I have been doing woodworking for almost 25 years, and my good friend and mentor, Dennis Laney has been doing it for over 65 years. When you listen to us talk we are so enthusiastic about woodworking you would think we are beginners just starting out. We tend to think everyone feels the same as us, but sadly we have seen so many potentially good woodworkers give up after about 3-5 years. I was wondering why this was and then Dennis told me the question he asks beginners, “What do you expect to get out of this?”
It’s a simple and elementary question, but it’s quite deep. In fact, it’s a good question we should ask ourselves whatever we are doing. What do we expect to get out of a new relationship, a new job, or even woodworking?
I have met and spoken to many woodworkers over the years. Most of them started in woodworking for similar reasons. They either started out in life and probably couldn’t afford much, so they made things for themselves. Or they realized they enjoyed it back in school and when they retired they decided to start up again as a hobby. It seems for many it’s the pure joy of creating or the challenge of making something. I have yet to meet anyone who said they got into woodworking for the money.
Most professional woodworkers I met make a modest simple income. A few have done well and live a comfortable life. But I never met one that became rich and wealthy. Yet oddly, we all are faced with the thought of making money at it. And this is where most of us get off the path of what we initially expected to learn from woodworking and our reasons start to change. So how does it happen? Well, the following example is something most of us can relate to.
Let’s pretend Johnny has watched some youtube videos and now wants to do a woodworking project. The first project he takes on to make is a cutting board. The joy of taking a few strips of wood and gluing them up making a useful kitchen utensil is rewarding. And when he applies the oil to the wood, his eyes bulge from the pure natural beauty of the wood.
Johnny takes the cutting board and shows his mate. She is so proud of him that she takes a picture and posts it on social media. Friends and family all give it a thumbs up. And then the question is asked by someone that changes EVERYTHING. “How much for one?” All of a sudden Johnny realizes he could make a living at this! This, in my opinion, is the kiss of death.
I’m not discouraging anyone from pursuing an income in woodworking, but as Dennis asked, “Was this what you expected to get out of it?” I’m sure it wasn’t your first thought. But this is an unexpected bonus! Isn’t it?
When a hobby becomes a business it takes on a whole different life. So many things that have to be considered. You are now the boss and the employee. You have to learn accounting, sales, marketing, ads, promoting, doing estimates, contracts, appointments, payroll, taxes, paperwork, filing, and the list of responsibilities goes on. True, you could hire someone to do those things, but do you have the start-up money for that? You can hire people as your business grows, but eventually, you will be the boss and not the woodworker, and is that why you started woodworking, to be a boss? All of this is enough to make people lose the reason why they started woodworking and eventually walk away.
It is possible to be a professional woodworker and still love it. That’s exactly how Dennis and I still feel. But we both will tell you, we are terrible businessmen. We would rather do a complex project for small pay than an easy project for big money. Dennis and I are still living the reason why we got into woodworking. It’s for the challenge, the creative designing process, and the simple love of the craft.
If you find yourself losing interest in woodworking I would ask you to remind yourself why it is you started it. Keep your goals simple and you will achieve them and be rewarded. If you expect too much you will be disappointed and discouraged. Sometimes keeping it simple is the best.
Do what you love, and love what you do.
Chad Stanton- Stanton Fine Furniture 10.30,2022