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Forum topic by mitch posted 09-07-2007 10:40 PM 1270 views 0 times favorited 9 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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6 posts in 3916 days

09-07-2007 10:40 PM

I have recently retired after 31 years working as a Statistician. My hobby during the latter 10 years was woodworking – specifically furniture making. Now I would like to turn the hobby into a small business. We retired to new city and I do not have any contacts, ect.

My question is how does one get started getting “known”. I really do not want to invest the time developing a web site since I suspect not much payoff there. As I said, I want to stay small doing no more than 5-10 pieces per year. And I want to remain a one-man shop.

Any and all advice and suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

Thank you in advance,

Mitch Trager

-- M. L. Trager Woodworking - Asheville, NC - 828-242-0815

9 replies so far

View CedarFreakCarl's profile


594 posts in 4054 days

#1 posted 09-07-2007 10:54 PM

Hi Mitch,

I’m not in the business, but there’s a short article on the subject in this month’s Popular Woodworking on page 96.

Good Luck.

-- Carl Rast, Pelion, SC

View DaveJ's profile


73 posts in 3923 days

#2 posted 09-07-2007 11:06 PM

Welcome Mitch. You might want to start by looking through many excellent posts on the Sweating for Bucks forum.

-- Dave J. Eagle, ID

View MsDebbieP's profile


18615 posts in 4161 days

#3 posted 09-08-2007 12:04 AM

there are some tips and a couple links to LJ discussions in this month’s LJeM.

-- ~ Debbie, Canada (

View Douglas Bordner's profile

Douglas Bordner

4024 posts in 4064 days

#4 posted 09-08-2007 01:42 AM

Might try listing in Craig’s list under skilled trades.

-- "Bordnerizing" perfectly good lumber for over a decade.

View Woodminer's profile


69 posts in 3937 days

#5 posted 09-08-2007 05:41 AM

From what I’m reading into what you’re writing, what you’re really looking to do is to do some sort of commission type furniture building, yes?

If you’re in a new area, without contacts, without leads, the first thing you need to do is to figure out exactly what it is you think you want to do. Only want to do desks? Cool. Only want to do coffee tables? Cool. Dining room furniture? Cool. WhatEVER! 8^) Once you think you’ve figured out what you want to do, look around and see what’s selling. If you’re wanting to build what they seem to want to buy, you’ve got a good shot at things.

Next, don’t underprice yourself! Sell it for more than you think it’s worth because it probably is! If you’re in this to make money—even just SOME money—you have to figure out how much that projected income is and what you have to charge above expenses to achieve that goal. Is it worth it to you to work for $XX per hour, day or week?

Finally, make a couple of whatever it is that you see as your “pet” project, maybe your signature item, and get them placed in locations where people can see your work. That’s critical. People can’t buy what they aren’t aware of! I have a turner friend who delights in making spheres. He sells a couple of hundred spherical tree ornaments each year. He does them well and efficiently, and gets good money for them. It’s worth his while to make ‘em. but he had to make them visible before his reputation caught on.

I heard a story from a nationally known turner about a guy in eastern PA. I’ll try to be true to the story, but only as far as I can remember it. 8^)

Nationally known Turner Guy went to visit the PATurner one spring and found him turning red, aromatic cedar eggs. Turning them like there was no tomorrow. Guy jokingly asked why he was making so many eggs, that they weren’t gold or anything. “And how much ya gonna get for them there eggs anyhow?” PATurner replied, “Oh, about $5 each.” Guy said, “You’ve got to be kidding me. That’s ALL??” “Yup.” Guy watched a little longer and saw that PATurner could really, REALLY use his skew and whip out an egg in about 3 minutes or less. No waste motion, no fretting, no sanding, and no finish involved (no sanding because the tool skills were “there”), just a nicely cut, well-formed egg shape.

Guy asked, “Where ya gonna sell them eggs?” “County fairs around southeastern Pennsylvania. Lots of Amish & Mennonite folks. Lots of others, too, of course. One fair most weekends from June to August.”

Guy continued the conversation, “Well, how many eggs are you going to make?” “Oh, about 10,000 or so. I’ll sell ‘em all by the end of August.” After picking up his jaw from the nearby ground, Guy started doing the mental math. Each egg had about $.25 worth of wood. Overhead for the tools, sharpening supplies, utilities, etc. were probably minimal on a “per egg basis”, so he figured about $.10. That means about $4.65 in profit for each egg, $46,500. Hmmm. PATurner could easily turn out 15 eggs an hour and still have time for coffee and bathroom breaks. 667 hours to make all those eggs. That’s about 17 40 hour weeks, plus the time at the fairs. Yes, there were booth costs and travel costs, but PATurner did not travel more than about 100 miles per week, and did not spend much on booth space. Since he took his mini-lathe with him and continued to turn eggs at the fairs, he was a demonstrator and was usually set up inside and got his space for free or next to nothing. His overhead was low, his product was highly targeted, and the product was enormously popular with the folks who could take something useful home from the fair for $5. (And the story goes that they often took more than just a nicely scented cedar egg with them. They also served as the tease to get folks to see what other gorgeous stuff he had behind his lathe.)

Further math showed that earnings for his shop time were about about $2500 per shop week, or nearly $70 per hour! And that was just on eggs! He also did small boxes, vases, plates, tops for the kids, and some other little quickie sorts of stuff that he could do at the fairs in minutes. He made out all right, but it was not an overnight thing. He had to build a reputation and had to build a network. He found a niche and made it work really well. He figured that it gave him a month for vacation time and 4 months to do most anything he wanted to in woodworking. February to May (17 weeks) to make his bazillion cedar eggs, June to August at the fairs, September to January for he and his wife to enjoy the fruits of his labors.

I want to know what he did with all the cedar shavings! 8^) Whole lotta mulching going on…

-- Dean, Missouri

View MsDebbieP's profile


18615 posts in 4161 days

#6 posted 09-08-2007 01:34 PM

entrepreneur – brilliant. Great story

-- ~ Debbie, Canada (

View mitch's profile


6 posts in 3916 days

#7 posted 09-08-2007 02:08 PM

Thank you all for your comments and advice. I really do appreciate the time you’ve taken to provide your responses.

Keep ‘em coming!

Thank you again.

Mitch Trager

-- M. L. Trager Woodworking - Asheville, NC - 828-242-0815

View Thos. Angle's profile

Thos. Angle

4444 posts in 3962 days

#8 posted 09-08-2007 02:27 PM

I wish I had a pat answer for you but I don’t. We’re still working on it and it’s getting better. I’ll let youknow when I get it all figured out.

-- Thos. Angle, Jordan Valley, Oregon

View Bill's profile


2579 posts in 4161 days

#9 posted 09-08-2007 05:53 PM

A great story Dean.

Getting noticed will be the big thing for you Mitch. It sounds like your basic needs are already covered, so this would be for the money to cover materials, supplies, etc, as well as some extra spending money. What you will probably have to do first is build a few items, then show them to other people who are interested in the same thing. For example, if everyone in your area has Mission style furniture, you might make a few end tables to show what you can do. Then find people who like what you make.

Of course the second part of this, and maybe more important, is what do you want to make? Decide what you want to make, and then determine how you can do it profitably. There have been some discussions on should you have a web site or not. My belief is that you should. You do not have to make it very fancy, or even do a lot of work to it. The costs are less than one of your projects you will build. And, it will help spread the word of your work. You can make up your business cards to include your web site, so people can see pictures of your work. If nothing else, you can use your Lumberjocks account as your web site. You can post pictures, blogs, etc.

Being in a similar situation to yours, that is what I am working on. Getting the attention is the hard part, especially if you are working in the shop all of the time. But, that is where the payoff comes from.

I am sure Mark DeCou and Lee Jesberger will have some great input, as well as many of the other folks out there. This is a great community, and everyone will help out as much as they can. Good luck and keep us up to date on your progress.

-- Bill, Turlock California,

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