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?
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
You know, Andy, in the case of Ikea, the assembly charge could
legitimately be greater than the cost of purchase.
Tom Watson - WoodDorker
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:-)
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
A buddy of mine always says, "Hell, the making is easy - it's the
people that make it hard."
Tom Watson - WoodDorker
=======================Well I have been "shooting" now for close to 40 years.. and to be very
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...
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
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
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
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..
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