Woodworking Goal

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My woodworking goal is to be able to develop the knowledge, skills and abilities necessary to design, build and finish furniture I can't afford to buy.
(BTW - Tom Plamann's done it - so there's hope.)
What're you shooting for?
charlie b
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wrote:

Very similar to your answer, except I'd add this as well. I know that a lot of things I would like to have just aren't around for any price- and while it may be possible to hire an artisan or furniture maker to make them for me, it seems foolish to leave the execution of something I've got in mind to someone who may see it from a different perspective, and create something different than I wanted.
So much of the world seems to be mass-produced and disposable these days, it's nice to think that I've got unique items furnishing my home. While they may not be quite as nice as some high-end gallery quality stuff, everything I've made has been better than it's equivilant at the places I can afford to shop- and I know that I'm not going to see a carbon-copy of it in someone else's home.
Barring some unforseen accident, I don't intend to give up at it- and god willing, I've got another 50 years or better to gain experience and skill. Hopefully I'll be good enough someday to leave carefully protected heirlooms for posterity that people will protect and enjoy when I'm gone. It seems like a good legacy to me.
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wrote:

Being skint and nailing 2x4s together will achieve that much.
I seem to have got to the point where I can make furniture that no-one can afford. In a world where Ikea will sell you a perfectly functional table, how many people are there left who are prepared to pay for anything better than MDF ?
I can make the stuff, and I've got any number of people who want it. But as for _paying_ a sensible rate for hand-work (which is inevitably slower and more skilled than factory, even for modest quality) then where's the market gone? Who _wants_ a table they can leave to their grandchildren, when the current fashion is to paint it pink because that's what Changing Rooms told you to do this week, then throw it away the week after.
I can see a future not too far away, where the only people with really good _new_ furniture are those who are building it themselves, or being given it as gifts from the makers. Quality just isn't part of commerce these days.
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I have no knowledge of the economy in the area where you live, but there are a LOT of people will to pay a LOT for truly wonderful, custom furniture/cabinetry.
I have a buddy that decided to take the plunge from being a highly successful computer engineer (i.e. making $100K+ per year salary) to being a full-time woodworker for hire. His net income (the amount he pays himself, not the amount the business get's) is abour $140K. This is only his 4th year of doing this and he has work booke with 6-9 month waits, and people don't mind.
I'm no pro - far from it. But I've done the odd job for money here and there, and made a fair bit on those jobs. And they weren't anything special, to say the least.
I think what a lot of woodworkers forget when they try to sell their work is that they have to target a specific market segment, clearly define their "ideal customer" and then SELL to those people. They can't make a museum-quality armoire that took them 500 hours to make, and then HOPE they find someone with $25K to spend. They need to find the customer FIRST. And if they can't? They need to change their business model and either make something else, or search harder for those customers.
You hit it on the head, Andy, in one respect. The people that will go and buy stuff at IKEA are NOT the one's you will sell to (and, I might add, aren't the ones you WANT to sell to). The money is there to be made, you just have to get your message out to the right people: marketing is key.
I don't know anything about Tom Watson's business model, but if you ever looked at his website and the things he made when he was a pro cabinetmaker - I bet you will get an idea of how that kind of business works. And then look at Tom Plamann. 'Nuf said.
Sucks that it isn't just about being really skilled at making furniture, but alas.
Mike

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On Fri, 03 Jun 2005 14:34:02 GMT, "Mike in Mystic"

Sadly the current distribution of income seems to favour those with absolutely no taste! A bureau made from recycled railway sleepers (ties) still with the creosote on them and sprayed with lacquer just to keep the smell in ?

Woodworker or furniture maker ? Things are a lot better for on-site work. If you're buying a competent tradesman by the hour, then you're paying a decent rate for it and there's generally little argument over the time spent and the amount owed. The problem is the invisible work in the workshop - how can any piece of furntiture possibly take more than an hour to make, when Ikea will sell you one for an hour or two's income?
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On Sat, 04 Jun 2005 11:50:11 +0100, Andy Dingley

That might be a local thing.
I'm in the same area as Mike, and there's some pretty tasteful work in these parts. We're between NYC & Boston, two cities that contain plenty of taste AND money. Both cities have just a pinch of influence on the world of fashion and design, with a great appreciation for classic form.
If you watch the "current work" section of FWW, you'll see terrific examples of classically styled work on a regular basis from the Northeastern US. This includes Pennsylvania, New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, and Maine.
Barry
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On Sat, 04 Jun 2005 11:50:11 +0100, Andy Dingley

People who think that way usually end up several hours later with a big pile of particle board and Euro-fasteners on their garage floor. I suspect I could make enough money to support my hobbies just doing Ikea furniture assembly for the truly clueless. And there are a *lot* of them out there.
Lee
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wrote:

What? Take on responsibility for all the future failings of a piece of cheap crap, for a fee that's appreciably less than its purchase price?
No thanks !
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On Tue, 07 Jun 2005 10:33:17 +0100, Andy Dingley

You know, Andy, in the case of Ikea, the assembly charge could legitimately be greater than the cost of purchase.
Tom Watson - WoodDorker tjwatson1ATcomcastDOTnet (email) http://home.comcast.net/~tjwatson1/ (website)
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wrote:

Agreed, but would anyone pay that ?
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On Tue, 07 Jun 2005 10:33:17 +0100, Andy Dingley

No problem, I'll just tell them: "Cash only, thank you very much, and if you *really* need to know, my name is Dingley, Andy Dingley."
I'm crazy, but I'm not stupid.
Lee
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Hello,
That was my first job! when I was 12, I placed a message in the local church buletin bord saying that I was a "pro" at assembly IKEA stuff and I was getting calls from housewhifes that were calling me to the rescue when their husband started breacking the IKEA stuff of frustration! made quie a lot of money like tha t:-)
cyrille
wrote:

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On Fri, 03 Jun 2005 14:34:02 GMT, "Mike in Mystic"

I was only able to make nice stuff because I lived in an area with a lot of wealthy people in it. The Main Line area contains several of the richest zip codes in the country.
For the last fifteen years that I was in business I never worked in a house that was worth less than a million dollars and most of them were in the three to seven million range.
The work you can do is driven by the market that is available to you.
My business model, if you could call it such, was simple.
I wanted to do all the work, including marketing, designing, selling and producing. I wanted to have a life that didn't take a lot of money to run. I didn't want employees.
The marketing was done by getting to know which builders and architects were involved in my target market. A letter of inquiry, followed by a visit with portfolio in hand was the next step. Most cautious builders and architects will try you out on a smallish project, which I would discount until I was running close to cost.
Once you're in, if you are a one man shop, you have to find a way to handle all the work that a busy design/build firm can throw at you. If you can't they'll start looking for someone else.
Since I wanted to be a hands on sole proprietor, this problem could get dicey.
Eventually, I found that I was better off not trying to handle all the needs of a company and started to solicit only special projects, allowing a lot of the bread and butter work to go to others.
Towards the end I was only doing word of mouth work for individual homeowners - because that was all that I could handle.
Had I been interested in growing a business, this would have been insane, but that isn't what I wanted.
I knew too many guys who had started out as good mechanics and wound up growing a business monster that needed constant feeding. They spent too much of their time trying to feed the monster.
The design work started out as a necessary chore but became one of my favorite parts of the business. I learned it on the fly by stealing bits and pieces of the good drawings that I would get from architects and designers. Later I spent a good deal of time reading and studying designs from the classical era on.
My area has a lot of people who want a very traditional look in their homes. On the other end of the scale are those who want only modern stuff. I happened to get typecast as one of the traditional guys, which was partly a result of the market and partly that of personal temperament. It is almost always the case that a shop will get known for a particular kind of work and this becomes their niche.
When you have a niche and the beginnings of a repeating client base, you are really in business.
When I would begin to get a little bored with another run of base units and bookcases, with the same details as the last few projects, I would try to find a job where the customer would let me play a little bit.
I did a lot of design drawing that went into overhead but wound up paying off in sales. Sometimes I would like the design so much that I would sharpen my pencil enough to get the price to where the customer would have been crazy not to take the deal.
Oddly enough, these jobs often wound up being very profitable because they would lead to additional work - at better margins.
I don't know what to say about selling. I often thought that customers felt comfortable with me because we had similar educational and cultural backgrounds. I think a lot of them thought of me as a charming anachronism - a hippie carpenter who never went corporate.
On the production side, I wanted to take everything from rough lumber to finish and installation. Eventually I made certain compromises and would buy out prefinished doors, drawer fronts and door boxes, if the time demands were too great. When I realized how I was being taken away from my vision of what I wanted to do, I slowed down and started making it all myself again.
Once I turned fifty I started to have a number of physical problems with things like bad knees, a chancy back and a good bit of arthritis here and there.
I knew that I had to back off on the work load and was gearing up to turn the business into a pure one off furniture shop, with a mix of items that would be built on spec, mixed in with commissioned work. I was hoping to do a fifty fifty split between the two, with an idea of growing the spec business to a point where I was well enough known that I could increase my margins and reduce my hours on the shop floor.
A visit to the doctor, who said that I was looking at twin knee replacements within a short time, if I didn't get off my feet, convinced me to get off the shop floor.
Most guys that I know who have small shops work about sixty to seventy five hours a week. About fifty or sixty of that is spent on the shop floor.
Now I spend about forty to fifty hours a week, mostly at a computer, or dealing with client contact, with some visits to the production facilities to see how things are going. I have better health benefits, a better retirement program and make more money than I did in most years of running the shop.
Had I decided to make my one man shop into an actual business, I would have had to mortgage the house, move out of the 1200 sq footer that I'm in, into larger quarters, buy different equipment, hire people (a very difficult problem), and spend all of my waking hours running a business.
I decided to go help run a little piece of someone else's business.
The cool thing is that I get to make whatever the hell I want now - as soon as I finish the exterior trim on the house, the painting, the new fence, refinish the hardwood floors, plumb the new bathroom, etc. - which I never had time to do when I was working for myself.
As JOAT often remarks, "Life is basically good."
If you want to work with your hands, as I did - I think that's great - but remember that you will age and that you might not always be able to do what is easy for you to do today.
If you are any good, it is actually pretty easy to grow a business - what is hard is not having it grow to overtake your whole life.
Tom Watson - WoodDorker tjwatson1ATcomcastDOTnet (email) http://home.comcast.net/~tjwatson1/ (website)
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Much very good information snipped

Thanks for the story, Tom. It is nice to like your work as much as you did. Your last comment shows a lot of wisdom.
--
Ed
http://pages.cthome.net/edhome /




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wrote:

Thanks Edwin - Wouldn't it be nice if wisdom would grow on the one plate of the scale without us having to balance it with life's lumps on the other?
Tom Watson - WoodDorker tjwatson1ATcomcastDOTnet (email) http://home.comcast.net/~tjwatson1/ (website)
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RE: Subject AKA Operating your own business.
I am reminded of a fraternity brother of mine who one day, quit his job, borrowed $5K and started a consulting engineering business that over the next 10 years made a ton of money.
Along came CAD, he didn't choose to invest, began losing customers, and ultimately closed the business.
We were having lunch one day and I asked him why he closed the business.
His answer was a classic, IMHO.
I got sick and tired of having to go to the bathroom and hold everybody's wiener every time they wanted to take a leak.
I understood.
Lew
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On Sun, 05 Jun 2005 00:40:10 GMT, Lew Hodgett

Hiring good people is the hardest thing that you can do in a business - as far as I know.
I got out of the construction business, which I was doing pretty well in, to go into the shop and work by myself. I was real tired of the people problems.
Swingman seems to have a handle on it and maybe he'll chime in. Seems like he just builds a little bit each year and keeps some time out to do those things that he enjoys.
He must have damned good subs that he's worked with for a good bit of time.
A buddy of mine always says, "Hell, the making is easy - it's the people that make it hard."
Tom Watson - WoodDorker tjwatson1ATcomcastDOTnet (email) http://home.comcast.net/~tjwatson1/ (website)
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wrote:

honest I have hit the bulls eye almost all the time...
My aim has always been to relax, and to improve my work...
Never built anything to save money... but have build a lot of furniture that I needed ...but I did it for enjoyment...
Bob G.
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Building furniture for myself and friends from lumber milled from my own trees...its all good!
Schroeder

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well, my goals seem to change a lot, Charlie... They used to be things like "learn to build cheap stuff that we can't afford to buy".. Evolved into "if I had the tools, I could build nice stuff..
I got back into woodworking when my wife started law school, figuring that since she was going to be either busy or sleeping 24/7, I could spend a lot of guilt-free time in the shop..
My original goal was pretty clear.. to improve my knowledge and skill, and eventually make very nice jewelry boxes for the wife and friends... with a sort of "maybe goal" of building things like china cabinets, display cases, etc...
After about 4 months of building shelves, cabinets and drawers for the shop, I got side tracked into wood turning in a big way.. My wife has been almost too encouraging, probably because this keeps me home and sober, and has just bought me my 2nd lathe. well, 3rd, if you could my trusty old shopsmith..
I still have the goal of fine woodworking some day, but my present goal is to improve my turning and finishing skills as much as possible, as long as it's fun... I sell a few things, but that's not the reason that I work wood... So far, I've spent at least 4 of every seven evenings in the shop, have a few hundred turnings and not only have not burned out, but still want more time to turn..
BTW: I have a lot more patience and drive to do things right in my late 50's than I did in my late 20's/early 30's.... When I worked wood before, I would either skip a step or "mickey mouse" something to get it finished quickly... now, I'm at the age where I can not only hear the phrase "it's not the destination, it's the journey", but I can know the difference and enjoy the journey..
mac
Please remove splinters before emailing
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