When I hit a period of burnout, I have issues with trying to make the thought process flow as it normally does. I don't do well sitting in front of the computer drawing in SketchUp and I can't make a go of it on paper. But I still do well handling something tangible such as model parts. Since my mind was fried, I was not even going to deal with doing conversions for a scale model so I just built the model in full scale.  

Determining proportions on fireplace prototype. 

Yeah, I know you're thinking, "Why doesn't he just take time off?" Well, I have my own business and it doesn't work that way. I gotta make hay when the sun shines because January thru April are typically very lean months. When the jobs start coming in again I just work until I drop. 

For modeling in cardboard, I purchase 4'x8' sheets from Xpedex. They have shipping supplies such as boxes, slip sheets, packaging, etc. Another good place to get cardboard sheets is from Costco or Sam's Club. If you ask they will usually let you take the slip sheets that come between merchandise on pallets. Slip sheets are typically 42"x48" (approx.) For assembly, I just use a hot glue gun to put it all together, this is great as it works out fast and holds just fine. 

Building the fireplace prototype in full scale, complete with varied thicknesses and reliefs. 

After presenting the prototype to my clients, they were just absolutely impressed and sold on the project. Although it impressed them that I built a full scale model, the fact is I did it because I could not hardly keep a clear thought in my head due to burnout, but I still pulled off a great design. 

Here is one key to coming up with a good design: use the architecture of the house and the overall design of the environment to guide you on the project. You might do a flawless job on a project, but if it does not flow well with the overall design of the house, that is a point of failure. 

One point to keep in mind when using a model: The model helps give a good sense of how the project will look and is a point of reference for what works and does not work. Changes do not require a new model be made, the changes agreed upon are implemented in the final project itself. 

The fireplace surround installed and complete. 

If you are interested in seeing the progress photos of the project that I posted for my clients to follow, you can check them out here: Fireplace Project Album 

You will find 200 images that include the original reference photos, lots of progress photos (especially of the cardboard model), and the final project from a few different angles. There are no captions, the images alone pretty much tell the story. 

That is all for now and until next time, be safe in your own shop!

Your friend in the shop-

Todd A. Clippinger

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Guess Who's In The Latest Issue of WOOD Magazine:)

An Article on Design & Prototypes

The current issue of WOOD Magazine (May 2014, Issue 225) has a good article on designing projects and building prototypes. The article contains 6 points on the process of taking a project through the design and prototyping, to a finished project. 

"How Do You Do It In Your Shop Todd?"

The staff at WOOD Magazine asked me to contribute information on how I design and use prototypes. For the article they ended up using a picture of me building a full-scale cardboard fireplace for a client, and a key quote for the side-bar titled "5 Must-Know Design Principles. 

I give kudos to the staff at WOOD Magazine, the article is practical and accurate in depicting the design and prototyping process. It lays out the steps that I use as a professional in designing and building a project for clients. So Kudos to the staff at WOOD Magazine for a great article that shares how it is really done. 

WOOD Magazine May 2014, Issue 225 Article on Designing & Prototypes

I Share in Great Company!

I was pretty excited to see that I share in great company with this issue. Friend and fellow woodworking blogger, Matt Vanderlist from Matt's Basement Workshop, has written an article for this same issue's "Unvarnished: Straight talk from the WOOD-wide Web." Matt shares some gold nuggets for the growing woodworker.

In fact, what Matt shares are exactly the lessons that I learned in my own journey as a woodworker and craftsman. I believe that what he shares is a valuable read for every woodworker and you should check it out. 

Also be sure to visit Matt's website: Matt's Basement Workshop. He is a prolific woodworking blogger and I am sure you will enjoy what he shares with the woodworking community. 

Matt Vanderlist writes a great article for "Unvarnished."

Be sure to check out the latest issue of WOOD Magazine, it is slated to stay on the store shelves until May 6, 2014.  As always, they have some great articles by some great guys;)

Your friend in the shop-

Todd A. Clippinger

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A Trip To The Woodcraft Store

The Grunt and Scratch Fest

Over the Thanksgiving Holiday, Rita and I went to Boise, ID to spend time with her daughter's family. Boise and the surrounding metropolitan area is a good bit bigger than where I live in Billings, MT. This means that they have a lot more chain and franchise stores such as a few of my favorites like Woodcraft, an Apple store, and Chipotle restaurants. 

Woodcraft Store in Boise, Idaho

While Rita and her daughter did their shopping, I decided I would head to the Woodcraft store. This was only my second trip to Boise and I had not checked out the local Woodcraft on my first journey. 

Like most woodworkers, I love visiting a store such as Woodcraft, it is like walking into a live woodworking catalog. There are so many things you see in the catalogs and you wonder about them, but at the store you can check everything out in person. 

There is also quite an entertainment value to seeing guys in their primal stage, and Black Friday proved to be quite a grunt and scratch fest as all the woodworkers pored over the tools.

I Finally Have It All

Woodwork Magazine Issue 120 Winter 2013-14

Being awash in the woodworking supplies you may be surprised at what I purchased during my visit to the Woodcraft store, nothing but the latest copy of "Woodwork" - Issue 120. After wading through all the tools and checking out the woodworking whizzy wigs and doodads, I bought a magazine. 

It really sunk in that while I don't have every tool, I have every tool that I really need to build the types of projects that I build in my shop and on the job site. As one of my clients  (who is a very smart business man) pointed out, "You have a well appointed shop. It looks like you have just what you need to get the job done. It's efficient. I'm impressed."

While I don't have every woodworking tool available, I kinda feel like I have it all. My needs are well met, I use most everything I have enough to justify it's existence in my shop, and I appreciate working space enough that I don't have the urge to fill all of it with another tool or piece of equipment. 

How Many Tools Do You Need?

The answer to that question will vary by individual. You need to identify what types of projects that you want to build and this will determine what your needs are. 

We all end up being faced with the decisions of what tools should we buy. We are trying to strike the balance of budget versus features, and quality. And since each of us has various opinions on what those are and the way that we value our time, we all make different decisions. 

But here are some things to keep in mind:

-The stronger your skills, the less tools you will need. Time in the shop, with hands on tools, building projects is what builds skills. Doing this also helps you determine what tools you really need. Over time you may find that your skills make some tools obsolete and that is OK, it is part of the growth process. You can cash the tool out for a few bucks and put it towards something else you find that you really need, or just gain the extra space in the shop which is of great value for most of us. 

-When you do buy a tool, buy the best you can afford. As a professional I have discovered the old adage is true "You Get What You Pay For." A good tool will pay dividends in faithful and accurate service. A good tool is also worth repairing versus tossing and buying another. 

-Take action. Stop dreaming about what you can do with the tools you have bought and start building. Justify your purchase and build something. What you thought you needed may change if you are more active in the shop, your experience will define what your needs are. But you will only find this out by spending time in the shop building projects. 

That's all for now guys. The most important thing here today is spend time in the shop. It does not matter if your focus is on using hand tools, machines, or somewhere in between. If you're not working with your tools, you're just collecting them. 

Have fun and focus on getting those Christmas gifts built, time is short!

Your friend in the shop,

Todd A. Clippinger

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Carpentry and Fine Woodworking - It's All Related

Craftsman To Go

At the end of October I travelled out to Andy Chidwick's to do some remodel work on his house. Andy is touring with the Woodworking Shows giving seminars on sculpted furniture. His whole family is touring with him and while they are gone is a perfect time to do a lot of the dirty work that is difficult to live in during a remodel.

The Chidwick School of Fine Woodworking

While it is great working for someone like Andy, since he is a good friend and fellow craftsman, you may wonder, "What does carpentry really have to do with fine woodworking?" I can tell you that carpentry has EVERYTHING to do with fine woodworking.

It is typical that carpentry/construction, cabinet making, and fine woodworking are all separately pigeon holed. The perception is that if you do one, you can't do the other. But that is not true and there are some great benefits to me starting as a carpenter before moving on to fine woodworking and I would like to share some of these with you.

How It All Started

Carpentry is how I started building my hand/eye coordination using a wide variety of tools, day after day, year after year. It is said that a general rule of thumb for becoming an expert at any trade takes about 10,000 hours of experience. That turns out to be about 5 years based on working about 2,000 hours per year.

I started in '97, so now I officially have 16 years experience of making a living with my hands and implementing my ideas. But each one of those years is filled with work weeks that range between 60-70 hours. You can do the math but it means that I am getting a lot of experience packed in any given year.  

The Tool Tester

Using Andy Chidwick's Bosch Glide Saw on his job site.

Since I work around other contractors, I get exposed to a wide variety of tools, basically getting to test drive them in real-world situations. Doing a few test cuts on a demo model at the store with the company rep available just isn't the same. Any tool's inherent strengths and weaknesses quickly become apparent on the job site on a live project. 


Getting a Feel For It All

I am exposed to a wide range of products that I have to work with every day.  I have built years of muscle memory working with so many different materials. Every one of them has a different feel and gives a different feedback. This allows me to take most any material that I have never worked with, quickly interpret it's feedback and zero in on how it handles and it's characteristics. This is important for proper handling so I can get clean cuts or be able to work it in the most effective manner with the least amount of waste, or to keep from screwing it up because of some unique characteristic. 

Cutting plywood underlayment takes as much skill to cut as furniture grade plywood.

Over time I have seen what products and methods work well and which ones do not. Especially as a remodel contractor, I am often replacing what does not work.

I have been around plenty of new construction guys and their mantra is "It only has to last a year." This attitude is in reference to the warranty that contractors must provide on their projects. If the projects don't break down in the first year, then it has made it past the mandatory warranty period and they will not fix it. I have the mindset of producing a legacy project, no matter if it is a piece of furniture, a built-in, or a remodel. It is designed and built to last. 

Problem Solving & Designing

Being a carpenter challenges me with a lot of problem solving and forces me to think outside of the box. So I have to understand my materials, my situation, and think in both a lineal and abstract fashion. If problem solving keeps the mind young, I have found the eternal fountain of youth. 

A design solution to create a threshold for a set of french doors drawn in SketchUp.

The threshold design becomes reality.

Being a remodeler and carpenter has exposed me to a lot of design ideas that are both good and bad. Being in control of a project has also allowed me to offer my design ideas, sell them, and follow through with constructing and installing them. 

It always amazes me how many bad ideas and designs I see that have been implemented. Realizing that someone actually got paid for these bad ideas, has given me the courage to sell my own. My ideas are competitive and better than what I have seen. 

Being in so many different residential and commercial spaces also exposes me to a variety of sizes and volume of both space and projects. Getting a grasp of spatial relationships and volumes is essential to design success. This means I am constantly exercising my senses for understanding volume, dimension, and relative proportions. 

The Great Connection

While carpentry & construction are typically seen and kept in different compartments from fine woodwork and design, I saw the great connections between them. 

In each I am exercising my hand skills as a craftsman, measuring, cutting, and handling material. I am constantly building muscle memory as I do this, reinforcing hand/eye coordination. I have to exercise technical problem solving skills. My design senses are challenged in both as I utilize balance, proportion, and employ contrast in color and texture. My choices in product and construction methods are driven by what I see has both worked and not worked. 

What This All Means For You

Framing a wall for a picture window while temp wall supports the roof.

Most woodworkers have a job that doesn't allow for daily use of all these skills, but the secret to success still lies in one simple principle: spending time in the shop, with hands on tools building projects. This is the only way you will build your skills. Never dismiss the seemingly simple and unglamorous projects around the house, those are how I built my skills as I worked on client's homes.

Working on a project for your house or a friend's provides the opportunity to exercise your problem solving, design skills, and to build that muscle memory every time you pick up a tool. So I hope you see the growth potential in every project, even if it does not appear glamorous and measure up to the "fine woodworking" status. 

That's all for now. 

Your friend in the shop-

Todd A. Clippinger

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The Definition of Irony

Yesterday, in my previous post, I gave some of the reasons that I quit Facebook and Twitter.  One of those reasons was the abysmal referral numbers that I ever got from them to my site.

Today, I see in my stats what is probably the largest spike in referrals from FB that I have ever had. 

But I still shall not return to social media. I was just pondering how ironic that was.  

Your friend in the shop- 

Todd A. Clippinger