Learning how to make money woodworking is tough. But it’s incredibly rewarding if you can make it work. How do I know? I’ve done it for many, many years. And the trick is woodworking is easy – making MONEY is the hard part.
Look, anyone can do woodworking.
But making money woodworking involves a long list of skills:
- Finding buyers
- Making what they want
- Then, selling the projects at a margin that you can justify your time
- Setting up a business (eg. an LLC), paying an accountant, and setting up insurance
- Tracking your invoices and business expenses for … taxes (yes!)
- And the tricky one: you’ll need to develop professional paint or stain capabilities too
Am I discouraging you from trying? Absolutely not!
But I am encouraging you to consider all angles.
And start small.
So, in this article we’ll cover a LONG list of things to consider, where to find your buyers, how to advertise (and how NOT to), estimation techniques and much more.
First Off: How Much Does a Woodworker Make?
- A target of $30-40 an hour spent building your projects.
- More, if you are building mass quantity items in niche markets or high-end cabinetry, furniture or tables
- Less if you are standing up easy-to-replicate items where the buyer is price focused (eg. wood planters)
- Much less if you are just learning and it just takes you more time (including time spent re-working or fixing). Or, if you need an initial investment in tools that voids your hourly earnings.
- Vehicle wear & tear (think depreciation)
- Shop space and possibly rent or mortgage
Your customers aren’t just paying you. They are paying for your tools, energy costs, vehicles, supplies like glue and lacquer, and any other cost of producing the finished product. DO NOT forget this in bidding! Otherwise you are taking a net pay cut…
Treat Your Business Like a Business From Day 1
First, I’m not an accountant or lawyer. But I do know I like to keep my personal assets separate from my business assets.
So, talk with an accountant and lawyer on setting up a EIN (employer identification number), an appropriate business type such as a limited liability corporation (LLC) or S-corp, and any other insurance or safeguards to protect your personal assets.
None of us expects to have our employers clients come back at us. So don’t tolerate it in a woodworking business.
Finding a Niche That Matches Your Skill, Passion and Has a MARKET
If you’re just starting out woodworking your first projects aren’t where you’ll need to end.
For example, it’s a great idea to start with smaller projects that require fewer tools, a smaller workspace and are easy to sell.
Not sure where to start? Fortunately you have three resources within a few seconds from you:
- Facebook Marketplace
Just start browsing and look for projects that match your skills. Not sure where to start, consider these aspects of the project:
- What tools are needed? For example, if you don’t have a router table (or shaper) then scratch off most kitchens.
- Will complex joinery or cuts be required? Take a moment and consider if you can really tackle complex octagonal wall shelves. While they look great, it might create a margin issue with more hours and wasted material.
- Woodworkers aren’t all professional painters. Being a woodworker requires a skill in building AND finishing. So unless you sell unfinished or partner with a painter, you’ll want to evaluate skills required to make a final product.
- Material cost vs. time. For what it’s worth, I highly recommend a labor intensive first few projects. Your risk is your time, and not re-building the project.
Setting a Tool Budget
We’ll get into this later, but your #1 startup cost will most likely be tools.
How much? Well, if you’re starting with next to nothing I’d budget $500-4000 to get started.
And I understand, that’s quite a range of projects. So, let’s narrow that down by types of projects and what will drive up your cost.
Low Entry Cost Projects
There are projects as simple as cutting a hole in a piece of wood and sanding it – like the ubiquitous Viking chair that is simply a 2×12″ cut into two and a single joint made.
Or, wooden planters that involve cutting cedar strips to length, screwing the boards together and optionally finishing.
So, with that, here’s the bare minimum tools you should budget:
- Orbital sander to do medium duty to final sanding
- Entry level miter saw
- Cordless drill
- Circular saw with a track guide (as a cheaper alternative to a table saw)
- Tape measure
- Variety of small woodworking bits
Not sure if you’ll use a tool a lot? Well, you’ll find no shortage of $30-40 starter tools. While you risk replacing later, you’ll find for cheap if you actually needed it enough to spend $100 or more on it.
Tip: Part of learning to woodwork is understanding what tools you’ll use most often. While upgrading is expensive, by buying cheap to start it lets you experience tools you want to have more functionality from
High Volume and Larger Projects
So when can you justify an investment in a tool like a table saw?
Simple: if your hourly rate OR project quality will suffer from the start.
Look, there’s no reason to go to all the effort of trying to make money woodworking if your QUALITY IS LOW. If you haven’t experienced it yet, the world is surprisingly small. And especially if you are selling local.
So what are a few tools you need budget for more advanced projects? Check these out:
- Table saw (if you have the funds, buy a SawStop for safety)
- Sliding miter saw to make larger crosscuts
- Drum sander for dramatically reducing sanding time (this machine will pay for itself in the long run!)
- Router table for making anything from simple quarter-rounds to advanced raised panel doors
- Drill press for concealed hinges
Budget for Your Health and Safety
We all know this, but it’s worth stating: woodworking can be hazardous to your health.
And while there are the obvious issues like inhaling sawdust, long-term harm from noxious chemicals and saw blades, there are also hidden issues that you’ll find as you progress in your woodworking:
- Lifting related injuries from handling large, heavy, or awkward pieces
- Flying object injuries from the table saw or miter saw
- Nail gun accidents
- …and a volume worth of other accidents that happen with moving machinery
And all of this leads me to the bare minimum safety supplies you’ll want to have on hand:
- Safety glasses
- An N-95 quality mask to filter out the most minuscule dust particles
- A dust collector (various sizes, price points)
Pricing your projects
I usually start with a simple formula of “materials times three”.
No, that doesn’t mean an instant 66% margin, since out of this 66% you need to take your time including cost to acquire supplies, utilities, insurance, accounting and wear on your tools.
First things first, though, it’s VERY tempting to break that rule and give someone a deal.
But you can’t work for free (unless you are truly learning) if you are trying to get your business off the ground. And here’s why:
- You paid for the tools
- And it was your truck that picked up the materials (spending your gas and tires and oil).
- It’s your time spent that YOU could be doing something else
- And of course, it’s your skill the buyer is purchasing
And, my #1 reason for this formula is this: it’s possible the project is damaged and needs a full replacement. While that’s your time, you can reasonably pay for new materials using the margin if you’ve priced it accordingly.
Woodworking Projects that Make Money
So let’s switch gears and take a look at ten projects you can start with in your journey on how to make money woodworking. And while these will vary by skill, there’s a pretty consistent demand for these.
Building and Selling Outdoor Planters
Price range: $50-250
If it’s spring or summer there’s usually a market for selling outdoor planters. And, while you can purchase these online, there’s a good market to pre-make and sell these on your local community sites and social markets.
- Miter saw
- Orbital sander
- Cordless drill
- Table saw (optional)
Most planters can be knocked out in a few hours. And depending on the planter box size and construction for $25-75 in material.
Things to Avoid
- Planters are designed to hold dirt, and that means lining them properly with plastic and creating drainage underneath. Either sell them without the liner, or offer a liner but let the buyer know the underside shouldn’t be on a finished surface.
- Some planters may be used to contain vegetable or other plant meant for consumption – so be careful to leave the inside un-finished or check with your customer first. Especially if it will be unlined.
- Please, don’t paint green-treat lumber. Either look for brown-treat and leave it as-is, use cedar or sell unfinished. Why? The knots in green-treat will bleed and you’ll end up with a mess
Price range: $100-750
While Ikea and other home stores sell cheap, assembly required bookcases there’s still a great market for custom-built bookcases. And since these can be harder to pre-build you’ll need to market appropriately, pay attention to costs, and be careful with custom staining (especially on maple).
- Miter saw
- Orbital sander
- Cordless drill
- Table saw
- Shelf pin jig
- Brad nail gun
- Crown stapler
As you’d expect, you’ll need to plan a few hours upfront on design and possibly with your client in person measuring their space(s). But, also plan for:
- Buying higher quality lumber and plywood, including possibly cherry or walnut to match customer requests
- Time laying out shelf heights and drilling shelf pin holes
- Time to apply edge banding
- Generally 3-4 hours construction time for most bookshelves up to 48″ wide
Things to Avoid
- If your project will involve installation in the client home be sure to consider your liabilities (again, talk to a lawyer). While seemingly innocent, hitting a wire or damaging a floor can quickly erase any profit.
- Remember your strong points, and if producing a professional finish isn’t one of them consider selling only unfinished work or partnering with a painter (my recommendation!).
- Always use a shelf pin jig for your holes and be sure to make them level. Because you’ll only get one shot at them!
How to ship woodworking projects
One final consideration in making money woodworking is how you ship the finished product.
- How much will shipping cost
- Will a regular shipping source like UPS or FedEx ship what I build
- How will I package and protect my project
Make money woodworking by installing cabinets and trim
You can also make money by installing wood projects that other’s can’t.
Like what? Well, with the right cabinet installation tools, insurance, and a source of projects you can have a viable business. While this is an advanced trade there are simpler projects such as constructing IKEA furniture.