Chapter 1: Business or Personal? Setting up Your Space, Counting the Cost of Tools, and Learning Curve

Chapter 1: Business or Personal? Setting up Your Space, Counting the Cost of Tools, and Learning Curve
Photo by Bailey Alexander / Unsplash

There are various ways to enjoy woodworking. If I were starting anew, I would choose a path that allows me to undertake projects that genuinely interest me, minimize commissioned work, and focus my time and effort on learning the fundamentals.

You don't need to turn your woodcraft into a business; it's perfectly fine to keep it as a hobby. There isn't a necessary progression from hobbyist to side gig to a woodworking business. You can engage in all of them at different levels without ever doing one or the other. Some may say, "That's impossible," but I would say it is perfectly possible. Let's all agree it's not ideal, but it can be done.

The first thing you need to do is define your goals, what you want to make, and understand why you are doing it. Second, you will need to define your workspace, tools, and organize your workflow. Finally, you need to actually start practicing the craft. Now, let's dive in.

So, who are you when it comes to craftsmanship?


Woodworking as a hobby offers something unique that no other way of practicing this craft can; you have no responsibilities or commitments to anyone but yourself, allowing you to keep improving and do the best you can. By this, I mean there is no financial obligation nor time constraint; you can spend as much or as little as you wish, both in terms of time and money.

I will warn you against moving away from this almost perfect phase. Not everything that is a passion is meant to become a business, nor does it need to be sustainable. I mean...people jump out of airplanes with parachutes just for the adrenaline and experience; there is nothing practical or sustainable about it! If you want to woodwork, you do woodwork.

Unlike professional woodworkers who often face the pressures of client demands, deadlines, and financial constraints, hobbyists enjoy the freedom to explore various aspects of the craft at their own pace. This freedom allows for experimentation, learning at a comfortable rate, and choosing projects that genuinely interest YOU.

Tools Needed

Setting up a woodworking shop can start very modestly, often in a corner of a garage or basement with some basic set of tools. As skills and interest grow, so does the collection of tools. Make no mistake, you can have a $100 woodshop that fits your purpose, or even a $100,000 house shop and still be a hobbyist. The budget does not define who you are; that is defined by your purpose and motive.

The essential toolkit, in my opinion, includes:

Essential Tools List

  • A sturdy workbench equipped with a woodworking vise for enhanced stability during cutting or shaping tasks. (Approximately $500)
  • I always recommend building your own workbench. Visit the curated material section for video references, books, and articles on amazing projects; I plan to upload my own tutorials in the coming months.
  • Basic marking and measuring tools. (Approximately $150)
    • Marking gauge
    • Dividers
    • Measuring tapes and rulers
    • A straight-edge reference guide to ensure your surfaces and sides are straight.
  • Sharpening tools. (Approximately $300)
    • Various sharpening methods for your hand tools and blades. More on this later, but it seems that most renowned woodworkers agree that sharpening is a skill to focus on early. Don't be too proud or frugal to learn from them.
  • Dimensioning tools. (Approximately $2500/$350)
    • A Jointer Plane, if not electric (avoid benchtop versions, as they are ineffective), then a Scrub Plane and a #7 Jointer Plane for achieving straight faces and edges.
    • A planer, where some benchtop units may suffice. Otherwise, you will still rely on your Scrub Plane, #7, and #4 planes.
    • A circular saw or table saw for straight cuts, or a couple of hand saws (I will elaborate on the hand saws later).
    • A router for shaping and joinery.
    • A jigsaw or bandsaw for curved cuts, or a frame saw with a thin blade.
  • Finishing tools:
    • A Spokeshave for hand shaping edges and smoothing.
    • A cabinet scraper and a card scraper.
    • A random orbital sander/polisher; I will get a small one of 5 inches and one of 6 inches with variable speed.
  • A set of hand chisels.
  • An assortment of clamps for project assembly; the size really depends on the type of projects you regularly undertake. I will buy them as needed.
  • A set of an electric driver and drill for fastening screws and making holes. AND, a manual hand drill and brace for traditional techniques.
A special note on hand tools: You might consider skipping this altogether, but I would strongly advise against it. That was my mistake from the beginning; you will miss out on the fundamentals I have previously mentioned. For instance, you can learn how to dimension a board with a jointer, table saw, and planer, BUT you will become an immensely better woodworker if you know how to perform the same process by hand.
A special note on tool prices: There will always be more expensive tools out there, and you want to be guided by the principle of buying something that will last a long time but not necessarily the most expensive brand out there. Remember, being limited is a good thing; it allows your creativity to expand. Also, there are $800 Jointers and $20,000 Jointers. I made $20,000 worth of product multiple times with a $800 Jointer.

These tools represent a foundational set that enables you to embark on a wide variety of projects, ranging from simple to complex, while learning and honing your skills. If the budget seems prohibitive, here's a word of encouragement: I cannot provide a minimal list that is universally effective for everyone's case. However, if you tell me what you want to build, I can suggest a tailored minimal list for you. Nevertheless, here is a basic list to consider, with one section focusing on hand tools and another on power tools.

When it comes to tools, I suggest buying the best you can at the moment while thinking about the future; this may prevent you from buying twice.

Minimal Hand Tool List

  1. A set of hand planes: #4 and #7
  2. A straight edge
  3. A hand saw (I would likely recommend a bow saw with different blades)
  4. A manual hand drill
  5. A workbench (consider getting the book "Ingenious Mechanicks" for ideas from historical workbenches)
  6. A set of chisels
  7. A set of clamps

Minimal Power Tool List

  1. A circular track saw or a portable contractor table saw
  2. A 13-inch planer
  3. A 6-inch jointer
  4. A set of drills and drivers
  5. Some sawhorses
  6. Clamps

Space Needed

The required space for a woodworking shop can vary greatly. It can range from a small corner in a garage to a dedicated room or outbuilding. The key to a successful shop layout, regardless of size, is organization and efficient use of space. Most woodworkers, regardless of the space size, will end up with a similar set of equipment and storage needs. Here are some examples you may want to consider:

  1. Work Bench
  2. Big dimensioning tools if you use power tools (Jointer, Planer, Table Saw, and potentially Bandsaw)
  3. Tool Storage
  4. Wood storage
  5. Scrap storage
  6. Trash

The layout should prioritize the most used tools, like the tablesaw and workbench, which require the most space. For hobbyists, a bit of rearranging between tasks is manageable, unlike professionals, where time is more critical. For those working primarily with hand tools, space requirements can be significantly less, focusing mainly on a workbench and tool storage. I recommend getting all heavy tools on caster wheels, as this will do two things for you: at the beginning, it allows you to know your workflow better, and later, you can ditch the wheels; secondly, it will allow you to be more efficient with the space if space is a need.

Curated ideas for workbench, tools & layout:

Side Gig

A woodworking side gig allows you to explore and be creative while making your investment a bit more justifiable to your wife. It can be both personally and professionally fulfilling. Transitioning from a hobbyist to a professional mindset involves embracing business aspects like marketing and networking. Successful woodworkers recognize that building beautiful pieces is just part of the equation; the real challenge lies in getting noticed and selling your work.

Tools and Space Needed

The tools needed for a woodworking side gig don't differ much from those of a hobbyist, but you might need more specialized tools for varied projects. Investing in precise and efficient tools, such as a quality bandsaw or a jointer with spiral cutter heads, can save time and enhance the quality of your products. Optimizing the shop's layout to streamline workflow is crucial. However, I would advise against making too many changes; keeping your expenses low is extremely beneficial for any new business. Let's face it, as woodworkers, we have a tendency to buy tools and things that we do not need right away. Start monetizing with your hobbyist setup and consider making a few changes only with the specific tools required for jobs that can pay for those tools.

Time Commitment and Efficiency

Managing a side gig in woodworking requires balancing your day job, personal life, and woodworking projects. I am currently juggling being a parent, a student, and a provider, which is not easy. Shop efficiency is key. Invest time in learning how to craft pieces precisely and efficiently, and take your time during critical steps to ensure quality. Continuously developing new designs and improving skills are also essential to keeping your business fresh (Rule of the new digital marketing era: CONTENT, CONTENT, CONTENT). My biggest piece of advice is to think of yourself as a production line; when working on a project, organize it in such a way that production is streamlined.

To streamline your work on the technical side, follow these steps for almost any woodworking job:

Steps For Almost Any Woodworking Job

  1. Plan, and add extra boards. If things go wrong you do not want to lose time drying just one more board.
  2. Buy rough wood planks, always see them. Always add at least 8"-12" inches in length, 1" inch in width, and 0.25" to 0.5" inch in thickness.
  3. Dimensioning: Measure and cut all pieces to final thickness and width using a Jointer, Planer, and Tablesaw (Or equivalent by hand, if by hand).
  4. Rough Cutting: Cut pieces to approximate lengths using a miter saw, handsaw, or circular saw.
  5. Joinery and Structure: Prepare joinery and work on the structural aspects of your project.
  6. Dry Fitting: Assemble pieces without glue to check the fit.
  7. Smoothing and Sanding: Smooth and sand all pieces, reviewing details carefully.
  8. Repetition of Dry Fitting: Reassemble and review the pieces again to ensure perfect fitting.
  9. Glue-up: Permanently assemble the project with glue.
  10. Cleanup and Final Review: Clean up any excess glue and make final adjustments or corrections.
  11. Finishing: Apply the chosen finish to your project.
  12. 🚨Photography: Take studio-quality pictures of your completed work for your portfolio and marketing materials.
  13. Follow these steps to maintain a high standard of craftsmanship while managing your time effectively. This structured approach can help ensure quality and efficiency in your woodworking side gig.

Client Relations and Marketing

In the early stages, avoid niching down your jobs; this allows you to explore different styles and test your skills. Eventually, you will identify what you like to do and what you are good at, and most importantly, learn what to say “No” to.

Understanding your market and building relationships with potential clients is very important. Don’t make assumptions about your clients; often, they are willing to pay more than expected for quality craftsmanship. Develop a strong online presence with a high-quality website and professional photographs of your work. Build local relationships with galleries and such.

Here are a few tips:

  • Always take quality photos; DO NOT skip this step.
  • Make an online portfolio (not just a social media profile).
  • Have a good social media presence.
  • Start collecting email addresses from day "zero." You will thank me later for this one. Later on, in the last chapter of this series, "Pricing and Marketing: How to Sell Your Work," we will dive deeper into this.
  • View other woodworkers as colleagues, not competitors, for mutual learning and growth.
  • Taking business and woodworking classes can really be invaluable for essential skills you will not learn otherwise.
  • Presenting yourself professionally to clients can influence their perception and willingness to pay for your work.

Custom Small Business

So, you're thinking about starting a small custom furniture business? That's a bold move! Seriously, competing with the big players like IKEA and those super-efficient Asian manufacturers isn't a walk in the park, so I really hope you are not going to even try to compete against modern-day disposable furniture.

Are all those YouTube customer woodshops making any money?

The short answer is probably not, or not as much as you think. The successful ones, actually building things, are probably too busy to be sharing all their work. The big accounts on social media are mostly making money from the content they create, not their woodwork.

Great video and content.

There are many small woodworking shops that are on social media and are making a killing out of both; those are the exception.

Before we dive deep into the business nitty-gritty in the final chapter, here are some friendly pieces of advice from my own days running a small custom shop:

-Sales, Sales, Sales: The golden rule - no sales, no food on the table. Moving from being just an employee to a business owner is huge. You're playing in the big leagues now, where your failure affects more than just you. It's about keeping your team and family afloat. So, ask yourself, are you up for this massive challenge?

-The Future You: Picture yourself a decade or so from now. Can your market sustain you, even in the most conservative scenarios? Be brutally honest. If it looks iffy, don't ditch your dream, but be ready to make some tough calls. Sometimes, you might have to mix things up with projects that aren't your first love but keep the cash flowing.

-Put on Hold Your Passion: For now, let your side business fuel your passion on the side. Your main focus? The market's needs. Make sure you have enough saved up to cover a good number of months. You don’t want to be caught off guard by cash flow issues.

-Finding Your Niche: Get into a niche and dominate it. This is your battlefield for sales. Stick to these simple strategies, and we'll catch up again in the last chapter about pricing and marketing for your furniture business.

-Tools and Space: If you're setting up a shop without prior hobbyist or side gig experience, I'm guessing you're quite gutsy. Quality tools and more space are a must, but I won't dive into this, as you likely don't need this information. You will be able to figure out the technical needs of your business on your own. I feel attempting to do so would be aimless on my part.

Remember, running a successful furniture business isn't just about woodworking skills; it's about mastering the art of running a business.

Other Woodworking Paths

Exploring Different Woodworking Paths

This guide zeroes in on furniture making, but guess what? The skills and insights here? They're gold for all sorts of woodworkers.

The Versatile World of Woodworking

We've got finish carpenters and framers rocking it in general construction and built-ins. Then, there are the furniture makers - these folks are like the Swiss Army knives of woodworking. They do what the carpenters do and then some, crafting stand-alone pieces with an eye for both functionality and beauty.

But let's not forget the old-school timber framers, often outshining many modern makers with some truly lost, forgotten art.

Beyond Furniture Making: Wood Turners and Carvers

Wood Turners: Here's to the turners who master the lathe! While I'm not an expert in this area, I believe that any turner could gain a lot by understanding furniture making and setting up a woodworking space. So, if that's your jam, dive right in!

Wood Carvers: The true artists in our midst. If you're a wood carver or aspiring to be one, chances are you've already got some solid furniture-making skills. Carving requires patience and discipline, qualities that also make for great furniture makers.