Saturday, December 25, 2004

Waste not, want not

As the title of this blog suggests, I make a lot of chips in my workshop, but they are all just by-products. That is not to say they go to waste. We have all sorts of uses for them. Some are used as cat litter, probably not the ideal material, but they cost nothing and seem to be acceptable to the cats, and the output from the litter tray is compostable. In summer, much of my woodchip output goes on the compost heap anyway, and when mixed with grass cuttings and other organic waste they break down reasonably well. Another outdoor use is on some of the paths out back, but they rot away too quickly to be anything but a temporary solution to muddy patches. During winter I burn quite a lot of woodchips in the workshop woodstove. They don't burn that well since they compact, but if they are thrown into the back of the stove and a few sticks put on top, they burn away slowly, which is all I need once I have got my well-insulated workshop up to a comfortable temperature. Finally, I save the nice curly shavings that come from bowl turning for use in firelighting. They have lots of air space around them and need little encouragement to start a roaring fire.

By-products, however useful, are not desirable. I try to use as much of my wood supply as I possibly can for finished items. It doesn't take a very large piece of wood to make a bottle stopper, a spurtle or an inlay for a weedpot. All the chunks which are of no use are stored in feed sacks and saved for the woodstove in winter.

Friday, September 17, 2004

Recycled Packaging

I make use of a lot of recycled packaging for shipping customer orders. I save all incoming packaging and collect more from friends and my wife's workplace.

While small items can be shipped in padded envelopes, which I have to purchase, larger items and big orders are shipped in corrugated cardboard boxes. When I get these, I calculate the cubic capacity of the box and write that on the side, then break the box down so that it can be stored flat. Then when I have an order to pack I find a suitable sized box and re-assemble it. I also use flat pieces of cardboard to reinforce the tops and bottoms of some boxes.

The packing material that I use comes in many forms. Polystyrene pellets are quite common, though they are not the most environmentally sound product because they cannot be recycled. I also use larger pieces of expanded polystyrene, the sort of stuff that electronic equipment is often packed in. I cut it down into more manageable sizes with the bandsaw, then use it to fill larger voids in your parcels. Bubblewrap is an old favourite which I normally save for wrapping more delicate items. More recently I have started to see inflatable packaging being used. This comes in the form of polythene bags full of air, which seem to be a very environment friendly solution since there is very little material used to achieve a very large amount of padding. If they aren't going to be reused they can be deflated and recycled along with any other LDPE .

One strange material I got recently was corrugated cardboard which had be cut into v-shaped pieces. It made for a quite heavy packaging, but since most Canada Post parcels have a minimum density applied to them (low density parcels are paid for by volume, not weight) , this is probably not a big problem to me.

So why do I go to all the trouble of storing and re-using recycled packaging? Well, it saves cash for one thing. For the quantities of packaging that I use, it can be expensive. But I would much rather re-use something than throw it away. I like to do my bit for the environment, and if I can use something one more time before it goes to the landfill or recycling facility then so much the better. So as long as it is clean and reasonably presentable, then I will happily re-use it.

Monday, August 16, 2004

Creating Creativity

I spend a lot of time doing what I would call production work. I have well established designs, I know how to make them, and I do nothing else all day, sometimes even day after day, or week after week. It is what pays the bills.

The problem I find is that it dulls my creativity. The mind goes numb and it becomes very difficult to create something new when I have to.

A few days ago when I dropped by Carvers Coffee House & Studio and they asked if I would like to join in an open house they are having this coming weekend. Initially I wasn't too thrilled at the prospect since I don't have a portable lathe I can take to do demo's. But then I thought what if I take some turnings and do some carving on them. Well, why not? That little spark was enough to get me thinking about things I can take too carve.

So far I have come up with some chunky and rather badly turned vase forms which will make unusual garden ornaments. This idea came from Richard Raffan's 'Turning Projects', but I am adding some burnt areas to the vases and then carving designs through the charred areas. Another idea I have is for some 'things to hang on walls'. Simple little turned wall hangings with space for texturing by carving. Finally I hope to do turn some Bits'n'bobs bowls in butternet and do some relief carving on the rims.

So this chance conversation has set me off in new directions and got me out of a non-creative rut. I don't know what will result from it, but it is nice to be able to take some time off from the production mindset and play with new ideas.

Tuesday, April 27, 2004

Winter woodturning

I can't believe that four months have passed since I last wrote in this blog. Winter is pretty much over, though it was a cold one, and we had one abnormal winter storm that closed the whole province for several days.

I have been quite busy keeping up with orders and trying to get the shelves filled in the gallery ready for the summer. My new website is up and running, and I have dealt with most of the things I need to get done associated with the change of business name. There are still road signs to repaint, which is not a job I look forward to, but it is much cheaper than having them done commercially.

The last few days I have been turning weedpots, and have some interesting ones with neat features such as natural faces, bark inclusions, splits and knots. I really enjoy working with this more interesting material and working with the wood to incorporate the natural features into the design. I like to turn inset beads into some of the disrupted areas to see how the beads interact with the natural features.

Thursday, January 22, 2004

Website promotion

My new website is now up and running. But creating a website is just the start. To get lots of visitors it has to be promoted. Search engines are a great way of bringing free traffic to a site, but first you have to get the search engines to notice the site. Here is an article I wrote about using link exchanges to help a website's search ranking:

When search engines began using link popularity as the measure of worth of a web page, a race began amongst webmasters toexchange links with the maximum number of other websites. Many people have joined in this race, but most have blinkers on.

The first opportunity that many people miss is the power of the anchor-text which points attheir site. If a site links to yours using one of your keywords as anchor-text, that will boost your ranking for that keyword.

But the typical format of a link exchange has the company name used as the hypertext link, followed by a keyword-rich description of what the site has to offer. That seldom does a very good job of promoting the site's keywords, since business names are not often keyword oriented. The links would be so much more effective if they were made from the keywords in the description. So my first suggestion is to write link pages in a more natural style, not tying oneself to preconceived notions of what a links page should look like. This makes it much easier to incorporate keywords from the target page into the text. You can see a couple of different styles in Keep warm in winter and Oatmeal & Porridge. An additional benefit of writing very tightly themed pages like this is that they become a useful resource that others might like to link to.

One point to note in those sample pages, is that many of the links point deep within a site, straight to the page which should be best optimized for the keyword(s) in the anchor text. Notice also how the hyperlinks serve to highlight the subject of the paragraph, and tell the reader exactly what they will find if they follow the link. This style is very much like a blog. It is worth noting that by writing your own text around the links, rather than copying a suggestion from the target website, you are creating original content that search engines won't find on other sites

The second opportunity that is missed by many link exchanges is to make more than one link. In the examples quoted above, I link to several pages on one website from within the same paragraph. Another possibility for anyone with a links directory, is to include links from several directory categories. My own site caters to many niche markets, and could easily fit into wedding, gardening, cooking, woodturning and home decor categories. You can see how I have listed Sherry Gaffney's products in Home Decor, Garden Decor and Wedding Supplies. So Sherry is benefiting two fold from these links; once from getting three links, and therefore more PageRank, and again from the extra relevance scores her pages receive for the keywords I use in the anchor-text.

There are a couple of minor problems associated with making deep links. Frames based sites are one, the other is the possibility that deep pages get deleted or renamed. Otherwise there are no snags, only benefits in implementing these techniques.