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Recouping costs for hobbyist tool purchases...?

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Forum topic by William Shelley posted 03-07-2017 08:25 PM 1411 views 0 times favorited 22 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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William Shelley

479 posts in 1307 days


03-07-2017 08:25 PM

Hi all,

I’m firmly in the “hobbyist” woodworker camp currently. I have not, to this point, sold anything for cash that I’ve made with my tools. I have done a ton of custom work on my house since I bought it 5 years ago, so I kind of justify spending money on tools by telling myself “well, at least you’re not hiring someone to do this for you!”.

With that being said however, I recently bought a new 16” jointer/planer machine and by the time I get the 3 phase converter hooked up and all the other stuff set up for it i’ll probably have sunk about $5k into this tool. It will definitely get used a ton for future house projects, but I’m going to be looking for ways to put the machine to use recouping some or all of it’s acquisition cost. At this point I have a pretty “full service” shop, and also a MIG/TIG welder for incorporating steel elements into wooden creations. So I’m prepared to tackle some more complicated projects, but I also don’t want to necessarily be beholden to other people’s time frame requirements as that would take some of the enjoyment/relaxation out of the whole deal.

Almost everyone I know at some point in the last 4-5 years has said “Hey do you think you could build an XYZ thing for me?” or “I want to make ABC thing, can you help me with that? I’ll pay you!” and thus far not a single person has followed through. I’m not sure if it’s more lucrative to be doing one-off assistance work like this, or if I should be focusing on making things of my own design (nice boxes, for example) and just selling them directly.

Tips or advice are welcome, thanks!

-- Woodworking from an engineer's perspective


22 replies so far

View johnstoneb's profile

johnstoneb

2641 posts in 2011 days


#1 posted 03-07-2017 08:49 PM

It is either a hobby or a job there is no half way. The first time you agree to do something for money you are on the time clock and you will then have deadlines, liability, customer relations. Do you really want to go there. If it is a hobby you buy the tools because you want to not because you need to and recouping the cost should not be in the equation.

-- Bruce, Boise, ID

View papadan's profile

papadan

3584 posts in 3206 days


#2 posted 03-07-2017 09:25 PM

I don’t do much work for $, most everything is just hobby work. They tell me what they want but that is all I will listen too. They get no choice of design or materials. As for your new 5K toy, you could advertise on Craigs list to mill other peoples lumber for them. Charge so much a Bft. you can pay for that machine without compromising your hobby status. There are lots of people out there that want to build things themselves but don’t have the means to mill the lumber they need. They can still save a lot over the sawmills S4S prices and help you out too.

View jmartel's profile

jmartel

7530 posts in 1988 days


#3 posted 03-07-2017 09:31 PM

I do exactly what you are talking about. I’ve paid for basically my entire shop setup that way. Started out making cutting boards and selling them, then moved into custom one off pieces. Largest of which is the entertainment center or murphy bed I have in my projects on here. It’s a good way to offset the costs of this hobby. That being said, it will take away time from working on stuff for yourself (which my wife has been very gracious about, but has currently reached her limit). Also, you have the stress of trying to do work for other people. Timelines, work quality, etc, all have an effect on you. I’m finishing up a veneered sign right now for someone that has taken entirely way too long, which I am now going to refund part of their money because of that. If I only work on stuff for myself for the next couple years, I’d be fine with that. But I’ll also take on new work on a case by case limit.

-- The quality of one's woodworking is directly related to the amount of flannel worn.

View JayT's profile

JayT

5455 posts in 2049 days


#4 posted 03-07-2017 09:46 PM

I’ve been asked a few times if I would do some custom work or private teaching and haven’t taken on a job, yet. Main reason is that everyone has backed off when I quote the price. People seem to think that because woodworking is a hobby, then I won’t charge for labor or teaching time. After all, I’d be doing woodworking one way or the other, right?

I’ve had to explain that if I am going to be building what someone else wants instead of what I want to do in order to relax and enjoy the hobby, then the amount quoted is what it is going to take. They say they understand, but I don’t think they really do.

On the other hand, I have built a few things that I have wanted to build and then sold them. There’s a greater risk of not selling going that route vs. the custom builds like jmartel has done, but it is more enjoyable for me. I didn’t build them for money, after all, so whatever they sell for is a bonus. I still price them in a way that respects the time involved, however.

If you want to get some woodworking income, you are going to have to pick the route that suits you and your lifestyle best. With 16in capacity, I agree with papadan—you might very well be able to recoup some costs by jointing and planing wide pieces for other woodworkers. There would be less income, but also far less risk and pressure. If you want to build your own designs, then you’ll have to find a market to try and sell. Custom work offers the best guarantee of income if you get a job, but also the most stress. Or you can just enjoy the hobby and count the money as an investment in your relaxation and sanity.

Best of luck with whatever you choose.

-- In matters of style, swim with the current; in matters of principle, stand like a rock. Thomas Jefferson

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William Shelley

479 posts in 1307 days


#5 posted 03-07-2017 10:30 PM

Thanks guys. What would be a fair price to charge for shop time? I’ve seen numbers all over the place, from $15/hr to $100/hr. I think $100 is quite high, I don’t work fast/efficiently enough for that, but less than $25 seems low, unless I can literally just open the door for them and walk away to do something else while they use the equipment.

I suppose the other thing that I’ve been a bit leery of is becoming someone’s go-to consultant whenever they have a question about building anything. Professionally, I’m a software developer/systems engineer/network administrator, so I field a lot of questions from friends and family about computers and networking. And people don’t seem to realize that if I charge $50 for labor to build or repair a PC, it doesn’t come with a warranty that means they can call me six times a month for the next 5 years and get hours of my time for free.

I don’t want to set a precedent where I build a bookshelf for someone and charge a fair price and then they bring me every single thing that needs repair until the end of time and expect me to take care of them on the house. Likewise it’s equally frustrating when someone asks me for advice on a product purchase, and then ignores my information entirely. Like, why bother asking?

-- Woodworking from an engineer's perspective

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mat60

34 posts in 294 days


#6 posted 03-07-2017 10:33 PM

I have had a shop and always had a great time bulding what ever I wanted and learning new things for 8 years. Then I had this idea that it would be great to have a home with room for a small store and barn for a woodshop so we moved and did allot of work and cash to make it hapten. Its been no fun ever since. Its hard to make aneything after I pay my expensives. I end up making bookcases,cabinets and tables and cant spend the time to make real nice furniture because almost no one around here will spend the money when they can get cheap junk in town. 10 years later and I wish I had kept woodworking as a hobby. Now im 57 and its getting a bit hard on the body to do what I was before but this summer Im going to take on some roofing,siding and carpentry jobs because we need the money and I need to get out of the shop.

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jmartel

7530 posts in 1988 days


#7 posted 03-07-2017 10:36 PM

I aim for ~$30/hr+ after it’s all said and done. That being said, I usually take on work when I want a piece of equipment and judge whether or not I’ll do it based off of if it will pay for that piece of equipment or not. Like for instance, the entertainment center bought me my table saw, track saw, and a sander.

Also, I only have people asking me for work that can actually afford it. I don’t do cheap work with crappy materials. It’s either nicer stuff or I’m not willing to put my name on it.

Easiest job I did was making a pipe-leg desk for someone. $600 for a couple of hours of gluing up a solid oak top and putting pipe together.

-- The quality of one's woodworking is directly related to the amount of flannel worn.

View JayT's profile

JayT

5455 posts in 2049 days


#8 posted 03-07-2017 11:02 PM

I quote people $25/hr and the cost of living here is a lot less than you Pacific Northwest guys. Even for things I’ve built because I wanted to and then sold, I usually figure them around $20/hr and only drop lower if the price just seems too high for what it is to me, not to someone else. Most people around here don’t want to pay anywhere close to that, but I have thousands of dollars invested in tools and who knows how many hours of experience. That all factors into the price. Don’t undersell yourself.


I suppose the other thing that I ve been a bit leery of is becoming someone s go-to consultant whenever they have a question about building anything. Professionally, I m a software developer/systems engineer/network administrator, so I field a lot of questions from friends and family about computers and networking. And people don t seem to realize that if I charge $50 for labor to build or repair a PC, it doesn t come with a warranty that means they can call me six times a month for the next 5 years and get hours of my time for free.

- William Shelley

Not just you. My wife works for a lawyer and you can’t imagine how much some people gripe when they get charged for everything. If it takes 5 minutes to type out an email to respond to a stupid question, the client gets charged. If someone calls and wants to just chat about life, it doesn’t matter, they get billed for the time. Guess what? Your time may not be valuable, but mine is.

The only time I give that kind of assistance for free is when the grandson needs help with math homework. If my phone rings and it’s step-daughter’s number, it’s almost guaranteed that’s what is going on. She can help him with most homework, but some of the math gets shoved my way. I’ve volunteered to do some furniture repair for them in the past and built several Christmas presents, but don’t really have a problem with them abusing my hobby.

-- In matters of style, swim with the current; in matters of principle, stand like a rock. Thomas Jefferson

View Loren's profile

Loren

9631 posts in 3486 days


#9 posted 03-07-2017 11:06 PM

If you have the stomach to make fancy boxes,
go for it.

Sanding comes out to 30% of my time I reckon,
when working solid wood. Smaller, fancier
projects require less of it.

I dunno man, if I could engineer software or
whatever you do I wouldn’t even think of working
wood for money. The grass is always greener,
they say.

View William Shelley's profile

William Shelley

479 posts in 1307 days


#10 posted 03-07-2017 11:37 PM



If you have the stomach to make fancy boxes,
go for it.

Sanding comes out to 30% of my time I reckon,
when working solid wood. Smaller, fancier
projects require less of it.

I dunno man, if I could engineer software or
whatever you do I wouldn t even think of working
wood for money. The grass is always greener,
they say.

- Loren

It’s like what mat60 said about it not being fun anymore; I started doing software development when I was 11 years old. It was tons of fun. It was my major activity/hobby. I could spend an entire Saturday from 7am until 11pm just writing code. When I was 23, I landed a job doing it professionally, and since then (I’m turning 29 in a few weeks), it’s basically had all the enjoyment sucked out of it. Before, I spent tons and tons of time on my PC, programming, playing video games, etc. Now, it’s not unheard of for me to not even turn my PC on when I get home. More likely to head out to the shop and turn the dust collection on instead :)

-- Woodworking from an engineer's perspective

View JCamp's profile

JCamp

475 posts in 388 days


#11 posted 03-08-2017 12:35 AM

I haven’t sold anything for years but back when I was a teen I sold a few things. They were always mostly just to fund other projects. I remember once I made nice set of shelves for a family member then one my aunts smarted off about “how much money I’d made” I told her no you really can’t make money at it cause on that little job I had only made around $4 an hour. That was as a teen an I had hardly any over head cause my parents took care of the electric bills and I just supported my hobby An done a few things for them. I can do decent work when I hav the time but most ppl expect u to do a solid wood project for the same price Walmart sells china glued saw dust. They don’t see the time u take to design stuff or the ungodly price of lumber plus stain and poly. To me I don’t wanna do other ppls projects since I don’t have that much free time. If ur dead set on it I’d suggest u limit ur self to 5 or 10 projects then reevaluate how it went

-- Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with all thy might

View TObenhuber's profile

TObenhuber

156 posts in 1430 days


#12 posted 03-14-2017 12:08 AM

I might only be a half step a head of you. I am currently working on a commission project and don’t think I will make pennies on the hour. I initially thought it could be fun and through out the process I have enjoyed it. But, I keep circling back in my mind to that fact that I will barely recoup the cost of the materials.

On one hand I am using the same materials I would normally use. Cheap O construction 2X. I like it and its cheap. With a little TLC can also look good. I drew up the design in Sketchup like normal. I have constructed the project like normal. I plan to finish it like normal. I’ve enjoyed the process for the most part like normal.

On the other hand, making no return on my time for someone I don’t even know isn’t worth it to me. I find my self willing to skimp on the quality. Personally, I HATE that part. When I work on projects for myself or my toughest client. My wife. I work for “Free” or honey-do equity which is far more valuable. If they ask for anything else big, I will have to renegotiate the price of the next project to better account for my time.

Over all, I think I will go back to building things I enjoy and trying to sell them at prices I think are fair. The turn over for the end product is MUCH MUCH slower but in the end much more enjoyable. Time in the shop should be fun for us hobbyist and the money I have made this way always felt very accomplished.

Good luck with your choice!!! It’s one we all have to weigh out at some point as woodworkers.

-- Travis, Virginia, www.facebook.com/CreativeWoodworksHybla

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TObenhuber

156 posts in 1430 days


#13 posted 03-14-2017 12:13 AM

Of course, lastly. I don’t have the 16” planer. Most of my tools either say Harbor Freight, Ryobi or name brands that are from the 80’s. Tools are part of the fun and don’t harp on reimbursing the cost immediately. Think of it in the long run like paying off the house. Be creative and think of projects you enjoy. Build them. Then be patient and sell them how ever you know how.

-- Travis, Virginia, www.facebook.com/CreativeWoodworksHybla

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firefighterontheside

16942 posts in 1694 days


#14 posted 03-14-2017 12:21 AM

I do a lot for cash, plus what I need for our home. Currently I only work for time and materials, meaning I don’t do bids. I will give estimates. Usually I come in below estimate, but occasionally above. Everybody knows what they’re getting into. I’m not getting rich, but definitely paying for my tools and then some. All my commissions come word of mouth. I’d like to retire early from the fire service and do this more seriously. At that point I’ll probably need to build a bigger shop and charge more.

-- Bill M. "People change, walnut doesn't" by Gene.

View TungOil's profile

TungOil

747 posts in 333 days


#15 posted 03-14-2017 12:40 AM

Anyone considering starting a business, woodworking or otherwise, should start with a business plan. It’s a great exercise to help you think through what you will do, how you will make money, etc.

-- The optimist says "the glass is half full". The pessimist says "the glass is half empty". The engineer says "the glass is twice as big as it needs to be"

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