The Secret on What to Build

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Forum topic by pashley posted 12-06-2013 02:38 PM 1884 views 0 times favorited 23 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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1043 posts in 3713 days

12-06-2013 02:38 PM

Every woodworker that wants to make a living (or at least, some nice side income) at woodworking wants one question answered: What should I build that will sell?!

In my latest ShopNotes Blog post, I answer that.

-- Have a blessed day!

23 replies so far

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1643 posts in 2628 days

#1 posted 12-06-2013 02:50 PM

I don’t know. You make some good points, but I still think you better build something that the consumer is passionate about.

View RockyTopScott's profile


1186 posts in 3473 days

#2 posted 12-06-2013 03:11 PM

If you build what is your passion and no one buys it does that not relegate your activities to be a hobby?

I totally agree with passion bringing out the best in you, but the market will tell you what they want to buy.

I don’t do woodworking for a living but if I did I would look at what I am good at, what people want to buy and what can I make a profit on would determine what it is I would build.

BTW Pashley, I love your mission desk…a very nice piece.

-- “When you want to help people, you tell them the truth. When you want to help yourself, you tell them what they want to hear.” ― Thomas Sowell

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Chris P

93 posts in 2280 days

#3 posted 12-06-2013 03:19 PM

Good post, I agree i think woodworking is something you have to put your heart in to, if your making something you’re not passionate about it just becomes like any “whatever pays the bills” job. I’m by no means a professional but I would like to make that transition someday and if I can’t do it by selling things I enjoy building then I’ll keep it as a hobby. Just my two cents.

-- Chris, Long Island

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1043 posts in 3713 days

#4 posted 12-06-2013 03:35 PM

Chances are, if you are passionate about it, and if the product line is not too unique – like wood gear shift knobs – then others out there are too, and will buy it.

How about salt and pepper mills? Blah? Not for my friend Brad, who does well selling them, and any wonder why?

-- Have a blessed day!

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Jim Finn

2656 posts in 2917 days

#5 posted 12-06-2013 03:38 PM

When I first started doing wood working back about 1983 I was making decorative and functioning fireplace bellows. After many attempts I finally could produce them in a reasonable length of time, and offer them for sale at a reasonable price, but sold few. I liked working with wood so I tried other items to make for fun and for sale. I now make cedar boxes with maple images or lettering inlaid into the hinged lids. These boxes sell well. I also make a few toys and they also sell well. I still make bellows and do intarsia and lettering on signs but sell few of those. I have also made large vases and even small wooden flowers but find that there is not much of a market for them. The box sales fund my hobby 100% but I still try new ideas from time to time, and see if they sell. So my answer to the question “What sells?” is: In my case, Boxes and toys priced under $25.

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

View lunn's profile


215 posts in 2304 days

#6 posted 12-06-2013 03:58 PM

I have a wood shop !! Plain and simple. I’m not in busniess nor do i want to be. If it’s wood i’ll repair it. bring some sorta plans i’ll build it. In my spare time i build whatever i want to sell. If i build more than 2 of a item then it’s a job and i darn sure don’t want that!!! People stop and ask whattcha making I just reply about 50 cents an hour. Example a lady stoped by and asked if i could fix a chair with a broken leg sure! I ended up fixing 10 for her. It adds up. I’d hate to try making a living at it! But i stay busy and make a buck !

-- What started as a hobbie is now a full time JOB!

View RockyTopScott's profile


1186 posts in 3473 days

#7 posted 12-06-2013 04:06 PM

How does your friend Brad market his product? What are his distribution channels?

-- “When you want to help people, you tell them the truth. When you want to help yourself, you tell them what they want to hear.” ― Thomas Sowell

View joeyinsouthaustin's profile


1294 posts in 2067 days

#8 posted 12-06-2013 06:21 PM

I agree with the article.. %90. For me if you want to make money, specifically a living from woodworking, passion for the craft is a bonus, and even helpful, but I would argue that what you really need to have a passion for is business!! If you don’t find passion for that craft, the woodcraft will likely not pay, but will certainly be rewarding.

-- Who is John Galt?

View Puzzleman's profile


417 posts in 2939 days

#9 posted 12-06-2013 08:39 PM

I agree with Joeyinsouthaustin. I enjoy working with wood and consider if lots of fun. I also enjoy business and will talk to every business person I meet trying to pick their brain. I also do the same with marketing people.

I have learned that I have to treat my woodworking as a business, run it as a business and not as a hobby. My goal is to make money through wood working. For every one that says they don’t want to make money off their skills is not someone who is trying to make money from woodworking. I can sit on my couch watching the television and not make money. When I am working, I am making a living.

As far as finding something you are passionate about and then making it. You also need to find the market that you can sell this product at. I enjoy making puzzles. Wound up making personalized puzzles. Now I make a living making personalized puzzles. Found the market by doing craft and art shows. Then found the wholesale accounts by doing trade shows. Has it been easy? NO. I have worked more hours than I have ever done before for less pay per hour but I love the wood and the business. Would never trade it.

-- Jim Beachler, Chief Puzzler,

View pashley's profile


1043 posts in 3713 days

#10 posted 12-06-2013 09:21 PM

RockyTopScott: I know Brad does a lot of shows, and I think he does quite a bit through his website. His Facebook page is here, and his website here. He sells on Etsy too. I’m sure he can help you….

joeyinsouthaustin: Yes, there is no doubt that you have to know how to market; what good is it if you make something for people to buy, and they can’t find you? But if they can find you, and you obviously don’t have a passion for your work, would good is that as well? I would say marketing is really not all that hard, but developing a passion, and being really good, is.

Puzzleman: No, it wasn’t easy – if it was, everyone would be doing it. But, you persevered, another trait of a successful person, good for you.

-- Have a blessed day!

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1294 posts in 2067 days

#11 posted 12-07-2013 12:28 AM

pashleybut I can tell you that a passion for whatever you do will take you to the top” This specific statement is not a realistic conclusion to your lead statement, ” I’m speaking about guys that want to make a living at it, not hobby types, not even craft show guys.” Because of this qualifier, ” you need to build what you are passionate about.” The body then speaks of several different types of wood projects, improving those projects, or dedication to a craft or idea, but it does not mention that you have to actually sell these products. Except here, ”Have you found that item line that works for you? You’d like me to tell you what to make, what will sell well, wouldn’t you? It’s what everyone wants to know that sells something – whether it be the “it” toy of the Christmas season, or a livelihood, people want to sell what people want to buy. ” People buying really don’t give a crap about your passion. They want the object to be good, well crafted, of a value to them, and something they like or need. I totally agree about your premise that you need to have passion behind what you do, but in the very specific context you provided, ”how to make a living at woodworking” your passion needs to include a respect for the market place. ”people want to sell what people want to buy.” Think of it this way. Gordon Ramsay has pointed this out to many chefs in his program Kitchen Nightmares. “I can see that you are passionate about grandmas old Italian recipe’s, but there are 30 Italian restaurants in the block, you are not that talented of a chef, and people want more modern versions of the recipe. If you don’t change the restaurant will close.” It doesn’t matter if this chef is more passionate than anyone, his passion is misdirected. He needs to be passionate about owning a restaurant. Not being the chef, not grandma’s recipes, but making a living from a restaurant. A carpenter who wants to make a living at woodworking can’t just “build what your are passionate about” passion is involved, it is needed, but without respect for the desires of the marketplace, you will not make a living at it. That was what I was trying to point out that I felt was missing from your article. Now success is defined many different ways.. So I would call this statement true to your article, “If you build what you are passionate about, you will be successful” But possibly hungry!! And to be true and honest, I was not able to make a living with the things I am most passionate about, because they are simply not that marketable, but they make a great hobby. I want to point out that I offer this as creative criticism. I like the ideas and the blog, they always make me think, and I like that you are open to discussion, and IMHO good at it. Thanks again.

-- Who is John Galt?

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867 posts in 3078 days

#12 posted 12-07-2013 12:32 AM

23? years later building custom stairs and railing….I can’t even fathom not looking forward to going to work every day at 5 in the morning.

There’s a large quote on the wall in the shop…

“A true craftsman’s best tool is…passion.”

-- It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it. Aristotle

View pashley's profile


1043 posts in 3713 days

#13 posted 12-07-2013 03:12 AM

joeyinsouthaustin: You are just basically reiterating the “build what the market wants” theme. If it so happens that what they want is a passion of yours, great; if not, tough luck. Citing the restaurant example doesn’t really hold up, I don’t think. We are not dealing in recipes. I’m guessing some 100 million plus people cook from recipes in the U.S., but how many people make awesome furniture?

But, you will say that you can’t be passionate about buggy whips in the age of cars, and you’d be right. But we are not talking about a huge change in technology, only genre – from one to another, i.e., Arts and Crafts to Modern, or a further advancement of a genre – a “New Mission” style….hmmmm, that has a nice ring to it….

-- Have a blessed day!

View Loren's profile


10377 posts in 3643 days

#14 posted 12-07-2013 03:22 AM

Lots of dudes are passionate about building guitars but it’s
a problematic and competitive marketing environment. Furthermore,
being able to make guitars, even very good ones, does little
to equip a craftsman to do casework or even joinery
so some easy woodworking money may be passed-up
because the skilled craftsman is not versatile enough to
do the side jobs.

This is partly why I advocate that for people who want to
start a one-person shop to make furniture, they will
do well to be set up for casework as well…. and not
just in the “have tablesaw” way but also in the hole
drilling and edgebanding way.

I do think it is worthwhile to pursue a specialty far enough
down the road of how to do it technically that for others
to compete at your level becomes a serious problem for
them. Marquetry skills come to mind as the most
pointed way to separate yourself so completely from
the competition that it becomes literally unfeasible for
customers to shop around to beat your price. Then
you’ve got something the customer wants (object of desire)
and are also the only way for them to get it.

The passion for the specialty can eventually lead to
developing this level of technical skill where the competitive
factors are effectively nullified in that your customers
have no option but to buy it from you or not own
the desired object at all, at least to the extent that
you can earn about what a plumber gets and maybe
more. The guy that developed that insane round
expanding yacht table is a good example – the
engineering commitment to develop the product
was extraordinary and now he’s getting paid for his
investment in the specialty.

Here it is:

“Grit” Laskin is a good guitar builder, but the reason he’s
a major figure in the fine acoustic guitar universe is
his superior and inventive inlay skills. I’m sure he
sells an unadorned guitar here and there but it’s
mostly about the inlay. Ervin Somogyi is a master of
chip-carved soundboards which nearly puts him,
like Laskin, in a class by himself. Players will debate
about who makes the best-sounding guitars, but
the market will not argue that the guitars from the
masters of decoration are unworthy of collector prices.

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Monte Pittman

29221 posts in 2333 days

#15 posted 12-07-2013 03:51 AM

I have made several pieces that I thought were great, only to have them sit forever. I want to build nice pieces, but it iseessential that customers are interested in. It is only valuable if someone will buy it.

-- Nature created it, I just assemble it.

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