Living the "dream"

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Blog entry by mnpete posted 12-09-2013 08:03 PM 1366 reads 0 times favorited 9 comments Add to Favorites Watch

I’m enjoying a couple extra days off…use’em or lose’em!

I was thinking on another comment by James Krenov and it got me to thinking about doing what you love, pursing your passion, etc… – Krenov Comments

For those of you (like me some days!) who dream of leaving the security of a full-time job to pursue the life of an artist/designer/craftsman…what does that dream look like for you? Is it the “find a need and fill it” philosophy (often what pays the bills) or is it a dream of letting your creative nature flow unchecked?

It seems like most of the greats just jumped in doing what they loved and wanted to do from the start…scary in this economic time and certainly with a family to feed…but always at the edge of my own thoughts.

For those of you actually out there doing it…how much of your effort is a marketing/sales machine to keep the “business” going and how much is the true artistic pursuit you dream about? I’m not foolish enough to think that one cannot exist without the other, in some form…just mulling a lot over lately, and curious about what folks are really doing.

-- Follow my woodworking adventures in The Second Wind Workshop,

9 comments so far

View kaerlighedsbamsen's profile


1309 posts in 2255 days

#1 posted 12-09-2013 10:09 PM

Those are interesting and important questions you ask.

Just read through some of your blog and enjoyed it a lot. Great stuff in there and vise words from Krenov is always inspiring. Intersting that he was such a character and still he kept quite a humble attitude. I like that.

In my job (photographer) i meet a lot of people that do extrordinary things, and given the chance i always ask how the ended doing just that. And it strikes me that only a wery few actually went straight that way. All the rest have spent years doing projects, jobs and educations far, far away from what they are doing now. Often people have been through 5, 10 differnent things before finding their right place.

There was the Michelin Guide chef that dropped out of high school and worked for years as a teacher
There was the film actor that had tired of being an accountant and had 2 differnt university degrees
There was the doctor that tired of hospitals and became a childrens books writer
And so on..

Commom for many is also that they do not see them self doing what they are doing now some years in the future. So this leads me to this simple conclution:

- People that are doing what they like are curious people that keep looking.
- People that are doing what they like are often self employed

And i realy think this brings hope. There is no “its too late to…”. Just do it!

How does your dream look like by the way?

-- "Do or Do not. There is no try." - Yoda

View kaerlighedsbamsen's profile


1309 posts in 2255 days

#2 posted 12-09-2013 10:11 PM

My own route so far is, by the way: farmer, machinist, chef, archelogical assistant, photograper. No idear what next step is..

-- "Do or Do not. There is no try." - Yoda

View Daniel's profile


3 posts in 2171 days

#3 posted 12-10-2013 02:40 AM

I guess I have to admit that I am finally “living the dream” – doing a wide variety of woodwork and getting paid for it. My career path was totally unrelated: classical music performance followed by medical practice, but I always loved building things, and through the years, collected enough tools to teach myself the basics. I built all the cabinets for my first house…ghastly full-overlay pickled oak with rounded edges (you probably don’t remember the 70’s)...but gradually gained skill, taste, and experience.

My first “paying” woodworking job came from a builder friend who desperately needed a custom vanity in a week, and didn’t have time to build it himself. I did the design, construction, finish, and installation, including the tile work and the plumbing…full-service cabinetry. Would Thos. Moser hook up a sink? I ended up making nothing for my time. In fact, I think the materials actually cost more than my bid. But the clients were happy, and they asked me to do their kitchen, along with several built-ins and free-standing pieces. That free vanity started my third career.

The clients’ interior designer asked for “my card”. By this time I did have a contractor’s license, bond, and insurance to keep everything legal, but had never thought about self-promotion. I scrawled my contact information on a ripped-off piece of cardboard, and now I’m on my eighth project with her. The architect and I became friends, and he has since fed me several more projects, the latest of which is a full house of finely detailed Craftsman cabinets/built-ins. There goes next year. This was supposed to be a part-time cottage industry between fishing trips. And I still don’t have any cards.

Admittedly I have been very lucky. I had just enough skill to be a contender, but more importantly, people took a chance on me. And I had all the toys, a big shop to play in, and an old guy’s work ethic. I used to work all night in an operating room, so I have no problem with long hours. Once I canceled a trip and worked all weekend with a general contractor who had just discovered another sub’s bonehead mistake. We kept the project on schedule. He sent me a nice bottle of wine and two very lucrative kitchens…no bid.

There is a big niche market for what we do. And I’ve learned not to turn my nose up at small “routine” jobs, like a powder room vanity or a small kitchen island (to match the other awful cabinets). What usually happens is while you are working on a small “favor” project, the clients will mention that they have always wanted a custom desk or entertainment center or dining room suite. Suddenly that island looks a lot better.

You just need to find the right break-in project and build someone a free vanity. It will all flow from there. The clients, their friends, the designer, the architect, the general contractor, and any number of subcontractors will all see your work, and it’s just a matter of time before your phone rings. How long, and in what capacity, you keep your day job is an entirely personal matter, and only you know the answer to that. Good luck!

-- Daniel, Washington

View Jake's profile


850 posts in 2173 days

#4 posted 12-10-2013 07:04 AM

My dream is to start each day with the smell of sawdust hanging lightly over a dark brewed coffee and the brisk winter sun shining first rays of sun into my workshop.

Even though I am still quite a way from this dream, I am perfectly content with moving in measured baby steps, taking the time and precautions to make sure my craft is at the level I am comfortable with. Currently my career has been B2C sales for the first 4 years and last 3 years have been B2B sales for a multinational company. And to be honest, my found passion in woodworking makes me a better salesperson in my job as well. As long as I can go into my shop and work on what I love I don’t have Mondays or Fridays anymore, my work in office is done with the same diligence as my work in my workshop and every day in my workshop is a new adventure. To be honest, some nights I am too excited to fall asleep.

I think that as long as you have a plan and you work like nobody else, you can succeed like nobody else, so as a proffessional sales person and a amateur woodworker, I still clearly see my vision coming true in the next 5 years. Love it!

-- Measure twice, cut once, cut again for good measure.

View kaerlighedsbamsen's profile


1309 posts in 2255 days

#5 posted 12-10-2013 10:37 AM

@Daniel. Great story you got. Sent you a PM

-- "Do or Do not. There is no try." - Yoda

View stefang's profile


16821 posts in 3876 days

#6 posted 12-10-2013 11:09 AM

With good planning dreams become goals, goals become step by step planning, and step by step planning becomes a roadmap towards realizing the dream. The important thing is that one must realize that running a business is quite a different activity than having a hobby. That doesn’t mean it can’t be fun and rewarding, but perhaps in a different way.

-- Mike, an American living in Norway.

View mnpete's profile


226 posts in 3200 days

#7 posted 12-10-2013 05:05 PM

Such great insight and wisdom here…you guys are aces! My career has been in project and resource management in customer service orgs…about 25 years now. Over the past few years though, I’ve been wanting to try something else, and woodworking has been one of those satellites that circles my thoughts.

I’ve got a great job, with a great company, which used to be exciting enough to keep the ball rolling along…now, it’s still a good gig, supports my family and allows us to save a little. I’m just feeling more and more inspired to break away a bit and am having that mental pang with risk vs. good thing going.

Jake, I like the idea of your dream…waking up and hitting the shop and letting creativity flow. Time to take my experience in planning and shift some focus on how to make it real…and still feed the family! :)

-- Follow my woodworking adventures in The Second Wind Workshop,

View JohnnyStrawberry's profile


246 posts in 2861 days

#8 posted 12-11-2013 12:56 PM

Great questions. Fascinating replies so far. :-)
The first question is probably the easiest for everyone. I suppose nobody joins LJs without dreams…
Mine is simple. As probably of the majority. But I have a likeminded wife. :-) And that’s a huge advantage I know.
Living on a rural property where we can produce most of our food and earn a humble living with making furniture out of WOOD. Actually I deeply believe in the marketability of the furniture I make. Some like it for being natural, some for extreme durability, some for esoteric reasons, and I really could go on and on but the most important is that I don’t want to earn big money on my handmade furniture. (I’d love to elaborate on this but it’s not the point of this topic. Or is it? …)
That’s an answer to your second question, too.
JK’s take on this is a bit steep for me. It’s simply too risky if you have to feed a family…
I can easily sum up my opinion: Only time will tell whether you’re a fool living your dream or you’re making the rest’s dreams real…
Interesting; no answers to your last question so far. Mainly wonderful stories.
There is a reason though…
I think your last question boils down directly to your priorities. If your family is your first you’ll work for them and after the working hours you’ll spend your time with them – not much time for pursuing “wooden dreams”…
When not in the shop I also think about these a lot.
I believe this topic has a vast interest among lumber jocks. So I’d suggest your posting (even copy + paste) your questions as a forum topic. I’d love to see the comments there. It would probably get more replies.
Thank you for posting.

-- What are those few hours of mine compared to those decades Mother Nature has put in it!

View 404 - Not Found's profile

404 - Not Found

2544 posts in 3511 days

#9 posted 12-11-2013 09:58 PM

I apologise for rambling now, I know I probably will.

I came into woodworking as a career after redundancy. I used to work in quite a specialised role, that specialised a role that when the job went (I blame ‘W’), I was faced with either taking several backwards steps, emigrating, or starting something completely new.

So I ticked box C. I always liked doing woodwork – even with just a bare minimum of hand tools and a Black and Decker workmate I was able to make passable jobs. Out of the redundancy cheque I bought the basic machinery and went about converting my garage into a small workshop. Shadowed my Father in Law for a while too, a Woodwork and Construction Studies Teacher for 40 years, with his own fully equipped workshop. In the beginning it was great, sure I didn’t make much money, made some mistakes and made a few things that I would wince at now, but it didn’t take long until I had work lined up for six months ahead of me. I have my wife to thank for getting the work lined up, she is a nurse and at the time I started my venture/adventure, went about telling everyone at work that I could do this/do that. I kind of started off on the basics, lots of chipboard and mdf, just any kind of job really that someone would want making. That was seven years ago when the going was good, a lot of projects would be to fit in peoples new extensions, financed of course by bank loans. Things just haven’t been the same since the economy went into the toilet.

But I had a few good clients who have stood by me, whether it’s because I never seem to charge as much as I should or whether it’s because they know I won’t let them down, I don’t know. The job I’m working on now is for a guy I first did a few jobs for right at the start.

I think I have a pretty good reputation and that is important. I haven’t ever gone to look at a job and never got back to the person because a) I couldn’t be bothered b) Something better came up c) It was too difficult.
I’ve never given up on something either, even though it feels like I’ve been put through the mill while making it. There’s that moment when you come to deliver and install a job when you’re putting the tools back in the van when you get to look at what you’ve made, and you forget the hardship, you forget everything (well obviously not the cheque) and you get to look at what you’ve made, and for me, that is the climax of that job. Next day hopefully you’ll be in the bank and down the timber merchants, next job.

As for marketing, for the last seven years I have had to be around for my children, cooking the dinner and running the house while my wife has been out at work. There was a balance to find between doing all these things and not having too much work on, but this year things are changing, the kids are older and more independent, my youngest is at secondary school so that frees me up a lot to get more done. What I intend to do in 2014 is finish my website (well – I want it to be right) and advertise in bimonthly Homes & Interiors magazines, you know, the kind of ones you see in the orthodontists waiting room, just to drive traffic to my site. All the while I’ve been doing this I would make anything anyone asked for, but I’m at a point now where I think I know what the most fulfilling type of work for me is, that being built in and free standing stuff sympathetic to old properties, and the kind of people I want to work for, those being interior designers and people with old properties with the will and finances to do them up.

So that’s me, that’s my story. If I could do it all again, would I?

You’ve no idea how many times I ask myself that question.

I don’t consider my business to be successful, I have been limited by the domestic situation, there have been times when I’ve just been working from job to job with gaps in between. If it wasn’t for my wife’s job, we’d be screwed. The economy is bad here – although it is showing signs of improvement. If I go into a supplier, I usually ask ‘how’s business?’ I think I’m doing pretty well compared to some of the guys I talk to. One kitchen manufacturer I get material from has shrunk from 15 employees to 3, of five big timber yards around here, 2 have closed, another one is waiting for an announcement as to whether they will still be in business next year. Another two guys in town selling hardware closed up shop. Even when I order stuff from Hafele, they don’t carry any stock of anything, I order, I wait for it to be sent from England to Ireland to me. I’d consider getting a full time job now but they are all minimum wage jobs. Former lawyers and estate agents are applying for jobs at MacDonalds – honestly, you read about it in the papers all the time.

Things would be different if the good times were still rolling, of that much I am certain. If you want to do this, you have to be certain that you’ve got something people want, and you have to be realistic.

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