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Thread: Is there money in woodworking?

  1. #1

    Is there money in woodworking?

    Other than making kitchen cabinets, is there money in it? I've always kept it as a hobby. I once heard of a guy who won the lottery say he's going to keep wood working until the money runs out. Lol

  2. #2
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    There can be but the margins are low. I got out of it professionally 15yrs ago, I went to a furniture design/build school started out building just furniture then one day I found myself with 5 employees building kitchens, banks, hospitals etc...There certainly are exceptions but it requires time, perseverance and a will to sacrifice, I was working min 12hr days 5-6 days a week. For me its a lot easier to go to work get a paycheck, full benefits and 10% match with raises and bonuses every year but Iím a sell out, lol. Now I build what I want and make a little on the side...


    mark

    Quote Originally Posted by Travis Conner View Post
    Other than making kitchen cabinets, is there money in it? I've always kept it as a hobby. I once heard of a guy who won the lottery say he's going to keep wood working until the money runs out. Lol
    Last edited by Mark e Kessler; 02-19-2020 at 2:26 AM.

  3. #3
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    You can do okay, and you only need to work half days. A half day is 12 hours. I closed my business after 8 years. Started making the decision to close when I was working alone in the shop on Sunday afternoons. 6 1/2 day work weeks, 11 hour work days, with sales calls in the evenings when people were home. I saw my two young children at dinner and Sunday mornings. Some evenings too if I didn't have a sales call. Often I didn't get to start working in the shop until after lunch. Answering phone calls, working on designs and estimates, doing accounting duties, etc... You really become more of a businessman and less of a craftsman. I made the decision to close when I was offered a job at Woodworker's Journal. A 5 day week with benefits. That job left when the magazine went to Rockler. Turned out well as I went back to my corporate job at Caterpillar, and am collecting a pension check every month now. Been retired 5 years now, I'd still have been working in my business if I kept it going since I wasn't able to make the profits to invest for retirement. Oh yeah, making kitchen cabinets is about the most cut throat way to may a living there is. Imagine having to compete with IKEA, or flat pack cabinets from China? EVERY small shop says they can provide the special service needed for customer satisfaction. So that means nothing these days. So it then always relates back to price!
    Last edited by Richard Coers; 02-18-2020 at 11:11 PM.

  4. #4
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    Im a cabinet maker.

    You can’t make good money without it mirroring exactly as stated above. You can make crap money otherwise,

    Anyone I know making cool stuff or that likes what they do has a spouse with a really good job.

    So my answer is no, it’s a hard way to make a living so you better love what you do.

    I choose to work for someone, I know what I can and can not count on week to week if I do my 40 hrs. It’s crap to be quite honest. For it to be ok I have to work 60hrs a week 52 weeks a year..

    But I like what I do, I was building custom cabs and liked it but was getting bored. I’m now building pipe organs and from what I can tell it’s way more fine Woodworking than kitchens. Ideally I’d make furniture but then I’d really be broke!


    I want o like what I do and not be poor, hard thing to do in any field,
    Quote Originally Posted by Richard Coers View Post
    You can do okay, and you only need to work half days. A half day is 12 hours. I closed my business after 8 years. Started making the decision to close when I was working alone in the shop on Sunday afternoons. 6 1/2 day work weeks, 11 hour work days, with sales calls in the evenings when people were home. I saw my two young children at dinner and Sunday mornings. Some evenings too if I didn't have a sales call. Often I didn't get to start working in the shop until after lunch. Answering phone calls, working on designs and estimates, doing accounting duties, etc... You really become more of a businessman and less of a craftsman. I made the decision to close when I was offered a job at Woodworker's Journal. A 5 day week with benefits. That job left when the magazine went to Rockler. Turned out well as I went back to my corporate job at Caterpillar, and am collecting a pension check every month now. Been retired 5 years now, I'd still have been working in my business if I kept it going since I wasn't able to make the profits to invest for retirement. Oh yeah, making kitchen cabinets is about the most cut throat way to may a living there is. Imagine having to compete with IKEA, or flat pack cabinets from China? EVERY small shop says they can provide the special service needed for customer satisfaction. So that means nothing these days. So it then always relates back to price!

  5. #5
    It depends. Is there (good) money in custom, hand-crafted furniture making? Short answer: No, not really. Long answer: you need to define (good) money...

    Most folks who operate doing this professionally, even the extremely talented ones, would struggle to consistently support a family (or hope to build up a savings account outside of the business) just from that alone without a spouse also providing income or some other diversified income streams (such as routinely taking on other types of more profitable work, teaching woodworking, etc.)

    Most who walk this path (myself included when I have the opportunity to do this work) recognize the privilege of being able to spend their days doing creative and inspiring work they love and prescribe their own value figure to that element that offsets the inevitable lower “wage” that you usually end up being able to pay yourself because you’ve put so much into your work. This is different for every person and their own financial situations, but there usually comes a time when the harsh reality of impending financial responsibilities play into how much labor you can actually afford to put into a piece. I think the key to a long and sustainable career in this realm is to learn to live simply and keep your overall expenses low enough to “be able to afford” to be a custom fine furniture maker. The specifics would be different case by case.

    I would love for someone to prove me wrong with this assessment.

    Is there money in cabinetry, architectural woodworking, and finish carpentry/ on site “woodworking” that is generally more streamlined in how it’s produced than custom furniture? Yes, there can be if you have the right space, skills, tools, know how to market and sell, and know how to run a sustainable business.

    I may sound cynical, but it’s only because I’ve been on both sides.
    Last edited by Phillip Mitchell; 02-19-2020 at 12:14 AM.
    That's just like, your opinion, man.

  6. #6
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    I’ve worked extensively on both sides except the custom furniture. I’ve do that hear and there but that’s it.

    I can say even the more profitable cabinets millwork so forth and so on are hard knock life. I have yet to meet one single person whom does not struggle to keep afloat. Be them home builders, renovators, cabinet makers, millwork finish carpenters you name it. Some, do,ok bit only cuz someone else brings home the bacon.

    You can’t have a good life “on paper” as there is no 401k, no pension, and no room to actually save. If you get health insurance paid vacation it’s only because you have been at it a long time and are relented reliable and not a chore to be around.

    You can make a survivalist living. For me with no university it was always better money than the other options. 20 plus years later that’s still the case however I have found a bitch I enjoy and find joy in my work. I’ll get old loose all my teeth and die alone. I’ll be praying I don’t live to long as I won’t be able to afford it.

    Oh and your body will surely poop th bed on you way early. You can’t grasp what this means when your young and it hasn’t happened yet.
    Last edited by Patrick Walsh; 02-18-2020 at 11:43 PM.

  7. #7
    I think everyone struggles to keep the ship sailing in the proper direction, even the folks who are well established and have been at it for a long time. I never said anyone had it easy, but I do think that more opportunity to actually be profitable in this business come after you’ve been around the block a few times.

    The bottom line...the thing you’ll hear nearly everyone say...is that making a living as a woodworker isn’t ever really an easy or overly profitable path to take. Most of us do this because we love it, need some
    element of woodworking in our lives and/or would be miserable doing anything else for a living. But it ain’t easy...
    That's just like, your opinion, man.

  8. #8
    Many do work too cheaply in order to "get in" with big contractors. Way to many! I believe in having some good stock products
    and always showing them ....not just getting the 30 feet of shoe mould they came in for. Even when as an employee
    I came up with proven stock products few in management were interested. One thing I came up with was a 5 foot wide
    elipitical cased opening that would work in any room with a ceiling of 9 feet. I sold 13 of them at $750 each. They were
    all identical. I emphasized the old proven concept of some elegance in parlors and dining rooms. Elegant special pieces do NOT match the stuff in the laundry room. But to many that's a radical idea ! I also made two sizes
    of mitred newel posts and sold a bunch of those. Stopping what you are working on to make something for a
    contractor who always botches counting what he needs is nutty, but real popular.

  9. #9
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    Lafayette, CA
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    I feel fortunate to be able to approach woodworking as a hobby. I take forever to make anything, but the few things I've managed to finish meet my rather fussy criteria, so I'm happy with them. My darling wife has been waiting for two years for the cherry cabinet: Maybe this summer. I'm inching up on it.

    My "day job" is working with high school students when they are not in school: evenings and weekends. I'm 100% full this month and next (good news for income, but no free time in those parts of the week). However, I do have school hours off (when I'm not running invoices or making client calls or keeping records).

    So, make a living from woodworking? Never considered it. I'd starve on the street if I tried to pay the bills with it. Keeping it as a hobby allows me to be good at some tasks, mediocre at others, and downright pitiful at still others. But it's a lifelong pursuit, and that makes it an excellent hobby.

  10. #10
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    Never have and never will make a dime making something for money. I have had several people want me to make them a kitchen, but no way. They probably think I could do it in a couple weeks cheaper than they can buy it, and I know it would take me months at my speed.

    I can't even establish good hobbyist creds, since almost everything I make is designed by the wife or one of the kids. I can't remember the last time I built something because I wanted to.

    Sure glad I had a different job that paid the bills for 34 years.

    That's why I say I am just a DIY guy. With a good tool collection.
    Rick Potter

    DIY journeyman,
    FWW wannabe.
    AKA Village Idiot.

  11. #11
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    My experience doing "full time" custom work for 20 years is not terrible. Basically customers asked for stuff that was very hard to make, not available in stores or they just wanted something they saw in a furniture store on the cheap. As others have posted, once commissioned then the 12 hours a day 7 days a week starts. But being a "full time" theater/studio musician my family only knew me as the guy who missed birthdays, holidays, weekends, graduations. etc. I was also a "full time" adjunct professor at a music college. Eventually I just got tired of the 50 hour weeks piecing together a weird career.

    I quit playing trumpet, quit woodworking, quit teaching and took a day job for 12 years. I went back to woodworking after I retired and started a niche woodworking business making musical instrument stands. So to get to the original question:

    Yes you can make money woodworking but it is hard work. It is easier to make small widgets out of wood and sell them on the internet!

    In closing, it is fine to have a partner with a big day job. But when he or she buys a red sports car convertible things can change in a hurry. Not me but lots of my "full time" musician colleagues. My wife of 51 years did not work outside the home and we both loved it.
    Ask a woodworker to "make your bed" and he/she makes a bed.

  12. #12
    Having recently retired from a wood working, being self employed for the last 22 years, I can say yes, provided: You have a spouse who can carry during lean times, insurance thru a retirement from a former employer, tools and shop (including truck) that are paid for, plus a good customer base. You also need outside skills. As an example, unstopping a toilet pays as much as a day in the shop does. You have to meet customers needs. You install a cabinet, and customer wants it painted, then you paint it. Got a sink in it (rough out already in place) you hook it up. These skills aren't woodworking, but are necessary to succeed. By being able to do hook ups, you can set cabinets and tops in a single trip. $$$$ saved.

  13. #13
    Join Date
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    Really interesting to read all these points of view from those with way more experience than I'll ever have. Thank you for sharing!

    I'm embarrassed to say that I went through the steps to setup a small side business for my woodworking. I'm shy about it because... I'm awful at this damn hobby compared to all the talented folks I see around here, and my customer pace is literally about 1 per month. LOL. Some business!

    All that to say this.... My pitifully low number of customers pay me a fair rate for projects that are fun for me to build. They understand they're getting nice quality at a decent (but NOT cheap) price because I'm slow, I'm picky (I only work on what I want to work on), and I'm often times using their project to learn a new skill.

    Could this replace my actual management consulting job? Hellllllllll nooooooooooooooooooooooooo.

    Do I make enough to make my hobby free to me? YES :-)

    I spend about 2 hours per night in the shop, and longer on the weekends... This enables me to do my day job well, make it to all my kids' activities and dinner etc., and use woodworking as a decompress-from-stress-of-life activity. Besides, my wife ran out of projects for me to build inside the house, so I need to use the tools somehow.

    When I retire someday, I'd love to continue this pace. Great way to meet people and keep the hobby alive.
    - Bob R.
    Collegeville PA (30 minutes west of Philly)

  14. #14
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    I’ve been self employed since 1982. It’s tough but rewarding in ways other than financial. One thing I’ve noticed is how much entrepreneur sounds like “ I tripped in manure”.
    Steve Jenkins, McKinney, TX. 469 742-9694
    Always use the word "impossible" with extreme caution

  15. #15
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    Ever notice how many professional furniture makers also teach, contribute magazine articles or run schools?
    Who knows what stands in front of,
    our lives; I fashion my future on films in space.

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