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Starting a Woodworking Business #1: Deciding what kind of work to do

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Blog entry by Sam Yerardi posted 08-11-2009 04:54 PM 2105 reads 8 times favorited 37 comments Add to Favorites Watch
no previous part Part 1 of Starting a Woodworking Business series Part 2: Getting my shop in shape for my business »

For me, one of the hardest things to decide in starting a woodworking business was to determine specifically what type of work or product I wanted to pursue. I’ve done a lot of different styles of woodworking, ranging from kitchen ducks to Queen Anne reproductions. It seemed to me that at either end of the spectrum, there were more cons than pros if I really wanted to make a living at it. I remember driving by a home where the owner made his living by making all sorts of wood craft objects. His yard would be filled literally from one end to the other. I’m not sure how well he did, but it seemed as if he must have been working day and night to make that many objects. At the other end of the spectrum, the reproduction furniture market, it is very difficult to make money because of the amount of time needed to create this type of work, and finding a buying customer that is willing to spend what you need to charge. I still do a little bit of both, but I spent a lot of time searching for a niche that I could find a good balance between the effort and the result. I’m always searching, but I have found an area of woodworking that provides what I am looking for. I have always loved Arts & Crafts, Craftsman, Mission, etc. styles of woodworking. For me, it represents an honest, genuine, if not nostalgic way of making a living whether it be woodworking, textiles, ceramics, etc.

This past year I did something I’ve never done and traveled more than 600 miles just to visit a museum. The Smithsonian (at the Renwick) had an exhibit of Greene & Greene art and furniture, and it was like Mecca for me. Sort of like the sun coming down through the clouds, with glorious singing all around. For my taste, the Greene brothers exemplify the epitome of the Arts & Crafts movement. I asked the Renwick people if I could make drawings (no pics allowed) and they said yes so I spent a good afternoon drawing as many close-up details as I could. At one point I was showing my wife a detail on one of the tables and accidentally touched the table (no touching allowed). It didn’t hurt anything, but it hit me like a brick – - I touched a piece of Greene & Greene – sort of the feeling you get when you shake the hand of a famous person. Of course my wife thinks I’m nuts. I bought as many books at the Renwick as I could but there was one that I passed up because it was fairly expensive. As my wife and I were driving out of Washington, DC, we had probably driven ten blocks or so from the Renwick. The book kept haunting me and miraculously, a parking spot opened up. Anyone who has ever driven in Washington knows that a parking spot is almost non-existent. It was fate. I quickly pulled over, and walked (actually ran) the ten blocks back to the Renwick to buy the book. I have been bitten by the Greene & Greene bug if there is such a thing.

When we got back home I immediately went to work building a fireplace for my patio in the Greene & Greene style. I was amazed at the amount of detail work required but I loved every minute of it. One difference as compared to period furniture, at least for me, is that every piece of a Greene & Greene work is a stand-alone piece of art. The rounding of edges, the shape of the clouds, the stained glass, etc. are all elements that can stand by themselves. It’s as if each piece is saying ‘THIS IS WHAT I AM’.

So I have chosen to pursue Arts & Crafts, leaning heavily towards Greene & Greene. I’ve even started learning how to do work stained glass! I’m even incorporating the A&C / Greene & Greene approach into my remodeling work as well.

Thanks for visiting my blog!

-- Sam



37 comments so far

View bigdave's profile

bigdave

27 posts in 1973 days


#1 posted 08-11-2009 05:47 PM

Good luck Sam. Looking forward to your progress.

View Tomw's profile

Tomw

99 posts in 1916 days


#2 posted 08-11-2009 06:05 PM

Any pics of the fireplace?

-- Tom

View Sam Yerardi's profile

Sam Yerardi

244 posts in 2584 days


#3 posted 08-11-2009 06:23 PM

I’ll post it tonight when I get home

-- Sam

View Mario's profile

Mario

902 posts in 2740 days


#4 posted 08-11-2009 06:24 PM

If it is your passions as it sounds like it is you will be rewarded in more than just financial ways. Your blog is filled with a joy that is sure to show through in your work. I look forward to keeping up as you continue.

Thank you.

-- Hope Never fails

View Kindlingmaker's profile

Kindlingmaker

2654 posts in 2215 days


#5 posted 08-11-2009 06:55 PM

A VERY good read! A very good read indeed… Good luck and may the grain be straight.

-- Never board, always knotty, lots of growth rings

View Todd A. Clippinger's profile

Todd A. Clippinger

8791 posts in 2788 days


#6 posted 08-11-2009 07:48 PM

Good luck with starting your business.

I hope you like boxing ‘cause you’re gonna take some hits. I’m not trying to discourage you, but just a heads up. I have taken some hits but I still stand and I’m still swingin’.

-- Todd A. Clippinger, Montana, http://americancraftsmanworkshop.com

View Sam Yerardi's profile

Sam Yerardi

244 posts in 2584 days


#7 posted 08-11-2009 08:16 PM

Todd
Thanks! I appreciate your heads up. Glad you’re still standin’ and swingin’. Actually I do like boxing. I’m there with ya… :)

-- Sam

View Sam Yerardi's profile

Sam Yerardi

244 posts in 2584 days


#8 posted 08-11-2009 08:22 PM

I do want to say one thing – my reference to kitchen ducks, etc. is not to put down or disparage anyone that does that type woodworking. I still do and enjoy it. The point I was trying to make was how I used make tons of the pieces for my wife and every single one of them have ended up in our attic. And not because they weren’t worth anything, as I am a firm believer anything you build is worth something. And anyone that loves woodwork no matter what they do is a friend of mine.

Probably the reason I couldn’t make any money from it was my wife would grab them and use them in the house before I could sell them. And then somehow they would disappear. I’d discover them later while cleaning the attic.

-- Sam

View reggiek's profile

reggiek

2240 posts in 1958 days


#9 posted 08-11-2009 08:24 PM

Have you checked up on Darell Pert….he is a big follower of the G&G/arts & crafts….I saw a seminar at a wood show that he gave some time ago….I think he does writing and teaching in that style.

I really liked the style…and it certainly is an inspiration….I think any business that you can enjoy doing is one that is worth the effort…for me…I like my work….but to be doing what I love and making a living would be awesome….

Good luck on your endeavor….keep us informed on your progress….

-- Woodworking.....My small slice of heaven!

View Sam Yerardi's profile

Sam Yerardi

244 posts in 2584 days


#10 posted 08-11-2009 08:39 PM

reggiek
yes, I have his book also. I’ve actually corresponded with him about copyrights, etc. Darrel does beautiful work. I wanted to find out if the Greene & Greene work was covered by any patents or copyrights. Apparently the copyrights are well past their legal lifetime. Darrel did correctly point out that I couldn’t copy anyone’s current day copyrights which I won’t do. What I am doing is actually in a bit different vein than Darrel’s so hopefully there isn’t a problem.

-- Sam

View Todd A. Clippinger's profile

Todd A. Clippinger

8791 posts in 2788 days


#11 posted 08-11-2009 09:11 PM

I have had a fascination with the Greene & Greene for some time and understand the passion. I also love the works of Charles Rennie Mackintosh. Besides that the traditional Asian influence… the list goes on and on.

I know what it is like to have an obsession over a style and the need to have a particular book. You should see my library. It started out with woodworking how-to and has morphed into architectural and design style books as I matured in my quest for knowledge. Some of the best books to get are the ones covering antiques.

Since most of my work is sold through my remodel business, I am dealing with the parameters of what is appropriate for a specific house, the existing style, and decor. While a lot of guys envy that I get to design and work in the shop (Yeah – it’s great and I love it!) I feel constricted at times because I have to deliver what is appropriate to the specific wants and needs of a client.

The challenge of meeting that need is quite satisfying, but I also feel that building on spec allows tremendous freedom. But this has it’s own drawbacks, like sitting on inventory that is not selling. But taking the risk is obviously just part of playing the game when it comes to being in business for yourself.

Have a plan of what you want to build and where you are going to sell it. Find a supplier and buy a bunk of lumber if you can, that will lower your costs dramatically. Then get busy building and supplying product to the customers!

-- Todd A. Clippinger, Montana, http://americancraftsmanworkshop.com

View Sam Yerardi's profile

Sam Yerardi

244 posts in 2584 days


#12 posted 08-11-2009 09:23 PM

Thanks Todd! I appreciate your advice! It sounds like you are already where I want to be. I, too, have acquire a gazillion books on everything from woodworking, stained glass, antique furniture, architecture, etc. I’ve collected a huge library on period furniture and Arts & Crafts is quickly overwhelming that.

On building on spec, how do you market what you have built? Do you use the internet?

-- Sam

View missionworks's profile

missionworks

63 posts in 1920 days


#13 posted 08-11-2009 10:04 PM

Good luck with the new business. Sounds like you have the passion.

-- MW | www.MissionWorks.com

View Todd A. Clippinger's profile

Todd A. Clippinger

8791 posts in 2788 days


#14 posted 08-11-2009 10:38 PM

The guys I know that make a living strictly from furniture travel the furniture shows. Not the craft shows, the real furniture shows. Over time, some get enough reputation, they can stop doing the furniture shows or cut back on them and have enough business to keep them going.

My reputation is just starting to surpass the notions that I am strictly a remodeling contractor. That is where I started and that is still how I sell a lot of my work.

My latest piece was one of my Shaker inspired benches and it sold over the internet by someone doing a Google search for Shaker benches. He liked my work and my site and bought one. I built a good long distance relationship between Montana and New York via email and progress photos at Flickr.

My current project is some cabinetry and a built-in bench for clients that have used me for several projects. There was only one person they had in mind for the cabinetry and that kind of reputation takes time to establish.

SV100872

You live in southern Ohio. I know that Nelsonville and Athens are big art supporting communities. I have been to some of the galleries there exhibiting furniture artisans.

Many craftsmen and artists I know that deal with galleries do not like it. Over time some built a strong enough client base and name recognition that they no longer needed the galleries. Once again the key here is TIME.

I also do know a few artists and craftsman that have very good relationships with the galleries and design showrooms.

I strongly suggest that you go to the Small Business Administration for advise and guidance. You should also read the books listed in this blog entry that I wrote:

http://lumberjocks.com/toddc/blog/3164

Odie did a great blog series on going pro. I recognized a lot of what he passed on as either I experienced it or a lot of my friends had at various levels. He gave sound advice and shared experience.

There is no easy answer. Everyone seems to find their own niche or way into business. Some do the craft shows, some do the furniture shows, some have a shop with store front, some sell through their construction business (me), or through art galleries and high-brow stores. The answers are all over the spectrum, but the basic principles of doing business are all the same and it all takes time to get established.

Once again I stress – Read the books and talk to the local SBA.

-- Todd A. Clippinger, Montana, http://americancraftsmanworkshop.com

View Sam Yerardi's profile

Sam Yerardi

244 posts in 2584 days


#15 posted 08-12-2009 02:17 AM

Thanks Todd! I appreciate your help!

-- Sam

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