CAN you make a living woodworking?

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Forum topic by pashley posted 03-25-2008 04:26 AM 8857 views 2 times favorited 50 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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1044 posts in 4455 days

03-25-2008 04:26 AM

Topic tags/keywords: question

I’m wondering if you can make a living from woodworking, and let me qualify that – make some decent cash, maybe $30k or more, working a regular workweek? You see guys selling chairs for $3600, or some other crazy price, and you wonder…do these guys really sell these things? Will people pay that much for a dining room chair – and in enough quantity to make it worth your while?

I’m not talking about setting up a full-blow production factory – I’m talking about myself, and that’s about it.

I suppose it depends on what you make; some things are more popular than others. It also depends on volume – either selling 250 $40 pens or 40 $250 (whatevers).

I’ve had the inkling to sell craftsman style mantel clocks, with custom faces….the reasoning being they are easy to ship, store, and get high quality wood for – not to mention fairly easy to mass produce.

I’m currently a stay-at-home dad, and have been for 6 years, due to small kids, but this fall, my smallest will be going full time to 1st grade – I’d like to bring in some decent cash. Yes, I could get a regular job, but then there’s the problem of getting home in time for the bus, days when the kids are sick, days off of school, etc. Having a home-based biz would probably be a good fit.

Just some ideas to throw out there; I’d be interested in hearing what you all think…. :)


-- Have a blessed day!

50 replies so far

View Dan'um Style's profile

Dan'um Style

14182 posts in 4720 days

#1 posted 03-25-2008 04:40 AM

woodworking is like any of the arts. people pay for good work, but there are variables.

I’m sure there are hundreds if not thousands of landscape paintings done by modern living artists. Some sell for a lot. some for not-so-much. really depends on the quality of work, where you live, who you know, luck and business skills. .... just my 2 cents worth.

-- keeping myself entertained ... Humor and fun lubricate the brain

View Thos. Angle's profile

Thos. Angle

4444 posts in 4700 days

#2 posted 03-25-2008 04:54 AM

There are quite a collection of us here trying to figure this out.

-- Thos. Angle, Jordan Valley, Oregon

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dennis mitchell

3994 posts in 5052 days

#3 posted 03-25-2008 05:16 AM

I know of one man shops that just make drawers for bigger cabinet shops. Some sort of outsourced thing might work… might get real boring real fast too.

View Moron's profile


5048 posts in 4631 days

#4 posted 03-25-2008 12:40 PM

nothing ventured is nothing gained

I recently did a “Home Show”.

Built a timber frame booth…...........1,000 in materials and didnt include labour
Built a dining table….........................500 in material, no labour
Built a china cabinet…......................about 750 in material
Built an armoir…...........................about 1,000 in material
Built a coffee table…....................about 250 in material

the hardware was another 1,000, and lacquer and paint another 750

the booth rental was 1,500

business cards….......250


sold a table

-- "Good artists borrow, great artists steal”…..Picasso

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5048 posts in 4631 days

#5 posted 03-25-2008 12:42 PM

i forgot to mention the cost of the shop at over 100K and the tools to fill it at over 100K

Some one said something like this. If you do this for the money forget it, it’s all about passion and the love of the craft.

-- "Good artists borrow, great artists steal”…..Picasso

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1126 posts in 4458 days

#6 posted 03-25-2008 01:38 PM

Lets say that I only built picnic tables. Materials cost is around $150. Nothing special, just PT 2×6s. I would charge about $300. Lets also assume that I sold just one per day for a year. That would total $109,500, $54,750 being profit.

Is one sale a day really that hard? If I spent half the day building the table, and the other half selling it, could it be done? Or how about build about 3 per day, do-able, toss them on a trailer, and drive around and sell them on the weekends? Also do-able.

Even after paying taxes on all that, buying new blades, sanders, etc, still not too bad.

-- christopheralan

View pashley's profile


1044 posts in 4455 days

#7 posted 03-25-2008 02:47 PM

This topic sort of reminds me of those crafts / art shows held during the summer; the kind were hundreds of vendors come together and sell anything from fine art to Sham-wows. Seems like you often see things that just seem to sell – and you also see guys sitting in booths that get no traffic. I remember one year finding these twisted wrought-iron shepard-hook shaped things you’d put in a yard to hang a bird feeder or plant basket from. Evey one had them. I attended a garden show recently, and these large hollow bird shaped things were flying out the door (i think it was either a bird feeder or a bird house). Both were in the $30 range. I think you might be able to get rid of small wood things there – like little stools for kids, or small, unique bird houses. Maybe even mantel clocks, like I’m thinking of doing.

It all depends on what people want, as usual. Some factors that would figure into a successful formula:

Project cost/selling price ratio: The amount of time and materials you put into it, versus your selling price. Of course, you want the most money for the least work and materials.

Selling venue: rural community, rich suburbs, showroom, internet. People aren’t going to pay $350 for a coffee table at some small town festival – though a $25 stool might go.

Competition: are you alone, or do you have rivals?

Uniqueness: is this something new, or a usual item? Is it so unique people won’t buy it? I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen “fine” or “high-end” woodworking, and wondered “Who in their right mind would buy this?!” I’m talking about very stylish, more-like-works-of-art-than-real-furniture things here. Selling at insane prices. I heard a saying once: “If you want to live with classes, serve the masses; if you want to live with the masses, serve the classes.” You could think of Henry Ford for the former, and these high-end, artsy-fartsy woodwookers for the latter.

Product excitement: people seeing other people buy tends to draw even more buyers (people referencing other’s behaviors). I know if I see a crowd around a booth, I’m instantly wondering about what is being sold their and go to investigate, and am more likely to buy (others are buying, it must be a good product, right? I would advise if you are selling at a craft fair, for example, to have a bunch of your friends crowd around your booth, and also deploy them throughout the fair, walking around with your product – it suggests that other people are buying or interested in your product, and darn, shouldn’t they check it out too? If you were driving around looking for a restaurant, and you see two similar ones, and one has lots of cars in the parking lot, and the other only a few, which one do you find more attractive, right off the bat? The one everyone seems to like, of course.

Product positioning Are you on the first page of search engine results, or at a good spot at that crafts fair? If people don’t know about you, they can’t buy from you.

Price. Tricky subject. If you price too high, people probably won’t buy; on the other hand, some people will think it must be an excellent (table, birdhouse, pen) for that price. If you price too low, you’re not going to make the money you could have, and people might pass you up because they think your (table, pen, birdhouse) must be shoddy (made in China) for that low price.

Product display/venue. Are you selling a great product on an awful, amateurish web site or out of the back of your car? Or, do you have a professionally-done website with professionally taken photos? How you present your product to your audience plays into the perception by the consumer.

Obviously, there is a formula to find this success – just like anything.

-- Have a blessed day!

View Mario's profile


902 posts in 4789 days

#8 posted 03-25-2008 02:56 PM

In the pricing do not forget about consumibles like electricity, heat, sand paper, replacement blades and other upkeep of tools. Insurance,(medical, Liability etc.) This is only the begining.

-- Hope Never fails

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Peter Oxley

1426 posts in 4612 days

#9 posted 03-25-2008 03:05 PM

It sounds like you’ve given this quite a bit of thought already. If you have been a stay-at-home for six years, you might be in a good position for starting a business because you aren’t trying to replace an income.

I think eBay is a great research tool – you can find out what kinds of things people are willing to spend money on. Also, if your items are small enough to ship, eBay can get your product in front of a lot more people than the local craft show.

-- -- --

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1044 posts in 4455 days

#10 posted 03-25-2008 03:13 PM

I agree, eBay can be great for getting the product in front of the right people – and it’s certainly cheaper than paying $200 for a booth at a craftshow!

-- Have a blessed day!

View Thos. Angle's profile

Thos. Angle

4444 posts in 4700 days

#11 posted 03-25-2008 03:27 PM

We spent over $6000 to be part of a permanent home show(see my projects). Return absolutely zero. Have now had all the furniture that was in that display in the best lodge furnishings store in Boise with another store near McCall(ski area) for three months, one call offering to buy a piece priced at $1850 for $600. No return.I have a project in a brand new store in Boise(see Flynn’s Project). No calls. The people I’ve built kitchens and projects for are either very happy with them or they’re lying. But no response. We are still scratching the collective heads while building saddles. If you can figure it out let us know. One thing I know; I can’t compete with Chinese prices. I’m not down on the business, I just haven’t figured it out yet.

-- Thos. Angle, Jordan Valley, Oregon

View tenontim's profile


2131 posts in 4482 days

#12 posted 03-25-2008 03:28 PM

My 2 centss. Peter O basically said it, You’re not depending on what you make now, so you don’t have to go out “whole hog” to get a business going. Start out small and let you business grow it self. If you don’t have a big debt overhead, you won’t be pressured work 80 hours a week trying to pay your creditors.

The clocks you’re thinking about would be a good item for a web site, due to the easiness of shipping. Most of the items I sell from my site are pieces that I can either ship via DHL or they have a reasonable truck shipping rate. You will have to spend a little on search engines and web design.

Make the shows. Don’t discount the little county shows, especially if they are in a resort area. My first sale was at a little county arts and crafts show located near a lake in Maine where all of the out of staters vacationed. I sold two Morris chairs, two custom ottomans, and two sets of nesting tables. That show cost me a weekend and $30 in gas. Entry fee for the show was $0.

YOU have to sell your product and convince people that what you have is what they want. Most people don’t know the difference between Wally World furnishings and custom made. You have to educated them.

View pashley's profile


1044 posts in 4455 days

#13 posted 03-25-2008 04:08 PM

Thos. Angle – I am very sorry to hear about your troubles; I like to see people do well in business. You seem to have good stuff! You make a good point about the Chinese / overseas makers. About 2 years ago, my wife bought some wood bar chairs for our kitchen island. They are solid enough, and the style is pretty good, but guess what? The finish is rubbing off. You heard that right. These chairs were about $250 each. I have an old drop-leaf dining room table inherited from my grandmother, and I highly suspect, imported from an Asian country as well – and it’s clear top coat is hazy and scratched up awful, and not from abuse. I would advise you to open an eBay store, which is pretty cheap.

tenontim: I agree that you must tell people why they should pay $250 for your product versus $50 for the “same” something from Wal-Mart. It looks the same, so why pay more, right? About 8 years ago, we bought a coffee table that has four drawers. It’s falling apart; the drawer fronts were put on with staples! It dented easily, and the finish is biting the dust. I think we paid around $250 for that as well. Recently, I built a nice little mission-style clock for the in-laws for Christmas. Probably spent $40 in parts/materials, and 30 hours of labor. How valued of a gift do you think that will be for them – for decades? They will remember who gave it to them, and when. Likely, it will be handed-down. I could have paid $100 for something at Target, or whatever, but it would have been forgotten in a year or two, and certainly wouldn’t have been as meaningful.

I agree with you about the clocks and shipping. I also do websites on the side, and do them very well, so I can get one up in no time, and it will look awesome. Just have to hone my photog skills. I am riding the fence about shows – will need to look into it.

Thanks to both of you for the feedback!

-- Have a blessed day!

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Thos. Angle

4444 posts in 4700 days

#14 posted 03-25-2008 05:19 PM

Quite frankly, we’ve done little else but think about this problem for the last 2 years. If a person wanted to build 9000 little wooden widgets at a time and had a market for them, he could have them built in China for less than a 10th what it would cost to make them yourself. The quality would be comparable. This is price point selling.Almost all the hand tools we use in the leather trades are made in Taiwan. If they were made here the price would be three to four times as much with little improvement in quality.

That said, it stands to reason that the only place one can compete is on uniqueness and quality. With that as a given, the price must represent the time and effort it takes to get that job done. At this point the product is priced out of the reach of the average person. While they “ooh and ahh” over it they can’t afford it. The problem now is to get the product in front of the right people. Qualified buyers who know the difference. This could be done by a massive ad campaign which would cost more than could ever be returned or by having magazine article published that show your work to advantage. Those are very difficult to come by. They are also pretty hit and miss in application. Several members of this website have shown at the Western Design Conference with, I am told, limited success. Most have said their websites are returning little if anything. I had a web page for the saddle shop for 6 months with no return. We will be doing a web site as soon as I have time to work on it.

One thing we have learned is that people with enough money to buy my products are not at home shows and probably seldom go to stores. From what we’ve learned, these people use interior designers to decorate their homes of which most have several. Last year we worked Jackson, Wyoming and Sun Valley, Idaho pretty heavily. This is a typical scenario of the person we need to reach to sell our product. This person flies in in his Gulfstream and is met by the real estate person. They go immediately to the property the client is interested in. He signs the papers and is taken back to his Gulfstream and flies to his next meeting. He calls his interior person who is flown to the new property. The interior person comes up with a plan and then catches the client on the go showing him photos as they walk down the hall on the way to the clients next meeting. If your portfolio happens to be in the interior persons hands and you happen to be her golden boy of the week, you get some work. From what we learned these people do not use local designers. The local stores are selling a lot of “Made in China”. I have a lot of portfolios in both these areas with no return. Maybe I just don’t have a good product. There’s one thing I do know about these people; they don’t buy on E-Bay.

I read an article in one of those log home magazines about a place I’d seen in Jackson. It listed the interior designer in Ogden. I contacted him and sent a portfolio. I called him and we visited for a long time. he informed me that the total cost of that home was 12 million. I asked if he had more of those jobs going. He told me that the house in the article was the last one he got and that was 7 years ago. He told me he really was impressed with my work and if he got any more jobs like that one he would call. He hasn’t called.

Basically, I think this is like a lot of the rest of the art game. If you are in the right place at the right time and the right person comes by, you are on the road. Between art, leather and wood I’ve spent a lot of the last 40 years trying to figure this out. All I know for sure is that I haven’t given up. This is my experience and probably doesn’t coincide with other’s experience.

-- Thos. Angle, Jordan Valley, Oregon

View tenontim's profile


2131 posts in 4482 days

#15 posted 03-25-2008 05:41 PM

Pashley, Thos. brought up another good source of business that I forgot- interior decorators and real estate agents. I’ve had good luck with both.

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