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How to make money doing woodwork

johnelliott's picture

I started out the usual? way, as a hobbyist making pieces of furniture for my own house. Then, when the opportunity came, I set up to do it for a living. I made some peices and tried to sell them. Not much luck there. I tried to get commissions to build pieces to order. Not much luck there either.

Then I realised what I knew all along. The amounts of money most people will spend on a kitchen are much higher than what they will for the other rooms in their house. So I started advertising kitchens made to order. Haven't looked back since. I can recommend it to anyone who wants to do workshop-based woodwork AND make money


Crunk's picture

(post #118636, reply #1 of 15)

I'm curious as to whether you do your own installations.

johnelliott's picture

(post #118636, reply #2 of 15)


I'm curious as to whether you do your own installations

Yes indeed, integral part of the job. I only install the cabinets and countertops, though. If they want tiles etc then they have to get that done by someone else. Obviously I am able to recommend people.


DaveinPa's picture

(post #118636, reply #3 of 15)

Check with some local privately owned daycares and latch key business. They need a lot of bookcases, storage units and outside furniture plus repair work on some of their indoor stuff.

johnelliott's picture

(post #118636, reply #4 of 15)

Why would I want to do that? I'm making a good living making kitchens, thanks


johnelliott's picture

(post #118636, reply #5 of 15)

So now that you just make kitchen cabinets, don't you miss building furniture

No I don't. There are plenty of challenges to be met in constructing a nice kitchen. If I have an urge to do some furniture then I can offer my clients a matching table and chairs


Timagain's picture

(post #118636, reply #6 of 15)

I'm doing exactly the same thing, but not just kitchens - studys, bedrooms and built in stuff as well - mainly because there aren't as many kitchens around as I'd like.  As you say, the difficulty with fine furniture for commission is that very few people value what you do at a commercially viable rate. 

 Also I totally disagree with Ian Cummins comment.  Since when has making cabinets not been furniture making? 

 A tip you may find useful (that has worked for me anyway) is to get a couple of estate agents (real estate agents) to come and value the property after you have put in the kitchen.  It really helps when meeting new customers to be able to show them that the work you do pays for itself ie a $15k kitchen adds $25k to the value of the property.

When you say that you don't do tiling etc do you subcontract and act as foreman or do you just let the customer get on with it?

All the best



johnelliott's picture

(post #118636, reply #7 of 15)

I let the customers make their own arrangements re tiling etc. Mainly this is because most tradesmen in this area are very busy, and it would be difficult for me to guarantee getting somebody within a reasonable time scale. I explain to my customers that it will be less expensive if they make their own arrangements, and I haven't had anybody complain at that, yet


artw11's picture

(post #118636, reply #8 of 15)

Do you design the kitchens? Do you work alone and if so, how do you handle the heavy job?

Ken K

johnelliott's picture

(post #118636, reply #9 of 15)

Do you design the kitchens? Do you work alone and if so, how do you handle the heavy job?

Yes I do design them. It is important that I end up with a design that is feasible and economic for me to make, and the best way to do that is to design it myself. Naturally I ask the customer if they have anything in mind, and usually they do. I then combine that with the sort of thing I do, then sketch something with Microsoft Paint (although I am starting to use TurboCad and getting the benefit of correct scale). They then approve it, or ask for changes which I then carry out.

Recently I've been asked for what amounts to a face frame kitchen (virtually unknown in the UK) and overcoming that challenge has led to my being able to offer it in the future. This means that I can offer my customers something that is both attractive and a little bit different, which is ideal.

At the moment I work alone (not for long, the way things are going) and I get some help when it is time to move the cabinets on site. I do countertops up to 2.5 metres on my own, any more than that and I encourage the customers to have granite which is installed by the stonemasons.


Dan019's picture

(post #118636, reply #10 of 15)

Hi John,

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I have a few questions.


Regarding TurboCad, how user friendly is it and could you give me a guestimate as to what you think the learning curve might be. I don’t have any cad software but am considering buying it in the near future if I can find something that you don’t need a 10-week coarse in just to learn the basics. I fix computer hardware and peripherals Mon-Fri

and I have a pretty good understanding of Excel, and MSPUB, various O.S.’s and the like so I’m not a total newby. Is there a better (read simpler) program to start with, maybe?


1. Did you start this venture out of your home and then move up to a separate rent/own building?


2. Did you start out using any type of advertising or just word of mouth?


3. Did you bundle any other type of work with the cabinet business in the beginning? I ask this because I’ll be starting out on my own in the near future. I was going to go the fix-it, home improvement route because as you and others have mentioned, furniture commissions and the like don’t pay considering the time invested in it. But your idea of custom cabinets as opposed to the big cabinet shops with their assembly line mentality is an idea that caught my attention. I love cabinet making, just didn’t think it could be done as a one-man operation. I may have to re-think that.


4. Finally, what did you start out with as far as tools and machines?



Thanks for starting this thread.




johnelliott's picture

(post #118636, reply #11 of 15)


TurboCad is friendly enough if you work through the examples in the book. I only use it in 2d to design the front view of the cabinets. Thats all I need to do, as the depth (front to rear) of the cabinets is a seperate decision, and is usually 575mm in the UK. Obviously the length of the run of cabinets is a known, the width of doors and cabinets can be adjusted to suit. The main use is to be able to show the customer a scale drawing of what they are going to get unless they ask for changes. It took me a couple of days to  get to the stage of being able to produce a suitable drawing.

other questions-

1. I'm lucky enough to have a 500 sq ft workshop in the garden of my house, I'm still there but will need a bigger workshop soon. I'm hoping to rent a redundant farm building, apart from the desirable rural situation it will give me a much nicer sounding address than an industrial estate

2. I placed adverts in a local weekly publication that covers the area that I do not wish to go further than, about a 15 mile radius which in my case means not too much travelling time. I take every opportunity to promote myself through WOM. People are much happier to give business to somebody they (or a friend of theirs) have met. I had some busineess cards printed and hand them out (a lot)

3. The reason why the kitchen thing works so well, in the UK anyway, is that people expect to pay a lot for a good kitchen, but the materials are comparatively inexpensive so the scope is there to make good money if I can produce the goods quickly enough. I now decline every other type of woodwork I am offered because it just doesn't pay enough, and speed comes from specialisation

4. Apart from the usual tools needed to convert plane and thickness wood, routers or maybe a shaper, all the usual smaller tools, the one thing I consider essential to making cabinets QUICKLY is a good table saw with a BIG sliding table. I use an ElectraBekum PKF255. The table can take an 8x4 sheet but that isn't necessary, I usually crosscut my plywood to 4x4 then it goes on the table saw, which can traverse nearly 5' and cuts panels square which again contributes to speed

Accuracy = speed= profit



WayneL5's picture

(post #118636, reply #12 of 15)

I'm not familiar with TurboCAD.  I used AutoCAD LT at work for years as a sideline (drafting was not my main job function).  It will do way more than you will ever need, but it's not cheap, about $700.

Before I got AutoCAD, though, I used a very simple CAD program called EasyCAD.  It was only like $50 or something.  It was easier than AutoCAD and would do everything you'd need.  I don't know if they still make it, however.

I would recommend taking at least one lesson from someone to get you started.  Either a formal class, or find someone who knows it and can show you.  Maybe a college kid or professor looking for a few bucks for an hour's work.  Unless the tutorial with the software is fairly good.

If you refresh your memory on x and y coordinates from math class you'll pick up on it quicker.  No math more complicated than knowing your x from your y is needed.

PlaneWood's picture

(post #118636, reply #14 of 15)

When I lived in Tulsa I got in cahoots with an architectural firm that specialized in building small 4 and 5 story office buildings for leasing to tenants.  Part of the initial rental contract included basic formica covered break room type cabinets and case work.  In addition to doing that, the real cream came from the new tenants moving in that wanted additional custom furniture such as shelves, credezas, book cases, etc.  I worked two jobs for 15 years.  My 40 hr day job and this 60 hr job.  Economy went sour in 1987 and the architectural firm went belly up.  But, not before I got all they owed me!  Ah!  to be young again!!!

ps - when the economy went sour, I had the next office building lined up for doing the security system, and a central network server.  Never got a chance at that.

PlaneWood by Mike_in_Katy (maker of fine sawdust!)

PlaneWood by Mike_in_Katy (maker of fine sawdust!)

WayneL5's picture

(post #118636, reply #13 of 15)

John, I can't remember if you've mentioned in any of your other posts how you plan to assemble the frames, but the best method I've found is pocket screws.  The basic set of tools is cheap.  The frames fly together fast.  You drill all the holes in the loose pieces first, then clamp the pieces in alignment when putting in the screws, then move the clamps to the next joint.  If you glue, the screws hold the pieces together so you can move the clamps from joint to joint as you screw them together.  They can only be used where only one face will show, like on the frame, not on the doors.

Ignore me if I'm saying something you already mentioned or know.

EdvinStrong's picture

I believe that this is (post #118636, reply #15 of 15)

I believe that this is possible. But you can take no credit check loan at if it can help you. It won't hurt you that's for sure. Good luck to you.