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Not many woodworkers I’ve met know how to make their projects pay for themselves, and even less are knowledgeable on how to make it profitable.
Many of them were veterans in their craft, but you don’t need to be a professional woodworker to break even on your business. Hell, you could start woodworking today and still be able to build a profitable business as long as you follow a few simple rules.
The rules themselves aren’t anything ground breaking, but they make the difference between a successful side hustle (or your main source of income) and an endless money pit.
“But I’m not a good enough woodworker yet.”
Neither was I. In fact, I didn’t even have any tools to build anything much less know how to build something as simple as a table from scratch. I already had a full-time job and roughly 10-12 hours each week available for working on this part-time side hustle of mine. So if I can do it then so can you if you follow this guide.
I’m going to go over every aspect that is essential to making a woodworking business profitable starting from scratch:
- Buying cheap woodworking tools
- Finding lumber that won’t break your bank
- What to build
- How to find woodworking plans
- Creating an official website for your business (optional but helpful)
- How and where to sell projects
These stepping stones go more in depth than just a list of things to do, so follow along and I’ll tell you how to reach success by avoiding most common mistakes.
Buying Cheap Woodworking Tools
Do you remember at the beginning of the post when I mentioned you could make a profitable woodworking business if you followed some simple rules?
RULE #1: Don’t buy tools you don’t need.
How do you determine what tools you need and don’t need?
Pretty easily. Only purchase woodworking tools that are absolutely necessary for building a project, unless they are clamps (these are essential for holding things in place and assembling parts). Most project designs even tell you what tools you will need in order to fully complete it (along with material dimensions).
Now there are a number of tools that you will find yourself using a lot and others you will come across that are specific to a type of design. My suggestion is to buy cheap and avoid paying attention to brand. Most tools, even cheap ones, will last a while. Worry about getting better quality tools after they break. Here’s a solid list to begin with:
- safety glasses
- speed square
- circular saw
With this list alone you could build a table or a storage shelf. These are very basic designs without any finishing, but you’ll find most designs for the same type of furniture will use the same tools. Once you’ve got a couple projects under your belt you can find more about what tools you should get based on what you want to make.
Once you’ve made your list of tools to purchase it’s time to find them for a good price. The power tools are going to be the more expensive equipment items so the goal is to get them for significantly less than the market price. The average price for the drill and the circular saw is between $55-$70 (you can get the other tools online for an affordable price).
I’ve acquired the majority of my tools almost entirely from craigslist, although there are variations of apps and websites online that you can use instead to find tools (offerup, ebay, etc.). For the sake of convenience, I’m going to go to craigslist and search for these items.
Find your area and go to the for sale section and look up each item individually (if you can find a good deal that include two or more of these items then that’s perfect also) and sort by price.
What was originally close to $150 between both power tools, I found for under $30 online for both of them. Now I can save the remaining money I was expected to spend for materials I’ll need to make the project with.
Finding Lumber That Won’t Break Your Bank
There two main kinds of wood are hardwood and softwood. Softwood is easier to work with and cheaper than the alternative, therefor it is going to be best for prototyping a new technique or if you’re nervous about how a project will turn out. Hardwood looks the best, but it’s much smarter to use a cheap wood for trial and error than committing to that beautiful piece of maple. Pine wood is probably going to be the cheapest kind of wood you can use.
Hardwood is harder to work with, as expected, but it is most preferred for furniture building. Maple or oak are great types of hardwood and are relatively inexpensive. Once you start getting familiar with wood you’ll want to experiment with different kinds and eventually you will build a preference for what you like to use as well as what popular demands requests.
My recommendation for finding whatever kind of wood you’re looking to get is to go to you local lumber yard. Before you go it’s important to know what you want and more importantly how to order what you want.
I usually give a quick rundown to beginners on how to go about doing this, instead I found a great video resource that goes in depth on this exact subject from thewoodwhisperer.
Big Box Stores
Working with big box stores can be somewhat of a hassle but they are known to have good deals, you just need to look for them.
There are two kinds of lumber there (places like Lowe’s, Home Depot, etc.): green and kiln dried (usually labeled KD). KD has been cut then place in a large kiln for it to dry faster, and green is simply stacked on a pallet after milling. You will want KD.
Paying attention to moisture content is important to consider when looking for wood to make furniture with. This is a topic that probably deserves a separate post itself because it’s such a length explanation, but basically wood moves. KD at big box stores will probably be around 20% moisture content, and for building furniture it’s usually best to stay around 10%. Here’s an article that gives a great explanation for drying lumber.
The third best, and more expensive, option is buying wood from places like Rockler or Woodcraft. While there are several advantages for going this route, the biggest one is you can get specific cut lengths.
Cook Woods, plenty of exotic options in a variety of sizes, and has a good website with updated pictures posted a lot. Shipping is reasonable since smaller materials can be sent via FedEx.
What To Build
Furniture is where you’ll often see the highest return, but it also requires a larger investment. On the flip side of that coin, small is simple, easier to make, and is often more personable. Making selling these types of items much easier than big ticket projects.
Rule #2: Less planning, more building. Sales come when you have things to sell.
Having tangible items beats prolonged preparation. The longer you wait for “the right opportunity” the more you are cheating yourself out of hands-on experience, which is more valuable than any amount of preparing can be.
I recommend starting with small and simple projects, and here’s why..
On top of it being a smaller investment of materials and often times easier to make, small items can be conveniently mailed wherever. They are also cheaper for people to purchase and can be produced in bulk, saving you more money in production cost which only increases your profit margin. Additionally, small items can be made fast and personalized a lot faster than large items.
This is not to say that you should exclusively make small items, but if you are a beginner or just starting out your woodworking business then it is a profitable temporary route. Once you start getting clients, chances are they will want a diverse amount of item options to choose from (or even have something specific in mind).
As a beginner, it is no doubt much easier to pump out smaller items because the truth of the matter is that they aren’t terribly hard to do. Some woodturning projects that sell aren’t even that complicated to make. A lot of people make cutting boards, typical wine accessories, and coffee tables because they’re simple. Another way to go about building your business (after you become familiar with some projects) is to find anything that is unique and is within a more specific niche.
Do your best to work on specializing on making an item that isn’t for beginners and is harder to do. The less competition you have means your margins are larger as well so you can make the same amount of money for less sales.
Rule #3: Keep track of all expenses and sales (Use Google sheets)
If you want to dig deeper into this business method, head on over to 1stdibs.com. This website is an online marketplace mainly used for looking buying “antiques” and various specialty furniture.
What you’ll want to do is find something in the marketplace that is somewhat niche and sells for a lot. I took a quick look around myself and it didn’t even take me long, but here’s what I found:
I looked through furniture because I figured most options in this are going to be made out of wood. Here is a cabinet made out of natural ash wood. Not too complicated to make, but it might be a bit of a conundrum to a beginner who hasn’t had much experience.
Here’s what it cost..
So why is the price important to you?
Well, the price is important for a customer who doesn’t want to pay that much, but still wants something similar. See where I’m going with this?
I’d advise against making an exact copy of this, instead make your own version. I’ve made several items I have sold that are recreations of pieces which originally go for $5,000 on 1st Dibs and sold them for $1000-$2000.
Interior decorators make this process very easy since they are looking for the best deal for their client, so they come to you for a better price. They get a new customized piece exactly how they like it for a fraction of the cost, you both leave happy! It’s seriously a win-win so if you get in with the high end interior decorators then you’ll never be out of work.
How To Find Woodworking Plans
Generally, for the larger, more advanced projects, you’ll need to see about making your own blueprints (learning to do that is a post itself).
There’s a war around having to do that of course.
That typically involves having to buy the plans OR there’s plenty resources for beginner woodworking projects you can find online. I recommend going to a free resource first before you go and purchase plans.
Reason being is you don’t want to spend money on projects that are either too advanced or you don’t currently have the equipment for. However, if you are comfortable in your woodworking abilities to tackle a more demanding project and you don’t have the tools for it, then you’ll want to reinvest the prior earnings you received from simple item sells.
Creating Business Website (Optional)
By creating a business website you aren’t just making it convenient for people to see what your business is about, it’s necessary for raising brand awareness locally. According to BrightLocal, “consumers expect it..A website is essential for brand building..A website is a great tool for customer service.” When it comes to creating your own business, online brand awareness helps reach potential customers on a local and national level.
Setting up a website with a web designer is without a doubt expensive, that’s why we aren’t going to do that. Instead, I’m going to tell you how to go about setting up your own WordPress website for you business and it will cost you less than $25.
So how do you go about setting up a website if you know nothing about how to do that?
Well, the first step to setting up a business website is buying a domain, this is going to be the name of your website and what customers will type into the web address bar to get to your website. It’s best to choose a name that is the name of your business or somehow reflects it (like the acronym).
There’s a lot of places to purchase a domain name, but I like using Namecheap just for buying domains. You could also use their hosting services as well just to make it easier, but Dreamhost has one-click installs that automatically download WordPress to your website. That way all you would need to do is setup your email and password, then grab a free theme to start with and then setup your website how you like it!
Assuming you bought your domain and hosting, you’ll need to update the DNS (Domain Name System) servers to confirm the domain that your hosting account is supposed to bring online. Because every hosting and domain selling company is different, not all DNS server names are going to be in the same place on your account. So you will need to either contact the company directly on assisting you, or you could Google something like:
“Setup DNS servers ‘hosting/domain company name'”
They will have their own article or help area that will guide you through this process.
Most hosting plans have the option to one-click install for custom management systems. While there are other website builders like Squarespace, I feel WordPress provides that freedom of customization so if you did want to have a web developer give your business website a makeover then they would have no problem doing that. It’s also incredibly user friendly for people who are new to websites and there are countless tutorials on taking you through every aspect of WordPress admin you need to be aware of.
WPBeginner – A whole website dedicated on educating first-timers about any WordPress roadblocks they might come across.
WebsiteWizard.tv – Youtube tutorial video on how to acquire domain, hosting, and comprehending WordPress for business owners. It’s a step-by-step guide which allows you to create and customize your own website while you are watching the video.
Before you slip down the rabbit whole of obsession on every detail about your new website, it’s best to not concern yourself too much with how it looks. A business’ success isn’t determined by the color of their website’s navigation bar. It is a platform for brand recognition to bring in potential clients for your woodworking business.
How & Where To Sell Your Projects
Finally, you’ve made it to this point in creating a woodworking business where you have some tangible items to sell to potential customers. Hopefully you opted in to create a website for your business, because with that you will be able to do a few things I will teach you to broaden your prospects.
I pointed out one way to go about finding potential clients by using 1st Dibs and selling to an Interior Decorator. If you missed it don’t worry, there are plenty of methods to finding customers. One of the most convenient ways is selling your products online.
Etsy is often times the easiest and cheaper of the online marketplace options, but regardless of which platform you go with be sure to take GOOD photos. If you have already spent any sort of time on Etsy then you’ll already know the difference between a good photo and a bad photo and how detrimental that can be toward a sale.
Handmade Amazon, similar to Etsy, but has a lot more traffic and is often reliable. There’s a bit of SEO involved with ranking your products for customers to see your listing within a specific niche though. Good news is that you can find those ranking factors online and implement them into your listings.
Houzz is also a good place to sell your items. Buyers on that website tend to be more open to throwing around their money so who are we to stop them.
Ebay platform is most famously known for being seller friendly. It’s been around for quite some time, but that could mean that the niche you are creating products for might be saturated. Don’t let that discourage you because I could be wrong, it’s always best to check for yourself!
I’m not going to take up this portion of the post to re-cap everything I laid out before it, instead I just want to bring up a few key points that you might find useful.
Don’t underestimate the power behind paid advertising. If you have a website then it’s important to try out Google and/or Facebook ads because they will lend your business website the credibility it requires to make selling online successful for you.
Rule #4: Buy good wood glue
I had to leave the most underrated rule for last because it should go without saying that good wood glue can be the difference between a good quality product and a bad one, but I felt I needed to make that clear.