Tag Archives: woodworking career

Working it…

3 Mar

The path of my woodworking career, one year in.

My foot in the door…

I got my first woodworking job in March of 2011. I found out about the job through my woodworking school. The company was an art studio that made high end corporate gifts, such as vases, bracelets and desktop organizers. I worked there for six months. I learnt how to use a sand blasting machine, a metal shear, and an old giant veneer press. I had many different products to make and manipulated many different materials. I even spent time in the spray booth and learnt how to mix lacquer, and use a spray gun properly.

The next step…

In October 2011 I moved on to a job in Aerospace, building cabinetry for private jets. I sought out the job specifically this time, applying to the company cold. Luckily they were hiring for many positions and I got in.The certificate I earned at woodworking school came in handy as it was a prerequisite for the job. It’s a funny thing, most of the equipment is all familiar but the materials used in Aerospace are SO alien, it took a while to get used to. I spent about a month at this company.

Fiberglass skins on either side of a honeycomb formed cardboard is a super light weight material used in aircrafts.

The upset…

After a month of working in Aerospace I was laid off. So were about 40 other people. I didn’t feel wonderful about it but I also wasn’t hit as hard as those who’d worked there longer.

The interim…

I knew that I wasn’t ready to start my woodworking business solo quite yet. I actively looked for a new job, and contacted possible employers. I kept my phone on me 24/7 with ears pricked.

As weeks went on I decided to work on my shop while I waited for word. I made shop fixtures, and moved all the wood from under my bed to my shop.

I received a couple of calls from the placement agency that I signed on with, neither of them panned out.

As more weeks went by and still no success at finding a new job, I started to build some tables out of scrap wood I’d found in the bins at school.

And then it happened…

After three months of being out of a job I got called back to the Aerospace company that laid me off. I go back Monday. I’m super pleased and yet I hope they keep me on for a while longer than last time! I’ll be working on those tables at my own shop when I can sneak them in. I’ll document the progress on those.

Coming up I’m going to review the Rockler DustRight dust collection system that I own. I’ll also be posting a little trick for measuring tapes, and *hanging head* I bought a few more tools that I’ll post photos of.

Blog hiatus is over

22 Feb

It’s been a busy while since I last posted. But a lot has happened and I’m going to post about my woodworking progress (and process) again.

If you’re just tuning in: I started woodworking not long ago. I took a 14 month course and graduated almost exactly a year ago today. This blog follows me as I begin my career in woodworking. My ultimate goal is to become a self employed woodworker.

A brief recap of my woodworking career over the last year:

  • I had an apprenticeship last winter that lasted 6 weeks. I enjoyed learning in an environment that had completely different methods of operation than I’d experienced at woodworking school.
  • I lined up a woodworking job about a week after my apprenticeship and worked for a studio that specialized in high end corporate gifts such as vases, bracelets and desktop organizers. I stayed on for six months.
  • I then lined up a new job to diversify my experience and skill sets and worked in the aerospace industry building cabinetry for private jets.
  • Now I’m looking for a new job again and also spending time in my own shop making furniture

A brief recap of my personal shop activities over the last year procuring a space, furnishing it with tools and working wood! :

Winter 2011

  • I made arrangements with my family to use a 16’x8′ outbuilding on my family’s property. It’s heated, and wired for 110.
  • I took inventory of the tools I had available to me through family connections. Mainly hand tools, a few portable power tools, a drill press, and a bandsaw.
  • I also  planned which tools I might need to purchase next and which ones would run on 110.
  • July was the month that I took possession of the outbuilding on my family’s property
  • A LOT of time was dedicated to cleaning out and preparing my new shop space
  • I put up peg board, fashioned a work bench out of an old collapsible table and some fence 4x4s, and dismantled some giant shelves that took up too much floor space.
  • My first major purchase was a table saw-  a 1.75hp professional cabinet SawStop saw. It was a demo model so I got $1000 off the ticket price. I paid for it in installments and had it delivered by mid summer.

If the blade touches skin a brake is activated and the blade drops down under the table.

  • I soon realized that my shop space was very humid and so I picked up a dehumidifier for $50 at a flea market, and some wax for my cast iron surfaces, and finally a magnetic cover for my table saw
  • I also needed a dust collection system so I found a small portable model for $100 second hand. I sold the hose and fittings that came with it for $40 and bought a rockler extendable dustright hose and attachments to easily hook up to any machine. I didn’t have the space to run hoses along the walls and or ceiling.
  • Late summer and early autumn saw me painting the shop floor and re-roofing the shop to seal out the moisture of the impending winter.
  • Autumn was when I made some serious plans to start my shop up. In my mind it came down to not having all the necessary equipment for that to happen. I made a series of purchases. A cheap drill $50 brand new. A second hand 6″ jointer for $125. A brand new lunch box planer with helical cutters $890. I also got a cheaply made but fully equipped router table from a local home improvement center for $120.
  • With birthday money I bought a bench vise which was an adventure to install, and a kit of 4 bessey parallel clamps. $200 for everything.
  • Leading up to Christmas I finally had (in my opinion) amassed enough equipment to tackle a project that would effectively christen my shop. I decided on building a set of toy trucks for my nephew. I didn’t have a drop of glue so bought my first 4liter bottle. The gift went over well!
Winter 2012
  • While building my first project I saw many areas that needed improving around the shop for my work to be accurate, predictable and repeatable. I adjusted my table saw fence correctly (second time’s a charm). I built a collapsible infeed table  and a crosscut sled for my table saw. I built a fence for my bandsaw, and I built a rolling base for my planer. I also got a set of drum  sander bits for the drill press, a quick change drill/counter sink and driver kit,  and hallelujah I finally bought sandpaper. I’m finally free to throw out sandpaper AS SOON as it doesn’t cut efficiently.
  • I replaced an old mitre saw that didn’t have a guard with a basic dewalt mitre saw and it’s 10 times better, the fence, the guard, and the cut quality. I bought it used for $100 and it came with an 80 tooth fine crosscut freud blade. I also caved into a sale and bought new porter cable drill for $50 because the drill I had needed 24HOURS to charge! Check the fine print when buying!
  • Now I’m out in the shop building a series of tables, I’ve just started but I’ve already made a jig and my table tops are done.
  • I’m making the tables out of wood I pulled out of the scrap bin at school (a year ago!) so I’m trying to use what I have on hand. In so doing I’ve paired each top with possible blanks for legs and stretchers and popped the measurements of the pieces I have into Google Sketch up. Spent some time on the designs and now I’m ready to go back to the shop to build them!

I’ll be posting regularly again, and I’ll be posting about any and everything that comes up. The journey continues! I promise a shop tour soon!

A daunting task- time to start my job search.

9 Mar

A lot has happened in recent weeks. All very relevant to my woodworking career goals. I’m almost to the five week mark in my apprenticeship, with only one more week left after that! With such little time left, I’ve been hastily putting my efforts towards my job search.

It’s always shocking when a far off date finally rounds a bend in your reality and suddenly NOW is go time. Since I decided I’d like to build funds and experience before starting my own business, I need to find a woodworking related job. I’ve been a little disappointed thus far in my search. I was hoping to find something  related to my utlimate shop setup. I may need to compromise depending on what’s available right now. Timing is everything!

So far I’ve asked Tim if he knows of anybody that is hiring, and contacted my school for any juicy job leads. The school yielded one, which I’ve applied to. I found  and applied to another interesting position listed on a government job bank website.

Next I need to spread the word to my friends and family that I’m actively looking. The search continues!

I accidentally deleted a fully written post recently. I have yet to re-write it- but soon there will be a second installment of lessons from woodworking school. I’ll also no doubt relay the highlights of my apprenticeship, and check in with job search details.

I also have pretty substantial changes in plans for the shop as it turns out. A family meeting about the (family) shop space kind of put a kink in my plans. More on that soon!

Pricing and pace… what’s a woodworker to do?

28 Jan

I recently gathered with my fellow woodworking graduates to have a catch up session. They are at the half way mark in their apprenticeships. The issue of pace came up. This was one of my worries, what pace does industry run at? It varies!

I learned that one of the shops was scary fast. All operations carried out with speed in mind. Production had to be quick.

In another shop the owner admitted to being the slowest worker he knows. He gets teased for it but insists on working at his own pace.

This led me to thinking about how price and pace are linked.There are a myriad of different ways to run a successful business but to simplify:


There are those who focus on speed to keep costs down.


There are those who focus on quality to keep prices up.

I realize there is a large grey area in between the two. As I said, all kinds of business models lead to success. And success is a  subjective term.

But this thought process helped me to plot out a definite direction for my future business. I decided I want to head more towards quality and a slower pace. Especially since I envision staying a one man shop. I don’t want to manage a larger shop. I also don’t want to spread myself too thin trying to work at the speed of light every day AND stay safe AND still take care of the administration, marketing, sales, accounting, and designing. Of course the direction you choose will be unique to you and the goals you have for your own business.

So with the pace figured out for myself I move on to pricing…


Do you charge based on  materials + markup + hours+ overhead?


Do you charge based on the value and quality of the product?

Can’t I just make some hybrid of the two? If  I can, I probably will.

In the research I’ve done on the topic, most people start small, selling to friends.  At this point you’re not charging on an hourly wage, nor on the value of the product, you’re giving a discount. It’s a trade-off for building a name for yourself and starting to spread your network to get that target client that you need. Then gradually you build the right clients and start to price according to that market.

Some Pros and Cons for both types of pricing

Cons: sticking to an hourly wage that was prematurely high or just ran over the time estimated can scare off clients when you’re just starting out. Whereas if you do a job based on the value of the product and you find you’ve lost money on it,  that doesn’t make sense either.

Pro: Pricing by the value of a product could help you profit from a product line, where production is fast and quality is predictable.

Pro: Knowing that the materials, time, and the cost of the shop will all be taken care of in the pricing can set a business owner’s mind at ease.

Pro: Pricing by the value and quality of the product can remove limitations to a project. When the limit is however much your clients are willing to pay, you could potentially build a whole different type of furniture by pursuing this pricing model. The highest of the high-end, always challenging yourself more than you would when you have a set hourly wage.

PERSONAL Conclusions

I think that pricing by the hour is for businesses that want to do well financially through strategic pricing, but pricing by the value of the product can mean that you are not worrying about getting by, you just want to be a creative free spirit and the client is happy to pay for that end product.

So… ultimately I guess what I’m saying is:

I’ll probably start  my business by charging by the hour with all my costs etc.

But I’ll aspire to raise the level and quality of my work until I don’t need those training wheels anymore!

I expect as I gather more and more information that I might even change my mind about this, but for now this is where I am and I’m documenting it as such. EVERY single woodworker that I’ve spoken with or whose opinion I have read has had very different ways of tackling pricing, so it’s definitely worth forming your own opinion.

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