How do you choose your specialty work?

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Forum topic by Mark posted 05-30-2011 05:00 PM 1447 views 0 times favorited 20 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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1807 posts in 3273 days

05-30-2011 05:00 PM

Topic tags/keywords: question

I thought about this today as I was editing my profile and looking at my projects. I noticed how my projects are all different kinds of projects. Normally when I look at someones work they have one type of project in their profile whether it be scrollsawers, pens, lathe work, or cabinets. So long story short I have to ask, how/why do you choose one type of work? I think I would go crazy doing one type of woodwork all the time. Wouldn’t you rather be well rounded at many things?

-- M.K.

20 replies so far

View Loren's profile (online now)


10396 posts in 3647 days

#1 posted 05-30-2011 05:27 PM

If you’re a hobbiest, sure, but if you want to get top dollar for
your work as a pro, it pays to specialize. The reason is because
specialists are perceived as being more expert at what they do
and this creates a situation where customers come begging to
buy from the expert, rather than shopping around for a bargain.

Specialization also allows streamlining of your operation to make
more money with less overhead.

of course if you’re still learning how to make stuff, joinery and
how to maintain tools and things like that you want to play and
grow. That’s a process of your growth as an artist. At some
stage though, if you want to make good money from your art,
you’ll need to choose to define an aesthetic because the
people who buy work want to put you in a box – ie. “he makes
the best guitars.” or “she turns the most beautiful bowls.”

BTW – everyone I ever talk to who knows a professional luthier
believes their friend makes some of the world’s finest guitars –
this is impossible because there can only be a small portion
of makers who are the absolute best…. but nobody wants to
boast that their friend is a maker of mediocre instruments. That’s
not an interesting thing to tell a story about.

View rance's profile


4258 posts in 3159 days

#2 posted 05-30-2011 05:27 PM

The rounder the better. My recipe… eat lots of butter. :) I agree completely Mark but Loren does have a point.

-- Backer boards, stop blocks, build oversized, and never buy a hand plane--

View EPJartisan's profile


1118 posts in 3124 days

#3 posted 05-30-2011 05:43 PM

Interesting questions. From an artists point of view, we find a concept, a shape, technique, or material that is fascinating to us and we run.. push it, use it and explore it… and what ever the result, success or not, money or not, we get bored and find something new. I started in Industrial Design, but couldn’t stomach designing thing to fall apart, and I hate plastics… so I turned to sculpture. But the seeds of my ID major always seems to overshadow my creative ability. I was lost a lot, until I was given a Thomas Moser catalog and fell in love with wood and woodworking. At first I was all about furniture.. thought I had to make something that someone else would buy from me. I remodeled my condo for practice. BUT then I have a long history with construction, art, and inventing things… and I have a obsessive desire for knowledge and read about science and psychology and theology… thus a while ago I learned to blend all my interests into one passion of carving. So I make Wands… which is a simple but challenging shape, one that uses 5 major tools (bandsaw, table saw, drill press, lathe, and my hand tools) But I love sculpture and love art more than furniture. Right now I am consumed with making cones out of wood and what way i can use them to make more functional art. Find it, use it, push it. Yet I still like trying making other woodworking products just to hone a greater knowledge base. Yet, when it comes down to it, I know what I love to do and do it as often as I can. Specialization is like getting a PHD… great for only one area, but solid proof you know your stuff.

-- " 'Truth' is like a beautiful flower, unique to each plant and to the season it blossoms ... 'Fact' is the root and leaf, allowing the plant grow and bloom again."

View jusfine's profile


2422 posts in 2925 days

#4 posted 05-30-2011 05:59 PM

I would think that only the better projects (maybe bigger) make it to some LJ’s Project posting, or others, like me, just don’t take many photos of their work.

I build stall plaques with inlay for the equine industry, small boxes, cabinets, custom vanities, small pieces of furniture, stairs, pretty much whatever has been requested, so I agree about the variety…

The only photos of mine are of some boxes and a set of nesting tables taken more than a decade ago…

I do have about 20,000 photos of the colts we have raised, though…

-- Randy "You are judged as much by the questions you ask as the answers you give..."

View john's profile


2370 posts in 4381 days

#5 posted 05-30-2011 06:14 PM

I do mainly outdoor projects for a few reasons . First reason is i spend a lot of time outside as much as possible and secondly a lot of people see my work outside and they always stop in to look . I get an average of 10 – 20 people a day stopping in . Sometimes even more :-)

-- John in Belgrave (Website) ,

View grizzman's profile


7836 posts in 3302 days

#6 posted 05-30-2011 10:54 PM

hey mark, that’s a good question to ask, to me wood working is a individual thing, with so many directions to go with. if your doing it as a business, and on commissions then your making what someone else wants you to make for them, if your like me, you do what you want either for yourself or for gifts to others, and those will always vary, you do what you want to do, and because each project can bring different challenges, then you learn to stretch yourself, learn new things, how to blend different woods…its a personal adventure if you ask me..and doing something different all the time keeps it interesting..just like your heater covers, you were so glad to move onto something else …right…...and even though i tried to get you to make your new bed look like a heater cover…you didn’t do it…LOL…... just keep doing what you want, and you will become a good wood worker…you will want to learn to do hand dovetails, and all sorts of things…try doing a green and green project sometime…its all great….grizz

-- GRIZZMAN ...[''''']

View Paul Sellers's profile

Paul Sellers

278 posts in 2569 days

#7 posted 05-31-2011 12:12 AM

I think it’s a good question too. When I was 13 years old, maybe just 14, my father asked me what I wanted to be. It was an important question and needed an answer. I liked woodworking but I wasn’t good at it. I told my dad and he said to apply for an apprenticeship. At 15 I left school and began an apprenticeship. I worked with six men who mentored me through the critical years of my life. 46 years have passed since those early days of beginning woodworking. I was fortunate that they trained me and for 46 years, I mean everyone of those 13,800 days at least, I have worked with my hands working with wood and have never regretted it to this day.

I’ve never done woodworking as a hobby or a pastime. Nothing wrong with that either. I’m an amatuer that gets paid, which is better than a professional that only does it for money. I never found time I needed to pass so woodworking could never be a pass time. I’ve made furniture of some kind every day of my life. I’ve made hundreds of doors too, window frames, walking sticks came from my hands to the tune of ten thousand of them the last year I made them. The important thing I see now is not so much doing what you want to do, but more following what we once considered important, your vocational calling. Doing that inevitably leads to a wide range of new ventures, but the undergirding that supports this is your calling. That’s the hard question to answer. Following your calling brings true freedom which is different than, well, just going out there and making stuff.

I think an answer I might offer is that if you find your true calling, you will find peace in the work and even when work isn’t as interesting, you do it because it’s honorable. There were times past when the work was such that I really struggled, but I didn’t have a choice, I had a young family and you do what it takes. Most often, when I face what I don’t want to, I find the work changes and just enjoy it as much as more inspiring work.

-- Paul Sellers, UK

View Jim Finn's profile

Jim Finn

2656 posts in 2921 days

#8 posted 05-31-2011 02:37 AM

I started in carving then to making things to carve on ( fireplace bellows) then started making trunks and toys. Having a lot of scraps left from making cedar trunks I found a use for them in making small boxes. I am still in my small box phase, including carving on them and doing inlay. I have been making these small boxes for the past two years and have become rather efficient at it. I made about 50 fireplace bellows and about 50 trunks and about 200-300 small boxes. I enjoy the R&D involved, including finding efficient mass production metheds. I stumble across a technique (Like inaly) and look for ways to use this skill. Of coarse the more I do the better I get at doing it. I have made hundreds of toys also, but make few nowadays. I have done some lathe work and intarsia but not fond of either…........this week.

-- Website is No PHD just a DD214 and a GED

View Mark's profile


1807 posts in 3273 days

#9 posted 05-31-2011 03:27 AM

thanks alot everyone….its getting my department of thinking busy. I want to get active in the business area but I am trying to figure out my specialty and if I can really keep up doing work for others. I really hate slapping a price tag on my work. I woodwork with a passion and I don’t want that passion to die if I start to build things to satisfy demands if you know what I mean.

-- M.K.

View Kent Shepherd's profile

Kent Shepherd

2718 posts in 3285 days

#10 posted 05-31-2011 04:16 PM

Mark, If you are looking at woodworking to make a living, it would be a good idea to narrow your focus to a certain area, but not necessarily one thing thing only. Most succesful woodworkers I know do that. Find an area that interests you, but be very aware of the market in you area, unless you choose to market online.

There is generally a decent market in home remodeling and cabinets and trim (unless the economy tanks—then unfortunately most woodworking is tough.) I have a production raised panel door shop. My dad started the business, so it was natural for me to follow. All my equipment is dedicated to doors, and we refuse to do anything else. Over the years we have made roughly 750,000 cabinet doors. My shop is very focused and not exactly rewarding from a woodworking standpoint. I don’t mind the repetition, but it can get old. What bothers me in is the constant pressure from unreasonable customers. Unfortunately, that is the price you pay for success.

I am working now on producing and marketing boxes. That can be anything from simple craft show items to $2,000 humidors, or anything in between. Again, what interests you that matches your skill level, and the opportunities you have?

If you want your woodworking to remain a hobby, then make whatever you like, whenever you like. At my home shop I tend to prefer a lot of different things. I will never be able to do all the projects on my list, but I don’t get bored.

Bottom line—you can still love woodworking as a career, but it does tend to be much more fun as a hobby.


View William's profile


9949 posts in 2841 days

#11 posted 05-31-2011 05:12 PM

I am purely a hobbiest, but I think it depends on the person. I build all kinds of stuff, rocking toys, funiture, chandeliers, candle holders, display items, plaques, pictures, picture frames, and anything else that catches my eye. Each and every one of them have one theme in common though, scroll work. I have even started out trying to build a straight forward project that required no scrolling. By the time I’m through though, it winds up with sime type of scroll work on it.
So I guess as a hobbiest, it depends on where your passions lie.


View Al Killian's profile

Al Killian

85 posts in 2624 days

#12 posted 05-31-2011 06:38 PM

I own a millwork/cabinet shop. We will do almost anything that comes in the door. However, 90% of are work is molding. Probaly 80% is custom or reproduction moldins. Yes, when pepole know that is your main thing they know it is going to cost them and they are willing to dish out the money to have it done right the first time. We also do a good chunk of custom cabinet work. I do like doing custom cabinets as no two jobs are anything alike. We just finished one job where we had to make the bottom cabinets 28’ deep and the uppers 15’ deep except the two bump out cabinet which where 17’ deep and 60” tall. Sticking to one or two things allow a person to focus on that niche and get better at it.

-- Owner of custom millwork shop

View Mark's profile


1807 posts in 3273 days

#13 posted 05-31-2011 07:52 PM

makes sense….i still have to focus more on what is more of my area.

-- M.K.

View Div's profile


1653 posts in 2939 days

#14 posted 05-31-2011 08:10 PM

Paul Sellers has written well. It basically also sums up my story!

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

View richgreer's profile


4541 posts in 3073 days

#15 posted 05-31-2011 10:06 PM

I like to do a pretty wide variety of types of work and I enjoy the variety of challenges I face. My work includes custom furniture, turning, toys miscellaneous things like cutting boards and pepper grinders.

I like to make things that one cannot buy at a retail store. For me, it makes no sense to make a piece of furniture that is just like the one I can buy at a furniture store.

I genuinely dislike getting into a “production mode”. Last year my Mother wanted me to make 8 pizza cutters with a stand for each. She gave them away as gifts. I did not enjoy that and if I don’t enjoy it – why do it. Of course, how can I say no to my Mother?

-- Rich, Cedar Rapids, IA - I'm a woodworker. I don't create beauty, I reveal it.

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