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How to change career to woodworking

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marcros

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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.
Suggestions for starting again. is worth reading, particularly post 3.
 

Cabinetman

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Well I came into some money and had a pension to cover my home costs so I did it! And what they’ve all been saying is absolutely right it is extremely difficult to make any money making bespoke furniture, and you should be prepared to work for less than minimum wage – sorry I know that’s depressing when in reality your skills mean it should be the exact opposite. I didn’t do much general carpentry such as fitting out an under stairs cupboard or airing cupboard or something like that in peoples homes, but it did pay at a much better rate. It may be that you could do what somebody else suggested by going to the home handyman side of it whilst building up a portfolio at weekends to exhibit at craft fairs, I only did one of those but people remembered it for a long time. But you must have a couple of eye-catching pieces to make them stop and talk.
The other problem is that people really don’t want the sort of pieces I want to make, they want traditional square solid looking stuff, whereas I enjoy laminated work with contrasting timbers, something interesting to get your teeth into. I swore to never make another freestanding wardrobe ever again!
One line of work where people will spend a little bit more but it’s not easy to get contacts is beds.
I was also lucky to have a large workshop that I was only paying a basic ground rent on, renting is very expensive and you will be chasing your tail just keep your head above water.
I really don’t want to be negative, but doing it at the same time as going through a divorce (I hope I haven’t misunderstood) is probably more stress than you need, and giving up a well-paid job at this time is questionable. Perhaps spend a year working evenings and weekends non-stop to build up your portfolio do a couple of shows and then make a decision.
I wish you the very best of luck. Feel free to contact me if you need to ask anything. Ian
 
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billw

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The other problem is that people really don’t want the sort of pieces I want to make, they want traditional square solid looking stuff, whereas I enjoy laminated work with contrasting timbers, something interesting to get your teeth into. I swore to never make another freestanding wardrobe ever again!
I think this was the deciding factor when I wondered if I could ever make the career switch. I want to make stuff I like, not stuff clients like, and I am not sure enough people will share my taste. I'm still very tempted by a year at Rowden after I finish my degree though.

I worked on contract for most of my career, although the downside of this particular approach is that when contracts came up I generally took them for security, which really left me with very little time to do anything in between them. If you have a skill/qualification that very high in demand then it might be a different story because you're more willing to take the risk.
 

bjm

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I went down this route over a decade ago now and others have pointed out the pitfalls and considerations to bear in mind. One thing I would stress though, as Mike alluded to; first and foremost you will become a salesman. It's the aspect of business I feel most uncomfortable with but it's a reality.

My advice would be to focus more on the business aspect of your impending career change and whether you are willing to endure that aspect of it (you can't ignore it). There are times I do very little woodwork in a busy week.
 

PAC1

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It is a lovely dream and one I share but do your research very carefully. There are very few making a living making fine furniture in the UK. Most good makers diversify into other things such as teaching or contract work. Others have money so do it because they want to such as Cabinetman above. Others make a living but that is all they are dependant on the next job coming in. Another reality in the UK is clients that are willing to pay for good quality hand made furniture are few and far between. Take that rocking chair in my picture. In the USA they sell for between $4000 and $50,000 depending on who is making them. In the UK there is no market. I get asked to make them occasionally and discuss the wood, size etc and then turn to price. The most common reaction is "but I could furnish my entire house for that price in IKEA or any other furniture shed". I have even tried prefacing the conversation with "there is 120 hours work in that chair". The price most are willing to pay would not even cover the cost of the wood. It matters not to me as I have a profitable business that I enjoy and I am not going to make things at a loss, but if you need the job to feed the kids it is different. I might not be a good salesman or just have not found the right people. If you want to do it, you need to find a source of well heeled clients willing to pay for skill up front as well as gaining the skills to make good quality products. Having a business model that is viable is essential.
 

Cabinetman

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Pac1, absolutely right. I thought I would try to get to the people with money by developing and selling a range of equestrian equipment (saddle racks and things) everybody agreed they were superb and perfectly shaped to prevent damage to the saddles, yes they had the money but unlike the nouveau riche they knew how to hold onto it as well!
If I had persevered with that side of it it may have worked, but the charges for exhibiting at a big equestrian event were prohibitive, I was also getting bored making the same thing over and over.
 

Eshmiel

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I went down this route over a decade ago now and others have pointed out the pitfalls and considerations to bear in mind. One thing I would stress though, as Mike alluded to; first and foremost you will become a salesman. It's the aspect of business I feel most uncomfortable with but it's a reality.

My advice would be to focus more on the business aspect of your impending career change and whether you are willing to endure that aspect of it (you can't ignore it). There are times I do very little woodwork in a busy week.
Just so - I know many who turned what was once their pleasurable hobby into a daily grind as bad or worse than any cog-place in a bureaucratic organisation of some sort. Many ended up doing their former hobby work 10% of the time whilst spending the other 90% being a salesman, a VAT & tax clerk, a supplies organiser-chaser and many other onerous roles - often for 13 hours a day instead of the 8 of their old cog-place. Even the 10% former hobby work can become onerous if you're forced to produce what the market, not you, wants to produce.

Many inevitably went bust, losing a house in the worse case. The risks are large. The vision is often a chimera nothing like the reality. The work can be exhausting and all-consuming but without a feeling of reward.

On the other hand, if various factors coalesce you might be lucky and become a great success at it. These are the models you have perhaps seen and wish to emulate. But think of the many, many others you don't see who went to the wall. The latter receive little publicity and, obviously, aren't in the market place for public display.

Do you feel lucky? Despite the Victorian propaganda one sees about "hard work bringing its own rewards" it's luck that'll make or break any such enterprise. All those who fail probably work as hard or harder than the successes.

Personally I swapped 35 years of interesting but often frustrating work in a large bureaucracy for a decent pension. During both work and retirement I spent much more time enjoying numerous hobbies and becoming competent at things I enjoyed - outside of any market or other spoiling environment.

Eshmiel
 

Alpha-Dave

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Question: How do you make a small fortune making fine furniture?
Answer: Start with a large one.


:)

I have heard that joke applied to many trades/crafts people, I suspect there is some truth in it.

I wish anyone luck who want to be paid by someone else for doing something they love, but I think that is rarely a simple thing. Being paid for doing something that no one wants to do is easier, but can still be tricky to get a living wage.
 
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Doug71

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The grass is always greener......

I have been a self employed joiner for years and it is hard work, the making things part is the easy bit, it's the rest of the stuff that goes with running a business that spoils it.

I have a workshop full of machinery and get to make some nice stuff but would make a lot more money just working out of the back of a van house bashing.

The main reason I stay self employed is I have two young boys so the flexibility of it works well.
 

topchippyles

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The grass is always greener......

I have been a self employed joiner for years and it is hard work, the making things part is the easy bit, it's the rest of the stuff that goes with running a business that spoils it.

I have a workshop full of machinery and get to make some nice stuff but would make a lot more money just working out of the back of a van house bashing.

The main reason I stay self employed is I have two young boys so the flexibility of it works well.
Good and very true,I mill a lot of trees which is hard work but well worth it for the extra income and the amount of lumber/timber i can cut in a day is so rewarding.Got 2 big oaks to do next weekend and all free as the guy wants a couple of oak slabs in the deal.
 

sammy.se

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In London, fitted furniture has healthy demand, i.e. alcove cupboards, book cases etc.
Not sure about where you are, but you may need to find a 'cash cow' like alcove cupboards to pay the bills, to supplement any finer furniture you make.

Maybe call some local fitted furniture makers, and gauge their availability. If they can't do work for you for another six months, I'd say demand was healthy!
 

sammy.se

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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.
Peter Millard did, from Photographer to cabinet maker.
It's more the fitted cabinets type of work, rather than fine furniture with dovetails and inlays, but I'm sure the career change aspect will give you good insights.
 

Oddbod70

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I’m with AJB here. Great skills on their own wont cut it, you need to figure out how to sell yourself too, and most importantly for a price that allows you to live as you wish. More than one person has found themselves working for hourly rates that work out well under the minimum wage.

A bit of advice i heard once is to stand in front of a mirror and practice saying ”that‘ll be 5,000 pounds” and “of course I can reduce the cost, which leg would you like me to leave off your table” until you can do so with a straight face. If you want to do top end custom its the only way.

Alternatives are production line stuff for craft fayres— ply decorated storage boxes, breadboards, xmas decorations etc. Not particularly satisfying or challenging, but you learn a lot about customers and should at least have some fun and get some beer money.

the very best of luck if you go for it.
 

AJB Temple

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Part of the key to selling (from which in reality I earned my living for almost all of my professional career) is to start from the premise that you are providing a desirable, premium product or service. Big up your brand name. Create the illusion that you are in demand and do not need to discount. This aspect of doing business is why some professional people make a lot of money. Not everyone (in fact hardly anyone) can pull it off.

Most people also sell themselves short. They will admit inexperience etc. They talk too much. Marketing and selling yourself is at least as important as your work. Of course, if the work is rubbish, then the business is, to quote Private Frazer, "doomed".

Sell well, make well. Differentiate yourself. Believe in succeeding.

AJ
 

johnnyb

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right first off I have "done it" about 7 or 8 years ago. not fine furniture. all other woodworking is fair game though. we(there are 2 of us) have made kitchens built ins many doors windows frames refurb work fitted kitchens gates etc etc. current work is a set of large wardrobes from birch ply and a set of 4 panel doors to fit in an existing wardrobe built in the 80s with sticking sliding doors. in quebec yellow pine. painted white. not what you were dreaming I'll guess. I've no idea what the fine furniture market is like near you but most even well paid people living near us would never commision a bit of stand alone furniture. I have had contact with many wealthy clients (thousands) in a previous job and only 2 had furniture of any standard. one collected linley small items and one had some mouseman which I restored after a fire.
last weeks jobs were 2 newel tops and a section of a 5 inch porch post replacing.
over £600 worth.
one thing that encouraged me to start was I had several mates who worked for themselves as willow weavers and coppice workers etc. I once asked another friend how they can make a living doing that. he said they set there stall out as coppice worker and dont blink until they have become what they want. I can say as a woodworker you could easily exceed there (tiny)income.
that's all I've got.
regarding skills I doubt you have enough at the minute(or speed) but potential skill level is something else. I'd suggest the technical best furniture definitely doesnt come from one man bands. it comes from a coming together of several skilled craftsmen.(having different specialities)
good luck btw
 

johnnyb

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one other aspect I forgot. you need to be really fit. if you have worked at a desk for years you probably need to up your fitness levels significantly.
 

Trainee neophyte

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As a (pretend) farmer, I can tell you that any fool can grow food - just put in a seed, add water and wait. The complicated part is to make a profit you can live from, and that is much harder.

I have a relative who is a comercial pilot: his advice is never do what you love as a job, because you stop loving it - it's suddenly just your job.

Have you ever done woodwork for a paying client? I have, and I hated every minute of it, even though I refused to take any money for it. The level of quality, responsibility, guarantee of work, expectations etc...not for me. That might just be because I am definitely not good enough.

Your job is to ignore all the naysayers, prove you have fire in your belly, and get out and do it despite everyone saying no. Good luck, and God speed.
 

Terry - Somerset

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I took to woodworking as a hobby when I retired. I was no stranger to DIY - kitchens, bathrooms, basic electrical and plumbing etc.

Occasionally I have considered whether to make my hobby into a business - there is no compelling financial need but it could be fun.

However a little thought persuaded me that running a business is not a hobby. Hobby is where it doesn't matter how long it takes providing I am happy with the process and the recipient is happy with the outcome.

To run any business you need to be efficient. The admin needs to be right, you worry about material costs, you may have staff obligations, customers can be great or a blxxdy nuisance etc etc.

For me it was a non-starter. For you it may be right - but carefully reflect upon whether a business and all that entails will give the same satisfaction as the hobby you enjoy.
 

doctor Bob

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Give it a go, I used to work in aviation, unfortunately due to some terrible personal choices (drugs and alcohol) messed up my life beyond imagination.
Luckily found the right path after many years, started on a shop floor on the bottom rung as a runner /cleaner, moved up over 5 years and then started my cabinet making business. Now employ half a dozen people and live a nice life and consider myself exceptionally lucky.
I do think working in a commercial workshop is invaluable for experience and confidence, speed is a very major factor in making things viable, for example non of my guys would ever do a dry fit, confidence is evrything.
 
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