A question I get asked from time to time
is how to get into woodworking, what tools I
would recommend, and where to start.
by Reader Submitted • Dec 1, 2015
In last week’s eZine, Rob asked whether eZine readers make money from your woodworking – plus whether you want to do so, or would prefer to keep your woodworking in a hobby status.
Some readers admit that they have the aspiration, but not the reality. – Editor
“I’ve been a woodworker on/off for over 50 yrs. (a military career got in the way). I have made some but not enough to make a living … yet. As I enter retirement for a second time, I find myself wanting to create a small income stream using my shop. So, technically, I aspire to make a living from my shop. Like most of us, I have dreams of creating items that people want to wear or display because of its’ beauty.” – T. Baker
Some find that they have a greater enjoyment of the things they make when they are not doing so for pay. – Editor
“I am primarily a hobbyist woodworker, but on a couple occasions I have made products for people that wanted something in particular. My experience has been that I far more enjoy making what I want to make and then giving it away to someone who will appreciate it. When someone is paying me for a product, I tend to feel pressured to produce the product within a given timeframe, and I tend to over-work the project instead of doing a good job and leaving it at that.” – David Albrektson
First of all, thank you for what you do. I really enjoy your emails. No, I do not think I could make a living in my shop. I am a 21-year insurance agent and have built up a substantial client base. I have the pleasure of building things like birdhouses, bird feeders, and tissue box covers – often to give away to friends and clients. I guess if I had to dive in and make a living from the shop, I’d have to settle on some type(s) of furniture to build.” – Tim Harrelson
“I personally can make money when I build rocking horses, but I only sell half of them, and I donate the other half to fundraisers. So the answer is no. I do a lot of projects for friends that think I can make a living doing so, but the truth is I’m far better off with my real job and the benefits than I would be as a woodworker. You would need to be good at marketing if you are going to make a living at something as much fun as woodworking. I think my last commissioned piece made me about $5.58/hour, but it was fun and also for a friend.” – Mark Barry
“When asked if I make money from my woodworking, I always reply, ‘My woodworking is a nonprofit organization.’ I did not plan it that way, but facts are facts. I also tell people that I have to sell my work to allow me to buy more materials to build more ‘things.’ My shop keeps me off the streets at the age of 69 and it gives me a good reason to get out of the house every day besides going to get breakfast with some friends. Thanks for the work you guys do for our ‘hobby.’” – Charles Buste
“I would like to make money doing it, but am perfectly happy not. I am a stay-at-home dad and disabled. So after cleaning and doing laundry and my other ‘house spouse’ duties, I enjoy getting in my basement shop and working what I can. I have built many things for others. I tend to do it for cost or slightly more than cost. Anything over cost is usually put into the gas tank for getting the materials or hardware and so on. It’s expensive enough to have someone custom build anything these days, then to charge a premium for the labor is something I have failed to do. With that being said, I never tried to sell myself to the folks that have enough money to pay for such. More power to those that can, but I’m not a salesman.
“Three years ago, I approached my daughter’s art teacher about making easels for the class. She declined that idea as she did not have a need for them. She did, however, need a place for storing paintings and other things to dry safely and out of the way. So I took on the task. A month later, I delivered four multi-shelf rolling units that roll under a wall-mounted counter and out of the way for storage and drying purposes. The last I heard, the teacher loved them and was getting great use out of them and even uses them as ‘rolling desks’ for her student teachers. This was the first time I built something and had the materials donated, and I felt a sense of reward and accomplishment that I have never felt after any other build. I hope I have the chance to do it again in the future.” – Kevin Hanes
“Thank you for fielding this reader’s question, and posing your own. I enjoy the rewards of the craft for the satisfaction itself. Recently I have been asked by several friends and family to make items for them. I do have to say that I have had to stretch my skills and learn new techniques to accomplish some of these items. The learning has been rewarding in itself. I have spent the last couple of years with a mix of projects and do have to say that my greatest satisfaction has come from projects that I have worked on with my grandchildren. We have made toys, furniture, toolboxes, and more.” – Michael D. Thomas
Some readers did have businesses, and they had insight into the difficulties of making a profit. – Editor
“I sometimes do craft fairs, mostly low-end ones. I’m not a businessman, although I recognize that if I really wanted to make money, I’d have to go to the high-end fairs. Some of the high-end fairs have table fees in the hundreds of dollars or more, but command higher prices; as opposed to the lower-end fairs, where the table fees are under $100, but your prices have to be much lower. In either case, there is no guarantee you will even recoup the table fee.” – Barry Saltsberg
“I did two Christmas shows each of the last two years. I spent much of September, October, early November building ahead on things. I considered the shows a success, money wise; I was happy to have a good-sized wad of bills in my pocket at the end of the day. But when I sat down later, and looked at the amount of time I spent in the shop to get that money — I was lucky if I was making 3 or 4 bucks an hour. Hard to pay for all that cast iron at that rate! Not to mention saw blades and sandpaper. And I had a nice leg up, with a pretty good size pile of donated wood.
“I am sitting out this year, partly because it just doesn’t pay. I also have some health and family issues right now keeping me from the shop. But I have noticed, on the things I have done as gifts for family and friends, that my workmanship is much better when I am making a trinket box for a friend, vs. just making one to sell. Closely related to that, my enjoyment level is way up there when I am working to have a nice gift to hand a niece or nephew.
“I am fortunate I do not have to produce work to pay the bills; I would be in trouble if that were the case. I did notice my productivity was way better when I did not have to finish something (i.e., bird feeders, birdhouses, and bat houses were just raw cedar). The time spent finishing finer projects really eats into productivity.” – Dan Valleskey
Plus, some general business advice. – Editor
“I began woodworking out of sheer necessity. We bought a house that was approaching 200 years old and very much showing its age. As I honed my woodworking chops as a homeowner, I thought to bring in some cash by doing things for others. Repairing furniture was where I started.
“Making a living is not the same as earning money on the side. Besides that, quite a lot of water has gone over the dam since then and my age is starting to show, too. If I was 20 years younger, I’d still be too old to be starting a business. I have, however, gained some insights to the idea of going in business as a woodworker.
“First, you must have the skills. Having tools doesn’t make one a woodworker. If one has the skills and the tools, he/she is still a long way away from having a business. Starting out, there will be expenses. Many of them. So, capital must be there to cover the costs until the business can pay them. Which costs? Utilities including telephone, Internet (yes you should have internet), heating and cooling, plus food, clothing, housing, advertising, materials, expendables, finishes, fasteners, some kind of accounting software, licenses including sales taxes, permits and what have you.
“Just opening the garage door and hoping for business to come in just won’t do for most small businesses. Not considering these many things is a major reason many fail to make a living at whatever business they want to operate. I would strongly recommend YouTube as a way to promote oneself. These days having computer skills and knowing one’s way around the Internet are real assets. Even the most skilled and talented have a long period in which they grow the business. Often the best fail because they just can’t fill all the jobs themselves and can’t afford to hire them done. If one has a smart, ambitious and encouraging mate, the chances are better.
“As can be seen, most of what it takes to make a living in woodworking isn’t woodworking. A lot of us make extra money selling things in craft shows, even flea markets, but that doesn’t amount to making a living. Life demands more. That’s why most of us take a day job and then make the most of what’s left of our time and strength.”- Don Butler
Flat Box Advice
After last week’s eZine, we also heard from this reader with additional advice for the questioner who wanted to know “How Do I Fix a Drawer Box That Won’t Sit Flat?” – Editor
“I build a good number of band saw boxes and need to ‘reflat’ surfaces
sometimes. I have a nice sized piece of painted surface fiber core board that was scrap from a messed up project, and I take some automotive spray adhesive and spray on the back of a sheet of automotive wet or dry 80-grit and glue it to the fiber board. Then that big sanding block is clamped to the table saw table, and I then use the chalk method for making sure the box will sit flat. Of course, finer grit can be used to remove sanding marks as needed.” – Charles Buster
Making Toys for Grandchildren
Readers respond to Rob’s tale of making gifts for his granddaughter’s birthday with their own “toys for grandchildren” reminiscences.
by Reader Submitted • Feb 17, 2015
In Rob’s editorial in last issue’s eZine, he spoke of making gifts in his shop for his granddaughter’s birthday. Unsurprisingly, making gifts for grandchildren – and other children — struck a chord with other woodworkers. – Editor
“I read your intro on the tops you turned for your granddaughter with
interest. My woodworking club (Long Island Woodworkers, meeting in
“As a father of four with six grands, the ‘danger’ as it concerns the kids is that the tops will be lost under the couch or somewhere else! The dogs may help in destruction but, barring canine intervention, in two weeks, the tops will be missing in action.“ – Tim Harrelson
“I’m also a grandpa and have made lots of toys and games for my granddaughters. One that was particularly popular was a marble slide, perhaps you’ve seen one. I wish I had a picture. Marbles roll on six rails or tracks, one above the other, tipped downward in opposite ways. A marble on the top rolls down the uppermost rail and falls onto the second rail. The marble rolls down in the opposite direction until it drops onto the third rail, etc. There is a collection box below the bottom rail to contain the marbles. The six rails are held by two legs close to the end of each rail to allow it to stand. I had my granddaughters paint the rails different colors before attaching them to the legs, about two feet high. It’s colorful, there’s movement, and even noise when the marbles fall into the box. Money back if they don’t love it.” – Anthony Magarello
by Reader Submitted • Jul 7, 2015
In last week’s editorial, Rob spent some time reminiscing, in this 15th year of the Woodworker’s Journal eZine, about what he’s learned in woodworking in the past 15 years – and he asked readers to share your lessons learned, as well.
For some, the woodworking lessons learned in that decade and a half encompass nearly everything they know about woodworking. – Editor
“In 2000, I was 11 years old. So, what have I learned since then? Let’s see … How to use a power drill. How to use a square. How to turn on the band saw instead of pulling the belt. To sand with the grain. To have good ventilation when finishing projects. In short, I’m still very much an amateur in woodworking, but I think I’ve come a long way since 2000. That’s an encouraging realization. Hopefully the next fifteen years will be as productive.” -Amy Henrie Gillett
“I was six years into what would turn out to be a 14-year plod to a Ph.D.,
just starting a second career after retiring from the military, and still eight
years out from taking up woodworking as a serious enterprise. Once I got all
that academic silliness out of my system, I wanted to do something — anything
— with my hands, and it just so happened that the local community center had
both a woodshop and a wonderful couple of guys running it. I’ve since taken
just about every class they’ve offered — basic hand tools, joinery, inlay,
and the like — and have set up shop, literally, in a 13×13 basement space all
my own. The senior shop manager has since moved to
Some updated their tools and technology. – Editor
“I don’t keep records of my activity, so I have to shoot from the hip, as it were. I can tell you for sure that sometime near that date I acquired my Legacy Ornamental Mill and have made some things with it that are, for me, new and unusual. Within that timeframe, I have also started using my CarveWright machine, and that brought me into a whole new world of woodworking technology. Another thing is SketchUp. Although I’m not an expert with SketchUp, I almost never start cutting wood until after I have modeled the project in 3D. So that’s a few of the things I now do that I didn’t before the millennium.” – Don Butler
“It doesn’t seem like 15 years. As a former engineer, I draw everything using a CAD program. (Turbo CAD) The most important thing that I’ve learned in the shop is ‘Do Not Make Changes on the Fly.’ If something is not right, go back to the CAD program and figure out why.” – Rich Flynn
And some didn’t. – Editor
“I would say the biggest lesson I learned is that you don’t need a shop full of power tools to be an accomplished woodworker. Thanks for many great editions of both the magazine and the newsletter.” – Tom Fink
And some honed their skills in specific techniques, found new woods to love, and new projects to build. – Editor
“I am mostly a woodturner, and what I have learned over the past 15 years is better sharpening. I have both a slow speed grinder and a wet wheel sharpener, and use the jigs that came with the wet wheel sharpener.” – James Yarbrough
“In the last 15 years, I feel I have become more competent in all phases of woodworking (except scrolling – I don’t do that). I took up turning, and have become primarily a turner. It’s habit-forming! I’ve gone from beginner to reasonably proficient, and even managed to sell some of my work to support my habit. It’s less than a profession and more than a hobby – its what I do.” – Barry Saltsberg
“Prior to moving to
“To tell you the truth, the things I learned were sorta backwards to the way most woodworkers ‘wood’ think (pun intended). I have so many hobbies I just couldn’t get my head around ‘learning’ how to do dovetails, mortise-and-tenon joints, and biscuit miter joint thingies. Sooo, I practiced till I was blue in the face to make REALLY clean, glued and screwed butt joints, with hidden screw holes filled with plugs. Since most of my projects revolve around storage units for my other hobbies, and not fancy furniture, I wasn’t worried about them lasting a millennium. To that end, I have learned how to drill the perfect countersunk, counterbored hole, and how to apply the right amount of glue and use clamps properly. I know this sounds mundane and all, but when you build model kits, LED circuit gadgets, airbrush space scenic, paint acrylic plaster figurines, yadda, yadda, yadda, perfecting a woodworking technique that gives me satisfaction and a nice piece, well, you learn to accept it as a ‘lesson learned’!” – Laurie Taite
“New things I have learned and got, like you, very reasonable at are shepherd’s crooks. I sometimes use wood for the handles, but mostly water buffalo horn and ram’s (domestic sheep) horn. Recently I bought a Record Power band saw and have taken to making band saw boxes of various designs. In the process, I have started to learn all about finishing projects — something I have never been really good at — and there are so many different ways to finish pieces it is mind-blowing. I also acquired a load of pallets and, from them, I have learned to make stools. My wife paints them (I cannot be bothered), and she does it to her taste. Mine would be rubbish, according to the boss.” – John Hope
by Reader Submitted • Jun 29, 2010
If you’ve heard it once, you’ve heard it a thousand times: “Measure twice, cut once.” And it sure seemed like every one of those thousand times was an entry for this most-cliched of cliches in our woodworking bromides contest. For other entries, look to Rob’s editorial – and read on. – Editor
“The bromide I mumble the most while turning and woodworking is ‘you have to be smarter than the board.'” – Jane Hilary
“I have always said, ‘if you make a mistake on one side of a project, just do it on the other side and no one will ever know.'” – Richard Flood
“My favorite saying (by I don’t know who) is ‘Always make a testpiece or you’ll soon have a test piece’ – as I’ve proven many times.” – Dan Keller
“If you’re not focused on what you’re doing, stop doing it.” – Rich Dulay
And some more:
“If you don’t start, you won’t finish.” – Truman Hamilton
“‘The mark of a true craftsman is how well he hides his mistakes.’ As an adult, every mistake I’ve made is either expensive or painful – or both!” – Scott Lemonds
“If you got it out, put it back.” – Susie Zwemke
“Some trite woodworking tidbits that I have heard include the following: ‘Nothing happens until the sawdust flies.’ ‘Mistakes happen; if the corners are square no one will notice.’ ‘Square is in the eye of the beholder.'”- Mark Drew
“My favorite bromide is as follows: ‘no weapons, no drugs, no alcohol, no idiots.'” – Phil McQuistion
“My parents always emphasized pre-planning on any household project to reduce/eliminate errors and costs and to increase the quality of the outcome. Their admonition/bromide: ‘Well begun is half done.'” – Jeremiah Hanley
“My favorite thing to say when I make a mistake on a project is, ‘If you can’t see it from the road then it’s OK.’ I say this from time to time, and my friends get quite a kick out of it.” – Ben Carter
Screws for Screwing MDF
And, in response to last issue’s Question and Answer on screwing MDF, we heard from this reader who has found screws that work great for him for this application. – Editor
I just read your recent eZine (Issue 251) Q&A about Tips for Screwing MDF. I was very surprised that neither of your experts recommended confirmat screws, which are specifically designed for processed wood materials. I converted to them for my MDF projects a couple of years ago, and they have completely solved the splitting problem for me. They are more like a threaded steel connector than a screw, and create a very strong joint.” – Jim Moody
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