The constraints of time and money on the professional woodworker

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Blog entry by EricTwice posted 12-24-2016 12:16 PM 1174 reads 0 times favorited 3 comments Add to Favorites Watch

Someone once said you have three choices; good, cheap and fast. You may have any two
Good and fast is not cheep.
Good and cheep is not fast.
Cheep and fast is not good.

I almost never use dovetails. Most folks are not willing to pay for them, so I find a cheaper faster way. I only rarely put in carved details for the same reason. People are just not willing to fork over the cash. People bring me things to repair. I know that the job will be challenging and so I accept it on a “when I have time” agreement. When they wonder why it takes me so long to get around to it, I tell them cheap and good isn’t fast.

I’m 58. My grandfather taught me to carve at the age of six. It’s a Swedish thing. I have been working wood professionally since I got out of the military in 1980. I often have people tell me that I am doing it wrong. Some of them know this because they read it somewhere in a book. I used to find this attitude upsetting. Now, I ignore them. They don’t understand that time is money and if the customer won’t spend it, I can’t afford to give it away.

I do find it pleasant to see some of the wonderful work exhibited by the hobbyists. To most it is a labor of love and very few could ever recoop the cost of their labor. (consider that shop time runs about 80$ an hour)

This is why the talented hobbyist will usually do better work than the professional.

-- nice recovery, They should pay extra for that mistake, Eric E.

3 comments so far

View canadianchips's profile


2632 posts in 4005 days

#1 posted 12-24-2016 03:46 PM

WELL said.
I sometimes will “donate” my time on a tiny job ! To me it is like spending money on advertising ! I would rather NOT charge the value of the job than have someone pissed off cause they thought I overcharged.
My “Freebies are rare”.

-- "My mission in life - make everyone smile !"

View woodworkerguyca's profile


30 posts in 2052 days

#2 posted 12-24-2016 03:56 PM

(disclaimer: not wordworker by day job, probably partly because I know I would never manage my time well)

That is true of any professional endeavor.
If your job is to put food on the table, you need to turn a profit, and hopefully have time to go home and have a life at the end of the day.

Very few people are lucky enough to find clients with the deep pockets to pay for an art piece.

In the technology area, Apple computer seems to be able to convince people to pay the big money for all the refinements

The next wave of CNC will change a lot of what is possible in making a small scale shop look like a car assembly line, especially with the expansion of AI. But this won’t change the time-cost-value equation of handmade products.

May you find that customer that is willing to pay for the work you can be proud of.
Merry Christmas, seasons greetings, etc.!

View Marcial's profile


208 posts in 1553 days

#3 posted 12-24-2016 04:38 PM

Again, well said and an interesting topic. To be good and fast requires practice which, unless your family and job time demands are small, means woodworking is your job. Even then, high level joinery and finishing are just time intensive. It’s much more rewarding as a avocation especially if your job is information and/or people oriented. Finally, hand-made is true luxury. If I take my time and do a good job, I wind up with something I o/w could not afford, I accumulate tools, and my work is not taxed 50 cents on the dollar.

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