Friday, October 29, 2010

The Schwarz Effect: An Academic Rebuttal

First of all, wow.  Response to my previous post about Chris Schwarz and his effect on the market for No. 80 scraper planes has been amazing.  Thanks to Chris for spreading the word.

Gye Greene went a few steps further down the rabbit hole.  He asked for a copy of the data that fed my charts, and ran it through a series of statistical contortions to determine the true likelihood of a lasting "Schwarz Effect".  I had originally recorded a few extra details of each auction, such as the condition of the scraper, the shape of the casting (there are a couple varieties), and whether the blade was missing.  Gye included all of this in his methodology, and found that price was controlled more by these factors than by Schwarz' Mojo.  Gye did confirm my observation that even the crustiest piece of crap from the bottom of the ocean would sell in the post-Schwarz era.

So it seems that Schwarz has the power to stir us all up into a frenzy of buying every tool in sight, but not necessarily to make us overpay in the long term.  Shucks.

Gye's amazingly detailed analysis is available at this link, please check it out.  Thanks to Gye for taking the time on this!  A few of his key insights:
  • Expect to pay more for a scraper in the original box. This commanded about a $25 premium.
  • Early castings have a base with a straight trailing edge, instead of the later concave curved edge.  The straight version will run you almost $10 more at auction.
  • No blade?  Expect to pay about $11 less.
You may also want to check out Gye's blog over at for more Gye goodness!

Oh and in case anybody out there finds themselves in possession of a number 80 that needs a little rehab, you may find this post by Pickering Mike interesting over at Ramblings of a Novice Woodworker.

Think Gye and I are nutjobs?  Chris Schwarz does!  Tell us what you think in the comments!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Behold the Power of The Schwarz!

Oh, how nefarious the woodworking world can be!  What you are about to read is a tale filled with intrigue, secrecy, arbitrage, and data analysis.  What else do you need?  Hollywood, I will be expecting your call.

A couple weeks ago, Chris Schwarz blogged about his Stanley #80 scraper plane.  As usual, it was a thoughtful and instructive post that described the advantages of these simple tools.  It was nice reading for a Monday.

A nice Stanley #80 scraper plane
What only a lucky few knew, however, is that "The Schwarz" had previously set up a little experiment in arbitrage, woodworking style.  In the final session on the final day of Woodworking in America, Chris offered a bonus to the group.  He said that you could buy the #80's for $20 all day long on eBay, at least until he blogs about them.  Those in the room had one week to corner the market on these tools and then the public would hear about them via the blog, likely sending prices into the stratosphere.

Shall we see how the power of the Schwarz may be used for evil instead of for good?  The following chart takes a look at sales prices on eBay for the past month or so.  Each bubble is a single sale.  The total delivered price is along the left axis, and time marches out along the bottom axis.  The bubble size indicates how many bids the auction had - more bids get larger bubbles.

Click for larger version

As you can see from the chart, things were cruising along steadily in "The Good Old Days".  Average shipped price for a #80 was about $26, and things were good.  Then on October 3rd Schwarz made his speech at WIA, and the sharks smelled blood in the water.  I only have data up until the 5th because I forgot to check and eBay cleans house after 21 days, but even in the 3 days after WIA the average shipped price went up to almost $38.  After his blog post on October 11, Schwarz generated enough demand to drive the average shipped price up again to $41.51, a 60% increase over "The Good Old Days"!

Do you need further proof of the power of the Schwarz?  From 9/22 to 10/5 there were another 12 auctions that had zero bids and therefore did not end in a sale.  Buyers weren't interested in these planes, so these listings were not included above.  Since Chris made his blog post on Oct 11 there have been no unsold scraper planes on eBay.  All auctions have ended successfully in a sale, including the gem pictured below with the absurdly optimistic description "has light rust" which sold for $24.95 shipped.

Click for larger version

What does this teach us?  Chris has the Mojo, baby.  One comment from him is enough to send literally tens and tens of people into a buying spree.  Oh, and I have too much time on my hands. On a related note, I will be starting a new hedge fund soon trading under the ticker symbol SWRZ.  Operators are standing by!
Care to comment?  You would be among a select few who take advantage of this once in a lifetime opportunity!
Footnote:  In case you are as into data geekery as I am, here is the fine print on the methodology:
  • I used the search term "Stanley scraper 80" to bring up closed auctions on eBay.
  • I only included auctions for a single tool, no bundles were allowed.
  • Only sales were counted, so auctions with no bids were excluded.
  • The price reported is the shipped price of the tool, including final bid price plus shipping cost.  I did look at the results without shipping costs and the conclusions were the same.
  • Only sellers in the US were included.
  • A few tools were sold without blades, and I kept these in the data.
  • A single bid typically means the "buy it now" feature was used.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Oh no, not another one!

Savvy woodworkers from all over the blogosphere will take one look at the pictures below and think to themselves:  "Why?  Haven't we seen enough blog posts on this topic?"


Want to make me stop, or at least slow me down a bit?  Leave a comment for me to read!

Friday, October 15, 2010

Major Let Down

I am not embarrassed to say that I have been strutting around town bragging about my performance in the Crosscut event at the 2010 Hand Tool Olympics, held at the WIA conference a couple weeks ago.  As evidence of my skills, I was awarded this fine saw as a trophy.

Imagine my shock, the depth of my dismay and grief to discover that prizes were awarded to some participants (me!) based on random chance!  Apparently the powers that be gave 2 prizes, one to the highest performer and one raffled off to a participant in each event.

Aww, crap.

The silver lining is that most folks didn't know what I was talking about in the first place, so they literally couldn't care less.  So really, there's no need to chase down all those announcement cards I mailed out, is there?

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Blast From the Past

The year is 1968.  Lyndon Johnson is president, Super Bowl II is won by Green Bay, and Mad Men is still a few years away from catching up.  60 minutes debuts, it's a good year for Camaros and Mustangs, and OSHA is still 2 years from being created by Richard Nixon.

This last bit is actually relevant.  No OSHA, so men were still free to work in totally unsafe environments, breathing in smoke and chemicals that would make us modern guys run for the hills.  Thankfully, these guys took that attitude home with them too.  In garages all across America, guys in white T-shirts with crew cuts were opening their cans of PBR and saying "hand me that welder" to their buddies.

I know this because I recently inherited a complete and perfect set of the Popular Mechanics Do-It-Yourself Encyclopedia.  Forty two years ago guys like me would study the glorious black and white photos in these volumes, and then go out to their shop to make a table saw from old washing machine parts.

Hey, the encyclopedia doesn't lie.  Seems like guys have been trying to solve the same problems for at least the past 4 decades.  It's funny to compare the articles in the encyclopedia to the ones we see today in all of our woodworking and home improvement magazines.  Of course, there are also solutions to problems that really don't need to be solved but are just an excuse for a period-correct mishmash of welding, parts scrounging, and unsafe engineering.  For example, take a look at this entry filed innocently under "bicycle".

You know, bikes are great but what they really need is to be way higher up, and have a steering mechanism like a boat.  Then you could go out on a nice snowy day and ride around on the icy street wearing a beret and be totally safe!  Really, there's no way this is going to hurt.

Stay tuned for much, much more from the way-back machine.  We're just getting started.

Have any requests for the encyclopedia of unsafe knowledge?  Leave them in the comments!  Table saw modifications, drill press attachments, home-made belt sanders powered by a toaster?  They're probably in there.