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Thread: Making a living with Woodworking

  1. #1

    Making a living with Woodworking

    Hey Guys,
    I'm hoping to start a friendly discussion on products that may be produced with Intermediate Woodworking skills, all with the chance of making some profit. I'm a computer guy, want to eventually get out of this business and into my own woodworking business. I'm hoping others may be willing to share their experience, maybe give me a dose of reality.


  2. #2
    Join Date
    Nov 2006
    Cleveland, OH
    tagging along for the ride here.

  3. #3
    Dan, welcome to the Creek.

    First, "woodworking" is a business like any other. Second, if you're going to make money at it... it's even more a business like any other.

    I'm in it 12 years... I make very good money and I love what I do... but, I run a business, I don't make stuff out of wood that people might want to buy.

    When I started, it took me only six months to get busy full time. Last year I spent $21,000.00 on magazine ads, $18,000.00 on dealer discounts ($ off retail) and since January, 100+ hours building my second website... just to stay busy.

    You might begin by prototyping 20 products (of your own design - copy cats are shown the door in a quality reseller's store), make 5 of each and send them out to prospective resellers along with a glossy line card with photos - this will be a good healty start and will show that you're serious. Start small (5 to 7 shops) and don't place ANYTHING in someone's shop on consignment, it'll get buried behind all the stuff the shop paid for and needs to sell.

    Price for $80.00/hr plus ($ materials x 3). You'll eventually be glad when you need to rent space to expand and expenses go up. Allow time for Pick-pack-ship days. I spend 4 days a month just boxing stuff for shipping.

    Go to a bookstore and spend $250.00 on self employment, marketing, sociology (really!), selling, web design, etc. books. Set up a fax machine with it's own phone number, and don't ever let a client on the phone hear the baby crying in the background.

    If you're in it as a working hobby, there are some great travelling craft fairs that will lease you space Fri-Sat-Sun. I know some who earn a very nice second income that way. Stay with the juried, expensive shows so you don't have to set up next to the lady selling stuffed bears.

    If you plan on making bird houses, napkin holders, mail sorters... well, don't quit your day job.

    Good luck.
    "I love the smell of sawdust in the morning".
    Robert Duval in "Apileachips Now". - almost.

    Laserpro Spirit 60W laser, Corel X3
    Missionfurnishings, Mitchell Andrus Studios, NC

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Feb 2003
    South Windsor, CT

    Great post!


  5. #5
    I have a side business in making specialty hand woodworking tools. I also have literally dozens of friends in our NH Guild who are either full or part time professional woodworkers. The single most difficult thing for most to do is market and sell. Only rarely will forks come to you and then it's mostly by referal and only after you have developed a following. The best woodworker in the world will fail miserably and starve if he can't market, sell, and present himself and his product properly. If you want to do this as a full time living your skill at marketing is at least eqully (perhaps more) important than your design, construction, and finishing skills.

    If you don't like selling you most likely won't spend enough time and effort doing so and it will make life difficult.
    Dave Anderson
    Chester Toolworks LLC
    Chester, NH

  6. #6
    I tried it - twice actually.

    First time I was trying to do custom cabinetry.

    People called me up in response to my ads in the papers and demanded things like discounts, that I use recycled construction lumber (cause it was $0.10 a foot), and some people seemed simply to want to have somebody to fight on the phone about costs and fees.

    I made a few pieces for some people, undercharged tremendously and finally gave up cause there just wasn't any thing happening for me. I could make more $$ with a paper route.

    Then I tried musical instrument repair and manufacture.
    The hard lesson there was that unless you had a name like "Cox" from Maine or a top musician used your instrument (on stage) you were in a starvation market niche. You'd put 700 - 800 hours in a guitar and you couldn't get more than $300.00 a pop. That was all the market would bear because my market didn't include Pro-league musicians or rich people.

    Here's a bit of old indian wisdom passed on to me by a very old indian:
    The fastest way to ruin something you love doing, is to make a business of it.

  7. #7
    Sounds like the old adage,

    Question - "How do you make a small fortune doing {X}?"
    Answer - "Start with a large fortune!"

    Seriously though, as a woodworking computer geek, I can definitely understand the desire and share the dream. Oh, if I could just make a living puttering around the shop, make stupid little boxes and shop jigs...

    But the truth is that other people have successfully made the switch. I would think that it would really depends a lot on the person, their skills, and their drive.

    Looking foward to the advice given!

  8. #8
    Join Date
    May 2006
    Greenville, South Carolina
    Mitchell, that was a great post!

    That's always the challenge of a small business. When you're marketing, you're not producing anything. But when you're producing, you're neglecting the marketing.

    There is also the question of capitalization. Read Mitch's post carefully. It takes real money to market properly and you need enough to do it right and still not starve to death while you're building the business.

    Otherwise, start as a part-time vendor at fairs and shows. Attend several and watch what sells and what doesn't. Juried shows are best, as Mitch said. The others are filled with people looking for a bargain and quality can't be sold cheaply. Good luck.

    I measure three times and still mess it up.

  9. #9

    Much appreciate the comments

    Thanks lots for all of the comments and advice. I certainly will be starting only part-time. I'm building a dedicated shop and will start by producing some pieces for my own house. If and when I decide to go full time I'll remember all of the comments around the financing and marketing effort required. Until then I'll keep my day job ... sometimes its not so bad.
    I'll post the url to my web site showing my first products. I think I have some good ideas, but we'll see what the market thinks. Could someone explain what a juried show means?

    Thanks again ... Dan

  10. #10
    Non-juried show... church bazaar. $15.00 tables.

    Juried show... Contracts for specific performance months in advance, 2 to 4 day commitment, $400.00 to $1,200.00 for a 10' x 10' piped and draped booth, inclusion in regional advertizing and they JURY the applicatants to screen out the people hoping the strike it rich selling refridgerator magnets with pictures of Basset Hounds on them <ducking for cover>. You'll submit a picture of your booth, 3 to 10 photos of your products and sometimes send an example of your work. A jury of artists, managers of the show will accept or reject you. An application fee is involved.

    At show time, they will have the power to remove any products from your booth deemed to be below their standards.

    A good show can make or break a craftsfirm. I showed at the Arts and Crafts Conference at the Grove Park Inn, NC for 8 years. Tough to get into, but some booths write $100,000.00+ in business in a weekend. I always left with three to four month's worth of orders. The show attracted people from all 50 states and 17+ countries. It's estimated that 50% of the attendees own a home worth $750,000.00 or more.

    Now that's the way to show your stuff to multi-millionaires. I got to speak to Andie McDowell for a while in '04 and sent a bunch of stuff to Diane Keaton in '03. Sweet!!
    "I love the smell of sawdust in the morning".
    Robert Duval in "Apileachips Now". - almost.

    Laserpro Spirit 60W laser, Corel X3
    Missionfurnishings, Mitchell Andrus Studios, NC

  11. #11
    Join Date
    Dec 2005
    Spring, Texas

    I don't make my entire living in ww yet, but I've managed to make a few pieces that have brought good prices. One problem I found is taking too large a job for my shop (a 2 1/2 car garage). Another thing I found is to try to find a market that isn't cut throat, like cabinet making in Texas! I make accent items (clocks, coin displays) and custom items (biggest I've made so far has been an entertainment center). I don't know if it will be profitable, but I'm starting into granddaughter clocks. They're smaller than the father/mother, and no factory is producing them that I know of. They're good for condos, stairway landings, any smaller area where a nice sounding clock is wanted. Some of the moldings are a bit tricky without some research/experience.

    Best of luck.


  12. #12
    Join Date
    Jun 2007

    Good Luck

    Before you start marketing,etc.,make sure you really want to be a producer.I don't mean to suggest you need to be a "production shop",just know that you will need to be able to plan, design, and build without losing focus or slacking off. Self employed woodworkers need to be twice as dedicated and driven as those who work in a small or large custom shop. I know many who can do the woodworking end of it(half the work),but not the business side. I would include myself in that list. I am lucky in that I'm able to work in a great shop with great people on some unbelievable projects.Perhaps finding a good shop a getting a taste of day in day out "dust making'' would help. I don't know your skill level or drive and I don't mean to sound condescending;I know many who have spent small fortunes on classes and workshops but still can not get a large project down at a pace that could ever pay the bills.

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