Search for woodworking on Pinterest, and you’ll likely be astounded by the depth of woodworking talent that exists. From boxes to furniture to artwork, woodworking designers have transformed wood into nearly everything imaginable.
Unfortunately, I haven’t developed the same skill set as these talented woodworkers. Even though I thrive on the creative process of woodworking, I rarely spontaneously create form, function, and beauty from a blank canvas of raw lumber. I suspect very few woodworkers do. Instead, we use plans.
Woodworking plans capture, in large part, the incredibly valuable intellectual property (IP) of the woodworking community. Regardless of the format, woodworking plans have real and distinct value -- just like a chef’s recipes or a composer’s scores.
We often overlook the value of woodworking plans because we tend to focus on the end result: the workbench, table, or desk we build. In fact, many woodworkers make their living with the end result -- selling custom furniture, cabinets, and other finished wood products. This end result has very well-understood and quantifiable value.
However, overlooking the intrinsic value of the plan itself may mean missed opportunities. Unlike finished wood products, woodworking plans can be distributed simultaneously to thousands of woodworkers for nearly zero cost. A single well-crafted plan can teach and inspire many more woodworkers than the finished product ever could. And regardless of effort, the completed project can be sold only once. To sell another, the woodworker must build another. Not so with woodworking plans. A single high-quality woodworking plan can generate continuous value for the designer indefinitely.
Personal-use licensing ensures that the plan purchaser cannot use the plan for commercial purposes. This means professional woodworkers who sell custom designs are protected from others using their plans to compete with them in their core market of finished wood products. Thus, professional woodworkers can reach new audiences and gain new revenue simply by publishing their existing plans.
Any woodworker who builds custom projects is a designer and any designer can create a woodworking plan. Yes, I realize that woodworkers like woodworking -- not writing steps, creating a digital video, developing detailed diagrams or using CAD software. These are real hurdles that prevent many woodworkers from capitalizing on their personal IP.
Designers must also have effective marketing and distribution channels for their woodworking plans to see any significant returns on their efforts. And yet again, most woodworkers want to spend time building, not developing a comprehensive business infrastructure.
Both of these challenges can be overcome relatively easily. For example, design software like SketchUp targets casual designers, requiring much less training than traditional CAD programs.
Video capture and editing capabilities are standard on almost every computer operating system and device. And woodworking plan templates can eliminate much of the mystery around a high-quality plan. At Sawtooth Ideas, we even offer designers assistance in everything from writing plans to building models.
The challenges of developing a marketing, sales, and distribution infrastructure are also being addressed today by online marketplaces like Etsy, eBay, and Sawtooth Ideas. These sites provide a complete small-business infrastructure for independent designers. A designer need simply upload his or her plan, set the price (or make it available for free), and help generate interest via social media (like Twitter and Facebook).
The value of woodworking plans is significant. Woodworkers who embrace this value can generate new revenue and engage the woodworking community. With even a small investment in polishing existing notes and sketches, woodworkers can make their designs readily available to other builders — for profit or simply to share and inspire.
Russ Whitney is CEO of Sawtooth Ideas of Boise, ID. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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