Woodworking as a Career

  • Advertise with us

« back to Woodworking Skill Share forum

Forum topic by ryan1144 posted 04-04-2010 01:33 AM 1765 views 1 time favorited 12 replies Add to Favorites Watch
View ryan1144's profile


4 posts in 3000 days

04-04-2010 01:33 AM

Topic tags/keywords: career woodworking school business self-employment

I have become increasingly interested in woodworking over the past couple years. I am looking into pursuing a career in the field. I was wondering if anyone could share their experiences about how they set up a furniture/cabinetry business. Basically, what I’m wondering is were I to complete a program at a woodworking school, would it be enough knowledge to draw from to be self-employed right off the bat, or is it essential to work in someone else’s shop for awhile to gain more skill and experience?

Also, can anyone suggest schools that have programs which take students with little experience? I know schools like The North Bennett Street School and Northwest Woodworking Studio are very selective and want more experienced students, so just wondering which programs are best for those coming in with some knowledge of woodworking, but mostly from studying books about the subject as opposed to having much experience with completing projects. I have a few under my belt, but I hardly have any tools to work with due to limited space and not a whole lot of money to buy equipment, so it’s been tough.

12 replies so far

View bigike's profile


4052 posts in 3314 days

#1 posted 04-04-2010 04:15 AM

where do u live? try to google woodworking schools? and if you live near someone here on LJ try to ask if they can sort of let you either sit in or work in on a few projects.

-- Ike, Big Daddies Woodshop,

View kennyd's profile


103 posts in 3025 days

#2 posted 04-04-2010 05:27 AM


I don’t know where you live but up here in Connecticut cabinet shops are shutting down all of the time. It seems no one wants to pay for quality cabinetry up here anymore. Home Depot and Lowes are taking over! There’s an HD and Lowes in almost every major city it the state.

I’ve been buying tools from shops that are closing down. Lots of ads daily on Craigslist.

Good Luck.


-- Kenny... The man who needs a tool he doesn't have is already paying for it.

View gbvinc's profile


628 posts in 3972 days

#3 posted 04-04-2010 05:36 AM

“would it be enough knowledge to draw from to be self-employed right off the bat”

Being a craftsman is one thing, being a savy businessman is another equally important skill that will determine whether you can stay self employeed after the “right off the bat” part. ;-) A little experience at a shop to learn how the marketplace functions in your area might be worth considering.

Anywho….just a thought.

View a1Jim's profile (online now)


117117 posts in 3602 days

#4 posted 04-04-2010 05:37 AM

Hey Ryan
Welcome to Ljs .
I Believe North Bennett accepts all levels of wood workers. I know Charles Neil teaches some classes and has his on line projects you can build along with him .
Also Chuck Bender has some classes.

-- wood crafting & woodworking classes

View ,'s profile


2387 posts in 3572 days

#5 posted 04-04-2010 07:01 AM

I think it depends on location as to how much business you will have. We find a lot of customers who do not want the manufactured cabinet and will pay a little more for custom and hire us. We stay busy, my wife does it full time and I do it part time since I work for the state. I would recommend at least 2 years in a cabinet shop, master the skill and learn as much as you can with the business end also. Pick up a job or so on the side for extra money. If you cannot do that, look for a small cabinet guy or shop who you can donate some small labor and learn. The idea is to avoid pitfalls you encounter in business when going at it alone without some sort of hands on experience first. Or work somewhere full time, then start the cabinet shop up on the side, do great work, strive to be the best in your area and your name will grow and word will spread, soon enough hopefully you should be able to go full time. Just my idea.

-- .

View acanthuscarver's profile


268 posts in 3737 days

#6 posted 04-04-2010 05:24 PM

Woodworking as a career is a big step. Even going to a school like North Bennett Street, while it will help, isn’t necessarily going to prepare a person to jump immediately into business for themself. The schools are a good place to start getting experience but nothing beats working in a place (or two) that does the type of work you eventually want to do. The higher the quality and the higher the volume, the quicker you’ll become proficient at the woodworking skills needed to be able to support yourself as a woodworker. Taking a few business courses through a college isn’t a bad idea either. Most of the woodworkers I know that succeeded have done so because they understood how to keep their overhead low, generate customers and produce superior work quickly. I try to tell the students who come through my classes here at the school, it’s one thing to do this as an avocation but something completely different as a vocation. I liken it to being a chef, in that it might be fun to cook something once in a while but it’s a completely different person who sees the fun in cooking the same thing a hundred times a night seven days a week. Passion is the thing that drives most professional woodworkers. If you’d like to talk more about this, please feel free to PM me. I’ve been a professional furniture maker for the last 30 years (give or take).

-- Chuck Bender, period furniture maker, woodworking instructor

View Ger21's profile


1074 posts in 3156 days

#7 posted 04-04-2010 05:46 PM

As others have said, getting the work is the hardest part. Especially if you want to build furniture.

Also, building furniture and building cabinets can be two very different things. I’ve worked in cabinet shops for the lat 15 years, doing mostly commercial work. Less than 1% is furniture type work. But if you’re smart, and really willing to learn, you can learn a lot of things about doing production work (doing things faster) that would take you many, many years to learn on your own.

I used to work with someone who went out on there own. Even with a lot of contacts, he’s always struggling to find work.

-- Gerry,

View rhett's profile


742 posts in 3693 days

#8 posted 04-04-2010 09:38 PM

Your “resume” when working for yourself is work you have done. It is naive to think taking classes in woodwork will mean you can have a woodworking business after graduation. My guess is if you ask 50 people who don’t know woodworking, maybe 1 can tell you what the North Bennet Street School is, so having a WWing diploma won’t mean much to most people.

The best advice for anyone wanting to woodwork for a living is work for someone else. You can see what cutting wood for 8-10 hours a day is and get a check while your learning how to be efficient. Pick up jobs on the side and build a strong portfolio of work. Word of mouth is where the majority of work comes from. Saying your a woodworking business and hanging a sign out front doesn’t mean you will have any work to do.

I don’t believe many of the professional woodworkers on this site will argue the fact that hustling woodwork is a tough and trying job. Expect 50+ hour work weeks plus weekends and dry spells. It helps to have a spouse with a steady income.

-- Doubt kills more dreams than failure.

View Beginningwoodworker's profile


13345 posts in 3698 days

#9 posted 04-04-2010 11:20 PM

I’ve agree with the rest going into the woodworking business is tough sell. I would say work for someone else for awhile.

View ryan1144's profile


4 posts in 3000 days

#10 posted 04-04-2010 11:43 PM

Thanks to everyone for the responses. To explain myself more thoroughly, starting out I would not expect to jump into this full-time. If I were to go this route, I’m guessing it would be part-time work for quite awhile, and were I to build up a strong customer base, it could transfer over into full-time.

I guess I was just trying to figure out the time commitment involved to start out in something like this. For me, I feel that going to a woodworking school would be a major help in terms of gaining experience, as opposed to just working at a shop. Some of the programs are 9-month intensives, but it seems like 2-3 year programs are also pretty common. It sounds like working in the field after school is pretty essential for honing your craft, which I figured, so that also adds onto the time that you’re in training.

@bigike – I’m currently in SW Colorado. I’ve been researching schools for awhile now and at this point I would still rather be out west than have to travel east. I’ve been checking out Palomar, Red Rocks Community College, Cerritos College, and a couple others.

@gbvinc – In terms of the business side of things I think I’m better prepared than most. I graduated with a business degree from the University of Pittsburgh, and received a pretty thorough education, so in that area I’m pretty well prepared, it’s more learning the craft that is the challenge.

@flyforfun and rhett – I definitely agree that working for someone else is key to learning the trade. I wasn’t really expecting to just open up shop as soon as I leave school. At the same time, when working for someone else, how much time is necessary to gain the needed experience to start up your own shop? Jerry, I know you were saying at least 2 years, but is that really enough or would it be more like 4-5 years before you would really get the experience needed?

Also, are there enough shops out there to even get work and build experience? From what I’ve heard in the past, apprenticeships at furniture shops are almost non-existent these days, so is it all based on connections or are there a decent amount of shops around to look for work?

View rhett's profile


742 posts in 3693 days

#11 posted 04-05-2010 01:42 AM

I believe your last paragraph sums up the situation.

-- Doubt kills more dreams than failure.

View acanthuscarver's profile


268 posts in 3737 days

#12 posted 04-05-2010 01:56 AM


I always told my apprentices, and at one time I had 5 or 6 guys working for me in the shop, that it would take 5 years until they started to be reasonably proficient and 10 years before they were both good and productive. A school can give you some fundamental training but it’s only a beginning. I had lots of guys work for me from Rio Grande, North Bennett and Rockingham over the years. Some had a better chance than others at making it but that was more a function of the individual rather than the schooling. None of them was a “Master” right out of school and it took at least two years of working for me before I started making money of their being in my shop. Contrary to popular belief, that is the only reason to have employees.

Working at it part time and building a reputation and portfolio is a great idea. Working in another shop, as hard as it might be to work your way into one, is still the best idea. One piece of advice, passion tends to open all kinds of doors.

-- Chuck Bender, period furniture maker, woodworking instructor

Have your say...

You must be signed in to reply.

DISCLAIMER: Any posts on LJ are posted by individuals acting in their own right and do not necessarily reflect the views of LJ. LJ will not be held liable for the actions of any user.

Latest Projects | Latest Blog Entries | Latest Forum Topics