my intro to wood working #9: For what it is worth

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Blog entry by romansfivefive posted 05-14-2009 10:04 PM 1738 reads 0 times favorited 14 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 8: Christmas giving Part 9 of my intro to wood working series Part 10: I'm Back... Kinda »

I found some blue prints for a 1930ish ford model aa panel van online and when I paired them with the plans I had for the same year of flat bed truck, I figured I could make a wooden toy. At this point I made the crazy decision that I should make 3 at the same time to cut down on set up time with the idea in the back of my mind that if I could make these fast enough, I might be able to sell some. Right now, my skills are quite mediocre and there are so many things that I mis-measure and mess up that it takes me toooooo long to finish a toy. So I can’t justify the type of fee I would charge inorder to get a decent wage for the number of hours involved in the project.

I was very flattered by the chance to sell a few of my first trucks, I just just left it up to the clients to determine what it was worth to them and I was very humbled by how generous they were. I was happy that someone liked my work enough to pay me. Somehow this changed when I started making these trucks. Since the material is all scrap (except for the wheels) I recieve from my friend, my time is the only real expense. I started keeping track of the time and how much the toy would cost if I were to pay myself minimum wage. I found myself becoming more irritated by the mistakes I made (which I now realized was made 3 times) and I found myself skipping some of the little details that I had done on my last projects because I felt I couldn’t afford the time. As the time increased so did the cost of the trucks until last month I figured out that the trucks were unsellable at the time-cost I had in them. I was working on a rear fender that was a 4 step process to create ( drill out the inside, cut out the outside, shape the outside, concave the inside) when the drum sanding attachement I was using on my drill press caught the piece and shot it across the room. It shattered on impact. I stopped working on them, and haven’t been in my shop since.

I am not sure what changed. Perhaps it is my tendency to get bored with projects that don’t feel creative enough, perhaps it is my frustration with my slow-to-develop skills or perhaps it is possible that money can change things. I was under no pressure to make these toys financially viable, but the thought that they might be worth something changed my perspective. Suddenly what I could sell them for became how I measured what they were worth. I guess that sounds silly, but I thought they were worth alot more than I could ever sell them for. Let me explain. I recently gave the peterbuilt truck (it is one of my projects) to my niece’s husband. This is a guy who drives a truck 12+ hours a day, has a part time job cleaning a church and still has time to coach soccer. He is a good man. When I gave him the truck, I could tell that he loved it. It was worth so much to him. It meant as much to him to own it as it did for me to make it. I didn’t get a penny, but I felt like I was a richer man.

I have lost that feeling of being able to accompish anything of value in my wood working. I can’t explain why. I don’t think it was just the trucks, but I can’t help but think that has to be part of it. I still make things with the kids, but every time I look at the 3 carcasses in varying states of completion I get a knot in the pit of my gut and I can’t make myself go back at them. I can’t explain why it just isnt’ worth the effort now that I know what they are costing me more time that they are worth. I guess a more humble man could see this as a lesson in priority, but I still see this as a measure of my worth as an artist and there is something about charging a dollar an hour for your time that is disheartening. I am not sure when that became important to me in my woodworking but I long for the time when my project’s worth was measured in my satisfaction rather than price point. For what it is worth, I still enjoy seeing other people’s work. For what it is worth, I still think about projects I might try someday. For what it is worth, I know that given time, I can create something beautiful. What I have to do now is figure out what that is really worth.

-- The CNC machine can either produce the work of art you imagined, or very decorative firewood.

14 comments so far

View Damian Penney's profile

Damian Penney

1141 posts in 5153 days

#1 posted 05-14-2009 10:45 PM

Sounds disheartening, you could always give away the semi completed trucks for someone else to finish. That way you get the satisfaction of helping someone out, and you get them out of your sight.

-- I am always doing that which I can not do, in order that I may learn how to do it. - Pablo Picasso

View Damian Penney's profile

Damian Penney

1141 posts in 5153 days

#2 posted 05-14-2009 10:46 PM

Also take into account that the practice you get during even failed attempts has a value in and of itself.

-- I am always doing that which I can not do, in order that I may learn how to do it. - Pablo Picasso

View HokieMojo's profile


2104 posts in 4890 days

#3 posted 05-14-2009 11:22 PM

you could look at it differently. your time is more valuable than what you can charge. That means you obviously have something more valuable than your craft. I’d look at it that way and be happy that you are so fortunate.

I’ve got a two month old with an unfinished crib. My time with her is more valuable right now than the shop time. The crib will get done when it gets done.

View Mark Shymanski's profile

Mark Shymanski

5623 posts in 4874 days

#4 posted 05-15-2009 12:12 AM

If you enjoyed it prior to selling them, stop selling them. As you said you had no costs as the wood was given to you, the payment you got from before selling them was the enjoyment of building your skills and creating an object. Charging for them changed your perspective and maybe you felt the HOBBY now had to pay, that (in my opinion) is not what a hobby is about. Its for relaxing and enjoying a job is for counting costs and payng the bills. IF you don’t need to sell these (and it sounds like you cannot afford to sell them) stop selling them, give away or toss the sore reminder semi finished trucks and restart the HOBBY. My two cents…ignore as appropriate:-)

-- "Checking for square? What madness is this! The cabinet is square because I will it to be so!" Jeremy Greiner LJ Topic#20953 2011 Feb 2

View a1Jim's profile


118163 posts in 4739 days

#5 posted 05-15-2009 12:35 AM

The Woodworking industry large and small is not usually a place to get rich. Some of them that have there own pod cast and are masters of masters are fortunate to trend water it’s more of a passion then a great career for many. Although there some who have done well.


View davidroberts's profile


1027 posts in 4647 days

#6 posted 05-15-2009 02:25 AM

you took what could have been a relaxing minimal stress hobby and turned it into a pressurized monster. i’m sure you didn’t mean to. you just got in over your head. for most of us, keep your hobbyi and business separate. money is made by efficient production and having an edge, of which you are not set up for either. neither am I nor most amatuer woodworkers. it is difficult to just make a little money. that’s why companies continually invest and grow. you either have to invest, gear up and make a lot of whatever you are building, or have such a special product that people wil pay through the nose. wooden toys aren’t that special. based on your post, you strike me as a kind considerate person, but maybe a bit naive about what the average woodworker does in his shop. as long as you don’t cut your hands off, you probably have made the same mistakes most of us have. they are fixable. it’s part of the process. you learn more from you mistakes anyways. now, zip up your man suit, go back in the shop and finish what you started, but on your terms. you’ll feel much better.

-- Better woodworking through old hand tools.

View noknot's profile


548 posts in 4603 days

#7 posted 05-15-2009 02:39 AM

There are times when your mind gets in the way of your soul dont think about whats not right just do what you love. In the last few years I have went from a tool throwing monster to not expecting anything and it helps to go back to what bit you and overcome it. TI also have a crib that isnt done and my girl is 6 today I dont think she will need it.


View jlsmith5963's profile


297 posts in 4510 days

#8 posted 05-15-2009 02:42 AM

couple of suggestions (an alternative view from davidroberts)
1. one way or another get rid of the trucks
2. take a break from woodworking until the day you realize how much you miss it

-- criticism: the art of analyzing and evaluating the quality of an artistic work...

View Gary's profile


9419 posts in 4594 days

#9 posted 05-15-2009 03:44 AM

Read fivethree & fivefour
This is exactly why I won’t do work for money. It makes it a job. If I end up getting some money, I’m real OK with that. If I don’t, I had a good time doing what I did and I enjoy the sense of accomplishment. Now, when it comes to my employment, I charge heavily. I expect to get paid well because I do a good job. My hobby is a joy and I won’t let money spoil it.

-- Gary, DeKalb Texas only 4 miles from the mill

View degoose's profile


7284 posts in 4516 days

#10 posted 05-15-2009 09:30 AM

Only a few will ever get paid extremely well for what they put in to wood working,,,I know I will never be a MILLIONAIRE by making sawdust but I get so much satisfaction from the reactions of others to what I do that sometimes I just give it away.,.I charge for the projects I am asked to make to enable me to be free-er to not charge for some things I want to make. I pick and I choose what I do and what I don’t do now.
Don’t know if this make sense or if it helps but…...from Larry the wood guy and Larry the cable guy…


-- Don't drink and use power tools @

View Don2Laughs's profile


84 posts in 4595 days

#11 posted 05-15-2009 10:06 AM

Retired for the past 7 years, I was a therapist for many years. I worked with thousand of folks with many kinds of problems and one of the things that I always tried to convey to each of them was a belief that each of us has worth in us that only we can really find.
In the ninth grade I made a mahogany bookcase in shop for my Mom. She treasured it all her days and bragged on it to anyone who crossed her threshold. I remember how much I loved shaping, planing and finishing that beautiful wood. I was able to put my heart and soul into that bookcase and it turned out to be the most valuable thing in my Mom’s house (in her opinion).
High school ended, I went to war, then construction provided for my family … then divorce and single parenthood … and back to school to become a therapist. All that time … no shop time.
8 years ago I started my shop and retired the next year. Friends who knew I had a passion for woodwork asked me to build stuff for them … and I did. I put the same kind of love into each piece as with the bookcase. I didn’t ask for money ( how can I put a dollar amount on my heart and soul?) but they paid me what it was worth to them ….. and I was amazed. Every tool in my shop was bought with proceeds from those projects …. and I’m tool poor. I made a cradle for my granddaughter … and God helped me. It was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen. African Mahogany and Cherry. Delivered when she was one week old. It swings so smoothly and quietly … she couldn’t stay awake in it.
I say … if you need to make money then go get a vocation at school or somewhere that can teach you how to market your energy. But if you want to work with wood ….. make things that money can’t buy … with your heart and your soul.
good luck,

-- Don in Mountain City. Texas

View douginaz's profile


220 posts in 5164 days

#12 posted 05-15-2009 01:57 PM

Rob my heart goes out to you. You have just confirmed a fear I have always had, the fear of turning my fun into work. I have had friends and family ask why I don’t sell my work and I have kicked the idea around but you have just saved me from any thoughts of doing that. My reward is the look on the face of the receiving party. The smile, the look of gratitude and sometimes wonder that when they realize the piece they are holding is really theirs. I lack the skills, planning and drive that makes a person able to sell what they create, I just don’t have what it takes to make things fast and cheep and sell them high. Just not my nature. As Don said above, make things money can not buy-memories of working with dad in the shop are priceless. I hope you regain your “center” and follow your heart and not your wallet. I pray things get better for you – this too shall pass.
Doug in AZ.

-- If you need craft books - please visit our small business at

View ND2ELK's profile


13494 posts in 4935 days

#13 posted 05-15-2009 04:33 PM

Hi Rob

I guess the first thing you have to ask yourself is. Why do you do wood working? I have been a custom designer/builder of furniture and cabinets for over 35 years. I also did wood working on the side for many other reasons. Personal projects, barter for work I could not do myself, make some extra money and gifts for friends and family. When I did jobs for other people I had a pretty good idea how long a job might take but I never kept track of my hours. I always told myself, when I get done I would have X amount of dollars in my pocket. I took pride in my work and it was more important to me that the job was done right and the customer was happy. Did I make alot of money doing woodworking? Don’t know for sure. I do know it gave me alot of extras for me and my family I would not of had. Hang in there buddy! You do some beautiful work!

God Bless

-- Mc Bridge Cabinets, Iowa

View Will Mego's profile

Will Mego

307 posts in 4874 days

#14 posted 05-15-2009 06:21 PM

Read skarps post again.
Go to your workshop, and remove the trucks.
Burn them.
Now while breathing fresh air, think of something to make of no “worth”, which will only have value to you. I would respectfully suggest a shop-made tool, complex jig, tool handles, shop furniture, etc.

And when you feel like making it, do so.

And when you feel balanced again, make things for the sake of Art.

Selling art for money isn’t evil. Making money at anything isn’t inherently evil. But the moment your work changes because of it, or your methods, or your though processes, or your personal valuation of the work, the materials, or yourself (such as the value of your time) changes due to it, you’re no longer making art. The trick is to make the art for art’s sake, pure and clean…then when it’s DONE, go flog it like a product (if you want). The art remains art, and when it’s done, it can go to work for you. It’s hard sometimes to maintain that seperation, to not allow one to taint the other, but the struggle is an internal one, and can be won.

-- "That which has in itself the greatest use, possesses the greatest beauty." -

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