Apr 03, 2006

Take customer satisfaction where you can get it


I delivered these custom dog steps today to a client today and we ran a test with Solly, the oldest dog of a group of four.

With a little help from his owner, Solly was able to overcome his reluctance and managed to climb up the stairs and on to the bed without incident.

Like many older critters, he was uncomfortable with new things, even if they were meant to help him out. On the other hand, he was even less happy with the fact that the cat, Queen Braveheart, took to the new steps immediately and acted like they were built specially for her.

The look on Solly's face is priceless. It is sheer curmudgeon. It is sort of misleading because he is a gentle old dog and a pleasure to be around.

I am sure that this old dog will get the hang of the steps eventually, if the cat lets him use them. They are both very fortunate to have an owner who shows so much care for her pets.

UPDATE: According to Solly's owner, he is now using the dog steps without assistance. The dog step  installation has met its objective. When she woke up this morning, Solly had gotten up on the bed by himself. Another small victory for the aged and infirm.

Mar 25, 2006

My workshop is finished, and it's about time!

Our move to Floyd included the target of building a workshop large enough to produce hand crafted designs in a more efficient manner. My tools have been packed up for five months and I have been itching to get the shop set up and get working again.

I have been designing custom woodwork for almost three years under the Box-Carts label and it comes in as a close second to blogging as a source of personal satisfaction. Taking a client's description of a need and creating a real-world design that meets their requirements is a challenge  that always renews my spirits.
After weeks of preparation, I finally started producing designs for clients again. This is the first design out of the chute - dog steps to make life easier for a client's lame old dogs.

These photos show a series of enclosures made of oak that will allow her large, older dogs to climb onto a bed. The enclosures are constructed of 3/4 inch cabinet-grade oak plywood with solid oak bars framing all edges. The enclosures are completely finished inside and out and the tops are covered with beige carpet so the dogs will not lose their footing while climbing or descending the steps.

Dogsteps94 The enclosures provide auxiliary storage space if desired, but as you can see from the photos, they can be positioned with the opening to the front or to the rear. Mixing the orientation provides an easy way to change the appearance of the final installation.


The end result I look for is a clean and elegant design that is unique. It must provide years of trouble-free service and show the kind of craftmanship that makes it a delight to own.

I utilize a good deal of woodworking machinery to keep costs as low as possible, but every aspect of final assembly and finishing requires painstaking handwork.

My designs are based on using solid wood and natural finishes whenever possible. Every design is oriented toward using efficient limited production techniques and I leave room for future modifications whenever possible. I feel that a good design should be reusable in as many new forms as possible.


This dog step design produced an extremely strong box that can be positioned on any face and can be extensively modified to suit almost any requirement.

If another client wants doors on this type of  enclosures, it will be a simple matter to add them.

These units are separate, but they can easily be fastened together with furniture bolts to make them into one large, rigid structure. The design can be easily reproduced in a variety of woods.

Turn one of these boxes on its back and enlarge it, and you would have a sturdy toybox.

Put casters underneath it and you would have a smart, but rugged rolling cart for firewood. I have one like it and it saves a lot of time because I can roll it to the door, load it with logs, and roll it back to the stove without leaving the usual trail of debris.

If you are looking for something in wood and haven't been able to find it in a store, send me an email. Maybe together we can come up with a design that will fill the bill.

If you live on the other side of the country, I can generally propose a design that lets you do the final assembly yourself. To get a better idea of what can be done, check out my Affordable Design website.

The Box-Carts workshop is open again and I am ready to make up for lost time.


Nov 02, 2005

The year is not winding down...

Instead, the pace of our lives is steadily increasing. So much so that I have recently been concerned about meeting my commitments. Since I am self-employed, my ability to meet commitments is an important factor in maintaining a good reputation. The last few months has left me feeling a bit stretched for time.

I spent many weekends at the Charlottesville City Market and built a respectable backlog of custom design assignments. I was managing to work my way through the backlog up to the point when we decided to build a new house. We had moved the construction date up to this year instead of next because of the looming shortage of building materials in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

Being the general contractor for a remote jobsite has been more than a part-time job. As a result, my progress on custom designs has been slow.

FinishedbenchThis combination window bench and storage unit has been in the works for months. I was really pleased to complete it and have it ready for delivery today.

The bench is constructed of 1 inch edge-glued pine and the flush doors are 3/4 inch pine mounted on European hinges. The biggest challenge was to come up with a stain that would match my client's existing furniture.

As you can see in the final picture, the bench sits gracefully in the window alcove and matches the adjacent dresser. All's well that ends well. Both the client and I are pleased with the result.
Now I need to get busy and finish a few more projects before I have to pack up my tools and move them to my new workshop in Floyd.

The new workshop roof is one-third finished today. By Friday it should be completely shingled with skylights. Here is a photo I took last week when there were only standing walls.


Aug 18, 2005

Living the good life...

I love creating things to make life more pleasant and I have finally figured out how to share the game with others.

Blastoff2My particular niche in the vast world of custom woodworking is designing things that can't be found in stores.

When I find a client that has an interesting requirement and is willing to participate in the design process, it is like an out of body experience. This is what makes design one of the most desirable occupations i can imagine.

We do this routine where the client gives me a verbal description and I sketch along as she talks. Then the client sees the sketch and starts adding features. In no time at all, we have a workable solution to the client's problem and I get to take the sketches home and create a detailed set of drawings that will allow me to come up with a proposed price.

Blastoff1Sometimes, I catch fire during this final design phase and manage to tweak the design into something out of the ordinary. I run it by the client to make sure I am still on track and we quickly agree on a final design and a budget.

This project started as a booster chair much like the ones I did last year. Somehow our design evolved into this more comfortable and elegant version which looks like a booster chair for a future astronaut. This booster chair was specially designed and built for a little girl named Laura. We will just have to wait and see if she grows up to be an astronaut.

Meanwhile, I suddenly have my hands full designing custom furniture for children. Somehow I have managed to pull in a number of new clients with challenging assignments.

It is a nice counterpoint to writing about business and self-publishing. Working with wood requires a steady hand and a lot of concentration or you end up with expensive kindling wood. I find designing and building these pieces is a nice balance to sitting at the computer. Now, if only there was more time in the day...

For more information on my designs in wood, you can visit www.box-carts.com


Jan 02, 2005

Satisfying work involves challenge

Occasionally you get the chance to do something you've not done before and you get a final result that pleases you and your customer. That's when work is really satisfying.

Not all jobs provide challenging opportunities, but it's possible to find new things to do almost everywhere. The trick is to choose those projects that will give you a chance to learn a new skill. Acquiring a skill is probably more important than just making good money, at least during the earlier parts of your career curve.

Carousel516aSeeking and handling challenges gives us great opportunities for personal and professional growth. Challenges can be found everywhere when we work for ourselves.

Designing a pedestal base for this carousel horse was an engineering and a woodworking challenge. It had to be done right and yet stay within budget. It required several iterations before the base size was finally resolved, but the results pleased everyone involved.

I thought it would take a 30 inch base to stably support the horse, but we came in with a 16 inch base that that did the job and showed  better proportions.

For a full description of the project and more pictures, check out Indulge your taste for the unusual on my Box-Carts site.

Jul 02, 2004

Coming up for air...

I've just completed a commissioned design that proves the validity of the old saying, Be careful what you wish for.

For the past few weeks, Gerry, my woodworking buddy, and I have been designing and fabricating our way through a brand-new design concept in 90 degree weather.

A charming person in St Louis had found my Box-Carts website through Google and decided that I should make her a patio table similar in function to the table shown on my site, but of different material and vastly different styling.

I had been wishing for an opportunity to update my patio table design and this commission came to me out of the blue from the exact type of client I had set the company up to service!

Of course, the complexity of the design did not begin to fully reveal itself until we were fully engaged in the project. By then, we had the bit in our teeth and we just drove on through one design decision after another until we ended today, weary, but victorious with a new design to enhance outdoor entertaining. Click on image to enlargePatio-Cart-Open

Continue reading "Coming up for air..." »

Jun 10, 2004

Problems generate opportunities


These are container gardens and a water garden, all designed for use on a deck. Click on image to enlarge

Deer are protected at Lake Monticello, so it is almost impossible to raise vegetables or flowers in the usual manner. Deer-proof mesh is ugly and essentially obscures the blooms you are caring for. Most people have gone into apathy and have essentially given up on gardening

Recently a new customer pleaded with me to design a wooden garden box for his deck that would let him cultivate vegetables while standing up. He explained that he loved to raise vegetables, but had no desire to squat and pull weeds.

Continue reading "Problems generate opportunities" »

May 20, 2004

Affordable designs vs custom products

I returned from our few days of vacation to find myself the recipient of more new design business than I could comfortably handle. What a wonderful problem to have!

I have been repositioning the products and services offered by Box-Carts, my custom woodworking business. It may appear to be a subtle point, but it has made a significant difference in the reception I get and in the amount of interest generated.

I now stress that we provide affordable designs in wood rather than custom wood products. Those of you with a background in short-run manufacturing, will see that there is actually little difference in what is being produced. There is, however, a significant difference in what is being purchased.

Continue reading "Affordable designs vs custom products" »

Apr 27, 2004

A time to plant - with one difference


It's the season when we sit out on our back deck and marvel at the transformation that Spring has wrought.

In the last few days, the trees have gone from a delicate hint of buds and blossoms, to a profusion of new leaves. The vista from our deck has changed from a view of creek and neighboring houses to a small clearing surrounded by seventy-five foot walls of lime green leaves.

We are reminded again that: "To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.

Nature has shaken off her winter-induced torpor and is flourishing on every side. It is time for us to do likewise.

But, Spring planting in our neighborhood requires more than hard work and hope. If you want your flowers to flaunt their blooms for all to see, you need altitude, lots of altitude. Our local herds of deer regard flower beds as salad bars.

Continue reading "A time to plant - with one difference" »