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woodworking for money #1: first big commision

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Blog entry by Gwjames posted 09-24-2015 05:05 PM 1808 reads 0 times favorited 15 comments Add to Favorites Watch
no previous part Part 1 of woodworking for money series no next part

So I started talking about this table over in the forum and decided maybe it should be a blog instead. So I have been trying to put my limited wood working knowledge to good use and start trying to sell things I build, or sell items that have not been built yet. I tried everything, posting on craigslist, posting to bookface friends and family, and then on a local for sale page on the bookface, and once I put tables on the for sale page I started getting emails like crazy. Everyone wanted a custom table, so I talked to each and every one of them and took down exactly what they wanted. Exact dimensions, wood species, color stain, seating, everything. Then I would go and spend about a day designing their “dream table” then making phone calls all over town to find the best wood prices. Then I would send the potential clients an email back and it was always one of two stories, it was either “oh, well I don’t think I can spend that right now” or I just wouldn’t hear back from them after that, and I promise you, I was not gouging by any stretch of the imagination. I was hardly even leaving myself room for any real profit. I actually had one young lady tell me “well I can do it for cheaper myself”, I was very polite and I said well thank you for showing interest in my tables, but what I wanted to say was “why don’t you go out and by a shop full of tools and spend countless hours learning how to use them, then spend more countless hours learning techniques in building furniture that will last, then come back and tell me you can build it cheaper yourself” but as I said, I was polite. I was really starting to think that I would never get a commission, then I got an email from a gentleman one day and I assumed it would turn out the same as all the others but I played along as usual. He told me what he was looking for, he wanted a high top table and four bar stools, I said great I have built many bar stools for family and for my shop, then I took a picture and sent him my shop stools.

After he and his wife looked at the picture they loved them, as a matter of fact they both loved “the dark one”, I thought to myself “great he wants the most expensive wood but hes not going to want to pay the most expensive price. He went on to tell me that his wife really liked the look of that stool in particular with the contrasting colors so they wanted their table to look the same way. So I continued to go about my normal routine of coming up with a quote and when I looked at my paper at the end of completing the quote I just knew he would never pay that amount, so I sent him a message and I said “sir, I really hope you don’t think I am trying to gouge you with this price but 90% of this is lumber alone” I sent him the price and the gentleman just as quickly asked me where to drop off the money, my jaw dropped. Well when he dropped the money off he basically told me I had free reign to build it how ever I saw fit because they trusted me. so I headed off to the hardwood store just around the corner from my house and headed straight to the back where I knew the walnut sat, and wouldn’t you know, they were almost completely freaking out. well I scrounged through the little they had and got the only 5 good boards that were there I headed up to check out, the owner told me it would probably be about 2 weeks before they got any more so I knew I was in trouble. then a friend of mine told me the next day that he new of a lumber store that sold nothing but south American hardwood, and they were CHEAP. I called them up and they told me they had Nogal which is Peruvian walnut, basically just a darker walnut, and it was half of the price of black walnut!! I scooted my butt straight over there and picked up double the amount for half the price, boy was I in a good mood, sadly I had wasted a lot of money on black walnut, but that’s ok I’m sure I can find something to do with it down the road. Anyway, I got the nogal home and started to cut it down and I was still just stoked that I go this beautiful wood so stinking cheap.

as you see here I cut the table top down to rough length so I could take it and clean it all up the next day at work.
I wasn’t quit decided on how I would do the table top just yet, but I had a few ideas, one of which would be just like the stool above, which I think looks really nice but I wasn’t sure if it was nice enough, then I came up with an idea to put a curved design in it like this.
I put on the forum that I was looking for ideas on how best to accomplish this, and I got some great feedback and great ideas, but in the end I decided that a paid job is not the time to try new and foreign techniques, so I decided to go with what I know.

I love how the top has turned out, I still need to figure out how I will be doing the edges, i’m not sure if I will just round them over or if I will use a fancier bit. as soon as I finish with the table top I will make the matching bar stool tops then move on to all of the bases. Well, thanks for reading and all feedback is great, good bad or indifferent, it all helps us to get better.



15 comments so far

View ColonelTravis's profile

ColonelTravis

1189 posts in 1356 days


#1 posted 09-24-2015 05:26 PM

Congrats, great story. I’m sure your customer will be thrilled.

View Gwjames's profile

Gwjames

87 posts in 776 days


#2 posted 09-24-2015 08:31 PM

I just completed my final glue up for the table top and I decided that I would basically do anything for a card scraper right about now, the last two joints are good but they’re not perfect and lucky for me I don’t have woodworking shops withing 500 miles of me. Sand paper it is!

View gfadvm's profile

gfadvm

14940 posts in 2152 days


#3 posted 09-24-2015 11:56 PM

I made my card scrapers from an old handsaw. If you can create the beautiful furniture you showed, you can make a card scraper!

-- " I'll try to be nicer, if you'll try to be smarter" gfadvm

View Mean_Dean's profile

Mean_Dean

5042 posts in 2609 days


#4 posted 09-25-2015 12:11 AM

Congratulations on the paid commission! I’m looking forward to following your progress!

-- Dean

View Gwjames's profile

Gwjames

87 posts in 776 days


#5 posted 09-25-2015 01:10 PM

I have never thought of making my own card scraper, I have an old table saw blade could I use that?

View dbray45's profile

dbray45

3185 posts in 2239 days


#6 posted 09-25-2015 01:28 PM

Nope – Hand saw blade. A cabinet scraper works or a paint scraper will work as well if you sharpen it correctly.

It is going to look great.

-- David in Damascus, MD

View Gwjames's profile

Gwjames

87 posts in 776 days


#7 posted 09-25-2015 02:42 PM

Have any of you tried steaming a piece with and iron to get out a dent before? There is a spot on the bottom that is huge, no idea how it got there, not a huge deal considering its on the bottom but I thought I might try to get it out with steam.

View splintergroup's profile

splintergroup

827 posts in 684 days


#8 posted 09-25-2015 03:19 PM

I do it on old rifle stocks fairly often.

Dab the area with a damp/wet q-tip or rag. You want to get the dent moist (but not saturated).
Wait a few minutes for the grain to start expanding.
Set a steam iron on ‘linen’ (i.e. hot) and place a wet cotton cloth (I like a double layer of old t-shirt) over the dent.
Place the iron over the cloth and press down, maybe spending 10 seconds. Repeat until the grain is raised.

Be sure you are actually dealing with a dent and not a gouge.

View Grumpymike's profile

Grumpymike

1917 posts in 1777 days


#9 posted 09-25-2015 06:13 PM

Congrats on the commission.
You will find that most folks figger that you are working at home you will be really cheap for a beautiful piece.
They just don’t think that you have to buy the wood, or the machines and blades so it cost you nothing, and it’s a hobby thing so you shouldn’t charge for labor. ... Yeah right.

Yes get a card scraper, make one or buy one but learn how to sharpen it and use it. ... I have many pieces that never saw a sheet of sandpaper. ... It’s a learning curve, but what isn’t??

You may want to talk to your insurance person.
My guy was here to update our homeowners insurance and wanted to see my shop … While in the shop he asked if I had ever sold anything out of the shop or anything that I had made in the shop. ... No, I give most of it away as gifts, was my reply. Because I know that if I sell anything, it would require commercial insurance here.
That means that I would have to install sprinkler systems and a paint booth for any finishing. Read $$$$$ here.

When People ask me for a custom piece I mention that there is normally a donation of $XX to the retirement fund.
most folks bring cash, but the few checks I do receive, have Donation in the memo.

Different States have different rules so check it out with your insurance guy.

-- Grumpy old guy, and lookin' good Doin' it. ... Surprise Az.

View dbray45's profile

dbray45

3185 posts in 2239 days


#10 posted 09-25-2015 06:28 PM

On that note, I never take money up front. It is always at delivery. Before I make something for someone, I draw it up with measurements, then I have them sign the drawing and give them a copy. As soon as you take their money the rules change. If they don’t like what I bring them, I will take it home with me and either keep it or donate it. I have never had that happen. I tell them that if they cancel, which is no problem, they agree to buy the wood and my time. If they don’t like what I bring them, there is no obligation. Never had that happen either.

In this state, as a hobby, I can sell things

-- David in Damascus, MD

View Gwjames's profile

Gwjames

87 posts in 776 days


#11 posted 09-25-2015 10:49 PM

I charge materials up front as a deposit so if for some reason they change their mind at least I am not out in that aspect, but actually drawing up some papers and signing them is a good idea, it would probably make them feel better too.

View Gwjames's profile

Gwjames

87 posts in 776 days


#12 posted 09-26-2015 12:04 AM

So I went and picked up the rest of the material today, I got 47 bf, only 250. I still think that is one heck of a deal, then I took it up to work and spend about 2 hours jointing and planing every piece. The wife thought it was a good idea to tag along, but that was before she realized that pushing a board across a machine was not all that entertaining. Nah she had fun but anyone would get bored after a few hours of just sitting there. Anyway, so I finished that up and brought it all home to get to work on the table legs, so since they do not sell anything larger that 4/4 around here I decided to just glulam the legs with 4 boards, easy day right? Pictured here I am all set up and ready for my 16 piece face glue up.

Me and my little bottle of titebond and a sponge brush, well it took me about 30 seconds to decide that that little bottle would not push glue out fast enough for that much coverage, I made it work through the whole first leg, then I had to refill the bottle between legs, all the while getting nervous every about the glue I have already applied drying. The second leg I decided to just lay all the bored flat and spray glue on them all at once. So I started squeezing away, got fed up with that pretty quick and ripped the lid off the small bottle and just commenced to pouring… As soon as I finished and laid all the boards back on theirs side I chickened out and decided to not push my luck so I just did the 2 legs. Also, you know how people say you can never have enough clamps? That is a FACT, but I am a Seabee and our motto is “make do” or “can do”... I don’t it’s something about getting the job done no matter what. Well here is a picture of my beautiful mess.

Thanks for reading guys!

View Gwjames's profile

Gwjames

87 posts in 776 days


#13 posted 09-26-2015 12:10 AM

I’m sorry about all the spelling and grammar errors, I am typing on my phone today so I missed a lot of that.

View Gwjames's profile

Gwjames

87 posts in 776 days


#14 posted 10-06-2015 01:57 PM

Since my last post, a few things have happened, I squared up the legs then I tapered them. Tapering the legs wasn’t all that bad, not as bad as I thought it would be, my table saw didn’t quite go all the way through but I finished it up with my eastern pull saw then smoothed it out with my Stanley #4. I also glued all of the bar stool legs up, this was probably the messiest glue up I have literally ever done, but its done now and all of the legs have been squared up and mitered on both ends (I was pretty nervous about mitering 16 legs because one little mistake and a whole leg is trash, but no mistakes) I also received my hardware from rockler, there was my table top fasteners, two sets for the table and 1 set per stool, then the table leg corner brackets. I am trying to decide if i am just going to use the corner brackets and table top fasteners to put the table together or if i am going to make some braces to go between the aprons, i think the braces would be the best idea, so i probably will. i also thought about glulaming two aprons together then putting an offset cove in them with my table saw, i think that would give it a nice look. I have also started to think about finishes, at first I was going to just have a friend spray a finish then i was going to give it to the customer, but i have changed my mind as i like this table so much that i want it to be perfect when i send it out the door. So i think my plan as of now is to use a grain filler on the table top to make it perfectly flat, then spray 4 coats of Sherwin Williams lovoc lacquer followed by wet sanding then two different grits of humice stone then rottenstone. I want this table top to really shine. I don’t think I will do the entire table this way, just the top, but im not sure yet. As usual, let me know what you think. Thanks LJ’s.

View Gwjames's profile

Gwjames

87 posts in 776 days


#15 posted 10-06-2015 02:42 PM

man, I would love to have Charles Neil’s opinion on my plan to finish

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