Ex-carpenter Dino talks to Core77 about jobsite creativity, designing better products, an almost-fatal woodworking accident, and two old Tonys who called him stupid.
Core77: Although most of the people we interview have backgrounds in industrial design, yours is in carpentry, which gave you the background to design the EZ Smart System. How long did you do carpentry for?
Dino: Twenty-five years total.
What types of projects did you work on?
I specialized in projects with historical restoration, special moldings, restoring fire damaged houses; we'd have to to duplicate existing designs and moldings--you couldn't just go to the store and buy replacements. You're forced to invent, you're forced to create, you're forced to make things different. Especially with old houses, you have to be very creative to bring it back to the original look and the methods that they used to use. You cannot use the same methods all the time but you have to find different ways, so that's what we did.
Most laypeople think of carpenters and builders as people who just follow plans, but in fact there's a fair amount of creativity involved, no?
You can see many inventions out there that [construction guys] use every day.
For example, the "dead man"--something you make with two-by-fours formed into a "T" that can hold up a piece of dry wall in the ceiling. I worked to make my own perfect "dead man", and it took me about five years. Of course, you may never see it on the market--it's not easy to bring stuff out on the market!
When I was doing carpentry, me and my guys--I had two guys working with me, James and Alex--eventually formed a habit before starting any construction job. Our habit was to sit down for five minutes and take a look at the job and the whole project. Why? To anticipate and solve the problems that might arise.
And we had fun. Every day our goal was to have fun finding new ways to do things; it was a game to invent new ways of doing things, for many years. One day we sat down and wrote down all of our inventions and ideas, and we had a total of over 300 between us.
And that was your motivation to get out of the carpentry business and into the invention business?
That, and because I was very upset to see people [in construction] working stupid, basically. It's not that they're stupid--that's how they were taught to do things. You can be working on a job for a year, and later find out just how stupid you were after the job. And I know this because I myself have worked in a stupid way.
One time I was doing a bathroom renovation for a government job in Union, Essex County. It was like a one and a half million dollar job and I was a sub-contractor there. An old man came up to me, looked at my work and said, "That is a really stupid way to do it." I said, "Are you talking to me? I'm the best contractor here!" And he said, "My God. Stupid...." and walked away.
A couple of days later I saw him. The fact that he had called me stupid bothered me and I said to him, "Can you tell me where you see stupidity in my work?" I was doing tiling work at the time.
"Everything that you do is wrong," he said, "but I can't even tell you because your mind is closed. Look at your reaction--you don't want to learn, you just want to confront me." I said, "No, I want to learn."
Eventually he said, "Okay. Go ahead and buy the perfect straight-edge. Spend two, three, four hundred dollars. Find something that is super straight. And make a super-straight ten, twelve-foot level with an accessory, like a sliding square that rides along it, so you know that your tiles are perfectly level and square, because you need both in order to have a quick, easy, and fast job."
I said, "Okay, good idea, makes sense to me. You see? I'm ready to learn." But you know what, I never found the time to listen to his idea. By the end of the job I had two bathrooms left and I said, "You know what, let me see if I can follow this guy's idea." So I took my time and I made that device, the way the old man had advised me to do. I did two bathrooms with it--just to find out how stupid I was all this time. Because if I had listened to that guy from day one, I would have made $200,000-$300,000 dollars more on that project. From just taking five minutes to think about it.
I realized that's a major problem--we often don't take the time to think. We're afraid of losing five, ten minutes. And that was the second time someone had called me stupid.
What was the first time?
The first time was in New York, when I was working on a construction job at 450 Park Avenue, remodeling some offices. One of the carpenters on the jobsite was an old man, working alone, but he was outperforming my crew--me and two more guys! We had all the super tools, any tool you can imagine. This guy had only circular saw and one bag filled with homemade stuff, and he outperformed all three of us.
I watched him working and he amazed me, he had an answer for everything. But the first time I had asked him something he told me something like, "Why should I tell you, if you're not going to listen anyway?" and called me stupid.
These two people were both named Tony. Two old Tonys called me stupid, and they taught me to use my time and think. Before I met them I thought I was good and very inventive, but these guys were way above me and they showed me that I was wrong. Of course then I did feel stupid, and realized I better stay open-minded for the rest of my life. And that's what I did.
We like that the design of the EZ Smart has an emphasis on safety, which we feel will make it useful not only for people in the construction trade, but for regular "civilian" consumers and DIY'ers. Did you ever have any bad accidents?
Early on, one of the tools I used for construction was a radial arm saw I had in my garage. One day I needed to rip a piece of wood. [For the layperson: to "rip" a piece of wood is to cut it lengthwise, as opposed to crosscutting. --Ed.] The directions said you can use it to rip--but if you talk to an experienced person now, they will tell you never to do that!
I read all the directions, tested it out, and everything was ok. And as I was ripping a two-by-four, it launched. This thing became like a rocket, broke through a cinderblock wall and shaved my son's head. I almost killed the kid. Imagine if the two-by-four was a few inches lower. My son was two years old.
When you have an experience like that with a power tool, it stays with you for the rest of your life.
I called the company and complained. I said, "Why did you tell me I could do this? I read all the directions, I did everything right and I almost killed my son." Their answer was "It's not our problem--and nothing happened, so why are you bothering us?"
After about 20 years they are not making radial arm saws so much, because of so many lawsuits they have against them. Meaning what happened to me has happened to many other people. And that was the time that I realized tools can have serious problems in their design--it's not just the people, I was good with tools, I was good with my hands, and there are other people bringing lawsuits. So if that happened to me, that could happen to anybody.
As I continued working in construction, I knew of other crews that had accidents. After years of seeing and hearing about these accidents, you start thinking "Something is wrong here. Why all these accidents? Why do we have to pay $20,000 in insurance a year?" Because some people use dangerous tools, and they have all these accidents.
Eventually I saved some money and said "No more construction for me." I decided to invent tools that allowed easier and safer ways for everybody to work.
And safety is designed into the EZ Smart.
The protection we offer is the best. It was voted the best by Fine Homebuilding magazine, even better than other more expensive systems from Europe.
For example--this is the major thing with the table saw: the table saw offers repeatability because you have a fence. But when you use wood against a fence and a blade, you have the potential for binding, kickbacks and accidents. With the EZ Smart, we came up with a way to drop the "fence" [The EZ Smart Repeaters, which you can see in the video below. --Ed.] under the guide rail so the blade can run on top of it without cutting the fence. When you cut, your wood drops down and there is no binding along a fence, the material contacts the repeaters only at two small points. That's not enough to create an accident. It's not enough to create a kickback or throw the wood in front of you or anything like that.
In the online forums , your customers offer a lot of feedback on the product. Does that influence your designs for upgrades and the like?
Of course. If we see that we can integrate a better idea, even if it will eliminate another EZ Smart product we'll do that in five seconds. We have an open forum that anybody can enter and talk about the system to make it better. How to make the systems better for all our users is an open discussion, 24 hours a day.
I read and write in the forums often because I'm a user too. A big difference between me and other manufacturers is that I see myself as a user--I use EZ Smart more than anyone else, and I need my tools to work perfectly for me.
At its inception, EurekaZone used to have a booths at the trade shows, but has since stopped appearing. Why is that?
When we started up we would go to the trade shows and we were selling like crazy, maybe $20,000 weekly. Then we had to work like crazy to cover our orders, and we didn't like that, because we no longer had time to refine the product. We're still small. If you don't pay attention to refining your product, one day you're gonna end up with a million problems. We don't want to have 100,000 customers if they're unsatisfied.
Right now we're focused on refining the product and upgrading anything that is old that people don't feel comfortable with. We're at the point where the first generation of EZ Smart tools have been redesigned a few times, and I think we're getting close to perfect. As soon as we're finished with that stage--and I mean it's days away, not months away--then we're gonna go into high production. We manufacture in the U.S., and we already have the machines ready to go.
And after you go into high production, what's next for EurekaZone?
Right now we're building the foundation for what's coming next--more inventions and product development. If you see a bridge saw on the market that's about 30, 40, $50,000, we'll bring it down to $150 bucks with the same designs, the same concepts, the same principles as we've been using. Our Powerbench has become very popular, and when we have enough units on the market, we're going to introduce a unique system that can adapt any tool to the table, in a way that complies with the deadwood concept. It works so good that's it's unbelievable--but again, we cannot have this invention on the market until we have enough people using the Powerbench.
We're small and we don't have all the power and the money to proceed with all of our ideas yet. But we believe that woodworking can be 99.9 percent safe, and we want to keep coming up with new inventions to support that. And everything is going to comply with the "dead wood" concept because we believe in it.
After that, we're gonna sit down with our customers in another forum, and let the customers decide which direction they want to see EurekaZone take. I want to see if I can take this company to my customers and let the customers take over. Because I was never a businessman, and this company is not about me; it's about woodworking.
Here's a link to our write-up on the EZ Smart Guide.
N. Rain Noe is an editor for Core77. He enjoys straight lines and right angles.