An Answer for Today

First off I didn’t want to edit this letter down because of the individuality it expresses. So it’s long and worth reading.

Hi Paul,

I just turned eighteen, and for just over a year now I have been working on woodworking with mostly, if not only hand tools after discovering Paul when trying to figure out how to make mortises without a $500 mortising machine. As Paul has described before, I loved working with wood in shop class but something was missing. I hated fighting with the machines just to feed it the wood and not actually work it myself. There was just something missing, and thanks to Paul I have discovered real woodworking and am trying to get my income from woodworking, alongside growing a large garden to sell produce at the farmers market ( summer 2015 was my first farmers market experience), and expanding my chicken egg business that I began at 13 or so. I also work on the farm with my dad, which I do love farming too but having my own farm to manage seems to be pushed out of the picture.
My dream, that has really turned into a passion, is to not work for and depend on someone for my income and follow the conveyor belt that my peers have been trained to stay on. I want to be able to make and create with my own hands and do the things that I love for a living, even though everyone says that it isn’t possible. My family implies that the things I am trying to do for income will just turn into a hobby and that it’s not possible to live that way.
I had a few questions for Mr. Sellers and anyone else who would like to pitch in.
It takes me about ten and a half hours to make the clock from Paul’s masterclasses, does this seem like a lot?
The first four clocks I sold through my mom at her work, three of them stained, at a low price of $65 (at that time I had no idea how much time it took me) of course I found out that it was not economical for me to sell them that low. And please do not get the impression that I am in this for “the money”, Considering how much I sell something for is just something that has to happen in order for this to be more than a hobby.
So, I reconsidered my expenses and factored in how long it takes, and if I sell a hardwood clock (oak, mahogany) for $120 than that leaves me about $90-$100 profit. that’s a little less than ten dollars an hour, and for now I am perfectly happy with that. The only problem is I can’t find a buyer. I will say that I only tried to sell an oak clock at the farmers market, so that could be why it did not sell.
I also have made some of the carrying totes in woodworking masterclasses, I have sold one of those for $35 to a teacher, and advertised one at the farmers market the whole season, Is this to much or too little?
Also, I have made wooden spatulas of my own design. They look somewhat like those “rubber scrapers” that pretty much every kitchen has. I sell these for $15 in walnut or hard maple is what I have done so far. I have sold one of those at the farmers market in walnut and a set of four different sized ones to a friends friend, but he would only by them for $12.50 a piece. the spatulas take me about one and a half hours not including putting the mineral oil on.
I really love all the things I said I do here, and wood working has really developed into so much more than just woodworking to me. If I could just get the selling and pricing problems out of the way, I couldn’t imagine doing anything else for a living. That’s including growing things and having chickens of course.
Sorry for such a long comment. Thank you so much Paul and team for all that you have done. You really have taught me so much more than just wood working, and to me that means a lot. thank you.

Answer:

I remember the days when I first worked for myself. I was 22. Everyone wanted my work but didn’t feel they should pay me a man’s wage even though I had married, bought my first home and had a baby on the way. I was fully qualified, had completed my education, finished a five year apprenticeship and knew my work as well as anyone could at that age. Here are the things I had to deal with.

  1. Many people think that they should not pay a young craftsman or woman a decent hourly rate. Whereas they may be right, they should be prepared to support them to kick start their endeavour in my view.
  2. Many people see that they need to win a lower price, like winning on ebay or something. This kind of bargaining comes from the darker side of life so that they can boast that you wanted this price but they beat you down. It’s non gender specific. It’s best to turn and walk away from.
  3. People really don’t know whether something is well made anymore.
  4. People don’t understand that they should pay more when something is hand made.
  5. Of course hand made does not always mean well made. I go to craft shows all the time and see very poorly made goods with the makers telling people what it took to make what they are selling as though hand made gives them a licence to con.
  6. I decided to just keep going no matter that I worked twice the hours everyone else worked. When I was in my mid to late thirties people seemed more than willing to pay and to entrust their work to me.
  7. When people can come to your workshop and see you and your work and their work in progress it makes a difference.
  8. Hourly rates should never be compared with what someone makes working for someone and when someone asks you how much you make or charge an hour you have no obligation at all to tell them. This is usually divisive and done to demean your endeavour to work for yourself.

    DSC_0346
    A coffee table like this is well worth £2,500
  9. Personally working for myself was never based on an hourly rate even though business people you might need to deal with see this as the only way of measuring a business worth. It is silly. You work for yourself for whatever reason you want and what you make has nothing to do with anyone else though I think your parents care and you should share with them.
  10. People use money to evaluate what you are worth and even whether you are worth knowing. The media does this all the time. They say things like, “billionaire blah blah or millionaire so and so” as though being either is some qualification as to their character or ability. All too shallow for me.

    PICT0004
    Hand made toys like this can be a lot of work and too expensive to build, but then again I sold every one I ever made. Batch building in lots of ten works best for cost effectiveness. I made $2,000 for a week’s work here.
  11. Having different sources of income does make good sense to me. If a percentage comes from the egg business and the market gardening another that’s great whether it’s by the sold goods or food for the table. Most farming does not operate that way any more. Farmers raise chickens for Plantation Foods or Conagra and then buy their chickens dressed out in white plastic bags.

    PICT0038
    My crumb-free cutting boards sold well always. Batch-making again but they sold for $150.
  12. I would definitely not see the whole of life as everything you do being to sell. That’s a huge mistake. If you grow an excess and sell from that that’s one thing, but growing your own food can be two days work working for someone else. That has real value in my book. We never bought eggs for 20 years because we always had chickens. My boys milked cows every day too, so we always had fresh milk.
  13. Also, it is all too easy to work everything out at an hourly rate and you are, according to what you say here, pretty much a beginner and not a well experienced artisan. I don’t say that to demean you in any way. We often think we deserve a higher rate because we work hard or have skill. Such assumptions destroy the peace we would otherwise feel because we constantly draw comparisons withs others. No one wants to be called a beginner or a novice or anything like that, especially in the US where everyone seemed to me to see themselves as at least an intermediate level woodworker because they had a few machines, but when it came to skilled work, because mostly they knew only machining, they were indeed total novice woodworkers. By the time I was eighteen I had made many hundreds of fully jointed projects and still treated as a boy. I didn’t mind that.

    IMG_9027
    My desks moved with the times and the next generation of my Apple computer.
  14. Getting off the conveyor belt is getting off piecework AND the hourly wage mentality. People will always quantify and qualify you by your hourly rate. That is commerce and economy and it’s the only way they know to understand why you do what you do. Even if you work 80 hours a week and barely make it, it is still better than wearing a suit and tie and sitting in meetings looking forward to a lunch break and sitting two hours a day in traffic.
  15. My ideal is and always has been planning a project, walking a hundred yards to the workshop. Flipping boards and choosing wood. Converting it to the pieces I want and then spending days and weeks and months building what’s wanted and never thinking whether I am making this or that an hour. My rocking chairs sell for $6,500 dollars in the USA. DSCN0042-copy2They take two full weeks to make. I have other pieces like that. Could I have sold them for that when I was 18 or 25? Most likely not. Joseph and Jonathon on the other made maple workbenches to my design and had orders waiting at around $1,000 for  week’s making. They sold maple mallets at $25 a piece and made good money on them.
    DSC_0130
    These are the style of mallets my sons made.

    That’s more work than spatulas. Did they ever say they were making this or that an hour. Nope! They just learned to work, mastered skill, became good craftsmen and businessmen and still don’t think about hourly rates.

  16. Never, never, never give up, if it is what you want to do. It sounds to me as though you are about 90% of where you want to be.

    PICT0238
    A clock is a good beginning but the design can be refined and redesigned to reflect who you are. I designed this as a training project. It wasn’t meant to stop there as you can see on woodworkingmasterclasses gallery.
  17. Never, never, never look to others by what they make, do or own to evaluate what worth your lifestyle is to you. We all have different goals and most of the ones I have seen people pursue can be very empty. A lot of people reading your letter will be saying that’s what they would like to be able to do. To grow their own food, raise chickens, sell some of the stuff they grow and work with their hands. Now that’s something!

57 comments on “An Answer for Today

  1. I think Paul’s comments are very appropriate. It’s easy to adopt standards of success that have little relevance to your own personal objectives. Money is important because we have bills to pay and things we need to buy. The hourly rate thing is a means of comparing. If you need to earn £/$/€400 per week to buy/pay for what you need then the hourly rate may be irrelevant – you could work 8 hours @ 50/hour or 40 hours @ 10/hour to get to the same point. The differences between the two may be the level of satisfaction you attain from the work itself and the number of hours you have available after the work is done.

    In addition to Paul’s comments, you could also consider your audience – who is looking at your products? It’s possible to sell the same clock, scraper or anything else at greatly varying prices depending on who the buyer is. Identify a place where folks go to find uniqueness, individuality, high quality, feel, colour, beauty etc rather than a bargain and you will likely find buyers able, and willing, to pay $120 rather than $65.

    And don’t fall into the trap of thinking you need to compete on price. Only the big guys ever win that game, unless you are able to corner a market they haven’t yet identified or are uninterested in. Prepare to be different and do what others won’t, or can’t, do.

  2. An interesting letter and, of course, an interesting reply.

    I would add this:

    The price of any product is not so much a reflection of the cost (in time and materials) of production, but what it can be sold for. If your hand-made clocks, for instance, won’t sell for $120.00, they won’t sell and that’s all there is to it. The *reason* they won’t sell is another matter, and one which you need to find out.

    > Are they made well-enough? (Do people see it and think, “I must have that.”)

    > Are you reaching the right people with your offering? (i.e. Who knows about it? This is where advertising in one form or another comes in, and with the power of the Internet, these days, there is much more scope to reach an amazingly wide audience.)

    > Is it a product which people actually want? (A friend of mine made a reproduction of an antique Davenport desk. He borrowed an example from a museum and copied it in every detail. It is perfect in every way; beautiful joints, traditional materials and construction, stunning, rosewood veneers, perfect finish and so on. However, ‘brown furniture’ is, it seems, not fashionable at the moment. So there is no market for it. It won’t sell. End of story.)

    > Are you presenting it in the right way?

    > etc. etc.!

    In my job (building, maintaining and repairing pipe-organs in churches) I face three major problems: 1/ The work is nearly always something I have never attempted before (even after 37 years) and this makes it almost impossible to estimate the cost, which I have to give before the client will commit, and, 2/, I am selling to a market which has little money which they wish to devote on what might seem to be a luxury. 3/ The cost of the jobs is usually high, because of the very large number of hours put in. So in the end, I make my best guess at what I want for the job, tempered by what I think the client will stand, and then I go ahead and carry the project through, keeping a track of the time and materials taken, but not bothering if it over-runs the estimate because, at the end of the day, the work has to be done and done well. There is no other choice if you want to stay in business.

    I agree with Paul, that you are best not to look at the rate/hour you made (at least until the job is done.) You have to regard the first years as spent gaining experience, and often or usually, making very little. Not everyone can do this, or wants to. A great deal will depend on your expectations in life. I have always required very little, compared with many today, and I can honestly say that money has never been a problem. I have never needed to ‘save up’ for anything I wanted. I just bought it. But then again, I never wanted much! These days, I could retire, but have no intention of doing so. Why would I want to? *That’s* the difference between working at what interests you, and working for an income, which so many people seem to have to do.

  3. Flea Markets, Ebay, Craigslist and such are bargain hunters. You will most likely never get a fair price for your work. Seek out some high end furniture stores talking them into using your wooden kitchen utensil as part of a kitchen display but are for sale.
    When starting out like I once did in electronics I used reference material all the time, as I got more experienced not so much. We are always learning new stuff and challenges come along all the time, thank God. Michael Jordan got so good at layups that it took him about 10 times before he actually intentionally missed one for a commercial he was in.
    I have heard that George Lucas discovered Harrison Ford while he was bending over hanging or framing a door. To support yourself while starting out most likely we all need to flip hamburgers or pump gas to support ourself until our real passion starts to support us. Unfortunate many artists/craftsman die broke. Do other things to support yourself, keep at learning your craft, finding a market and eventually people will start beating a path to your door just like they are now doing with Paul. I’m sure it took years for him to get where he is today.
    and “Think Positive”.

  4. Paul, just thought I’d bring another perspective to the pricing and value of time issue. Let me qualify this by saying my chosen career craft carries a different characteristic in the public imagination. I apprenticed as a Goldsmith at 14 years of age, 51 years ago. I realize that this hyper inflated industry has vastly different connotations than crafts mistakenly considered more “utilitarian”. After my completing my journeyman level, I became so aghast at the profit margins, often 400 percent, that my response to a client’s quirey as to my labour rate was, ” I charge what ever you charge for what you do!”. This initially raised many eyebrows, but ultimately worked well. Affluent clients actually valued it more, and it put within the reach someone more limited, something they never thought was possible. I never varied the quality of my work. I fully realize the nature of my craft gave me latitude other probably don’t enjoy. But I never looked back.

  5. Please print off Paul’s comment #16 and post it up somewhere where you will see it all the time. I’m a 61 year old beginning woodworker. When I was about your age, maybe a few years older, I had wanted to learn woodworking and attempt to make a go of it as a way of making a living. As you can see from my earlier comment that I am a “61 year old beginning woodworker”, I did give up. The urge to work with wood and make things never left me all the years in between, but I let things get in the way. I hope for me it will be “better late than never”, but for you, please do start off the rest of your life following your passion and be patient. Take heed of Paul’s #16!!!

  6. You can sell anything if you are a good enough salesman. Your woodworking will improve with time. In the beginning, you have to be the best salesman around to sell your wares. After a while, they will sell themselves. Maybe get some books on being a salesman or research online. The end goal is getting people to give you money to do your hobby. Sell it, literally sell your story, sell your work, sell your heart out.

  7. My bit of advice is to stay out of debt to the maximum extent possible. Debt will quickly become a millstone around your neck, dragging you down. Specifically, you will find it substantially raises your required monthly income (due to repayment obligations) which will limit your flexibility in exploring self-employment.

    I would say that if you are young and unencumbered by debt and family obligations, this is an ideal time in your life to take a risk on yourself. See where a few more years gets you, then evaluate where you want to go next.

    • personally I would say never ever borrow money to start a business. Never ever trust a bank or trust a banker, venture capitalist or other. If you cant afford to start a business by making the first projects you can’t afford credit card payments. Yes, some can make that work, but if you can’t you are in debt. A good maxim is to owe no man anything. Everyone has told me all the way through that you must speculate to accumulate but they often use that justify using plastic or borrowing. Most banks have proven to be fundamentally dishonest.

      • As a quick followup, I would mention that in the US, at least, it is important for a young person to develop ‘some’ credit history, even if it is a credit card paid off each month, or getting loans down the road (if required) can be difficult.

        • I understand where this comes from, Michael. Perhaps this is the American way for the majority. I did see that you can’t move without a CC in that you can’t hire a car or book a hotel, but it doesn’t make it right for everyone. It is very similar here too. In fact is all too normal. I use a CC for travel only and nothing else and haven’t for many years. It is OK for those locked into the general systems so accepted today (and I lived there for 23 years) but not for borrowing as such as there is no such thing as fixed and guaranteed income for lone artisans. Credit cards seem useful for difficult times but it can be very presumptuous to borrow against speculated sales. Best way is to not borrow at all really.

        • A credit score is only needed if you plan to play around with debt like it is a pet. Zero credit score is the best score possible at any age.

          • Be careful with this advice. A good credit score is useful to have. You never know what is down the road and a loan may be needed. Also, if you intend to purchase a property then more than likely you will need a mortgage. Zero credit score will mean a zero mortgage or loan.

            If you have the willpower then get a CC and use it but pay off the balance each month. This ensures a good credit score if you then need it.

            Other than that, do your utmost to follow your dream.

          • A credit card won’t solve what’s down the road usually. I think I have learned enough to say it takes wisdom to work credit and especially so surrounding a different lifestyle such as my own. I have never borrowed money for a business venture and have always striven to avoid this simply because there are other ways to develop income and pay for things and that includes even a house. There are other ways of solving credit issues without cards too. Put what money you have in a holding or escrow account and then borrow against what you have. It’s too easy always assuming everything must be borrowed for. That’s not the case. It’s also all too easy listening to people with a secure job who can borrow against their income pretty securely. I think it is best examine all of the possibilities. In times of difficulty it is not always a question of willpower. Often people see credit power as access to money when in reality it is assumption all the way through. I know this is not the way many people think these days but stepping off the conveyor belt can be more radical for those of us living in the realms of self employment.

  8. I would totally agree with Paul on forgetting about an hourly rate. Artists and craftsmen get paid for what they produce, not the effort they put in. However if you want not to have an hourly paid job then you do need a certain level of income from your endeavours to pay your bills. I can think of four reasons why a customer might pay over the odds for a piece of craft work.
    1 Your product oozes quality – and it has to ooze – perfect joints, beautiful wood, lustrous finish etc.
    2 Your product is original. It has features the customer wants or desires and cannot be got elsewhere (This could be a beautiful design or a novelty such as a banana stand I designed which looks like a banana )
    3 You are brilliant at marketing (Bringing customers into your workshop and engaging with them is just good marketing)
    4 You have a name (It’s only a couple of squiggles but it’s by Picasso, so it’s worth £100,000)

    So focus on the first three of these and you will get there Fredrick. Eventually you may be able to develop the fourth, and become as famous as Paul Sellers – or Picasso!

  9. While I don’t make my living at wood working, I already have a back order for building Chinese Mook Jong for local kung-fu students. After that I also received request for building “chinese benches”, and no one has seen me make one. It is not that I am good or known wood worker, I just happen to have found something I like making that people want.

    From working with alot of local artisans over the years, I have noticed the successful ones all had the same basic formula. First they make what they want as well as they can make it and price it as such, then to support the production of these pieces they make what a majority of people seem to want, well enough made, for the buyers to be when willing to pay the cost of the items (and never for less than the material cost, even it happened to made from left overs of other projects).

  10. Have you tried to show the quality of your work compared to what’s available in department stores? Have you told potential customers that your clocks will be in their family for generations? Maybe have a cross section of the joints you use. In any case don’t give up but keep learning.

  11. Hi reading your question hit home for me I find my self asking the same questions about the buisness side of furniture making and I have been working with wood for a decade and I started around your age. What come to mind for me reading your doubts and questions is that making something happen on your own (particulerly involving anything hand made in this culter) is a vary winding path were many obsticules and diversions come between ones intentions and the realisation of thoughs desires. So persavire as Paul said, as I said I have been making furniture for a decade but I have done many other things to make money to live but I never have given up on the intention to have furniture making my sole focus

  12. Good advice Paul . After 32 years in the cabinet trade, I still enjoy every moment I’m working. You will remember the jobs that aren’t profitable ,and the ones that you make more than you should. You should see if you can find a shop in the area to work part time at, consider it your education with pay, 4 years or so. You will learn what you need to know from others skills and their failures.

  13. Just two quick comments. Paul metioned to show how you work, and this is a great way to bring in customers. When you go to the market to sell your items bring a few tools with you and craft at the market. Once they see you making shavings you will bring in a crowd. Second, these days I see wares made by machinists but marketed as handmade. Very few consumers knows what handmade truly is as it has been used for a long time by machinists.

    • This is very good advice. I’ll add the following: Serious cooks are particular about the shape and size of cooking tools. Try offering custom shape spatulas and spoons made on the spot at the farmer’s market.

  14. First, I am darn proud of you sir. You are eighteen yrs old, starting your own way into adult life and using your wits, hands and determination. You should be proud of your yourself. Keep going and build, build,build. Be confident in yourself, and take pride in making ” as perfect as possible.” Charge at least 120 dollars or a little more say 175 dollars for your wall clocks and at least 45 to 55 dollars for a tool tote. The totes are popular ( in addition to many other purposes) for holding magazines and look cool in the living area. I have made several and people love the things. Do not low bid your work and “stick to your guns ” as we yanks often say. Your quality work will sell its self. A small information tag attached to your products with a short intro. Of yourself, explaining that you build with hand tools, use no power tools and some other related information I.e. Environment friendly, repurposed wood and the like is huge in the minds of consumers and rightfully so. Keep going, growing in the craft and enjoy your work and prosperity will take care of itself. In hand tool woodworking the journey is the destination and yes people will pay for quality. Paul is spot on. Living your own life and having your own work autonomy free of debt is the higher road and real freedom. Keep going!

  15. Heres my two cents hope it may help. I live in a very bad economy in New Brunswick Canada. With no jobs and future i decided to go my own way. I do raise chickens and am looking to expand to pigs as well as my garden. I was always taught its not what you make or bring in but what you keep. One of my biggest lessons with making is to find alternatives that help and encourage my dreams. One is that I took a job at a historical settlement were i get to make furniture all by hand representing 1820 as im not on my own for 5 months it does give me an income and im still making and making the way i want to and for the most part im left alone and get to pick projects thanks to this forum and teaching my more skill. The other thing is i recently ventured into working on antiques and refinishing and repairs I have found this very profitable were here furniture is hard to price accordingly. Most kitchen tables im lucky to get $2000 for and dressers $1500-$2000 seems to be the max as of yet. Were as a refinishing job such as a table, or dresser might take 8-10hrs to refinish and i can charge $600 which is fine by me and i can fit in the building too which all adds up. Also i never stop talking about what i do not just the business side i present it as me just following a dream which has led someone to want to invest in me not for his gain but to help me follow a dream which most do not even consider. All in All i consider myself blessed and if feel called. All one can do is to follow that.

  16. Lots of good advice. I will add mine. It will work as long as you produce things that people are willing to buy.

    This means that you need to understand what will sell. this will involve research and a bit of originality. Probably, certainly initially, not relying on one market, thus a range of very different products might be needed. there are of course exceptions, Mike Dunbar made a copy of a Windsor chair that facinated him, then spent the rest of his life turning firewood into Windsor chairs and more laterly teaching others how to do it.

    The other part of this is that you need to be able to sell. Don’t underestimate this as it will be vital for success. It will be rare for people to beat a path to your door. You might need to invest in a part-time paid job to enhance that skill.

    You might need to make some cheap but saleable products to keep you going at times. I have recently seen some not well made 2 logs and a few twig reindeer decorations selling for £20. Quickly made with a saw, axe and drill. If raw materials obtained for free, selling 100 would give you £2000.

    I wish the writer of the letter every success. i hope that he finds his path.

  17. What a great blog post… Interesting letter, fascinating response from Paul and some really good comments.

    I don’t have much to add other than to wish the young man all the best with his dreams. The will to succeed is so important, but finding something you’re passionate about doing takes you a huge step of the way forward to finding the will and the drive a person needs.

    To hell with the world and what it thinks about you or how it judges you. Mentors, teachers, people you respect… Sure, their thoughts, advice, their wisdom, criticism given to help further your efforts, those are viewpoints worth listening to. But to hell with the world and its ways.

    I’d love to hear how he has progressed a year from now, I hope he writes to tell us. All the best to him!

  18. This comment is probably a little late. The only thing I would add may seem trite, but I think it is the most important or I wouldn’t venture to say it. Be a good man. Do your flat out best to be a good man. In the end, there will be plenty of work as good as yours,some less costly, and some better. What you can really offer- what you really should offer is yourself put into your work. You will build a clientele of people you will respect, and you will respect yourself. I can’t verify any of this with statistics, but if you do right by people, the right people will do right by you.

    • This is a great thread, most of it should be carved in stone. Come to think of it, it is a sort of tribute to the caliber of person Paul attracts.

      A lot of posters have used the word ‘quality’ to describe a certain level of work to which you should perform. That’s good but I wanted to put the word into perspective. Quality does not mean using the best materials and workmanship on every project. Quality means fitting the product to the needs or requirements of the client. The better the fit the higher the quality.

      As a carpenter I need things that are sturdy not pretty so my pants are made of denim or canvas not wool or silk. My bench is made from common lumber not the finest lumber. And these things are of the highest quality to me – the client.

      Don’t forget to have fun.

  19. I can’t answer any of this young man’s quandaries with any authority but I can relate a few tales from my experience.
    I didn’t start woodworking until I was about 27( I’m 63 now) but when I did, it took my life over.
    I took myself to college 3 nights a week for 3 years and got a distinction in all parts…..I couldn’t get enough.
    i remember being in my coal shed workshop ( about 8 by 4 ) planing parts for a gate or something on a Saturday night…..someone walked past in the alleyway and said “what’s up with you ..aren’t you coming to the pub?”
    I was in a world of my own……..I had a very dangerous circular saw with no guard, a batten for a fence…..cost a fiver…….and I had some planes that had more or less been donated to me from a request for tools in a shop notice.
    I made anything anyone asked me to make…….simple things at first but I’ve always made whatever anyone asked for rather than making and then selling. If I didn’t know how to make it I would find out.
    I have become more confident over the years about money but I remember so many times early on when a customer would look at their spouse when I gave a price as if to say what are we going to get for so little……they usually took a chance on me and were always pleased.
    I worked for very little for about 7 years but I supported myself and family and loved it and feel like I did my apprenticeship during that time. For some years I bought sawn timber and planed and thicknessed it by hand and did a lot of grooving with a wooden plane.
    Roll on a little and after a £2000.00 loan from the bank for a Luna combination machine I made a kitchen for a couple in London…….they took a chance on me too……the kitchen was in reclaimed pitch pine…..my price was £1600 ( in 1982) they gave me a £400 tip and I drove up the M1 very happy with a giant bouquet for my new son’s mum. I made some wardrobes for them later and a couple of doors twisted over time…….I replaced them without a quibble and I’ve continued making all sorts of things for them up to the present day.
    I’ve made a lot of kitchens over the years and on one particular kitchen with an oak worktop I routered a rounding on an internal corner…….it always looks wrong……so I chiseled the moulding to look correct and pointed it out to my customer…..she liked that. I went back some time later to look at another job for them and went to admire my chiseling and she said “I love that……I point it out to all my friends” It’s a tiny thing……..I’m happy to go the extra mile all the time to make the work better. I’ll often have half a brainwave while working on a project and it may cost me time but if it makes the job better I’ll do it. I do it for myself.
    Just realised I’m going on a bit….sorry……the things that I think have helped me are passion and enthusiasm ……I don’t think you can fake that…….I don’t know where the saying comes from but it’s something like……if you follow your heart and do it with love then money will follow…….not necessarily a lot 🙂
    I too despair over modern day consumerism and have a very modest lifestyle…..it suits me.

    Best wishes

    Steve

  20. A couple of points… I worked as a freelance designer for several years and now I’m a restaurateur, so I’ve managed to avoid the conveyor belt for all but two years of my adult life. First as some have pointed out, thinking on a per hour basis is a fallacy. The value of what you make has nothing to do with the amount of time that it took you to make it. If that were the case, then your creations would have less value as your skills and techniques improve and you become more productive. That increased efficiency is yours to keep, it’s your reward. The marketplace is the marketplace. If there is no demand for $120 wall clocks, then the price needs to go down. If the price becomes too low, you either need to become more productive or you need to design a different product.

    Second, credit and debt can be necessary. You may need to buy a farm some day, for example. You won’t be able to do that if you don’t have good established credit. In my case, as a restaurateur, it’s been necessary to use commercial loans to finance construction projects. We are on track to pay that debt off in about a year, and that will leave us significantly in a better position than we would have been if we’d not taken on the debt. Credit is absolutely necessary. When I was younger I thought I was being virtuous by not having a credit card, but in the end it meant that I had to rely on my wife’s well managed credit rating to buy a house, buy a car, etc. After many years I’ve been able to establish my own, but I would have been much better off if I’d had a credit card and I’d used it intelligently.

  21. Thank you very much for all of your advice and sharing your experiences. I have read through what you have said thoroughly, trying my best to learn from it. that goes for all of the comments, too.
    Many people are saying that the quality of the work matters on the pricing, and of course I agree. You can see one of my carrying totes and two clocks on woodworkingmasterclasses.com for free. The mahogany one has a better insert in it now, I just didn’t want to spam the gallery with the same clock. I would love to hear what you all have to say, good or bad. They are by the name Fred97.
    there were a few things in your post Paul that I just did not quite understand, but want to.
    On #12 I was confused with the beginning part and the part where you said growing things for yourself can be two days working for someone else, I just don’t understand what you were trying to say. I don’t see trying to sell as the purpose of life. I am not sure if you are saying that is what you got from my post, or if you were just saying it. I love growing and making things, and that alone is something I live for. Knowing that other people can enjoy what i have crafted or grown is just as good.
    On #14 I don’t know what you mean by piecework. when it comes to the hourly wage thing I couldn’t care less about how much I make an hour. The only reason I calculated how long it took to make something was so that I could tell people when they ask, and so that I had somewhere to start for pricing. How do you determine what to ask for one of your pieces? I have such a hard time knowing what to ask.
    It seems as though you are very concerned that I priced things by the hourly wage, I want you to know that I don’t agree with pricing things by the hour, it’s just the only way I could find how to price things. I just wanted to spend more time making, and less time wondering what to ask for my work. Also, as Alex Galton and I am sure others pointed out, I will get faster and more accurate through the years. Right now I am as slow as I will be, and it takes me as long as it will ever take to make something. I also am not straying to far from your original designs because like you said, they are designed for teaching. Right now I am trying to get really good at joints and squaring stock and all of that, and experimenting is on the side. I am always drawing and thinking of new ideas on paper though.
    the first reason I started seeing how long it took to make something was because people at the farmers market thought it took much less time and effort to make what I had than what it really was. I have also had one to many people tell me that if I enjoy doing it, than it must not be real work. When someone would show interest in one of my pieces, say my carrying tote, I would explain that it was made mostly using hand tools by me, and add that I did use a power tool to drill the holes. And they said “well why don’t you use one of those things they use to drill holes? they have ones that aren’t powered.” I have a hard time understanding how some people can be so low to question why I didn’t use only hand tools. I didn’t use a brace and bit because I didn’t have one. But that is beside the point. Everything is hand planed, as smooth as glass, the warm, golden grain of the pine shining in the sun, with tight joints that will hold together for hopefully 100 years.
    In school, when I was little they always said money is not everything, now that I am in high school we get asked questions like, “how are you going to buy that new corvette?” or “how are you going to save enough money to retire?”. Also, the first things teachers say when we are asked what we want to do for a living is “oh you can make good money at that” or “don’t expect retirement with that income” or something of the likes. Quite frankly if I am doing what I am passionate for, no matter the income, I don’t need a fancy car, and I won’t want to retire.

    I really got a lot of info just from the few prices you gave me for things you make. It at least gives me somewhere to start. Hearing about what you had to put up with also is very comforting. I will definitely stop timing myself, and get that out of my head. I didn’t think about time when I first started, but until I found you, everyone around me said to time myself and all of that to get accurate prices, even though they did not seem accurate to me.
    Sorry for another lengthy post, I just couldn’t believe my eyes when I noticed the first blue words were my own writing. Thank you so much for taking the time to answer the questions I had, and thank you everyone else for your important input and stories too. It means more to me than words can explain. Thank you.
    -Fredrick Heinssen III

    • @Fredrick Heinssen III, I have an extra brace and come bit that you can have. I do not think I have a full set of bits and the brace will need a little cleaning up, but they are yours if you want them. If you are interested my gmail email is tangle70 . Let me know.

  22. My name is Mike and I am a woodworker.

    I have made enough things that I get people coming to me asking for something built to their requirements. That usually means design and build. My work is only worth what someone is willing to pay. At the time of the first request I ask “have you gone on-line to look for what you want?” I explain that I never intend to be the cheapest / lowest price maker of things so if you find what you want at Target I am not going to beat their price. The ones that come back after the first go-around are worth talking to further. I keep the first project for a client small to build trust between us.

    My next step is to propose building a model of what they are after and I charge around $25 – $50 for the effort. Once we get the design figured out we agree on the material and finish. I build what we agreed on and at delivery ask what they want to pay. Of course I explain the wood and joinery and the method of manufacture. If they offer too little I may argue a bit but not too hard. If the price is good then I go on and take on more commissions from them – if not we part ways.

    I admit this is not a strategy to sell products globally and I am sure it will change as my skills improve. At the start I was happy to have someone pay for material. As I get better my expectations increase and my prices go up so it is an evolutionary thing. I keep in my mind that some lawyers charge $500 an hour!

  23. A dream is a precious thing. You have to hold on to it, protect it from a word that would crush it, and most importantly invest your time and energy in it. If you do that it will grow like any other living thing.

    If you want to do something just do it and don’t ever let anyone tell you to can’t!

    I was put off being a woodworker buy my father who wanted a “better life for me” and steered me into accountancy. If that was such a better life why am I sitting in my office posting this when I should be sorting out my balance sheet file and preparing for month end. Because producing the same sets of numbers month after month that most people don’t care about much less understand does not fulfil. Creating is a basic human drive and I believe the only endeavour in which people will ever find fulfilment.

    All the very best of luck to you.

  24. I respectfully disagree with a lot that is written before.

    I agree with the idea to follow one’s passion.

    I do however think that it is a very good idea to keep a keen eye on the financial part of the business right from the start.
    It is no shame to listen to the demands of the market as well. A broke artist is a broke artist.

    There are a lot of things designed and sold by Ikea that are both pleasing to look at and beautifully designed from a technical standpoint.
    Now it is not fashionable to discuss nails and Ikea on this site, so let me not get too deep into the matter, but when I read statements that somebody is not “in it for the money” and “integrity” is taking centre stage, I kind of loose the plot.

    We are talking about producing a piece of furniture, not providing health care. There is nothing ethical about designing a chair, as long as it is not made in a way that the chair fails the first time somebody sits on it.
    Providing an unnecessary operation is unethical, being a surgeon only for the money is unethical. Perhaps breeding chickens without keeping the interest of the animal at heart, but producing a table? Not on my watch.

    Now I think it is great that Paul can produce a chair for $6500. The chair in the blog looks great. The chair closer to the homepage is certainly not worth $6500 to me. Yes the chair if made beautifully, but it is a work of craft, not a work of art. Please understand me well, there is nothing wrong with craft, but it is not art. $6500 represents 1.5 month work for an electrician in Australia. That is before tax. So for this chair one is expected to work for at least 2.5 months. And forgive me for my subjectivity, that is not worth it. To me, at least.

    There is beautiful antique furniture available for this amount of money. There is beautiful contemporary woodwork available that is made with great techniques. To ask $6500 for a chair that has been made many times before, with the sole thing standing out that it is made without power tools, I am sorry to say, is not worth the extra money.

    Luckily for Paul, the White House has a different opinion. Paul manages to find a clientele that is affluent enough to buy the furniture that he is making. And that is great.

    Personally I learn a lot fro the videos on the techniques that he is using. But the clock with this article is not worth the $150 because it is hand made. Hand made is not special enough anymore to made this clock stand out. If it would, many clocks like this would be made in low wI respectfully disagree with a lot that is written before.

    I agree with the idea to follow one’s passion.

    I do however think that it is a very good idea to keep a keen eye on the financial part of the business right from the start.
    It is no shame to listen to the demands of the market as well. A broke artist is a broke artist.

    There are a lot of things designed and sold by Ikea that are both pleasing to look at and beautifully designed from a technical standpoint.
    Now it is not fashionable to discuss nails and Ikea on this site, so let me not get too deep into the matter, but when I read statements that somebody is not “in it for the money” and “integrity” is taking centre stage, I kind of loose the plot.

    We are talking about producing a piece of furniture, not providing health care. There is nothing ethical about designing a chair, as long as it is not made in a way that the chair fails the first time somebody sits on it.
    Providing an unnecessary operation is unethical, being a surgeon only for the money is unethical. Perhaps breeding chickens without keeping the interest of the animal at heart, but producing a table? Not on my watch.

    Now I think it is great that Paul can produce a chair for $6500. The chair in the blog looks great. The chair closer to the homepage is certainly not worth $6500 to me. Yes the chair if made beautifully, but it is a work of craft, not a work of art. Please understand me well, there is nothing wrong with craft, but it is not art. $6500 represents 1.5 month work for an electrician in Australia. That is before tax. So for this chair one is expected to age countries with the appropriate quality control.

    Don’t get me wrong, I am not intending to write this as a troll. I earn my money through manual labour. I love using local knowledge and labour and I limit the amount of work done in low wage countries with a low level of training as much as possible.
    On the other hands, let us not underestimate that skill that some of these people possess.

    To me it is both a game and an insult to see the offer of $12.50 for a $15 spatula. Why do you expect to be paid 1/6 less that you intend to be paid for the product? On the other hand, how much is a spatula worth. We are sometimes too focussed on getting the ideal spatula, where a simple stick would suffice.

    If nobody wants to buy you clock for $150, your clock is not worth $150. It is as simple as that. You have eBay, Tradingpost or equivalent, the local market, auction houses, antique dealers, flee markets and many more opportunities to sell your product. But if nobody want to buy you clock that is made with integrity for $150, even when you make it for less than $10 per hour, don’t make it. Because nobody wants it.

    Focus on things that your market wants. If your market wants art, then provide art. If your market wants 2000 pound sterling coffee tables, then make them. That has nothing to do with integrity, but everything with business sense. If you do not want to make these products, because you do not like making these products, well so be it. If you have found your niche, well, great.

    Keep a keen eye on your cash flow. Accept very little losses right from the start. Don’t expect that by selling 10 year old Kia cars, you can make the successful transition to becoming a equally successful Bentley dealer. With cheap stuff, you will find a cheap buyers market. You may be successful at this or not. Equally by making things for a top segment of the market, you can win or loose.
    How many one dollar shops have you seen growing into a shop like Harrods. And how many shops with the prodigy of Harrods that became discount stores have made a successful return to the top.

    Do you really think that Rolex makes a better watch than a Casio GPS watch? Does a $100,000 BMW last 5 times longer than a $20,000 Fiesta?

    If you expect that a payment of $10 per hour is OK, then you will find it hard to find buyers who all of a sudden expect to pay you a lawyers salary.

    Make no mistake, if you are 18 years of age, you have a lot of time to play around and make mistakes. But once you become 40, you are stuck with the business model that you have chosen. For all your integrity and pleasure in work, you do not have a decent house, you will not be able to afford sending your kids to a decent school, you will not have enough money to replace your washing machine when it breaks down, you will not have enough money to take time off when you injure yourself, you will not have money to retire early.

    If you truly believe in being an artist, teach, and sponsor yourself. Paul seems to be a successful role model following this pathway.
    Another model is to keep you hobby your hobby and compete with the market.

    Many of the readers seem to enter woodworking as a retirement activity or hobby, making the need to earn unnecessary.

    Last, I like photography. I you like my photographs, for a 50×75 cm image, framed in an Ikea frame I need to charge you at least $300. Why? I have to drive to Ikea. I can make a frame that is nicer, but this will add to the costs. Acrylic alone in this size will cost $50. Not all images I take are winners, I expect you to pay for the failures as well. Not all wood ends up in great furniture. Printing is not cheap. How much does a camera cost and how long does a lens last. I expect to be paid for my travel.

    It is very cheap to set up a woodworking shop. But labour is expensive for a reason. Minimum wage is there for a reason, do not expect that you can work far below this.

    Sorry not to make this story a positive one. But if you do not focus on running a sound business, you will aim for failure.

    • The consideration here was in answer to an 18 year old’s question not really necessarily what unfolded. IKEA never entered the discussion until you tipped the table. Kia cars and surgeons all have a place as do banks and BMWs too. Even IKEA. This is my last concern on this issue. Thanks to every contributor. We can all take something away here.

    • I disagree on the handmade not being worth it. I grew up in the biggest Amish community in the world. People flocked to that area and paid good money just to purchase what they thought has handmade items. The old world Amish allure also played into it. Most did not understand that most of the new furniture and such bought was built with machine tools. Amish hands where doing it, but with machine tools.

  25. Again, I disagree.

    You started your career when there was no Ikea. Now there is. An 18 year old is competing in a market that has many alternatives for his work that did not exist when you built your name.

    I think a word of warning is everything as appropriate and necessary as support and encouragement.

    My contribution is long enough to be constructive, but critical enough to warn against being unprepared.

    Paul, you are making Rolls Royce furniture. You are obviously successful in that. You found your customers. But even Rolls Royce went the way many British car manufactures went. And admittedly, now they are on top of the world again.
    With the change of time, there is a change of fashion. Clocks are less popular, because of smartphones. Young people rather have smartphones than cars. Does that mean that Ferrari and Patek Philippe does not sell for millions? No way, but it does mean that an 18 year old needs to be prepared for this.
    That is the take home message I wrote. And since I am the only one, perhaps I am wrong and all the others are wright.

    Again my reaction invited to build a company on a solid understanding of the market, with a fair reward for the work that is done. If this is not achievable, then make it a hobby, not a professional and personal nightmare. Not when you are 60, not when you are 18.

    • 1:
      “I do however think that it is a very good idea to keep a keen eye on the financial part of the business right from the start.

      Answer: This seemed to me to be the consensus of all contributors.

      2:
      “It is no shame to listen to the demands of the market as well. A broke artist is a broke artist.”

      Answer: I think that was how everyone felt.

      3:
      “There are a lot of things designed and sold by Ikea that are both pleasing to look at and beautifully designed from a technical standpoint.”

      Answer: No problems here either. Though no one has mentioned IKEA in months as far as I know, maybe even a year or two.

      4:
      Now it is not fashionable to discuss nails and Ikea on this site, so let me not get too deep into the matter, but when I read statements that somebody is not “in it for the money” and “integrity” is taking centre stage, I kind of loose the plot.

      Answer: Here again no one has ever said or implied that nail is a bad word ever as far as I can recall. We use them often enough for some things, but they really cannot replace a dovetail or a mortise and tenon for integrity. Great for boards in a garden gate, nailing beads, such things like that. No substitutes for such things really.

      5:
      We are talking about producing a piece of furniture, not providing health care. There is nothing ethical about designing a chair, as long as it is not made in a way that the chair fails the first time somebody sits on it.

      Answer: Not sure that anyone mentioned ethics so not too sure where this came from but health care or joinery, both need to have integrity and ethical ways of doing business too I believe.

      6:
      “Providing an unnecessary operation is unethical, being a surgeon only for the money is unethical. Perhaps breeding chickens without keeping the interest of the animal at heart, but producing a table? Not on my watch.”

      Answer: We didn’t really go here but surgeons have no more responsibility toward ethics than a man making a dovetail joint or cleaning the kitchen or indeed raising chickens and allowing them open access to fresh air and green, open spaces. It is not what you do but how you do whatever you do that really matters. I don’t think ethics were really mentioned as such in any context raised here.

      7:
      “Now I think it is great that Paul can produce a chair for $6500. The chair in the blog looks great. The chair closer to the homepage is certainly not worth $6500 to me. Yes the chair if made beautifully, but it is a work of craft, not a work of art. Please understand me well, there is nothing wrong with craft, but it is not art. $6500 represents 1.5 month work for an electrician in Australia. That is before tax. So for this chair one is expected to work for at least 2.5 months. And forgive me for my subjectivity, that is not worth it. To me, at least.”

      Answer: The word art literally means to put in order as in skilled workmanship. So indeed it is art no matter which way you slice it and it has nothing to do with price but design and order and final appearance with inbuilt integrity too.

      8:
      There is beautiful antique furniture available for this amount of money. There is beautiful contemporary woodwork available that is made with great techniques. To ask $6500 for a chair that has been made many times before, with the sole thing standing out that it is made without power tools, I am sorry to say, is not worth the extra money.

      Answer: This is opinion only, which I appreciate.

      9:
      “Luckily for Paul, the White House has a different opinion. Paul manages to find a clientele that is affluent enough to buy the furniture that he is making. And that is great.”

      Answer: In my view I have treated all people the same way and given a fair price for my designs. I have never catered only to the rich but to everyone equally. I have had only six affluent customers in my lifetime of daily woodworking, unless you consider the odd surgeon affluent, then that adds a couple more.

      10:
      “Personally I learn a lot fro the videos on the techniques that he is using. But the clock with this article is not worth the $150 because it is hand made. Hand made is not special enough anymore to made this clock stand out. If it would, many clocks like this would be made in low wI respectfully disagree with a lot that is written before.”

      Answer: Thank you again for your opinion. The clock was designed as a teaching aid for reaching a few thousand woodworkers the many techniques in its making and it worked. It meant that a few hundred people could make something pleasing without machines and they could enjoy giving gifts.

      11:
      I agree with the idea to follow one’s passion.

      Answer: I think that that’s what everyone has said.

      12:
      “I do however think that it is a very good idea to keep a keen eye on the financial part of the business right from the start.”

      Answer: Same as number 1 above.

      13:
      It is no shame to listen to the demands of the market as well. A broke artist is a broke artist.

      Answer: Same as number 2 above.

      14: There are a lot of things designed and sold by Ikea that are both pleasing to look at and beautifully designed from a technical standpoint.

      Answer: Same as number 3 above.

      14:
      “Now it is not fashionable to discuss nails and Ikea on this site, so let me not get too deep into the matter, but when I read statements that somebody is not “in it for the money” and “integrity” is taking centre stage, I kind of loose the plot.”

      Answer: Same as number 4 above.

      15:
      “We are talking about producing a piece of furniture, not providing health care. There is nothing ethical about designing a chair, as long as it is not made in a way that the chair fails the first time somebody sits on it.”

      Answer: Same as number 5 above.

      16:
      Providing an unnecessary operation is unethical, being a surgeon only for the money is unethical. Perhaps breeding chickens without keeping the interest of the animal at heart, but producing a table? Not on my watch.

      Answer: Same as number 6 above.

      17:
      “Now I think it is great that Paul can produce a chair for $6500. The chair in the blog looks great. The chair closer to the homepage is certainly not worth $6500 to me. Yes the chair if made beautifully, but it is a work of craft, not a work of art. Please understand me well, there is nothing wrong with craft, but it is not art. $6500 represents 1.5 month work for an electrician in Australia. That is before tax. So for this chair one is expected to age countries with the appropriate quality control.”

      Answer: Same as number 7 above.

      18:
      “Don’t get me wrong, I am not intending to write this as a troll. I earn my money through manual labour. I love using local knowledge and labour and I limit the amount of work done in low wage countries with a low level of training as much as possible.
      On the other hands, let us not underestimate that skill that some of these people possess.”

      Answer: Not sure what to answer to this.

      19:
      To me it is both a game and an insult to see the offer of $12.50 for a $15 spatula. Why do you expect to be paid 1/6 less that you intend to be paid for the product? On the other hand, how much is a spatula worth. We are sometimes too focussed on getting the ideal spatula, where a simple stick would suffice.

      Answer: This seems again to be an opinion. I disagree that a stick compares in beauty and functionality with a hand crafted and well shaped kitchen utensil. I think that this is not just opinion but fact. As someone here contributed earlier, a cook looks for specifically shaped utensils as they work around the kitchen. they care about shape and weight and things like this. These are aesthetics as are many of the things discussed here. We all have views what something is worth and can sell for what we want to without explaining anything to anyone I think, can’t we?

      20:
      “If nobody wants to buy you clock for $150, your clock is not worth $150. It is as simple as that. You have eBay, Tradingpost or equivalent, the local market, auction houses, antique dealers, flee markets and many more opportunities to sell your product. But if nobody want to buy you clock that is made with integrity for $150, even when you make it for less than $10 per hour, don’t make it. Because nobody wants it.

      Answer: The clock is still worth the higher price whether someone buys it or not. Affordability and worth are two different things. I have often passed something up because I couldn’t afford something but it was still worth what I couldn’t afford.

      21:
      “Focus on things that your market wants. If your market wants art, then provide art. If your market wants 2000 pound sterling coffee tables, then make them. That has nothing to do with integrity, but everything with business sense. If you do not want to make these products, because you do not like making these products, well so be it. If you have found your niche, well, great.

      Answer: Yeah. Follow your heart on these matters. Sometimes that pans out and sometimes you end up eating it.

      21:
      “Keep a keen eye on your cash flow. Accept very little losses right from the start. Don’t expect that by selling 10 year old Kia cars, you can make the successful transition to becoming a equally successful Bentley dealer. With cheap stuff, you will find a cheap buyers market. You may be successful at this or not. Equally by making things for a top segment of the market, you can win or loose.”

      Answer: You can make a living and enjoy it too making lower priced products whether by hand or machine. It all depends on what you set your sights on as a lifestyle suiting your preferences.

      22:
      How many one dollar shops have you seen growing into a shop like Harrods. And how many shops with the prodigy of Harrods that became discount stores have made a successful return to the top.

      Answer:
      Do you really think that Rolex makes a better watch than a Casio GPS watch? Does a $100,000 BMW last 5 times longer than a $20,000 Fiesta?

      23:
      If you expect that a payment of $10 per hour is OK, then you will find it hard to find buyers who all of a sudden expect to pay you a lawyers salary.

      Answer: “Make no mistake, if you are 18 years of age, you have a lot of time to play around and make mistakes. But once you become 40, you are stuck with the business model that you have chosen.”

      Answer: Nope, change happens even for nearly 6 year olds like me.

      24:
      For all your integrity and pleasure in work, you do not have a decent house, you will not be able to afford sending your kids to a decent school, you will not have enough money to replace your washing machine when it breaks down, you will not have enough money to take time off when you injure yourself, you will not have money to retire early.”

      Answer: You are right in what you say at the end of this. We enjoyed saving up for things and setting money aside until we could afford things. Your ambitions are very different to mine and probably many others. We will always be disappointed if we set our expectations too high and can’t meet them. better to be realistic and enjoy seeing the kids grow into young men and women establishing themselves in their own right.

      25:
      “If you truly believe in being an artist, teach, and sponsor yourself. Paul seems to be a successful role model following this pathway.
      Another model is to keep you hobby your hobby and compete with the market.”

      Answer: Not sure how this should be answered

      26:
      “Many of the readers seem to enter woodworking as a retirement activity or hobby, making the need to earn unnecessary.”

      Answer:

      27: Last, I like photography. I you like my photographs, for a 50×75 cm image, framed in an Ikea frame I need to charge you at least $300. Why? I have to drive to Ikea. I can make a frame that is nicer, but this will add to the costs. Acrylic alone in this size will cost $50. Not all images I take are winners, I expect you to pay for the failures as well. Not all wood ends up in great furniture. Printing is not cheap. How much does a camera cost and how long does a lens last. I expect to be paid for my travel.

      Answer: Not sure what this really means.

      28:
      “It is very cheap to set up a woodworking shop. But labour is expensive for a reason. Minimum wage is there for a reason, do not expect that you can work far below this.”

      Answer: I would do all that I have done for minimum wage but work a little longer day to make it a living wage. That’s what actually happened for most of my chosen way of life and it worked. I am a successful man by this alone and not by my bank account or by what others think of me.

      29:
      “Sorry not to make this story a positive one. But if you do not focus on running a sound business, you will aim for failure.”

      Answer:I never met anyone starting out in business who’s aim was to be unsound or aimed at failure. Only to be independent and self controlled to manage their life according to a lifestyle they were choosing. Most who work for themselves ultimately face the reality that they made a bad decision here or there along the way affecting their business and family and consequently shift position so as not to fall into that trap again. Good credibility leads to good standing and integrity alongside honesty and truth and these things go a long way to paving a road to success, whether money is your goal or not, and certainly satisfaction and wellbeing are also key here.
      All in all I did not think that the discussions back and forth here over the past few days were at all negative but helpful to someone trying different considerations. I took this piece by piece because it seemed to conclude in so negative an ending but primarily because of things you introduced that weren’t part of it. I hope that this is taken that way as I value all contributors even though I may not at all agree with all of them.

    • 1:
      “You started your career when there was no Ikea. Now there is. An 18 year old is competing in a market that has many alternatives for his work that did not exist when you built your name.”

      Answer: There has always been competition. I know that IKEA can’t compete with me and neither can any big-box store. They simply can’t produce what I make. When I came to that conclusion I relaxed and just made boxes and clocks and things people liked. One time I made birdhouses and bird feeders no one else ever made and so enjoyed it for a few years. It was bread and butter to my family and I would even say now that I quite miss making them. I am a very ordinary working man. No real special gifts but prepared to work hard to achieve the best I can. I know many furniture makers, writers and film makers better than I. Whether they can do what I do for the same reasons I don’t really know. But they have their own reasons for doing what they do and I like that.

      2:
      “I think a word of warning is everything as appropriate and necessary as support and encouragement.”

      Answer:That’s true and it seems that that was what took place from contributors over the three days after the blog post began.

      3:
      “My contribution is long enough to be constructive, but critical enough to warn against being unprepared.”
      Answer: Again, that’s what most people did.

      4:
      “Paul, you are making Rolls Royce furniture. You are obviously successful in that. You found your customers. But even Rolls Royce went the way many British car manufactures went. And admittedly, now they are on top of the world again.
      With the change of time, there is a change of fashion. Clocks are less popular, because of smartphones. Young people rather have smartphones than cars. Does that mean that Ferrari and Patek Philippe does not sell for millions? No way, but it does mean that an 18 year old needs to be prepared for this. That is the take home message I wrote. And since I am the only one, perhaps I am wrong and all the others are wright.”

      Answer: I make ordinary furniture mostly. Quite ordinary as far I can see and plan that I always will. Not Rolls Royce at all and never pretended to.

      5:
      “Again my reaction invited to build a company on a solid understanding of the market, with a fair reward for the work that is done. If this is not achievable, then make it a hobby, not a professional and personal nightmare. Not when you are 60, not when you are 18.”

      Answer: Answers come in the doing of things that give a basis of experience. Some experiences profit you and some don’t but you learn from these too. No one else can experience them for you but you can listen and learn from the experiences people tell you about and then make your decision on a more educated level.

      I will close on this here now, Alexander.

  26. I felt a bit guilty for making a long post last time (first time) so I stopped short. I was trying to encourage this young man to start cheap…..get work…..get experience and confidence and work up. That’s what I have done.

    Integrity……..I made a child’s rocking chair from a Woodworker magazine plan about 1980…..my price was £35 ……it took a week to make……my customer was very pleased…..she recently called to see if I could make a small repair…….it will serve another generation now.
    Was I stupid? Did I waste my time? No….. I got to improve my woodturning skills and recruited another satisfied customer. Big Question….. Why are there so many dissatisfied customers out there in the world today waiting on the phone?…….Why is Customer Service such a big industry?
    I would still encourage this fervent young man to have a go at ploughing his own furrow.

    Business……..yes you have to make money but how much do you need? We all start off somewhere towards the bottom (not all)……. if you “need” a Ferrari you will not get one by the work of your own hands……you might if you employ people or outsource to somewhere.
    I’m still rubbish at business but I have improved…….many times early on I would point out a flaw in the work as I asked for payment and reduce the price……I would often hover on the phone and not give the price I had in mind. I have improved…..I have learned…..it takes time.

    Boast…….I’m an average guy who got excited about woodwork……there are a few people who come and say kindly, you must have a natural gift………No… I’ve worked my butt off….. and been lucky to have met customers who I was recommended to, who were prepared to take a chance on me, and stretch me.
    I have made a kitchen for Michael Owen, the footballer, done work for the Chairman of Stoke City Football club and his daughter the owner of Bet 365 (kitchens and lots of lovely furniture over many years) and many others who choose me when they have unlimited choice.
    Still not from a small acorn grew a Ferrari.

    More boast…….my next job is a Georgian portico with fluted columns and a pediment…..lots of tricky mouldings, then a TV cabinet with a lift up mechanism in a Regency style with flame mahogany door panels with cross banding…….I’ve not done this before…….help! On the drawing board is a library project for a stately home where I have made a dressing room and lots of other things.

    I never wanted a Ferrari anyway…..I hope my acorn turns into an oak tree.

  27. First, you are a success. You are a success because you are doing what you choose to do. There are many a millionaire who are not successful. Success is not about how much you charge an hour or by piece or even how much is in your pocketbook. It’s about choice. Choice comes from thinking. And very few people today think. Most just react. React to the politicians, bankers, parents, etc. and go into ‘careers’ out of guilt or in servitude to debt. A successful person chooses.

    The unsuccessful person reacted to the talking heads on the TV, and went into debt to buy that thing the talking head said they needed to be “successful.”

    All you have to do is know where you are going. This is the choice. The answers will come of their own accord – from your own thoughts.

  28. The best piece of advise I can give the young man is this. If you put your trust in God and if this is the path He is leading you down, You will never regret it.

  29. I think the real bottom line about all of this is to try to live life wisely. One may say, “Follow your dream”. This does not mean to follow it blindly. There is a place for custom hand woodworkers because some people do want it. I believe Steve Faram to be the most eloquent respondent among us. Nothing speaks like experience.

    Alexander is right that the market dictates acceptable financial value. He has a no-nonsense point of view with an eye towards the future. It is important to provide caution along with advice. It sounds like he is an electrician. Great! That’s my calling too. Where I live, (I am positive it is the same everywhere), there are good electricians and bad ones. Some charge a lot, and some a little. Some provide great advertising and perform horrible, even dangerous work. All of them have regular customers that gladly pay their asking price. They also all have customers that complain of cost too. We have boutique contractors that charge more than average for average work. There seems to be room for everyone- even those who don’t pay their bills.

    I have been blessed to work for an ethical contractor for many years where I have been free to work as I believe is right. I try to offer a product that is reasonably good quality for a reasonable cost compared to what others offer. One important aspect in this is to find ways to make my product safer and more efficient without adding cost. This seems to me to be ethical in nature. In fact, everything I do as an electrician is ultimately ethical. Short cuts can be taken as long as they don’t compromise reasonable quality.

    This is how I have always worked- trying to balance cost and availability by balancing quality and quantity. It really has worked well, despite the occasional failures which everyone encounters. I have worked in extremes from mansions to hovels. The poor do not have the money for much repeat business, but others do. Like Paul, I have done my best to treat everyone the same. The financial status of my customers has had little bearing on how they reacted. Some were good to work for and others were not. The good ones always eventual call again.

    I am a large part of a small contractor’s business, and so have a great influence on how profitable his business is. I have built his clientele with him and for him. He has received repeat business frequently because of me. I am certain he has had complaints too, unfortunately. In the long run, I have been specifically requested to perform a great deal of work by customers. I have even been chosen to represent a customer on a high profile project to be the customer’s field installer so they can ensure the success of the project. There is a great deal more to financial success in business than simply what is charged to the customer. What has made the difference is being a good person as much as I can.

    To the original writer: be respectful to your parents. They don’t want to clip your wings, only to look out for you. If you follow your passion of woodworking, you probably will be successful both personally and financially because your heart is in it. If your heart is in it, you will ride out the mistakes and failures and be even happier when things go well. Trials will become learning experiences rather than nightmares. But like Alexander said, think about the broken washing you will eventually have, and learn how to fix it. That’s what our grandparents always did.

    Best of luck!

  30. Paul, I believe, Is spot on! work hard, keep your prices where they will currently sell, and let your name and reputation grow. will it be easy, NO. but it will be worth it in the end.

    HOWEVER!! i do have one idea. many people don’t understand how difficult a hand made wood project is. I would recommend bringing a small portable bench and working on some of the projects while you are at the farmers market. 1, you wont just be sitting there in between customers 2 you will see that people like to buy what is made right in front of them (kind of like the painters that paint on small tiles at beaches.). is it a gimmick… yea, but gimmicks work, and it makes people feel like they were involved.

  31. This blog post, though I’m late to come across it, is great! I haven’t read very much of the comments that followed. I work in people’s homes primarily, i cant think of a better word than handy man to describe what i do. Trim, cabinets, sheetrock, flooring, siding, framing, electrical, plumbing, painting, roofing….Whatever…I do it.

    I do not look forward to the days that don’t revolve around wood, but it’s providing the income to keep the lights on, my kids fed, and enough gas to get to work the next day. That being said sometimes i work for very little, if you break it down by the hour, other times i make what i consider good money. One of the personal things that influences the price of what i produce is not charging more than i think it is worth, even if that contradicts fair market value….Another is i will not invest my own money into a customers house or project. Only my time.

    Is that the life of a crafting artisan, no. That is the life of a laborer working to become a novice in what he truly loves. A customer asks for a front door to be installed, i offer to make it for them. Cabinets, same thing. Anything that i have the confidence to make by hand to a reasonable degree of quality I will offer to a customer if it fits their needs. Given my low experience i try to beat the big box stores price to entice them (of course there are some exclusions) which doesn’t leave much if anything on the table as far as profit but that’s not the point, i want the experience. To me this isn’t a bad way to go about it. Speed develops, that effects how pay breaks down by the hour. Experience yields better quality, that effects the cost of an hour.

    Wage is relative, as most things are.

  32. I don’t know how credit cards work in the UK and US. I come from Denmark and I use a CC for all my daily needs, I buy all my foodstuffs, gas, lightbulbs, toiletpaper, handtools and everything else. but I never get in debt. It’s just a way of keeping “cash” in hand and avoiding having to pay the cashier in the bank the 2.5£fee for talking to me.

    I’ve turned my economy around, I transfer an amount equal to 800£ to my expense account each month and I know I can support my family (with 2 kids) for that amount (shop in Aldi, makes living cheaper), the rest stays in a second account, call it savings if you will, I call it leftovers. Last year I had 6000£ leftover even though I spend a ton on tools, wood and heating a “holy” workshop.

    Point is, if you arrange your economy towards maximum expenditures over a time period and stick to it you will have a lot more leftovers than the other way around of paying the bills, putting a set amount into savings and spending the rest before the 1st of the next month.

    And a good side income in summer and autumn, I think in most of the western world (atleast the urban part) is trimming hedges. Buy a good gasoline driven tool and start charging on the meter/yard. Those paid by the hour see this activity as hard and not worthy of their time. A set price lets you decide your own pay by work effort. I make 20-30£/hour doing this, albeit boring, hard and repetitive job, but theres a lot of work doing it and each year I get calls from more and more people who’ve heard of my services from friends or neighbours.

  33. Unfortunately, this blog post was brought to my knowledge only two weeks ago, by one of Paul’s emails. I am not going to comment on the pros & cons of one or the other post or reply; however, having worked and earned my living as a Wirtschaftsprüfer (Chartered Accountant in Germany) I may be able to give some practical assisstance on how to calculate the price for any piece of work; knowing well the exact costs of the piece of work you will be in a much better position to make the entrepreneurial decision on the price tag, eventually to may need to look for different clients! Here is the technique:

    Take an EXCEL Sheet and make a list in the left column “A” of all the tools and machinery you have bought / were given / found you are using or will be using in your workshop.

    Put the cost of acquisition of each single item in the next column “B”. If you haven’t paid anything, take the buying price if this item from a catalogue or any internet shop.

    In the next column “C”, put the anticipated useful life time of the item in years. Some of the (hand-) tools will last nearly forever: even so, they might need to be replaced or repaired, but – most important – you might have used your funds in a more economic way.
    In the next column “D”, divide the amounts from column B by the number of years in column C.
    Finally, anticipate the hours of productive (!) work you will be able (!, not willing) to spent in your workshop: a good point of departure will be 8 hours * 5 days * 52 weeks per year = 2.080 hours. You may like / need to make some holidays, there are public holidays in your country of residence, you / your wife / your child may fall sick when you cannot work, you may have to do some paper work, travelling for your business, other unforeseeable duties. I’d guess that 42 productive weeks = 1.680 hours is the most you can reasonably use your workshop on the long run. You will end up with a rather exact amount of costs for the mere installation of your shop, without actually using ist.
    In the next step, do the very same calculation for all the running costs of all machinery and tools: obviously nothing for your hand planes and chisels, but the electricity for all your power tools: multiply the installed kw by the actual price on your electricity bill. Multiply this figure by the anticipated time of usage of the individual tool: presumably 8 hours p.d. all year round for any lighting, but may be only 1 hour per day (week?) for your bandsaw, etc. Don’t forget the rent for your shop; if you are using your parents’ / your inherited garage, go around and aks for prices.
    Until here, your job was tidious, only. Now comes the tricky part: try to fix an amount of money you reasonably believe you and your family might be able to live on every month. This must be the net amount, after deduction of all taxes on income and profit, insurance for life / health, pension funds. Multiply this amount by 12 to get the NET income per year. Add all the expenses which are not deductible for income / profit tax purposes; put on top the amount of taxes you will be likely to have to pay. ASK your local tax adviser! You will end with your GROSS yearly income you need; divide this amount by the hours of productive work you have calculated above, i.e. 1.680 hours in my example.
    Now, you add up all the hourly costs of all the positions you habe taken into account, and you will end up at the price per hour you just need to simply survive – without doing anything!
    Try to log with reasonable precision the amount of hours spent on an individual piece of work; multiply with the hourly rate.
    You will find out that the cost for stock used for an individual piece of work, glue, sandpaper and any other consumables is usually rather negligeable. You will be able to ask for a higher / lower price for the use of dearer / less expensive wook.

    I am afraid that the 18 year old who initiated this blog might very well be rather disappointed or even devasted: Very good, as he might avoid an otherwise desasterous decision, or at least reconsider and adjust his decisions to the brutal reality of economy. The German author Bert Brecht had put it: “First comes the food, then the moral.”

    Our young friend may like to take up a part time job for bread & butter, and follow the career of his choice in his off time, as nearly all artits of any branch do. I do like Paul’s endless efforts to support his followers; I did the same in my profession. However, I believe that the outlook of a 65 year old on his very successful life may be a bit different from the prospects of an 18 year old on the upcoming 45 years of his life. Finally, lets not forget our females and children who may not be as humble as they may have been some forty years ago.

    • SORRY for having omitted this very important item, nobody forgets in Europe: add to your hourly rate the VAT or sales tax or similar, applicable in your country of residence.

  34. A very honorable and sage person, long ago told me a basic but solid truism that has served me well in another hand tool profession. I was told, no matter what business you are in.Be it a wood craftsman, Local milk shop etc, One does not earn a coin in there chosen fields.
    You make your money via your books.
    It allows you to know how you stand at present.
    moderate the seasonal trends of the past.
    Most importantly. is to be prepared for the up-coming market trends.
    One wouldn’t stock there swimming wares in the middle of winter.
    I hope that all who wishes to, achieve there goals.
    Cheers Peter

  35. I’ve just come across this post and would like to offer some additional advise based on my experience and background.

    First my credentials: I hold an MBA with an emphasis in entrepreneurship. I have owned or been a part owner in several successful business ventures ranging from retail soft goods to IT. For the past 15 years, I have consulted in the financial services industry. Finally, I am a retired reserve military officer.

    My thoughts on setting prices.

    1. You must know your customer; socio-economic status, tastes and buying habits (where they buy and what prompts them to buy). Most entrepreneurs forgo this research when setting pricing.

    The young man in the letter mentioned selling his goods at a farmers market. Generally speaking, people that shop farmers markets, flea markets, swap meets or something similar go with the mindset of looking for bargains and the desire to haggle on price, so in these types of environments an entrepreneur must establish pricing which lends itself to this mindset. A high quality product sold at one of these places may sell for five or even ten times the amount to a different customer base.

    2. Quality matters when demanding higher prices; Paul has addressed this in his comments so I won’t other than to say, age has nothing to do with designing and manufacturing very high quality products.

    3. Based on my experience, the majority of new entrepreneurs think they have to be the “low price leader” (Wal-Mart in the US). This pricing model is very difficult to execute on a small scale. There just isn’t enough margin in each product because of lack of scalability, don’t get into the trap of thinking you have to be the lowest price out there. People that spend a lot of money for a product expect high quality. When they see an item that is inexpensive, they typically perceive it as something that is cheaply made. I can almost guarantee an end table that might sell for $50 at a flea market, could sell for $1,000 or more in an exclusive shop in Beverly Hills or similar neighborhood, but you may only sell a few a year. On the other hand, if you can manufacture and easily sell 20 of these tables every week at a flea market for $50 each, well then maybe that’s what you should do.

    4. At the minimum the price you establish for a piece should cover all costs to manufacture it, including your wage, and a portion of your shop expenses such as lighting and heat – one of the cost beauties of a hand tool shop is its significantly reduce overhead expenses. If I break even every year, but I can buy new raw materials and take care of my family, well then I would consider that a successful venture. Profit is really only necessary if you want to expand your business, there is no law I know of that says I can’t increase my prices every year for a better standard of living yet still only break even in my business. If your work is to the quality of Paul’s, you could probably demand $100 – $200 an hour selling at the shop in Beverly Hills, but if it is obvious you’re a beginner, well then your only likely to be able to charge minimum wage or probably less.

    5. Understand your tax advantages. Based on how you establish your venture/business you may be able to deduct things like wages (if you’re an employee of the business), shop expenses, raw materials, tax advice. Understanding the tax laws in your area is vital to establishing a viable business venture even if you’re the only employee.

    I could go on but I will leave it here. Good luck.

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