Why Did You Start A Business In Woodworking?


From original questioner:

I'm willing to bet none of you say money :)

From contributor Pa

How many saw this coming?

From contributor Ru

Ok I will give my reason on this poll, it is actually a really good question I hope anyone who answers will answer from their heart, because we all know its not about the wallet.
Throughout my over thirty years in this industry many people have helped me learn this trade, some are the finest woodworkers you could ever wish to meet, some were great with mechanics, and most of all, many were just awesome people.
There is a certain satisfaction that comes working with ones mind and hands in unison to create something that will enhance people's lives, From a simple table, cabinet, or moulding to some of the finest architectural buildings known to man, it all involves someone who owns a business.
Its not easy owning a business, it causes a lot of stress, and most certainly does not make you a lot of money, in fact you're always the last to get paid.

There is an old saying that probably sums it up in one sentence.

If you want it done right....do it yourself.

I feel a great sense of accomplishment helping others succeed, it brings me a sense of purpose on this planet, and I know people will be enjoying some of my contributions to this trade long after I am gone from this earth.

Thats why I own my own business.

From contributor mi

Call me honest John! Money, or rather the love of money.
On my first shutter order I made more profit than I could make on any of my then current orders of selling and installing tile and marble. Easier work and much faster turn around, were key motivators as well.
However, after 25 years, a more competitive market has really changed all of that. Some lean years have proved to me to that if money was the most important, I would have quit some years back. I still like making a good profit when I can, maybe if I hang on another 25..... But now we have a family business and we just really love what we do, from making a good product to working with and satisfying some great customers, plus a few who are not so great. But the question was, why did we start and Russ pretty much summed it up.

From contributor Me

Hahah Pat :) No, not barking up that tree at all, tho I can see how you got there. I got a little more growing up to do before grabbing a permanent seat at the grown up table!

No I'm asking because I'm a little surprised about the folks here and frankly curious.

So money--it's nice but cabinets are sure not a get rich quick scheme. I'm convinced you have to really be into it. If not we'd all be notaries or something. Grind thorugh the day then buy a nice watch or something.

From contributor Da

I learned at an early age that I was happiest when my brain and my hands worked together. Wood seemed to be a natural and forgiving material (naive!) to my hands. I started working wood in one form or another when I was 12 yrs old.

When I started working for others at age 20, I learned what I could, then chaffed at the bit, then either progressed there or moved on to another shop, another type of shop, a more senior position. Sounds familiar, eh?

So 25 years ago this month, I left my last real job - text book bad boss case study - and started my own gig. Since then I have always tried to move towards the work I feel best represents what could be called good practice that also satisfies my thirst for challenge and accomplishment, while respecting those that worked at it long before me.

The job satisfaction is off the charts. The money is OK - a fair living. And after the - what do we call it "banking scandal?" - I lost most of what I gained with 10% - 15% growth every year, and basically started all over again in 2010, with one employee and a small shop.

From contributor Ec

Dave, it's a good thing that your job satisfaction is high. There's nothing better. I wish my general level of satisfaction (job or otherwise) could have ever been as high as it was when I was covered in sawdust.

I guess my early woodworking days pre-date dust collection.

I can relate to that in another way. I've been an amateur woodworker since I was about 10. My old man had a pretty well-equipped basic shop in the basement. We built cabinets and other stuff for the new house, and finally a harpsichord. Curved-side and all. I played it. Hated it, I was a clarinetist. But, I did appreciate our work on the curved side.

I spent fully half of 11th grade in the high-school wood-shop making a couple of pie crust tables, tripod ball feet and all. Hours and hours on the lathe. Solid walnut. Hours with a router and hours with chisels. Good thing there was no customer hanging over me wanting to know when they'd be done.

Now, I'm retired and just remodel one part of this house after another, but I wish I had tried some facet of woodworking as a business. Too late for that.

But, we really can't call '08-'09 the "banking scandal."

Without getting political, the "banking" thing was really banks being pushed around by government to make loans they didn't want to make. It encompassed Carter-Reagan-Bush-Clinton-Bush. Totally bi-partisan over about 30 years. I won't make any comment about who was whole-hog and who was half-hog.

In any case, the government, in its infinite wisdom over time concluded that as many people as possible should own a house. And totally warped lending standards to make sure it happened, torpedoes be damned, full speed ahead.

What could possibly go wrong?

Fannie/Freddie (both essentially government-guaranteed) wound up owning about 75% of the "sub-prime" mortgages.

Oops. When the defaults piled up, havoc was wreaked on all facets of home-building and renovation. And by extension, woodworking of all types except maybe custom furniture.

So, I guess if you survived '08, you're probably good for another 20-30 years until the next great government idea comes home to roost.

From contributor Du

Didn't start for money but it sure doesn't hurt! I always find it very rewarding when a really awesome project is done and I can say "I built that!"

From contributor ri

I've held several careers in my 40+ years in the work force. Never more proud than when I would say I owned my own furniture making business. I was raised on a small grain and livestock farm, so wealth never came up, never! So I learned very early that money was not the key to a good life. I did tire of the grind to make a business run, so went back to a corporate job as a model maker. Kinda woodworking.

From contributor Ch

I started as an apprentice carpenter. I worked on a custom home from form work to rafters and finish work. after years of framing I was always envious of the guys INSIDE the building due to the heat in summer and the frozen hands and face in the winter. I started doing more finish work and I liked it a lot. I was always reading those fine woodworking magazines and wanted to learn more about woodworking. I applied to a furniture shop, got the job and liked it (and being indoors) The only one thing that was a constant in those basic learning years was the lack of job security with any of the companies I worked for..and I always struggled with money. One day I had an epiphany...."why not become self employed? I'd make more money and still have no job security"?
So through the years I worked as a sub contractor doing finish work for gc's. The opportunity came to rent a shared woodshop. I took it and started making a cabinet here, a desk there etc. It's been a hard hard road,(especially since I moved so many times from west to east to south to Europe) but I can still say nothing tops the feeling I have given back something tangible to society and the sense of accomplishment after a day's work. Standing back and looking at
what I've made with my 2 hands. The pictures of past projects I've gathered also remind me of different mile markers in my life which is pretty neat too.

From contributor Da

I didn't "start" a woodworking business, but rather kind of fell into it.

I'm what used to be called a braniac, always did very well in school even though I didn't try very hard. I guess it was because it didn't interest me that much. No challenge. So I took woodshop in high school, and found I really enjoyed working with wood.

(side note: my last name means "man of the forest" in German. My father emigrated from Germany in 1954)

So, rather than go to college, where I probably could have gotten a full scholarship if I had tried, as I approached the end of my senior year my father suggested I go apply at a place where one of the principles was an acquaintance of his. It was for a "front counter" type job, not a hands-on one, but it was at a place that worked with wood (mostly moulding type work), and there was also a cabinet shop at the time, so I decided it might be a good starting step. I took one week for a final vacation with my family between graduation and starting my new job.

The rest, as they say, is history. The true natural skills that I had finally found a place that they could be challenged, and I was soon the manager. After 6 years, a partnership of the parent company resulted in a decision to close the subsidiary I was working for. However, the original investors wanted to see the subsidiary continue if possible, and a sale to management was proposed.

None of the others involved (there was also a construction crew and the aforementioned cabinet shop) were interested, but at 24 I had a young family and didn't know anything else. My brother-in-law was the mill shop's foreman, and after a very naive decision making process decided we'd give it a try.

That was in '88, and we suffered our first big setback in '89-90, but persevered because we didn't know any better, and didn't have any better options. In 2009 my brother-in-law decided it was time for him to follow his life-long dream to work in the automotive field, and now my wife and I are the sole owners.

We did suffer through 2009, but recovered to pre-recession levels by 2012, and exceeded any previous record in 2014 by 15%.

At this point I can't really imagine doing anything else, except maybe starting a brewery...

BTW, I certainly had no aspirations of getting rich in this business (still today...) but it certainly has provided a better life than I had any reasonable expectation of. Not just for me, but for my ex-partner and many employees.

From contributor Ti

I was working on a fishing boat out of Bodega Bay in California. It was a double ender that had been built in the 1920's. It was beautiful wooden boat, right out of a postcard. Our fish were caught with a hook and line. They were beautiful specimens, not a damaged scale on them. These fish would end up on a Bar Mitzvah table with an apple stuck in their mouth.

When you're 45 miles offshore in a 32' boat and you can feel a little breeze on the back of your neck you know it started in Japan and will be a full blown hurricane in about 15 minutes and you're going to be just 5 minutes away from dying for the next 36 hours. When the storms came you would be blown off the water for days at a time and this gave me plenty of time to think of what else I was qualified to do.

I was living in Occidental at the time. This little town only had 5 storefronts and one of them was a gallery of furniture made by local woodworkers. I'd look at those pieces and think "I could that!"

For a long time I thought there was nothing stupider than dragging 36 herring behind a boat and hoping a salmon will see them.

From contributor Me

David S--how is the downsized shop feeling for day-to-day and lifestyle? Recession bit our family hard, but what came out of it turned out to be way better than what we had. Very different, but for sure better.

Thanks for endulging my question folks, this is a really pleasant thread read.

Tim--some of my biggest slaps in the face in life involved boats. I really love/hate them.

From contributor Jo

I am a second generation cabinet maker. My father started the shop when I was 4 and I have been slaving in it ever since. Definitely not for the money, or the hours. I do get to work with my hands and my brain, which like David, I seem to have a natural aptitude for. I get to work on some awesome projects that give me a sense of pride. All that being said Im only 32 and im getting wrinkles and my hair is turning gray from all the damn stress of running a family woodworking business in the southern california rat race!!!