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©2012 Charles Plesums
Austin Texas USA
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I am Charlie Plesums, and I have been a woodworker for over 60 years, including "fixing up" numerous houses where we lived. My wife Jenny was a co-conspirator... a partner, not just "hold this," in many of the projects. About twenty years ago, in the early 1990s, she suggested that we build some things we could take with us, that were not attached to the house.
The switch to furniture was about the time our son got out of college. The first coffee table we made for him was pretty terrible... some construction lumber from Home Depot, stained to look like good wood. But I learned to make drawers and tapered legs and other components, and learned that walnut stain on construction lumber doesn't make it walnut - a painted pig is still a pig. That table has been rebuilt a couple times (now with real walnut wood). The second base is in Minnesota with a new top. The third base is in use in Texas with a modified original top. The first base is in the landfill. As the joke goes, "that was the best axe I ever owned... two new heads and three new handles, and it is still going strong."
Our son had a terrible night stand (the usual WalMart purchase when you start college - it served well, but it was past the normal 5 year lifespan), so we built a good walnut night stand. That made his bed look terrible, so we built a walnut bed. That made his vintage chest of drawers look bad, so... well, you get the pattern. Unfortunately, about the same time, I bought Jenny a new computerized sewing machine as a birthday present, and as a result, lost a regular woodworking partner.
People saw my work and asked me to build things for them. I liked doing it part time, while I continued my day job. It was like a hobby, but with the challenge of satisfying someone else's requirements and dreams. (I find this challenge more satisfying than worrying about my golf score.) I had a web site for my technical papers, so it was easy to add information on my woodworking "services." Almost immediately I built a continuous backlog of work... all I wanted for a part-time business. Then, in early 2005, I "retired early" to build furniture full time. It could be considered just switching to a much lower paying job that I really loved. A friend called it "pursuing a passion." I call it doing what I love to do, and discovering people will pay me to do it.
An amazing number of people have expressed awe (or jealousy) that I would take the step of retiring to build custom furniture. And perhaps an equal number of people assume that a complex business structure is required to sell something you make, so they haven't gone beyond research of how to form a corporation (don't do it... see notes on business structure). It's easy! This site will share how I did it - lessons learned from making mistakes, and from the advice of lots of friends (in person and in forums on the web).
You will not get rich following my business plan. As a craftsman, your "shop rate" (to pay for your time and buy your space and tools) may be worth $50 per hour (more about this elsewhere). But you are also the janitor (minimum wage), the salesman, and the marketing director. If this is a part-time retirement job, you won't be working 60 hours per week, and may work more casually than if driven for profits. If you are a one person business, the number of hours you can work as a craftsman will be limited. I sell many thousands of dollars of furniture each year, but my hourly wage, when all the overhead is counted, is closer to minimum wage. Yes, I am having fun. No, I don't put in long working hours (unless I want to). No, I don't have to pay to support a hobby (in fact, I earn enough to have to pay significant taxes on the woodworking income). But I could not support a family, nor live where I now live, nor put a kid through college, if this casual "business" were my primary income. I believe that if you want to make a living as a woodworker you either have to be extremely talented (command high prices), or work extraordinarily hard, or run a business with employees - to spread the overhead and have the simple tasks handled by lower wage helpers.
I am not a lawyer, tax advisor, or accountant. Anything I suggest is based on what I believe is legal and honorable as it applies to me. It may also apply to you, but that is for you and your legal and financial advisors to determine.
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 business that are better than this. Instead I am trying to fill a void - help you start a business that does not grow, but that keeps you busy and happy, and supports itself financially, with minimal "business" burden. I assume it will be a one person business without employees, as it is for me. Salesmen can't imagine why I don't want their special tool or technique to increase my sales and build my business and produce more. After over 40 years as a professor, a business manager, a technician, and a consultant, I don't want to create a big business. I don't want to be a manager (again). I want to do what I love doing, and (surprise) get paid to do it, and have an activity that keeps me off the golf course.
Maybe my earlier life as a professor, manager, and consultant is why I like to write and share what I have learned. More information than anyone should want to know about me, including my resume, is on www.plesums.com. In the meantime I hope you enjoy this site - and will drop me a note with your questions, results, and suggestions.
This site (layout and contents) is ©2008-2012 by Charles A. Plesums, 5702 Puccoon Cove, Austin Texas 78759-7177. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.