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pooka

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Hi all,
I am currently considering trying to switch from an existing career, to a career in woodworking, and I would be very grateful for any advice or suggestions that people could offer based on their own experiences. From my reading of this forum, I get the impression that some people may have made such a career change themselves. I would be interested to know whether fulltime woodworkers found it difficult to get started. The market that I am aiming at is the Irish one (directly relevant to a minority of posters here, I think) which might be quite different from the UK market, but I am presuming that many of the hurdles will be the same.

Some of the more specific things I am wondering about are:
- Did you first get any kind of qualification, and if so did it help?
- Did you start your own business or start as an employee of an existing business?
- Is age a factor (I am in my mid-30's - do employers in the woodworking industry have a reluctance to employ the less-spotty non-teenager)?

More generally, and purely out of curiosity, I would be interested to hear whether people have been happy with their choice of a woodworking profession (e.g. have you found that having a woodworking day job has ruined an enjoyable hobby for you).

In an ideal world, I would like to set up my own small workshop, so I wouldn't be aiming for the mass market. I believe this probably puts me well and truly in the Arts & Crafts area. I currently have no woodworking qualifications whatsoever, and limited skills, but I may do (if I earn a place) a 2-year furniture design and manufacturing course starting in September. The college providing the course say that employment prospects are good, but I'd be curious to hear from people that have direct experience in the big bad world of having to earn a living day to day.

Any advice/suggestions/warnings are very welcome.

Thanks.
 

Gill

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Now that MG Rover has finally succumbed and thrown my other half out of work, I've got to say that this idea appeals to me as well. Unfortunately, it's just not practical for the sort of stuff I make. However, I do think there's scope for me to look at it from a semi-pro aspect if I avoid the mass market. The problem with selling to the masses is that you need a massive output with low costs and profit margins if you're to make a living.

Gill
 

houtslager

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Don't do it

1. you will have too work 100 hrs per week :-({|=
2. you'll always be broke 8-[
3. clients never PAY the just amount - always asking to "pay cash" :-s
4. your better 1/2 will want more things made /repaired in house 8-[

DAMHIKT !
 

SketchUp Guru

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I won't offer you any opinions about whether you should do it or not but I will tell you what I was told by a guy who had his own woodworking business. I was summer help for hiim one summer while at university.

He told me that if I wanted to go into business for myself I should plan to have a minimum of 3 years worth of living expenses in the bank. His thought was that you need to be able to go three years without an income while building the business.

I like woodworking too much as a hobby to try doing it for a living.
 

pooka

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Thanks for the responses. They point to concerns that I have been mulling over in my head for a while (whether I'll have an eye for what the market actually demands, having to work all the hours just to scrape a living, trying to pry payments out of customers, etc.). They have been hypothetical concerns to date though, so it is very useful to hear from people who really have to contend with them. If I were considering this career 15 years ago, when a mortgage was a distant prospect, I'd be willing to overlook those concerns, but in my current situation that is much more risky so I need to carefully consider all angle (hence my posting on the topic here).

Thanks for the suggestion regarding having a reserve of cash Dave R. It sounds like good advice. One of my dilemmas at the moment, is that what savings I have would go on the college course that I am considering (it is full-time, and on the wrong side of the country, leaving little room for any part-time work to supplement my savings), so I'd have to sink or swim pretty quickly after qualifying. An alternative is to continue with woodworking as a hobby, and take my spare time in the same 2-year period to hone my skills to the point where I could produce work that people would be willing to buy - that is a safer prospect financially, but I'd miss out on the opportunity to build up contacts in the woodworking network by not doing the course. Sheesh, 'tis a bit like the tablesaw versus bandsaw debate!!

I think what I need is a rich uncle looking to fund a worthwhile cause (that'd be me!), but with no discerning eye for quality furniture ("Yes uncle, the chair leg is meant to protrude at that angle. Only three legs are really needed for support anyway")... ;)
 

tim

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DaveR":2zbtlotz said:
He told me that if I wanted to go into business for myself I should plan to have a minimum of 3 years worth of living expenses in the bank. His thought was that you need to be able to go three years without an income while building the business.
I reckon thats about right - when you get to year 2 and a bit, like me, it can get pretty hairy at times. I've definitely had to do work in other areas to keep afloat at times. Still there isn't a book out there titled: 'Set up your own business, quickly and easily with no loss of sleep'.

Scary? yes sometimes terrifying;
Enough hours in the day? no, never;
Always fun? - no, its work!
Worthwhile? - I think so;
Do I have the answer to be sure how to succeed? - not yet!!

I don't have a qualification and I haven't found a course that is suitable ie doesn't spend too much time on the business side of things (which is already familiar to me). I'd love to find a year long course that only focusses on design and making - so if anyone knows of one.....

My one piece of advice re the course would be to talk to potential employers you might approach to see whether they value the course you are considering. The college may not be lying about prospects but its also in their interest to get you on the course.

Hope this helps

Cheers

Tim
 

Noel

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Pooka, with the way the building game is in Dub at the moment what about working as a Joiner/Chippy to begin with (maybe part time, or casually) and going on from there?

Rgds

Noel
 

wizer

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ok i can't really give you any answers, mainly because I am not in the wood working proffesion.

However I can relate to your wishes. My dream goes like this....

In about 5-10 years id like to be skilled enough in my 3-4 favourite hobbies (Photography, Cooking, Woodworking, veg Growing) to be able to give up the day job and earn enough from those hobbies to earn my equal keep in the household. The method to my thinking is no one of those things will bring in enough funds to keep them still in the Hobby arena. Spreading my time over the 4 things should keep up my interest in each of them.

I would probably advise you to err on the side of caution with this. If you can build up a business slowly over 2yrs and invest every penny earned back into the 'business' then you will be in a better position to predict how things will progress.
 

Steve James

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Pooka

Hi
My advice a a full time time served Joiner would be , don't bank on making a living from your workshop.
It is absolutely cut throat out there in the real world.
Now I don't want to "wee" on anyones bonfire, but being realistic I think that most of the people that change profession and come into Carpentry/joinery view this business with rose coloured glasses.
I'm sorry to be brutally honest, but you ( not you as an individual) will find it hard to compete!
Let's be honest, how could I go into the, for example IT business and expect to compete against people with over 20 yrs experience.
Be realistic in your expectations, try and get a job in an existing joinery workshop (possibly at a reduced wage), at least to get you up to speed.
You would be surprised how fast people can work when they do this type of thing day in day out.
I'm not trying to be negative, just realistic.

Cheers
Steve
 

Shady

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All good advice: I've looked long and hard at this, and came to the conclusion that, for me, there was no way woodworking could provide the income I needed and remain enjoyable. However, there are some other intangibles, like - rather than the woodworking, is simply being in control of your own destiny more important for you? It was for me, but I chose a different route to achieve that.

Also, think very hard about spending money of any quantity on a course: ask why you want to do it... If you want to work for yourself, why is the course necessary? What does it offer that just spending the same (or less) on wood, tools and videos/books, and getting stuck in, would achieve? If you want to work for an established maker, why not approach them and see what they'd pay you while you learn on the job?? I had a friend, some years ago, who left our mutual employment and got a job as a lumberyard foreman, with the intent of setting himself up as a cabinet maker. He spent a year being paid to learn all the tricks of the trade with respect to sourcing his raw materials, while working on his woodworking skills in his own time. He now fits bespoke furniture for people such as the Getty family.... Big bucks, with no formal route, but a realistic appraisal of how to get there - and lots of self belief.

Like any 'self-start', your attitude and flexibility is probably more important than anything else: without wanting to sound like some tree-hugging dolphin fondler, if you're gonna wake up happy in the morning, looking forward to your day, then I'd say go for it!!
 

ColG

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If you enjoy woodworking as a hobby, stick to it as a hobby. I enjoyed working with my hands and being creative so went into fitting kitchens, bedrooms and bathrooms. I have jobs in my own home that desparately need doing but I just don't have the inclination when I've created a new room for somebody else.

I fully endorse what Hautslager says.
 

johnelliott

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The topic is woodworking, but what sort? Are you thinking about making furniture? If you are, then stick to woodworking as a hobby.
I had dreams of making furniture when I first started. Fortunately I learned my lesson fairly quickly, and didn't lose too much money in the process. If I'd done a course then I could have added the cost of that to the money I would have lost.
The thing is, people (by and large, there are always exceptions) don't buy furniture by approaching craftsmen and ordering something. They go to a furniture shop. It might be DFS, or it might be Harrods.
Even if they did buy furniture from craftsmen, their price expectations would be set by shop prices. Shops that are selling furniture made where wages and living costs are FAR lower than ours. How long would it take a skilled maker to make a table and six chairs? Couple of months? How much could they charge for that? £2000? Maybe they could get more, maybe £5000. Even if they did, they would still have the problem that when that commission was completed they would ned to find another customer.
Most furniture makers in this country in order to survive, end up teaching.

If you want to make a living working wood then you need to be thinking about joinery in an existing workshop (as an employee) or built-in furniture, such as kitchens and bedrooms. Maybe constructing home offices under the stairs, that sort of thing. Main problem then will be getting the work. If you can get the work you might make a decent living, once you get set up, organized, have acquired the right tools, skills, contacts etc.
Three years before you actually make any money sounds about right, though if you can work out of a van and don't need to rent a workshop you might do better than that

Beware of colleges that tell you that you have a good chance of making a living once you have completed their course. What else would they say?

John
 
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Hi Pooka

I have the same dream as you. I'm 41 and gave up my office job 2 years ago. I got a job as a handyman and went to college, passed my city & guilds and have been a self employed carpenter/joiner for just over a year. I have a big mortgage, two young children and a wife that's wonderful but worries about money a great deal. So you get the picture. It was and still is a huge gamble to take. Since starting I have made a reasonable living and certainly haven't had to panic but I had to learn some big lessons very quickly. They are:

1. Speed. Most woodworkers can make a window or hang a door to a high standard but you can't charge the same daily rate as the competition and take twice as long. Repetition builds speed and subsequently guides how much you charge.

2. Confidence. If you're going to take on a job appear confident and sure of what is required in front of your customer. If you make the greatest window ever they will never notice unless you sound good.

3. Finishing. Brilliant joinery means nothing to most people. The time you spent planning, marking, cutting to precision etc will earn you a smile at best but finishing well pays the mortgage. I made the mistake of listening to some customers that said ' that'll do' and will never make that mistake again.

4. Good tools. In the beginning you have to make do with tools that you know aren't the best. That said the best plane with a blunt blade is still useless. Learing to hone blades to a high standard has been a blessing for me.

5. Your word. Tradesmen are sometimes expected to fit the stereotype. To earn yourself the sought after, 'he's very good' label it's very simple. Be on time everytime, park sensitively and clean up every scrap before you leave even if they offer to do it for you.

Hope my experience proves helpful. My dream is to have my own workshop and make beautiful furniture. If it pays well then there are no easy jobs any more.

Good luck.
 

trevtheturner

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Tim,

In response to your question HCT (Herefordshire College of Technology) run a Fine Furniture Studies (City & Guilds qualification) full-time two year course. For a 'mature' student I believe it is (and definitely was about 4 years ago) free of fees. The course tutors can be very flexible for mature students and allow them to forego the very basic instruction necessary for the young students, allowing them, for example, to attend part-time to concentrate on practical work and advice in the workshop.

The furniture studies workshop and machine 'shop were fully re-equipped last year with new pro. machinery in order to comply with current EU Regs. (and the old machinery they had to ditch - Wadkin, Sedgewick, etc. - was superb). Almost worth doing the course to get your hands on those machines!

Call me if you want to chat about it.

Cheers,

Trev.
 

Rosco

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Hi,
My wish is also to be able to make a living from making furniture. I have an advantage over most though as I am disabled, that means I get subsidised by the government to do my thing, at present I am doing a cabinet and furniture making course at a local centre for the disabled it is fully kitted out with all the tools you could hope for in a semi proffesional shop and because I am disabled there is no time limit on the course which is a great advantage as being disabled I am not as fast as some of you good people but enough of myself.
The story I want to tell you about is my course tutor. He is a very experienced young man who started work as a shop fitter and did that for years until his knees and back gave out, so he started making furniture for a living but things got tight and he had to start teaching to make ends meet but that sort of put paid to his furniture making as a career he just works at weekends now making things to order. He has now got to the stage where he is absolutey feed up with the situation he is in that this week he applied to the local council to be retrained as a plumber and is hoping to do that as he cannot see any future in woodworking.
The point I am trying to make is that if a man of 25 years experience is finding it very difficult, what chance have the majority of people got. As I have said I am one of the lucky ones I do woodworking as a hobby and I will be doing it as a trade later but I my income will be supplemented by my pensions that I receive so I will not have so much presure wondering where I next mortgage payment is coming from. So I will still be a hobbist but doing a little to make some extra tool money.

All the best,

Rosco ( Chris ).
 

Les Mahon

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Pooka,

You have me completly torn between saying go for it it will be great and stall on, the green grass on the other side of the fence may well be fake!

A couple of years ago I took a "Career break" from IT, and I am already self-employed, I decided I would like to do Woodwork for a few months during this break, and then decide if I would move full time into wood work or return to IT. I am now back working in IT, still self employed!

My experience was much like alot of what has already been said, make sure you have lots of money behind you, remember that no matter how much you enjoy wood work now, will you really have the interest to jump out of bet at 7am on a monday in february and go into a cold workshop work steadily for 8 hours etc.? And my experience was as others have said, the only real work I found was fitting out walk in wardrobes, fitting pre-built kitchens etc.etc. Lots of Ply and MDF, not exciting, but it paid the bills - just.

That would bring me onto my second point, I don't know your stary, but pricing work, scoping work, carrying cost of materials up front, dealing with running you own business are all headaches that need to be looked at serioulsy. I calculate that in order to keep running my own one man business I work approximatly 1.5 days per month for the govement doing paperwork.

Noel pointed out that there is a huge housing boom in Irelnad at the moment, and I know that there are lots of carpenters out there looking for spare hads to work wth them, this would be a good starting point I feel. But be aware, the huge building boom and all the money sloshing around associated with it is not ending up in too many trades men's pockets - the developers make all the real money.

I belive I saw you post that the course is the one in Letterkenny - I know someone who did this course, passed well and got employment - she does CAD design work for a joinery manufacturer who make bespoke roof trusses, she would dearly love to make furniture, but finds that the level of financial reward in any of the jobs she looks at with her qualification make it hard to afford to stock a workshop.

That will do for now! Sorry if it sounds negative, but I belive that all decisions should be made based on good info. If you are interested in more details on my personal experience, PM me, I'd be only happy to have a chat.

Les
 

ike

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Houtslager old buddy,

How u doin!. Haven't seen or heard from you for a while. Care to drop me a PM? EH!

Ike
 
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Anonymous

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I'm stunned by the number of negative comments here. I switched to being a self employed cabinet maker 3 years ago and have never looked back.

Yes, there are downsides but [for me] there are tremendous upsides.
Here's my main points.

1. the most difficult part is finding your customers. There are loads of people out there who are prepared to pay the premium for handmade bespoke furniture. The challenge is finding them. Actually making the furniture is the easy part. You really need to work out your marketing plan thoroughly. If you market youself well you will have more business and so can charge more money.

2. Yes, bank on around 3 years to develop a reputation. You absolutely MUST make your clients pleased with their commission so they'll come back and also recommend you to others.

3. You don't need to do a course if you're any good. If you're not any good then you should consider whether it's the right career. However, working for another cabinet maker for a while may be better than learning from your own mistakes.

4. If you really like making high quality furniture then I would think very carefully about going down the doors/windows/kitchens/bedrooms route. Yes, it's more lucrative but more tedious, a cut-throat market with many cowboys. They mostly make money by over-charging and under-performing.

5. You'll never be rich but it is possible to make a small living. I've taken a 80% paycut from my last career but find my new career so rewarding that I'd never go back. Designing and building unique and high quality furniture is so rewarding to me that I still want to bounce out of bed at 6:30am and get to the workshop.

Just to RE-ITERATE though..... point number one above IS THE MOST IMPORTANT. You can't do it without customers.
 

johnelliott

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edwardh":w16nyzua said:
Just to RE-ITERATE though..... point number one above IS THE MOST IMPORTANT. You can't do it without customers.
Absolutely.

Any suggestions as to where the aspiring pro furniture makers on this forum will find their own supply of "loads of people out there who are prepared to pay the premium for handmade bespoke furniture" ?

You are very shy, Edward,there's nothing in your profile. I'd be interested to know at least what part of the country you are in (and which country for that matter).

John
 
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