I always find it interesting talking to people about their woodwork and getting an understanding of what it means to them. There’s definitely a sense that woodworkers are an enthusiastic bunch that do it because they really do love it. I’ve also noted a recurring theme that despite loving their woodwork people are sceptical to do it for their living and I can completely understand why. There’s been more than one occasion where I’ve been asked if my job ruins the enjoyment because after taking the plunge themselves they’ve had to backtrack their plans as the reality of working under pressure really threw a spanner in the works.
Since I’ve worked for myself for so long (I’ve never actually been under employment) and having woodwork as part of my day everyday I get to experience both the joys and hard hitting realities of it. Sometimes we do get so caught up in all the other things that it’s easy to forget you’re supposed to enjoy doing it. The trouble is I can’t simply do the woodwork; I have to think like a businessman as well and I’d be the first to admit that I’m no good at that!
The pressing thing that always seems to loom in the back of your mind is will I run out of work? and even with a five or six month waiting list this doesn’t go away it’s just a habit to keep on worrying. Other things that take up time that you haven’t planned for including delays from suppliers, equipment breakages and mistakes (yes… I do make these occasionally) can leave you looking at a loss. On a big building job my Dad could come home sometimes after what he called a ‘three grand Friday’ and I used to wonder what the hell he’s on about but now I completely and utterly understand!
And don’t forget we give up all those perks of working for someone else. There’s no one to take over when you get under the weather and certainly no lovely holiday pay, instead you can wake up on a Sunday morning and question whether you ought to go in and get a bit more done, you can feel guilty having a day off when there’s so much you can be getting on with.
Another thing that I miss is that tingly, child like excitement I used to have when I could treat myself to a shiny new tool. It’s just not been the same since the tools had to earn their keep, I find it much more difficult to justify the expense.
Whilst all that is true and may always remain the same Helen and I very quickly found that we could make a pretty good team. We both have the drive to work for ourselves even if we have to rely on creativity to see us through rather than practical business sense . Luckily these days I can focus mainly on the woodwork; Helen probably now knows more about workbench design than even I do and she also knows I’m no businessman which means I pretty much leave all the number crunching, sourcing and planning etc down to her. (she’s also a cracking cook and makes the most splendid cup of tea so I’ve also decided to leave all that to her too 😉 ). As far as a lifestyle goes neither one of us would trade in the freedom and satisfaction we get from our work for the questionably more sensible and secure option of taking a job elsewhere.
This is something that we’d love to get your take on, for example:
~ Have you taken the plunge yourself to do what you love for your living?
~ If not have you ever been tempted to do so?
~ What would stop you taking that step?
~ Is it family commitments or having too good a job to take the risk?
~ Do you just prefer to keep work and play separate?
Helen and I are going to follow this up with our own separate posts as we’ve both come from a very different place in to this business and feel it could be interesting to share with you how it happened for us.
john gainey says
When you have the time arrange a bible study with Jehovahs Witnesses and find out how yyou can enjoy life for you and your family forever on a paradise eart psalm 37 v 10+11+29
Ian Watson says
I did set up my own business back in the 1980’s, making garden furniture from Iroko (I actually used to be a research scientist before that!)
It lasted for 3 years, during which time I enjoyed both the highs and lows of running your own business. I would have probably carried on with it except that one Sunday night at 11pm, working in the factory on my own, I realised that I wasn’t making any money despite the long hours. So, having a wife and young son to support, I took the ‘sensible’ option and got a job in IT.
It took me quite some time to get back into woodworking again, but now I’m getting more pleasure from it than ever.
Keep up the good work and don’t stop enjoying it.
By the way – about those ‘mistakes’ you say you occasionally make… I once heard someone say ‘The day you stop making mistakes is the day they shovel earth on you!’
Thanks Ian, I can recall a few of those Sunday nights at 11pm myself, that certainly drains the fun out of things! Good to hear you’re back enjoying your woodwork again.
Laurence Pylinski says
I did take the plunge in working for myself around 25 years ago. It at that time was my hobby and I lived to get into the shop and work/learn all I could for as long as I could stay erect. At this time in my life the fun has been lost but I would not trade it. I now have to have something else as a hobby to relax at and to use as my go to place for escape and woodworking is that escape. I do see where any hobby can turn into work after you have done it for so long and worked at it so hard. In my profession my customers are doing their thing as a hobby and it is sometimes challenging to convince them that what I am doing for them is not my hobby but I do it to make a living and pay the bills. This can be translated to any occupation so I always respect anyone that has taken the plunge to become self employed as we soon find out that there is no one to pass the buck onto and we have to be answerable to all that takes place in our respective shops reguardless of occupation. In retrospect I do feel that work and play do need to be seperate, for me at least. I am sure that some people that do not need that but I do and I do respect them very much if they do not.
Thanks Laurence, you make a very good point. I think most people can benefit from a hobby to take their minds off the day job and when you’re self-employed this only becomes more important. I’ve considered all manner of past times when things get particularly tough but can’t tear myself away from woodwork. I found my solution in separating the play; furniture making, from the work; workbenches.
Paul Rodgers says
Although not in the same trade I have been self employed for more years than I care to mention and would I do it again if I had the chance? Well lets start with the positives. Firstly I could go home I little early a couple of days a week to pick up the kids from school and ferry them to whatever after school activity they were up to at the time and then make dinner as my then wife worked late. That’s about it I think unless some other aspect has escaped me…. Oh Yes, I could justify buying lovely new tools but at the expense of putting food on the table that week…..
On the down side, well were do I start. I supose the first probably is been naive enough to believe that you could be financially comfortable. BIG MISTAKE. You are always worried about money and it rules your life. Yes, there are the holidays, or lack of them not to mention sick pay, which reminds me, why do we pay class a 4 stamp and a portion of our profits in NI and get sod all in return and do you realise that we only get the basic state pention on retirement. Of course we have been sensible and looked out for the future and put money into a private pension plan only to be told that the thousands you scrimped and save for that far off day when you are no use nor ornament you can put your feet up has gone to pay some tosser their nice end of year bonus. The list is endless and in the end would I do it all over again….well I’ve had the pleasure of meeting some lovely people some who have become friends and that has made going to work bearable. So I guess the answer is NO sod that for a lark and give me a good handout and a couple of grand a month pension ….I can live with that. Still the present MRS. R thinks I’m OK.
Paul, we’re often known for our rants in England and yours is brilliant, thank you! What you write brings up some very real issues and I think it can be valuable for other’s considering a similar route. I’m sure being naive about the financial side of things will be one of the most common pitfalls, if there’s anything we’ve learnt about being self-employed it’s that you need another motivation other than money to keep seeing it through!
I’ve just started my own cricket bat making business, I’m excited and thoroughly worried. There’s no way of knowing if I can support myself financially but the having a go and failing seemed more acceptable than continuing to work in mind numbing environments. Only time will tell. I’d rather be happy and poor than rich and unhappy.
Thanks for the suede Richard, it’s already worth it’s weight in gold. No more marked edges on the bats.
Thanks David and good luck! You’ll get a sense from the comments that it isn’t going to be easy but I’d say you’ve started out just right. Keep focusing on the benefits other than the money and it’ll keep you going whilst you find the right balance on pricing etc – (that’s not sound business advice but I do believe it works!)
p.s I’m loving the blog!
Actually, as much as I would love to turn my hobby into my job, my wife and I are in the process of making her love of photography into a wedding photography business. It is extremely stressful, and so much more goes into it than we even dreamt of before starting. As of now we wouldn’t change a thing…it will be interesting to see how we feel after a couple years and a few good dry spells :-P. Great post, it gives me hope for my woodworking in the future (assuming the wedding photography becomes self sufficient).
Thanks Jason, it sounds like your both very well driven and I would say that your support will be going a long way to help your wife. Good luck to both of you and keep enjoying it!
Great post and great reading!
Actually I ‘m going to do just that soon. My wife and I have bought a B&B in the south of France 2 years ago which she is running. We have 4 rooms ( #5 is in progress ) and we offer Table d’ Hôtes as well ( dinner )
As soon as my house is sold – which is not easy in Denmark at the moment due to the financial crise – I move to France at well.
I have a regular job as a SAP consultant but I have to quit that once moving south.
I am working on establishing a small workshop in one of the basements of the house where I will start a small business in restauring and making one-off items. For now I am saving all the money I can to purchase a new saw table and a planer-thicknesser and furthermore some necessities like for example expanding the clamp collection and the like while I still have the money to do so.
I even have bought some items from you, knowing that those things are out of reach the comming years, and now I can turn them into a profit making tool.
Once moved we will run the B&B and do the cooking together ( that is our hobby ), where I can use some hours a day in the workshop and in wintertime where it is more quit I will be able to spend whole days.
There is quit a list of things for me to make for the B&B; those items will become my showroom and some of the people I know there have already asked me if I could make things for them.
So the plan is that the workshop runs separate from the B&B and should be fully self sufficient. Money earned will be put back in the workshop for keeping stock of disposables, wood and maintenance. The rest will be used for general savings / maintenance for the B&B.
What would stop me at this moment?? Death or invalidity.
I don’t mind quitting my regular job at all; have done that for a long time and long to work together with my wife on the things we care for.
We will not get rich money wise, but if you could see where and how we live you’d understand we feel very rich togehter. Like the two of you most likely do.
It’s good to hear from you Mac and I really enjoyed reading through your comment.
It is very inspiring to hear your reasons for a change of career. With a full time job it can certainly be difficult to find time to enjoy your hobbies and spend time with your family, I admire your change of lifestyle and hope it all works out well for you. You are right of course, making a success of your life isn’t all about the money there are other ways to feel rich.
Chris Twigger says
I served my time via an indentured apprentiship doing good quality joinery and cabinetwork for British Steel just outside of Nottingham in the seventies. However the workshop was closed and we were all made redundant as a result of the Steel strike in approx 1980 (I had just come out of my time). From there I became a foreman bench hand joiner for a local company but found the quality of work required fell far below what I had been used to whilst at British Steel.
It was at this point I decided I wanted to carry out my woodwork as a hobby as opposed to a living and for the last 30 years I have been a police Officer in London (a big move from the Midlands)
I retire on the 23rd March and intend to return to woodwork to make a living (however an Inspectors pension will keep the wolves at bay)
I already have a well equipped workshop with both machinery and hand tools and am willing to send you a short portfolio of work carried out by myself.
Could I pick your brains via e-mail in relation to setting up and getting work, i.e. how did you get work when you first went on your own, where there any pitfalls I should be aware of, how do you source your materials
Any help would be greatly appreciated
Hi Chris, that must have been quite a change going from bench joiner to police officer! It would be great to take a look at some of your work and feel free to send over some questions by email – I’m no expert but will offer any help I can.
Chris Twigger says
PS I follow your blog religiously and greatly admire your work and innovative designs in your benches
I just read someone said they gave up woodwork to take up I.T. and that hit a note as I have just given up I.T. to study furniture making.
I am doing so with full support of my wife and soon to be young son. We had money at least enough to live comfortably, but it didn’t make either of us happy as I hated what I did, now I am learning something new and we are in a fantastic place.
In the I.T. world I managed to elevate myself to a manager position without any qualifications to my name, I was locked in a server room daily for hours on a University campus, now I make mistakes every day, I earn next to nothing as I freelance on my off days and weekends but I and we are happy, I always check in with my wife just to make sure she is ok with everything but she smiles and says she loves seeing me so happy with so much energy.
I just cannot imagine doing anything differently now.
That’s a great story Kris, I’m sure there are many people out there stuck in jobs they hate but it can take a lot of guts and support to go ahead and do something about it. I wish you all the best with your new venture.
Nic Bitting says
As an employee at a small custom staircase company I experience the highs and lows of of working under pressure whilst also appreciating some of the security of working for a business. Its a position I’m grateful to have. I’ve actually always approached woodworking as my profession rather than a hobby. That being said I find myself in the shop after hours working on little personal projects just for the love of it. Granted my after hours interest tends to ebb and flow, but I think thats natural when you’re at it 8 hours a day anyway. I cherish woodworking for the richness it brings to my life – the never-ending opportunity to learn new techniques and improve my skills.
I’ve thought often in the past several months of using my skills to open my own business. The freedom you describe is inspiring, while the stress and money worries sound less appealing. That being said I’m focused on growing my skills and keeping my eyes open for opportunities. I imagine I’ll be running my own business sometime in the coming years, and I’ll look to your writing as insights. Thanks for the musings.
I’m really interested in reading the follow-up posts that you and Helen put together.
Jim Linn says
Hi Richard and Helen,
I’ve only just discovered your website and blog last week (July 2013), and have really enjoyed working my way through past blog entries. I’m impressed with you. You’re making it work. Believe me, no matter how much you think you’re under pressure, at all times remember you’re “living and dying” on your own decisions, merits and abilities, unlike the the rest of us, who work for the biggest bunch of unadulterated corporate morons ever to walk the face of the earth.
I’m an airline pilot for a very large British airline and my daily grind (12 hours a day, 5 or 6 days a week) has caused me all sorts of health issues. Almost all of my flying friends are the same way. Like most large organisations there has been a headlong rush to the bottom in terms of standards, quality and safety. Just to satisfy some city nothing who needs a bonus. Oh yes, and people think they have a right to fly across europe for the price of a good meal out!
How I wish I could do what you do. You might want to do what I do, but I wouldn’t recommend it! One day I’ll “eject” and work for myself, but as usual the issue is fear.
As I said, I’m heartily impressed by you and Helen and hope you have many happy years at this. Don’t be tempted to grow; keep it steady and real.
Please write more about the highs and lows of running your business. It’s quite soothing after a long day battling thunderstorms, gales, fog, snow and shell suits from Liverpool!