Change in scenery (Career)

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Forum topic by 00banksy posted 01-08-2014 04:57 PM 1464 views 0 times favorited 19 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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2 posts in 1570 days

01-08-2014 04:57 PM

So I did what everyone told my generation to do and went to college after completing a tour in the service. Five years and two degree’s in architecture later and I work a desk job. I really do not enjoy it and am hoping to make a drastic change before I have the bills that would make a change like this impossible. I have been out of college for 2 years and have tried several different firms with the same results. The idea of working with my hands is exciting and the brief time I spent working construction before I started school was enjoyable. I have always been great with my hands and picked things up with relative ease.

I was hoping to get suggestions from the vast experience on this site on possible ways to break into furniture making. Would my best course of action be to take a few classes so that I am not seen as a useless apprentice. If so, what classes? I do have bills so I could not afford to work for free for the experience. Any thoughts from those that have made a similar change or simply know the business from experience would be greatly appreciated.

19 replies so far

View Wildwood's profile


2300 posts in 2104 days

#1 posted 01-08-2014 05:18 PM

Have thought about getting a general contractors license? Home repairs, & renovations probably where you will see a steady income. Requirements vary from state to state.

-- Bill

View jmartel's profile (online now)


7814 posts in 2119 days

#2 posted 01-08-2014 05:27 PM

Why not look for a more hands on job in Architecture? I’m an engineer, but I spend a good amount of time in coveralls getting dirty. Benefits of both worlds, IMO.

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

View Mark Smith's profile

Mark Smith

509 posts in 2009 days

#3 posted 01-08-2014 05:37 PM

That’s a tough question. You have to do what makes you happy, but to give up Architecture to make furniture is a huge change and could be a huge drop in money. I can tell you I spent almost three decades in law enforcement and retired a couple of years ago. I always wanted my own business to I opened a woodshop. It’s fun and I enjoy it, but if I had to rely on woodworking to make a living I’d be starving to death right now. During my adventure in opening this business I’ve run into a lot of guys who formerly had custom woodworking businesses where they made custom cabinets and furniture but now they are working the counter at Woodcraft or Rockler because the custom furniture market dried up with the economy.

Part of the problem is people have changed too in what they will pay for. They want to compare your prices for what they can pay for something at Costco. A lady wanted me to build her a table like one at Costco, but the one Costco had was a few inches too big for the space she wanted to put it. So she asked if I could build her one a little shorter and she thought it should be cheaper than Costco’s price since it was going to be smaller than the one Costco had. I had to explain to her I couldn’t even buy the wood for the price of the table in Costco, but she wouldn’t understand. There are still people out there who realize the value in custom made furniture and cabinets, but they are few and far between.

Also, you mention taking classes to learn to make furniture, so I’m guessing you are a novice at it. I have been woodworking as a hobby off and on for about 40 years making mostly small things. I thought I had some pretty good skills and knowledge of woodworking, but when I started doing it as professional and selling my work, I found out how really little I did know and how really complex becoming a master woodworker can be. Look at some of the photos of the amazing work on this website and I’ll tell you that many of the people making those items are artists who spent years developing those skills to be able to do that kind of work.

View Loren's profile (online now)


10280 posts in 3617 days

#4 posted 01-08-2014 05:38 PM

Making a living building furniture is a real tricky thing.

I suggest looking at your local woods and market. I know
this seems weird. I live in Los Angeles and have to buy
all my wood from hardwood dealers. Some people live
in forested country and they can harvest their own to
build slab furniture or things that involve green woodworking

Classes are good… I have only taken 2 woodworking classes
in my life, a semester in junior high and a semester on
guitar making at a community college. Everything else
I learned through reading and experimentation, not to
mention investing in tools and materials required to
achieve more marketable work.

It is possible, even common, for people interested in
furniture making for a living to get stuck in the pedagogical
stage, focusing on square casework, dovetail joinery
and uncomplex furniture styles. If you want to produce
proprietary work, you’ll need to push through that stage.

I looked at or read every book in my local library on
woodworking. I read dozens more books I bought
and hundreds of articles in back issues of Fine Woodworking.

If you’re able to uproot yourself and live out of a truck,
you may find an opportunity to apprentice as a timber

There are no shortcuts I am aware of to becoming expert
enough in furniture making that you can make a decent
living at it. One thing I am sure of is that the temptation
to do casework jobs is great and the money is not bad,
but running a cabinet shop and being a furniture maker
are not the same career.

Become aware of how to make the finishes customers
want. Many builders focus too much on the wood,
while customers are really fixated on finishes a lot of
the time, though they will not tell you so and don’t
often know it themselves.

With your education, I do not think you’ll like working your
way up in a cabinet making business as an employee
very much, and you won’t get trained in making furniture
in most of them.

If working for a firm is your goal I recommend studying
CNC programming and design systems like Cabinetvision.

If you want to do furniture and fine work, pursue excellence
with vigor and do not stop until rich people express
eagerness to buy your work. Finishing skills and veneering
skills are skills you’ll need to compete. The guys who
gave up their cabinet businesses to work at a hardware
store are not the guys who have the real high end skill
sets that are in demand from the affluent and
discerning clientele.

View CharlieM1958's profile


16274 posts in 4187 days

#5 posted 01-08-2014 05:40 PM

As the old saying goes, “Don’t quit your day job.” :-) If you don’t like working a desk job, someone with your education should be able to land a job in construction supervision. That might be a good interim move while you hone your furniture-making skills. You might discover you like it, and the pay can be outstanding.

As for furniture, I think it is really difficult to jump right into it full time. There is a somewhat limited market out there for custom furniture. In order to pay yourself a living wage, you have to place a healthy price tag on your work. That means you must find customers who are willing to pay for hand-made quality, and you need to establish some sort of reputation.

My recommendation would be to start making pieces in your spare time. By all means, take some classes if any are available in your area. What classes to take depends on your current level of skill and knowledge. Look for friends who are need of something and offer to make it for them for the cost of materials, just for the practice. If you do good work more people will start asking you to make pieces for them, and you can begin working the cost of your labor into your pricing. If you really start to see a demand for your services, then you can think about making a full-time go of it.

-- Charlie M. "Woodworking - patience = firewood"

View RockyTopScott's profile


1186 posts in 3448 days

#6 posted 01-08-2014 06:05 PM

With your education I would think a design/build structure for cabinetry and built-ins might allow a bridge to furniture building.

While maybe not as fulfilling it could get you to where you want to be.

I am sure you have great problem solving skills which the buyer would appreciate immensely.

-- “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 Wildwood's profile


2300 posts in 2104 days

#7 posted 01-08-2014 08:43 PM

Before do anything advise visiting art& craft, furniture trade shows, or home and garden shows look for trends. Talk with vendors you meet. Where would you fit in?

What kind of furniture do you want to make?
Period reproductions
Original design or Whimsical
Custom cabinets

Where would you sell whatever you make? Are you better off in the wholesale or retail market?

If could take an evening adult carpentry class might help you figure out what tools and equipment will need to start a part time business or hobby.

General contractors often work as sub contractors for different building, repair, or renovation projects.

-- Bill

View mrg's profile


820 posts in 2968 days

#8 posted 01-08-2014 08:57 PM

Have you thought about looking into going to work for an architectural woodworking shop. You have the design background and can also get involved with prototyping and such.

-- mrg

View HowardInToronto's profile


75 posts in 1671 days

#9 posted 01-09-2014 01:54 AM

Loren covered a lot of best and most practical items.

You might not like your job and the romance of being a self-employed craftsman might be calling you, but there are some practicalities.

First learn as much as you can.

Get as much hand-on skill as you can.

Study design. You can always acquire the technical skills.

Start small. Make different projects. Sell them for materials only. Learn how to cultivate relationships with people that may become repeat clients who’ll also introduce you to their friends and family.

Take some business fundamentals courses.

Learn the basics of marketing. Learn how to sell. Crafting beautiful objects is the smallest part of the equation. Learn how to predictably find people with the money and interest to listen to your message. That’’s the more important part.

Don’t even THINK of trying to compete with CostCo/WalMart/IKEA. That’s a quick race to the bottom. Read what Mark said again.

You have a great opportunity staring right at you. But first, make peace with the job you don’t like – it’s keeping body and soul together. Use your wages to learn the fundamentals of business.

I didn’t say “settle” re the job. I didn’t say “roll over and die.” I didn’t say “give up on your dreams.” I didn’t say “you should be happy to have a job because there are other people without meaningful work.”

I merely said use the job as a springboard to work steadily towards your dreams.

You can walk across a continent by putting one foot in front of the other.


View 00banksy's profile


2 posts in 1570 days

#10 posted 01-10-2014 08:49 PM

I really appreciate all the suggestions, information, and guidance. I think I will follow the suggestions of building for cost and attempt to find my way into a few projects in my free time, build a bit of a portfolio, test my abilities and eventually create a website of projects I can produce. See if I can get a few orders for some extra dollars in my pocket while I work on building the portfolio, tool collection, and my own experience. Baby steps will allow me to get a taste without over extending.

Next question. Tools that you feel are a must. There is always tools on craigslist. I’d love a hollow chisel mortiser but thats simply because joinery is beautiful to me!

View Loren's profile (online now)


10280 posts in 3617 days

#11 posted 01-10-2014 09:24 PM

I’d hold off on the specialized machines. You can do
a lot with a band saw, router, electric drill and a few
planes and some chisels. The machines save time
when you’re in it for money or to crank out a lot
of work.

Read James Krenov’s books. You’ll see how machinery
choices (he used smallish machines and not a lot of them)
relate to the use of hand tools to make really nice work.
The books are philosophical too.

View waho6o9's profile


8168 posts in 2546 days

#12 posted 01-10-2014 09:26 PM

A belated welcome to Lumber Jocks 00banksy!

A lot of great info above; enjoy some links and the fine journey
you’re embarking upon.

Make your own tools as much as possible, you’ll have fun
and learn a lot. :)

View JAAune's profile


1788 posts in 2286 days

#13 posted 01-11-2014 12:05 AM

Go slow with the new equipment and tools. Figure our what you’re going to make and start simple. Get the basic tools needed to produce that work and master their use before you get carried away with “labor saving” devices.

Until you know the fundamentals of woodworking inside and out, you’ll lack the knowledge needed to make informed choices about tool purchases. Spending a lot of money up front usually results in wasting money on items that see little usage.

Once you’re up and running you’ll soon learn what tools are most urgently needed to increase work efficiency.

For basics, I recommend a 14” bandsaw, a good set of chisels and a cheap sharpening system (such as float glass and sandpaper) and a hand drill or small drill press. Add some pencils, an exacto knife, a good square and a marking gauge and you’ve got everything needed to produce a wide variety of quality work.

-- See my work at and

View mahdee's profile


3874 posts in 1737 days

#14 posted 01-11-2014 01:26 AM

Do not exchange what you make a living with with what you love; or what you love becomes what you make living with.
Author: Just came to my head


View Loren's profile (online now)


10280 posts in 3617 days

#15 posted 01-11-2014 01:31 AM

Oh the business of making and marketing interesting
things can be interesting… once you know how to
build stuff, then there are other mountains to climb…
mastering finishing, client relations, running a shop
with employees, showroom management… It’s all
good, but being able to make nice tables and cabinets
and things like that is the beginning, even though
well-rounded skills to do the wood processing part of
it do take years to acquire professional competence
in generally.

Building custom things for a living is, despite the
steep and multiple learning curves and long hours
on your feet, pretty interesting work for many
creative people. Once you get good enough and
established enough to hire 3 helpers, you’ll probably
spend all your time designing, drawing, managing
jobs and dealing with the business side of it. Some
people would prefer to work alone but depending
on your specialty the financial sacrifices you’d make
to stay hands-on in the woodshop can be significant.
The happy side of it is that when you start getting
tired, you can have people you’ve trained execute
your designs and they’ll be thrilled to be doing the
work and have the job. It can be pretty cool if
you’re ambitious and up to playing the long game
in a woodworking career.

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