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Profession or Hobby

by MJClark
posted 09-27-2018 01:15 PM

25 replies so far

View mahdee's profile


4291 posts in 2620 days

#1 posted 09-27-2018 02:09 PM

It has been a hobby for me for 30+ years. Actually, it has been a therapy because I make things that I am inspired by. If I turn that to a full time profession, it will become “work”. I have considered turning this skill to work but in order to do that I may end up having to do production which I consider redundant work (factory job). I have a friend that has a CNC machine and makes pistol grips for various firearm companies. He is content with it and makes enough money between it and being a preacher. Unless you become a name in the business for making and selling high end furniture, production is the only way to go. Anyways, for me, having to meet deadlines and replicating things is just a big turn off but if it turns you on, do all the analytics you need to become successful.


View CWWoodworking's profile


1022 posts in 1032 days

#2 posted 09-27-2018 02:18 PM

I have done basically what you are talking about. about 2 years in. Its been pretty rough, but starting to see the light. I made a very big mistake in that I tried to do it while building a house. Please dont attempt this, trust me.

Looking back now, the first question you need to ask is who is your target customer and is there enough demand? Look at the population around you. My whole county is less that 30,000. I would have a hard time selling to individuals just based off of numbers. and it takes years to build up a reputation to reach further out.

Luckily, I realized this early on and went wholesale only. No commision. The margins are more narrow, but the flow of work is consistent. The thing a lot of people dont realize is that nice furniture stores can get top dollar for stuff. You just starting out are going to have a hard time demanding top dollar because your new. And a lot of people think you should be cheaper than furniture stores in a wierd way.

Websites are good, but for me, the best thing I did was a printed catalog. Expensive, but it produced more sales than a website.

Gotta go 10:00 break is over. Might post later. Feel free to ask questions.

View DS's profile


3548 posts in 3273 days

#3 posted 09-27-2018 02:19 PM

For me, woodworking is both a hobby and a profession.
I took an intro to industrial arts class in 8th grade and loved it. All through High School I took woodworking classes and entered several competitions with my projects.

I worked in a cabinet shop as an entry level sawyer while going to Engineering school for Electronics.
Once I got my degree I worked 12 years in the Aerospace industry specializing in Embedded Controls and Space Telemetry and Satellite Systems.

One day a colleague asked what I would do if I didn’t need the money – what was I passionate about?
I knew the answer and it was woodworking.

All I had to do was to figure out how to marry my embedded control skills with my woodworking passion.
The answer was CNC woodworking. I’ve been doing it ever since.

There is the professional shop where I work and there is my home shop where I play.
Life is good for now.

-- "Hard work is not defined by the difficulty of the task as much as a person's desire to perform it.", DS251

View Aj2's profile


3342 posts in 2651 days

#4 posted 09-27-2018 03:35 PM

To make a pile of money building furniture for a living you’ll need to start with a pile of money roughly twice the size.
Behind every great furniture maker is a wife with a good job.
Seriously don’t quit your job

-- Aj

View CWWoodworking's profile


1022 posts in 1032 days

#5 posted 09-27-2018 03:56 PM

If I turn that to a full time profession, it will become “work”. I have considered turning this skill to work but in order to do that I may end up having to do production which I consider redundant work (factory job).

- mahdee

This is 100% real. Some things I used to find joy in, are now just an ends to a mean. Not everything, just somethings.(sanding ugh)

View DrDirt's profile


4614 posts in 4595 days

#6 posted 09-27-2018 05:33 PM

To make a pile of money building furniture for a living you ll need to start with a pile of money roughly twice the size.
Behind every great furniture maker is a wife with a good job.
Seriously don t quit your job

- Aj2

a private ACA compliant plan through Blue Cross here (with 3 kids) is 22K/year.
You have to have a sugar momma/daddy or it is nearly impossible to run a one man shop and make a living of only that.

Even many of the well known folks you see in Fine Woodworking, have teaching gigs and do more than make one-off furniture pieces.

-- “The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.” Mark Twain

View oldnovice's profile


7658 posts in 4220 days

#7 posted 09-27-2018 05:51 PM

Woodworking is one of my hobbies as I also dabble in electronics/control systems/programming (still after 40+ years in that profession).
I started playing around with electronics when I was 12 and woodworking when I was 15 (my Dad didn’t know that I was using his table saw until I forgot to unplug it once).

-- "It's fine in practise but it will never work in theory"

View pottz's profile


11296 posts in 1837 days

#8 posted 09-27-2018 05:59 PM

ditto to all,i have been doing this as a hobby most all my life and would love to do what you want to but the stuff ive sold to neighbors or friends would never pay the bills.i made a maloof rocker my neighbor really wanted but when i said 4000 he quickly changed his mind.everyone wants a cheap deal because its home made! as drdirt said the insurance alone will wipe you my plan is get to retirement and then do it for supplemental income.good luck with whatever way you go,but as they keep your day job.

-- working with my hands is a joy,it gives me a sense of fulfillment,somthing so many seek and so few find.-SAM MALOOF.

View JCamp's profile


1223 posts in 1403 days

#9 posted 09-27-2018 06:00 PM

To me it’s a hobby. I tend to do more construction type stuff any more cause that’s what the house needs but when I started in middle school I did a lot of clocks and scroll saw work on stuff. It was cool but took forever and all I had money for was pine and got sick of working with it. I work to slow to ever make a living doing it but have bounced around the idea of doing general contract work. For now tho my day job, as aggravating as it is, pays to much for me to just walk away

-- Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with all thy might

View DS's profile


3548 posts in 3273 days

#10 posted 09-27-2018 08:09 PM

During the economic downturn after the housing crash, I found myself “Involuntarily Self-Employed”.
I managed to replace my income (and more) working full-time from my home garage shop for 11 months before finding gainful employment again.

For me, it is totally doable, but, when I work for myself, my boss is a slave driver!
So, I find it more tolerable to work for other companies and help them become more successful.

I can still build the occasional commission from home and get well paid for it.
Or, I can just as easily go to the garage and have fun trying things I’ve dreamt about doing in wood.

“Do the work you love and you will never work another day in your life.” (Not exactly sure who I’m quoting with that one – it’s not mine)

BTW: Space systems are all “glamour on the outside”, but, agonizingly BORING on the inside – just FYI, in case any of you all were wondering.

-- "Hard work is not defined by the difficulty of the task as much as a person's desire to perform it.", DS251

View WoodSkills's profile


4 posts in 729 days

#11 posted 09-28-2018 02:48 AM

Went through this dilemma many years ago. Formerly a hi-tech person with close to 3 decades in that field, I got tired of constantly updating my knowledge of software technology to simply do my job(s). So I sought a career that can be done with traditional tools and little to no technology. After taking some evening course in woodworking, fell in love with it. Was so proud of those first pieces I ever made! Still have the very first one here, a dovetailed planter. so started a part-time woodworking business along the way. I recommend to do this first before taking the plunge. The part-time gig confirmed that I wanted to make furniture full-time one day. The story goes on. Today I am a full-time furniture maker. BTW, wrote about the journey in my book “From Hi-Tech to Lo-Tech: A Woodworker’s Journey”. It can be done, you have to enjoy the process though as difficult and discouraging as it might get!


-- Norman, Canada

View NormG's profile


6506 posts in 3857 days

#12 posted 09-28-2018 02:53 AM

Very much a hobby

-- Norman - I never never make a mistake, I just change the design.

View CWWoodworking's profile


1022 posts in 1032 days

#13 posted 09-28-2018 03:01 AM

Norman, congrats on “making” it. I peaked at you website, nice.

Honest question, what is your main source of income? Is it furniture or books or a little of both? Whatever your Answer, it’s cool. I can barely build stuff, much less writing a book!

View lumbering_on's profile


578 posts in 1343 days

#14 posted 09-28-2018 03:19 AM

I’m another one of those hobbyists who prefers to keep it a hobby. I’m also an engineer, and in a former life I was an accountant. I used to enjoy business, then accounting killed that. I also used to spend hours on end coding and hacking around networks. Becoming a software engineer turned network/simulations engineer has now killed that joy.

So I’m not about to kill my love of woodworking by trying to make a living off of it.

View WoodenDreams's profile


1125 posts in 764 days

#15 posted 09-28-2018 03:52 AM

For most woodworkers this won’t pay to keep the lights on. I was fortunate. I’ve been self employed for 20 yrs, Retired and started a woodshop as a hobby, keeping quality in mind. Turned into a overblown hobby, and January of 2017 turned it into a business. Like most woodworkers I build to order. My distinction is I use NO plywood or MDF board, solid wood only. Also I use NO nails, screws or staples, except to fasten hinges or hardware. I build primarily Hope, Cedar, and Toy Chests, Cremation Urns, also do restoration and specialty projects. I have a customer wish list form, then I present a order form once they pull the trigger and order. I get 20% down, and give a 5% discount if paid in full at time of order. I paid $250 to have my pick up lettered, got business cards, and put together a brochure of past work. I got a booth at 3 craft shows, Advertise in one of the Senior Centers Newspaper, and in a Tidbit Newsletter that’s seen at restaurants and Medical centers. I got a souvenir shop displaying a chest and taking orders, I ship direct to their customers. I also supply some funeral homes with urns. I have prepaid orders of 2 Hope Chests, 2 Cedar Chests, 8 urns, and a waiting list of customers. I also have 6 restoration projects in my possession from customers. I STARTED TO GET BURNED OUT. So I backed of my hours to 20 hrs per week to get my life back. I now have and tell my customers they have to go on a 4 to 5 month waiting list (except the funeral homes). The customers that want quality and not box store items will wait in most cases. Don’t be afraid to turn down work if it won’t meet your standards. I stay away from consignment places, because they charge 40 to 50% of selling price. Try to keep it fun and maintain high quality. There is a market for quality workmanship. Starting out you do need a source of income from a job, part or full time, or other like I had.

View JAAune's profile


1886 posts in 3169 days

#16 posted 09-28-2018 12:56 PM

It’s always been full time for me. I took an apprenticeship with Remmert Studios then accepted job with them before moving onto self-employed 10 years later. When I launched the business, I had enough contacts in the industry and enough savings to go full-time almost immediately. Finding suppliers, customers, tools and workspace was not an issue.

Anyone considering the switch to pro needs to ditch the hobby mindset and think like a businessman. Plan on 40 hours per week of productivity in the shop and 40 hours to build infrastructure, do designs and talk to potential clients. Read books by W. Edwards Deming, Carl Sewell, James Womack and people like them.

I’d estimate that only 10% of my time in the shop is spent doing useful work. Yet people who visit think I’m running one of the most organized and efficient shops they’ve seen. The difference is perspective. Training myself to think like a businessman allows me to see how much wasteful activity happens in a day. That 5 minutes I spent this morning changing bags on the dust collector is not something a client is willing to pay for. Later today I plan to improve the way the dust bins are setup to make them easier to handle.

Running a highly profitable woodworking business is very possible. But if it were easy, everyone would be doing it. Only the most tenacious who are willing to slog though years of hard work will succeed.

Be honest about financials. Assume it will take 5 years of full time effort to build the business enough to start paying yourself a salary. Specializing in a niche can reduce that number.

-- See my work at

View Planeman40's profile


1517 posts in 3614 days

#17 posted 09-28-2018 01:29 PM

Back in the early 1970s I “fell” into building for money. I was a sales rep for a large printing company who called on advertising agencies and large corporations. This put me in touch with many people in various businesses who supplied these same ad agencies and corporate advertising and sales promotion departments. One was a hot rodder that sold for a large advertising filming company. I did some welding for him from time to time. He called me one day and wanted to know if I could weld up a junk sculpture to be used in a television ad for a bank. I did it and made a quick $500. A few months later he called again with another project. I won’t go into all of the projects that ensued, but there were many and some of them were very elaborate. A few years later I received a call from a very large architectural and development firm who had heard of me and need someone to build a 60 foot mobile to hang in a large downtown shopping area of a large office tower. I knew how it should be done and got the project. Soon I was periodically receiving drawings for various decorative details of the large hotels this firm is famous for designing.

I made great money for a part time job in my basement shop in addition to my regular job in sales. I also had many sleepless nights trying to make impossible deadlines. It was very tiring, however I was able to equip my shop with top grade machines, both metal working and woodworking without delving into the family funds. In the end I gave it all up to get my life back and have time for myself. What I found out was if you do something for money with time deadlines, the joy of building is diminished and it becomes a job. In addition, I found I had lost an enjoyable hobby and had traded it for another “job”. You sure don’t want to come home in the evenings and begin doing the same thing you have been struggling with all week. I wanted my leisure time back and my enjoyable hobby back.

-- Always remember: It is a mathematical certainty that half the people in this country are below average in intelligence!

View WoodSkills's profile


4 posts in 729 days

#18 posted 09-28-2018 02:44 PM

Norman, congrats on “making” it. I peaked at you website, nice.

Honest question, what is your main source of income? Is it furniture or books or a little of both? Whatever your Answer, it’s cool. I can barely build stuff, much less writing a book!

- CWWoodworking

I survive with a combination of one-off studio furniture pieces, online courses, books, and lately the WOODSKILLS Magazine. Also do one on one training when time permits. All this keeps the lights on. If you are in or close to a large urban center, the studio furniture path is a good one. People enjoy one-off pieces. You’ll find a few folks shocked at the price of handcrafted one-off pieces, but overall people appreciate unique quality work. Norman

-- Norman, Canada

View tncraftsman's profile


93 posts in 3992 days

#19 posted 09-30-2018 07:11 PM

There are some good pieces of advice for and against going into this full time. Below are my ramblings

Look at the series Huff did on marketing, lots of good information in there.

Market, market, market yourself. BUT market to people who have money and can afford your wares.

I went full time into woodworking almost 9 years ago and was in corporate IT for over 10 before that. I do not have kids and if I did I would not have made the switch. Yes my wife is the “suga momma” She has a six figure job and health insurance. Would not have decided to pursue this work if she didn’t want to stay corporate. I have been able to pay the bills but that’s about it. Very little left over for saving, vacations etc.

My experience has taught me it is VERY difficult to make a “decent” living in this business. Some will disagree most will agree.

I’m happy Clint Harp is successful. He was at the right place at the right time. I wonder what happens in 5 years when the “Gaines effect” wears off and his style of work falls out of favor.

Lot’s of “Makers/Woodworkers” on youtube, instagram, podcasts etc that are popular and appear successful. Remember they are selling advertising not necessarily what they make.

For the past few months I’ve been re branding my logo, website and getting heavily involved in social media/mostly Instagram. It’s the most I’ve put into marketing since getting into business. I’ve had a few inquiries from IG but tire kickers.

Overall, i’d say if you are really interested in this then go for it but don’t quit your day job. Reinvest any money you make into tools and equipment. Take it slow and see what happens after a couple of years.

And just remember, everyone will LOVE your work. Until they are asked to pay for it.

View Dakkar's profile


357 posts in 2780 days

#20 posted 10-01-2018 12:01 AM

I’ve never really seen it as either, though it’s arguably been both for me to some degree. OK, not a “profession” I suppose, but I’ve made a few bucks at it. My enthusiasm for woodworking could be said as to put it in the hobby category, but I’ve always been a person who first considers how to repair or make something myself rather than go buy one. Being into woodworking is just a component of my overall inclination to create and do things with my hands.

View ocean's profile


212 posts in 1686 days

#21 posted 10-01-2018 12:34 AM

I never wanted to turn my hobby into a business and have to met deadlines and everything else that go with it. I did build a few items for clients and made some extra cash but then thought of all the additional work that you do to keep your business running that nobody pays you to do and that brought me back to earth. Working part time with a friend in his cabinet/custom furniture also cured me of any business dreams. Even he sold his business of to a local expanding hardware/lumber yard after a few years and he said it was the best thing he ever did. I still enjoy working in the shop but it is not work – it’s fun!

-- Bob, FL Keys

View AlanJ44's profile


278 posts in 2140 days

#22 posted 10-01-2018 02:47 AM

My advice, if going full time is to have two years household expense in the bank. Now you can focus on building your new business not focused on making the next house payment.
I left a big telecom to do business phone systems and did not have enough money, I was good until 9/11 and the following financial crisis. My customers sat on their cash, I think at one time I had six figures in A/R when I was usually less than half that. If we had been able to put our cash back instead of living on the edge we might have survived.

-- Alan J. Hoover, AL Keeping in mind I believe college football is only a profit center for the school.... Roll Tide!

View MJClark's profile


37 posts in 737 days

#23 posted 10-01-2018 01:10 PM

Thank you all for your responses and I appreciate the discussion. As I noted in my OP, I doubt that I could make a full time go with building stuff at this time. Instead it will be a hobby/side gig while I sharpen my skills, collect tools, and maybe even find a place other than my garage for a decent shop. I also spoke with a person who said that if I wanted to build a few pieces, she will put them in her store for consignment. She is also having me build a piece for her house as well.

View Jack Lewis's profile

Jack Lewis

576 posts in 1931 days

#24 posted 10-01-2018 02:15 PM

I am retired and make for myself as a means of recreation, if someone likes my work well enough to buy at my price then I have more money to make for myself. I sold a bowl to a patron at a local watering hole and was able to take pride in the fact that it was liked that well. A few weeks later I received a call requesting multiple copies as they wanted to use them as gifts. NOW, it became work and the things that I wanted to do for myself had to be set aside. UGH!! why retire just to work some more?

-- "PLUMBER'S BUTT! Get over it, everybody has one"

View MrRon's profile


5934 posts in 4096 days

#25 posted 10-01-2018 03:41 PM

For most professionals, motivation was the key to success. Unless you can devote 26 hours a day to a pursuit, you best stay a hobbyist. Don’t quit your day job. IMHO

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