Bootstrap Business Ideas: Pyrographic Art, Glass Terrariums, and More

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One reader established a bootstrap business dressing pheasants for hunters who weren't prepared to do it themselves.

The following are bootstrap business ideas readers came up with after reading articles in MOTHER EARTH NEWS.

MOTHER EARTH NEWS’ article on “Fine-Feathered Hatbands” helped me establish a rewarding home business in less than one week’s time!

I live in a region that has a large pheasant population, so I did a bit of investigating (after studying your hatband write-up) and found that there were quite a few out-of-town hunters who needed help dressing pheasants they’ve killed. I let it be known — in the local filling stations and motels — that I was interested in providing such a service . . . and within two days I’d received a batch of 18 pheasants to prepare.

I set my rates at $1.00 a bird, but my first customers were so pleased with my work that they paid me $30 — a $12 bonus over the fee I’d requested. In addition, my clients left me the pheasants’ plumage, which I put to good use in my experiments with hatband designs. I invested $7.00 in a variety of suede scraps at the local shoe repair shop, and promptly sold five handmade headwear adornments at $7.50 each . . . for a profit of $30.50!

Well, that was just six days after I’d first read MOTHER EARTH NEWS’ article, and already I’d established a pretty steady income. Word of my new service spread throughout the community, and before long I acquired a number of regular customers. I’ve come to count on a pheasant per day, for example, from one fellow who’s made a habit of hunting along the lengthy route from his home to his job here in town. And, on occasion, I dress out chickens and ducks in addition to the more exotic birds. (Recently, one load of barnyard fowl earned me my fee plus two ducks … and, while cleaning the birds’ gizzards, I found four tiny pieces of gold!)

Meanwhile, I’m saving up feathers for my hatband handiwork because Easter is on its way;  since that holiday causes folks to look for fashion finery, I know I have a booming business to look forward to. Thanks, Mom . . . this sure beats sitting behind a desk!

Lorri Ides

Corning, Iowa

I recently put MOTHER EARTH NEWS’ “Sun-Burned Art” idea into action and It’s been bringing in money ever since.

First I purchased a small, $4.00 magnifying glass and began to experiment with the art form on some lumber scraps that I had around the house. After a number of tries, when I felt I’d mastered the skill, I set out to find a way to peddle my wares. As luck would have it, an outdoor craft bazaar was soon scheduled to be held nearby. So I bought a $2.00 piece of 318″ x 4″ x 8′ cedar and set to work with my 3″ magnifying glass singeing wooden buttons.

By the time the festive day arrived, I’d completed enough art objects to set up a nice display … but I continued to make the sunburned buttons In order to demonstrate the process to potential customers, and soon folks began to request custom-made slogan pins (many with anti-nuclear and pro-solar themes). I was able to fashion 21 buttons from one piece of cedar, and-after all the accessories (Including glue, pins, and varnish) were accounted for-I calculated that the wooden masterpieces had required just 30¢ (and only half an hour) apiece to make.

I sold 17 buttons at $3.00 each during that first fair and earned a profit of $45.90 for about 8 1/2 hours of work. The money was promptly invested in more wood and accessory supplies, and I spent the next weekend sun-burning a new stockpile of slogan buttons. Then I made the rounds of the local gift stores in an effort to peddle my product on consignment . . . and two shop proprietors took me up on my offer. I let the stores display my handiwork on a couple of stands that had been made to order by one of my welder friends (I returned the favor by doing some delivery work for him in my pickup truck) . . . and I was in business.

My pyrographic art enterprise now has a steady flow of sales and orders … and though I’m studying full time, my part-time occupation has been helping to pay my living expenses by earning me an average of $150 per month!

Lance Ollenberger

Burnaby, B.C., Canada

While looking through a local flower shop for a bit of colorful cheer to take to my hospitalized wife, I noticed some delightful glass terrariums of varying shapes and sizes that were selling for up to $35 each.

What interested me most about the plant containers was that I was certain, after studying them awhile, that I could put together equally appealing indoor gardens myself. After all, MOTHER EARTH NEWS had already given me the glass-cutting experience I needed when she’d taught me to build a greenhouse in the article entitled “Joseph Orr’s Fabulous ‘Mud-Heat Storage’ Solar Greenhouse.”

I’d mastered a number of useful glass-cutting fundamentals while building my own version of that structure: I learned to [1] protect my blade from striking against hard surfaces, [2] clean each piece of glass before beginning to score it, [3] lubricate the line to be severed with motor oil mixed with an equal part of either kerosene or fuel oil, [4] position myself so that each incision could be made with one continuous sweep, [5] use a wooden straightedge as a guide in cutting, [6] apply firm but not excessive pressure on the carving implement (to keep the glass from “flaking,” which results in a coarse split), and [7] lightly rub the razor-sharp edges of each glass break with sandpaper or emery cloth.

I had a cutter and plenty of extra scrap glass at home, so the only material I needed to purchase was a tube of silicone bathtub seal (at a cost of $1.98 … which provided me with enough for about four terrariums). Then I designed, laid out, and cut the pieces for a pyramid-shaped plant holder. . . devised a jig to keep the glass in position … applied a neat bead of silicone bathtub caulk to each of the container’s joints … and let it set overnight. Next, l trimmed off the excess silicone seal with a single-edge razor and cut the terrarium’s door. In addition, to provide added strength and waterproofing, I ran an extra bead of caulking along the joints on the inside of the terrarium and allowed another day for curing. Finally, I took my finished demonstrator model around to the local flower and gift shops (florists, I discovered, usually prefer to arrange their own plants in the decorative holders) … and I began to take orders.

To my surprise, almost every shopkeeper that I approached was interested in selling my handiwork. I was offered an average of $16 per unit for an investment of less than $1.00 and only two hours’ time … and with a little more salesmanship, I figure that before long I’ll have a downright busy business!

Ed Hayden, Jr.

Germantown, Wis.

I’ve always done a good deal of sewing for myself, my family, and my friends . . . so Edith Kilgo’s article “it Pays to Be an Old Sew-and-Sew” was right up my alley.

However — although I’d made lots of clothing, cushions, and stuffed animals over the years and had even worked a bit with leather — the few occasions when I’d tried to sell my wares had been quite unpleasant for me (and I was often left with much more merchandise than I’d managed to vend). Consequently, when Ms. Kilgo’s story convinced me to turn my hobby Into a full-time enterprise, I determined to sell only by order.

Coincidentally, our village seamstress was, when I was ready to “open shop”, on the verge of retiring after 20 years in business . . . and she was kind enough to take the time to show me a number of tricks of the trade. Then — with my confidence bolstered — I posted an ad in the window of a prominent grocery store and displayed a box of handmade business cards in a popular clothing shop.

My initial investment in the enterprise was only $44: $40 for a secondhand zig-zag sewing machine and $4.00 for an invisible hem attachment (a real time-saver!). I used Ms. Kilgo’s price list to determine fees for my sewing jobs . . . making an attempt to set the rates at approximately $3.00 per hour. (For example, I charge $7.00 to make an A-line skirt, $4.00 for a child’s blouse with cut-in sleeves, $3.50 to hem a pair of pants by hand, and $3.00 to replace a zipper.)

Within my first three months In business, I obtained 15 customers and was sewing an average of three days per week. And, as word of my enterprise spreads, I expect I’ll soon be stitching full time. After all, sewing is a service that’s always In demand . . . and I can’t imagine a more satisfying and profitable venture for me!

Louise Drouin

St.Urbain-de-Charlevoix, Que., Canada

Though I live in Camden, New Jersey, I am able to receive Philadelphia’s station WRTI (the voice of Temple University) … which carries THE MOTHER EARTH NEWS Radio Show daily. Consequently, I tune in to MOTHER EARTH NEWS’ program on a regular basis … and one recent presentation on the basics of making essential oils from fat and flowers inspired me to turn the idea into a moneymaking enterprise.

The show was based on an article entitled “Let’s Enfleurage!” . . . and as I listened to the discussion of using fats to extract the fragrance from flowers, I became convinced that it held the key to an enjoyable source of income.

I began my enterprise by purchasing a 55-galIon drum of fat . . . which I rendered myself, and used to produce a variety of scents from blossoms, herbs, and even a number of spices taken right out of my pantry.

Then I set out for the swamps and collected a garbage bag full of cattails. I let the plants dry . . . sorted them into groups of large and small . . . and left them to soak overnight in the aromatic oils I’d accumulated.

When my “cattail incense” had dried for a day, I packaged it up into bags containing either two large or three small scented sticks and headed over the bridge to Philadelphia to sell my wares. I kept a cattail burning alongside my incense display so that customers could “sniff out” the quality of my handiwork for themselves … and in only five hours’ time I’d sold $80 worth of the sweet-smelling product!

All in all, I spent $97.50 for the spices, plastic bags, and fat that I needed to set myself up In business. But it took only about $4.00 of that initial investment to produce the first batch of incense that I peddled, netting me a total first day’s profit of $76! I’m convinced that MOTHER EARTH NEWS’ advice and information is not only of value to back-to-the-landers . . . it works for us “city slickers” too!

Phil Smith

Camden, New Jersey

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