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©2015 Charles Plesums
Austin Texas USA
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Oops. A magazine article described how I had retired to become a full time custom furniture maker. At the end of the article, where I would have expected a link to see my furniture, there was a link to this web site. If you would like to see my custom furniture, go to www.plesums.com/wood. We also travel extensively, and in recent years have published our travelogues. The menu of travelogues is at www.plesums.com/travel
Welcome to SoloWoodworker.com
Ten years ago I retired "early" to become a custom furniture maker. But for over 60 years I have been a "hobby" woodworker, fixing up homes and building things for friends and family. People saw my work and for the last 20 years asked me to build things for them. I liked doing it part time, so in 2005 I "retired early" to build furniture full time. Basically I am doing what I love to do - and discovered people would pay me to do it. Not only do I like making things, I love the challenge of satisfying other people's dreams.
An amazing number of people have expressed awe (or jealousy) that I would take the step of starting a business. And perhaps an equal number of people assume that a complex business structure is required to sell something you make, so they haven't started. It's easy! I encourage you to take the step, start small, and just do it! This site will share how I did it.
I also found that a number of common woodworking techniques "didn't work" if you were working professionally. For example, I have read articles that to varnish something you should clean your shop, allow the residual dust to settle, clean again, then finally varnish. Don't move briskly in the shop while the varnish is drying since you might stir up dust. Then the second, third, and fourth days, apply additional coats in your "clean room." That sounds like taking your shop out of commission for a week at a time. You have to find different finishing techniques (as I have) - I can't dedicate the shop for a week to finishing one piece. This this site also includes many woodworking hints that I developed or refined as I started doing this "full time."
Occasionally I get an email like this (it is real): "I would like to start making custom furniture and sell it! I need help with everything! Can you help me??? I hope so! Thanks." Sorry, no one web site or email will give you the years of experience required to start a new career. At most I hope to help you refine your years of hobby experience, and become a part-time professional.
Another story. If you are a decent hobby woodworker and want to sell your work, do it. But don't do what someone wanted to do on a forum. He had calculated that his shop rate should be $70 per hour. Then he built a bookcase/entertainment center for a customer. It took him four weeks. Was $11,000 a fair price for this piece? I would have made it for $1,500 in a few days. If he is a fully qualified craftsman deserving a shop rate of $70, it should not have taken him 4 weeks. If he is learning, 4 weeks is fine, but his customer should not pay for him to learn something so basic.
What this is NOT
I am not a lawyer, tax advisor, or accountant. Anything I suggest is based on advice I have received that I believe is legal and honorable as it applies to me. It may also apply to you, but that is for you to determine with whatever professional legal or financial help you need.
This is not another of many guides of how to start and grow a business. There are lots of books and articles on building a growing business that are better than this. Instead I am trying to fill a void - have a business that keeps me busy and happy - a real business, not just a hobby. A business that makes a profit proportional to the effort I put in. A business that is fair to other woodworkers who must feed their families from their work. But a business that does not grow. (Despite not growing, my business has paid for all machines, materials, and expenses, and has always been profitable.) Salesmen can't imagine why I don't want a tool or technique to increase my sales, allow me to hire helpers, and produce more. After over 40 years in business as a professor, manager, technician, and consultant, I don't want to create a big business. I don't want to be a manager (again). I want an activity that is fun and keeps me off the golf course. See the page "about us" for more of what this is and is not. For examples of my work, see www.plesums.com/wood.
Keep in mind that if you are a solo woodworker, you are also the salesman, the advertising person (web master), the purchasing agent, the janitor, the tool master doing all the sharpening, the repair man, and so forth. If you have some time left after all this, you can build furniture. Or put another way, if you want to make this a full-time business, you probably have to hire some low wage people to be janitor, and some specialized people for accounting and web design (or whatever) to leave you time to work.
Pages will be added to this web site as time allows... be sure to check back. My initial unrealistic goal was to add a page per day but it is running more like a couple new or updated pages per month - basically when I feel like I have enough new info to put together a page, or after participating in a discussion that refines my answers. Your comments, suggestions, and experiences would be appreciated. Your questions may even generate a "general" answer that becomes a new page - many of the pages have evolved from email or forum discussions that I have had.
SoloWoodworker - SoloWoodworking ???
There is a group of custom furniture and cabinet makers in Canada that had a web site www.solowoodworking.com that is unrelated to us. (Group, solo? I don't know!). The site did not work for several months, then started working again with a one-person (whew, solo) business, but every attempt to contact them - through their site and through email - has failed. Now the site is inactive again. If you know about them or their site, please let me know or have them contact me. I am sure some of their customers end up on this site, and vice versa, and I would like to cooperate with them.
Why is there a section on MiniMax on this web site? My primary equipment is from MiniMax, and I love it. But the MiniMax web site has become practically useless to existing users. Since this whole web site is to be a service to others, why not share the information I have collected on MiniMax (and on using European machines in general) on this web site. I am not a salesman or in any way affiliated with the company other than as a customer. Enjoy or ignore, as you wish.
In response to questions I have created a page on machine creation of tenons (as in mortise and tenon)
A review of the woodworking software that you might want to consider.
Jack Lindsey's well known article on shop lighting, updated, has recently been added with his permission.
The AEG switch used on MiniMax bandsaws is a challenge that has earned it a complete web page.
Questions from friends have led to a tutorial on refinishing furniture for beginners
I now buy rather than build most of my drawer boxes. The quality is outstanding, and the economics are discussed on the build or buy web page.
I am glad to continue to provide personal answers to questions, but now offer more extensive training services.
I have expanded the data on building your own web site.
Even though I primarily use power tools, I have recently invested in some good hand planes. There were a lot of tricks that I had to learn, despite being around planes all my life. Therefore I have created a page on hand planes for the power tool user.
Be sure to see the series on finishing, now up to 5 pages long, including updates based on the next-generation product that replaced my favorite lacquer.
This site (layout and contents) is ©2008-2015 by Charles A. Plesums, 5702 Puccoon Cove, Austin Texas 78759-7177. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
Something new ... you are welcome to add your comments, either anonymously, or by logging in (upper right corner or below your comment). I will try to join the conversation as appropriate.