1- Can you make a living off woodworking?
The short answer is ‘yes’, but there are some caveats. Just go on YouTube and you’ll see that there are people who can live off doing almost anything — some of them are even doing pretty well for themselves.
But, how do I get started in woodworking? The first order of business, like in any other profession, is to learn the trade. To do that, ideally you should study at least for a couple of years in a specialized training center. Another option is to start as an apprentice, helping another professional, but this is becoming more difficult.
Nowadays, a good professional will look for trained assistants, or people who have a fair amount of training. They’re usually professionals with small woodworking workshops and a handful of employees, where the tasks that each person or employee does are more involved compared to big carpentry businesses. If you do manage to access one of these positions, go for it — it’s the best way to get started.
The other option is to try a larger carpentry business, but in this case, you will most likely end up being responsible for just one of the -often repetitive- processes; so it’s hard to learn the trade correctly this way. There’s little point in being good at putting together a piece of furniture if you haven’t learned how to prepare the wood it’s made of.
It’s a good start. You’ll familiarize youself with the tools and materials, and when you think you’ve learned all you could learn, you could always look for another job. This is what I did when I started out as a carpenter, and in each company I learned the different tasks and specialties in woodworking.
At the same time, if you have space, it would be a good idea to have some DIY tools at home to practice and do your own projects and make furniture. This is where you can let your imagination fly. On this website, you’ll find free woodworking projects which are perfect to get you started in the world of DIY and carpentry.
2- Which field of carpentry should I choose?
Carpentry, unlike other trades, encompasses many fields and specialties, and getting in-depth knowledge of all of them is certainly an impossible task. You may become a good cabinetmaker making designer furniture but still have no idea about woodturning. Becoming a professional turner takes many years of learning, which is why some carpenters only dedicate themselves to woodturning for their entire lives.
Like in almost any other trade, it’s better to only delve into one or two specialties in the wide world of carpentry, and do it thoroughly, than spread yourself thin trying to do all kinds of specialties regularly. This is something you should be clear about from the beginning.
If some day, by any chance, you find one specialty that you like better, or that you’re better at, I believe you should try to focus all your efforts into becoming proficient in that field of carpentry.
Another thing that can happen is that, after some time, as you gain experience and knowledge, you end up not working in the woodworking field or in your preferred trade. Sometimes you just can’t make a living doing what you like most, something similar happened to me too. I think it’s also important to identify and consider these variables and try to find the middle ground.
3- How much money does a woodworker make?
Can woodworking be profitable? As I explained above, it depends. How much money you make depends on several factors. First of all, of course, is the country where you live. Some countries don’t consider this as necessary or noble a job as others.
It also depends on how professional you are. If you are lucky enough to live in a country which holds woodworking in high regard and you’re a good professional, the difference between making and not making money is going to be whether you’ve found your niche in the market. You can do this in a number of ways.
First off, make a name for yourself, a brand your potential customers will know you by. To do this, besides being a good professional, it would help if you have some salesman skills, i.e., know how to market yourself. You should visit furniture trade shows regularly and show off your work.
I know people who make a living off building furniture with traditional methods — one of them doesn’t even use any power tools. He was able to find his place in the market working alone in a small workshop. He’s made it to the point that he has a waiting list of people who want him to make original, different furniture. A hand-made cabinet or project built specifically for their home, instead of purchasing one at a department store.
Another way is to offer something innovative, something that either doesn’t exist or not many other people are making at that time, and produce as many of them as possible to optimize your investment and working time.
A good example is a colleague of mine who realized that on the island where he lives there were barely any places to buy handcrafted wooden toys, much less something original. He made an initial investment in tools, bought a CNC and learned how to use it in a few months. He managed to optimize all his processes and working hours. Now he sells his original wooden toys not just on the island where he lives, but almost all over the world.
4- Should I sell my woodworking projects online or at a store?
These two are not mutually exclusive, but depending on several factors, you might be more interested in either of the two methods. If you’re going to make furniture, the most logical course of action is to try to sell it locally first. But, regardless of whether you decide to open an online store or not, what you should always do is get the most out of all of your tools to advertise your work.
Logically, the more people you can reach to show them your work, the more opportunities you’ll have to gain traction. Bearing this in mind, nowadays you should at least have a blog and an account in the most widely used social media and post interesting content regularly. This will also help you sell more products locally.
But, how can I sell furniture on the internet? Once you’ve tried to grow in the main social networking apps, you’ll surely have more information on whether it’s worth it to sell your furniture or projects online. If showing your work online doesn’t help your social media profiles grow, it might not be a good idea to sell your products online.
If your furniture is very bulky and heavy, you should try and contact transport companies to get quotes and work out how profitable it would be to ship your products. As you can imagine, if your projects are small or medium-sized this won’t be a problem.
To begin with, it might be a good idea to open up an online store on one of those famous sites which let you sell your wares in exchange for a small fee. The cost will be nominal and it will allow you to gain insight into what you can offer and what people look for. If all goes well, there’s nothing stopping you from leaving that site and opening your own online shop.
If you want to read a real story about how to start living off woodworking and DIY, you might want to check out this article I wrote a few years ago about how I started out as a woodworker. Here you might just find the motivation you need to get started.