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How to change career to woodworking

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cookiemonster

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I bet I’m not alone among serious amateur woodworkers in wondering whether I could make it professionally.

My current desk-based career is fairly well-paid but otherwise unrewarding. It just doesn’t make me spring out of bed in the morning. I’m confident I would be much happier making stuff from wood, regardless of any drop in income.

Not being a brave soul, this has long been an idle fantasy. But this year the combined impact of Covid and a shift in personal circumstances (think of the Dolly Parton song) makes me believe the time is right for a bold career change toward something more fulfilling.

However, I have little idea about how I should go about go about it. I have no relevant formal training, qualifications or experience, few contacts in the game, and I don’t want to move from home (in Gloucestershire) because my children are here.

On the other hand, I have some money I could invest (or live on while training), absolutely no aversion to hard work, humility, a willingness to learn quickly, long-term commitment, and a fair amount of skill (but not enough to go solo straight away).

My preferred part of the trade would be in custom furniture making, but I realise beggars can’t be choosers (at least not to begin with).

As I see it, my options include:
  • going down the traditional apprenticeship route (but would someone take on a middle-aged apprentice?)
  • going into some kind of partnership with an established maker (investment in return for training?)
  • volunteering for a charity (perhaps in the heritage sector?) to gain experience
  • paying for a commercial training course, then going solo.

Are there other options I’m not thinking of?

And is there anyone out there who has ever made a career-change to woodworking? I would love to hear about it, good or bad.

Thanks in advance for any thoughts and advice.
 

Trigs

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How about making a few things to sell and see if you can bring in any commissions, ??? that's what I did. But I do have to do some house bashing to do the gaps
 

thetyreman

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I think it's possible, I would have a think about what you could make that's different to anyone else, that's what's going to set you apart, too many people copy others.
 

AJB Temple

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Good for you to look forward.

Now have a hard look:
Are you good at building contacts and selling both yourself and your product? No sales = vanity business.
Are you skilled enough. Be realistic here. Are you in fact skilled and need some refinement, or are you some way from that level?
Can you afford to live for say 2 years on minimal income?
Do you have any kind of portfolio to act as a calling card?

I wish you much success.
Adrian
 

Trevanion

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This question gets asked here more often than you think!

Now, this is going to come across as a bit of a put-down but please don't take it that way. I think out of all of the various branches of woodworking (Joinery, Cabinet Making, Carpentry, Boat Building, ETC...) I would say Fine Furniture is probably the hardest one to make any money doing professionally. I'm not saying it can't be done (There are plenty that has done it very successfully) but it's such a slim market compared to all the others and it's a market very much dominated by singular person workshops rather than a company with several staff members, but they are out there.

I would say try and put your foot through as many doors as possible locally, explain your situation and it never hurts to ask as it's either yes, no, or maybe (Which is also no). Bring it up in every conversation you have with everyone you come across that you're thinking about changing your job to woodworking and you may be surprised what may come of it. It won't be easy, it never is, but at the moment there is a boom in the trades and if there ever was a time for someone to be looking for a hand it would be now.
 

Blackswanwood

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I did a short course a few years ago at the late David Savage’s workshop (Rowden) and was in awe at the people there who had decided to do what you describe. You seem to have a realistic view that it’s not easy but I don’t see why having some life experience puts you at a disadvantage.

If I were in your position I would include in my research calling several of the workshops/schools that run courses. the more people you ask (as you are doing) the more information you have to help make the right decision.

Whether you can make it work or not just sitting there in an unfulfilling job isn’t the thing to do. I wish you every success in pursuing your dream.
 

LBCarpentry

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Having the evenings to partake in a hobby of making decorative jewellery boxes is very different to running a joinery & cabinetry business.

If I was you I would consider doing a number of paid courses where like minded Middle Aged people will be. Don’t do an apprenticeship.

I’ve had a number of people spend Time in my shop in the past and they all say the same thing. “Doing this really makes me wonder what I’m doing with my work life”
 

John Brown

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I wish you good luck, and hello. I'm semi-retired, but a stone's throw away in Stinchcombe, where I am currently making a pig's ear of a shed build.

John
 

Terry - Somerset

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I don't know what your job is or your work background.

But in many professions there is a regular demand for people on short and medium term contracts to cover staff illnesses, maternity leave, recruitment gaps, new projects etc etc.

In my profession (business and finance) I know a number of people who spent a large part of their careers on short term contracts - typically a few weeks to six months.

This can also apply in HR, legal, enginering, project management etc. Income obviously down to role and experience.

This could allow you to break from the existing 9-5 without sacrificing all your income. Over time the balance between contracting and woodwork can evolve.

Sadly now may not be the time to do it with potentially rising unemployment - but you could plan and make the right contacts.
 

LBCarpentry

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At my first joinery workplace, one of our regular customers was so impressed with our work he quit his job at Toyota and begged to come and work for us. Begged for months we thought it was a joke! Eventually my boss took him on (because I left) Now he works for himself. Seems very happy. I still don’t see him as a joiner though. He’s just “that mental man”
 

StevieB

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Define 'custom furniture making'. Is that fitting kitchens, bedrooms and bookcases? Designing and fitting any of these, or making one off bespoke pieces to client specifications? Then define which end of the market you are going for - general public who need a better than Ikea but not extortionate item, or high end which demand top specs and pay prices to match. Do you have the ability to store, dry and prep your own timber, can you access a reliable wood yard, and veneer supplier? Do you have the space to build large pieces away from the home, and the transport to move them? Finally do you have business experience to be able to price a job accurately, including time, wear and tear, materials, profit margin, marketing, sick pay (or lack of) and all the rest? Not saying don't go for it, but job security, especially at the current time, is highly valued, so go into it with your eyes open.

Go to somewhere like 'oak furniture land' or similar - look at the furniture and work out what you could make it for, what you would then sell it for and compare that to the ticket price. If you are significantly higher (which you likely will be compared to a high volume low wage retailer) then think about how you will sell that additional cost to any client. Why should they buy a TV cabinet, or a wardrobe, or a chest of drawers from you compared to A. N Other retailer? What is your USP?

See if you can take a sabbatical from work, or unpaid leave, and do a 12 week course at a fine furniture maker to see if you have the skills to make a go of it. Or try making a piece of furniture in the evenings and weekend, see how long it takes you and then price that up in terms of time and materials. To be in job X today, and becoming a furniture maker on Monday is a massive leap, but if you can do one or two pieces on the side, test the market and see what works/sells, then you have a bit better preparation perhaps?
 

gregmcateer

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All the above is good advice. (He says, not having taken the leap) make sure you and your partner have discussed it fully - it can put big strain on a relationship, even if seemed like a great idea at the start for both of you.
And if that's where's your heart is, then I would encourage you all the way. Best of luck with it
 

Droogs

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If you are serious then first take a look properly at the skill level you have and is it good enough to achieve the quality of work you want to put out in a timely manner. If not then look at going to school for a bit either short courses in blocks to build up or long term courses like a year at an atellier such as Peter's or even Rowden as it is still going or even up here at the Chippendale school. You state you have money saved up - a year at the Chippendle will cost you £20K at least all in. you will come out of it at a level you would not believe but are you prepared to do something like that to get to the level you want.

I have genuinely lived on an a take home income of £8k a year for 5 of the last 7 years. Every other penny has been put into buying the right kit for what I do and for building a supply of materiel. I probably am at the point where (baring Covid disruption) would have said that I would have expected to earn over 10K this year but health got in the way.

It is a hard thing to do, I am hopefully once declared fit to work again looking at being a woody part time. Well part time after full time hours of taxiing and then putting in another 30 hours or so a week into the wood side of things. Hopefully being able to eventually just doing wood stuff in around 18 months to 2 years time. I dont have much to spend but having made the change when I did meant that I could honestly ask "Did you earn your pay today and are you happy with what and how you did it?"

I wish you all the best and every success in the endeaver. the first step is always the hardest 🎲☸
 

MikeG.

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Where did Custard train? That'd be the first place I'd try to get into. (edit....I've remembered.......The Barnsley Workshop)

I wish you well, Cookiemonster. I hope this turns out well for you. I'm heading down a comparable path, as I've a wood-based business in mind for my retirement. My only words of wisdom for you are that if you set up your own business, it's selling that makes or breaks it. It's no use having a showroom/ shed full of gorgeous furniture, for instance. It's about how long long your order book is. Making the stuff is comparatively easy.
 
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Fitzroy

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I’ve thought about this a few times, especially lately as my company reorgs and redundancy is on the horizon.

I find it attractive as I enjoy being in the workshop, I enjoy the creative process, my skills are at a level that stuff I make is well received by others, and I get a sense of reward having made something permanent for my family or friend.

These things make it an attractive proposition but smy chief concerns are:
- I can’t make the numbers work. Looking at how long it takes me to make something I’d have to sell it at an extraordinary price to even be on the minimum hourly wage. I’m sure I’d speed up with time but I doubt I’d reduce by 80%.
- The fun is in the creation. Selling from a catalog of past items and making them again, would it steal he fun?
- Space would be an issue. To make the numbers work you need to eliminate non productive time. Whilst a finish is drying you need to crack on with something else. This means you need multiple simultaneous projects. My 6x3m space is too small for more than one reasonable sized project to be on the go.

Best of luck.
Fitz
 

clogs

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Terry of Somerset has a good point.....
I worked for agencies for years (Prototype Mechanical Engineer)......
for me work was always around but u can get to fit in other things like buying and selling houses....or making ur thing.....
might not be quite what u want but turning a house around with nice touches served me well....
this way u get to keep the money ur used too and have a bit more time.......
I would say now is a great time for agency work.....they are dumping employee's right now......so they take a temp in just to fill in the busy times......because thats tax deductable.....!!!!!
apart from all of the above there's tooling and machines plus where are u gonna do all this work.....
biggest killer to new jobs is renting a place....and all the bills.....
So for me, take agency work if u can, or ask for a 4 day week......start to work from home......u may have to fix a few gate etc to help out....try and creep into it.....
Unless ur very lucky getting into lets say high end furniture will be dif......
Lastley it may happen in the UK, I just dont know.......
BUT
in the U.S. there are places where furniture makers and up market arty stuff is sold on commission.....
There was one such place in Newport Beach, Calif.....furniture was always moving out the shop...
they would also take commisions on specials......
BUT that is America......
just an idea......
 

Handyoneill

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I bet I’m not alone among serious amateur woodworkers in wondering whether I could make it professionally.

My current desk-based career is fairly well-paid but otherwise unrewarding. It just doesn’t make me spring out of bed in the morning. I’m confident I would be much happier making stuff from wood, regardless of any drop in income.

Not being a brave soul, this has long been an idle fantasy. But this year the combined impact of Covid and a shift in personal circumstances (think of the Dolly Parton song) makes me believe the time is right for a bold career change toward something more fulfilling.

However, I have little idea about how I should go about go about it. I have no relevant formal training, qualifications or experience, few contacts in the game, and I don’t want to move from home (in Gloucestershire) because my children are here.

On the other hand, I have some money I could invest (or live on while training), absolutely no aversion to hard work, humility, a willingness to learn quickly, long-term commitment, and a fair amount of skill (but not enough to go solo straight away).

My preferred part of the trade would be in custom furniture making, but I realise beggars can’t be choosers (at least not to begin with).

As I see it, my options include:
  • going down the traditional apprenticeship route (but would someone take on a middle-aged apprentice?)
  • going into some kind of partnership with an established maker (investment in return for training?)
  • volunteering for a charity (perhaps in the heritage sector?) to gain experience
  • paying for a commercial training course, then going solo.

Are there other options I’m not thinking of?

And is there anyone out there who has ever made a career-change to woodworking? I would love to hear about it, good or bad.

Thanks in advance for any thoughts and advice.
Handyman multi trader is what I did. Gradually over time doing more woodwork as can pick jobs. But make sure you charge enough from day one. Look at my builder as a source of work.
 

Handyoneill

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I don't rent a workshop so I am limited in what I can do, but keeps expenses down and allows the numbers to work. I also operate from a car rather than a van. Easier to park cheaper insurance and put it in a rented garage every night so don't have to worry about tools being stolen. Over past two years have bought a lot of the nice tools allow jobs to be done..
 

AndyT

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