Artisans and Money

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Artisans and Money

Postby dave brenneman » Sat Nov 08, 2014 5:25 pm

Not sure if this goes in the "permsteading" section or what, but I've just been reading a thread on a machinist's forum, primarily focused on the experiences of a pretty interesting guy. Like Matt's friend, he built a bandsaw mill - and he's also had years of experience in self-employment and working with his hands. His website tells a little bit about his background http://www.thingswestern.com/8.html and the relevant forum thread is here: http://www.practicalmachinist.com/vb/shop-management-owner-issues/self-employment-different-way-170955/

At some point in the thread he gave an interesting piece of advice:

either do it
A: Cheaper than anyone else
B: Better than anyone else
C: Find a niche group and satisfy their requirements so well they give you all their business

He claims it's hard for any business to do two, and impossible to do all three, so best to pick one and strive for that.

He also said if you're looking to innovate, go to a jobsite, listen for the sound of cursing, and see what problem needs to be solved.

Lots of other good tidbits in there, and i'm only a third of the way through the thread thus far.

Hopefully there will be some relevance for others here.

The part that got me reading is on the first page:


All I know is that I started doing some hand work that required some offbeat skills back in the late 70's. Before that, I had always had a job somewhere and did some moonlighting. When I sold auto parts, I used to buy broken machinery, (wheel balancers, battery chargers, jacks, etc. and repair and sell them on the side, then later I'd pick up electric power tools from customers and repair them for parts and labor charges. I kind of got my feet wet that way, and found out that I could make SO much more money doing simple repairs than I made at my full time job. And it was work NOBODY else wanted to do. Almost no equiment required. Then I found a source of single phase motors, used, that were cheap and started building alternator testers and selling them to junk yards so they could prove the used alternators worked when they sold them.

Anyway, jump to the late 70's and I was making some stuff (once more on the side, still had fulll time job at the mines) that required some off hand grinding skills and I thought I was getting quite good at that, so I heard about a guy who made ortodontic pliers and instruments, mostly by hand. I went and had a talk with him and he said I could do contract grinding for him, after he looked at my work. He hung 100 pair of pliers around the side of a cardboard box and told me what to do to them and sent me home with them. I had to grind a spot on the side of each pair of pliers that was almost the size of the side of the box joint to flat and parellell within .0005 on each pair, offhand, and could only screw up a couple of times or the side of the pliers would be too thin. I brought them back a few days later and he inspected them and paid me, then gave me another job to do on the same pliers and sent me off again.

I trundled those pliers back and forth for a time, doing different stuff to them, until he kept them one day and gave me another hundred pair of blanks to work on. He was finishing the jaws and putting in grooves and ramps, etc. on the first hundred. When he was done with that, they went out for plating. When they came back they were finished.

At that point he was going through a cardboard box that the mailman always tossed the mail into each day, and which Larry had never inspected or opened in the past 30 days I had been working for him, that I could see. He was opening envelopes and taking out checks and orders. He never opened an order until he had stuff to ship. When he had opened enough orders with enough checks for that particular style of plier to use up the hundred we had made, he chucked the rest of the envelopes back in the box. That was it. No need to look at any more orders, 'cause we didn't have any more pliers finished. He always started with the most recent orders, 'cause he figured the guys who sent the older orders were already mad, and "we might as well make somebody happy with our snappy service."
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Re: Artisans and Money

Postby matt walker » Mon Nov 10, 2014 5:35 pm

This is good stuff Dave, thanks for posting it....it's stuff that's on my mind a lot lately, as I'm continuing to find niches where I can be valuable, or trying anyway. One is similar to the story, as I was going through my customer's boat shops I saw welding machines sitting idle with taped notes about what wasn't working. I've started bringing them home and fixing the electronics where I can, and it's a good deal for both my customers and I. I appreciate that you posted this stuff, I need to stay proactive with regards to developing different income streams.
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Re: Artisans and Money

Postby SilverFlame819 » Mon May 25, 2015 7:11 am

Seriously, Matt? You are like renaissance man of the century. I don't know anyone with as many interests and talents as you've got. When do you find time to sleep?? I honestly don't know when you'd find time for another income stream. Just reading about your adventures exhausts me!

This post is also very relevant for me lately. I love hearing from people who have experience and words of wisdom. There is always knowledge to be had!
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