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post #1 of 13 Old 10-12-2014, 05:05 PM Thread Starter
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Starting a wood working business

Does anybody here run a one man shop? If so what types of pieces do you make? I have a decent setup: table saw, jointer, sanders, jigs, and clamps. Would like to run a one man shop on a part time basis only, just wondering if handmade woodwork is a lost art. Thanks- Andrew
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post #2 of 13 Old 10-12-2014, 05:40 PM
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There are several folks on here than run custom shops. First question is how much woodworking experience do you have and have you ever worked in a shop environment?

The tools don't make the craftsman......a true statement often overused by individuals who haven't a clue about quality tools or true craftsmanship.
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post #3 of 13 Old 10-12-2014, 06:26 PM
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At one time I had a number of employees but I got tired of rebuilding everything they screwed up and started working alone.

There is very little I don't do. What ever the customer wants if I can do the work I will give it a go, often its something I've never done before. I have made hand carved furniture for customers to changing light bulbs. It really doesn't matter. Their money is just as green. When you start a business unless you are a good salesman it's hard to make a go of it specializing in one field or another.

I'm starting to get too old to lift and drag cabinets and do remodeling work. Currently I'm working on opening a store selling antique reproduction furniture. Still a long way from that though. I'm having to buy more machinery and enlarge the shop to do it.
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post #4 of 13 Old 10-12-2014, 07:29 PM
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The tools you mention will not get it for making a profit in a one man shop.Just being realistic.
I owned a 3 man shop and decided to make it a one man shop so I could control the quality and production of everything.
Had a Weaver door system to make all of my cabinet doors.The system cost me $20k and I could spit out several doors in no time.Had a Vega copy lathe that could turn 15" X144" columns for million dollars homes libraries.Had a 500 sf finishing room with a Binks spray booth.Had a couple Powermatic 66 tablesaws with table extensions,Few other shapers,stationary sanders,drill presses,16" RAS .The list goes on and on. And I'm a pretty good business man and salesperson.
Bottom line is I could not stay competitive and stay in business.
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post #5 of 13 Old 10-12-2014, 07:40 PM
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Keep in mind the competition in your area. Building a ground up cabinet or millwork shop to be profitable is just about impossible today. End consumers for the most part don't know the difference between quality cabinets and particle board garbage. You can't compete with garbage. Now if you want to build furniture on the side and compete in the boutique market, you may be able to if the economy in your are is strong.

The tools don't make the craftsman....
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post #6 of 13 Old 10-12-2014, 07:56 PM
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+1 I've also thought about my last post and wanted to clarify that I am a tool junkie but never bought anything that I did not have a job to pay for or justify the tool.The Vega lathe was $7800 in 1990 and one job from the state paid for it.The 20k door system was paid for with a couple nice high end cabinet jobs.Had a 30" planer that was paid for with a single job but did buy it used.
I am a good business man and continue to make good money.Just not in woodworking.
If you want to compete in the trade you will have to come up with something unique that nobody else does or have the equipment to spit stuff out like the production shops do and have lots of money.
How many people do you know that have bought a piece of custom furniture in the last year?
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post #7 of 13 Old 10-12-2014, 08:34 PM
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When I got started I did antique repair. There wasn't a great deal of money to be made at it but it was nearly all labor. It doesn't take many tools to reglue chairs.
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post #8 of 13 Old 10-12-2014, 08:51 PM
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Doesn't take much money and not much profit either.I used to hand cane chair seats.Ever try that Steve?No fun or profit.Used to get $75 a seat and people would look at me like I was nuts for a $25 chair.Not even any fun involved.
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post #9 of 13 Old 10-12-2014, 09:12 PM
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Originally Posted by mako1 View Post
Doesn't take much money and not much profit either.I used to hand cane chair seats.Ever try that Steve?No fun or profit.Used to get $75 a seat and people would look at me like I was nuts for a $25 chair.Not even any fun involved.
Unfortunately I hand wove one chair seat. I will never do that again. As much work as it was I got it 95% done and discovered I pulled the cane too tight and had to remove it all and start over. The second time wasn't any easier but I completed the chair. The only cane I will do anymore is the pre-woven stuff.
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post #10 of 13 Old 10-12-2014, 09:18 PM
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When I had my business the absolute best move I ever made was to get in good with the Interior Designers in town. At the time there were about 30 and we did work for most of them, about 25-26. They kept us very busy. We built furniture, mantles, accessories, etc. out of Mahogany, Walnut, exotics, and such - no sheet goods or cabinets at all. We also refinished, painted, and restored furniture.

Granted, you're asking about a one-man shop and the smallest crew I had was about 4 but ran up to 10 or so at one point. I'm just saying, get your 'sales hat' on and go market yourself to the people who have the potential to throw a lot of business your way. Good luck!

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post #11 of 13 Old 10-12-2014, 11:43 PM
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Originally Posted by drew53813 View Post
Does anybody here run a one man shop? If so what types of pieces do you make? I have a decent setup: table saw, jointer, sanders, jigs, and clamps. Would like to run a one man shop on a part time basis only, just wondering if handmade woodwork is a lost art. Thanks- Andrew
A lost art? Hardly, alive and well and at levels that are quite amazing. There are thousands like these;
http://www.doucetteandwolfefurniture.com/Home_Page.html
http://lefortfurniture.com/
http://www.finefurnituremaker.com/

The best advice I can give you is, just do it. Get a body of work together, if it's furniture you want to build.

When I worked for others, I did jobs on the side. At first, I had no shop and only a few hand tools. It's not about those things, it's about the work you can put out. I made some simple Shaker style trestle tables out of pine. When I needed a chisel, I took the blade out my block plane, the only plane I owned. Bicycle tubes for clamps. I made a dozen and put them for sale on the front lawn, sold all but one in about a week. That was a long time ago. I'd be embarrassed to ask money for one of those tables, today, but that was then.

I won't bore you with the rest of the story but after being around, I can tell you, people that are successful just do what they dream. They don't ask permission, they don't let things keep them back, at least, not for long. Don't talk about it, make a plan and get going. Don't worry about falling on your face, that will happen, get smarter the next time and don't give up.
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post #12 of 13 Old 10-13-2014, 12:23 AM
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Andrew,
I run a one man shop. Most of the things I build are on commission. I do have two other companies, so I don't rely on furniture to make a living.

Decide what you want to build, learn as much as you can and build it well. If you do a good job, and do it long enough you will be successful. Build a few things and sell them at a local outdoor market or build things for friends. Final piece of advice, don't take business advice from people on the internet.
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post #13 of 13 Old 10-13-2014, 12:02 PM
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I build unique furniture but I could not make a living at it in my area. If you are just wanting some extra cash and enjoy the work then you can make a go of it. But if you need to make so much a month then it could be hard.

It all depends on your location and what you want to make. In my location I can't price items to make enough profit to really make a living. I dry my own wood in a solar kiln, that helps, I plane my own lumber, that helps, but you have to be able to charge enough on labor to really make a profit.

I started just making furniture for myself and family, people saw what I made and ask if I could make something for them. After I retired from the Army I decided to make a go of running my own furniture shop. Girls got in college and I had to go find a real job. But don't be discouraged, try to make it work, just don't put so much out there that you get financially in trouble right off the start. Make things that you can make with the tools you have, over time upgrade your tools and make harder projects.

Good luck to you. I hope you can make it work, the art of woodworking is becoming lost. We need more good wood workers.
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