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Friday, July 2, 2010

Fight woodworking scams

Have you bought woodworking plans online? Do you know where they come from and who is selling them?

You don’t have to search long to find countless web sites hawking “thousands of woodworking plans on one DVD” for under $50. Gee, what a bargain.

In the May 2010 issue of Wood Magazine, Tom Iovino wrote an article about this very subject. Tom shelled out 49 bucks to see what he would actually get on that DVD. First off, he counted around 6,000 project plans compared to the 14,000 advertised. About half aren’t even full plans, but merely drawings without any instruction. Many are simply repeated.
It gets worse. Many are just copied directly out of magazines and books. Important elements of projects are missing. A number (okay, I’m going to guess most) are downloaded from reputable web sites and dumped onto the disc.

YouTube woodworking scams

Recently I’ve received a large number of “video response” requests on my YouTube channel. Normally, these are videos from people who have made something similar to the project in my video and want to show it off. It’s a great way for people to get their stuff seen.

Thankfully, I have my channel set to require my approval on all video response requests. Lately, the requests have been nothing but spam. Quickie videos, with nothing but text, gaudy colors and poor font choices, trying to get people to buy $49 DVDs containing “over 14,000 plans”. There is no effort put into them at all. One guy actually has a channel set up that shows episodes of The New Yankee Workshop — titles and credits removed — and plastered with his web site address!

Strangely, I started to notice that all of these hack YouTube channels point to different web sites, yet the sites are identical. After a little poking around, it didn’t take long to figure out what’s going on here.

How it works

The web sites — which contain no woodworking info other than one long ad for the DVD — all have a link to their “affiliate program” explaining how you can sell the DVDs too. Aha…it’s a “multi-level marketing” scheme.

I suspect the pitch goes something like this: "No experience necessary. You don’t even need to know anything about woodworking. We’ll show you how to set up your own web site just like this one. You get to keep 75% of the profits. We’ll even show you how to become a Ebay master seller! Be a star on YouTube! People will flock to your site! Get others to become affiliates and make even more $$!"

It’s one thing for suckers to get drawn into pyramid schemes, but quite another when the core product is most likely comprised of stolen material. Look, designing woodworking projects is a creative endeavor that takes a lot of time, patience, money and testing. Coming up with detailed plans with accurate instructions, cutting lists, and technical drawings takes skill and hard work. It’s akin to an author writing a book or a musician composing a song. They deserve to be paid and not have hacks stealing plans and reselling them.

How to detect woodworking scammers

  1. If the deal sounds too good to be true, yep, it is. For sake of illustration, imagine that a legitimate plan goes for $3.95. 14,000 should run you $55,300. In the case of 14,000 plans for $49, each plan costs $.0035. And that’s about what they are worth. Imagine that a real, legitimate woodworker was selling his plans for .0035 cents each. If he sold 10 a day, he would earn a whopping $100 in, well, just a little over seven and a half years.

  2. Take a close look at the web site selling this stuff. Does it offer any other woodworking info? Does it offer advice or tips? Are there articles? Is there discussion? Is there any level of user interactivity? Does it have links to useful woodworking resources? Does it have anything about woodworking on it at all, besides one long ad for the DVD? Probably not. In fact, most are simply one long page that seems to scroll on forever. Check out the domain. One sent to me lives on a .tk domain. That’s the domain for Tokelau. Nope, I’ve never heard of it either. Plus, these sites really look cheesy, like they were designed circa 1999. And they use a lot of exclamation marks.  

  3. Look for an offer to “become an affiliate”. This is a typical multilevel marketing appeal. By getting others to sell something, you get richer. It’s not technically a pyramid scheme because there is an actual product involved, but you’ll make more money by recruiting others and NOT selling the product yourself. 

  4. On YouTube, plan scams are pretty easy to spot. Of course if a user uploads Norm Abram videos, strips the credits and adds his own URL to the video, that’s a pretty good hint! Some of these guys set up a channel and upload videos that look like nothing more than PowerPoint presentations. Screen after screen of text pitching the DVDs and directing you to a web site. I have a feeling most of these guys have no idea how YouTube works, but think they can make a fortune really quick. It’s probably in the “affiliate” instructions. Check out the channel page of the video you are watching. It probably has little or no personal identity or flair. And for God’s sake, if you are a plan scammer don’t ask me to post one of your lame-o videos on my channel!

Fight back and spread the word. Things you can do.

Professional woodworkers are busy actually creating and do not have the money, resources or time to constantly battle this stuff. However, there is a way to fight back without lawyers and judges, and it won’t cost any money. I am doing it right now by getting the word out and increasing awareness of woodworking piracy. It is nearly impossible to stop people from selling pirated material. Efforts to end scams need to need to focus on buyers.
  1. Buy from reputable woodworking plan sellers who resell plans with permission and compensate the designers. If you are in doubt, ask.
  2. Buy individual plans at a time. I mean really, can you make 14,000 projects? If you want to do some fine woodworking, be prepared to pay an honest rate for plans.  
  3. Buy directly from the designers themselves. There are lots of guys selling their own plans on their own web sites. You'll get a fair deal. Plus, a lot of times you can talk directly to the designer if you need help. 
  4. Design your own stuff! Get involved in woodworking communities, online or off. Sign up with LumberJocks.com. If you need help with something and post your question, you'll get help from real guys all over the world in a few minutes. 
  5. Most importantly, spread the message that woodworking piracy is not acceptable. Spread it through your social networks. If you buy a plan from a reputable seller, reward them by Tweeting about your experience. Tell your friends on Facebook about the issue. Write an article on your blog. Post links to legitimate plan sellers.  
Remember, woodworking plans are designed by real guys with skills far beyond mine who put a lot of time into creating and testing them. By purchasing pirated plans you are robbing someone of his livelihood.

Where to get legit woodworking plans

Do not buy woodworking plans, videos or DVDs sold on Ebay. I’m sorry to make this a blanket statement, but there is just too much pirated stuff to possibly weed out the good stuff. Ebay has become nothing more than a magnet for shady dealers.

I have compiled a list of reputable woodworking plan web sites. Prices will vary depending on the plan you want. Many are free. But think about it; if you want to build an armoire, you are probably going to spend hundreds of dollars on wood and supplies. A few bucks for a decent plan will go a long way. And the guy who actually did the heavy lifting designing and testing it will be compensated. It’s a win-win situation. And that’s a real bargain.

— Steve Ramsey, WoodworkingForMereMortals.com

This article is freely distributable without modification. Feel free to copy or link to this article. Tweet it or post it to Facebook. Send it out on carrier pigeons. And feel free to  link to my list of reputable plan sites. You can also download a printer-friendly PDF of this article.


  1. Hey Mere Mortal........nicely done....but it goes beyond just plans. Even in this podcasting stuff we've allowed individuals to get away with murder and rearrange the work of others. We've seen supposed major magazines support this by selling the product. Now if like you said, the proceeds where to benefit the Maloof foundation then I'd already have a copy.We did see an organization stop somebody,which was the correct thing to do. That's what we need more of....calling people out when copying without an individual reference or granted authorization. We let people slide which I'm just as guilty of.

    There was a time when you would be asked to leave a woodworking show because you showed basically a knock-off. The organizers of these shows today are students of event planning not craft and today don't know what's new and what's been done before. This allows the current young woodworkers to validate what they have shown. It's very weird to watch things go full circle ending in nothing new but a copy.

    Hopefully the WoodExpo addresses some of this.

  2. On every single YouTube video, there's a "report abuse" link. It doesn't sound like much, but if everyone who notices - as you have - blatant copyright infringement (let's be clear here: there's a case for Fair Use, but ripping off episodes of NYW without proper attribution ain't it) were to actually report these things as abuse, it would curtail the efforts of scammers.

  3. I agree 100% Mere Mortal. Frugal does not mean taking advantage of somebody else by selling off work that doesn't belong to them. Bad deeds should not be rewarded. Thanks for spearheading this.

  4. I have been thinking of writing this exact post for some time, but you did it PERFECTLY!

    I am going to tweet this to death!!!!

    Good job.

  5. Wow... I knew this was going to happen sooner or later. This just re-enforces my belief to add my website address to ALL assembly videos! Funny thing is, I see "ads" for my books online and when I click on them, they go to a bit torrent site. So this is an even bigger issue than just plan compilation and videos being ripped.


  6. Hi Steve,

    I just found your website a little while ago and this was the first article I've read. Very, very interesting. Anyway, I went and checked my FB page and what do I fine? Check out "Tedswoodworking.com" and buy 16,000 plans for $67 or 14,000 plans at "woodworking4home.com" for $49. You know what is really interesting? The web sites appear to be almost identical! None of my family or friends like to make sawdust so it doesn't do any good for me to warn them. But, you've warned me and for that, I thank you!

    Fan Cravotta
    Franklin, TN

  7. Wish I could spell me name...

    Dan Cravotta

  8. Steve,
    Thanks for the information.
    I just had some woodworking plan ",tk" subscribe to follow me on twitter.
    There was another spammer in there too, not ww related.
    I blocked both of them.

  9. Hi Steve,

    As far as I know the teds woodworking program is totally legit. It also keeps my blog alive with a couple of sales a month.
    The FTC is going down hard on scammers and copyright pirates and any platform that helps them sell their stuff. And they haven't taken the product down.
    I do agree that nobody needs 16000 plans and I loved the video.
    BTW is it okay if I link to your blog from my site? I think it's fantastic.
    Best regards, Rob.

  10. Hi Steve,
    Well done. I found you web just a few weeks ago and you have inspired me to just get moving in my woodworking shop. I even started with your advent calendar project. So, while waiting for paint to dry I would watch more of your posts when I cam across this one. I must say, you teach well. You got your point across with me. I, like you, am cheep and don't want to spend anymore than I have too. Yet, your point of giving the creating people their rightful dues is very important to me. I'd hate for someone to steal my ideas, share them with the world and I miss out on the revenue which is due.
    Thanks for going through the task of informing others of Pirated plans.

    Ricardo, Milwaukee, WI.

  11. Really helpful info. do you know Matthias Wandel plans?

    1. Matthias totally rocks. He may be a complete geek, but he's the coolest geek on the block. His creations -- especially his machines and jigs -- are brilliantly conceived, thoroughly documented, and beautifully constructed. He's an inspiration to the woodworking community.

    2. Matthias' plans are amazing! Detailed and cheap, fir what he includes! I bought his router pantograph plans- I also havd the video of the build on my channel, which he linked from his website. I had a question which he emailed me back to answer within a short time, despite being 7 hours behind me in time zones. You can buy his plans with real confidence!


  12. Dear Steve,
    Excellent essay and yes, only purchase from reputable sellers who fairly compensate the designers for the work they do.

    And I love your YouTube videos.

    Selkie Wood Works

  13. Great Article Steve,

    This is one of the reasons we started an online marketplace for woodworkers. This is a place where designers can post plans, set their price, and then be reviewed by the buyers. Our site is still in Beta right now as we screen designers, but you're welcome to visit it at www.sawtoothideas.com. Keep up the great articles, we love your site!

    Will @ Sawtooth Ideas

    1. The above site initially looks legitimate but you have to register just to browse the available plans. If you are geniune, you shouldn't need to force someomne to enter their details just to view your content as I'll subscribe if I like your site.

      However, I'll have to suspect it is not genuine for now...

  14. Hey woodworker love your blog and tips!

    FYI .tk is a free URL forwarder, and they own all .tk URLs for more info on .tk check out www.dot.tk

    Where did you hear it was the domain for Tokelau?

  15. I enjoyed your video with Matthias Wandel. Wonderfully creative; however because of your video on woodworking scams; I was compelled by my conscience to write this comment. I am very concerned about all the scams worldwide. People around the world have a lot of different talents---but using those talents to scam other people is the lowest form of criminality. I will work with all people of goodwill to fight all forms. God bless and more power to you Steve and to a wonderful engineer named Matias Wandel.

    Manny Crisol
    Personal Site: http://www.mannycrisol.com

  16. I must agree with the principle of 'if it sounds too good to be true...' To date the only plans I have purchased were from Matthias Wandel. This isn't to say that I haven't used a bunch of the free plans as starting points, like the plans for a bowed psaltry.

  17. My name Is Jon, and I am a dumbass. I fell for this about three months ago and am REALLY mad......at myself for being a complete idiot. I was so enthralled with buying my first house and the opportunity it had with a shop that I didn't do any diligence about looking harder into that product. I no longer like any guy named Ted.....Thank you for sharing this article.

  18. Hello Folks,

    Fred here .... I am a new woodworker who has been burned twice before I realised what was going on. I have met so many good people on the woodworkers sites, I was fooled that anyone associated with woodworking could be trusted.

    Is there any where we can report these people ? It really bothers me that they are selling plans that are copyrighted, also they sell free plans from authors without giving those folks credit.