Updated: Aug 27
Making a living as a furniture maker takes incredible effort. I'm not sure I would have gotten into this game 5 years ago if I could tell myself what I know now. From the outside, a career as a furniture maker is so simple, romantic, and endearing. The reality is it's incredibly challenging, can often feel inconsistent, be very expensive, and stressful. I often can't sleep, and wake up in the middle of the night obsessing about the projects I'm working on. There's so much to account for to be certain the product comes out as expected and there is very little room for error in each build to maintain your margins.
I think it's this level of neurosis that's needed to make a living as a woodworker and furniture maker. It takes a huge amount of commitment, dedication, and patience to make handmade furniture worth buying.
Think about it, when we go to West Elm, Ikea, or any furniture retailer for that matter - we don't accept a table that has a warped top, a bed that is creaky, or a chair that is wobbly. We expect it to be factory fresh. The absolute bare minimum required to sell high-end handmade furniture is to make excellent products. They must be showroom ready.
It's likely the average customer doesn't understand how difficult it is to make lasting, beautiful handmade furniture that meets their expectations. But guess what, it doesn't matter. I don't agree with makers that charge premiums for similar products that are sold in stores that aren’t superior. You're local? So what? Customers deserve value.
This puts us handmade furniture makers in a tricky spot. We can’t compete on price or speed. So, we need to somehow convince buyers our products are better than what’s available on main street and are worth the premiums we have to charge. I’m certain my marketing professor in University would have told me to stay as far away from this business as possible.
There’s no easy answer to this. We’re up against massive corporations that have world class designers, remarkable manufacturing processes, and production scales we can’t even imagine.
I believe designing and building with integrity and authenticity will eventually lead to products that are detailed, high in quality, and evoke a sense of meaning that can't be found online or in a storefront. If you’re critical of your process, push yourself to find your own design style, and hone your skills with new challenges in each project, you ultimately create value.
So what’s a good measure to be sure you’re on the right path as a craftsperson in business? Time and effort. Working longer hours to successfully finish a project is okay, even if your margins were obliterated. I call this “Wood Shop R&D”. Being committed to executing on new techniques and investing in tools that improve your processes and designs will lead to products that outshine the competition.
Refinement and discipline are the 'North Stars' in your wood shop and will breed precision and efficiency which will lead you to success. Eventually, you will be able to charge a premium for your designs and craft if you are committed to you principles.
If you enjoyed reading this post and want to learn more about making high end furniture, check out our woodworking plans.
If you want to connect with me about the furniture we make, or your own journey as a woodworker, shoot me an email, or message me on Instagram. Sam