The Online Guide to Making a Small Fortune Woodworking.

This morning on Twitter I caught a quick note by a friend that made me feel some sympathy for him but also brought back some memories itself. As a refresher I do work a day job to support my family and my sawdust addiction, I work a Surgical Technologist specializing in Orthopedics. Basically that means I'm the monkey that hands the scalpel and other instruments to the doctor.

A few years ago I worked for a different hospital than I do now. I had worked there for a couple years, starting almost right out of school, and it was a good place for a while, I still have people I consider friends who work there, but things changed, some of those changes were the hospital, I think now most of the changes that made the difference were from inside me. Going to work became a grueling experience every morning.

After waking up and checking and double checking to make sure I didn't feel a touch of the flu coming on I would decide it was finally time to man up and go to work. After my drive in I would park my car and just sit in it and stare at the building with my stomach in knots. One thought would cross through my mind day after day. "Maybe today is the day I step out onto the street and another car flies by and hits me. That way I don't have to go in there today, or hopefully, for a while."
It never happened. Wish as I might there was never an out of control car flying down the street, barely controlled by the driver, as fate turned the steering wheel and sandwiched me between its grill and my open car door. My dream, my hope of flying through the air for a brief couple seconds only to crash onto the concrete in a crumpled mess of broken bones never materialized. I was sure the pain of such an traumatic impact would pale in comparison to the repeated, long drawn out pain I faced everyday when I had to force myself to walk through those doors and go to work.

Kind of disturbing huh? As I look back on it now I'm not exactly proud of those feelings and thoughts, I like to think of myself as more of a man than that, but I'm old enough now to understand that everyone hits the bottom of the barrel at least once in their lives, for most of us it probably happens several times. But this is a woodworking blog and what does this confession have to do with woodworking? Hold on because I'm going to get there. I promise.
The woodworking part comes with the decisions I made after I passed that chapter in my life. After feeling that way for the better part of a year, I left that hospital for another. I still have a serene feeling of satisfaction when I remember the look on the face of my manager when I gave her my two week notice. Somehow, almost nobody saw my departure coming. But more importantly it made me really start to think about what I do for a living and whether I could find that thing that would be a combination of work and passion. It's the most important piece of throw away advice you'll ever get.

That time and those feelings are roughly seven years past, but I think they were the catalyst for the rocky times I've had since then, Since I left that hospital in early 2005 I have been on a search that has led me through six jobs and a move halfway across the country and back. I'm very sure I have settled down now and stability is starting to return to our lives, but along the journey I discovered something else about myself. That I had a real talent and passion for woodworking.

For me, my greatest feeling of accomplishment has always been in doing something creative, and woodworking is the ultimate for me in that it allows me to be creative while also providing something that is practical and useful. It's a perfect storm of art and function. In '05 I was really still just a fledgling woodworker. It was something I played at, but it was that one thing that followed me along that journey through the different jobs and different states. When we moved to Maine in the beginning of '09 I really began to take it serious, I began to think about woodworking not as something I sometimes DID, but as something I wanted to DO!

I don't rush into anything, I plan and plod along trying to carefully place one foot in front of the other, doing my best to temper my occasional desire to run with the knowledge that things will work out better if I walk. I have a friend who kind of pokes at me occasionally because I'm so deliberate, but it's the way I am. So for a while I have been walking down the path to finding myself a place where I can make a living, a happy living, in the world of woodworking. In this day and age I have no illusions of making it solely by doing custom woodworking pieces directly for clients. I believe that will be a portion of what the Oldwolf Workshop does right along side teaching and writing. Everything is in the basket, and if you are out there, reading this, and thinking about doing something similar, even if it's not woodworking, then I encourage you to put yourselves out there too.

There are hurdles in your way. I'm fighting those hurdles the same as you will have to, I cannot lie about them. Those hurdles come from within you. That little voice that says "You can't do this." or "It's not worth the effort." or my favorite, "Nobody will like your crap anyway." Those voices don't leave, ever, straight up truth. but you have to recognize where those voices come from and that they are not there to help.

What doesn't help is the voices from the outside that do their best to reinforce your inner cynicism. Recently I was to a show where had a chance to sit down with a couple of other woodworkers, both of whom are more successful and accomplished that me. The ultimate evidence of this is that both of them were working the show as speakers and teachers, and I had bought a ticket to get in there, but one of them knew who I was through my blog and twitter presence and he invited me to catch a few minutes with them on one of their breaks. In a few minutes I kind of described my background and my desire that I could make a living making sawdust. Now I didn't really say these things looking for support from them, but they exchanged a quick look between the two of them, one of those knowing looks, like "oh no, another one riding the pipe dream" One of the fellows, who is a known name in woodworking, and is an on staff, big contributor to one of the top woodworking magazines, pulled out the old line that everyone in woodworking has heard a million times.

"Well, you know the way to make a small fortune woodworking is to start with a large fortune."

"Ya, I know." was all I could muster to answer.
I laughed the first time I heard this line, it's cute and catchy, I'll give it all of that. But over time I have come to recognize it as the most defeatist and cynical sentences I have ever heard, and if there's anything I know about it's cynicism. I guess this attitude is just something I fail to understand. Here is a well known figure in the community, someone people look up to, someone who was touted as an attraction to help draw woodworkers to come to this show. I didn't sit in on one of his seminars, but I know that all the folding chairs were full when he was talking. He makes his living using sawdust, but in a cynical moment he tried to put his foot on the throat of my hopes. If I had met him and had this conversation several years ago while I was still trying to figure things out. Who knows what effect that may have had. Disappointed doesn't even begin to describe how I felt about the experience.

I cannot locate the quote tonight, but I know I've read in one of James Krenov's books something akin to him saying, "Nobody ever told me I couldn't make a living at this, so I went ahead and did." Nobody ever told me I couldn't write a blog and use it as a spring board to make great connections in the woodworking world. I think of the dozens of people I've met now, a couple I can call good friends. None of that is possible without my sitting down and deciding to begin to record on a blog how I decided to go about building a workbench.

Sam Maloof and James Krenov have passed us by. We miss them, their, ingenuity, personalities, and passion. But someone will have to fill their shoes evetually, could it be me? Could it be you? Someone has to be the next Roy Underhill, Chris Schwarz, Norm Abrahms, Charles Neil, or Peter Follansbee. Undertand I'm not calling for replacing anyone of these great personalities, I'm not looking for someone to pick up St. Roy's red suspenders once he lays them down. I'm saying there will always be a need for someone who wants to inspire, wants to teach, wants to be a doorway to let other people into the world of woodworking.

SInce it is Albert Einstein's Birthday today, I will leave you with a couple lines from him that I read and found to be relevant.

“for those who would joyously march in rank and file, they have already earned my contempt, for they were given a large brain by accident when a spinal chord would have sufficed.”
-Albert Einstein

“True religion is real living; living with all one's soul, with all one's goodness and righteousness.”
-Albert Einstein



  1. Jeremy Kriewaldt (aka jmk89)March 15, 2011 at 12:09 AM

    When I saw that tweet I had similar feelings.

    I am a lawyer and lawyering is what I am best at. It is the best way for me to make sure that my kids have Cornflakes in their bellies and shoes on their feet.

    About 10 years ago, the firm for which I had worked for for 15 years and of which I had been a partner for over 10 years no longer felt like a place I should be. Getting into the car park in the morning made me feel sick, and by lunchtime all I felt like doing was going out an getting drunk. I stuck at it, until the morning when I just broke down and cried at my desk for over an hour. I was depressed in a truly profound manner. It wasn't the job - I'm still a lawyer and happy doing that job. It was just that the firm of which I was a part and I no longer shared any values. It was time to leave.

    I was lucky - I found a way to leave without making a fuss.

    And I found my way back into lawyering in a way that suit me much better.

    Along the way I also found that I enjoyed working with wood in my spare time. It was as good a hobby as golf but I could do it at home. I'm still lousy at it (and golf) and it will never be my alternative income, but it is a great way to pass the time and unwind from the day job (which I still enjoy, but which I no longer to allow to dominate my life).

  2. Wow Jeremy, Thanks for sharing. I do remember at the time feeling very alone, I just couldn't express in words what was going on, not even to those close to me, though I tried.

    I think you do make a good point that I should say it was not the job itself that hurt. I still make a living as a surg tech and I am good at it. It is the most humbling and grounding work you can imagine because eventually you have to realize that no matter what's going wrong in your life, right at that moment, you're helping someone who is having a much worse day, even if they are there electivly,

    The only thing I dislike about my job is that I am not doing my own work, in reality my job is to facilitate the surgeon's work. When I took a couple years off to teach at an area college that felt more fulfilling because I was doing my own work, creating lectures and content, and seeing the fruits of my labor.

    I am more content in my surg tech job now than I have been since the beginning, because I'm on the path to working my way to independence through woodworking. I don't pretend to know where the path will take me exactly, but I'm at the right point in my life to begin to walk it.

    Thanks again Jeremy for sharing, maybe someday we'll get a chance to chase those little white balls around the field together, (I totally suck at golf too, but that doesn't stop me from playing either) I'd like that.

    It's kind of good to know you're not alone, has anyone else ever suffered through a similar time?


  3. This feels like I am calling into a radio show lol but I have been reading and enjoying your blog for a few months now and finally felt like posting here to comment on this.

    I have felt the same way.. I am an IT architect who used to fly all over the place every week. Much like you I would get to client sites and sit in the car going am I sick.. do I feel tired.. I would sleep in (well if you call 8:30 sleeping in) and lay in the bed debating on 'feeling sick' that day. Something was wrong but It did not dawn on me what it was or why.
    I got laid off from work about a year ago because I got really sick and could not meet my 'numbers' at that time I was devistated... this was all I knew what had I done.. etc...

    I went through a couple of jobs... much like you they did not seem right at the time. I thought it was just me. I then found my current contract. While not a perm job yet it is consistent I have worked from home for the past 8 months or so.

    Since then I have started fiddling in my workshop again on a regular basis. Nothing fancy... a rope bed frame.. a candle lamp with storage box.. a medieval chest with carvings... and since then I have not really felt the same.
    much like the previous comment I don't know if I could make a living doing this but it allows me to escape.

    Its a weird feeling when I woodwork.. its almost magical (yes I know its kooky) but I escape and turn myself off.. everything else just disappears and I loose all track of time.
    Its wonderful....Even when I don't make anything or I mess something up... its still the same feeling.. and when I finish something its the most amazing feeling I have had in awhile. I started doing this hobby about 15 years ago at a reenacting event where I made a simple wooden mallet and have been boobling ever since.. but nothing like recently.. =0)


  4. I find it funny how all the older woodworking guru's all say we need to draw the younger Men and women into woodworking for the future of woodworking and then the first thing out the their mouth is that little saying, which is both defeatist and insulting. I Have heard it many times in my 30 years of working in this industries. I am a trim carpenter and a cabinetmaker and have mostly done subcontract work, but now I am designing and building my own stuff to sell it's a different world, a lot tougher, but more satisfying. Stick to your dream and you will get there and good luck.

  5. I have been in that kind of work disgust/rut several times. Honestly, I think that most people get to that point and we reach it alone even if it happens simultaneously. I was working one place in a previous life and had a particularly bad day. The guy I was working with and I packed up our stuff and called it a day. Didn't really talk that much on the way back to the office. After I left, I decided I was not going back. A few months passed and I ran into the guy that I was working with only to discover we had both reached the same conclusion and walked away the same day and never looked back.

    I have found a huge number of people that go through career changes. Not just workplaces. It was one of those that has put me where I am today. It's not like I am really unstable at work. I have been here over 10 years.

    For myself, there has to be a balance between familiarity to where I know my job and can do it well and having new things to keep me going. Thankfully, I have been lucky for the last places I have been working that they were not anywhere with the bosses that like to pull the wings off flies and kick bunnies. I can handle my own situations but I am more effected by the overall environment.

    Even if I never do anything for a living with my other hobbies and interests, for me it is a release. The place where I am in total control of what I do and when. I plan that I will be here for a few more years because I am getting close to being eligible for early retirement. Once I get that lined up, I will probably try something else but with the extra comfort of not depending on it for an income. Makes things much different.

  6. One extra quote from Albert Einstein and my personal favorite:

    "Insanity is doing the same thing, over and over again, but expecting different results."

  7. Chris, Welcome to the radio show! :) It's good to hear from a fellow medieval enthusiast. I have to admit a rope bed is on my to do list, and I would love to see some pictures of your work on the medieval chest, especially the carving. You should email me.

    Joey, I think you are very right about the issues with the old guard, sometimes its tough to remember how difficult it was for you when you were starting out. I'm not sure what there is we can do about these type of people other than choose not to listen to them. The magazine guy who shut me down pulled it off so smooth and fast it wasn't until my drive home that evening that I realized what had really been said there.

    David, I have worked for those sadistic bosses in the past to, it sucks, in fact this evening I got some bad news, my manager at the hospital I currently work at has been forced to resign due to health issues, She has been by far the best boss I have ever had and I'm going to miss her greatly. I've been through this transition thing before and it's never good, this may have to make me accelerate my plans for independence.

    Oh and David, your Einstein quote is truely my favorite, I use it with my 14 year old daughter constantly.


  8. Now that I have had a while to digest this post...

    There are people that get jump into woodworking for a living and fall flat on their face and others do just fine. Their success does not really have any relation to their skill at woodworking or how many hours they put in each day. It has to do with their ability to run a business and manage themselves.

    Whether it is actually making things or as an educator or writer about woodworking, there is a large component of selecting work: knowing what you can afford to do and what you can't afford to do. Make the wrong choice and you get behinder and behinder. Get far enough behind and you never catch up.

    The other place people fail is that they think that all they are going to have to do is sit in their workshop all by themselves, only making stuff that pleases them. They don't realize that they will be doing what other people want. All jobs have things that suck about them. Part of life.

    Running a business for yourself has its rewards but it is by no means what many of the dreamers that they are talking about are envisioning. A bunch of them think that they can just piddle along like its a hobby and everything will just work out on its own. The best quote I have heard is that when you work for yourself, the boss has to be a real SOB. But the flip side of that is that when you are working for somebody else, you are totally dependent on one source for your income. When you work for yourself, the whole world is full of potential customers.

    So, here it is. Some people fail at woodworking for a living. Ok, so what? As long as you don't go out and buy a bunch of equipment and supplies that you can't afford, the only thing that you lose if it doesn't work out is some time on another job. If you are not financially prepared to make a go of it just wait until you are or start part time around a day job. If it important enough to you and you manage it properly, you will make it work. Also, if you are not perceptive enough to be able to tell if it's not working out and adapt the plan, you certainly are not equipped mentally to be doing it in the first place. Some people are not cut out to work for themselves. When I was younger, there is no way on earth I would have done well. Now that I am older and hopefully wiser, I don't know. Maybe someday.

  9. David, I have come back to read your comment several different times, and it is still intriguing to me, I guess the truth is that people start their own buisnesses everyday, to different degrees of success and failure. I mean if you kick a rock over three ex-real estate agents come tumbling out.

    I think some people are over sensitive about the thing because it starts as a hobby first, and it's a hobby that other people value. Firends and family all want you to "Make this one thing for me" and then get eyes of horror when they find out what it should cost.

    Like most things in life I think you have to give up on the whole hang up on listening to what other people think and spend time figuring out what you yourself think.



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