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Are Production Runs the Only Way to Make a Living in Woodworking?

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Forum topic by pashley posted 357 days ago 2013 views 2 times favorited 35 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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pashley

1015 posts in 2319 days


357 days ago

In my last ShopNotes blog, I discuss how perhaps production runs of a carefully designed piece are the only way to make a living at woodworking.

See the article here.

-- Have a blessed day! http://newmissionworkshop.com


35 replies so far

View Shawn Masterson's profile

Shawn Masterson

1243 posts in 550 days


#1 posted 357 days ago

IMHO A production mentality is the best way to get in and get out and make money. When I build a built in for a customer I set up and make all the cabinet boxes then start the finish and while they are drying I go into making the doors. The biggest battle with a production run is space (work and storage).

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pashley

1015 posts in 2319 days


#2 posted 357 days ago

I agree, Shawn. Sorry about the room issue! LOL

-- Have a blessed day! http://newmissionworkshop.com

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joeyinsouthaustin

1212 posts in 674 days


#3 posted 357 days ago

Outside of literally “breaking” in to the art world, IMO yes. The maze, pitfalls, and cocktail parties, of making a name for your self in the scene where people will pay anything, and play patron to a wood worker is so rare to navigate, and requires some special talent, skill, and a lot of luck. Unless you fall into that scene, you can’t beat the economy of scales that make production work the viable option… (from my personal experience, I have an art degree, but run a cabinet shop, every now and then I get lucky and get to truly work as an artist, but the other pays the bills)

-- Who is John Galt?

View TCCcabinetmaker's profile

TCCcabinetmaker

925 posts in 956 days


#4 posted 357 days ago

Yes a production mind set is going to be the most effective way to make money as a woodworker, because time = money, so using some of the hobbyists suggestions around here would drive people into bankruptcy…. I mean asphaltum, really?

-- The mark of a good carpenter is not how few mistakes he makes, but rather how well he fixes them.

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NiteWalker

2709 posts in 1178 days


#5 posted 357 days ago

That’s the way I do it; I have a basic design, and my customers can choose their desired options based on their needs/wants. The build process goes pretty much the same regardless of options chosen.

I won’t retire on what I make for now, but it brings in enough to feed my tool and video game habits.

-- He who dies with the most tools... dies with the emptiest wallet.

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rrww

252 posts in 714 days


#6 posted 357 days ago

Same here production pays the bills so I get three hours a month to “play” with something I want to do.

View huff's profile

huff

2783 posts in 1886 days


#7 posted 356 days ago

I feel like the lone ranger here! LOL

I guess if you classify using the same building techniques in your basic construction most of the time as production runs, then I did that as much as possible, but I generally made as much money (and even more) when I was doing true custom work.

For me, it was how I went about pricing my work and my time. Production work usually ties you pretty tight to competition, especially if a contractor or designer is involved, but when I did custom work, I really didn’t worry about competition, because most other shops couldn’t or wouldn’t deal with it.

I saw a lot of shops actually pass up work because they felt they couldn’t make any money doing a project simply because it was out of their normal production run and they couldn’t afford the time to set up and do speciality stuff.

I/ve always felt there was a fine line between sticking too closely to production type manufacturing and not allowing yourself to be flexible enough to do both.

Making a living? Like you said; that’s different from individual to individual, but I was a one man shop, making the only income for the family with a million dollars worth of medical bills and even though I don’t own ocean front property or my own private island somewhere in the Pacific, I owe no one and I would do it all over again.

Just my take. LOL.

-- John @ http://www.thehuffordfurnituregroup.com

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TravisH

214 posts in 536 days


#8 posted 356 days ago

Of course it inst’t the only way but it is the “easiest” way for most to attempt to make a go at it. I enjoy woodworking (definitely not good at it) but production runs would be less than satisfying for me. It would purely end up being a job that would have to end up matching overall benefits of my current job in the same given amount of time spent.

The issue I have with some production work is well you can tell it is just that. Corners are cut to meet the “production needs” to be profitable. Of course most of these places don’t last but a few years and/or I find that the owners have a very different level of what I consider making a living.

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pashley

1015 posts in 2319 days


#9 posted 356 days ago

Huff, Ii wouldn’t say using the same techniques is a production run, no. Basically, it’s making a bunch at one time. If you were making side tables, you’d make 20 legs, 5 tops, 5 drawers, etc, all at one time. It’s efficient because you aren’t setting up jigs, rip fences or dado blades as many times. It’s just my opinion that specialty stuff isn’t really worth it, unless it’s not too hard to do, and you can charge a great price.

TravisH you make a good point about it getting boring. I can see that. But about cutting corners – it’s not about cutting corners, in terms of not sanding correctly, using a biscuit joint, instead of mortise and tenon, etc. It’s about using time more efficiently, such as setting up your table saw blade height to exactly 7/16ths, or getting that router jig set up just right – but doing it just once, instead of many times. It’s a like a music group. Instead of going to my house, playing the music, then over to your house, then the neighbors, etc, they “set up” once, in a studio, and make many “cuts” once for the sake of efficiency.

-- Have a blessed day! http://newmissionworkshop.com

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joeyinsouthaustin

1212 posts in 674 days


#10 posted 356 days ago

Huff I see your point, the same is true for me.. but those jobs come and go… maintaining a steady stream of cost is no object work is very difficult. Short of having a gallery, an agent, and a name known to cause jealousy amongst the trophy wives and Bugatti driving set, you need production to pay the bills. I am not saying it is impossible, and the sculptural grade stuff I have had the pleasure to work on, really paid the bill, but to have that name that people hafta have, where you can one off stuff. soooo hard. Even then I would likely by doing small runs. One of my employees went out on his own, and is on the “studio tours” and such. Taking city grants for benches, and producing one of a kind furniture and woodworking pieces. Even then I advised him to make copies as he did his one offs.. veneer them in walnut or whatever, than do three paint grade and sell them on line for a quarter of the price, under a different name. There is just such a savings in doing four at once rather than just one.. why not??

-- Who is John Galt?

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huff

2783 posts in 1886 days


#11 posted 356 days ago

Pashley;

Exactly my point; I never did the so called production runs and I’m the guy that got all the work everyone else felt there wasn’t any money to be made at. (and made a good living doing so).

Everybody has their own feelings on the best way to make a living doing woodworking and I’m just saying that mass producing items is just one of those ways.

It has everything to do with your business model and marketing strategies . If you can manufacture and sell a bunch of the same items with a high enough profit margin, then that is the best way for you to go.

For me; I could make more money making one item that others didn’t make then trying to compete with every discount store, big box store and everything made overseas.

Neither is right or wrong, it’s just different ways of doing business. I’m not trying to change your mind on the best way to make money, nor will I be convinced you can’t make money doing custom and specialty work.

Over the years, I’ve found far more woodworkers fail in business, not because which way they decide to build, but far more often because they don’t understand how to price, market and sell their work.

-- John @ http://www.thehuffordfurnituregroup.com

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joeyinsouthaustin

1212 posts in 674 days


#12 posted 356 days ago

James101 The funny thing is, like huff says, everyone has their own way. In my shop, we do a lot of that, and I for me it is “production” work. I guess my view is from the context of a custom cabinet shop… so our production lines are set up for custom work, but still production lines. When I think custom I think like the light trellis posted in my projects, or one off furniture pieces, and such. Where there will only be one. Any thing that gets built over in the special assembly area I have set up in the shop kinda thing. I diffidently agree with the point in the OP’s comment that production kinda means make several a once, instead of one off… making a living with one off’s is a fortunate thing.

-- Who is John Galt?

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Manitario

2262 posts in 1484 days


#13 posted 356 days ago

Interesting read and comments. I just finished reading “The Soul of a Tree” by Nakashima. He started off pretty small and unique; eventually had a shop which appeared to split its time between “production” type builds eg. his Conoid chair and his individually made/designed pieces. I’ve day-dreamed about doing woodworking as more than just a hobby, building Nakashima style furniture; the only way I can see this being economically viable is to have a shop in an area with a large number of deep pocketed clients or tourists.

-- Sometimes the creative process requires foul language. -- Charles Neil

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pashley

1015 posts in 2319 days


#14 posted 356 days ago

huff: Hey, if you make money doing custom stuff, that’s great. I’m not saying production runs are the only way to go; I’m still learning about the biz end! I’m just saying, it seems logical to me at this point.

James101: Interesting, thanks for the input! Custom does have to pay well, but is it steady work?

joeyinsouthaustin: Perhaps your mixed blend of semi-production, semi custom is a great way to go; you have versatility, yet production too. Hmmmm….

Manitario: You certainly have to have a higher-end client base for custom work, but that’s where the Internet can be indispensable.

-- Have a blessed day! http://newmissionworkshop.com

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pashley

1015 posts in 2319 days


#15 posted 356 days ago

”...happy doing just as I am.”

THat’s what it’s all about, brother!

-- Have a blessed day! http://newmissionworkshop.com

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