Becoming a pro woodworking, The ramblings of a 30 year pro woodworker

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Blog entry by a1Jim posted 02-23-2019 07:01 PM 681 reads 0 times favorited 8 comments Add to Favorites Watch

So you want to become a professional woodworker, well your not alone who hasn’t thought of making great masterpieces and being known as another Sam Maloof, James Krenov Charles Neil, of woodworking, perhaps making items for the white house or movie stars?
First off wanting to make a living in woodworking is a bit like when your a teenager planning on being a rock star not impossible but the odds are against you. Why? Because 80% of people who own a table saw and a pocket screw jig in their garage wants the same thing to make a living as a glorious woodworker.
A very big problem is that there are many people who make products and sell them for less than what they pay for material. Of course, this is impossible to compete with.
So how do those who succeed as pro woodworkers succeed? It takes a combination of things to make a living in woodworking. First, you need to be able to survive financially for 1 to 5 years without making a profit plus having funds to buy tools and equipment, and a space to work in. This part of the equation may mean you starting off part-time or having a day job or your spouse is working and is willing to cover your lives and business expenses or are you willing an able to take the risk to take out good size loan for your new business. Assuming you can manage the financial end of this new venture then there are are other issues, Issues like: does the place you’re going to work in is zoned properly for a woodworking business? Does it have adequate power to run the machines you need, (just a table saw with enough power for a woodworking business will need 220 power by itself), is it large enough to hold the equipment you will need? Does it have enough light, heat, cooling? How about a bathroom? Do you need a permit or license to do what your planning on doing?
Let’s assume you have all that covered then next major factors you have to consider is are you knowledgeable and talented enough in the woodworking.
Have you run a business before? Do you know what it takes to make it all work? Many people recommend a 5 years plan? Will you know how and where to acquire accounts to purchase your, wood, tools and supplies? Is your credit good enough to buy on credit? Where will you advertise your new business and can you afford the cost in your budget? Oh what about a budget do you have one or know how to make one or keep books for bookkeeping? How about insurance or employees? How about a phone, is there someone who can answer it when you’re running loud equipment? Do you have a vehicle that can haul the long pieces of wood or finished projects with?

Now back to where we should have started with two important issues. Is there a market in your area for another pro woodworker or aspiring pro woodworker and do you have a product that not everyone is making that the public can’t live without that will be profitable?

We have covered a lot of tough subjects and questions.
After reading through that list of questions are you saying “ but I can fill in the blank to fix that” to a lot of the questions then perhaps your not going to let any of those items stop you, then you may have enough drive to be a success in spite of any or all of the areas I’ve covered.

Just think of the top five woodworkers you know that you have seen on TV, in magazines or online, all of them are doing one or all of the following, teaching in person, teaching online, writing books, all to supplement their income. This is true of all of the most amazing woodworkers I can think of in spite of their great an amazing talent and masterpieces they make.

I still will tell you what I tell my students that want to go into the woodworking business “don’t quit your day job” and unless you must absolutely try woodworking as a business,
”don’t wreck a most wonderful hobby by going into the woodworking business”.


8 comments so far

View Monte Pittman's profile

Monte Pittman

30530 posts in 3014 days

#1 posted 02-23-2019 07:15 PM

Excellent writing sir.

But I don’t think it’s the hobby woodworkers that that cause low prices. It’s the big stores selling particleboard furniture cheap and customers caring more about price than quality. They think they are saving by buying cheap crap 5 times vs buying quality once.

Just my thought.

I totally agree, build with pride for yourself and you will be happier in the future.

-- Nature created it, I just assemble it.

View Andre's profile


3214 posts in 2482 days

#2 posted 02-23-2019 07:34 PM

Amazing timing, Thursday night our Wood Working Guild had a tour of a young man who is attempting this journey!
Minimal but well equipped, 2 car garage converted to a shop. Has created some very fine pieces and manages to sell enough to keep himself in business. Made me think what if I had discovered Krenovs philosophy earlier in my life?
Had pleasant dreams that night of his wood stash!
His Website,

-- Lifting one end of the plank.

View b1v1r's profile


22 posts in 1077 days

#3 posted 02-23-2019 07:55 PM

I am an amateur chef, avid beer brewer and now attempting to be a woodworker. All three would be hard to make a living at (well, chef is fine, but I’m talking owning a restaurant of my own). My real goal as a woodworker is a hobby and to supply myself (and perhaps friends/family) with furniture that lasts. What would be nice is to have some supplemental income when I retire. It would be nice to hear from those in retirement that have accomplished this. Good luck to all trying this!

-- Brian - Ellicott City, MD

View a1Jim's profile


118011 posts in 4253 days

#4 posted 02-23-2019 07:59 PM

Hi Monte
I agree that in part the cheap furniture makers hurt pros but I’ve also had neighbors make a neighbor a whole kitchen full of cabinets for just the cost of the plywood costing me a $30,000 job and a new woodworker build an 8ft tall bookshelf for a job I bid for $850 selling it to my prospective customer for $35 when I priced the wood at $225.

Andre, I know that my blog is fairly pessimistic but I really do root for the people who want to follow their passion and
try and make woodworking their lives work, but I know there are pitfalls especially for those who are new to being in business for themselves so I thought this blog might be of help to those contemplating taking the plunge.


View a1Jim's profile


118011 posts in 4253 days

#5 posted 02-23-2019 08:10 PM

Good luck on all fronts Brian, I hear the restaurant business is tough to make a living in too.


View TopamaxSurvivor's profile


18921 posts in 4351 days

#6 posted 02-23-2019 10:16 PM

Jim, You may be pessimistic, but realistic. When I started contracting in 1985, the Small Business Administration said only 10% of small businesses last the first year. Only 10% of those make it to 5 years. Do the math, 99% failure at the 5 year mark.

Of those who are making it, life throws curves. One fellow I know had large cabinet contract. He bought the equipment and started the job. It was cancelled and he was bankrupted. Down turns like 2008 put many successful businesses out. Be prepared.

An incompetent CPA caused me significant financial distress my 2nd year. At the end of the year, he estimated my income taxes were paid by my quarterly estimates. On April 13th, he called telling me to send the IRS about 10k on the 15th and increase the quarterly estimate by 8k the same day. Fortunately, I made it over this little hurtle. I met another fellow who had a similar experience and it put him out of business.

One business owner I met was working weekends to correct a defective job. His employee had significantly overstated his talents. The owner had not been supervising closely. By the time he discovered the issues he said his employee had cost him 100k! He said the worst part was it was not his money to lose, it was the bank’s. A nasty hole to dig out of in a competitive market.

One banker told me they did not want to know contractors, restaurants or fishermen exist until they have been in business for at least 5 years. He advised me to keep my job. He was probably right, but a few of us beat the odds. I never did any work for fishermen but did learn to get my cash out of pocket expenses up front working for restaurants. Even then, use due diligence; make sure the check is good. Unfortunately, most of these lessons are learned the hard way.

IMO, chasing the carrot with the wolf pack is a long shot. Discover your niche and exploit it. If your heart is set on giving it a go, do it while you are young enough to recover. What could be worse than going to your grave wishing you had given it a try not knowing if you would have beaten the odds.

-- Bob in WW ~ "some old things are lovely, warm still with life ... of the forgotten men who made them." - D.H. Lawrence

View shipwright's profile


8495 posts in 3473 days

#7 posted 02-24-2019 12:03 AM

Ahhh but it’s a great life!

-- Paul M ..............the early bird may get the worm but it’s the second mouse that gets the cheese!

View pottz's profile


8347 posts in 1660 days

#8 posted 02-24-2019 12:35 AM

Excellent writing sir.

But I don’t think it’s the hobby woodworkers that that cause low prices. It’s the big stores selling particleboard furniture cheap and customers caring more about price than quality. They think they are saving by buying cheap crap 5 times vs buying quality once.

Just my thought.

I totally agree, build with pride for yourself and you will be happier in the future.

- Monte Pittman

ditto monte,it’s the hobbiest where they all make their money,it’s the big guys competition that have driven down prices for the little guy to make any money.i usually turn down offers to make furniture for people other than family or close friends because they want the big box price but with the hand made just isn’t worth my time or effort.but as shipwright said-it’s a great life.

-- sawdust the bigger the pile the bigger my smile-larry,so cal.

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