Woodworking for a Job ?

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Blog entry by cdbridge39 posted 06-28-2010 08:52 PM 1929 reads 0 times favorited 17 comments Add to Favorites Watch

I have been thinking about going into woodworking full time. I like to work with wood all the time, what does that say about me ? Does anyone do woodworking full time ? I just don’t know what would be a good product to make and sell. Does anyone have any ideas ? Some pointers and tips would be good. I like making lathe stuff but I don’t think there is much money in it. Maybe some furniture or boxes ?

-- If it ain't broke don't fix it, if you fix it make it better than it has to be.

17 comments so far

View lanwater's profile


3111 posts in 2959 days

#1 posted 06-28-2010 09:08 PM

From what I am reading here and there, reproduction furniture, dining tables.

Do you have access to someone who is great at finishing? Do you have rainy day funds as any business will take time to produce a profit. Do you have a customer base you can build upon?

Have you check the stuff that comes from India, China etc… How do you compare.

Those are justt for reflection purposes not really questions.

-- Abbas, Castro Valley, CA

View hObOmOnk's profile


1381 posts in 4152 days

#2 posted 06-28-2010 09:28 PM

SQDD (Same Question, Different Day).

This question has been asked many times on this forum.
Do some key word searched for a plethora of discussions.

If you are planning to sell hobby items, such as the Big Three: Cutting Boards, Boxes and Turned Pens, be prepared to become a dedicated entrepreneur and expert salesman. It seems like everybody makes the Big Three. I’m a jurist for a local arts and crafts show. We usually get more than 20 requests for each of the Big Three crafts. We only will choose one in each category. However, sometimes the quality is so bad we choose none.

You can quit your day job when the demand for your woodworking exceeds your regular salary.

-- 温故知新

View Div's profile


1653 posts in 2965 days

#3 posted 06-28-2010 09:46 PM

You’ll be entering a very tough but rewarding world if you can pull it off. You’ll have to do it for the passion, cause the money is not easy or much. Don’t want to put you off, just a reality check. :-)
See recent forum topics under “sweating for bucks” :
1. How much is your woodworking worth?
2. Monkey working for peanuts.

LOTS of very good info there!

Good luck!

-- Div @ the bottom end of Africa. "A woodworker's sharpest tool should be his mind."

View a1Jim's profile


117115 posts in 3602 days

#4 posted 06-28-2010 10:14 PM

There have been dozens of folks that ask that question Div. gave you some earlier post that a lot was said about going into the woodworking business. If I had it to do over I would have made it my hobby So I could build what I want when I want. There are very few folks I know that make a comfortable living from woodworking. Most the people are into cabinets and if you want to do cabinets that’s fine . But other projects are more interesting and challenging. Is it impossible to make a living from woodworking ? No
It’s possible but it’s all so possible to make a living from being a rock star ,but what are the odds.
In the posts listed by DIV. you will see many persons that have tried and some who have succeeded . Woodworking like any business takes talent , a good understanding of business and marketing plus a lot of luck.
If this is the route you decide to take at least you will have a lot of input from others . I wish you well either way.

-- wood crafting & woodworking classes

View jasand's profile


3 posts in 2972 days

#5 posted 06-28-2010 10:17 PM

If you are thinking about it the best way to see if you will truly enjoy it is to start selling small amounts regularly and get to the point where you are taking some orders. This will give a taste of what the non-woodworking part of the business will be like. Keep pricing and sales logs for tracking and track how much time each piece took to build and finish. This way you can see how much you invested to make the product and how much you earned from it. This way if you don’t like that part of the business you can just finish the open projects and stop without pains. In small volume to test it all out you can get away without a business license and paying estimated wage taxes. Self employment assume 40% of your income for taxes.

I know many people that hated their hobby as a job because it took the fun out of the work. It is almost always less fun when you are working with deadlines and phone calls. Yet if you can make it all work and enjoy it, it will be the best job you ever had because you will wake up looking forward to work every day. Few people can say that they do that.

Good luck!

-- Jason, Chippewa Falls, WI

View Kent Shepherd's profile

Kent Shepherd

2718 posts in 3311 days

#6 posted 06-28-2010 11:07 PM

From your question, it is obvious you don’t have a specific passion. I think most people that make it in woodworking start with a particular item, fully develop it—-both procedure and market, and then try to do it full time——maybe!

I have known hundeds of woodworkers and deal with them on a daily basis. I don’t see it being a lot of fun for the most part. The ones making the most money are very aggressive, doing routine things like cabinets and trim, not necessarily the best quality. If you develop a unique product and do it well, can you then market it? Some make it doing custom furniture. I personally turn it down. It is very hard to charge enough for the time it takes to do it right. I manufacture raised panel cabinet doors. I have done well with it, but it gets harder every year to make it. The pressure is incredible in construction related woodworking.

I realize this can be discouraging, but it is very realistic. Think long and hard. I have done woodworking professionally all my life, and wouldn’t trade it for anything, but my passion for woodworking comes when I’m doing my own projects, with no time or money demands hovering over me.


View uffitze's profile


199 posts in 2980 days

#7 posted 06-29-2010 12:22 AM

Like they say, if you want to make a living as a woodworker, marry a wealthy woman.

View rhett's profile


742 posts in 3692 days

#8 posted 06-29-2010 12:41 AM

Woodworking for a living is more of a lifestyle than a career. Your home will be filled with top of the line woodwork and your bank account will most likely be filled with a bunch of zeroes.

Take a vacation from your real job, spend the week in your shop working 10+ hour days. Make something that is really boring and easy to do. Now picture yourself doing this 51 more times a year.

This may sound crass, but this is the reality. Maybe 1 in 10,000 pro woodworkers make whatever they want and make a good living at doing so. Keep it a hobby if you want to keep it enjoyable.

-- Doubt kills more dreams than failure.

View frankp's profile


2 posts in 2929 days

#9 posted 06-29-2010 12:53 AM

Hello. I started woodworking as a young boy with my father’s guidance. By the time I reached my late teens I was building furniture that was considered “very good”. I have always had a passion for woodworking and so finally about 20 years ago I quit my “real” job to pursue woodworking as a career. I was fortunate that my wife is a nurse and had a full time job with benefits. Most of the work I ended up doing was kitchen and bath cabinets (very boring to me). I tried to sell furniture and smaller “craft” items but that was very difficult. Not everyone appreciates or even understands what a dovetail joint is. It was very hard to compete with furniture stores and department stores that sold mass produced veneered products or cheap wood craft items. Granted, there are people who appreciate solid woods and hand craftsmanship, but unfortunately there are not enough to support a full time business. Back then there was no internet. You advertised with business cards, newspaper ads, and word of mouth. I also called on general contractors for sub work building custom built-in’s and cabinets. Don’t get me wrong, you can make money. The question is how much do you need to make? Do you have a wife and children to support. Do you own a home that you need to pay a mortgage on? What about health insurance? You may make money as a “woodworker” but can it pay for all this and more? You will have to sell a heck of a lot of pens, bowls, and cutting boards just to make a car payment. How many dining room sets do you think you will sell in a year? I eventually gave it up as a living. In addition to the lack of money made, it also was ruining a very fun hobby for me. After spending 10 hours a day building someone’s kitchen cabinets, I did not feel like taking a break and going back into the shop to build something just for fun. There is also no such thing as an 8 hour day. Running a business takes much work and dedication. The question you ask is not one to be taken lightly. This is your life we are talking about here. Give this much thought before you quit your day job. Good Luck.

View Bearpie's profile


2601 posts in 3043 days

#10 posted 06-29-2010 01:57 AM

Everyone has given very good advice, NOW it is up to you to do the research and be truly honest, I mean truly brutally honest with yourself and ask yourself if you think you are a go getter or a moderately hard worker? If the latter….I would say don’t quit your day job. If you feel you are truly talented and can finish your work to perfection ahead of schedule each and every time all the time then maybe just maybe you have a small chance to succeed. How do I know this? I owned a welding business for a number of years and my most successful years were my first 3 years then through no fault of mine, the economy dropped and I struggled mightily. I persevered and suffered to get through and there has been many a payday I did NOT get paid cause I had to pay my employees first. Pride would not let me shut down my business so I continued to struggle but there has been times when I made out like a bandit but in reality those times were not that many. In retrospect if I had to do it all over again knowing what I now know, I would just go work for someone else and let him do all the worrying and have all the headaches and after my 8 or so hours a day I’m off till the next day and HE can worry all the time! Think long and hard and be sure you have money saved up and save your money for hard times to come for they surely will.

Erwin, Jacksonville, FL

-- Erwin, Jacksonville, FL

View TheWoodsman's profile


65 posts in 2921 days

#11 posted 06-29-2010 02:00 AM

I would highly recommend starting out by getting a job working for someone else’s woodworking business. You can determine it you will really enjoy doing this type of work all day-every day without making a huge up front investment in tools and machinery. In addition, you may also make some good contacts that can help you later on. For example, I used to run many facets of a 50 person shops. Over the course of the eight or so months after I quit, several of the customers contacted me via personal email and pushed me to do work for them. Had I said yes to all of them (and had the means to do all the work they were offering) I could’ve immediately been generating at least a million in sales per year. I did say yes to a couple because they basically said either you do the work for us or we’ll find someone else . . . but we certainly aren’t going to continue working with so-and-so. The two I said yes to have been responsible for well over half my sales in the last six years.

-- I'm the Woodsman . . . the four-wheelin', tree-farmin', custom-furniture-makin' descendant of Olaf "The Woodcutter" Ingjaldsson.

View davidroberts's profile


1027 posts in 3510 days

#12 posted 06-29-2010 03:00 AM

My middle name is Blunt, so take this for what it’s worth. Don’t quit your day job. If you don’t have one, go find one. Whatever job you have is probably not your dream job. Join the crowd. That’s why they call it a job. Enjoy your woodworking hobby for what it is. A good honest fun and sometimes productive hobby. If one day you can produce a quality made wood product, in volume, faster, cheaper than the other guy, then you may stand a chance to earn a respectable living from working wood. That principle holds for any other business you may want to start. Business being the key word.

I would bet only about 10% of the fine folks here actually earn their primary living working wood, and I would venture that only 10% of those make a really good secure living at it. I’m just saying.

-- Better woodworking through old hand tools.

View rcs47's profile


190 posts in 3154 days

#13 posted 06-29-2010 04:30 AM

Many have given good advice, from expanding your current hobby efforts, to going to work for someone to find out what you want to do long term. You may want to build furniture, but you have to build a reputation before you can get the prices you want, i.e., Warren Hile, C. H. Becksvoort. You might have to build cabinets (kitchen, bath, utility, etc.) to make a living.

I remember reading about one person in Fine Woodworking talking how they went to see someone that wanted a bookcase. They said their budget was $3,000. He started laughing, and said his minimum for a project like they wanted was $18,000. I think you need to build a client base to charge $18K for a bookcase. There aren’t that many people that would/can pay that much (<1%).

Building cabinets is not an easy life. During the 50 years my Dad ran (owned) his shop, he said there were years his employees made more than he did. You don’t want to lose the trained guys. I remember him talking about the last subdivision he did (20 houses in the 1960s). The first 10 houses, he was paid right away. The next 5 houses were a little slow. He didn’t get paid for the last 5 houses. He said it takes a long time (lots of projects) to make up not being paid on just one project. After that, all he did was custom work. Even doing custom work, “choice of project” is limited when you need to get work in the door to make money.

You need to find what you love in what you do. It may not be your choice (a set of kitchen cabinets vs. highboy), but find your joy, pride, and enjoyment in everything you push out the door.

Good luck!

Oh – Dad’s advice to my brother and me, “Go to work for a big company. A company that will give you benefits. The experience working in the shop will make a great hobby.” We’re both engineers.

-- Doug - As my Dad taught me, you're not a cabinet maker until you can hide your mistakes.

View ND2ELK's profile


13495 posts in 3798 days

#14 posted 06-29-2010 06:01 AM

I worked for prison industries for 35 years and was a cabinets/furniture designer and builder. I ran a custom wood division in three different states. For 9 years I had my own custom cabinet business on the side besides work at the prison full time. At that time there was more work than I could handle. It was good money on the side but I am so glad I never decided to go on my own full time. Now a days I think it would even be harder to make a good living doing it. I retired two years ago at age 60 with a great retirement plan and now build things for me and my family. Good Luck.

God Bless

-- Mc Bridge Cabinets, Iowa

View Ger21's profile


1074 posts in 3156 days

#15 posted 06-30-2010 03:30 AM

A lot of people might not call it real woodworking, but you can make a good living in a cabinet shop that does commercial work. Some shops might do 90% laminate work, but others may be 50/50 laminate/wood. If you can get into a shop like that, if you’re good, you can make good money. But you’ll probably have to start at a low wage to get your foot in the door. Be aware that these shops are typically high production, and speed is as important as quality work.

It’s not necessarily fine furniture building, but at least you use the same tools. And it can pay well.

-- Gerry,

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