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starting a woodworking business

shoptech's picture

I am looking to start a woodworking business.  My emphasis would be custom designed furniture, bockshelves, endtables and the like.  What is the probability of developing a business like this.  Do I need to expand my options in order to survive.  I have built many different projects including kitchen cabinets but I am not sure that I can make it in the cabinet field.  It seems that there is a tremendous amount of competition.

CharlieL's picture

Deleted (post #169630, reply #9 of 20)


If you don't have the time to do it right the first time, when will you ever have the time to fix it ?

art65's picture

Woodworking business (post #169630, reply #1 of 20)

A lot depends on your market and if you can find clients willing to pay for custom work. I've been doing custom work in the Chicago area for almost ten years - but only in the last two years have I been able to do it full time and make a decent income. I've spent alot of time building a client base (who will call you back for more work) AND developing relationships with local builders. I did have to open up my options and take on any work that would come my way - it will usually lead to more of the kind of work I want.

BTW - don't try to compete with the kitchen cabinet companies - you'll never be able to beat their prices, and you won't be able to find clients willing to spend money on a full custom kitchen.

If you keep at it, you can make a decent living, just be prepared for some lean years at the beginning.

DonStephan's picture

It;s even more impossible to (post #169630, reply #2 of 20)

It;s even more impossible to compete with factory furniture.  How will your products differ from what's in stores, will customers be able to tell the difference, and will they be willing to pay the difference?

List all your expected overhead and the costs - business insurance, vehicle insurance, gas & electric, water, phone, rent/mortgage. security system, Internet access, building maintenance, equipment maintenance, equipment purchase set-aside per month (to accumulate funds for purchases), web site and social media support, operating and maintenance costs for a vehicle, and so on.

How much workshop space will you need to work efficiently on the projects you expect to make?

How many hours per week will you be working on a project, and how many hours will be "overhead" talking with potential customers/resellers, working on web site and social media, maintaining equipment, testing design concepts and building samples,   How much profit and gross income do you want to plan for per week, and then how much will you have to charge per hour working on a project to cover overhead, profit, and income?

jacko9's picture

Probability if new business (post #169630, reply #5 of 20)

DonStephan wrote:

It;s even more impossible to compete with factory furniture.  How will your products differ from what's in stores, will customers be able to tell the difference, and will they be willing to pay the difference?

List all your expected overhead and the costs - business insurance, vehicle insurance, gas & electric, water, phone, rent/mortgage. security system, Internet access, building maintenance, equipment maintenance, equipment purchase set-aside per month (to accumulate funds for purchases), web site and social media support, operating and maintenance costs for a vehicle, and so on.

How much workshop space will you need to work efficiently on the projects you expect to make?

How many hours per week will you be working on a project, and how many hours will be "overhead" talking with potential customers/resellers, working on web site and social media, maintaining equipment, testing design concepts and building samples,   How much profit and gross income do you want to plan for per week, and then how much will you have to charge per hour working on a project to cover overhead, profit, and income?

I agree with Don and I think you have to balance your expetations of income with the reality of business expenses. 

Willie's picture

If I win the lottery, I will (post #169630, reply #3 of 20)

If I win the lottery, I will start a wood-working business and run it until I'm broke again.

ZiggywadeM's picture

What makes you Happy (post #169630, reply #4 of 20)

I say do what makes you Happy.. I'm retired now for four years and started building custom Furniture Just for my Family Now I have so many orders I dont believe I will ever be able to get them all done in time. The one thing I found out is that If you do really good work people will be happy to wait. I also do all the work myself, cant depend on anybody else to even think about sharing my dreams and asperations   and anyway I enjoy what I'm doing. It wouldn't bother me one bit If I went broke twelve times in one year  as long as I'm having Fun. Do what makes you Happy..

sabulba's picture

hi... if you are looking (post #169630, reply #6 of 20)


if you are looking for starting the wood business then you can start the export business which is comes in high tenders and has the large quantity of the materials. this is good and safe way to start your business. and once you have decided to start your business then you need to understand what kind of the material is required to make the thing with wood.

grade of the wood is defined as the quality and the behaviour of the wood. woods are categorized as the hard wood and soft wood. soft wood comes from evergreens, or trees with pine needles, and hard wood is from trees with broad leaves.hard wood is used for making furniture as it has higher durability, although soft wood is becoming more popular for furniture making.

hammer1's picture

To start, go to work for a (post #169630, reply #7 of 20)

To start, go to work for a large successful company, pay your dues and become a master in the trade. Work for several companies working your way up to foreman, then supervisor then running a fair portion of their business from the production end. You won't be making much money so you'll have to moonlight on the side. Side jobs will start commesurate with your skills and progress. Keep careful records as you do this so you know all your costs. Take all the courses you can find about both woodworking and business. Don't forget courses in drafting, accounting, marketing. Build a network of both customers and mentors in the business field. Join several organizations, Lions, church groups, Kiwanis, etc. to become well known as a committed, responsible, well liked individual.

Marry a rich woman. Make sure she understands that you will be putting everything on the line, you won't have a 401K, seldom days off or vacations, you can't get sick or injured, you'll have to pay for your own health insurance, banks won't give you a loan for a washing machine and you'll be working long hours for John Q Public. Sometimes you'll be getting screwed, sometimes you'll make money, most of it will go back in the business. You'll be competing against everyone from long established firms to somebody's uncle as well as the foreign market.

You will soon discover that a one man operation requires you to do everything from designing to making to selling and delivering. You won't be all that happy doing the 100th end table and you might be real sick of the 1000th. You'll want some employees eating dust for you after you've had your fill. It will take a few years to train them, they'll want a check every week and when they get good they'll leave. You can count on the economy going in the dumpster about every 10 years. Things out of your control will come along, wars, natural disasters, who knows what. You will probably be living hand to mouth and won't have saved enough to carry you through the hard times. You will have many skills but none that will help you get a job if you should ever need one. There are tens of thousands of guys like you. 50 something years old starting at the bottom, working your way up to night manager at the 7-11.

The moral of the story is, keep your day job. Take every advantage of educational opportunities, 401K, chances to advance. Enjoy a regular paycheck, vacations, any benefits, somebody else paying half your SS and making tax deductions. You'll be able to do your woodworking calmly and at your leisure rather than against the clock under pressure. You might actually have a future and look forward to retirement. The fact is, if you were an entrepreneur, you wouldn't ask this question, you'd already be self employed and probably been so since you were a kid with a paper route. You would already understand how to make money and know that a vinyl siding or roofing company would be the direction to go and not follow some half crazed pipe dream about being a furniture maker, making end tables for the residential market. Think about it. When was the last time anyone on your street bought a new end table and were willing to pay a little extra for a handmade piece. Then figure how many you would have to make and sell to come close to your needed income. Two or three a day? Probably takes you two weeks to make one. Time to smell the coffee, Shoptech, no offense.

Beat it to fit / Paint it to match

Jigs-n-fixtures's picture

Costing is hard (post #169630, reply #8 of 20)

You will need to have a truly custom business to make it work.  You can't buy the materials to make any of the traditional styles for what the Chiwanese can sell their products at retail for. 

The only way to make it with traditional pieces is to get good enough you can do convincing antique reproductions, to complement pieces people already own. 

Custom fitted chairs is another niche market, to explore. 

Or, custom modern pieces:  Sam Maloof's chairs; Jere Osgood's ,(featured in this months Fine Woodworking), shell desks, and other custom laminations; etc.,  that are highly desirable and a viable custom product because the curves are too complex to do in a cnc dominated factory environment.

Whatever you think you want to do, it will take years for you to develop a reputation and client list that will consistently pay the bills. 

It really helps to be married to someone who has a stable, relatively lucrative job, with decent benefits.  That is part of why it is so hard to compete with a lot of the cabinet shops making case goods.  Half the guys I know who are "making" a go of it are doing so on their wive's salary and benefits. 

The other option if you are young enough is to be a fireman.  Typically they work a 72-hour shift, and then have the rest of the two weeks off to handle their side business. 

swannyww's picture

business (post #169630, reply #10 of 20)

I would say the repair/refinish business is your best bet and of course do building on the side so your customer can see you are talented and not just a handyman.  Design is the key to selling (Sam Maloof) and if you design and get recognition for it you can get good prices.  Always give the customer (repair) a little extra for their money and don't drop standards to accomodate because you are the professional and they will complain even if you told them there is a better way.  Great retirement extra income if you make it that far.  There will always be new guys who will be willing to do the work for nothing, but they will come and go.  

IdahoDon's picture

Personally I think it all (post #169630, reply #11 of 20)

Personally I think it all depends on you and how well you're able to market yourself...and of course you provide a good product at a reasonable price. -

I know guys who are better woodworkers than I am and have businesses at which they would starve if it wasn't for their wives, because they just aren't likeable - they lack communication skills and have quirky personalities.

I know other guys who are less skilled than I am and they are always busy - they tackle jobs they aren't competent in because they can hire out the difficult parts, but they are great at selling themselves and these types will always be busy, even in the most competitive markets.

Personally, I'm tired of dealing with clients and the ups and downs in this line of work -  while I make a living, I'm looking for a way out - probably industrial sales of some kind - they work a lot less than I do and make as much or better money.

For guys who want to make a living out of it I'd suggest you will find pockets of money in every market that aren't competing head to head with Pottery Barn furniture, or cheap Home Depot cabinets.   I have continually made money looking for pockets and that means you have to get to know people in the industry who can point you in the right direction - these might be key clients, they might be contractors, maybe design professionals - maybe key people in home owners associations.

You can't compete on price with most furniture of any price sold today that clients can buy off the rack - you will starve trying to, but those same companies don't make every size and wood type - some of my best projects have been duplicating the style of a new piece of furniture, but for a furniture piece not available in that manufacturers catalog. Maybe a client wants a certain entertainment center, but they have a strange shaped wall to put it on - they will pay to have a custom unit built if it's functional and looks good.

Small general contractors are good sorces of small projects that they might not have the skill to do - builders often sub out built-in furniture, and the more complicated it is, the more likely they will sub it out.   Same with custom cabinets - if a standard cabinet won't work a custom cabinet then becomes reasonable.   Historic houses often benefit from custom cabinets to take advantage of strange spaces and depths.

Remodels keeping some existing cabinets and building others is another route to sell yourself.   I've had a number of projects where I got the job because I could keep much of what they had, upgrade doors and drawers, and replace some key pieces and make it all look correct together.   I don't compete against cheap cabinets, because cheap cabinet installers can add custom designs to the crap they install and blend it in with existing, especially stain-grade.   Get good at your own finishing and refinishing - small jobs are opportunities to work in other places within someone's home if you're well rounded.

To stay consistently busy, you need to be well rounded and able to get things done quickly and cleanly.   If someone new has a small project I say I can start right away and make every effort to do just that - and I can because my current clients are super happy with how prodcuctive I am with them - staying ahead of schedule lets you take a little time here and there for new clients if need be.

If a remodeler is behind schedule and needs a staircase refinished that his normal painter/stain guy can't get to right away, if they know you can jump on it your chances of getting hired on the spot are about 100%.  The odds of sitting at home with a newspaper ad and getting hired  by the same guy are about zero/nada/nill/zip.  Face to face interaction is what will sell your stuff.   Having said that,  I know a guy who stays mostly busy with nothing but craigslist ads - it gets him in the door and when clients like him there are other projects around the house that he gets used for.

I spent all of last year building cabinets on site, rebuilding, refinishing, and general odds and ends for a commercial business - just this month I picked up 5 weeks of work for a guy who's bid was chosen to expand a bar in that same building (I had actually done some column bases and raised pannels for the old bar so already had the 10 or so router bits used for that project.)

Keep networking with other woodworkers/small cabinet makers/finish carpenter/etc. who stay busy - we often throw each other a bone once in a while - I worked for a month filling in for another guy building custom wood windows for a window/door company when he sprained his back and needed to get the job done asap - I almost was able to get any price per hour I wanted, but kept it reasonable to stay in the loop with this new potential client.

If you aren't production oriented (nothing wrong with that) then many building projects will be a challenge to get an hourly rate - I see those guys all the time and they do better by bidding jobs - contractors like that better as well, as long as you get the job done on time.

If you're good at finishing, many small cabinet shops will farm that out if they don't have guys with the temperment, or if they don't have the space to both build and finish at the same time - along with touchups after the cabs are intalled.

Museums can be sources of small jobs if you are good at historic refinishing/touchups - you won't get rich, but it's a feather in your cap when talking with others - more furniture repair/refinishing will come your way.

It's putting yourself in the right place at the right time.   Had you been at our house party a week ago one of our guests needed a small 3' x 3'  closet built into a pantry - I suggested 6 pantry pullouts with 3' full extension slides - something they can't buy off the shelf, but works great - about a week project to build and install - but I had to put the job off because I'm too busy for the next month or two.


Beer was created so carpenters wouldn't rule the world.

IdahoDon's picture

Here's another example of how (post #169630, reply #12 of 20)

Here's another example of how I can work next to guys installing craftmade cabinets from Home Depot and make money - client asks if I can build a baking center (I hadn't even heard of what a baking center is!) that ties in with the while crappy craftmade cabinets - the retired wife enjoys baking and wanted all her baking things in one place - build a great cabinet at the end of a counter, with a lower granit countertop ideal for kneeding dough - suggested raised pannels above the existing cabinets to make them look more finished - they loved it, so not only did I have a week building/installing my cabinet, but another week adding a raised pannel soffit and painting to match the crappy-made cabinets.   Then they needed a few aluminum window frames painted to match the new fiberglass windows in most of the remodeled section of the house - another day's work.   Then install a wall of cabinets in the garage.....then refinish a wood threashold and a small set of wood stairs.  The neighbors liked my work and I spent two weeks on woodworking projects there, then a painter working on another neighbors house hired me to sand a mahogany deck and replace a few boards when he got behind on his projects - I was in the right place at the right time.


Beer was created so carpenters wouldn't rule the world.

wericha's picture

Good business model (post #169630, reply #14 of 20)


Well put.  What you describe has worked quite well for me for a long time now.  The key is flexibility within your skill set.  A lot of us would love to work in the shop, turning out custom furniture, and making $400K in the process.  Truth is, unless you are completely financially independent you will have to fill in the gaps with other work.

Here's the good news, it can be done.  And lately, I've seen an increase in business that is very encouraging.  New home construction is up in my area, but the contractors are hesitant to increase their staff.  This means they are either pushing out project expansions, or flat turning them down.  I have several home builders I've worked with over the years that are calling for those customer changes their cabinet companies either won't do or are taking too long to schedule.  It's nice to have a backlog again!

mrkitchens's picture

Seeking investors / partners for modular furniture manufacturing (post #169630, reply #13 of 20)

 We would like to introduce ourselves as wholesale trader of metal scraps and manufacturer / supplier of modular kitchens and wardrobes in Coimbatore, India. We are specialized in modular kitchen designing, kitchen renovation and kitchen installation and installation of supporting systems. We have a marketing office in coimbatore and We are planning to set up a state-of-the-art wood working factory and chain of retail show rooms in Coimbatore to get more business.  Currently, we have taken a factory in coimbatore on order basis and manufacturing the wooden panels. We are looking for business partners / investors who can invest / finance USD150,000 for our project. Please feel free to contact us for the business plan, if you are interested. Thank you.

Rajeshkumar D.
Managing Director.
GF 116, Subbu Complex,
396, Thadagam Road, R.S.Puram,
Coimbatore-641002. Tamilnadu. India.

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sabulba's picture

hi.. (post #169630, reply #15 of 20)

Starting woodwork is good choice but the woodwork should be target to specific kind of work so that it gets the popularity in its starting time.




amie13slow's picture

MAC COSMETIC EYE SKY Dionehom (post #169630, reply #16 of 20)

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obscure7's picture

don't give up, keep going (post #169630, reply #17 of 20)

don't give up, keep going man! Starting a Woodworking Business

anna.langa's picture

HPL furniture (post #169630, reply #18 of 20)

I recommendate company from Poland

This is suprisingly cheap and high quality products that dcd habiata is offering.


Petersmith45's picture

Last year ,i established the (post #169630, reply #19 of 20)

Last year ,i established the awesome bussines of woodworking by taking Loan Against Jewellery from authorised bank and now my business is on cloud nine.

deanohboy's picture

Tools you might be interested in buying (post #169630, reply #20 of 20)

My uncle has passed and left me his wherehouse with 5 old and big and quality machines. If you are interested in perhaps buying them call me. 323-536-9672 Dean