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Case by Case ...

Posted by Dave Bull at  12:55 PM, October 1, 2013 [Permalink]

I'm sure that when some of the long-time readers of this blog read this post, they will have a major attack of eye-rolling ... "Not again! Haven't we seen this movie before? And it wasn't a happy ending ..."

Yes, it's time for me to re-visit the workbench where I make the cases for our print sets!

When last we talked about cases (over a year ago!), I was struggling to design an effective box for the tool sets I was preparing to add to the Mokuhankan catalogue. I was also making paulownia cases for my Arts of Japan series, and was running into problems with all these designs - I needed to create something attractive, interesting, and reasonably priced, and yet which was practical to produce.

For a while there, I had the assistance of Lee-san, who is a young printer trainee working with Numabe-san, and he and I made a ton of cases for the Arts series, but he wasn't able to stay more than a few weeks. Once he left, I struggled to find time to work on the cases, and then when the Ukiyoe Heroes tsunami washed over us during the summer, the case issues were just pushed out of sight.

The tool project went to sleep (not euthanized, just sleeping!), and I also had to shut down orders for my Arts of Japan series, due to lack of cases. That's basically where things have stayed over the year since then ...

But here's a photo of my workbench this morning [WARNING: the photo you are about to view contains top secret as-yet-unpublished information! But hey, it's not like we still have a whole lot of readers here on this blog, so what the hey ...]:

What you see there are a few prototype boxes: the one at the front left is designed to store and display the entire set of 24 Chibi Heroes prints (which is coming to an end just this month). The other two are for the new series that will be the 'follow-on' to the Chibies - the new 'Ukiyoe Heroes Portraits' subscription series. (The image you see on the right stand is just a black & white printout of a sample design; the real prints will of course be normal colour woodblocks ...)

Over the course of the year of producing the Chibies, there have been innumerable requests from the collectors for us to provide a storage system. I have been suggesting that people get a small stamp album to store them, and many have done so (including myself), but there is no question that if we had a nice desktop storage/display setup like this, it would be popular.

So what has changed in my situation that brings this back to life? CNC milling, that's what.

The idea is that I produce a few prototypes, to show the kind of product we need, and we then get people who are knowledgeable about CNC production systems to take those ideas, and come up with something that can be sensibly produced using modern automated methods.

This is happening as we speak, and I am now eagerly waiting to see the first prototype of a case produced that way. It will almost certainly need a few go-arounds, with those prototypes being adjusted, to try and find a balance between all the factors: useability, reliability, ease of manufacture, shipping weight, materials costs, etc. and etc. and etc.

And I'm very much hoping that if we can work out these two fairly simple storage systems, we can then move forward to use the same setup to produce cases for the Mokuhankan tool sets, and for my own Arts series prints as well.

I'll keep you informed! (And if any readers have knowledge or advice on CNC woodwork, please feel free to make any suggestions ...)




Added by: Anita Cage on October 1, 2013 2:17 PM

Ha! So you think we don't pay attention, do you? You are in my Feedly, just as you were in my late Reader. You know, I admire your storage boxes and display them proudly. A box for the Chibis sounds just wonderful. It continues to be good news to hear that business is booming, assuming that also means the future you envisioned for Mokuhankan is beginning to materialize. I'm sure your skills at juggling all the parts of this enterprise are now increasingly put to the test! It's good to read these updates whenever you have a chance to post them.

Added by: Christina on October 1, 2013 2:33 PM

Have you thought about using laser cutting services like Ponoko? You can use them to make snap-together boxes, and then you can order and ship them yourself or have them available to order directly from Ponoko, so you wouldn't have to worry about the logistics for the people who already own the Chibi Heroes sets and just want a box, for example.

I'm not extremely well-informed, though, so CNC milling might offer a higher-quality finished product.

Added by: Dave on October 1, 2013 2:38 PM

Booming indeed ... or it would be if I could find people to do the work!

As the Chibi series rolls to a close this month, we have just over 160 subscribers, and that has really been keeping the ladies here very busy, making them all. We are also scheduled for issuing new Heroes prints well into the new year, and our three 'outside' printers are all very busy trying to keep everything in that series in stock (we are just barely keeping up with the constant re-orders coming from Jed-san).

And of course it's all 'filtered' through just one carver ... me. This is our bottleneck, and until we break through it, our possibilities for more expansion are limited indeed ...

Added by: Dave on October 1, 2013 5:50 PM

laser cutting ...

I'm looking for a better 'finish' to the pieces that what (I understand) can be obtained with the laser systems, although the idea of uploading a design and letting people order on their own is very appealing for sure. This may actually be what we end up doing with the other route we are investigating. I would supply the design and overall control of the product quality, and the manufacture/distribution would be entirely out of my hands.

(But don't worry - we're not about to try that with the prints themselves!)

Added by: Karsten on October 2, 2013 12:52 AM

Indeed, I don't regularly hit the front page because servers do that for me, I do read every new post, however.

With CNC milling which _should_ allow precise "inset" grooves, I wonder if it would actually be feasible to ship these boxes "IKEA-style", mailing a flat box of parts and having collectors themselves glue/stick the resulting box together.

That said, I'm not sure it would make much of a difference - I don't recall shipping of the whole box to be very expensive (japanese international shipping seems quite cheap and super fast compared to, say, US international), so maybe it isn't worth doing.

Good news is always good, though. I sometimes worry about "bus numbers" - there are so many people and factors whose disappearance would completely throw a wrench in the works... But then again, reading the history of this blog, these things have already happened, and business has continued regardless. All I can do from this end is wish good luck!

Added by: Dave on October 2, 2013 1:28 AM

IKEA style ...

This might be very much worth considering. My experience to date with all the cases I have shipped is that the labour cost has been the 'killer'.

Do-it-yourself assembly wouldn't really work well for the complex slide box that I sent to the Arts of Japan collectors, but for these simpler boxes it may well turn out to be practical.

Thanks for the suggestion - we'll definitely throw it into the mix!

Added by: Daniel on October 7, 2013 11:29 AM

I am excited to see this. Currently have my Chibi Heroes in their original plastic wrappers taped to the side of my file cabinet at work. I would love to have a more "artistic" display for them, although I do find that students in my office will sit and look at them for awhile, and several will shout out when they notice that they are characters from games they play.

With all this case building, I am wondering if the case for the Ukiyoe Heroes Portraits will fit the 7 Ukiyoe Heroes from the Kickstarter. I have been pondering building a case for mine but have yet to find the time. If you are going to do all the work, I may just have to table my ideas and pick up one from you.

Added by: Dave on October 7, 2013 12:31 PM

I am wondering if the case for the Ukiyoe Heroes Portraits will fit the 7 Ukiyoe Heroes from the Kickstarter

No, it's not even close. I do have a design for a Heroes case all worked out though ... It will stand on a bookshelf vertically like a book, and has a 'rear flap' that opens. You slide out a little stand unit that stands on your desk, and in a neighbouring compartment of the box are the individual prints in their wrappers, and you just select the one you want to (temporarily) display on the stand.

But honestly speaking, this is not going to appear 'tomorrow'. I have no idea when I will be able to get around to making the first prototype, let along a production model ... So it might not be a bad idea for you to make something yourself!

Added by: Cynthia on October 10, 2013 3:14 AM

I would love a Chibi a Heroes box. My husband could assemble it for me. Great idea!

Added by: Scott on November 30, 2013 3:58 PM

Hi Dave,

Boxes look great - would definitely be keen on Chibies and Ukiyoe Heroes box. Even if price-point had to be higher due to labour/order numbers!


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