So You Want To Be A Furniture Maker...
I've received several emails over the past year with people inquiring about how I became a furniture maker. More often than not, it's a younger individual with the desire to pursue furniture making as a career and their interested in knowing how or what steps I took to make it happen. I think it's wonderful that our younger generations desire to pursue craft as a career and I'm here to say it can be done, but it takes a lot of work backed by a true passion and desire to build furniture. If you're lacking the passion, you will burn out with frustration and move on to something else. I remember when I was in my early 20's and decided I wanted to pursue furniture making as a career. I dreamed about it constantly and the thought of owning my own shop consumed me, I just had no idea how to do it. Well, here I am at 37 and I have my own shop with a backlog of work to support it and a semi-successful YouTube channel to share. I didn't get here on my own; I had amazing support from my family, especially my awesome wife Emily, but more importantly I attribute my success to the true and only master craftsman...God. Looking back I feel I have a great perspective on blazing a path to becoming a career furniture maker. I've laid out a few of the important steps below and I hope it helps!
Learn - You absolutely have to pay your dues. To believe that you can buy some tools, watch a few videos and start building furniture is silliness. You have to learn, ideally from another established craftsman but often times this option is not easy. A majority of furniture makers operate as one man shops and don't care to take on the responsibility of training an inexperienced craftsmen as it is expensive and time consuming. Another option is to take classes. There are many quality woodworking schools and often times they offer 1 - 2 years of formal furniture maker training. These are expensive but seem to be a fast tract to a furniture making career. The final option is to teach yourself, which honestly, if you asked me 8 years ago, I would have said that wasn't possible. However, in todays world of readily available information, you can almost teach yourself anything. There are some great sources our there to learn the fundamentals of woodworking online, both hand tools and machines. Follow that up with a whole bunch of trial and error & you might be ready to start your own shop. Remember, becoming a furniture maker requires a lot of failure, at least that's how I experienced it.
Have confidence and go for it -So you've paid your dues, you've learned the craft, you have mentors to fall back on when you need help (and you will need help), then its time to go for it. First, don't fall into the trap of buying a lot of expensive machinery. You will need to run this business with the least amount of overhead and you do NOT want to take on debt for expensive equipment when you first start. I started in my garage with about $3000 worth of equipment. The most important thing you'll need are clients and when you're first starting these can be hard to get. The best thing you can do is be real: tell people you're just getting started, be sure to explain your background/training, express your passion to them. Some folks will pass you by but there are people out there who will want to support you and give you work. You will be limited somewhat by your equipment but you know what they say, "where there's a will there's a way". In my first year 30 to 40 percent of my business came from a single client, it was a high end homebuilder in my town and happened to be connected to family. I tell you this because it was a big reason why my business was able to get its feet on the ground. I wasn't building exclusively furniture, but I was making money and getting connected to other potential clients.
Always, always do your best possible work - When you build a piece of furniture, you should always build to the best of your ability, not cutting any corners because you bid the job at 40 hours but its taking 50. Every piece you make represents your ability and your business and a well made piece will sell more furniture, I promise. If I build an amazing dining room table for a client and they're pleased with it, I now have a happy client and a sales representative for my business. They will tell their friends and family about it and it will sell more tables. For me, this effect snowballed over 4 years and eventually left me with a sizable backlog.
Obviously, I'm not laying out a perfect path to becoming a furniture maker because, well, there really isn't one. I'm just sharing some of my experience and what I've learned over the years. I'll end by saying that making a living as a furniture maker isn't always easy and you're not going to get rich, but spending your time transforming trees into fine furniture is really, really satisfying!