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(one man shop) Questions and Machinery Needed For a New Cabinet Shop

Alex Member

Hi everyone, im brand new here but have been digging through several forums, and although ive seen several others posting similar questions, im hoping to get a better understanding on how others bought there machines and what they use. a little bit about myself, Im in school for cabinet making right now, and dont plan on opening shop for a couple years ( until i get some experience in the field............(if anyone Is hiring in the GTA area and needs some help please feel free to message XD) (have a little assembling and other trade backgrounds under my belt currently),Im hoping to open my own cabinet shop in the next 3 years, and within that cabinet shop im hoping out source less so customers can be happy with coming to one person for a complete cabinet (not planing on doing this in Ontario , figured id add that since its pretty crowded with cabinet companies here unless you go way out north)( also do everything except counter tops since most want quartz or marble). Im hoping to figure out what kind of expenses it would take to run a one man shop and how long it took for you to start ( i understand you can start a business whenever with whatever tools, i just want to start at the right time, with the right tools).

So i guess to make this more organized ill just list some questions and hopefully some of you can answer them.

1) what type of machinery did you start with and what size (for example: im looking at decent cabinet saw 3HP, 8" jointer, 15 planer, drum sander(or wide belt sander? for one man shop?), dust collector, shaper or router table (not to sure if a shaper is needed with a one man shop) ?

2) did you buy any or all your equipment used?

3) what brands for equipment would you recommend when buying new machinery

4) If you do buy used equipment how do you trust the buyer, and what sites do you prefer to use?

5) do you work on your property or do you rent a workshop

6) how much work do you outsource, and what type of work do you outsource?

7) where do you buy your wood? panel wood and lumber?

8) finally, and of coarse this question has to be asked cause of its importance, what did you wish you new before hand?

If anyone could answer one or all these questions that'd be amazing. thank you once again

6/5/20       #2: (one man shop) Questions and Machin ...
Brian Davies

Tools are the last thing to consider. Sales is the first. The ideal path is to spend several years in sales for a company that produces something similar to what you want to build. During that time, you'll see what machines they use (and don't use).

Success usually takes the form of being good at sales + automation + illegal labor.

6/5/20       #3: (one man shop) Questions and Machin ...
james e mcgrew  Member


1) what type of machinery did you start with and what size (for example: im looking at decent cabinet saw 3HP, 8" jointer, 15 planer, drum sander(or wide belt sander? for one man shop?), dust collector, shaper or router table (not to sure if a shaper is needed with a one man shop) ?


2) did you buy any or all your equipment used? YES BOTH, JUST LOOKED FOR QUALITY AND WHY IT WAS SOLD.

3) what brands for equipment would you recommend when buying new machinery


4) If you do buy used equipment how do you trust the buyer, and what sites do you prefer to use?


5) do you work on your property or do you rent a workshop


6) how much work do you outsource, and what type of work do you outsource?


7) where do you buy your wood? panel wood and lumber?


8) finally, and of coarse this question has to be asked cause of its importance, what did you wish you new before hand?


6/5/20       #4: (one man shop) Questions and Machin ...
Tom Gardiner

I'm in Ottawa. I have run a one man shop for 17 years.
I could answer your list of questions but I think it might be irrelevant. I started without much of a plan after working for a few other cabinet makers and quitting in frustration. I was pretty arrogant and knew I could do better than my bosses (irony emoji).
Before you start planning on what to buy and where to set up shop you will need to know how to establish a customer base and how to build what they and you want.
I grew up reading early Fine Woodworking issues and admiring craft furniture makers - Krenov, Fortune, Esherick, etc. i bought all my power tools used some at auction some through friends. There was no ebay or kijiji then. Those early years were difficult and unsustainable because I was spending tons of hours making pieces for too low a price. I didn't know how to work efficiently and I wasn't reaching the clients who would pay for work I was putting in. In short I am a case study in how not to start a business.
So much of what you are asking will be answered once you have worked for five to ten years in woodworking shops. Find a shop/shops that do the work that you imagine yourself wanting to do. Ask for a tour or interview. Be humble - chances are that you have a lot to learn and every shop works differently and you will be able to gain skills and knowledge from every work experience.
I am happy that you are eager to set up shop but don't rush into it. Do your time in other shops getting paid while doing your research, making contacts and building skills. The romance of a one man shop wears off in a hurry when the bills pile up.

6/5/20       #5: (one man shop) Questions and Machin ...

As most are alluding too above, the machinery and material is the least of your concerns and the easy part. Running a successful business is the hard part.

My advice is take some marketing, accounting, and other business related courses while working for another shop and refining your craft. The business skills will be much more valuable than the ability to cut a half blind dovetail.

The best example I can give is that of the Electrician. To be come an electrician, apprentice for experience and in class school work. This will end you as a licenced electrician.

To then become a Master electrician, the final schooling has nothing to do with electricity, its how to run a business.

6/5/20       #6: (one man shop) Questions and Machin ...
Alex Member

Hi all, first wanted to say thank you for all the replies ive so far received. With the majority of answers suggesting I obtain a job first in a shop similar to a style that i want to run.

I just want to reiterate that, I did mention that i have worked in these shops doing small work like assembly/sanding (very minimal work, but work none the less), and have seen/asked about the machines they use. The only reason im re'mentioning this is because most of the comments are directed into getting a job (which is totally understandable and makes sense prior to going into any industry).

I think so many people post questions about what type of machinery to use because of open ended answers like these ones ( and not saying they weren't helpful, because they were for me, just saying they are pretty open ended responses, which is what ive seen in other posts as well), and no one is looking for a concrete answer, just an idea of how much it costed for others to start there business/ how much others put into there business before opening shop.

I already have a business plan helping me with what I would need to maintain the business, as well have other in my life helping me, who have successfully owned theyre own business for 15+ years, So i do have some help with the business aspect. Im just trying to be financially ready and prepped before i decide to open a shop down the road

6/5/20       #7: (one man shop) Questions and Machin ...
james e mcgrew  Member


Tools to Fabricate cases

Saws or CNC (better)
Edgebander Small at first knowing this will need to be a bigger machine in the future

Use Meta box drawers or outsource wood

out source doors

the Quality of the outsourcing is excellent and the cost is equal to or better than in house production for a small shop,

6/5/20       #8: (one man shop) Questions and Machin ...
Brian Davies

One final piece of advise. Assuming you are doing residential / retail work rather than commercial (which is sounds like you are), I would suggest creating a digital marketing strategy.

Then implement it. You don't need a shop to do that. Find a shop that will bid your leads. Take a small commission. Possibly do the installs yourself. Then once you've got a reliable marketing system in place, open up your shop knowing you've got the system in place to drive work in.

6/5/20       #9: (one man shop) Questions and Machin ...
MarkB Member

I think the reason you get a lot of open ended responses is because there is really just no way to quantify what a reasonably effective answer would be because the broad term "cabinet shop" is brutally open ended at the onset. Are you talking a cabinet shop that literally just builds cabinets, residential? Commercial" Wholesale to contractors? Will you aim to build very custom/bespoke style cabinetry or will you be providing more consumer level cabinetry in volume? Or is your definition of a "cabinet shop" what most's is in that its more of an overall custom job shop that builds furniture, cabinetry, some molding, trim, and so on? What percentage of your cabinets would be frameless vs. faceframe, 5pc doors or slab/Mdf?

All of these things would massively effect even a gut shot tooling package.

1) what type of machinery did you start with and what size (for example: im looking at decent cabinet saw 3HP, 8" jointer, 15 planer, drum sander(or wide belt sander? for one man shop?), dust collector, shaper or router table (not to sure if a shaper is needed with a one man shop) ?

** Basic cabinet saw, 5HP minimum if it were me, more preferrably a vertical panel saw or a slider if your not going to have a CNC (vertical panel saw preferred). Shaper only, never had a router table in the shop. Shaper(s) with feeders and a saw with a feeder for me personally are some of the biggest labor savers in the shop. No jointer in the shop but we have a slider for straight line/glue line and do very little face flattening of solids.

2) did you buy any or all your equipment used?

** A mix of new and used

3) what brands for equipment would you recommend when buying new machinery

** Brands are not really an issue until you quantify the machine needed in my opinion. Only advice would be to avoid anything you see in the hobby market if possible. There are some exceptions but leaning toward heavy industrial machinery will serve you better if you stay at it.

4) If you do buy used equipment how do you trust the buyer, and what sites do you prefer to use?

** you dont trust the buyer, you trust yourself. Any of the online auction sites are fine you just have to do your research and quantify your level of allowable risk if you have to buy sight unseen.

5) do you work on your property or do you rent a workshop

** Own the commercial building and property

6) how much work do you outsource, and what type of work do you outsource?

** Very little but we are a small shop. Doors mostly

7) where do you buy your wood? panel wood and lumber?

** Hardwood is direct from the mill surfaced and straight lined with overage to allow as little in-house processing as possible. Panel products from a variety of distributors/

8) finally, and of coarse this question has to be asked cause of its importance, what did you wish you new before hand?

** If Im being cynical (and somewhat honest), to never get into this business to begin with. If Im being less cynical, to do as already stated repeately above and look at the business as a business much more than I did early on. Its not romantic to be self employed and no matter how much you think you love working with wood and making things you will find that that will become a very small part of your day to day work especially if your thinking about being a one man shop. You will work miles and miles of uncompensated hours doing bidding, billing, cleaning, maintenance, bookkeeping, head scratching, recovering from sleepless nights, recovering from late nights to meet deadlines, working 7 days, tryng to balance a relationship/family life, wondering why you cant remember when your last vacation was, on and on.

Its not easy by any means and its not getting any easier with globalization, import goods, automation, and the like. Unless you find a real niche and are in an area where you can capitalize on some highly profitable small/bespoke type work, its very very hard to be profitable as a one man shop. There is simply too much to do in a day for a single person. Its possible, but difficult.

If anyone could answer one or all these questions that'd be amazing. thank you once again

6/5/20       #10: (one man shop) Questions and Machin ...
MarkB Member

Missed the widebelt/drum/DC, definitely widebelt but depending on the type of work you do and volume you could potentially get away for a very short time with an oscillating dual drum if you can find one but you will get a bunch of very viable input that a drum is a waste of time. That said, a less-than-stellar small widebelt can be a nightmare as well. If/when you refine your needs the decisions will be easier. You say you have a business plan and that "should" be dictating to you clearly what specific tooling you will be needing to execute that plan. The same applies to dust collection. Your tooling package, once established, will set you needs for dust collection.

Then the rabbit hole deepens with, in-house finishing? Spray rigs? HVLP, AAA? Booth? Solvents? Water?

6/5/20       #11: (one man shop) Questions and Machin ...
pat gilbert

Emulate what you want to have, not what you want to be. Write it down as a plan.

Learn the discipline of being a professional.

Learn how to work hard

6/5/20       #12: (one man shop) Questions and Machin ...
Oggie Member

One man cabinet shop is the most horrific self-torturing device ever invented.

The most important business plan of any cabinet maker should be titled: "How to not stay one-man shop for more than a few months".

Good luck.

6/5/20       #13: (one man shop) Questions and Machin ...
rich c.

The most important thing you need to start a one man shop is a burning fire in your gut to do it. Without the passion, all the crap that comes your way will become insurmountable. The passion keeps you working 70 hour weeks. It helps you keep going when you get home after midnight and have to be back at 6:00am. Second most important is a wife with a great job and wonderful benefits. Third most important is that you are a likable natural sales person. Machinery and tools are dependent on the style and scope of what you want to do. It's incredibly easier to get than my first 3 requirements.

6/6/20       #14: (one man shop) Questions and Machin ...
Tom Gardiner

The market is good for used machinery right now. Shops are in transition to cnc based layouts so quality sliding table saws are available at good prices.
How mechanically minded are you? If you are confident to repair machinery and electrics then there are great deals.
Phase converters are available if you need to adapt 3 phase equipment to single phase supply.
The only machine I bought new is my cnc and that was because I knew nothing about them and wouldn't be able to repair a used machine. My mortiser and shaper are from the 60's others are youngsters from the 80s. I have bought some duds over the years and some came to the shop in terrible condition but once tuned up have been accurate and reliable.

6/6/20       #15: (one man shop) Questions and Machin ...
Karl E Brogger  Member


oh man, Oggie nailed it.

1. I started with a tablesaw, 6" jointer, 15" planer, and a chop box. Router tables have their uses, but a shaper has more. 5hp is a minimum I feel on a tablesaw, more is better. A 5hp shaper is borderline useless for anything but light cuts.

2. When I initially started, I bought everything new, that was a mistake. Like big dumb mistake. I bought garbage equipment, and wasted dollars going new that could've been used to be more productive. Right now in my shop there's only a handful of stationary pieces of equipment I purchased new, and only one piece that I started with. Everything else has been shuffled down the line.

3. I can't tell you what to buy, but I can tell you to stay away from almost everything Powermatic, Grizzly, or Delta makes. Over priced, and underwhelming. Temporary tooling for the most part.

4. Same way you trust anything you purchase used. Know what you are buying. You better learn how to fix stuff too. Even going new, that warranty only lasts for a tiny amount of time. Learn how to troubleshoot. A buddy of mine owns a cabinet shop and has the same automatic dovetailer I have. One day it stopped working, and he couldn't figure it out and texted me. I'm not there, I don't know what's going on. Then it dawned on me, "is the oil tank low?" Bam, filled it with oil and it went out of shut down mode and he had a functioning dovetailer again. Better yet, he should've filled it before the problem even arose, but preventative maintenance is a mystery to some.

5. Rented the first two shops, own the current one. (as much as anyone with a mortgage can say they own anything) I own the building, the bank owns my ass.

6. We outsource finishing and most mouldings. But, I try to keep in contact with other companies that can bail me out if need be to do other things. Doors, drawers, even busting up material and surfacing through a moulder for face frame material. When you're in a jam, but still need to get product out the door, too bad sweetheart, it needs to get done.

7. We have probably a dozen different hardwood suppliers around here. Once word gets out you exist, those vultures will hunt you down. :)

8. I wish I would've known that I'd be a slave to my own horrific invention. I wish I knew that there was going to be so many sleepless night because of too much work, or too little. I wish I would've invested more time in learning how to lead men into battle. I wish I would've paid more attention in school, (one: so I didn't do construction work like a dummy in the first place), and two: so I could be less of a dummy doing construction work. Who knew things like algebra, geometry, and trig would be used so much....

When I went on my own, I was doing, on average, about 20 hours a week doing side jobs. I was delusional and thought it was going to be easy going. I had all of my install tools, about $10k in the bank, and cheap space to rent from family to get going, but I didn't have that feeder system I had doing side jobs.

If I were to do it over again I would've squirreled away all of the money I pissed away on toys, tail, and partying in the early 2000's and bought a cnc and an edge bander. Those two tools would've paved the way for anything else I wanted to accomplish in a wood shop.

I think most of us have a similar story on how we started, I don't know if that is as possible as it once was. The cost of entry to this is so freaking high. I was behind the curve and didn't have a cnc until 18 months ago, now I don't know now you would be even vaguely competitive without one nowadays.

Get used to being hungry and tired. This is a crap business to get rich in and still maintain some level of moral integrity.

and to parrot other comments, building jobs is easy. Selling jobs is the tough part.

6/9/20       #16: (one man shop) Questions and Machin ...
Matt Calnen

Well, after reading all the responses I have come to the conclusion that there are a lot of unhappy cabinet makers out there. Is it easy to start a one man cabinet/woodshop? No it isnít. But if you have a good market and you market yourself well, you can make a good living, you can have a life outside the shop. When I Started my business 10 years ago I had only two new tools, my chopsaw and a cordless drill. Everything else was used that I bought for pennies on the dollar. Most of my machines I took them apart, cleaned and replaced what was needed. This made me familiar with the machine. Most of the time I did this at night or on weekends drinking a beer or two, and I enjoyed the process. Most of the machines where Older Delta, grizzly, and powermatic. For a one man shop I feel these where adequate for what I was doing. They are easy to move around on mobile bases which is handy for what will probably be a small first shop. For what itís worth, grizzly has excellent customer service and stocks tons of parts that usually ship the same day. Iíve got two 30 year old grizzly shapers. I have used one since I started and used a lot. It just had the spindle bearings go bad. I called grizzly and for $96 have one on the way same day. I run Freeborn brazed tooling, 3/4Ē spindle, with a 3hp motor and a half hp feeder. Works for me.
I have 3 months out of the year where I work 70-80 hours a week. I usually have 2 months off, and the remaining time is 40-50 hours a week. That works for me and my market. I can do that because my overhead is low and I didnít borrow a bunch of money to start up. I have had a few 1099 workers, mostly for install help, but one for the shop when Iím in my busy spring months. Now, my wife quit her job as a nurse to work with me. We make more money, donít have to schedule around each otherís work for vacations, and see each other a lot more.
Bottom line, if run right, in the right market, you will be fine with the tools you mentioned. I just finished a $8000 entry door. Didnít use my shaper once, everything was done on my router table.

6/9/20       #17: (one man shop) Questions and Machin ...
rich c.

Matt, you better tell Alex how to find the right market.

6/10/20       #18: (one man shop) Questions and Machin ...
Matt Calnen

My market is a small resort town on Lake Michigan. The town and surrounding area has lots of wealthy people escaping the hot and crowded metropolitan areas in the summertime. Those people are generally up here for less than 2 months. There is usually a lot of projects to be done on their cottages and residences. Usually, after June 24 or so, no work can be done as many of these places are in associations that donít allow summer work. Generally, these customers value higher end work, and can afford it. They also want everything done and nice when they arrive. I have to assume there are many places like this around the country where a one man show could make a nice living, without having to deal with the issues a lot of the 5-15+ man shops deal with. Usually my work type is varied, that keeps my mind sharp and interested in what Iím doing. I donít know about everyone else, but I got into woodworking because I enjoyed it, not because I wanted to sit in some sterile office programming a computer to cut box parts, wondering how I can cheapen my product so I can be more competitive. Just my thoughts.

6/10/20       #19: (one man shop) Questions and Machin ...
Jim Kolar


A lot of good input from the forum. Ask yourself do you want to be a cabinetmaker or a business man because volume will be the defining word if you choose business man. I have been a small 1 man shop with some help for 31 years. The bottom line lessons I have learned is to say no when to busy and focus on the current task. I put everything into a job no matter what size and follow through on the sales meeting.

Best of luck and it is encouraging too see this on the forum.

6/11/20       #20: (one man shop) Questions and Machin ...
Scott Markwood

And don't forget a lathe. Every shop I have ever visited had a large cast iron lathe sitting in the corner or up on a pallet in a rack. Every shop needs one and they are excellent at dust collection.

6/11/20       #21: (one man shop) Questions and Machin ...
MarkB Member

Im envious of anyone in a location that could support an entire household of income and benefits (income, 401K, health insurance, and so on) and allow for a few months a year of downtime.

I own my shop outright though overhead on CNC, but an 8K entry door with perhaps 2-3K in materials would leave me two weeks max solo (hopefully less) from concept through design and out the door to be profitable. If there were delivery or install, it would be far less than the 2 weeks. Lot of variables but I dont think I would ever make it.

Covering two incomes complete for me would equate to perhaps $150 hour on a project in my ultra low overhead world. An entry door with 5-6K in labor would only allow 40 hours total to get it out. Im not sure I could pull that off.

But thats the type of work you have to chase as a small one/two man shop. Any type of commodity work will destroy you. Its got to be boutique or semi-boutique work, that pays for attention to detail and copious quantities of extra time.

6/22/20       #22: (one man shop) Questions and Machin ...
John T.

Iíve been building cabinets for 20 years now and for a long time I struggled with the fact that I didnít want to own my own business. Whenever people ask what I do for a living the second question they ask is do I work for myself. As Iíve gotten older Iíve made peace with the fact that Iím just not a business man. I love the woodworking but everything else seems like a pain in the ass. I would be miserable if I had to do everything. I really appreciate everyoneís honest replyís to this post.

6/22/20       #23: (one man shop) Questions and Machin ...

I was thinking of starting a company to build airplanes, I decided against it as I have only ever been a passenger in one and the other reason is I donít have enough $$ for the startup costs.

Back to your question, is this some kind of a joke, you are going to start up a cabinet shop and you have to ask what you need for equipment?

Good luck!!

I always though Rich was tough on posters with his comments, but now I know where he was coming from and I have a better understanding.

As for your question, you could start out with a circular saw, a jig saw, a router, a cordless drill , an iron and some paint brushes, or you could start out with a beam saw, cnc, edgebander, dowel machine, case clamp, wide belt sander, planer, jointer, shaper, veneer press, stitcher, guillotine, Moulder, finishing line, return conveyors for everything , vacuum lifts to load sheet goods onto your beam saw and cnc. All the material handling equipment, forklifts, scissor lifts, 2 different sizes of delivery truck, and the list goes on and on.

Or you can have any variation in between the two.

My advice, be a school teacher.

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