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Selling furniture as a hobby

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Forum topic by mortalwombat posted 03-04-2015 08:00 PM 1453 views 0 times favorited 19 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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mortalwombat

65 posts in 1609 days


03-04-2015 08:00 PM

Topic tags/keywords: hobby furniture weekend warrior

I apologize if this has been asked already, but I couldn’t find it when I searched. But basically, do you guys think it would be feasible for a decent woodworker to sell furniture as a hobby at enough profit to help fund purchasing new tools? Here is the background of why I am asking this.

I recently had to purchase some furniture and I considered it to be the crappiest experience of my life (I’m a cancer survivor, and this was arguably worse than cancer). First, my wife wanted some a new desk for her office. She found a beautiful set at Pottery Barn, and she talked me into buying it. It was insanely expensive, esspecially for the lack of quality and MDF construction.

Then, we recently had a baby, and we bought a dresser. I considered building it this time, but there simply wasn’t time, so we went to Babies R Us to find a matching crib/dresser set. It’s again beautiful, and it said it was hardwood construction, even though it doesn’t say what kind of wood. I hauled it home and unboxed it and put it in place. The next day I noticed one of the knobs was loose, so I put my finger on the screw head on the inside and turned the knob. It stripped out and the knob fell off. I called to complain, and Babies R Us will take it back, but I’d already gotten rid of the packaging and I don’t really want to haul this giant thing back for a stupid knob. The drawers don’t remove so I can’t just take the drawer back either.

So what I’ve come to realize is it’s becoming very difficult to buy quality furniture, and even the expensive stuff is not all that great. So I recently built a new changing table for my wife, and while I know there are areas I can improve my skills, I feel like it’s one of the most well-built pieces of furniture in my house. So if I were to refine my techniques and learn more, I think I could build some pretty decent furniture that people might want to buy.

Now I don’t want to do this as a change in career. My wife owns a business and I work full time, so I really don’t need another business, but I’d love to try to sell furniture at a cost that could help me buy newer and better equipment. Is this, in your opinion, reasonable? I’d prefer to just put a piece out here and there, working on them a little here and there in the evenings and weekends.


19 replies so far

View cdaniels's profile

cdaniels

1311 posts in 963 days


#1 posted 03-04-2015 08:36 PM

I started woodworking about 6 years ago with no tools. I made a few things at the local woodshop and had enough interest in them that a few things sold and that was the start. I set up a full fledged cabinetry and furniture shop about 2 years later with the money I had made and I refused to but a new tool unless it came out of the money I had made making things with the tools I had already got. it’s very possible because I did it, eventually I made enough to buy almost an entire shop worth of tools that I needed. once I was put in a wheelchair I resorted to doing things like scrollsaw signs and now woodturning and I still make money doing it. Now that i’m retired that’s all I plan on doing so yes it’s very very possible.

-- Jesus was a carpenter... I'm just saying

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ADHDan

800 posts in 1570 days


#2 posted 03-04-2015 08:42 PM

I’m in a similar position (good day job, very young kids, hobby woodworker) and my view is that it probably isn’t worth it unless you are good enough and fast enough to make a decent hourly rate. Maybe just putting a piece out here and there would be ok, but the only things I’ve seriously considered trying to sell for profit are cutting boards, coasters, and other items that even a small shop can mass produce. Especially with new kids and little free time, selling something I spent my precious free time making for an amount equating to $10/hr would leave me feeling hollow.

On the other hand, I’ve started (and my wife is on board with) replacing all of our mdf/particle board furniture with solid wood, homemade items – starting with her curly maple desk. I don’t think we’ll ever buy another big-box piece of furniture again, since I’m getting to the point where I can produce near-professional quality work (i.e., the stuff that woodworking studios sell for thousands of dollars). I could never produce these types of items for profitable sale because it takes so long to make them, but it does give us high quality furniture for a manageable cost. And as I replace our big-box furniture with homemade items we’ll sell that off for spare cash, and I don’t feel like I built something nice only to sell it for the equivalent of $10-$15/hour of my time.

-- Dan in Minneapolis, woodworking since 11/11.

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jmartel

6565 posts in 1612 days


#3 posted 03-04-2015 09:06 PM

Very possible. I’ve made enough money to cover just about all of my tools by doing that, as well as some wood and veneer for personal use. I mostly do small items that can be easily shipped, however.

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

View mortalwombat's profile

mortalwombat

65 posts in 1609 days


#4 posted 03-04-2015 09:07 PM

Thanks for the info cdaniels and jmartel. It’s great to hear that someone else is doing it.

I hear what you are saying ADHD Dan. We had to go through that when we started my wife’s photography business. It’s hard to do it on a scale that it sustains a reasonable hourly rate, and I am definitely nowhere near that with woodworking. However, that’s exactly why I want to do it on a hobby level. My speed doesn’t come into it, because I’m not going to be doing it to make money hourly. It’s personal time that I am doing something I enjoy. I like being out in the shop anyway, so that time would be spent doing something I enjoy. The woodworking is for the soul, the money is for the tools.

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ADHDan

800 posts in 1570 days


#5 posted 03-05-2015 07:15 PM

Your clarification/explanation makes perfect sense, and actually I’ve done similar things myself to finance new tool purchases. As long as you just look at it as a way to get experience and have fun while generating some cash to upgrade your shop (and not as a for-profit business enterprise) I say go for it.

I hear that woodworking stops being fun when you switch it from “hobby” to “job,” so I guess the lesson is if you find you aren’t enjoying your shop work maybe it’s time to shift focus away from making sellable items :-).

-- Dan in Minneapolis, woodworking since 11/11.

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jmartel

6565 posts in 1612 days


#6 posted 03-05-2015 07:20 PM

If you are selling things, make sure you aren’t undercharging. Just because you don’t have shop overhead and mouths to feed by selling things, doesn’t mean you should work for $1-2/hr after expenses. Just picking an arbitrary figure like 4x expenses doesn’t always work, either.

I’ve told a few friends that have asked to find a sort of similar looking piece from Pottery Barn/Restoration Hardware/Crate and Barrel, and expect the price to be roughly around there. The difference is that they will get a fully custom piece, using traditional proven joinery, and it’s solid hardwood. Not softwood or plywood/particleboard with a veneer over top.

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

View ADHDan's profile

ADHDan

800 posts in 1570 days


#7 posted 03-05-2015 07:31 PM


I ve told a few friends that have asked to find a sort of similar looking piece from Pottery Barn/Restoration Hardware/Crate and Barrel, and expect the price to be roughly around there. The difference is that they will get a fully custom piece, using traditional proven joinery, and it s solid hardwood. Not softwood or plywood/particleboard with a veneer over top.

- jmartel

I totally agree with this. If your work is really good, I’d start by pricing a little above one of those stores and focus your sales pitch on the fact that your work is handmade with solid hardwood and durable, time-tested joinery (assuming this is true). Also, make sure you benchmark off of relatively good stores like the ones posted above, not off of anything from Ikea, Target, Office Max, etc.

You can always drop your prices if you don’t get any buyers, but if you start out low and find buyers you might lock yourself into a lowball pricing scheme. I’d take a look at what professional studios charge for similar pieces as well as what C&B, etc. charges – that way you can point to a professional piece that costs $1,500 and a similar C&B piece that costs $300, which makes your $500 price seem much more reasonable (if the work is good).

Obviously, I just picked numbers out of the air but hopefully you get my point ;-).

-- Dan in Minneapolis, woodworking since 11/11.

View WillliamMSP's profile (online now)

WillliamMSP

738 posts in 1066 days


#8 posted 03-05-2015 07:52 PM

I agree with the others that there’s no reason that you can’t sell some pieces to funnel back in to additional tools and material. What I’ll add, though, is that you should take this seriously from an accounting perspective. Since you already have one business in the house, you know that you can offset some income by writing off purchases for the your business: your wife can write off lenses, bodies, printers, dedicated office space, etc. Heck, she can even write off a GPU/video card for your computer since many of the RAW converters implement GPGPU. In any event, these are business expenses, much as your planes, saws, bench hardware, etc will be.

Exactly how those expenses will be written off is something for your accountant to figure out (some states differentiate between a full-time business and a “hobby” business), but it’s something to factor in. This also means that it may be even more financially advantageous to sell and re-invest than the simple math would suggest.

Best of luck!

-- Practice makes less sucky. (Bill, Minneapolis, MN)

View ADHDan's profile

ADHDan

800 posts in 1570 days


#9 posted 03-05-2015 07:57 PM


Exactly how those expenses will be written off is something for your accountant to figure out (some states differentiate between a full-time business and a “hobby” business), but it s something to factor in. This also means that it may be even more financially advantageous to sell and re-invest than the simple math would suggest.

Best of luck!

- WillliamMSP

Wombat, if you do end up running this analysis would you be willing to come back and post what your accountant advises? I’m curious as to what the thresholds are/what you can claim for a hobby business (acknowledging of course that state tax laws vary).

-- Dan in Minneapolis, woodworking since 11/11.

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WillliamMSP

738 posts in 1066 days


#10 posted 03-05-2015 08:09 PM


Wombat, if you do end up running this analysis would you be willing to come back and post what your accountant advises? I m curious as to what the thresholds are/what you can claim for a hobby business (acknowledging of course that state tax laws vary).

- ADHDan

Since they (Wombat and wife) already have a business on the books, he probably isn’t going to see as much of a benefit as someone else who didn’t already have a business. IOW, going from no business to one business is a bigger jump than going from one business to two in terms of the accounting (and I’m not an accountant, so take everything with a huge grain of salt, we [wife and I] have simply had a couple of businesses over the years). Frankly, if anyone is already selling furniture here and there, and they have wager-earner income as well, I think that it’d be a very good idea to have a little chat with an accountant. Having a business, even one that’s not terribly successful, can make a significant difference at tax time.

-- Practice makes less sucky. (Bill, Minneapolis, MN)

View mortalwombat's profile

mortalwombat

65 posts in 1609 days


#11 posted 03-05-2015 08:44 PM

Such good advise from everyone. I’ve learned a lot about pricing over the years, and I’ve learned one thing regardless of the career. In the past I used to build websites, and now I work in computers. I’ve always done side work in the career I’m in. Same with my wife, who used to do graphic design. We learned while doing all that side work that undercharging always screws you over. The clients suck, and you burn out. Once you charge what a professional SHOULD charge, it’s amazing how much more your clients love what you do. If you charge amateur rates, you will attract clients who will see you and treat you as such. If you charge pro rates (and your work had be up to par if you are going to charge like that) then you will get clients who appreciate you and your work. It’s amazing.

I like the advise of using Pottery Barn as a benchmark. As a consumer, it would be an easy decision if I could find a similar product at a similar price, but far better build quality. If the price was higher, I would be more discerning, and I would look at the woodworker’s reputation which is hard because I currently have none. So pricing similarly would definitely be a great start, and would have a profit margin that would make it worth my time. So next I have to figure out where to sell…

ADHDan – I can attest to what you say about going from a hobby to a job. It’s why I don’t do websites anymore, and rarely do computer work on the side. It took the fun out of it. I used to enjoy websites because I liked the problem solving aspect of it, but eventually it became less about solving problems and more about meeting deadlines. So for woodworking, I’ll have to ensure I get to produce pieces at my own pace, making what I want when I want and how I want.

As for tax breaks, I will really have to think on that and talk to our accountant. We considered writing off my existing tools for the photography business because I make and sell frames, but that gets sticky with how much I’m using them for a hobby. This might not be different.

View DrDirt's profile

DrDirt

4167 posts in 3204 days


#12 posted 03-05-2015 09:14 PM

I will go for the short answer…

YES

It is hard to make a living at it…. but a goal of financing new tools…. piece of cake!

-- 'Political correctness is fascism pretending to be manners' ~George Carlin

View canadianchips's profile (online now)

canadianchips

2347 posts in 2459 days


#13 posted 03-06-2015 02:10 PM

Do it for your enjoyment.
I have tried all my life to build a custom piece and sell it for a profit I deserve. “Never happened yet”
IF i calculate labor, materials ,overhead I am always disappointed.
If you can buy materials CHEAP ahead of time, don’t count your true labor value, then you an cover some of your costs. (KNOW EXACTLY what your costs are !)
The FEW people that appreciate the real value of good craftsmanship rarely pay some one else to do the work. (They can do it themselves)
Then you compete with the person that undercuts everyone , has NO idea what the cost is and sells it cheap.
I wish you the best, perhaps your area is better than the ones I have lived in.

-- "My mission in life - make everyone smile !"

View SL77's profile

SL77

27 posts in 693 days


#14 posted 03-06-2015 02:54 PM

Interesting information from a lot of you. I have a twist on the question. I’m just starting out and can build simple items. What are some of the items that you might suggest to “crank out” that would generate a little cash flow for buying my tools?

Thanks

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canadianchips

2347 posts in 2459 days


#15 posted 03-06-2015 03:18 PM

I did make some primitive tressel table lap top desks. When I built 6 at a time, I saved some labor. My nephews and nieces loved them. they were small and could be easily carried in their cars to take home.
Up here I have noticed primitive type furniture. Combination metal and wood sell quite well.
I hace added photos of my tables.
Painted grey, them black, distressed at corners and duplicate live edge wood.
Didn’t make any money on these, I built them for a family reunion. The kids do love their “Uncle Perry”

-- "My mission in life - make everyone smile !"

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