Thursday, August 22, 2013

The Ridiculous Economics of Hobbies

or, what I did on my summer stay-cation.

No photos in this post.  Shhh, the whole project is secret.  No one but me will see it until it is finished.

Earlier this summer I bought a very sad and pitiful Domestic High Arm Fiddlebase treadle.  It was $35 on CraigsList and I didn't even try to offer less.  I love to meet sellers who are realistic about the value of old machines.  This lady had several old machines and was quite knowledgeable about them.  She does some kind of re-enactments or ren faires or something (hey, it was more than 2 minutes ago, you don't seriously expect me to remember, do you?).  And she uses antique machines to sew those costumes.

I had been looking for some kind of machine to do experiments on.  Something with relatively no value.  Now, I would not give a hoot if some politically-correct purist called me out for 'tampering' with history.  But I do have my own set of values about this stuff, and usually I do the minimum amount to get a machine clean and running.  But I wanted one I could do ANYTHING to without feeling guilty.  This is that machine.

The big reveal will come later, when I have finished transforming it into a work of wondrous beauty.  But while you are sitting on the edge of your seat waiting, I thought I would share with you the ridiculous economics of this hobby.

Disclaimer:  prices rounded off.  If I didn't remember what I paid, and I usually did not, I looked it up on Amazon.   This economic analysis is for your amusement only, it is not IRS-ready.  My sister in law (bookkeeper and studying to be an accountant) will certainly laugh at my reasoning below.

Here they are, in the order I remembered them. And I almost certainly forgot some things.

$35.00     Machine, cabinet, treadle
$ 4.00      Formula 409, quart bottle. I used it all on the treadle irons.
$ 8.00      0000 steel wool, two packages.  used a lot, probably as much as two packages.
$ 5.00      Denatured alcohol, gallon, cost about $20.  I may have used a quart of it, and will certainly use the rest on other projects, so I am listing this one as $5.00
Free         Old toothbrushes, old rags
$ 3.00      Paper towels, the heavy duty blue shop towels.  Those thing are awesome.  At least one roll.
$ 1.00      Q-tips, the cheap ones from the dollar store.  The cheap ones are actually better because they are less fuzzy.  May have used half the pack.
$15.00     Paint, one quart of Rustoleum hammered black.  This had been sitting in my workshop, unopened, for YEARS.  May have used as much as one cup of the quart.  Not planning to paint treadle irons again, though, so I am listing the full price.
$15.00     Paint, one quart of Rustoleum hammered copper, bought new.  Used a few tablespoons of it.  Have no future plans for it, so this one and the black are listed here at their full price.
$19.00     Xylol, one gallon, to thin or clean up after the hammered Rustoleum.  A gallon was all they had.  Used a few tablespoons.  Yes, this IS the most ridiculous thing on the list---but I absolutely had to have it, and I absolutely had to have it on the day I bought it, so no shopping around.
$ 6.00      Sharpie gold metallic paint marker.  Used the whole thing.
$ 4.00      A set of six detail paint brushes.  Blew through 4 of them BEFORE I got my hands on the xylol, so those turned out to be disposables.
$ 2.00     Two cheap 1" paint brushes.  See above.
$11.00     Wood bleach, 12 oz.  Only used a bit and will probably never use it again.  More on this later when I describe the project.
$ 1.00       Latex disposable gloves.  Price based on a portion of a box.  I like the ones with powder inside.
$10.00      Clear coat spray paint.
$ 6.00       Decal setting solution.
$17.00      DIY decal sheets, ten.  I haven't done the decals yet, so I don't know how much of this or the clear coat I will use.  Probably at least two of the decal sheets, though.  Whether I ever use the rest of them depends on how well this project turns out.
$10.00     Wood stain, 2 cans, dark and medium.  Did not work out well, but I might use them for other projects in the future.
$ 2.00     Tung oil, quart, $17.00 but enough for several projects.  So I just guessed at the $2 number.  I liked it a lot when I used it on my Davis NVF, not so much on this project.  So the future of the rest of this quart is uncertain.
$ 5.00      Sandpaper
$ 6.00      Knobs, metal, three.  Actually I have no memory of what I paid for them.
$11.00     Sewing machine needles, three.  Yes, it takes obscure and obsolete needles.  Of course.

$196 total.  mwahahahaha.   Is this now what the machine is "worth"?   MWAHAHAHAHA.

How about adding in the labor?  I have a general idea of the time I spent (and will spend to finish), and it is somewhere between 100 and 150 hours.  No kidding.

Let's be conservative and say 100 hours.  My time (and yours, and everyone else's) is worth $25/hour at a minimum.  The guy who mows my yard charges more than this.  Are you worth less?  No.

$196 + (100 hours x $25) = $2696.  Yeah.  Right.

So what is the REAL economic story here?  For less than $200 I amused myself no end for over 100 hours.  I have lots of chemicals and supplies left over for future projects.  I will have an amazing sewing machine like no other at the end of the project.  It will be worth $35.  It might even sew.  I don't know, I haven't tried yet.

Yes, you heard that right. I have not tested it yet. I started dis-assembling it for cleaning and painting before those precious antique needles arrived.  The point of this project was the experimentation, not the end product.

Are you anxious to see that final product now?  So am I.  One more coat of paint and then the decal creation and application to go.

I don't usually spend 100+ hours on a machine, but this summer has been a b.  You can spell the rest of it for yourself.  And I am not talking about the weather.

There are many of us who use craft and hobbies to distract ourselves from the unpleasant realities of life.  If you are also one of those people, please know that you are not alone.  If you are feeling alone, start a blog.  You might be amazed at where it will lead you.


  1. lol Therapeutic value: Priceless : )

  2. I can't wait to see the pics, I love taking a really dirty gummed up machine and making it work. I only have 4, my husband thinks I should sell one before I buy another but which would I sell?

  3. My cheap, $8 dresser turned into over $150 after supplies (not including my labor) to strip and refinish. Not the best job, but, I sure like it now, in my antique filled guest bedroom sitting next to my oldest treadle (1889). A good new dresser would have cost way more than that one, and not been as pretty. Looking forward to seeing what you did (no sewing machine police here).

  4. Definitely worth it for the therapeutic value - can't put a price tag on that! And I can totally relate - can't wait to see the big reveal!

  5. My shop is my haven. Right now it is full. I have a lifetime supply of projects. I have never kept track of my time, though. Maybe the next project I will. Still, I would rather pay myself 25 dollars an hour for 100 hours than spend it on psychotherapy. Just look at it this way, your therapy is way cheaper than a professional at four times that rate ! Plus you have your piece to admire and love in the end.

  6. sorry summer has rhymed with witch. my hobbies are an absolute solace to me as well. we deserve the fun!

  7. The real economic story here is that the cost of fair remuneration of labour is demonstrated in all its naked truth. Employers take note!
    (Just read the 13 October post, irons look great).


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