How much is enough??

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Forum topic by RogerBean posted 07-12-2011 06:18 PM 2625 views 0 times favorited 55 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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1605 posts in 4239 days

07-12-2011 06:18 PM

Topic tags/keywords: question humor

Patience, cost, craftsmanship, and timelessness.

As an ex business owner and consultant, I am more than a little aware of my time and cost. I’ve always made things, of wood, metal or whatever. I do, admittedly, have more patience than I did when I was thirty, but still, how much time (or cost) is enough?

I have a Kentucky rifle hanging on my wall that took 360 hours to complete. And, today, I am sure I can do better. My boxes (the current attraction) typically take around 125 – 150 hours to complete. Yet, I run across folks on LJ here who feel if they cannot complete half a dozen boxes in a weekend, that they are somehow not accomplishing anything! Some others, who state that anything at all spent on hardware, (as in hinges and locks) is too much. So, how do you feel? What kind of projects do you take on? How much time (or money) is too much for you?

This search for “the best of the best” that I seem to be off on, is something to think about. It’s certainly not the only way. “Quality” is not free. So, how do you decide how much time and money to spend on your projects??

Myself, I find I’m going farther and farther down the rabbit hole. (But I’m not unaware that it’s happening.) What’s strange is that it seems to be worth it. Am I missing something here?


-- "Everybody makes mistakes. A craftsman always fixes them." (Monty Kennedy, "The Checkering and Carving of Gunstocks", 1952)

55 replies so far

View Loren's profile


11311 posts in 4933 days

#1 posted 07-12-2011 06:27 PM

Many forms of craftsmanship that are creatively rewarding are not
financially rewarding, that’s all. More accurately, though, if you
must do the finest stuff and wish to sell it and make a living,
you have to be pretty sophisticated in terms of marketing your

It is far easier to make money solving storage problems (cabinets)
that making vanity purchase items like musical instruments or
fine wood furniture.

View richgreer's profile


4541 posts in 4360 days

#2 posted 07-12-2011 06:36 PM

I have the luxury of not needed to make money at woodworking. That’s good, because I don’t think I could make much money at it.

I get great joy by getting it done right and doing the best I can do. I enjoy the process as much, if not more, than the result. It’s a hobby. How many people try to make money fishing or hunting or playing golf? When you get into the total hobby mindset, spending a couple hundred hours on a basic project is not a negative.

Has any one ever complained that they had to spend 1000 hours fishing before the caught their first trophy fish?

-- Rich, Cedar Rapids, IA - I'm a woodworker. I don't create beauty, I reveal it.

View Gene Howe's profile

Gene Howe

12438 posts in 4714 days

#3 posted 07-12-2011 06:39 PM

Well said, Rich!

-- Gene 'The true soldier fights not because he hates what is in front of him, but because he loves what is behind him.' G. K. Chesterton

View Pdub's profile


926 posts in 4465 days

#4 posted 07-12-2011 06:50 PM

I think it all boils down to “what can you live with?” I myself won’t sell anything if I am not proud to let people know I made it. My woodworking is a hobby (for the most part). It seems like a part time job sometimes. Because I don’t make a living at it, I won’t take on really big projects. By looking at your projects, I don’t think you would be happy with yourself if you did less. If it is worth it to you then thats all that matters!!!

-- Paul, North Dakota, USAF Ret.

View Don W's profile

Don W

20245 posts in 3853 days

#5 posted 07-12-2011 06:51 PM

If you’re trying to make a living, then it’s your definition of success. I made a living as a carpenter. It was a decent living, but raising 3 kids, it was tough. Now I make much better money and can spend the time and money doing the woodworking and tool restorations I like to do. I’ve spent hours and hours on $20 planes and hand saws. Certainly not cost effective. Now, if a project starts to get under my skin, I shelve it until next weekend.

It’s about perception, and perception always beats reality.

-- - Collecting is an investment in the past, and the future.

View CharlieM1958's profile


16292 posts in 5504 days

#6 posted 07-12-2011 06:52 PM

Very good topic, Roger.

I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that what stands between my being a decent woodworker and being a great woodworker is patience. I’ve gotten better about it over the few years I’ve been doing this, but I’ve still got a long way to go. I get a concept in my mind of what I want a project to look like, and then I just can’t wait to see it completed. Of course, this attitude always leads to short cuts, imprecise measurements, and a final result that may look pretty good, but not absolutely first rate. Every would-be craftsman like myself, regardless of budget, can achieve much higher quality if we are willing to invest the time.

The issue of hardware is a bit more difficult. If one has a reasonable expectation of selling their work at a fair price, I’d say good hardware is worth the extra money. Likewise, even if you are only building for your own collection and enjoyment, quality hardware is a must if you are looking to build the best possible project you can. However, many of us weekend warriors have a limited amount of money to spend on our addiction, so we must often make difficult decisions about how to get the most bang for our bucks. Personally, right now I just can’t justify spending $100 on hardware for a box I’m not going to sell. But then if I ever reach the point of spending several months worth of spare time making that “perfect” project, I might feel differently.

I’m looking forward to hearing what others have to say.

-- Charlie M. "Woodworking - patience = firewood"

View WayneC's profile


14359 posts in 5383 days

#7 posted 07-12-2011 06:59 PM

My woodworking is more of a journey of exploration and learning. I’m not driven to produce something for profit and I really prefer quality over quantity.

-- We must guard our enthusiasm as we would our life - James Krenov

View DrDirt's profile


4615 posts in 5028 days

#8 posted 07-12-2011 07:06 PM

It is balancing what you want out there as representing your work with what the customer wants.
If you want to be purely high end “no compromizes” then you had better think carefully about making a bunch of keepsake boxes for a goup.”

There was just a discussion on another forum about hinges – I faced the same dilemma when I needed to make 27 boxes for the seniors on the football team. They wanted the boxes to be 9X12X4 using maple with an exotic panel. Well for a 40 dollar box, I cannot afford to put in 25 dollar Brusso hinges. But in putting out the boxes with stamped hinges – did I negatively affect my brand based on that quality, or did I gain points by “Taking on the project for the team and community”? Will the parents of the boys think that the box represents the “BEST” I can deliver? It is a good question you are asking, I look forward to following the thread

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

View Dan's profile


3653 posts in 4166 days

#9 posted 07-12-2011 07:09 PM

I do woodworking mostly as a hobby. I have done small projects for people but every time I have done something for hire I get so much extra stress and anxiety. I like to work in the shop as a way to free myself from the stress and anxiety of my every day life.. I have no limit on time and I am in no rush when I do for myself. I do however feel more pressure on time when doing work for hire. That is why I wouldn’t want to do this for a living.

-- Dan - "Collector of Hand Planes"

View BobTheFish's profile


361 posts in 3838 days

#10 posted 07-12-2011 07:58 PM

Most people do this for a hobby, or are into producing piece production style for sales.

It sounds like you are doing this as a hobby, spending obscene numbers of hours on a project. A box, should not, unless hand carved, with much detail, take 120 hours. Hell, a table can be designed and built in less than 48 hours, unless you’re talking drying times included (which is basically “sit and wait” time, not what I’d consider billable hours”.

As you get better, gain more experience, etc. you get faster.

Perfection is also something admirable to aim for but never accomplished.

Now, as for pricing/cost, typically, a middle ground is found amongst time, materials, and quality of finished product. The higher the quality of the finished product, the better the materials, and the more time must be spent. I find that my balance comes from simpler, more modernistic designs, using high to medium quality parts, and due to the simpler designs, less time is required. (I also design like an architect in a way, looking for structural integrity, which is important to me).

I like simple designs, so it’s more of a bonus to the fact that I can do it with my limits on tools and time. I like to see progress, so spending too much time on a particular aspect is not rewarding to me (though I don’t like when things progress too quickly, because that means it’s not challenging enough). I also like to know what I make is going to last forever, and that my finished product can take a hell of a beating and still look as beautiful as before (so typically softer hardwoods and softwoods in general are avoided. I also use the highest durability hardware I can justify buying and keep a particular aesthetic). What I tend to get out of it is higher quality piece than what I can find in stores [and I’m talking far better than walmart, bed bath and beyond, or most other chains that people I suppose buy their furniture at]), and comparable to what I find with vintage pieces.

It’s not the same sort of things I might find with really high end design or antiques, but my stuff is definitely NOT crap.

Since that’s what I strive for, I guess it’s mission accomplished. My pieces also tend to survive far more abuse than some of the other furniture I have. I’m content.

I don’t think a project has ever taking more than 60-80 hours either. Most, not including dry times, I think take about 20 (I do a lot of refinishing and smaller stuff).

So that’s my balance.

View richgreer's profile


4541 posts in 4360 days

#11 posted 07-12-2011 08:16 PM

This is a response to BobTheFish.

We all do our own thing our own way and we all have our own comfort zone. You state, “As you get better, gain more experience, etc. you get faster.” For many (myself included) getting faster is not an objective.

You sound like someone who is trying to be as efficient as possible to improve your profits. That’s fine for you. Just realize that is not the objective of everyone.

I find that when I am coming to the end of a project I slow down my work even more. Why? Because I don’t want the project to end. Then I realize that there is always the next project.

-- Rich, Cedar Rapids, IA - I'm a woodworker. I don't create beauty, I reveal it.

View helluvawreck's profile


32122 posts in 4152 days

#12 posted 07-12-2011 08:22 PM

I’m 61 going on 80. All that I really want to do with my woodworking is to make a few nice things for all of my loved ones so that they will cherish and enjoy them after I’m gone. However, I will say that you do have to keep your mind on what you are doing and what your goals are because time has a way of sneaking up on you before you are done.

-- helluvawreck aka Charles,

View CharlieM1958's profile


16292 posts in 5504 days

#13 posted 07-12-2011 08:39 PM

BobTheFish: I also find it difficult to imagine spending 150 hours on a box. But have you checked out Roger’s projects? It’s hard t argue with the results.

-- Charlie M. "Woodworking - patience = firewood"

View Cosmicsniper's profile


2202 posts in 4444 days

#14 posted 07-12-2011 08:51 PM

The other day, I had a conversation with my near 70 year old father. He wasn’t feeling good, so I should have known that he’d take a negative approach, but that didn’t stop me from telling my Dad that he needed to come see my shop before he died (which will likely be, sadly, sooner than I’d like). I’ve lived in my home for more than 3 years, but he only came once shortly after we moved in.

I showed him the pictures of my shop (same as my LJ workshop), which has changed a little bit with some new additions. But my dad started talking about how I should have gotten a bigger jointer instead of the DW735 planer and that you don’t need Incra-anything to do woodworking. From his standpoint, of purely functional projects filled with lots of cosmetic flaws, he’s correct. But for somebody who never sees the need for dovetails (half-blind or otherwise) and inlays, who uses nails more than glue, who wouldn’t understand “form” and “aesthetics”; well, yeah sure, I guess he has a point…an annoying one, but valid nonetheless.

Git ‘er done. If that’s your philosophy, then you’ll probably care little about beauty and precision and originality. But if you care about such things, it will take time…so much so that you likely couldn’t make a business out of it unless you have a very nifty manufacturing process or have a very exclusive and understanding clientele.

I enjoy the details and an attempt at making flawless projects, though they are normally full of flaws. But like all my hobbies, this becomes a personal challenge, an opportunity to master something and do the best I can…it’s about the journey. For my father, it’s all about the destination.

Long story short…it’s all in your perspective of what you hope to gain out of it.

-- jay,

View BobTheFish's profile


361 posts in 3838 days

#15 posted 07-12-2011 08:57 PM

Charlie – I don’t disagree, but I kind of felt like his opening post either seemed critical of those that aren’t taking as long, or somehow question his own methods and why he’s not faster.

His work is beautiful, and if it takes him that long, and he’s happy with it, then that’s all that matters…

richgreer – Actually, I’m not profiting at all. I just like keeping busy. I do tend to have two or three projects lined up at once, though I also get my periods of laziness.

My thought processes tend to be that I want to maximize what I get as a finished product, yes, while minimizing costs (within reasonable manner), yes, but it’s to justify why I am building something rather than just buying it, or its to get the very most I can with my limited budget. For example, I’m sitting on a project for a bloodwood dining table. It’s probably going to be another 2-3 months before I can even think of cutting the wood due to circumstances. With it I spent about 10 hours at random coming up with a design. This means thinking on it while having a cup of coffee, or doodling at work, or what have you. I spent another 4-5 hours deciding my materials. I wanted something I could still work with, but would be durable as all hell. I wanted something I could theoretically afford (though it was expensive to get the wood), and would hold up to years and years of abuse. And I wanted something that would retain the color. So I looked to see what woods appealed to me within my price range, then researched those for hardness. Finally I came down to a choice of about 4 woods. That one was the one with the best color and color retention, and had an incredibly degree of hardness. So it’s what I’m going to use.

is it a project ever to be sold? no. But it’s one I will be sure to enjoy for the rest of my life (hopefully 50+ years), and maybe can pass along to my children or grandchildren. It’s also not a table made out of rosewood (too expensive and the color change bothers me anyhow), but it’s going to be built to last.

I don’t really consider that time I spent already into my figures, but even if I did, it’s hard to say that it’ll take me 100 more hours to go from random width boards to a finished product, unless I was breaking out the handsaws and planes. Granted, I don’t have any real carved aspects to this design, and there’s no moldings, filagrees or other decorative elements, but I don’t like the stuff to begin with. Too busy and over the top for my simpler tastes.

But still, if it took me 12 hours to saw my boards to size rather than 2, it would drive me nuts because I would be frustrated at knowing it’s way too much time than I really need to take. It wouldn’t be the pace I enjoy working at, and it would be like trying to dig a 6ft deep hole in the ground with a toothpick.

When I sand, it’s typically 60 grit, then 120, and then put on a finish. (I might do 120, 220, and then 320 for this particular table though). Typically most woods I work with don’t have the grain that would really benefit from the higher grits, and most of the time the finish will be what gets the majority of the sanding anyhow.

I also don’t really agree with the habit I see often on here of applying so many layers of finishing products to a piece that it starts to seem more like embalming the wood rather than letting its natural beauty shine. And I don’t like glassine shines. I think the most I typically use for finishing is maybe a coat of penetrating oil to bring out the grain, three to four coats of poly to protect, sand up till the max of 600 grit, and then hand buff in a bit of butcher’s wax to bring up a satin shine. And that’s the max. Typically it’s three thin coats of either a wipe on poly or an oil, just to keep it dry and able to handle moisture. The closer I can get to the natural wood look the better.

But all of this is my personal aesthetic. Some people don’t work that way, as I pointed out before, and you yourself said. I’m just aware of my own likes and dislikes, as well as my own patience (or the lack thereof) and pragmaticism.

But no, I don’t do woodworking for profit.

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