We take on hobbies for, well, a hobby, something to spend time on away from work, something to devote a weekend on here and there. People choose a hobby because they enjoy it, find it fun, something to keep their hands busy. Maybe it’s gardening, or painting, or bonsai, or producing something of beauty or purpose.
But, what about a hobby that can become a job? A source of income? Something beyond just being a fun pastime?
Woodworking can be such a hobby. The woodworking hobbyist starts small and simple; with a few tools and a few pieces of wood, you have a toy for your child or a shelf for books or collectibles, which may be your spouse’s hobby. As skills become better, more advanced projects might include wine racks or a fruit bowl for the kitchen table.
Initially, these little projects are just for your own home. But friends and family will see your handiwork and ask if they can have one of “those” too. One becomes two, two becomes four, and suddenly your hobby becomes a bit more intense.
The idea occurs that maybe there’s money in this hobby thing, that maybe there’s a market for what you’ve been making for fun. Turning fun into money enhances the enjoyment, and suddenly you have a business being born.
Let’s consider how a woodworking hobby can become a viable business.
Is It Hard To Start A Woodworking Business?
As we’ve just described, the process can evolve easily and organically. You’ve already invested in a few necessary tools and have some wood around that you’ve been working with as your hobby. As an aside, here’s an earlier piece we posted about essential tools for the beginner woodworker.
Everything you need in hand, hobby already underway, pieces being produced, we then begin expanding production. Expansion is pretty easy at this point: the tools are already in place, so all you need is wood.
If you’re already producing, you already have ideas of what to make. But, a little research will also help move you in the right direction with products. Market research will guide you to a list of items to consider, items that will have appeal in the marketplace.
This research includes:
- Learning what sells
- Learning how and where to sell
- Learning how to break into those places with your product(s)
And the end result of the research is an action plan, a business plan, to produce, market, and sell your products. There’s a great demand for handmade items for the home and office, items with a personal touch. Wood softens and warms a room, and not just in a room’s walls and trim around the doors and windows.
In short, starting a woodworking business is like starting any other business. The business plan identifies what and how to produce, how and where to market items made, and how to sell. Identifying production costs and calculating your time helps you arrive at a price to charge for your items, too – – the cost of stock that goes into each item, assembly hardware, sanding and finishing, etc.
It’s more than simply taking orders for a piece or two; it’s drafting a plan that addresses everything from buying wood to selling a finished product. But it’s also common sense stuff and doesn’t necessarily require a business advisor or lawyer.
Start small, perform your due diligence, have an idea in place where and how to sell the pieces, and suddenly you’re in the woodworking business.
Can I Make Money Woodworking?
Sure, with the right skills in woodworking, marketing, and salesmanship, you can make money. Woodworking can be a profitable business and does not necessarily require advanced woodworking skills.
The woodworking hobbyist already has some skills, and they will only grow with time. But, if you, the hobbyist, are already making simple items, like window boxes or planters for the home, shelves, picture/mirror frames, or cutting boards for the kitchen, you’re producing items that will have market value selling them to others.
They’re all cool projects that others might seek out if made well and priced right. By priced right, we mean priced fairly for both the buyer and for yourself. It is no longer just a hobby for you anymore; it’s a business, and you want your business to be profitable. After all, you want to make money from your efforts.
What Can I Make That Will Sell Fast?
To be honest, this is a little bit of a trick question because it will depend on where and how you intend to sell your pieces. So, we get back to the due diligence of starting a new business. Part of your business plan should include the outlets for your pieces, so let’s discuss that aspect first.
Where Can I Sell My Woodworking Projects?
In our own due diligence for this piece, we considered many possible venues for selling your woodworking projects. We looked into them to gather a sense of what was being offered for sale and their price ranges. We came up with a list of possible outlets for you to consider:
- Local Craft Fairs. These are easy. Perhaps you’ve even attended one or two and know how they work. Your presence requires no marketing or advertising since you already know people will be coming. In this instance, you’re going to where you already know people will be. Set up a booth, make a nice presentation of your pieces, and man the booth yourself. Be sure to have a guest signup book to gather names and email addresses of those who stop by; those will come in handy for future marketing.
You can develop a local following for your work and even take commissioned orders for specific colors or sizes, whatever it is you are building. This is a great way to break into the woodworking business.
- Craigslist. This, too, is easy. Build a good representation of your pieces, take some good-quality photographs, and post your products on Craigslist for sale. Craiglist is unusual in that it can be geography-specific, limited to your area of the world. You’ll have to identify your home location, assuming you are working out of your home shop or garage, so that buyers can come to pick up their purchase. This has the added benefit of eliminating shipping. Again, a simple and easy entry into the business of woodworking.
- Etsy. This is another online selling platform that can be a good outlet for your work. It’s filled with vendors selling their handmade items of all sorts. You’ll need to sign up for an account to set up your Etsy storefront; you’ll need high-quality photos of your pieces, and you have to ship items to buyers quickly. So, there’s more work to an Etsy presence, but many people are making a living selling what they started making as a hobby, but that became their business. It uses a rating system for seller performance and items purchased, and high ratings help sales.
- eBay. Again, another online selling platform that can serve as a good outlet for your work. The same dynamics apply here as apply to Etsy: excellent photographs, good product descriptions, a shipping plan to get a purchased item out quickly to the buyer. It’s easy to open an account and sell your pieces quickly. Customers will rate both your performance as a seller and your products, and high ratings make it easier to sell over time.
- Your own website. This is the big leagues now. You’ll present your pieces, offer them for sale, market your website to search engines so they will send potential customers to the site to see your work, integrate a payment processing system (PayPal is really easy), and design a fulfillment process for shipping and delivery.
- Your own storefront. A sticks-and-bricks store with display windows, product presentations, and perhaps even product demonstrations, depending on what you are selling. This is where the lawyer comes in, and perhaps an accountant. But, dream big; your Saturday hobby pastime can reach this level of success.
What To Make
We started out the “where to sell” list from the simplest to the most complex, the possible evolution of your business, from easy to much less easy. How far you take your woodworking business as it evolves from a hobby to a source of income is up to you and your ambition.
But, there are lessons to be learned all along the way. Craft fairs can give you an idea of how others will view your products, what they are willing to buy, and how much they are willing to pay. Learn those lessons well and let them inform your growth, whether you will stay with those simple items or advance into more involved projects as your skills grow.
All of that having been said, here is a list of woodworking projects that should sell well for you if well made, finished, and priced, some of which we’ve already mentioned:
- Window and planter boxes
- Children’s toys
- Picture and mirror frames
- Shelves, both for straight walls and for corners
- Cutting boards
- Outdoor furniture, like Adirondack chairs
- Coffee tables
- Picnic tables
- Coat racks
- Wine racks
- Storage boxes
- Benches, indoor and outdoor
- Toy chests
And as your skills advance, you can add more advanced items like:
- Dining room tables or table tops
- Fancy lathed wooden legs for tables
- Lathed fruit bowls
- Lathed wooden plates
- Custom (chairs, side tables, chests of drawers)
Smaller items, like those often seen at craft fairs or could be sold on Craigslist at lower prices, will likely sell quicker and more quickly than more advanced items. Your best-selling items in those venues will be smaller, easier to make, and cheaper to build, allowing you to sell for a low price. Your overhead at the venue will be small or nothing, too, so it’s just the cost of materials and your time and labor.
Your top-selling items are apt to be the simplest and least expensive pieces to start. As skills advance and your projects become more involved or sophisticated, you may reach for a particular niche market, like custom furniture.
Learning how to sell in a niche market will require a greater degree of research and a more focused marketing strategy, but the profit margins in custom furniture can be much higher than in children’s toys and planter boxes. They can become your most profitable woodworking projects as you move into that niche.
Since this piece is only about what woodworking items sell the best, we won’t address the establishment of a formal business – – registering the business name, opening a business bank account, writing a formal business plan, obtaining financing for a new business, and all of the things that a lawyer and accountant can help you with as the business begins.
Our advice, simply, is to start small, have a plan, and have fun. After all, it began as your hobby and grew into a business. But it’s still just woodworking.