Going Pro Part 2: Are you a Pioneer? You'll Need that Spirit.

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Blog entry by Mark A. DeCou posted 10-05-2007 04:21 PM 1623 reads 1 time favorited 11 comments Add to Favorites Watch

Going full time at working with your woodworking tools is quite a daunting task. It was, and still is for me. I get quite a few emails, visitors, and phone calls from other folks, so I know it is daunting for everyone that considers it. I try to be honest with them, about the cost and benefits.

I have given out some bits and pieces of my “Pioneering Spirit” sermon over the past months to various individuals, but never all in one place before.

So, I decided this morning to post my Bllog with Lessons from the Pioneers, as a way to help people see the analogies to changing course and starting up a woodworking business.

There is more to it, than just saying, “I’m a Pro today.” The more you think, and plan, and study, the better you are prepared, yet there will be more to learn than you considered to know before.

So, here it goes:

Do you Have That Pioneering Spirit? Really, do you?
  • Taking this adventure could be analagous to someone that lived in Philadelpia in the mid-1800’s when they got the silly idea to go “West, to make it rich.”
  • They dreamed about it everyday, and in every situation.
  • Finally, they couldn’t contain the excitement any longer and they started to talk to their friends and family about their ideas.
  • All of their family and friends thought they were nuts.
  • The Acquaintances slapped them on the back and said, “Go For it.”
  • Their loved ones, cried, tried to talk them out of it, criticized them, tried to stop them.
  • They wondered themselves after awhile if thet were indeed “nuts.”
  • Still the dreaming wouldn’t cease.
  • “Why, just tell me why?” their wife screamed and cried as she fell asleep every night.
  • A few close friends said, “I’ll pray for you.”
  • His dad said, “son, why don’t you just take all the tools in my barn, I won’t need them.” His momma just cried as she considered what was ahead for her grandbabies.
  • Pressing ahead despite the warnings, they sold everything they had to buy a wagon and team and the tools for the trip.
  • It was too late in the season to leave now, so they had to live in the wagon on the edge of town and do odd jobs until Spring.
  • The townspeople just laughed. Some crossed to the other side of the street when they saw them coming.
  • During the winter, they studied and dreamed, and learned to shoot, make a fire, and repair wagon wheels.
  • They learned to do accounting before they started the trip, surely that skill would be necessary.
  • They should have learned how to grow food. There wouldn’t be enough money left to count in a year.
  • What they actually needed on the trip, was the opposite of what they packed in the wagon.
  • Camping all winter in the wagon taught them how to “camp.” How to make a fire, and stay warm. Skills they would need in a few months.
  • God, knew what they needed to learn, and provided it. Just in time so they would know that they depended on Him for their survival.
  • In the Spring, they grouped together with the other “Nuts” and hired an experienced, and sober, Trail Guide.
  • Their friends prayed, and waved goodbye. The excitement was so great as the wagon train left town, some of the folks had to run alongside the wagons in their new boots.
  • A year later, they would boil and try to eat what was left of those new boots.
  • The wisdom of the Trail Guide was the only way they survived the first few weeks.
  • It is about this time in the trip that they could kick themselves about not bringing along more rope and axle grease. Their lives were reduced each day to the really important things. In a way, it felt good.
  • Momma’s Piano was left along the trail to lighten the wagon so to pass a ravine and climb the opposite bank.
  • The Plow Shear Iron was left in the wagon, but the wooden handles were used to repair a broken wagon wheel spoke.
  • The next Pioneer passing the trail, tore apart the Piano for fire wood, and for a splint to help a broken arm.
  • Enemies were at every bend, and behind every bush. If they weren’t really there, they were always imagined.
  • Every night’s sleep was filled with strange noises, straining to listen with their gun laid across their lap. They hoped the gun hadn’t corroded to the point it wouldn’t work anymore. Still it would be a good club to swing.
  • Fear has now become an ever present emotion, to the point that it becomes what feels “normal” now. (This is what is wrong with the Survior Game Show…..the game show contestants know that just behind the trees is an EMT and a big buffet line of food with jello salad, meatloaf, green salad, and ice-cold canned drinks. So they sit and argue, they know that their lives are not really dependent on each other.) The wagon train folks know different.
  • Through the many fears, real and imagined, they pressed ahead. Why? Because their biggest fear is accepting defeat. Oh, and that quitting would prove all the “naysayers” right. Can’t do that. So, they pushed on West.
  • Their only set of reading glasses got lost while crossing a flooded creek. But that was ok, there weren’t any newspapers to read at that point anyway. They could still see the sights on the rifle barrel, but making out what they were pointing at was a fuzzy chore. They didn’t newspapers anyway, news of life back in the “City” didn’t seem important now. And, their newspapers had all been used up a long time back in the journey….for wiping paper.
  • The first baby was lost and buried beside a tree in North-Eastern Kansas.
  • The second baby was taken during the night by the presiding inhabitants of the land, who were angered about the trespassing. Momma clung to the last baby real hard, and set anger deep in her heart toward the “dreamer” that started this trip.
  • Mamma later tore up her prized wedding dress to bandage a wound from a snake bite. She was just glad the last child lived, she had no need for fancy clothes anymore.
  • Most of the others had turned back, or stopped at each passing Outpost. The strongest ones pushed on. They were weak, but strenghtened in spirit beyond anything they could have practiced up for. They would need that strength later, the hard work and sacrifice was still ahead of them.
  • Along the trip they wished they had started out years before, when they were younger, and had less to sacrifice. Medically, they should have started 10 years earlier. (I feel this way, and I started at 33.)
  • When they arrived at their destination, there weren’t any roads, an accurate map, telegraph lines, or mail service, and more time to learn new things and work hard.
  • The “journey” prepares the Real Pioneers for the Real Survival Game. That Game starts when they proudly plant a wood stake against the ground and drive it home with a rock. Now, they can call it “home.”
  • The “Journey & Planning” have all lead to this. Now, the work starts.
  • What they learned on the Journey, will get them through the first weeks and months, as they learn new things.
  • They now learn what plants to eat, and not eat.
  • They learn what leaves are good for wiping, and which are not.
  • They learn which animals live where, and how to catch them.
  • They learn to read the wind and the clouds and how to anticipate the rain.
  • They learn to watch and listen to the birds for signs of danger.
  • They learn to survive. They realize now, that the “Trip” was the easy part.
  • After the journey was complete, the cabin was built, the homestead stake was registered.
  • Now, finally, the real work has begun. Before this point, it was just the journey to get “started.”
  • Rubbing the rusty plow shear with some gravel, the handles are replaced by cutting down a few tree saplings down by the creek. They are glad they learned to work hand tools back in Philadelphia.
  • Getting a good night’s sleep the night before starting to cut sod with the repaired plow, sleep comes hard with the excitement.
  • They awakened to learn that the only horse they had left to pull the plow, died the night before.
  • Papa pulled the plow, while Momma guided it, while the hungry babies cried. They didn’t need much ground turned, just enough to plant a few rows.
  • With hungry people in the family, no time to clear a large area for next year’s crops.
  • Maybe they can trade for a horse if they can walk back to the little town with supplies from Back East. 18 Miles is a long walk, especially carrying a Plow to trade.
  • The seeds for the 1st crop brought in the wagon got wet and rotted.
  • Enemies visited regularly and took anything they wanted, sometimes killing family members in the process.
  • But, there was a lot of “elbow room, green grass, and a good water source.”
  • The first crop was lost to grasshoppers.
  • Momma died during the birth of her fourth baby. Papa cried with the newborn.
  • The second crop lost to prairie fires.
  • The third crop lost to migrating buffalo.
  • The fourth crop lost to drought and wind.
  • Still, going back to Philadelphia was beyond consideration.
  • And because some brave individuals took that trip, the rest of the country was settled.
  • I live on a Family Homestead. This is why I sit sometimes and look out across the hills, and wonder how anyone had the courage and tenacity to come to this spot with only a wagon and a family, and start everything from scratch. No road, no school bus service, no mail, no phone, no fences, no water well, no anything. With their own hands and hand tools, they set up a Homestead.

Me? Well, I get frustrated that I have to stop work and paint the old house they built. Makes you think, huh?

  • Three generations later, none of the family wanted the place, and all four House plots along our winding dirt road are out of the Homestead Family’s hands now. Despite all of those early sacrifices, later generations had their own dreams to attend to. There is a lesson to learn in that somewhere.
  • We have lost that Pioneering “sense” in today’s culture with interstate highways criss-crossing us everywhere to everything. What do we complain about now? Potholes, and internet service that is too slow, and road rage, and how our kid didn’t so many minutes in the game as another kid.
  • I think the closest we can get to “Pioneering” in today’s culture, is to go backwards in lifestyle, and sacrifice everything and start up a family business from scratch.
  • Taking over someone else’s business is a different journey all together. Instead of building the Homestead House and digging a Water Well, you’ll be reroofing, or painting the old house. Make sense? Buying someone else’s “Pioneering” work might be better for you.
  • In the midst of all of that “glory,” and history experienced by the Pioneers, we are also reminded that the journey cost the original inhabitants of the land everything they owned and valued. You can’t blame them for putting up a fight.
  • Today, we stand for a brief second or two at the City Park to view a bronze statue of a Pioneering Lady with a baby in her arms. And after pausing for just a second, just before you really stop to think about the “Woman and her baby”, you have to tell the kids to ”be quiet, stop hitting your sister, and eat your Happy Meal, we have to get going, your soccer game starts in 15 minutes.”
  • There are a lot of lessons to be learned from reading about the Pioneers, turning that wisdom into the fortitude that it takes to go full time with any business, much less one that depends only your own hands to produce work that you sell.
  • I think you have to be so impassioned, that going back to a desk job appears to be the worst kind of torture. Something you would never consider. You need that motivation to press on every day. Even Sam Maloof says that he thought of quitting many many times, but his wife just kept saying, “keep trying.”

Are you a Pioneer?
If so, keep dreaming, I recommend it.

There is “plenty of elbow room, green grass, and a good water source.”

(This writing and comments are protected by copyright by M.A. DeCou 10-5-2007 and not useable without expressed written permission)
—Mark DeCou – Kansas Flinthill’s “Pioneering” Artisan

-- Mark DeCou - American Contemporary Craft Artisan -

11 comments so far

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593 posts in 5054 days

#1 posted 10-05-2007 04:49 PM

Wow! Absolutely brilliant reality check Mark.

It also touches me very deeply because I am that kind of impassioned man who, upon leaving Japan, will try to establish himself as a full-time pro in the USA. After 20 years of wearing suits and ties and doing all kinds of improductive-middle-man-leecher jobs I just can not go back that road. Can. not. Stand it. Anymore.

Will I survive? I don’t know. But one thing I know for sure is that I don’t need that much for living as most of the people I ever met. Due to my background and the places I’ve lived in, I am perfectly happy living with the amount of money that other people wouldn’t ever consider. Moreover, what is more important is that my wife is the same way.

And that is a good starting point.

I’ve tried and failed other business in the past. I’ve lost my fair share of money along the road, and that doesn’t scares me. We have no kids. We both have started over in a different country and are not afraid to recreate everything from scratch again. Even if we are no younger anymore.

Life as we know it, there is only one—at least for us non-believers—and is way too short to spend it doing things that you hate.

Just wish me luck, I’ll keep you all updated on our tribulations.

View Obi's profile


2214 posts in 5319 days

#2 posted 10-05-2007 04:50 PM

I put in applications at K-mart, Hollywood video and Radio Shack. The first two places will hire just about any three legged monkey that shows up… but not this boy. I did everything I could think of and took everybody’s advice on where to get a job.

Then a friend (the money guy) hired me to build his shelves in his garage, and when they were complete, he told me he wanted me to build his kitchen cabinets. I tried the excuse of “I don’t have enough tools” he took away the excuse when he said “Fine.” and bought everything I needed. Or, at least, everything I thought I needed.

I havent built a cabinet since other than the ones I use for personal use. They were actually for someone else and then the job got cancelled. Since then I’ve built everything from tables, chairs, caskets for your pet, rolling gun carts, DVD cabinet, DVD shelves, CD holders, picture frames, dove-tailed boxes, my own mallets, business card holders, pencil holders, beds, guitars (I’m still on the first one), decorative wall hangings, mantels, pulpits, bread boxes, coffee tables, benches, built things that I had to tear apart to use the wood for something that made money, decorative door jams & stair treads. Go back to work for the man? What man?

I’ve thought about quitting but where would I go? I have too many tools to just abandon, and with all these tools, i figured that this was God’s way of giving me a career, and making me settle down.

It’s still my favorite hobby, but it’s also my job. I still don’t make enough at this time to go it alone. God gave me a friend that saw my vision. He’s as close to the man as I’ll ever get. You’re right, there is no retirement in my future. Good thing I love the wood.

And then there’s parts of this that you hadn’t seen. As a newlywed, the marriage couldn’t handle the strain of the new business, so I ended up single…again. But as a single guy, I can live in the shop. I’ll probably never get married again. I turn 49 next week, and this takes up so much of my time, energy and focus, that the idea of starting another relationship sounds about 1/2” short of totally insane.

Heating the shop to a temperature suitable for spraying lacquer, while building the shop up to a point of actually being able to live here comfortably…

And I sit here with a stupid little grin on my laugh-line covered face… I think… “Awww, life in the man-cave.”

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593 posts in 5054 days

#3 posted 10-05-2007 04:54 PM

On a sidenote, could you please make it part of a series, along with the first chapter? That would make it easier to mark as a favorite and keep track of it.

Again, thank you for your always brilliant prose and thoughts.

View Obi's profile


2214 posts in 5319 days

#4 posted 10-05-2007 04:57 PM

Woodworking: Pioneer or Idiot?
Chapter 1
So, you want to give up your day job, do you?

View WayneC's profile


14359 posts in 5179 days

#5 posted 10-05-2007 05:08 PM

I for one am willing to attest to the fact that Obi has the Pioneer Experience and that I am proud to have met him. One day I hope to meet Mark.

-- We must guard our enthusiasm as we would our life - James Krenov

View Karson's profile


35273 posts in 5482 days

#6 posted 10-05-2007 07:05 PM

I’ve met Mark and talked to Obi. Both loving caring people. I’m proud to call them friends. And I pray that all their dreams and goals are realized.

-- I've been blessed with a father who liked to tinker in wood, and a wife who lets me tinker in wood. Appomattox Virginia [email protected]

View Thos. Angle's profile

Thos. Angle

4444 posts in 5044 days

#7 posted 10-05-2007 08:57 PM

Some of us haven’t forgotten. I’ll be 61 in March. There is no market for gimpy legged cowboys. I have no choices. This has to work. LIke those you of, spoke failure is not an option.

-- Thos. Angle, Jordan Valley, Oregon

View dennis mitchell's profile

dennis mitchell

3994 posts in 5396 days

#8 posted 10-06-2007 01:14 AM

I think I’ll go apply at HomeDespot…I’d look good in orange. ” Hello don’t buy those tools they are just about worthless.”

View Don's profile


2603 posts in 5259 days

#9 posted 10-06-2007 01:17 AM

All of you pioneers have my utmost respect.

I believe that we are never tested beyond that which we can bear.

Some of you are obviously made of much stronger stuff than I, because the tests and trials I have endured in my life pale into insignificance compared to what Mark and Obi have faced and Jojo is contemplating.

The only real big challenge of my life was leaving my homeland in my mid forties and settling in a new country far from family and friends. But as well as being a challenge, it proved to be a blessing. I and my immediate family went through a few years of questioning and loneliness, but now feel much stronger for it and can see God’s hand and guidance throughout.

Next week I turn 65. Although I still feel young at heart, my body is telling me something different. As I sit here in my comfortable home-office recovering from knee surgery, I have no complaints about my life or my current circumstances. God has provided me far above what I deserve and I can only assume that He knew my limits, even as I have come to know them.

Woodworking? Yes, I love my involvement with working wood, but its a recreational pastime and this it will remain. I’m no pioneer!

-- CanuckDon "I just love small wooden boxes!"

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593 posts in 5054 days

#10 posted 10-06-2007 03:23 AM

”the tests and trials I have endured in my life pale [...] The only real big challenge of my life was leaving my homeland in my mid forties and settling in a new country far from family and friends”

Eeh… and you think this is not a challenge? It’s no small achievement Don! Mid-forties is a critical age for such a radical change in lifestyle.

View DocK16's profile


1199 posts in 5169 days

#11 posted 10-06-2007 03:21 PM

WOW Thanks Mark and all of you for the view from the other side of the fence. Yes a real reality check. I think I’ll keep my day joband rely on WW to relieve the life’s stresses. I hope it never becomes the stressor.

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