Author Topic: furniture makers and how long it takes to 'make it'  (Read 3332 times)

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Offline treesner

  • Posts: 130
    • Trailboundco
furniture makers and how long it takes to 'make it'
« on: November 11, 2016, 02:09 PM »

Curious if any of you are full time furniture makers? How long do you think it would take to develop the skill, reputation and clients to be able to live off making furniture (which i understand is much harder than cabinetry/finish carpentry ect)?

I understand it's a hard questions and varies for everyone but interested in what your personal career path was and what the outline looked like.


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Offline Lbob131

  • Posts: 441
Re: furniture makers and how long it takes to 'make it'
« Reply #1 on: December 07, 2016, 08:18 AM »
I don't think any one man  band ever survives  in furniture making. Unless he  has that element of artistry  and design  that sets his  work apart form  the ordinary run off the mill. (Jory Brigham springs to mind)
And those   that employ a few people  seem   to live  on the edge. The far east seems production  seems to dominate the market.

Offline Kev

  • Posts: 7651
Re: furniture makers and how long it takes to 'make it'
« Reply #2 on: December 07, 2016, 08:45 AM »
"Live" is the variable - how much does it cost you to live?

I have a friend that quit full time office work to focus on his furniture making. He planned to supplement it with household repair and general maintenance work. He's making less furniture now than he did when he only did it on weekends and the odd evening.

It's my opinion that you need to lower your living costs to the point that you can effectively improve you talent, develop a reputation and still survive.

Offline deepcreek

  • Posts: 688
    • TimberFire Studio
Re: furniture makers and how long it takes to 'make it'
« Reply #3 on: December 07, 2016, 09:42 AM »
As we struggle to make a name for ourselves in this business, I've been told two things by other full time furniture makers:

(1) If you can hold on for ten years, you may start breaking even.

(2) Did you hear about the furniture maker who won the lottery? He went broke because he kept making furniture.

It is very rewarding in other ways but not financially.
Joe Adams
TimberFire Studio
Houston, Texas

Offline lwoirhaye

  • Posts: 138
Re: furniture makers and how long it takes to 'make it'
« Reply #4 on: December 07, 2016, 10:32 AM »
I make chairs so I'm doing work other people don't do. That's a step in the right direction.  Another is to get good at fancy veneering and/or fancy finishing because that gets attention.   If the work is eye-popping enough you can enter it in regional fairs and win ribbons but also get a lot of eyeballs looking at the work.

Custom furniture is competitive for sure.  You'd be unwise to stop at being able to express the geometry and do the joinery and "let the wood do the rest" like Maloof and Nakashima did, imo.   These days there's a marvelous level playing field with the internet as a marketing tool but there's also price pressure with common sorts of designs that don't include fancy decorative elements. 

There's markets for sure for mid-century stuff in fancier woods but selling direct to customers can put a maker in an awkward position in terms of wholesale pricing to stores.  Keep your overhead low and develop some specialized skills.  I bend wood and that's unusual enough to get some attention but I still won't claim to have "made it" even though at this point I have the tools and most of the skills acquired.

Offline Peter_C

  • Posts: 592
Re: furniture makers and how long it takes to 'make it'
« Reply #5 on: December 07, 2016, 11:25 AM »
I remember down in Big Sur stopping at a gallery on the East side of the road, maybe 35 miles South of Carmel, and seeing $10,000 tables. Then in Healdsburg seeing tables that could be made fairly easily selling for $8,000. You are in a great location for the type of business you want to do. The issue is going to be getting your name out there and that means working with high end galleries. If you also noticed I kept saying tables as they seem to be at the top of the ladder for pricing. BIG size = BIG price tag.

Couldn't find the gallery I wanted, but here is one furniture maker from Big Sur. A good website and putting it at the top of the google search is going to be important. You will notice they also do cabinetry, which is probably their main business.

In the past we rented a room to a furniture maker. Actually the person that introduced me to Festool. He was fairly busy and just made stuff to sell when he didn't have a custom order. He was not getting rich by any means, but he also didn't work on marketing. Eventually he packed up and moved back to Switzerland.

I would recommend going to galleries and seeing what is available and how they sell pieces of furniture (Commission, consignment, etc). If you could befriend a local furniture maker that would be good too.

Offline kcufstoidi

  • Posts: 768
Re: furniture makers and how long it takes to 'make it'
« Reply #6 on: December 07, 2016, 11:55 AM »
(which i understand is much harder than cabinetry/finish carpentry ect)? I think you should really reexamine this statement as a lot of furniture is much easier to construct than your assumption. To be getting into strictly furniture making you had better have a wife/partner with an extremely well paying job or a very good trust fund and make sure you polish those horseshoes regularly. Sorry for the sarcasm but after that comment I couldn't help it.


Offline Pike_101

  • Posts: 14
Re: furniture makers and how long it takes to 'make it'
« Reply #7 on: December 07, 2016, 03:26 PM »
Seven years. Four years of slow growth and minimal profit, followed by three years of rapid growth and more work than I could handle by myself. I have since moved into doing design work and run a business that manufactures commercial wood products now. I still do a small amount of custom and one-off work, but prefer the structure and stability of the commercial side now even with the narrow margins.

My path was based on patience. I started with very little capital and reinvested everything back. There are some great lessons to be learned from getting by with very little. Learning where and how to spend money is make or break in a lot of cases, I managed to stay free of debt entirely even if it was a bit painful.

My advice, work on developing processes not products in the first years. These are great years to learn, develop ideas, understand the market, etc. Creating a tool or process is what will give you a competitive advantage or a name. Once you get behind on orders there just isn't the time so those slow years were a godsend looking back.

Offline RickyL

  • Posts: 68
Re: furniture makers and how long it takes to 'make it'
« Reply #8 on: January 01, 2017, 07:34 AM »
It would depend how you start the business. I've started 3 businesses all of which were sucessfull to some degree, the last is the only one that wasn't "against odds".

One thing is for sure, I will put in the hours and effort. This makes more difference than anything, but I look back and wonder why I wasted my time. Why not start with something you know can make good profit and do that. Why not do it as a sideline, low risk, in your workshop/shed at home, that way you get to test the water first.

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