Getting a Return From Woodturning

Collated from newsgroup postings.

The issue of making a financial return from hobby woodturning is a subject often raised on the newsgroup.
There is always an enthusiastic response.

There are people out there making money. I'm still on the trying end. Not that I don't enjoy it but it can be difficult with a full time job.

I get up at 6am and turn a few wine corks or I work on some parts for a commission. After dinner I usually work on some mirrors or shelves or other production items. On the weekend I try to work on one-off pieces. It takes dedication.

Finding places to sell has been harder because I can't afford to travel so I make inquiries and send photos. I'm starting to get into some small galleries and that small cheque each month from a couple of places helps.

I find it difficult to get the time to produce serious one-off pieces that might sell for more money because I have to have the continuous income from my production work.

One thing that has helped is continuously trying to get my name out there however I can. Self promotion is something I find difficult to do but has led to some nice commissions that really make life easier.

I show my work anywhere I can. I sold three mirrors at a hardware store this week because I was willing to show them to anyone.

I've been in photography for 30 years and I've seen some really good photographers fail because they don't promote themselves. So get out there and hustle if you want to sell.

There are a few of us who sell the stuff. I had to, the shelves were filling up and all my relatives had homes with round stuff everywhere. Any one could have any gift they wanted as long as it was round.

At present we sell at the local farmer's market and at craft shows.
If I was trying to sell one of a kind bowls and vases we would never pay for the table. If you want to do this you have to be the person who enjoys turning 25 pens at a run followed by 25 kitchen scoops followed by about 25 mushrooms and so on. Production turning of small items at a hurry.
There are two pros within ten minutes of me who make a living at it. We are as rural as you could get. The one who makes a living at it also teaches and sells some tools and sanding things. His market is almost all non-local through galleries and such.

Just as a thought, I consider that the majority of people who turn for a hobby do it for the love of turning and for the fun of turning a variety of items. Getting four or five together to do a Christmas craft show is a real hoot and pays for some of the year's tools. If you do this remember that some people are trying to make a living at it and DO NOT UNDER PRICE! It is fair neither to your work, to their work nor to turning in general. Also with that in mind, only sell the quality stuff.

I am a full time turner in Nova Scotia.

I make money, but not enough to get rich. We would be in trouble without my wifes income. I wouldn't say there is a demand for turned objects, but some people do buy them if they see them and like them. Some people just love wood and quality craftsmanship, others can be persuaded to, and some just don't get it at all.

I sell from my own shop, and through consignment and wholesale outlets throughout Nova Scotia and a few elsewhere in Canada. Internet sales are sporadic but growing, and mainly to customers in the USA. Most of my sales are smaller items, rather than bowls or hollow vessels. When I sell something more expensive that is the icing on the cake, but weedpots, spurtles, letter openers and bottle stoppers are my bread and butter.

A large part of my market is tourist related, and unfortunately the tourist season here is very short and not very intensive. At best it runs from May - October, and is only really good for a few weeks in July and August.

My advice would be to try out the market on a part time basis first. What products do your potential customers want, and what prices will they pay. Try to do this as professionally as possible, pricing for profit and taking in to account all your expenses and time. Running a business is much more than spending 8 hours a day in the shop making shavings.

I am fortunate enough to live in the Washington DC metropolitan area where there are many craft shows, so I can do a 'decent' part-time business.

I started doing small stuff, with lots of pens & bottle stoppers, etc., but the bigger show are full of people doing nothing but this, so now I make a few pens of woods the others don't have and am trying to make a niche for myself doing turning that is a bit different and some other woodworking things that I invented myself...(night-light lamps with agate windows and pendant necklaces with agate insets)..this is table saw and router work, so I just stop turning a few times a year and spend a week or two with my tiny shop converted to flat boards.

I hope to continue making stuff to supplement my income in my retirement years, but my feeling is that I must have a variety and must have some things that are different. There are just too many "generic bowls" out there. I read about guys who turn a dozen or two a day, assembly line fashion, and maybe they have managed to create a market by keeping the price down and refining their techniques, but it just ain't 'me'.

I have worked the last couple of years on doing tough stuff....vase forms out of spalted and distorted wood..(roots and crotches, etc.), natural edge bowls with unusual line patterns. It is tricky to do and hard to visualize the result, but when it works, I have something 'different' to add to my table at a show. I will also do lidded boxes with inlaid lids, something that experienced turners tell me takes too much time for what you can see them for but I have a few tricks.

I guess that as long as I can make a few $$$$ and still have fun and not feel I am just a mechanical turning machine, I will keep trying.

I still make "stuff" for family and friends, gifts and such.

Everyones says "why don't you do this for a living, your good at it". Reading the posts so far pretty well sums up why I don't do it for a living, marketting is tough. There are lots of folks out there who are good at it and probably better than I will ever hope to be. I will be retireing in a few years and would like nothing better than to make stuff for a living.

The problem is, marketing. Where does a free lance crafter market their stuff for a reasonable price. Most everyone who buys is looking for a bargain and always wants to "haggle" on the price. So you price your work so you can haggle with the few who want to haggle, but others do not even ask due to the price.

One of the posters made the coment about making stuff that no one else was doing to make money. That is were the sucess is. If you can find someway to make something that no one else has or does, then you can promote yourself.

So, you have to be unique. My uniqueness is lamps. I make lamps out of just about anything. You should see some of the things people want made into lamps! Sometimes all I have to do is make an attractive base, and mount the "thing" on the base. Other times, the "thing" is the lamp and requires some ingenuity.

The bottom line is, unless you have an established market for your line, you are spitting in the wind hoping to hit your mark or dodging your spit.

If you make something that sells well in a retail store, before you can turn around there are 2 or 3 more turners or crafters doing the same thing, and most of the time selling at a lower price.

If you find the right market and enjoy it you can make a moderate living. Slightly above poor college student level in my case. I could make more but I would lose the enjoyment and feel tied to a job that I have to do.

After years of making harps and hammered dulcimers I thought I would enjoy making some spinning wheels. I found my niche and I get to spend a few evenings a week in the shop. I make wheels to be used rather than the higher priced, ornate wheels that are going to be put next to a fireplace and dusted occasionally.

My original spinning wheel research crawling though the backrooms of antique shops taught me there is no standard spinning wheel. Many times a smith made the metal parts back east, they were packed up and the wheel was built from local trees when the family got out of the covered wagon after moving west. So I make my wheels fit the lumber I scrounge.

There are all kinds of medievil faires and pioneer festivals around the country. It is better in most cases if you do a demonstration with your wares. I demonstrate spinning, play harp, hammered dulcimer and do a bit of contact juggling. If you made a treadle powered lathe you could work while selling. The faires love it.

There is a steady market for goblets, wooden spoons, yo yos, tops, toys that have always covered my meals, travelling and merchant fees. I sometimes sell the big ticket items that pay my rent and let me buy more books, wood and tools. The festivals are seasonal. At the same time I have a couple of friends who also do faires who have offered to take my wheels with them. I could make the same living and never leave home.

I sell a little through club exhibitions and at craft fairs, but I have no pretence, its purely hobby stuff, enough to cover the consumables and thats about that, but then it is a hobby for me and any hobby that is self supporting can't be that bad.

There are a range of "professional turners" around down here, but a large percentage have bread and butter lines that they do, whether its production turning for cabinetmakers and the furniture industry, or those that have their own galleries and outlets usually have one high volume, low margin article that keeps the pantry full. (tops, nut bowls, eggs and egg cups, bottle stoppers etc)

As for life styles, there are degrees, those near the city tend to have a better chance of sale, higher tourist numbers and therfore a better chance of turning over (excuse the pun) high priced items. The more rural turners either have small outlets locally with the related reduced proces, or they pay the freight to get their goods to the city anyway.

Anyway, enough rambling, I make enough to cover my costs, and thats the way I like it. Compared to the hobby I gave up to start turning (which was motor racing) this is magic

I have paid $150 to enter a craft show, and made maybe $300-400, and I have paid $25-80 and made $1000-$ depends on the number and mind-set of the customers. I have finally learned to how to ask the organizer of a show politely.."does this show feature 'country crafts'?".. That is, painted windmills, quilted oven-mitts, and yarn wrapped around styrofoam for Xmas ornaments..if they do, I don't!..No offense to those 'crafts', but the people who came looking for those things simply do not buy what I make. No one 'needs' a finely crafted wooden bowl-like thing for $150 like they need carpets or furniture, but there are some out there who can't resist if they see the right thing! There's no way to overstate the need to find the shows/venues/galleries that suit your product..(though having some assortment can really help).

I have only been in one small gallery, and it was just not right, though I might try again where the set-up was different. Finally..doing shows requires stock. You have to bring enough stuff to fill the display for a day or two, so you gotta produce.

When I retired seven years ago, I set out to supplement my retirement income with woodturning sales. I worked hard and sold at local craft shows. I made a little money, but the hourly rate was not great enough to do much supporting of the household, but it did help bolster that not-enough retirement income. I tried craft fairs, shop in town, and galleries. The galleries took 45 to 50 percent off the top and so did the shops. Mostly what would sell well was the small, simple stuff that could sell for around $5.00 to $20.00 maximum. One year a local store sold 90 spinning tops for me at $3.00 each, I got 60% of that, but the tops were almost the only things that sold in the shop of my stuff.

If you want to go into woodturning full time, you have to be a production turner and turn out large quantities of stuff that can be sold wholesale. Big sale customers are at wholesale shows, not the flea markets.

You can't get art prices for craft work. I remember buying a piece from a very well known turner who was deeply discounting because he needed cash.

Higher prices come from risk of work, not cutting and sanding. Unique ideas and directions are slower to sell but sell for more, it appears.

My most successful venture was when a 140 year old Ash tree outside a courthouse had to come down due to disease (borers). People were distressed about the loss because some of them had been married under the tree. I got 300-400 pounds of the wood and turned 50 pieces from it. I held all the pieces until the wood was used up or I couldn't stand it any more, then I contacted the Historical Society and arranged to meet with the volunteer who OK's things into their store (buyer). I also emailed the newspaper and a reporter called and arranged to attend the meeting with the buyer. When I got there, they were very excited with the wood and the reporter bought the largest natural edge bowl and the buyer bought the two largest salad bowls. They arranged a show and announcements, etc. When the sale started, 29 of the 50 pieces went in 3 days.

The most 'artistic' piece is home with me. The cheapest pieces sold first. But I did get a satisfying amount of money overall because I held them all until I had enough for a show.

I spoke with someone about selling via the Internet. He pointed out that when you post a picture of a turning, you need to have the turning reserved, that is, you shouldn't take it to a gallery. Some of you will take exception to that, but I liken it to not being able to put the same turning in two galleries at the same time. I just mention it for the concept.

My success with craft shows and local shops,has not been very good.

Though my biggest selling items have been,tops and mushrooms. I had 22 bowls and lidded boxes in a gallery for two years,I also had 75 mushrooms,and 20 tops ,the tops and mushrooms sold within six months,I sold one 10" Cherry Bowl in the same time period.

Now for the good part,I have been making a good living for the past four years as a turner for a High End cabinet company. Though their are down sides to every job,I wouldn't give this one up. I work 8 to 10 hours a day,and sometimes six days a week. In 1999 I did well over 750 custom turnings,some as small as a 2" dia. ball,to architectural columns 12" x 9

I do sell my work but it is stricly a hobby.

I sell at what is called a craft boutique. This is where someone will fill up their house with crafts from different artisans and crafts people. Then they open up their house to the public for a week or two selling everything that isn't nailed down. All I have to do is drop off my stuff and then pick up whatever is left over. They charge 25% of the price which is set by me. I usually sell a few hundred dollars worth of stuff at each of these. That' s not a lot of money considering they usually gross around $100,000 in that two week period, but it's enough for me. I tend to make the stuff I like to make (bowls hollow vessels etc.) rather than craft show type items (pens, bottle stoppers etc.). I turn for fun not to make money. What I here from more experienced turners is "if you can sell it in eastern Pennsylvania you can sell it anywhere". So I'm happy just to make enough money to keep my hobby going.

I know one professional turner. He makes most of his money doing one of a kind and small production runs for a local furniture company. He does do several craft shows a year but none of them are very close to where we live. Most of his craft show items (hollow vessels, lamps, caot trees) he enhances with an ornamental turning machine (uses a router) so they are very unique. From what he tells me he does well at these but in no way could he make a living doing just the shows.

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