Taking the Plunge into Professional Woodworking

by Douglas Bittinger

I cannot say that I know anyone who was going through life with no woodworking experience and simply said to themselves "I think I'll become a professional woodworker," signed up for some courses to learn what they needed to know, and then went looking for a job as a woodworker. Not to say it doesn't happen. I just don't know any.

All of the professional woodworkers I know discovered a talent and desire for woodworking and nurtured it. Some discovered it while young, some not so young, but they found it. Some got into it out of necessity: they wanted things they couldn't afford to buy and decided to make them. For others it started as a relaxing hobby. At some point they said, "You know, it would be great if I could make my living doing this instead of [whatever]."

If this thought has breached in your brain, let me issue a caution: When you take a hobby and turn it into your occupation, is ceases to be a hobby. Along with this change come responsibilities that weren't there before. Your hobby becomes your JOB.

If you possess certain capabilities and resources, it can indeed be a rewarding and fulfilling job, leading to a more pleasant life style. If not, it can turn into a stress filled nightmare. What are these capabilities?

Time Management
You must be able to get up and go to work when it's time to go to work, even when there is no one there to scold you for showing up late. Likewise you must be able to turn off the lights and go "home" when it's time. You need to be able to schedule your work and your time so that the work you have to do is accomplished in a timely manner, but you must not shove the rest of your life aside to do it.

Money Management
Less difficult for most than time management, but no less critical. You must be able to budget: to keep spending within the limits of your income, even an uncertain income. You will not be getting a regular paycheck anymore. You need to be able to save when times are good and scrimp when they get tight so that you get through.

Self Confidence
You have to KNOW that you can do this. If you are unsure that your work is marketable, or that you can handle running a business, or that you can be self disciplined enough to accomplish the necessary time and money management, then you need to think about this a while longer. Don't let the fact that you hate your job push you into some romantic notion that you aren't really prepared for.

Ability to Sell
If you are a shrinking violet who finds it difficult to talk to people or lack the knowledge of your work to explain the details clearly to the uninformed, you need to overcome this before taking the plunge. Before you can sell your work, you will need to be able to sell yourself - your abilities and skill - unless you have someone else who can and will front for you so you can devote yourself to the woodwork.

It is assumed that if you are even considering becoming a full time woodworker, you have the tools needed to carry out your chosen area of woodworking. We will discuss tooling-up in a future issue, as a guidepost for those what are not yet ready to take the plunge.

Stable Financial Foundation
There are many situations in life that may cause you to think, "This would be a good time to go full time with my woodworking." Rarely, however are these situations good opportunities. Retirement IS one good chance, but losing a job or getting a new boss that you hate usually is not. You need to know that you have sufficient finances laid up to carry you and your family through the start-up phase, which can last several years. Most small businesses fail in their first 5 years because of insufficient capitalization.

Support of Family
If you are a bachelor with no one counting on you, this does not apply. All others need to talk this plan over very seriously with spouse and children, for your decision will affect them all and you will need their support.

We will discuss most of these topics in greater detail in future issues of Wood News , but for now, those are the bones. We will also discuss creating a suitable work space, finding suppliers, advertising your work, pricing your work, hiring employees and eventually laying back into a management role.

For your convenience, here are links to all the articles in the "Going Pro as a Woodworker" series:

Taking the Plunge into Professional Woodworking

Is Self-Employment Right For You?

A Suitable Workspace

Tooling Up

Finding Good Suppliers

Financial Tools

Setting Prices

Marketing Your Work

Hiring Employees

Retiring to Management

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