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©2011 Charles Plesums
Austin Texas USA
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You probably have your favorite sources of information and supplies, but here are some of mine, you may want to consider adding to your list... or taking off your list!
You have probably seen Woodline doing demos at the hobby woodworking shows around the country. I have found their quality very good for inexpensive router bits and shaper cutters. Their shipping is cheap and their service is outstanding. If you get on their email list, you will be informed of periodic sales, often 10% off or more.
Classical finishes such as shellac, varnish, solvent based lacquer, and even latex paint, are well established technologies with only minor differences between vendors. On the other hand, water base finishes are an emerging technology, with huge differences between the products from different vendors. My favorite by far are from Target Coatings, as described in painful detail on the lacquer and other finishing pages of this web site. Unfortunately, most of the Target sales are "mail order" rather than from a local outlet.
Target Coatings has a pretty good web site, which includes a shopping section called "finishing zone", a modestly active forum on finishing with Target Coatings, and a barely alive Blog. Most important, though, is to sign up for their mailing list. You will get a couple emails each month, but the deepest discounts and specials (like free shipping) are advertised in their e-mailings, and may or may not be on the web site.
Rockler has three sales paths: Retail stores (which leads to sales tax on mail order sales to any state that has a retail store), Rockler.com, a well-known internet vendor, especially if you are not located close to a retail store, and RocklerPro.com, for the professional woodworker. With my first RocklerPro order they called me to say I could not purchase from RocklerPro, since I did not have a yellow pages ad. I pointed out my woodworking web site and offered my Texas Sales Tax permit as evidence that I was professional, and they immediately apologized and welcomed me as a "pro" customer.
Rockler.com is a very user-friendly web site that I often refer to my customers, to explain what I plan to use, or to have them choose some options. They have frequent sales on specific items, or percent off anything, or free shipping. (If you "like" them on Facebook, you may be eligible for additional benefits.)
Rockler Pro has deep discounts on things like hinges and drawer slides, but not as cheap as from my local lumber yard. They have lesser discounts on the odd things I might buy from them, and the Pro sales are not subject to their frequent specials with percent discounts and/or free shipping. As a result, I probably buy more from the regular Rockler.com than I do from RocklerPro.com.
There is no Rockler store close to me, but I sometimes stop at one of several that are hundreds of miles from my home. My sales tax permit that makes purchases tax-exempt at both Rockler.com and RocklerPro.com does not cover the retail stores. In fact, I had to file a separate permit with each store.
Rockler must hate trees. They collect addresses from everywhere, and mail countless catalogs. At one point I called them, because I was getting 9 copies of each catalog. When I clean out my old catalogs, I normally have 3 or more of each issue of the Rockler and RocklerPro catalogs. Still I like to use them, because I can refer customers to odd hardware I have in mind, and the customer can compare prices, if they have a choice.
Jeff Jewitt runs an antique restoration business, and is a popular author of books and articles for Fine Woodworking Magazine. He had trouble finding the supplies he needed, so he started a business selling finishing supplies, Homestead Finishing Products, and even invented TransTint dyes. Most of his prices are in a separate PDF file which you have to find (the link changes each month), often on their "home page" or "how to order" page. If you are his customer, Jeff will personally answer your finishing questions.
CSH has very low prices on screws and odd things I need, and provides excellent service. Their web site is irritating but pretty good. They claim to be wholesale only, but that means $50 minimum order. I have been short something, and couldn't make the full $50, but they didn't charge the "Service charge for orders under $50." I asked them why, and they said they wanted to help a regular customer. Don't be distracted by their "RTA" Ready To Assemble kitchen cabinets... most of their stuff is good quality.
There are many - perhaps hundreds - of vendors of knobs and handles. One that I have used a few times (and have recommended to many of my customers), MyKnobs.com has a far larger selection than most, and has an excellent web site with great service and discount prices. Be sure to record the part number when you see something you like - their selection is so large that sometimes I haven't found my way back to earlier potential choices! I no longer agree to sit with customers and say "whatever you like" as they anguish over their options, so I have them buy their knobs and handles (from wherever) and have them shipped to me.
Osborne Wood Products provides raw wood products from table legs to columns to corbels to a huge variety of table slides, at reasonable prices with great service. Take a look at their web site for ideas, or request their free catalog.
If you live in the Austin Texas area you may also be interested in my separate web page on sources of wood that I use.
One of most active woodworking forum on the internet is Saw Mill Creek. The advice is good and fast-moving, and the large number of users gives quick answers to questions about a specific tool, technique, or product. To see the pictures, you must log in (unregistered users were abusing their servers). You must use your real name when you join, and are encouraged to include a picture (avitar), so the conversations stay very friendly - it is hard to hide. My membership info has never been abused, so don't worry about signing up. "General Woodworking and Power Tools" is the most active section, but there are numerous special groups such as for hand tool users, for wood turning, for design software, and so forth. If you stop back frequently, the forum helps you recognize the threads you have already seen. Membership varies from beginners to construction workers to professionals making high-end custom furniture. Support is like "public radio" - active users are asked to voluntarily contribute $6 per year to support the forum, and in return get a version of the forum that is free of advertising.
Some of the very active members of Saw Mill Creek proposed some changes to the manager. Even though they were among the most active, expert contributors, they were expelled. They started a new "Family Woodworking forum for the whole family." Like Saw Mill Creek, you must use your real name when you join, and vendors are required to disclose their affiliation. (My personal data has never been abused on this site either.) As a newer, smaller forum you will get to know individual members, many of whom are quite expert - it is almost like a social network among worldwide woodworking friends, including many non-woodworking discussions. Since the best contributors from SMC moved to this forum, this is where I go to get the best "how do you...." answers. The forum is partitioned into over 20 specialized forums, so you can go directly to the area of interest. The idea sounds good, but sometimes this is bad... for example, someone built an extraordinary table using, in part, hand tools and lots of discussion on the finishing. Would you find it under "General Woodworking" (for the building techniques), "Flatwork Showcase" (the finished piece), "Finishing School" (finish options were discussed), or "Neander Tool Show and Tell" (since hand tools played a major role)? If you like this group and go back frequently, I suggest that you click "New Posts" on the home page, and check what is new on all the sub-forums."
My high-end machinery is from MiniMax, so I participate in the specialized forum for my MiniMax Machinery. The forum software is barbaric, but you can ask that posts be mailed to you, and can respond to the posts by responding to the email - much easier than going to the forum (after you have signed up). The MiniMax web site has become so useless that I have collected machine details from the forum and other users, and made a MiniMax section on this web site.
Another popular forum, oriented to the professional woodworker (or shop) is WoodWeb. Serious discussion (definitely not a social network), often the experts are vendors (they really are expert but they don't always disclose their affiliation/bias). This forum is not oriented to the hobby woodworker.
Furniture Design, Manufacturing, and Cabinets is a free magazine (supported by advertising), previously from WATT publishing, now owned by CCI Media, LLC, with sections oriented to the small woodworking shop. You can subscribe on-line, at least to their digital editions - usually there is a link on their home page.
Vance Publishing has publications in many industries, including magazines for the professional woodworker under the designation "Woodworking Network." Look under the main categories of Production (things like CNC), Custom (topics that used to be called Custom Woodworking Business), Closets (although I don't recommend the closets and storage business for a solo woodworker), and Wood (that used to be Wood and Wood Products magazine). It recognized that I was already a subscriber, so I couldn't wander the web site looking for places for you to subscribe on-line, but I believe you can do it. As a visitor I found the site irritating, but I did find a couple items of interest - maybe I should return more often!
Fine Woodworking Magazine was an outstanding source of woodworking techniques, and for many decades was oriented to the advanced amateur or professional. One of the services they provide on the web is called the Knots woodworking forum. The folks who go there are helpful and largely knowledgeable and friendly. So many forums, so little time... I like this forum but don't have time to keep up with the discussions in addition to the forums above. Fine Woodworking constantly tries to sell you a subscription to their on-line services (better videos, deeper archives) but you can get a lot without subscribing.
I have dropped my subscription to this classic magazine, since it has become more focused on pretty pictures and less focused on content - the editor even admits that they have changed their focus to the beginner, who didn't have shop class in junior high school, rather than being the reference for the advanced woodworker. (I am still reading my library of the first 200 great issues).
Several of my friends convinced me that Popular Woodworking Magazine had taken the throne from Fine Woodworking as the premiere magazine for advanced amateurs and professionals. It is a very good magazine, but after several years dropped my subscription.
I also read Wood magazine - I like their ideas, but their cookbook technique (great for beginners) drives me nuts, so I rarely build their projects. I occasionally log into the Wood Magazine "Woodworking Forums". The people there are very helpful, but their suggestions and answers to questions occasionally have a vendor bias or aren't great, so it is good place for a second opinion, rather than a primary source.
LinkedIn is a sort of social network for business people - keep track of business associates and find jobs or employees. The free version has been more than adequate for years. But they also have "Groups" such as "Custom Furniture Builders Association" and "Woodworking" among others. Sounded like a good idea so I joined those two groups. Big waste of time... every day there are multiple "discussions" that are primarily promotions for products or services. Virtually no discussion of Furniture Building or Woodworking. I have finally given up and dropped out.
CustomMade.com started as a directory of craftsmen who build wood products - custom furniture, cabinets, millwork, and carvings - throughout the United States and beyond. For years I participated in the directory for $25 per year, then their rates skyrocketed and I dropped out. Starting in 2013 the fee structure changed from $400 to $1,200 per year to just $1 per year, plus 10% of whatever you sell. They have become an aggressive web marketing group for far more than just woodworkers, with huge listings (so your pieces are lost among the thousands).
Over the five years I was a member, I only got a couple leads per year, most from curious price shoppers who expected full proposals from multiple potential vendors. Only one lead in 5 years led to a commission. At $25 per year, I was going to drop them, and at $1,200 per year I certainly did. In the first nine weeks after my plan expired, they have assured me that they had 15 hot leads, that they would share if only I would renew. After a couple leads per year, having 15 leads in 9 weeks makes me wonder how real those are - or if they are real, are they just diverting leads from other people to retain my membership? I have lost confidence in them - I don't deal with people like that. My own web site provides far more leads, better qualified, with less effort on my part and a far lower cost. And with the new fee of $1 per year plus 10% of what I sell, I will stick with my own web site.
Woodworker's Supply, also known as woodworker.com, is an old fashioned supply house... everybody has their own salesman, who "watches over you." Each time I have considered them, there were lower cost options available elsewhere. Still, they have a wide selection, and are an established, honorable firm. You do need to open an account and log in each time you go the web site... as soon as you log in as a professional, the prices drop. I suggested that they stop mailing me catalogs to save trees, but my login still works if I go to their site looking for a particular item.
Somebody recommended HDL, but warned that they were wholesale only. Based on that recommendation, I went through the several pages to apply to be a customer. A week later I got a fancy 760 page catalog (with no prices), and a password to log onto their web site (which I am not going to give to my customers since the login gives access to my business info).
Bottom line, I doubt if I will be making any purchases from them
This site (layout and contents) is ©2008-2011 by Charles A. Plesums, 5702 Puccoon Cove, Austin Texas 78759-7177. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.