I don't get it. You must be giving your labor away or I am missing something

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Forum topic by becikeja posted 06-23-2013 03:05 PM 2699 views 0 times favorited 37 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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1019 posts in 3346 days

06-23-2013 03:05 PM

Topic tags/keywords: question trick jig tip

I consider myself a weekend warrior, not an experienced woodworking professional. My dream is to retire in about 8 years and start an artistic woodworking business, wood inlay, sculptures, or maybe some combination, not really sure yet. Today I build whatever comes to mind and enjoy experimenting with new techniques. In the summer I go to as many art-shows as I can to see what woodworkers are building / selling and what kind of prices they sell for. I don’t get it. You guys selling at the art shows must be giving your labor away.

From my day job I am very knowledgeable on lean manufacturing and efficiency techniques. I understand the principles of market pricing, and cost pricing (which are very different). I get that I am on a learning curve on most of the projects I build and may not have the most efficient tool set. But as I think through techniques to stream line production and the tools commercially available, based on a one man shop budget of course, I can’t see how to get there. What am I missing?

I would be interested in seeing what types of jigs you use, specialty tools etc… to drive efficiency for your more artistic style projects. Please either post here or PM me


-- Don't outsmart your common sense

37 replies so far

View helluvawreck's profile


32086 posts in 3400 days

#1 posted 06-23-2013 03:13 PM

I’m certainly no expert on pricing things but I get the feeling that some woodworkers sell things to help pay for the cost of what they consider to be an expensive hobby; and it is expensive if you think about it. Then there are those who intend to make a business of it even though they still derive enjoyment from it.

I would also say that if you have been doing it for a good while, do very good work, have learned the ropes and your work and name gets recognized, you can demand a nice price for your work.

helluvawreck aka Charles

-- helluvawreck aka Charles,

View redSLED's profile


790 posts in 2426 days

#2 posted 06-23-2013 03:13 PM

I figure that if ‘creative carpenters’ are happy with their vehicle, their own workshop space and tools being paid for, they are probably happy enough with $10-$15/hr for their labour (if that) overall – which always beats working for someone else, doing a desk job or spraying lacquer all day for weeks on end. Just pontificating here.

-- Perfection is the difference between too much and not enough.

View BBF's profile


144 posts in 2372 days

#3 posted 06-23-2013 03:29 PM

When you go to arts shows there a lot of the low end sellers and their prices do reflect their work. However when you look at the nice pieces there most also reflect their worth in their price relative to the prices of the other vendors. That said the prices are still usually far below what it costs in time and materials to build. So if you are selling at flea markets, art shows, craft shows you are there to get your name out to the public, show them the quality of your work, and hand out business cards. It also pays to have a book / poster of your other work to show the variety of things that you can produce. Having a web site with its address on your business cards is also a big step in the right direction of running profits up.

-- I've never been disappointed buying quality but I have been disappointed buying good enough.

View JollyGreen67's profile


1676 posts in 3296 days

#4 posted 06-23-2013 03:33 PM

Maybe I’m way off base here – but – Anyone who is in the market for a personal hand made work of art, such as what we woodworkers will make for then, be it flat or round, will not pay for our time and aggravation when producing such an item. Simply, because they can get “the same thing for less” at one of the big box furniture outlets. Little do they know they are getting decal mulched wood, that some 25 cent per hour third world worker is hacking out. Trying to get the public to understand that we put our heart and souls into what we create is a process most can’t understand. Albeit, there are some who do understand, and are willing to pay, with a little dickering, to look into the hearts of we craftspeople.

Also, what BBF says.

-- When I was a kid I wanted to be older . . . . . this CRAP is not what I expected ! RIP 09/08/2018

View StephenPrunier's profile


19 posts in 2595 days

#5 posted 06-23-2013 03:51 PM

My experience with most type of shows is, Small/Local Arts & Crafts Fairs = Cheap Buyers! Unless it’s a show that brings in high end artists and the buying world knows it in advance. It was a waste of my time. When I was selling my Fine Art Photography, I learned real fast and only attended high end shows in the end. On average my space cost $400 for the 3 days. Those type made me $$$ If I had a dollar every time someone asked me why my prices where so high because, “they” just printed everything on their printer at home? Well, you know the answer to that! :) They would never read my bio that explained my process, and my use of analog cameras and a wet darkroom. It was always “my kid does beautiful photography with their cell phone” Maybe I should do that and I would sell more because it would be cheaper to produce! WTF

Trying to sell anything at the local $35 table rental shows can be easy. Trying to sell and make some $$ is hard. There loaded with sellers who don’t care if they make any $. Some will even take a loss just so they can say they “sell at shows” :(

Look into, then attend some of the medium to large shows. Look at what the buyers are carrying as they leave to get ideas on what may sell. It will cost you more for your space, but the event organizers will work hard to attract the right buyers. I know some will tell you it can be done on a smaller scale but, I think a lot will come down to where your located, and your markets average expendable income. I live in an area where there’s still some $$. Just seeing all the new boats down at the marina shows me that! LOL

To make $$ you need to show your hard work to “Educated Buyers” It can be done. Your on the right track. Best of luck

View EPJartisan's profile


1122 posts in 3658 days

#6 posted 06-23-2013 05:32 PM

I hate to bring about this in a philosophical debate, but “art” is not about making money. it just isn’t, now if we are talking craft… well that is a skilled method that is used to achieve a utilitarian result..”excelling at the craft.” Art is not about any particular thing.. it is upon itself an archetype.. a experience of the human existence. Art proliferates for many reasons and purposes, which money is only one and often the least important one. Art is about exploration of methods, it is about communication, it is about ego and power, it is about spiritual guidance, and yes it is about making money to still be able to make more art. But artists will starve for their passion. Art is something in the soul.. the blood, it is mind set, a perspective… it is obsession and that does not translate into value very easily.

So you can always retire and do art, but never expect that you will retire and use art to support yourself. I have spent my entire life pursuing the day where I can do art and have it support me. I am almost there.. there is no way someone off the street can just pick it up and actually “make money” Quality art comes from long experience and dedication to understand not just the craft, but the aesthetics, the history, the market of museums and patrons. Yet art and money are linked… even the most passionate artist wants the wealthiest client, because no limits on money means no limits to the creation. But the artist’s ego is NOT one to underestimate… art always wins over money. Which is why art is such a huge commodity and investment for those with disposable cash. The two forces of money and passion spiral around each other, but never combining.

Design is the faster course to money making.. and design is about using ones skills and talents in craft and art to satisfy a need. Art does not need to be useful… design means useful… it has a purpose. Design things to match your market and make the most money you can.

I guess what I am trying to say.. the more you love what you do, the more you are concerned with what you do bringing the happiness and fulfillment into your life… money is not the top priority… even though we all need money. Often we are willing to take less money, to see someone smile in joy and willing to take less money just so people can see that we love to make beautiful things. In todays world only having money makes LOTS of money… and those of us who make things will never be rich… it just is that way. A few furniture makers I know have made money in the woodworking realm, but they have traded making things, with their own hand.. as they loved to do… into hiring others to make them and getting bigger more precise tools that making things faster.. money money.. all to make money.. and those same guys… guess what they do all day.. paper work, marketing, meeting with clients, phone work… they literally do not make anything but money.. and they are all rather sad about that. Well, just two bits from an artist, who is just finally starting to make it out there. Do what you love and the money will follow.. just not right away.

-- " 'Truth' is like a beautiful flower, unique to each plant and to the season it blossoms ... 'Fact' is the root and leaf, allowing the plant grow and bloom again."

View Loren's profile


10477 posts in 4181 days

#7 posted 06-23-2013 05:40 PM

Go to higher end shows. They cost more money
and are more stringently curated.

Make something the other guys cannot make.

Then you’ll be in a position to get higher prices.

You still will probably need to specialize and
develop custom solutions to improve your capacity.

View Wazy's profile


75 posts in 2770 days

#8 posted 06-23-2013 05:58 PM

Eric I couldn’t agree with you more and you’ve stated the differences very clearly. At 72 years of age, I have finally started to really enjoy myself by making one of two choices (both are a positve result).
1. I carve or create based on a personal / dreamed of item. Cost, labour and results are all mine to satisfy my artistic side. If a client sees it and wants to purchase it, the price is high end and not very negotiable because I made it for myself and it is one of a kind.

2. I satisfy a client request. In this instance, through discussion, it is the client’s choice of materials, my statement of labour based on time (which I quickly learned to estimate properly) for making, finishing, delivery if required, etc.. They agree or disagree so start the job and be done but be sure to take pride in the end result because that client will talk to their friends.

View poopiekat's profile


4532 posts in 4268 days

#9 posted 06-23-2013 06:04 PM

Don’t forget one other important issue: If your unique product takes off, there will be twenty others with your same exact product for sale at the next show, for a dollar less. Peddling your wares at a craft show…you might as well throw yourself to the wolves.

-- Einstein: "The intuitive mind is a sacred gift, and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift." I'm Poopiekat!!

View Loren's profile


10477 posts in 4181 days

#10 posted 06-23-2013 06:08 PM

Your stuff won’t get knocked off if it’s designed
and built in such a way that the knock-off guys
will shake their heads and move on.

One box-maker graduated from a multi-router type
setup to a custom build CNC joint cutting machine
he uses to manufacture his fancy jewelry boxes
than emphasize sparkly contrasting woods, decorative
joinery and oil finishes.

Almost no knock-off guy looking for an easy buck
will go to the effort of learning to do marquetry or real
steam bending work, so there are opportunities
if you set up in a specialized way.

View Jim Finn's profile

Jim Finn

2753 posts in 3455 days

#11 posted 06-23-2013 06:45 PM

“Funding my hobby” is all I do… as do many others. I make small $20 boxes and in order to sell them they have to be that cheap at the street fairs and festivals I attend. The most profitable item I sell is a small rubber band shooter that I sell for $5. (I can earn $20 and hour making those). I do make some more expensive items but those take a lot longer to sell. If I wanted to realy make money I would go get a job….ugh!

-- No PHD just a DD214

View JAAune's profile


1872 posts in 2850 days

#12 posted 06-23-2013 06:59 PM

A very successful furniture-maker I’ve known for some years likes to tell people, “First get good, then get fast. And don’t forget the fast!”

That’s the approach I’m taking and it looks like there’s some chance it’ll start paying off within the next couple years. It takes a long time and many hours in the shop before you can acquire skills that the vendors at the craft shows cannot compete with.

Loren mentioned some things above such as steam-bending, marquetry and CNC. All of those skills require substantial investment in time and money and most woodworkers never bother to learn any of them. I’ve learned all three. Top notch design skills are also lacking for most furniture-makers. This is mostly because becoming a great designer won’t happen without significant investment in time and energy. It’s a skill that requires hundreds of hours of practice.

The real catch though, is that even if you’re the best in the world, people won’t pay you for your time unless you’re also very fast. By fast, I don’t mean rushing the job. I mean working so efficiently that you can do quality work in less than half the time a hobbyist would need. This is done by developing work methods and jigs that reduce complex operations into a series of precise, repeatable processes or in the case of hand tools, constant practice and drilling.

Unfortunately, I can’t tell anyone what those jigs and methods are. They’ll vary depending upon the type of work that’s being done. If I were for example, to get into statue carving, I’d want to acquire zBrush, Rhino, CAM software, a 3d scanner, a 4-axis CNC and a good set of carving tools. The CNC and the software would allow me to rapidly rough out statues while I’m at the bench finishing them by hand. The 3d scanner would allow me to create CAD models from clay models and zBrush and Rhino would allow me to make them digitally. No craft show vendor could make the same statues with the same quality at the same price.

-- See my work at and

View a1Jim's profile


117738 posts in 4110 days

#13 posted 06-23-2013 07:06 PM

Prices are low because just selling something is acceptable to many hobbyist that attend shows making a profit seems like it’s not a high priority . I guess some of the sellers feel like they have gained acceptance if someone is willing to pay something for their product. This kind of approach to selling poisons the buyers pool into thinking all wood products should be low cost. I agree with Loren if you can make a desirable product the average guy can’t crank out in their garage then you have a chance of making money as a professional wood worker.Even once you have come up with that magical product don’t expect your exclusive sales of that product to last forever,think of Maloof rockers as an example,this product is time consuming to make and takes talent,but there are a lot of them on the market and that brings the price down,way down compared to Sam’s $30k per unit price.

View Monte Pittman's profile

Monte Pittman

30456 posts in 2871 days

#14 posted 06-23-2013 07:09 PM

Mass production of smaller items (mugs and boxes for me). I don’t set up to make 1 or 2, I make 10-20 boxes at a time and right now have 9 dozen mugs underway. The big items I am there to actually market are each unique and nothing speeds that up. I charge for my time on those. I try to make it so as many people as possible leave money at my booth when they leave. The small items usually comfortably pay for my booth and I usually get enough orders on the big stuff to come out very well on the shows.

-- Nature created it, I just assemble it.

View becikeja's profile


1019 posts in 3346 days

#15 posted 06-24-2013 04:00 AM

Lots of interesting input. I have looked at high end shows and low end shows and all shows in between. This weekend I attended the La Jolla Festival of the Arts just outside of San Diego. Booth space for the weekend ran $575 for 2 days, patrons paid a donation of $14 each to attend the art show. The La Jolla area is fairly wealthy so I would assume the correct patrons were in attendance. The show was spacious with 2 live stages playing for most of the day I was there. I would consider this a high end show. There was a gentlemen at the show who had some amazing marquetry. By my estimates, and admittedly I am an amateur but I have tried to factor that into my estimate I would say he was probably making $12-$15 per hour on a piece. Based on the craftsmanship he should been pulling in at least $30-35 per hour or more. Down the row there was guy selling wood wall hangings. These were in the shapes of sea creatures, whales, dolphins, turtles…. His prices were ridiculously low. Now he did use inexpensive wood and his finishing techniques seemed to be just slap on some varnish and move on, but even so he must have been in the $6-$8 per hour range for his labor.

If you guys don’t know of techniques to speed the work, I’m not sure who would. I guess I will just have to keep working, get enough in the bank so I can live off my savings, and continue wood working for the enjoyment of the art.

Good luck to all of you who do sell at the shows, but raise your prices, I have seen your projects posted on this site, you deserve to make some money.

-- Don't outsmart your common sense

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