The Professional Furniture Maker and The Hobbyist Furniture Maker
Got on a “watch videos of pro furniture makers showing you techniques”
kick and began noting how they do things versus how hobbyists do things.
While the end results may be similar, or In some cases identical, the
pro and the hobbyist are two distinctly different beasts.
Here’s the differences I’ve got down so far. Feel free to add those
The pro makes his/her living from furniture making so Time is Money.
The hobbyist makes furniture for fun/ therapy so time isn’t all that
important. The money part of the equation may or may not be a factor.
The pro makes furniture for customers.
The hobbyist makes things for himself/herself or perhaps a spouse,
significant other, family member or for friends.
The pro is in the shallower part of the learning curve as far as
furniture making goes. The business side may be a different story.
The hobbyist Is in the steeper part of the learning curve for furniture
making but doesn’t have to worry about any business end.
The pro will spend semi-big bucks on a piece of equipment that will
significantly increase productivity (read make more money by increasing
productivity than spent on the equipment to do so). However, she/he is
less apt to succumb to impulse buying slick doo-dads and or forking over
money for a neat-o-spiral-cutting- filigree-making-laser guided tool or
The hobbyist “will make do with what he/she has” when it comes to big
ticket items and agonize for months over Brand A vs Brand B and the
hundred dollar difference between the price of the two “final
candidates”. YET - he/she will often buy hundreds and hundreds of
dollars of “look how pretty this thing is” and “that’s cool - I’m sure
I’ll find something to do with it” items.
(NOTE: The pro knows, or is acquainted with, a lot more woodworkers than
the typical hobbyist. As a result, the pro is far more apt to pick up
tools and equipment USED for less than half the price of NEW - and
they’ll be on the high end of the quality, fit & finish and capabilities
range. The pro seldom buys doo-dads - unless she/he knows the investment
will yield a good return - or thinks it will.)
The pro has developed a set of designs - four or five of the major
pieces of furniture - chair, table, cabinet, dresser etc. - with several
variations of each. He/she has a fairly clear mental image of what goes
where and how, and knows what the finished piece will look like because
he/she has made several of this item before.
The hobbyist hasn’t found a style and a set of proportions - yet. Since
each piece, for her/him, is unique and exists only as a semi-general/
semi-specific mental image, the details of the components are often
vague, coming into focus only as the parts are laid out, cut and set
next to each other.
The pro has made full scale templates of the major components of each of
his/her best sellers as well as a few personal favorites. Some of the
templates are designed to be used with a specific piece of machinery - a
shaper, router table, router, etc..
The hobbyist, if he/she is methodical, lays out the components of the
piece “on the bench”, right on the stock being used. Being uncertain if
his/her ideas will result in a finished piece that is worth doing again,
by the time dry fitting answers some of the “is this worth doing
again?”, parts have been shaped and dry fitted. At that point, making
good basic templates is gone since there may no longer be a flat face or
a square edge.
Once the wood is in the shop, the pro doesn’t see it in terms of dollars
per board foot. Its type, dimensions, color and grain become far more
important than its initial price. Cut-offs are waste, to be disposed
Ironically, for internal “won’t show” parts a pro will spend time
getting the most parts out of a given board.
The hobbyist initially tries to utilize every square foot of each board
foot because $/bf, rather than grain direction and grain pattern, is
more important. Cut-offs are treasures to be stored away for some
future masterpiece. Hobbyists are Silas Marner when it comes to wood,
not so much because of the beauty of the wood, but rather all those
bucks spent on each board foot.
The pro will have thousands of board feet of wood in the shop or a shed,
much of it rough milled 4/4, 6/4, 8/4 and maybe some 12/4. The pro will
spend some time milling what she/he needs when needed, knowing that
properly milled stock is a key to parts that will fit together properly
The hobbyist usually won’t have a lot of wood “just sitting around” in
racks and what he/she does have was probably bought already dimensioned
and sanded. Very little time will be spent even checking to see if a
board is flat, the edges square to the face and straight - UNTIL it
causes a problem or twelve later. Only then will awareness that wood
moves set in and stock preparation become important. Most stock will
enter the shop as 1/2 or 3/4 inch thickness.
The pro has developed an efficient “rough stock to finished piece”
procedure, making all the cuts a given set up/ operation will do on ALL
the parts that use this set up/operation. This not only saves time but
also eliminates or minimizes matching parts that don’t in fact match.
One chair or table leg that’s just a smidge shorter or longer than the
others will make a difference later.
The hobbyist is often an example of Brownian Motion - do this, do that
and then go back and do this again. The result can be “matching parts”
that don’t - in the worse case, a table with 16 and 7/16th inch legs
The pro sands to 180, sometimes to 220.
The hobbyist sands to 400, sometimes to 1000 - wet/dry of course and may
continue on to 00000000 steel wool.
The pro settles on one or two finishes and stick with them for just
about everything but tints/stains to even out sapwood/heartwood
differences. The objective is to get a durable finish on the piece
that’s fast drying, low maintenance and looks nice. Returns and
refinishing them is a money loser so when a piece leaves the shop it
should never return.
The hobbyist has shelves and shelves of bottles, jars and cans of
shellac, varnish, lacquers, tung oil, linseed oil, boiled linseed oil,
walnut oil, teak oil, danish oil, poly and Bubba’s Secret Concoction
with a box full of foam brushes. He/she is willing to use a finish that
takes a week to dry between coats.
For most pros, furniture making is work, at times fun, but mainly work.
For most hobbyists, furniture making is fun, at times work, but mainly