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Saturday, November 18 2017 @ 08:35 AM EST

Bills "Freakenomics" 101


Bill’s “Freakenomics” 101
By: Bill Thompson

    Over the winter I have reawakened my interest in photography. It has been fun and it has served to keep the old brain active. Like most photographers I have been proud enough of some of my work to want to have a few of them framed. I wasn’t so proud that I went off to a professional framer, although the results would certainly have been better. Instead I visited one of those crafty big box stores that specialize in plastic flowers. I found what I was looking for, a cheap, simple frame, and at the same time picked up some pre-made mattes as well. The total bill came to about seven bucks, not counting having the print made at the drug store.

    I was pretty proud of myself and went out a brought a few more frames and mattes and framed a few more prints. Along the way it occurred to me that I could easily make my own frames at a fraction of the cost I was paying. I dug around my workshop and found my Dad’s old router; which turned out to be the easy part. Unfortunately I could not find the router bits and the router table had been disassembled and most of the parts were missing. For a moment I considered buying a new table; until I looked on line and saw what they went for. My next step was to check out a couple of YouTube videos on how to make your own. Making my own was definitely the way to go. After a quick trip to the hardware store for tools and a pine board I was down for forty bucks.  

    Back at the shop I found some scrap lumber and made my router table. Once the table was up and running I ran a few scraps through to get the right depth and width. By the time I got it right I already had spent an afternoon in the shop and had not cut one board. Next morning I spent another four hours routing and cutting my angles with the miter box. That afternoon I was ready to paint; until I discovered that I didn’t have any paint in stock. Another trip to hardware store for paint and another router bit because I wasn’t happy with the quality of the first one I brought. At this point my total investment was up to around seventy dollars and sixteen hours of labor.

    The finished frame is now lying on my bench and I am quite proud of it, of course now I need a piece of glass and a matte to finish it off. And so I came to realize that a ten year old kid in China was doing a far better job at turning out frames than I am. The quality is about par, but he is making them for pennies, shipping them to the United States and still turning a profit; a clear case of Freakenomics.

    This is not the first time in my life that this has happened. Several decades ago I took up the art of fly fishing. My intent was not to save money, but it didn’t take me long to figure out that I was losing a lot of flies. Why not invest in some fly tying stuff, I thought, I can make them for just a few cents. At the time I might have been paying fifty to seventy-five cents a fly. Lots of fly fishermen are under the impression that they save by tying their own flies and then one day that take inventory. It doesn’t take long before you’re setting on a couple of grand in tools and materials.  In my case it was much worse; I ended up owning a fly shop.

    In the end, of course, it wasn’t all bad. I had a lot of fun making that frame; I learned a couple of new things and best of the entire house smelled like fresh cut pine for a few days. As for the fly shop I never regretted it for one moment.

    See you on the river.


by Mountain Angler

Bill Thompson was the former owner of the North Country Angler in North Conway New Hampshire. He still writes this column for the Conway Daily Sun.
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