Steven D. Johnson

Feb 282017

A highlight of my visit to Highland Woodworking a couple of years ago was the chance to spend a little time with the Kapex KS 120 EB Sliding Compound Miter Saw and make a quick video review of the tool.

In short, I liked it. I wanted it. But, alas, I couldn’t afford it. More accurately, I couldn’t justify it. While my brief time with the Kapex demonstrated some apparent advantages over my current miter saw, what I had was working fine. I will admit, however, to prolonged disappointment like a kid with a long list of toys for Santa that finds nothing but clothes under the Christmas tree.

Click here to read more…

Mar 242016

Ancestry dot-com has 2 million subscribers worldwide. Sounds like a lot. But if their subscription base were U.S. only, it would be only 6/10ths of 1 percent of the population. Since their subscription base is worldwide, the paid subscription service represents only 4/10,000ths of 1 percent of worldwide population. These are market share numbers that are essentially non-existent. By contrast, 16.6% of the world’s population owns an iPhone.

In a recent survey, it was found that 5.5 million people in the United States participate in woodworking. Two years ago Popular Woodworking reported that 10 million people participate in the woodworking hobby in the U.S. and there are a little over 202,000 professional woodworkers. Even if we use the smaller of the two hobbyist numbers, about 3 times the number of people participate in woodworking as the number that subscribe to worldwide… and yet Ancestry advertises on television and conducts an ongoing and active marketing campaign to attract new members. We woodworkers do essentially nothing to attract new “subscribers.”

Okay, “nothing” is a little harsh. There are a lot of individual efforts to attract new woodworkers… clubs, magazines, on-line publications, classes, retail establishments, manufacturers, and yes, the laudable Get Woodworking Week. But these are scattered, uncoordinated, and under-funded efforts. Sorry, still sounds harsh, doesn’t it? But it’s true.

Now consider this… while the size of the industry is hard to nail down precisely, one report lists the U.S. sales of woodworking equipment at $712 million. Keep in mind, even if this number is close to correct, it is only “equipment.” It is highly likely that hand tools, portable power tools, supplies, and wood are not included in this number. But for now, let’s play small ball and pretend the U.S. woodworking market represents $712mm in annual revenue… I actually think the market is 8 times that big… or bigger.

Now let’s pretend that a “woodworking marketing consortium” could be organized and its sole objective… its mission statement… is to reach potential “new” woodworkers. If each manufacturer, reseller, and supplier paid in 3/10ths of 1% of sales (that’s 3/10ths of a penny for each dollar of sales), the budget of the consortium would be $2,136,000. $2+million dollars would buy a lot of marketing directed at new potential woodworkers.

So let’s try to come at the number from a little different direction. If the recent survey conducted is correct, and 5.5 million people are hobbyist woodworkers, and each woodworker spends on average $1,000 a year on woodworking supplies, tools, wood, and equipment, that is a whopping $5.5 billion in annual sales. At 3/10ths of 1 percent, the “Consortium” would raise $16.5 million for marketing. How many woodworkers could we lure into the hobby with that kind of money to spend?

About this time you might be wondering how I picked “3/10ths of 1 percent” as a fair hypothetical contribution for manufacturers and sellers? Well, on average, companies spend from 3 to 5% on their own marketing. I simply took the low end of that scale and imagined “selling” the concept to a company as “Consider contributing 1% of your annual marketing budget.” Thus if a company has $10mm in annual sales, and a $300,000 budget for marketing, their contribution to this effort would be $3,000. Seems like a small “ask” for such a potentially large reward.

Now we can do a little exercise in “sales projection.” A direct marketing campaign that generates a 3% response rate is considered “successful.” An outstanding campaign might generate up to a 5% response rate. A campaign is not usually considered to be a “failure” unless it generates less than 1/2 of 1 percent response rate. For the sake of conservatism, we will project a 1/2 of 1 percent “hit” rate for our new “Bring In New Woodworkers” marketing campaign.

Our budget for the marketing campaign is $2mm. We are going to use the smallest numbers throughout our hypothetical. We spend about $200,000 doing a deep data analysis and development of a list of potential “targets” for our campaign. That leaves $1.8mm for the campaign itself. Our advertising, in whatever form it might take, costs $10 per impression, a high number, but remember, we are being conservative. That means we can reach 180,000 potential new woodworkers. And now if we assume the worse and project that just 1/2 of 1 percent of those reached get interested and become woodworkers, we will have brought 900 new woodworkers into the hobby.

If those 900 new woodworkers each spend $1,000 during their first year of participating in the hobby, we will generate almost one million dollars of new revenue for the manufacturers and resellers that ponied up the $2mm in “joint” marketing fees. That doesn’t sound like a great return on investment (ROI), but remember, we are talking about woodworkers who might spend $1,000 per year on tools and supplies for the rest of their lives! That means that in about two years, there is a 100% ROI.

In my life I have found that the only thing that makes something impossible is a lack of imagination. “Get Woodworking Week” is a great concept. Perhaps there is a way to take it up a notch.


Steven Johnson is retired from an almost 30-year career selling medical equipment and supplies, and now enjoys improving his shop, his skills, and his designs on a full time basis (although he says home improvement projects and furniture building have been hobbies for most of his adult life).

Mar 232016

Spoiler Alert… This is not going to be what you think… it is, instead, to get you to think.

It Starts With You

It is often said, “All Politics is Local.”   There is some truth, I suppose, to that statement.  If you could corner a committed supporter of any candidate and drill down to the “Why?” it would likely boil down to one issue or topic that that person feels strongly about and with which their preferred candidate aligns.

Now imagine that you are a totally undecided voter.  No, really.  Undecided.  And you wander into a rally and one of the candidates is making a speech.  What must that candidate do or say that could turn you from “undecided” to “committed?”

I would contend that it would have to be a “gestalt” experience and several things would need to happen.  Later, if asked why you support that candidate, you would probably distill it down to one “hot-button” issue, but in reality, it was a lot of things that swayed you to support one candidate over another.

As you entered the rally were you greeted warmly and treated as a welcome guest?  Was there a “vibe” of excitement and enthusiasm permeating the event?  Does the candidate appeal to you in any non-verbal ways, meaning does he or she seem “real,” “friendly,” “sincere,” or “likeable?”  Did you like the music?  And finally, did the candidate say something that resonated or hit a “hot button?”

Now let’s imagine that you are a non-woodworker.  No, really.  You know nothing about woodworking.  And you wander into a woodworking store, a club gathering, a show, or other woodworking event.  What would make you turn into a hobbyist woodworker?  What would sway you from undecided to committed?

Were you greeted warmly and treated as a welcome guest?  Was there a “vibe” of excitement and enthusiasm permeating the event?  Do the people there appeal to you in any non-verbal ways, meaning do they seem “real,” “friendly,” “sincere,” or “likeable?”  Do the people say anything that resonates or hits your “hot buttons?”

If we want to get more people involved in woodworking, it really does start with you.  Are you a friendly emissary?  Do you reach out and welcome new woodworkers?  Do you smile and say nice things to people you run into in woodworking stores, shows, or other events?  Do you go out of your way to tell people what a wonderful hobby and pastime woodworking is?  Are you helpful?  Do you actively look for ways to share your knowledge and experience?  Do you invite non-woodworkers to your shop?  Do you offer to help them build something?  Think about it.

Beware The Club

Clubs are great.  Woodworking clubs are great places to share, learn, make new friends, and just generally feel like a part of something bigger.  But clubs can turn bad.

Clubs can become exclusionary.  Clubs can be, well, too “clubby.”  Clubs can be secretive, elitist, and unwelcoming to new members.  I could give you countless examples of “clubs gone bad,” but instead let’s delve into the concept of “club” in a more general way.  And just to make sure that I step on less than all ten toes, let’s take it temporarily out of the realm of woodworking.

A golf club (aka “country club”) is a prime example of the fine line that clubs must traverse.  Clubs need new members in order to be vibrant.  But clubs must also be “private” (read “exclusionary”) or there would be no reason to join.

Of course a golf club offers some things a public course does not… lockers, club storage, preferred tee times, a manicured course, and clean showers along with other accouterment, but let’s be real… for many members, membership means never having to play on a “public” course with the great unwashed masses of “other” golfers.  It is this “exclusionary” aspect that makes many of them cough up the annual dues and pay the monthly fees.

So how does a private golf club walk the fine line balance of exclusion and welcoming openness?  Well, they try all kinds of things.  They have events to which the public is invited.  They encourage “guest” play.  Perhaps there is a restaurant at the club that is also open to the public and provides entre to the atmosphere.  But in the end, it really comes down to something the club itself cannot do… it comes down to the individual members.

My first round of golf at my club was a disaster.  In an effort (I suppose) to make me feel “welcome,” the Pro Shop manager hooked me up with a threesome that was just about ready to tee off.  Introductions and handshakes all around on the first tee… so far, so good.  Unfortunately, my cart-mate turned out to be perhaps the biggest ass I have ever met.  He was self-centered, arrogant, condescending, and worked hard (it seemed) to make me feel as unwelcome as possible.  He might as well have just been forthright and said, “You are not rich, you are not influential, so you have no value to me.”

On the ninth hole I feigned an engrossing email on my phone; on the green I told my cart mate, “You guys go ahead and tee off on number ten… I’ve got an issue I need to deal with and don’t want to hold you up.”  I grabbed my clubs and headed to the bar.

Nursing an adult beverage and contemplating the money I had wasted on a membership to a club where I was, so far, made to feel decidedly unwelcome, I barely noticed the fellow that sat on the bar stool next to me.  After a few minutes the fellow asked, “Are you a new member?”  When I replied, “Yes,” an enormous smile came forth, as did his hand, and he boomed,  “Welcome aboard!”

We chatted a bit, he asked me if I had played the course yet, and I told him just the front nine.  He grabbed his hat and said, “Come on, you’re gonna love the back nine.”  He was friendly, helpful, and genuinely interested that I “like” the club.  Now, some years later, I am still a member.  I stay away from the stuck-up guys that prefer “exclusive” to “welcoming.”  The friendly and welcoming fellow is still my friend.  Were it not for him, I would have asked for a refund on my initiation fee and joined another club.

The point here is pretty simple… which guy are you?  Okay, I expect you to pretty quickly answer, “I’m the warm friendly welcoming guy.”  But are you?  Read on McDuff…

Code Words & Secret Handshakes

In today’s electronic world a chat room or message board is much like a club.  Usually only members can “post” (membership benefits) but anyone can “read”  (guest privileges). Pretend for a moment that you know nothing about woodworking but you think it might be an interesting, fun hobby.  So you “wander in” to visit a few woodworking chat boards.

How welcome and inviting is it if the language is foreign and incomprehensible?  Now I know that woodworkers are not generally lazy, and most all are very welcoming and inviting to “new” woodworkers, but when we use acronyms and other shorthand in our posts, we are not creating a welcoming environment to those who don’t “speak the language.”

When you type a post and say you always “make T’s for M&T’s on the TS” we all know what you mean… but a newbie has no idea what a mortise and tenon joint is, let alone our shorthand M&T.

On the off chance an interested potential new woodworker should land on a message board and read one of your posts, are you being “exclusive” or “welcoming?”  Our shorthand might as well be code words reserved strictly for the initiated and experienced.

My other beef with the electronic clubs (aka message boards) is any requirement to register before you can to ask a question.  Some even have a requirement to register before you can see pictures that have been posted.  What’s next?  A super-duper secret handshake before a visitor can participate?

Surly Storekeepers

I’ve written about this before, but the problem still persists.  I have been fortunate of late to be helping a young man who is building his first woodworking shop.  He has told me stories of asking questions in stores and being made to feel like, his words, not mine, “An outsider,” “Unwelcome,” and “Idiot.”  I only wish he could visit Highland Woodworking… he certainly would feel like “family” there.

Why do some clerks and shopkeepers feel it necessary to treat non-woodworkers or “newbies” like second-class citizens?  Do they need to feel some intellectual superiority?  Do they actually have contempt for people less knowledgeable than them?  Or do they simply want only to cater to other members of the club?  Shopkeepers and clerks, if you want to be surly, go get a job at the Department of Motor Vehicles.

All Woodworking Is Local
When it comes right down to it, initiatives like “Get Woodworking Week” are useful exercises, but getting new people interested in the hobby of woodworking really is a local proposition… whether it is chatting up your pastime with someone at the local pub, being helpful to someone in a store, taking a moment to spell out words in a clear and easy-to-understand way in chat rooms or on message boards, or simply being a constant and vocal champion, it really comes down to individual interactions.  Think about it.


Steven Johnson is retired from an almost 30-year career selling medical equipment and supplies, and now enjoys improving his shop, his skills, and his designs on a full time basis (although he says home improvement projects and furniture building have been hobbies for most of his adult life).

Mar 212016

Editor’s Note: This week, March 20-26, 2016, is Get Woodworking Week, a chance to promote our craft to the online community at large and encourage everyone to get some time in their shop, or create a shop!  The purpose of the week is to get people off their couches and into their shops to try their hand at woodworking or to pick up the craft again if it has been a while since they have tried it. #GetWoodworking


I am the luckiest woodworker alive. That may sound a little over the top, but it’s true. Recently a young man interested in starting to learn woodworking stumbled onto my YouTube channel; from there found his way to Highland Woodworking’s site; from there he found and read about a hundred past issues of Wood News Online, and somehow, through all of this, figured out that I live close by.

He contacted me via email, and after a few exchanges, we got together. He is setting up shop in his basement, and I have been fortunate to help a little. Wow, what fun!

This young man is gainfully employed, super smart, full of energy, good with his hands, and has had some experience with carpentry and other tangential trades from remodeling various areas of his house.

When he found me, he had already figured out that a table saw would be a good place to start, and sparing no expense, he bought a SawStop and fitted it with an Incra Positioning System including the extension table router set-up. He had also purchased a top-of-the-line dust collector.

The first time we got together we spent most of the time discussing the layout of his shop. Based on our discussion, he produced a deluxe drawing on his computer and emailed it to me. We discussed his blueprint, made a few tweaks, and he got to work arranging and installing everything. He did a magnificent job. His “plumbing” of the ducts for his dust collector was as neat, straight, and well done as any I have ever seen. The wall mounted dust collector looks like photos of it could be used in the instruction manual.

A couple of weeks ago he called and we discussed Festool… at length. A couple of days later he placed an order with Highland for a Festool CT-36 and an ETS-EC 150 EQ sander. Later that same week he called saying he had received his Festool stuff, loves it, and now wants to get a Domino machine… which one should he get? The construction of his basement shop continues. He has built a sound-dampening wall around the dust collector and is putting up a partition to separate the “shop area” from the rest of the basement. He’s doing it right.

His next project, I think, is to build a Roubo-style workbench. After that he is going to make an outfeed table for the SawStop. Then some cabinets for one wall and a mobile stand for his jointer. Then… well, who knows?

So why am I the luckiest woodworker alive? Simple… because every time I see this new woodworker, every text I get, every phone call, I can sense the excitement and energy he has for his new hobby… and I get to enjoy that excitement vicariously.

When he buys something, it’s almost like I am getting a new tool, too. When he learns how to use a new tool, it’s like I am learning, too. Now I don’t doubt for even one minute that my “usefulness” to him will wane… and that’s okay. What little bit of advice I can give him now will soon be overshadowed by his own knowledge and experience. He will surpass me in talent and ability and he will build beautiful things. I know he will. I just want to remember the joy of being new to woodworking as seen through his eyes. And I want to find another “newbie” to help… the rewards are amazing.

Steven Johnson is retired from an almost 30-year career selling medical equipment and supplies, and now enjoys improving his shop, his skills, and his designs on a full time basis (although he says home improvement projects and furniture building have been hobbies for most of his adult life).

Dec 312015

Welcome to our 2016 Woodworking Resolutions blogger series. Every year we invite our bloggers to share their resolutions specific to their woodworking goals for the new year. Click each link below to read our bloggers’ resolutions!

A humbling first step before conjuring any new resolutions for the new year is to dust off the list from last year and see how many, if any, prior resolutions came to fruition, and which should be re-runs this year.

Last year I had one overarching resolution: to promote the hobby/craft of woodworking and reach more “newbies.” Judging by the many emails and comments I was at least partially successful… perhaps not in creating the desire to become a woodworker, but at least in reaching a lot of new woodworkers. Speaking for the woodworking community, welcome. We are glad you are here with us!

Buoyed by the gut-check, I will redouble my efforts to reach still more new-to-the-hobby beginners. My prime resolution, therefore, stays the same for 2016. But there are some shop enhancements and projects I want to add to the list. So here we go…

1. Miter Saw Dust Collection. Once and for all, I want to solve this problem. It is utterly ludicrous that with our collective technological prowess we still can’t get this right. I’m going to do it… this year.

2. SawStop In-Feed Table. My Out-Feed Table has added immensely to my enjoyment and safety in using the table saw, but large sheet goods and long lumber rips would benefit from “in-feed support” and I have a design rattling around in my brain. 2016 is the year.

lutyens-bench13. Lutyens Bench. Sir Edwin Lutyens (in collaboration with Gertrude Jekyll) designed the famous garden bench that now bears his name and thousands have since been built; some meticulously copied, some with variations, some only loosely inspired by the original. I designed my variation this year but didn’t have time to build it. This year I will.

4. Shop Space. My shop is spacious enough until you add two cameras on tripods, three light stands, and assorted other video-making equipment. I need more space. I have a plan for 2016.

That may seem like a short list, but my ever-present unstated resolution is to make sure I follow through on the few I do make. No reason to set unrealistic goals and then be disappointed next year when I look back to see what was accomplished.

In addition to resolutions, I have a fervent wish. I wish you a joyous, healthy, prosperous new year with more time in your shop and enough new tools to keep your desires in check, enough new challenges to keep your creative juices flowing, enough wood to work, and enough energy to use it all. Cheers, and thank you all for being good friends in woodworking!

Steven Johnson is retired from an almost 30-year career selling medical equipment and supplies, and now enjoys improving his shop, his skills, and his designs on a full time basis (although he says home improvement projects and furniture building have been hobbies for most of his adult life).

Steven can be reached directly via email at

Nov 202015

There is a strong inclination at this time of year to wax altruistic, demonstrate my “niceness” as the Down To Earth Woodworker, and wish for holiday gifts like “peace on earth,” “more new woodworkers,” or “a twenty-first century renaissance.” The fact is, though, I do often succumb to covetous thought. Professing to want nothing that costs real money is a psychological manifestation of something I am sure Freud would have fun with (Freud the psychologist, not Freud the router bit and blade guy!). The fact is it might actually be therapeutic to admit, “I want things.” Expensive things. Luxury things. Things I have convinced myself I really need.

So forget the pasty saccharine bromides and the kind and gentle Down To Earth Woodworker, here is the list of stuff I really want. I don’t expect to actually get any of these things, but here goes:

  1. A new Oscillating Spindle Sander. I have an inexpensive bench top type OSS, and I use it a lot, but I find myself sanding six-foot long and longer pieces all the time, thus I need a big floor-standing machine. More power, a longer stroke, a bigger table, and more sizes of drums would be great. Highland Woodworking sells two nice bench top machines, but, alas, no big honking 300-pounder. I won’t be able to rely on their trusted recommendations and knowledge, so I’m stuck trying to figure out what is “good” from internet descriptions. It probably doesn’t matter… at more than a thousand bucks, this item is unlikely to be checked off my wish list.
  2. A Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L IS USM Macro Lens. Okay, okay, I know this is supposed to be a “woodworking wish list” but I would definitely use this fine lens to do some serious close-ups of certain woodworking steps in my videos… that’s what the “macro” part of the description means. This is an “L” series lens, Canon’s best… and the reviews are awesome. Alas, it is even on sale right now for “just” $799, normally $899. Hah! That’s probably not going to make it onto my “gift received, thank you” list, either.
  3. The new Rikon 14inch Professional Band Saw. I have the 14” Rikon Deluxe band saw, and it is one of the two best, most reliable, and accurate pieces of equipment in my shop (the other is my SawStop PCS). But I would really enjoy the extra power provided by the 3HP 220V motor in the Rikon Professional model, I like the way they set up the dual dust ports, and I think the ability to go all the way to a 1” wide blade (as opposed to 3/4” on the Deluxe model) would serve my resawing efforts well. This band saw is on sale right now for $1,299, and this, too, will unfortunately likely not find its way to my Christmas tree.
  4. Festool Kapex KS 120 EB Sliding Compound Miter Saw. You may recall that I tested the Kapex extensively and loved it… but I couldn’t afford to add it to my shop. Don’t get me wrong, my current miter saw is fine, but it is frustratingly slow to work with. The “spin-down” time after releasing the trigger switch is long, tempting me to remove a board before the saw stops spinning… a very unsafe (aka “stupid”) practice. Also, when adjusted and locked into a 90-degree cut, it makes perfectly acceptable cuts, but swing it right or left to make a 45-degree cut, then swing it back to the center, and it is necessary to go through the entire set-up procedure again to get it square. The Festool Kapex moved seamlessly from 90 to 45 and any stop in-between, and always returned to a perfect 90-degrees. What a time saver! And while it would be perfectly okay to spend $1,450 on a necklace or earrings for my spouse, the same amount of money spent on a tool would be considered over-the-top. I guess a big Festool box won’t be under the tree, either.
  5. A sweater. I figured I should wish for one thing that I am likely to get. It will be thick, itchy wool in a color that goes with absolutely no other clothing I have. And I will be forced to wear it to the family Christmas dinner. If I spill gravy on it, it might just be a Freudian slip of the spoon. I’ll bet even Dr. Freud’s apprentice could figure out the psychology behind that!

Steven Johnson is retired from an almost 30-year career selling medical equipment and supplies, and now enjoys improving his shop, his skills, and his designs on a full time basis (although he says home improvement projects and furniture building have been hobbies for most of his adult life).

Steven can be reached directly via email at

Mar 262015

“Set In Place” is the second “S” in 5S implementation. It encompasses the arrangement of tools and supplies in logical ways. But woodworkers who have taken a class with me and are utilizing the principles of 5S to make their shop time more efficient and fun know that we don’t just “Set In Place,” but we also learn to “Set Back In Place Clean & Ready To Go.” Putting a tool away when we are finished using it keeps our workspaces clear and uncluttered and allows us to work safely and concentrate more fully. Taking a few seconds to clean the tool before storing it keeps our storage areas clean and we save time because the tool is ready to use the next time we need it.

Thus when someone asks how my shop stays so neat and clean I repeat my 5S mantra, “Put tools and supplies away when you are through using them!” But there is allowance for one occasional exception to this rule.

When making cope and stick cabinet doors, I always start with the coping cut. Fiddling around with shaped backer boards to curb the blowout on a cope cut always seemed like a waste of time, so for me “rails/copes first” makes sense. When all the rails are made (and a few just?in?case extras) I change over to the sticking bit and make all the long grain cuts in rails and stiles at one time.

A shortage of clamps (who really has enough?) means I have to glue?up doors in batches. Recently I was gluing up the fourth large batch of a large door order and came to one where I had failed to rout the sticking cut on the stiles. How did that happen? Trust me, I checked everything twice (or thought I did) before I unplugged my router table, disconnected the dust collection, and rolled it out of the way. Fortunately, though, I had left the sticking bit in the router, all set up and ready to go. Whew!

If a project includes a complicated or “finicky” setup, it is okay to leave the setup in place until you are sure… very sure… you have all the parts you need. This should be relatively rare though, and 99% of the time, putting things back where they belong when you are through using them is a good “5S” work habit.

Want to learn more about 5S and how you can gain more space, have more time, and enjoy your workshop even more? Check out my 5S class at Popular Woodworking University.