Up and Etsy: Tips on Overcoming the Road Blocks

I recently opened my Etsy shop Backyard Spruce, selling needle felted creations and laser cut shadow boxes. Currently I have 14 items up which cost me a grant total of $2.80 (at $0.20/listing). It took me roughly three months from conception to opening to get everything just (mostly) right.

What’s my biggest recommendation? Be a copy cat!

Recently I embraced being a copy cat as an unabashed way to learn, get inspired, and create. Today I’ll talk how being a copy cat helped me overcome my three biggest and most time consuming road blocks to opening my Etsy shop.

Overcoming Road Block #1: Photography

I spent hours looking at others’ photos on Etsy. How did they style their scenes, angles, and aperture? What did I like and what did I find appalling? I was able to get a rough idea of how I wanted my pictures to look, and through quite a lot of trial and error I found the settings that I felt best represented my creations.

There are lots of helpful hints available on Etsy as well, though I found it more helpful to see what various shops were doing with products similar to mine.

Shameless plug time: Yukonstruct now has a photography tent ready to use! I am excited to try it out with my future creations!

Nope.
Etsy photography take #1. It’s blurry, has terrible colouring, and is a poor representation of this cute little critter.
Nope x 2.
Etsy photography take #2. I’m experimenting with the background now, but the photo is still not professional and I don’t like the composition.
Bingo! Third time's a charm!
Etsy photography take #3. Third time’s a charm! I’m pleased with the composition, quality, and true-to-life colour.

Overcoming Road Block #2: Policies & Shipping

For policies I looked at numerous other Etsy shops for how much information was given, how they stated it, and which policies they put in place. I then created my own based on what I believed would be helpful from the initial opening of my shop. I’ve never shipped an item to a customer so it was great to think about what I will do in case of damage or the customer being unsatisfied with the product. I also joined a Whitehorse Etsy team to see what was being done locally.

Figuring out the price of shipping was an interesting challenge and I will simply have to learn by doing. Right now I have approximate fees that I found through Canada Post’s website for my packaging sizes, and I’d recommend anyone opening a shop do the same. There are still a lot of unknowns for me, including the cost to ship to what Etsy calls “everywhere” and grouped items, but I’ll cross those bridges when I get there!

Don’t let shipping scare you away from opening an Etsy shop! There may be a few dollars lost when a product costs more to ship than expected, but I’m going to consider this the cost of learning.

The guide I found most helpful is the Canada Post Shipping Guide of Glory. How can you go wrong with a name like that?

Overcoming Road Block #3: Pricing

Pricing was perhaps the most nerve wracking part. How much is my time worth? What price points are simply too high? Will anything actually sell?! Again, I searched through Etsy to get an idea of how similar products were being priced and found a way to justify my costs.

So, here’s how I did my pricing. Let’s take my needle felted ermine for example.

Materials = $5.80
Roving $3.00
Glass eyes $2.50
Pipe cleaner $0.20
Felting needles $0.10 / project

Labour = $150
$10/hr for 15+ hours

Expenses = $5.66
$0.20 Etsy listing
3.5% commission from Etsy (based on $156)

Total = $160

Consider your labour costs carefully. For me, this is a side project I enjoy with low material costs, but I would still rather keep my ermine than sell my time for less than $10/hr. Keeping in mind, too, this cost does not factor in the time it took for me to set up my Etsy shop (which in itself took 15 – 20 hours), or the time it will take to package and ship this little fellow. I have chosen to absorb these costs but you may decide to include them in your product pricing.

I hope this is helpful to your Etsy shop endeavors. It was a lot of fun to create Backyard Spruce and I will continue to learn and grow with it, and hopefully make some sales along the way!

Check out Backyard Spruce on Facebook to follow my shop updates!

 

Andrea at YuKonstruct
Backyard Spruce

 

Member’s project: Judith’s Kitchen Facelift

YuKonstruct member Judith sent us the following story about sprucing up her kitchen with a little help from the tools in our shop.

The kitchen before re-finishing
The kitchen before re-finishing

For quite a while I wanted to renovate my kitchen.  The wooden doors were faded and rough looking and needed some TLC.  I never got the time and the tools to do it until recently after I talked to a volunteer at YuKonstruct.  I asked him if he thought I could sand down the doors and re-finish them.  He encouraged me to do so because there is a big sander in the wood working workshop I could use.

When I brought in my kitchen doors after a few days Logan, YuKonstruct’s facilities manager, had a look at the doors and we made an appointment for an evening to get the job done.  Logan was very supportive.  He showed me how to work with the sander and helped me put the first few items through the machine.

After the doors were done they already looked better than before.  The next weekend I painted the doors and installed them complete with new knobs that matched the counter.  Now I have a beautiful kitchen again!

It is great to have a place like Yukonstruct with all kinds of tools and help available to make things happen I could not do otherwise.

Like new!
Like new!

Member’s Project: A Telescope Built From Scratch

Why don’t you just buy one?

That’s a question I’ve heard countless times, and when it comes to building a telescope, you really have to think about it twice. After all, buying a decent telescope is quite easy and relatively cheap. You can get a good view at the moon, the planets and some galaxies for a few hundred dollars including shipping to Whitehorse. On the other hand, building a telescope is an arduous task; you have to find the materials, build your own tools and spend hundreds of hours around a polishing stand. it also involves a lot of patience and precision. At first sight, anyone sensible would take 15 minutes to place an order on-line and wait for the telescope to arrive. Well, call me crazy… I chose the DIY option.

glass blank
The starting point: a blank of borosilicate glass

As a maker, I always favor building over buying, even if it costs more money for the final product. You simply can’t buy the pleasure and knowledge that you gain by building something yourself.

mirror
Silicon Carbide seeping through the tiles during rough grinding

Making the mirror of the telescope is the most time consuming part but also the most interesting. First, you need to order a circular piece of glass with a low coefficient of expansion (pyrex, zerodur, borosilicate, etc). Then you need to build a circular tool out of waterproof plaster, cover it with tiles and rub it against the glass with silicon carbide in between. Using finer grit will slowly make the concave surface smoother. Once you’ve reached the desired sagitta, you can polish the surface using a different tool; this one is covered with pitch and the polishing agent is cerium oxide. When you have a nice polished surface, you need to transform that spherical surface into a paraboloid. This is where the time consuming part begins. During that step you will remove a minute amount of glass to approach the perfect theoretical shape. If you complete that step successfully, your mirror will have a surface so regular that if you were to stretch it to the size of a football field, the highest default would only be a thousand of an inch high. Of course, to control the surface with such precision, you need to build a special instrument which takes even more time and material.

mirror on pitch
Polishing the mirror on pitch

When you’ve reach that step, it’s already been a few month since you began the project. However, if you managed to reach the desired precision, you most likely have a better mirror than most commercial mirrors.

Once the mirror is complete, it is sent for aluminizing. During this operation, a thin coat of aluminium is evaporated onto the surface of the mirror; this requires a vacuum pump and a high voltage source. As much as I would like to do it myself, I reckon it is not really worth building an entire vacuum chamber for a single mirror.

mirror_coated
The mirror back from aluminization

The focal length is measured on the finished mirror.  We will use this measurement to design the tube of the telescope. I wanted to use something nicer than plywood so I went for red cedar trims that I resawed to get 1/4″ boards. These boards where assembled together using bird’s mouth joinery to form an hexadecagonal tube (16 sides). Some baffles were laser cut on YuKonstruct’s Epilog laser cutter; these will prevent internal light reflection. The tube was then painted black inside and coated with several coats of spar varnish to make it dew proof.

wooden-telescope
Building the 16 sided tube

The last step consists of putting everything together. A hole is drilled on the side with a hole saw to accommodate the focuser; a cell is built for the primary mirror and a support is made to hold the elliptical mirror in place. I went with a curved vane for the ease of build and for the fact that it will limit diffraction spikes around bright stars.

wooden telescope 25
Curved vane, focuser and mirrors in place

As I was busy building other things, it took about a year to complete the instrument. On the first afternoon after completion, I tried to locate Jupiter in the evening sky; it took about 5 minutes to spot it with the naked eye because the sun was still shining bright above the horizon. Once I found it, I aligned the scope and focused on the planet. As a first observation, I didn’t know what to expect. Well…turns out I saw details on Jupiter that I never saw before on other instruments.

I am now really eager to try it on deep sky objects on a dark winter sky. Next project: make a proper stand for the instrument.

 

first light
First light on Venus and Jupiter

Makerspaces Making Innovation

Yukonstruct is a makerspace; a space for makers, builders, tinkers, and hobbyists to gather and let their creative juices flow.

Every so often these elements combine with an entrepreneurial spirit, and creation and business meet.  This phenomenon reached new heights with a stock deal worth $403 million as MakerBot Industries, the most well-known 3D printer brand in the market, was acquired by Stratasys, a Minnesota-based company and leader in 3D industrial printing and manufacturing.  MakerBot was conceived in a Vienna hackerspace, a makerspace more focused on computers and technology than machinery.

Back home in Yukon a similar event recently occurred with the unveiling of a home-buildt tractor at the annual conference to promote advancement of agriculture in the territory.  The Bobcat-like machine named NorTrackTor was created by Arctic Automate, Tom Bamford and Yukonstruct’s facilities manager Logan Sherk’s business, using Yukonstruct’s space and tools, specifically welders, induction forge and metal saw, and designs obtained from Open Source.  The Open Source network is instrumental to the makerspace general concept by providing free blueprints and materials lists for the general public rather than commercializing and profiting from product initiatives.

NorTrackTor is an affordable and basic in design tractor, making repairs easy, that was build for a price points comparison farming in remote locations and the overall goal of encouraging less of a barrier to commercial farming.  So this home-buildt tractor is a solution that is applicable in the North not just for farming but also quite possibly for smaller placer mining operations and other such industries.

Member’s Project: A YuKonstruct Souvenir

Cheap trinkets made in China and embroidered sombreros that scream “Mexico – Uno cerveza por favor!” are not my idea of a nice souvenir (even though I really like cervezas).  I’m also not a very patient shopper, so as a result I usually get pretty frustrated when I’m trying to find something to take home with me from a trip abroad. Good thing my girlfriend and I stumbled across an authentic hand-painted tile shop on one of our last days in Mexico that was full of interesting stuff and inspiration…

IMG_9674

We were nearing the end of our month long escape from the Yukon winter when we spied this shop in La Paz.  The moment I walked in, the wheels in brain started turning about how I could turn something from this shop into a keepsake from our trip.  It was quickly apparent that we would be unable to carry enough tiles home to redo our bathroom, but I managed to form a plan about how I could turn some of these beautiful tiles into something cool once I got back to Whitehorse.

Now just to back-step a bit and provide some context – my day job involves a lot of time sitting in front of a computer screen grinding out spreadsheets on Microsoft Excel.  I’m not very good at staring at computers,  I can get pretty restless and stir-crazy by 5 o’clock.  As a result I’m drawn to hands-on projects in my free time.

Back to the Mexican tile shop where a plan started forming… I remembered building an end table with a glass inlay eons ago during a high school woodworking class.  I decided that I could do the same thing this time around, except  I would use some of these cool Mexican tiles instead of glass!  This was also a perfect excuse to check out the woodshop at YuKonstruct, something I had been meaning to do since the start of winter.

So, my girlfriend and I compared different tiles and picked our favourite design.  We don’t always have similar tastes, but this time we did so the decision was easy to make together.  We ended up buying nine tiles for 25 pesos – not a bad deal!

Although neither of us speak a lick of Spanish and the shop keeper did not speak any English, he couldn’t stop smiling as we paid for the tiles.  He was probably wondering to himself – what on earth are these two tourists going to do with nine tiles.  After we paid he then started wrapping them.  He used copious amounts of newspaper and packing tape to complete the job , and much to my horror the finished product looked just like what I imagine a compact brick of hard drugs would look like – and of course I was about to fly home!  Sure enough, once we were home and I unpacked my backpack there was a notice inside from the US Border Service informing me that they had searched my bag at LAX.  I’m sure they were a bit disappointed when they found tiles instead of cocaine wrapped up inside my backpack.

It didn’t take long to find nice pieces of wood to build my table, and I then hastily drew up some plans.  Now the real work was to begin, how exciting!  It took me a few days to get comfortable working in a woodshop again, after all it had been almost 10 years since high school, which was the last time that I had done something similar!  My ‘woodworking’ projects during my university years and early twenties mostly consisted of finding the cheapest wood I could find, using my Dad’s old hand-me-down drill, and slapping something together as quickly as I could with minimal concern about appearance.  But that wasn’t the plan this time – these tiles deserved more than that!

IMG_0021

Luckily, there were plenty of helpful folks at YuKonstruct to lend a hand if needed, and all my skills learned a decade ago came back pretty quickly.  After I figured out how to work the dust system and turn the planer on (after numerous failed attempts) I was off to the races.  A few minor mistakes were made during the building process, but at the end of the day I’m happy how the table turned out! My creation turned out to be infinitely better than that “made in China” shot glass I would have bought otherwise.

Burning Away the Winter Blues: Building and Burning the Yeti Effigy

Yukon Educational Theater approached YuKonstruct earlier this year to ask if the makerspace and Chris Lloyd, who designed the airplanes in the Winterval parade, would be interested in building the effigy for Burning Away the Winter Blues. Of course we jumped at the chance to build an epic effigy!

Chris designed a snow monster, the Yeti, to symbolize all our winter worries and blues. The 3D model was created in Autodesk’s MeshMixer and then 123D Make was used to turn it into a series of panels that could be cut out on the laser cutter. The model was exported to SketchUp where Chris drew the plans for an internal skeleton made of 2x2s to support the cardboard skin. All the software used is free and also available on YuKonstruct’s computers.

Icycle Sport donated 30 bicycle boxes which we cut down and used to make all 292 carboard pieces. Every piece had to be tied together with thin wire. We assembled all the pieces over 12 hours with the help of 15 awesome YuKonstruct volunteers.

The finished Yeti was handed over to Splintered Craft where the youth gave him a colourful paintjob.

Everyone was invited to write their worries and winter blues on the effigy before the torch-lit procession that carried the Yeti to his final resting place, a large bonfire in Robert Service Campground. The Yeti and all our winter blues were burned away in the fire.

Member’s Project: Custom-built Bed

When I was asked to build a bed for a friend I was supper excited! But I didn’t have a place to build it or a good quality table saw. Then a light went on and I thought “Yukonstruct! I should go and check out the space.”

From the first tour I was hooked and the ideas for this bed started flowing.

With the huge table saw, a great chop saw, access to clamps, drills and all sorts of hand tools I didn’t have to bring any of my own tools. I knew I was going to be able to create a great bed with lots of storage underneath.

I started to design my bed with SketchUp after taking the Intro to 3D Modelling workshop at Yukonstruct. As I was playing around with the head and foot board design I was excited about the possibility of using the CNC machine.

Once I started cutting pieces and assembling it was all down hill. Everyone was so helpful and I had a great time talking about my project and other projects people were working on. It’s such a creative space and there is so much knowledge and experience to tap into.

I can’t wait to start building my next project!

Siana's Bed

Winterval Santa Clause Parade

This past weekend, YuKonstruct was a part of Yukon Educational Theater’s 7th annual Winterval Santa Clause Parade.

Inspired by Aidan Chopra’s cardboard Grumman F4F-4 costume, we decided to make laser-cut cardboard airplanes for some of our youngest members to wear in the parade.

The planes were designed by Chris Lloyd, one of our members, in SketchUp. Once the plans were finished, preparing the cardboard, cutting it on the laser and assembling the planes was a real team effort! You can read all about the step-by-step process of designing and building the planes on Instructables.

Air North donated the custom vinyl decals for the wings and tails, which really finished the look!

IMG_2809

The planes were a huge hit with the kids and everyone at the parade. If you’d like to make your own here at YuKonstruct all you need is cardboard and safety training on the Epilog laser.

 

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NORTHLIGHT INNOVATION

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  (867) 457-0150

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