Is there money to be made in furniture or cabinetmaking?

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Forum topic by Beginningwoodworker posted 02-12-2011 08:44 PM 26649 views 1 time favorited 30 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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13345 posts in 3940 days

02-12-2011 08:44 PM

I am wondering is there still a demand for custom furniture or cabinets. I know you cant complete with furniture stores or cabinet factories prices or labor cost; It really dont seem its worth the trouble to start a woodworking business.

30 replies so far

View Lee Barker's profile

Lee Barker

2170 posts in 3118 days

#1 posted 02-12-2011 09:03 PM

With your outlook as I am hearing it, it would be folly for you to start a woodworking business.

Others will take the leap, and some will succeed and some will fail. I would venture to say that something all the succeeders will have in common is an optimistic outlook, a powerful desire to learn every day and either built in business savvy or an interest and ability to get what they need from other sources.



-- " his brain, which is as dry as the remainder biscuit after a voyage, he hath strange places cramm'd with observation, the which he vents in mangled forms." --Shakespeare, "As You Like It"

View lew's profile


12553 posts in 4023 days

#2 posted 02-12-2011 09:08 PM

You know, CJ, that is a dilemma I am facing right now. My brother-in-law asked me to make a couple of collection deposit cabinets for the churches where he is employed. He had some specifications, sizes and ideas. The materials were not all that expensive- 2 sheets of 3/4” plywood- one oak, one birch and 25+ bdft of 4/4 red oak, hinges and locks. Simple finish- poly over stain. Typical of most things I make- no real plans, just sort of wing it. I got lucky and didn’t make any major mistakes- I mean design modifications. Well I am ready to put on the poly and right now I have 60 hours in these things. Now I will be the first to admit- I am not a professional and don’t have the latest and greatest tools or a large space to work; so I know that I took a lot longer than most of the guys here who are professionals. So, how can I charge a reasonable hourly rate?

I think unless you can find a niche- where people want a specific item you make- or you live in a really affluent area, it is difficult to compete with the big factories.

Just my 2ยข


-- Lew- Time traveler. Purveyor of the Universe's finest custom rolling pins.

View Beginningwoodworker's profile


13345 posts in 3940 days

#3 posted 02-12-2011 09:13 PM

Thanks Lew and Lee, I’ve agree with both comments. I rather work for someone else but jobs are hard to come by these days.

View SnowyRiver's profile


51457 posts in 3748 days

#4 posted 02-12-2011 09:27 PM

I think there is money to be made in woodworking, but you not only have to be a good woodworker, but you have to be good at marketing it too. I tend to enjoy the woodworking part, but I am not very good at the marketing part simply because I dont care to do sales work. I used to be a sales person in the company I work for and I hated every minute of it…I just didnt like trying to convince people to buy something.

-- Wayne - Plymouth MN

View Beginningwoodworker's profile


13345 posts in 3940 days

#5 posted 02-12-2011 09:35 PM

Wanye, I have a few small projects but its hard to convince people to buy something.

View degoose's profile


7250 posts in 3622 days

#6 posted 02-12-2011 09:53 PM

I was told by a very good friend of mine who owns a sawmill…
” I have seen some very talented people come through the mill, who can’t make a living at wood work… and I have seen some JUST competent woodworkers who make a killing… only because they have the right contacts to market their product….”
Find a product that can’t be copied cheaply by the factories…and find someone to sell it for you…. that is the secret…

-- Don't drink and use power tools @

View SteveMI's profile


1130 posts in 3562 days

#7 posted 02-12-2011 10:17 PM

I’ve been going to a larger lumber mill to pick up my wood and have talked with a number of woodworkers who are hanging on. All of them had 3 to 5 employees at one time and were making the killing. Now they are single person shop or less than 3 people. All of them are not doing just what their speciality was three year ago, but taking any reasonable job that comes along to pay the rent. Actually they are at the mill to select wood in order to have the minimum waste, in years past they would have sent an intern and buy 15% extra.

Two common themes keep getting repeated at the mill. People, even those not under water on the mortgage, are not considering their homes investments that they can keep upgrading without worry of getting the money back out at sale. Second, in my area, is that people are still anxious on where they are going to live in order to have or keep the “good” job and they not having furniture made due to not knowing how it will go with the next house, condo or apartment.

(There were people there picking up loads for larger construction, but not the type of woodworking I think you are considering.)

So, one argument might be that this is not be the right time to jump into a new business with both feet and all of your resources tied up. The opposite argument is that the consumer confidence is recovering and those not in economic issue are going to open their pocket book again with less places to call on then there was several years ago. Even in the most positive mode, I would not expect the business to get back to what it was four years ago.

A last observation. I have seen some incredible wood furniture not sell at estate sales and end up in resale shops. A friend gets all of his hard wood by buying all wood eight seating dining sets with two cabinets for under $100, which he then disassembles, re-saws and makes smaller tables from. Point is that way too many people don’t want the “fine” wood furniture in the style that their parents had anymore.


View Puzzleman's profile


417 posts in 3211 days

#8 posted 02-12-2011 10:19 PM

Agreeing with the above. I have learned over the years that the most important job in my woodworking company is sales. Without sales and marketing, there is no money coming through the front door. And if no money comes through the front door, there is even less to take out the back door.

If you don’t like sales and marketing, work for someone else.

-- Jim Beachler, Chief Puzzler,

View devann's profile


2246 posts in 2960 days

#9 posted 02-12-2011 10:20 PM

Ditto the niche. You have to stand out, offer something or a service unique to your shop. It’s hard out there these days. A few years back I was having a good time making custom furniture. I had a pretty good little client base. As the economy deteriorated I often ended up working for the same clients but instead of wearing my furniture making apron I was back to wearing my carpenter nailbags. You have to be flexible and go with the flow.
Here’s one idea for you. I am still ask to build cabinets but being a one man shop by the time I spring for the materials the profit margin is pretty slim. So I generally refer the customer to a dedicated cabinet shop because they buy material in bulk and can offer a better price. Not always but a lot of the time the same cabinet shop will hire me to install the cabinets. The profit margin is higher for me in these situations, after all we all need to make a buck. Good Luck with your endeavors what ever they are.

-- Darrell, making more sawdust than I know what to do with

View SawDustJack's profile


28 posts in 2928 days

#10 posted 02-12-2011 10:20 PM

until people around here ( I’m in Prattville ) know who you are , it would be tough here or anywhere for that matter ..

You have to spend as much time marketing as in the shop , salesman I aint ..

View Loren's profile


10477 posts in 3915 days

#11 posted 02-12-2011 10:25 PM

It’s a tough trade from a business point of view. Overhead can kill you –
just like in most businesses.

Ultimately it’s about finding areas of the market you can make a profit
in and only working at jobs you make money at. You have to learn to
see when customers are looking to get something for nothing and
turn away those jobs.

If you want to plan your career, get the skills that can set you apart,
like marquetry.

If you can stomach the study and want to be upwardly mobile, go into
computer programming or some financial field. If making a lot of money
and finishing rich is important to you, woodworking is not a very good
field to get into. The hours are long, the work is dirty, the employees
require lots of supervision, overhead can wipe out your profits and the
money is not steady.

That said, you can prosper in cabinetry or furnituremaking but it requires
market savvy. It is best to specialize in chairs or guitars or marquetry
or whatever. Specialization allows you to focus your marketing, perfect
your specialty, set-up for optimal efficiency and become a go-to guy instead
of just another “good carpenter”, which is how most clientele view a
skilled custom cabinetmaker, a condition which will make you more or
less interchangeable in clients’ eyes with all the other “good carpenters”
in your market and creates a situation where you will lose jobs to cheaper
guys often.

As in all business, the secret to a steady stream of profits is to distinguish
your product and service from the competition. Easier said than done, of

View SnowyRiver's profile


51457 posts in 3748 days

#12 posted 02-12-2011 10:37 PM

Another issue I often think about, is the housing market. Everything revolves around home sales. Government statistics keep monitoring new home starts, but I wonder if the days of thousands of new home starts are over. There is a much smaller work force behind us now so I often wonder if there is really going to be people around capable of buying existing homes, let alone all these new homes they keep trying to build. If we dont have lots of new home starts and lots of people buying homes, there is much less need for furniture, cabinets, etc. I also think to make it in woodworking as a primary business, you have to diversify and not only build furniture, but kitchen cabinets, remodeling work, and maybe even a deck or two. It sure wouldnt hurt to build some smaller items too like turning bowls, building boxes, and birdhouses/craft items to keep the cash flow coming.

-- Wayne - Plymouth MN

View Cosmicsniper's profile


2202 posts in 3426 days

#13 posted 02-12-2011 10:45 PM


You mentioned something I don’t hear very often but is a long-standing peeve of mine…charging an hourly rate for what is likely inefficient use of time. Whether the inefficiency results from lack of experience, tools, or continuity – working 2 hours here, 2 hours there isn’t as efficient as working 4 hours straight – I think people need to be careful with how they price out a job. Charging hourly is likely fair for you…but I know it’s not fair for the client.

I used to run a landscaping business. Knowing how much more efficient we were, I would price out things according to the job…and when people tried to weasel out of the price because we “weren’t here that long,” I had to remind them that it was priced by the job.

Whereas hourly rate can be a base part of the pricing structure, I would communicate to prospective clients that the price is set according to the PIECE…and an agreement should be reached beforehand.

-- jay,

View Mike Gager's profile

Mike Gager

665 posts in 3534 days

#14 posted 02-12-2011 10:54 PM

i really think its a bad idea to start a custom furniture business

however i do believe building furniture as a “hobby” to try to sell is ok

heres the difference, if you are building furniture as a hobby in your spare time you can make a couple pieces and try to sell them, if they sell cool make more, if not well at least you have some nice furniture for your house or to give as gifts.

now if you try to start your own business youll likely have a lot of business start up fees, youll need to purchase the right machinery to speed things up. you will need some pieces built to show people your work. youll have to spend money on insurance, advertising, taxes, etc etc etc plus youll likely have to make it a full time gig to really get anywhere. now if after spending all that money getting things going you still dont sell anything you are hosed

View jack1's profile


2120 posts in 4295 days

#15 posted 02-12-2011 11:46 PM

Either is tough in this economy but, this economy is not going to last forever. Keep honing your skills and look for stuff people are willing to pay for. A job here, a crafts fair there, sit by the side of the road with adirondack furniture or picnic tables etc., etc. You can do it but it takes a leap of faith, optimism, good clean work, efficiency and a certain amount of luck to name a few variables. Keep on keeping on. You’ll make it.


-- jack -- ...measure once, curse twice!

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