Friday, January 1, 2016

Can You Make Money Off Of Woodworking?

As I've mentioned before, I got started in woodworking about two years ago. In that time, I've built several projects, and made some money off of them. The question I've seen asked most often of other woodworkers is "can you make money off of doing this?" They've given various answers, all of which are valid and very insightful. My answer? A qualified "absolutely".


By "qualified", I mean yes, you can make some spare cash from doing things like this. But can you make an actual living doing it? I'd have to say that depends on several factors.


First, where do you live? If you live in a rural area or an area without much of a customer base, then you're going to have a rough time of it, unless you can market yourself and ship your items (or even deliver) to your customers. I live in such an area, and the customer base just isn't there to support a family, let alone the hobby in general, so if I ever did decide to go full time, I'd have to consider marketing outside my local area and either shipping or delivering my finished product.


Second, what kind of customers are in your area? Lower, middle, or upper income? Upper income clients are ideal, because they have the disposable income to throw money at someone willing to build them that custom-made garlic crusher out of some exotic wood that nobody's ever heard of. Middle income are more selective in what they purchase. They will weigh the pros and cons of spending, say, $400 on a hand-made oak dresser, as opposed to going to a big box store and purchasing them pre-fabricated and ready to assemble. Lower income, not to disparage anyone, will not usually purchase something from a woodworker, because they just don't have the disposable income to spend on stuff like this, regardless of how long it will last them.


Third, how good are your skills? Have you developed into a master craftsman, or are you simply screwing two boards together, slapping some paint on it, and calling it done? If you can build quality items, then yeah, you have a marketable skill that people will, usually, be willing to pay a little extra for.


Fourth, what is your source for materials? Are you able to buy directly from a lumber mill, or do you have to go to a home center or something like that? If you can get wood from a lumber mill, not only will you have a wider selection available to you (which translates into offering something more to your customers), your costs will be significantly lower, as well. If you can cut and mill your own wood, even better.


Finally, do you have other sources of income to fall back on? If you're trying to make a living as a woodworker, sometimes clients thin out and work becomes scarce. If you have other sources of income, related to your overall work, then that makes it easier to weather any storms. For example, you can cut down trees and turn them into usable lumber for other woodworkers. Or you can have a website, make videos, etc., and make a small income online (not that there's a lot of money in it, but every little bit helps). You could also do furniture repair or refinishing.


Before you leap into trying to make this a career, you should first have a way of figuring out what prices you need to charge to make an actual living. Not only do you have the cost of wood, you have to factor in your time, any extra supplies you need to make the project (such as stain, finish, hardware, etc), delivery costs, overhead, etc., and then see how much of a profit you have to make per month to keep the lights on (not just in your shop, but in your house, too). Don't be surprised when some people balk at what you end up quoting them.


The mentality these days is "why should I pay that when I can go get it at the Big Box Store for a fraction of that cost?" That's when you need to be able to market yourself and explain why they should buy from you, rather than go the cheaper route. I always explain that yes, they could go to the BBS and get it for a lot less, but they should expect to replace it within a few years, because nothing beats real wood and solid construction, and that's the service you're offering.


The key to making a living by doing woodworking is to know your customers, what the local market will tolerate in the way of prices, what sells and what doesn't, and what you can do to supplement the business income in case things go south. In any case, don't expect to get rich off of doing this.


Like I've said many time in the past, I don't make a living doing this, nor do I expect to right now because my skills are just not at that level. Currently, any money I make with the shop, goes back into the shop. Still, I have made a decent amount of money from this, and it's allowed me to invest in more tools and expand my horizons. I've learned more skills by building things for other people than I probably would have learned had I simply stuck to making stuff for my own family and close friends. I know that right now I couldn't make a living at this for most, if not all, of the reasons above. But there may come a day in the not too distant future when I could actually consider it and not laugh myself silly, and it's nice to know ahead of time what you need to be aware of should you choose to go that direction with your life and career.

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