one man operation

  • Advertise with us

« back to Sweating for Bucks Through Woodworking forum

Forum topic by woodworkingdrew posted 06-26-2014 02:47 AM 3340 views 0 times favorited 35 replies Add to Favorites Watch
View woodworkingdrew's profile


190 posts in 1810 days

06-26-2014 02:47 AM

Is it possible to run a cab/woodworking shop by yourself or do you need employees? Just curious to see what people think- Andrew

-- Andrew, California

35 replies so far

View DrDirt's profile


4511 posts in 3944 days

#1 posted 06-26-2014 03:00 AM

I think the woodworking shop is a yes.

Cabinet, is probably not bad for assembling and doing the shop work and finishing, but I think you need a helper if you are going to install a kitchen….well more than once anyway.

Cabinets are a volume business, and someone to help cut up sheet goods and crank out operations with speed, I think 2 people is a more realistic minimum.

-- “The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.” Mark Twain

View woodworkingdrew's profile


190 posts in 1810 days

#2 posted 06-26-2014 03:02 AM

Dirt- I agree. I would like to just do the design and fabrication and have a contractor do the install. California has pretty strict rules regarding work over a certain amount

-- Andrew, California

View Aj2's profile


1878 posts in 1999 days

#3 posted 06-26-2014 03:02 AM

I heard a saying once behind every successful woodworker is a woman with a good job.:)

-- Aj

View TopamaxSurvivor's profile


18390 posts in 3877 days

#4 posted 06-26-2014 03:18 AM

My sister says my ex-brother in law used to say that. Guess she got tired of supporting the biz ;-)

-- Bob in WW ~ "some old things are lovely, warm still with life ... of the forgotten men who made them." - D.H. Lawrence

View NoThanks's profile


798 posts in 1730 days

#5 posted 06-26-2014 03:32 AM

I’ve been supporting myself and my wife working my 1 man shop since 2006.
The way it works for me is that I split a shop with a buddy. (Cuts the bills in half)
We both do our own thing but when either one of us needs a hand, whether it’s lifting something or installing, there’s someone to help.
I think it would be pretty hard to do a lot of things without a helper, but I guess it depends on what your going to do.
I do anything from furniture to built-ins to the odd kitchen every once in a while.
Everything is commissioned,
I don’t make anything, then try to sell it.

-- Because I'm gone, that's why!

View Loren's profile


10477 posts in 3849 days

#6 posted 06-26-2014 03:39 AM

You can do it but it will limit how and what jobs you do.

Especially with a CNC and edgebander one person can
crank out a lot of work.

If you’re going to do the cabinetmaker hustle, it’s a tough
trade to learn and there’s a lot to it. The hours can be
grueling. One way to perhaps enjoy it more and make
more money is to develop proprietary designs which are
too complicated for other shops to knock off.

If you’re just competing in the commodity cabinet area
it’s not easy. One cabinetmaker I met recently told
me he has his helper do most of the cabinetmaking and he
does the sanding and finishing, confessing that it’s hard
to find competent sanding help.

You might consider developing as a finisher and doing refinishing.
You can market to interior designers who always want
stuff refinished or faux painted… along the way they’ll
ask you to modify things and if they like that eventually
they’ll ask for mantles, entertainment centers and so forth.

View bruc101's profile


1260 posts in 3743 days

#7 posted 06-26-2014 03:39 AM

I’ve got a friend that has been a one man cabinet shop for about 15 years. He’s high dollar and builds only one set at a time.

He does it all, design, builds his own doors, turns his own legs, does his own carvings, makes all the trim work, finishing, counter tops, etc. Dovetails his drawers and uses no plywood drawers and no plywood end panels. He gets friends to help him install. He more or less subs nothing out.

He has a 12 week min. build time he tells his clients but can do a small set in 6 weeks. He gets 50% down and has a min. draw of $500.00 a week and bases that on the cost of the cabinets. He’s doing a set now where his draw is 1K a week and told me today it should be about a 10 week build. He told me the balance his client will owe him after the install will be about 6K. His draws and final payment are his labor. I didn’t ask the price of the cabinets.

He does all of this in a 24’ x 40’ shop. Owns his building, equipment with very little overhead, pays cash for everything, owns a beautiful home and drives a new truck about every 3 years paid for.

He also told me today he’s four sets of cabinets out and he lives in an area where there are several large cabinet shops and doesn’t per say bid on a job. He gives his price and holds to it.

He’s good and people know it and know his cabinets don’t come from nor look like they came from a production shop.

-- Bruce Free Plans

View Loren's profile


10477 posts in 3849 days

#8 posted 06-26-2014 03:41 AM

Read Jim Tolpin’s book “Working at Woodworking”.

I think there’s a newer version called “Become a Cabinetmaker”
or something like that.

View Paul's profile


721 posts in 1766 days

#9 posted 06-26-2014 03:47 AM

A 100% 1 man cabinet shop isn’t going to happen. A 100% 1 man built kitchen is. The descrepency here is time, 1 man cannot produce enough work to effectively run a cabinet shop do installs and support himself on a reasonable wage.

A good portion of a cabinet shop is out of the shop consulting if you are doing custom cabinets, measuring, talking with clients etc. when your out of the shop doing this no monetary work is getting done, your spending money on gas etc.


View JAAune's profile


1853 posts in 2518 days

#10 posted 06-26-2014 03:48 AM

Working 100% solo long-term is an uphill battle. Nearly every woodworker I’ve met that has a decent income has help in some form or another. There’s a minimum overhead to cover every month and the solo woodworker has to handle administrative tasks, finances, customer relations, design and shop maintenance besides doing the actual money-making work.

Under those conditions, it’s not easy to get more than 40 productive hours in a week and even with low overhead, it’s not unheard of for the first 20 working hours of the month to go towards paying off rent, insurance and utilities. Then vehicle bills and reinvestment takes another large chunk.

I could solo if I wanted to but only because I’d have help in the form of computerized tools that can be productive without direct input from myself. But you have to save up the money or take a loan to get those tools in the first place.

Starting out alone is fine but long-term, there’s usually better return for everybody if multiple people are working towards the same goal. The solo entrepreneur should plan to invest a lot into tools and equipment to compensate for lack of manpower.

-- See my work at and

View TheFridge's profile


10736 posts in 1687 days

#11 posted 06-26-2014 03:57 AM

It’s rough just building a couple plywood cabs by myself. For myself or friends.

-- Shooting down the walls of heartache. Bang bang. I am. The warrior.

View ,'s profile


2387 posts in 3748 days

#12 posted 06-26-2014 05:38 AM

I might have some relevant insite. I am not a one man shop. It is my wife and I. At this time we outsource our bookkeeping, our doors. We hire out installation on very large jobs and do our own installs on smaller jobs. My wife does 40+ hours per week shop and job site. I do less hours than her shop/job site but do tons of other related tasks such as planning, bidding, purchasing, etc… We just purchased a CNC and hope we will improve production as a result, but until now my experience has been purely old iron machines and manual processing.

What am I getting at. Should something happen to my wife. Shop is closed. I’m done. Lock the doors. Her memory alone will kill me. Besides I doubt I could continue efficiently without her.

-- .

View John Obelenus's profile

John Obelenus

23 posts in 2403 days

#13 posted 06-26-2014 09:59 AM

I am attempting the same journey – unlike a previous post – I am the one with the full time job too…so my time in the shop is in between everything else. For me the biggest issue is pricing – I don’t do cabinets (kitchen) just not enough room etc. I do one job at a time, all commissioned and I am finally starting to get my pricing to the point where I walk away from the job like I didn’t work for $8 an hour. Single person shop is very hard – there is so much involved in taking a piece of raw wood from start to finish – I use a couple of friends to help when the volume or weight gets to be too much, so far so good.
I am selective in the work I pick, based on my skill and space…try not to get in over my head (very easy to do).
Last year I did 22 projects (total billing 23K), ranging from a small jewelry box to a set of 8 foot long TV cabinets…didn’t make any money (my fault), worked my butt off, but learned a lot.

Always have someone who can help in the background – the best suggestion I saw here was to share a big space – I’m looking to do that soon. Don’t be timid about asking for good money – as long as your skill level matches the bill…

John O

-- If you do what you love, you'll never work a day in your life...

View huff's profile


2828 posts in 3487 days

#14 posted 06-26-2014 12:49 PM


To answer your question; yes, you can run a Cabinet/woodworking shop by yourself, but the real question is; how much to you want,need or expect to make doing woodworking.

The disadvantage to running a one man shop is;

1. When you’re not in the shop, your shop is closed.

2. You wear “all” the hats; designing, selling, purchasing supplies, building, finishing, delivery and installations, follow-up, clean-up, maintance and all the administrative duties that go with owning a business
3. You have to design and engineer projects to be delivered and installed as a one man band.

4. If something is wrong or there’s a problem, you get to take all the blame. (can’t blame it on an employee).

5. Scheduling of your time is critical. It has to be a perfect blend of how much time to spend at marketing and sales, designing, material acqusition, administrative duties, actually building projects and of course installations.

6. If you ever decide to sell your business, it’s basically worth only what your tools are worth at that time, all the rest of the value in your business is YOU.

7. Vacations, sick time, (yours or your families) or just days off directly affects your business and bottom line.

I know, it sounds like I’m negative about a one man shop, but I’m not. These where all things I had to figure out and accept when I decided to keep my shop as a “one man band”.

For me, the advantages of being a one man shop worked out fine.

1. It taught me to take total charge of my life; I had to learn to say “no” when I was presented an unrealistic time schedule if I was to get a contract. It was up to me to schedule my time, not someone else or their schedule.

2. I realized my business was “Me”. It would be totally up to me if I was to be successful or failed.

3. I had to realize there where only so many hours in a day ( the same 24 as everyone else), so I had better make the best use of it.

4. I love working by myself, I’m not into management or babysitting. I love to take all the credit for a job well done and not afraid to take responsiblity if something is wrong.

5. It was much easier to adjust and adapt when things slowed down. I had one paycheck to worry about!

6. I realized I didn’t need employee’s to get extra work accomplished. Known as outsourceing.

7. Pricing, marketing and selling had to be a top priority if I was to make a good living.

8. For me, it left a real opening to sales and marketing. So many bigger shops had to stay focused on only what they were set-up for. Another words, if they were a cabinet shop, most didn’t want to fool with doing a custom home office, bar unit, entertainment centers, etc. They couldn’t make a profit if they had to change their everyday set-up of running cabinets.

It left the door wide open for me. Those were the jobs that I could get creative and make the most money at. I didn’t have to rely on just one market or “one room” of the home to market to. It gave me the chance to build furniture as well as cabinetry.

Like I said before, it will depend on the individual and how much they need, want or expect to make from their business.

Here’s a simple question you can ask yourself; If you can bill and get paid for 40 hours a week @ a shop labor rate of $50.00/hr. as a one man shop and working 50 weeks in the year, is $100,000/yr. enough? (materials billed seperately).

Just asking : ) or : (

-- John @

View BinghamtonEd's profile


2298 posts in 2571 days

#15 posted 06-26-2014 12:57 PM

Best of luck in your venture. Judging from your other posts re: basic face frame construction, I would suggest you really do your research, and spend you time working out the kinks before you put any money on the line.

-- - The mightiest oak in the forest is just a little nut that held its ground.

showing 1 through 15 of 35 replies

Have your say...

You must be signed in to reply.

DISCLAIMER: Any posts on LJ are posted by individuals acting in their own right and do not necessarily reflect the views of LJ. LJ will not be held liable for the actions of any user.

Latest Projects | Latest Blog Entries | Latest Forum Topics