I am writing about what it’s like trying to make a living as a woodworker. I have to consider myself a professional woodworker since it’s all I do since retiring from the Navy and then from the Nuclear Power Utility industry about 12 years ago. I have never blogged before so it will take me some time to get over the learning curve. I really don’t know how this works so I’ll just start writing and hope I get some help along the way. Will be back soon.
I’ve made of few entries to my blog and I have had several responses about better ways of continuing my blog. I appreciate all the good suggestions, especially from Todd Clippinger. I am attempting a test of his suggestion here about adding content and images. Bear with me as I try to improve my method of continuing my blog. I am adding a picture of a slant top desk that I built 28 years ago from an issue of the Woodworker’s Journal just to see how to do it!
I am going to continue my blog by taking up the suggestion by Todd to use the edit button at the top of the page. The addition of an image seemed to work so I’ll continue and welcome any help with my blog screwups!!
My last post talked about my shop setup in Ohio after I took a job as a Foreman at the Davis-Besse Nuclear Power Unit soon after retiring from the Navy. I had started building up a fairly decent inventory of machinery and I had started attending week long Minuteman Restoration workshops in Waterloo, Wisconsin when I could fit in a vacation from my day job. As I began fitting the furniture repair and antique restoration into my woodworking business, I immediately saw my income and workload increase dramatically! Most of my additional work involved simple tightening of loose chairs and replacing broken or missing parts like stretchers, legs, ect. I would occassiionally get a nice antique piece of furniture that I would have to dismantle and put back together. This process taught me a lot about construction methods over the years. The surprising fact I learned was that so many high valued pieces were constructed so poorly!! Examples: no thought given to wood movement, use of dowels, vice mortise and tenon, heavy use of nails when not really needed, ect.
Another important factor in my business was the ability to attend Woodworking Shows. My first was a Detroit
Woodworker Show in 1988. I was like a kid in a candy store. I bought my first woodworking jig at that show. This was after 22 years of playing with my Shopsmith. That jig was the “kreg jig” for pocket screw joinery. I had several conversations with Marc Somerfield and still consider it one of my favorite tools and I have added many (some that I have never even used)! A couple examples of jigs I’ve purchased but haven’t used yet: The Leigh Frame and Mortise Jig ($1,000.00), all of the Keller dovetail templates, all of Woodline’s Router table dovetail and box joint jigs, ect. They’re all great jigs. It’s just that I accomplish the tasks they’re designed for by other methods. Most of my dovetailing is done by hand or with the Leigh 24D Dovetail jig. My mortise and tenon work is also done by hand or with my Powermatic Mortising Machine.
Have to get to the shop. I hope I’m not messing up this blog. I’m sure you’ll let me know and give me some more suggestions. I welcome the help. One more image as a test.
I’m back!! There are so many things I could write about concerning the wrong way to run a business. I got into the business side of woodworking gradually and without a lot of thought of maintaining a profit. My full time job kept me financially stable and even after I retired and started woodwork full time, I still rely on my small retirement pension and social security to keep my 400 pounds of dogs fed. I would be much more concerned about running my business more efficiently if I had no retirement funds coming in. Another major goal of mine for the past several years has been to minimize stress. Many of my friends have health issues directly attributed to high stress. Life is too short to let that become a major factor.
Back to the shop—
When I switched my woodworking efforts from creating objects made from wood to essentially a furniture repair service the business changed dramatically. My shop needed to be equipped with machinery that would enable me to accomplish any repairs or restorations I thought might come to me. This included the ability to produce barley twists and roping for antique restorations. In Ohio, my shop grew from 1500 sq ft to 5000 sq ft. My machinery inventory included all the standard machines you would expect to find in a shop but also an ornamental milling machine (the Legacy Model 1800 Ornamental Mill), a great resaw bandsaw (the Hitachi 75F) and a WoodMaster Model 725 which I had set up for high volume moulding production. When I return I will talk about these 3 great machines.
I will take a short break from the woodworking side of a business. You should put some thought into why you would want to establish a woodworking business. For me, I was a typical woodworker for the first few years of building an inventory of hand tools and slowly gaining knowledge. I had access to lots of machinery thru the wood hobby shop so I didn’t have a lot of money invested in machines except for my Shopsmith. Most of my work was for me. After I started to make a little bit of money from my hobby, there was a point where I had to decide if I needed to minimize my tax consequences by being able to write off the expenses of creating that additional income. For me and for many other hobbyists, the decision to start a woodworking business was made solely for the tax breaks that came with it. These tax breaks included: supplies, machinery and equipment depreciation write off, utility costs (heat, electric, ect), advertising, car and truck expenses and more. Once I started making additional income with woodworking, that income had to be reported as taxable income and it became a problem. When I set up my business, this problem changed to an asset because the expense write offs made it manageable and occasionally, I was even able to write off the income as a loss of income against my regular day job because of the expenses. One example of a ligitimate expense was the ability to write off all the mileage costs of going to and coming back from woodworking workshops (if they were 3 days or longer). To understand this business side of the woodworking business, I take several night courses in accounting at a local junior college. I also do all by record keeping using the software “QuickBooks”. To really understand the software, I thought it was really important that I take the courses. Record keeping is a vital part of your woodworking business. If you don’t want to tackle it, I highly recommend that you find somebody (a bookkeeper) to handle the records. It only makes sense to turn your hobby into a business if the income it creates is enough to require tax write offs. One good example: I buy a table saw and pay $3000.00 for it. That gives me the ability to write off that business expense as a fully depreciated item (Section 179 deduction) in one year. When combined with all expenses, It’s not too unreasonable to expect to be able to write off a loss on my income from my business. This is not bad, it’s good.
In my last posting, I touched a little bit on the business side of woodworking. The importance of maintaining good bookkeeping records for tax purposes: both to pay taxes if required and to take advantage of the expensing to save taxes if possible. Woodworking changes greatly when you switch from it just being a hobby to it being a business.
I briefly mentioned earlier the incorporation of 3 machines into my business. Each one had a real impact on my woodworking experience. The first machine I am going to mention was the Hitachi 75F Resaw Bandsaw. While in Ohio, I was visited by the owner of Northern Manufacturing Company out of Oak Harbor, Ohio. They created the Versa Guage, which was a measuring device used to measure very accurate distances between variable sized holes. They could be hooked up to computerized welding machines and cutting machines. An example would be the auto industry’s plants cutting out holes in door panels for new cars. Anyway, these gauges cost several thousand dollars each and they would ship them to customers in burlap bags packed inside pvc pipes. They were looking for something nicer to package the gauges in so I started making pine boxes in 6 different lengths with brass hardware. I was making them out of knotty pine, staining them walnut and finishing with polyurethane. The lids were 3/8” thick as were the bottoms. I was planing a lot of waste wood which added to the cost of each box. I attended a woodworker’s show in Cleveland and saw the resaw bandsaw demonstration and purchased one. I think I paid $1700 for it. It had a 3 inch stellite blade. It enabled me to resaw the lids and bottoms of the boxes in seconds. I doubled my profit margin. In 5 years from the boxes alone, I was able to pay off the mortgage of my home. It paid for itself in one month. (I made approximately 1100 of the boxes that ranged in sizes of 3 feet long to 9 feet long.
This photo is one week’s order of boxes. To keep up to date with the requests, I would work on the boxes every day from the time I left my day job at the plant (4 pm) until 1 and 2 am each morning. I am hoping for another customer like that!!
The same customer hired me to do all the woodwork on the Ben & Jerry Ice Cream Kiosks you would find along Interstate 90 east of Cleveland and in some college campuses. They insisted, for environmental reasons, that I only use Ipe (Pau Lope) for the wood. I hated it because it caused a skin reaction and I was miserable all the time I was milling it! A couple more snapshots of my box making days.
A few pictures of my early woodworking days. The picture of me with the cradle was taken while I was stationed in Hawaii and had my own woodworking business in Waikiki. The bed was made while I was running by business in Ohio and the scale model house was built from a set of blueprints and balsa wood. It was my dream house 40 years ago. I don’t know what ever happened to it. I had to leave it at the wood hobby shop at the Kittery, Maine shipyard when I was transferred.
Back to the 3 machines I mentioned earlier. The Model 1800 Legacy Ornamental Mill could have been a wonderful machine. For many reasons I could go into, I wasn’t able to put it to the potential I know it had. I owned it for almost 5 years and then sold it on Craig’s List. I just wasn’t able to put it to use and it took up a lot of floor space in my shop. I did use it a few times for duplicating barley twists on antiques. I’m getting away from furniture now that I’m turning 65 and concentrating on boxes and wood toys. I have some ideas about how to use the mill in my box constructions so I will be ordering a new mill but a smaller model, the Model 900. It’s only around $1500 for the machine. Of course, all the accessories and cutter bits will drive the price up considerably buy it’s a real fun machine. It takes the woodworking craft in a different direction. The company has several CNC models out now but they’re extremely expensive and I think the CNC capabilities takes a lot of fun out of woodworking. It takes all the enjoyment away for me to just set back and watch a machine mill an object by punching in a lot of data using some computer software.
When I return, I will talk about the WoodMaster.
I’m back and I have to say it’s amazing how fast things can change!! I have decided to shut down my woodworking business. The reasons vary. I could list health issues as the major reason but that’s not true even though my wife and I have discussed many times the closing down the stripping and finishing portion of our business. Dealing with Methylene Chloride and all the chemicals associated with finishing posed many health concerns. In addition, the Health Department was a real pain. The additional cost of inspecting our septic system 3 times a year was always frustrating!! The major reason is financial. We do not have children and we would like to take advantage of the equity in our home by taking out a reverse mortgage. Banks will not provide a reverse mortgage for home base businesses if the business use percentage exceeds 25%. Ours is around 75%. The major advantage of turning my hobby into a business was for tax write offs. That is not too important any more so we decided to just continue our woodworking as a hobby. Will still have to report the income and any expenses can still be written off if we itemize our taxes.
The only business assets I plan on selling right now are my strip tanks. Maybe a farmer will want them. Don’t expect to find too many locals wanting to start a furniture stripping business!!