The Birch China Cabinet; The Crazy Story of How I Quit My Corporate Office Job To Be A Woodworker

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Project by Mark A. DeCou posted 05-27-2006 03:26 PM 14814 views 9 times favorited 17 comments Add to Favorites Watch
The Birch China Cabinet; The Crazy Story of How I Quit My Corporate Office Job To Be A Woodworker
The Birch China Cabinet; The Crazy Story of How I Quit My Corporate Office Job To Be A Woodworker No picture No picture No picture No picture No picture
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This was a commissioned piece, and was sold in 1997.

You can see more of this project at

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Project Story:
The year was 1997. My first major furniture commission, this Birch China Hutch, was the important start to my professional woodworking career.

Today, looking back at the photos of the Birch China Cabinet, and the period of my life in which I built it, it is still amazing to me.

Today, I can’t help but be overwhelmed by the shear absurdity it was to do what I did in 1997. Hopefully, my story will shake someone else’s roots enough to push them to live their own dreams.

You won’t follow your own dreams by continuing to shut off your alarm clock and commuting to work every morning just “wishing” yourself into a different situation. Forget how you got to where you are, make the changes you need to get to where you want to go. I coined the phrase a few years back, “It’s not your dreams that set your destiny, it’s your decisions.”

But how really crazy was this project for me?
First off, this was the first piece of woodworking I had done between 1982 when I finished my senior project in High School Woodshop, and 1997 when I naively started the woodworking business. That’s 15 years, checked it with my calculator, government school educated I was.

Secondly, I built this piece in a 20’x20’ attached garage at my house on the end of the cul-de-sac in surburbia, all with tools I borrowed from my dad. Incidentally, I did learn in a just a few weeks that suburbia neighbors aren’t all that supportive of a guy doing woodworking full time in his garage, even with the doors all shut. In short, I had to move.

Thirdly, I had no money to buy any of my own tools with, and my wife said very sternly that she was not giving up her dream to be a stay-at-home wife to support my dream of doing woodworking. So, I was on my own, so-to-speak.

Fourth, this was the first time I had ever designed a piece of furniture from a blank page. In woodshop class, I always had some plan to make personal deviations from. This time, I had to dream it all up, every joint, every proportion, all of it. It didn’t seem so overwhelming when I was bidding the project.

Looking back on this period of my life I can only be amazed how by the Grace of God that I was able to survive. I can only imagine a Heavenly Father chuckling at my notions and dreams, but yet caring enough to help them come together. Faith built on that base of experience is pretty hard to deny.

But, let’s go back a little ways to understand more about why I was so determined to start this very risky woodworking adventure…......

I had become so tired of traveling by plane over my sales territory for my sales-engineering job, that I had to do something different. Finally, being stuck in the country of Panama during an air traffic controller strike, I said, ”Enough is enough. Everyone I love, and every thing I love doing, is at home, why in the world am I here, stuck in this humid, dangerous jungle, without a way to get home?”

The answer I got back from my heart, was that I was pursuing money, and whatever the cost I had to endure to achieve financial success I had paid it. No matter who was hurt, what dreams I had postponed, no matter what pain the pursuit of the “love of money” had caused. And on that night in Panama in the hotel room I said, ”No more.”

My marriage was suffering for a lot of reasons, mostly because I was gone so much.

A good friend once told me that a marriage will go through three stages if I travel a lot. I later found him to be right.

Your wife will say:

Stage 1: ”Honey, do you really have to go out of town again?”

Stage 2: ”Hey you, when is your next trip you’re leaving for? Do you really have to be gone so long?”

Stage 3: ”Oh, you’re home already?”

My friend suggested that when I got to Stage 3, it would be the time to do something else, or lose my marriage. Well, when I hit Stage 3, it was still pretty shocking, and seemed like a complete surprise, despite the earlier warnings and warning signs. There were some other stages on past stage 3, but they are pretty personal, and I think you get the point.

My boss assured me that he didn’t want to lose me, nor did the company want to see me leave, so he would work to find me an alternate position. After declining several alternate jobs very similar to what I was currently doing, all of which either had the same, or more travel, the company, understandably, was getting pretty soured on my attitude of not saying, ”How High?” when they said, ”Jump.”

I had cut back on my traveling to see customers and mainly worked over email and the phone, and I was still meeting my sales goals.

But, the boss just kept saying, ”think how much better you could do if you would travel…?”

So, finally, one day, I had had it. I quit, and decided to build furniture in my garage. What?

The exit interview with the Personnel Manager was pretty strange, he just couldn’t believe what I was telling him I was going to do. The company was sure I was going to work for a competitor’s company, so he interrogated me pretty strongly.

Finally, he said, ”ok, when you get this out of your system, come back and we’ll find a place for you…”

It was an important encouragement for me, as I now had a parachute to fall back on. That was 11 years ago, and I haven’t needed that parachute yet.

Out of my own choosing, I was self-employed, supposedly building furniture, and I hadn’t done a bit of woodworking since my senior year of high school, but for some reason, it seemed like a good idea at the time.

My dad had been a wood-shop teacher when I was growing up, and I had enough confidence to tell myself I could figure it out. I had been watching every episode of the New Yankee Workshop, ”how hard could it be?” I naively thought.

At the time I made this decision, I didn’t have one customer, and only had a Skill Saw, and some mechanics tools I used to work on my Corvette and Harleys which I had sold a few months before to pay off my debts. I couldn’t actually pay the house off until I quit my job, then I could pay the taxes and penalties, and cashed out the 401K and paid the house off.

Side Note: if you want a strange experience, try to pay off your mortgage. The company that had our account didn’t know how to do it until we had talked to three levels up in management. They said that “this” just doesn’t happen. Well it did for us, and after some frantic phone calls, faxes, wire transfers, etc., the house was all ours.

Another Side Note: If you want to make your own debt-free plan, follow the guidelines we did from, and see what real freedom really feels like. This is no “get rich” “cash flow” “purchasing business” plan, this is just plain old common sense methods of finding out the bad shape your finances are in, forming a pay-off plan, and finding out that this is a better life available without all those bills. I make nothing from Crown, it’s a non-profit ministry, so please feel safe in checking out their website.

Ok, enough commercials, back to the Story:
My dad was very kind and loaned me all of his woodworking tools until I could buy my own. I went home and pushed all my junk out of the garage, and set up shop.

Looking back on it, I was either desparate, crazy, or both. I was completely out of debt, even the house was paid for, so it seemed like a good time to pursue my heart’s dreams.

In the first few weeks of my unemployment/self-employment adventure, I was home starting to wonder what I had done to myself, when a neighbor drove by on his way home from work, and saw my garage door up. I waived at him a “hello” as he drove by. He came back and asked if I was on vacation. I told him the sad saga of the end of my professional engineering career, and the excitement of my new adventure.

A few days later he came back and said that I should come over to his house and speak with him and his wife. They had a project for me.

The next day, I made the appointment, and visited their house. They had a Birch Dining Table and Chair set that had belonged to a member of their family, I think it was the wife’s mother’s set. The Mother had never been able to afford to buy the matching China Hutch with the set, and now the furniture manufacturing company was out of business (strange irony here). Their question to me was whether I could design a China Hutch to hold a large collection of cut art-crystal glass, and match the Table/Chair set.

I naively said yes, and came back a few days later with a drawing and price quote. They wrote me a check for the entire quote up front, and I sat dazed staring at their check. I asked, ”Don’t you want to see something I have built in wood first…?” The husband said, ”no, if you can build furniture like you can restore a Harley Davidson, then you’ll do just fine.” So, excitedly, I started to work

I found within a couple of weeks that I had grossly underestimated the amount of labor and material costs. I persevered, not wanting to complain, as I was having fun, learning new things, and most importantly, was staying home everyday with my wife.

The project took me about four times longer than I estimated, and the materials were about twice what I figured up front. Live, and learn, someone once said. The customer was happy with the delivery, and the Birch China Hutch has not moved from it’s assigned spot in their house now for the past 9 years. I did another project for them last summer (2005), and I was happy to see that my work still looked as good as the day I delivered it. No split doors, no cracked wood, no loose joints, all solid and stately.

I consider it to be a successful project, regardless of the financial consequences. I now know a lot more about how quickly, or rather slowly, I can build a project, and so this was a major first step in my entreprenurial (can’t even spell it) adventure.

If you took the time to read this long story, I hope you can understand why I included this important piece in my woodworking career with my other postings.

thanks for reading and looking,
Mark DeCou

Matthew 6:24 (NIV) “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.

1 Timothy 6:10-11 (NIV) For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness.

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Want to See More of my Furniture Work?:
If you go to my Mark DeCou Website you will find that I have not updated my website in quite some time. I realize that I need to invest in improving my website, but until that is accomplished, here are some more Lumberjocks related lilnks with updated postings of my furniture work, sorted into categories. Thanks for your interest in my work, and your patience with my website.

Arts and Crafts, Mission Style Related Projects:
  1. Arts & Crafts Entry Table; with Carved Oak Leaves
  2. Arts & Crafts Orchid Stand w/ Wine Bottle Storage
  3. Arts & Crafts Style Morris Inspired Chairs
  4. Arts & Crafts Display Top Coffee Table
  5. Arts & Crafts Style Inspired End Table Set
  6. Arts & Crafts Style Inspired Prairie Couch
  7. Table Lamps
  8. Arts & Crafts Carved Entertainment Center
  9. Mission Entertainment Center
Church & Worship-Art Related Projects:
  1. Carved Communion Table
  2. Carved Roll Top Sound Equipment Cabinet
  3. Fancy Church Side Altars
  4. Processional Cross
  5. Fancy Speaker's Lectern
  6. Church Hymn Number Board
  7. Communion Chalice (Cup) and Paten
Art-Furniture Related Projects:
  1. Sam Maloof Inspired Walnut Rocker
  2. Original Art Carved Tilt Front Desk, inspired by Birger Sandzen
  3. Natural Edge; Nakashima Inspired Coffee Table
  4. Decoratively Painted Box End Tables
  5. Birch China Cabinet for Cut Glass Collection
Rustic, Western, Cedar Log, and Cowboy Related Projects:
  1. Naughty (Knotty) Refined Rustic White Oak & Black Walnut China Hutch
  2. A Kansa Indian and Buffalo Accent Art-Chair
  3. Refined Rustic Dining Chairs
  4. Refined Rustic Dining Table
  5. Cowboy-Western Style Suitcase/Luggage Support Racks
  6. Fun With Cedar Logs #1; Sitting Stool
  7. Fun With Cedar Logs #2; Coat/Hat/Spur Rack
  8. Fun With Cedar Logs #3; Western Style Hat/Coat Rack
  9. Fun With Cedar Logs #4; Entryway Stool
Outdoor Furniture Related:
  1. Kennebunkport Style Adirondack Chair
  2. Outdoor Garden Wedding Arbor
  3. Outdoor Project: Cedar Wood Double Settee

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Still Want to See more of my work?

Start with each of these links, and they will take you to other organized lists of my other niche products:

  1. Custom Knives
  2. Custom Walking Canes and Walking Sticks
  3. Artisan Hat Making Tools

(This story, project design, and photos are protected by Copyright 2006 by the Author, M.A. DeCou. No use of any of this material in full, or part is permitted without expressed written consent of the author. Weblinks to this page are permitted without permission. Thanks for your help.)

-- Mark DeCou - American Contemporary Craft Artisan -

17 comments so far

View Obi's profile


2214 posts in 5038 days

#1 posted 11-22-2006 09:00 PM

Where to begin? Very inspirational. I started my own cabinet shop in January of this year and had one job so far. I’ve bid on others and made several mission style tables for my brother-in-law, who started a church in January. So now he has “Church Furniture”. I’ve been building mine in a spare bedroom, and after reading your story have come to the conclusion that if God could do that for you, and he is not a respecter of persons then he will do it for me. One year down and 8 to go. Keep The faith. Im sure we’ll be corresponding more as the days go by.

View dennis mitchell's profile

dennis mitchell

3994 posts in 5115 days

#2 posted 02-10-2007 09:18 PM

I started in on your blog and ended up here. I’ve never read this project…probable just glanced at the photo. Living on first impressions we sure lose out. I’m glad I was able hear more of your story. You inspire me. I sure agree about the mortgage thing! Now I need to get back in the shop. It is interesting how few comments we use to get. I miss the old projects on the home page reminding me of the body of work I can find here if I start looking back.

View Mark A. DeCou's profile

Mark A. DeCou

2009 posts in 5206 days

#3 posted 02-10-2007 09:33 PM

Thanks Obi: for some reason I missed that you commented on this project. Thanks for taking time to do it. God is a miracle worker, and He is why my business plan looks so crappy to my businessman buddies. Only a great God could work me out of the mess I got myself into in 1997. Looking back on it, I don’t know that I would change much. If I had taken more time to consider the issue, I probably would still be traveling, handcuffed to my job and it’s retirement account. Sometimes, a guy just has to say “jump” and do it.

thanks for your note.

Dennis: glad you found the story. It was a start on my idea of writing motivational items in the midst of doing a project story. The story behind what the wood is, the dimensions, the stain color, but the real “meat” of who I am. I’m glad you saw the project, and made your comments. You are encourgaging to me.

-- Mark DeCou - American Contemporary Craft Artisan -

View rentman's profile


230 posts in 4895 days

#4 posted 04-21-2007 01:32 PM

man I love this story Ive read it many times.very nice work mark

-- Phil, Chattanooga,TN

View Mark A. DeCou's profile

Mark A. DeCou

2009 posts in 5206 days

#5 posted 05-27-2007 07:35 AM

Thanks Rentman. This story has developed a lot of emails, and I am glad to have been a spot of inspiration and motivation for people to chase after what they are passionate about, especially if it is craft/art.

-- Mark DeCou - American Contemporary Craft Artisan -

View Karson's profile


35224 posts in 5201 days

#6 posted 05-27-2007 03:59 PM

Mark: I might have seen the project but I’m sure that I never read the story.

May God bless you in all you touch. And may he protect you and your family in all things.


-- I've been blessed with a father who liked to tinker in wood, and a wife who lets me tinker in wood. Appomattox Virginia [email protected]

View mot's profile


4927 posts in 4837 days

#7 posted 05-27-2007 04:34 PM

That’s a great story to present a beautiful project that started you on such a fantastic journey. That was a good read. Thanks, Mark.

-- You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation. (Plato)

View woody57's profile


650 posts in 4228 days

#8 posted 01-22-2009 07:42 PM

A very good story. I have a similar story except that I worked for a shop instead of starting my own business.
I also believe in being debt free and believe that without God I wouldn’t be where I am today.
Thank you so much.

-- Emmett, from Georgia

View itsmic's profile


1419 posts in 3919 days

#9 posted 02-09-2010 07:48 PM

Hi Mark and all here on the site I had written some and asked a question on the blog for the display case, and said I would be looking at more of your writing in the days to come, real glad I didn’t wait for the days to come, and instead starting reading more right away. What a great story, and I love the way you explain yourself, I can see myself telling the story to my girl, Cindy, and the whole thing, just a great story, very inspirational and full of merit and character. I concur with all the comments here and I feel kinda like, “where have I been all these years” the answer of course is different for everyone, but, I am sure glad that I am here now. Keep working and sharing It’s Mic

-- It's Mic Keep working and sharing

View a1Jim's profile


118079 posts in 4378 days

#10 posted 02-09-2010 09:10 PM

Hey Mark very nice work with classic lines a good build


View Jim Reeves's profile

Jim Reeves

211 posts in 3824 days

#11 posted 09-04-2010 08:12 PM

Yes l can see it would seem a bit scary, but if a person had their home paid off using the home as a line of credit or a business cash flow. Would be much easier but with a mortgage, bills a bit hard for the average person to live their dreams as inspring as it may sound.
In the usa health coverage would be my biggest fear, but glad worked ok for you.

-- jim

View sawblade1's profile


754 posts in 3828 days

#12 posted 09-05-2010 01:34 PM

Thanks mark a lot of truth and encouragement there especially in the word of God :)
I am currently in the same state but however need my employment to survive but God No doubt will make a way for me to get out :)

-- Proverbs Ch:3 vs 5,6,7 Trust in the lord with all thine heart and lean not unto your own understanding but in all your ways aknowledge him and he shall direct your path [email protected]

View GabrielX's profile


231 posts in 3632 days

#13 posted 09-14-2010 12:11 AM

Interesting story, long read, but worth it, thanks!

-- GX

View SPHinTampa's profile


567 posts in 4486 days

#14 posted 11-04-2011 10:26 PM

Inspiring story.

-- Shawn, I ask in order to learn

View Bertha's profile


13588 posts in 3494 days

#15 posted 11-04-2011 10:38 PM

“And on that night in Panama in the hotel room I said, ”No more.”” This sounds like the end of something really, really terrible! Sounds like something Charlie Sheen might say, lol. This is a wonderful story with a lesson I needed to hear.

-- My dad and I built a 65 chev pick up.I killed trannys in that thing for some reason-Hog

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