Tuesday, March 17, 2009

making a living as a box maker

Jason asks,
When you build boxes for sale, do you make several at one time, or is each piece a "one-of-a-kind?" How do you price a box? I would love to make a living from woodworking, but then it would no longer be as much fun; so when I do it, I enjoy it immensely.

How do professional woodworkers earn commissions on their work that are commensurate with the amount of skill and craftsmanship that goes into a piece?
Some boxes I make one at a time. Others I may make in pairs or in rather large multiples (20-50). It depends on the box and the market I have for it. Figuring a price is another challenge. Some boxes I make because they are part of an article or book I am writing. I usually don't make any particular effort to sell those as they are useful when I teach. Having real boxes is a good starting point in getting my students engaged in discussion of joints, and techniques, and serve as a reference in my efforts to describe what I do, and having a collection of old boxes turned out to be a handy thing for my box design article in Fine Woodworking.

The boxes I make to sell, like the ones on Etsy.com are figured on a time and materials basis. I realize that I am competing with the Chinese in everything I make. There are lots of better ways to make a living than by making boxes. Kitchen cabinets for instance. (though not during a housing slump and near depression.)

The bigger challenge than pricing is marketing in general. I can make boxes faster than I can sell them. Every marketing effort costs money. Doing shows is extremely expensive, with travel and booth fees sometimes in the thousands of dollars. Selling through galleries is also expensive as they usually take more than half the proceeds of the sale for their marketing expenses.

I don't want to discourage you from turning pro, however. Do a business plan. Check out the craft shows in your area. Box making is an extremely satisfying endeavor. And if you check out what people like about their jobs, satisfaction and creative opportunity are things that rank high on their lists, often surpassing the money involved.

How do woodworkers earn money commensurate with our investment in skill and craftsmanship? We usually don't. Particularly if you are measuring by AIG standards in which college trained morons make millions in reward for wrack and ruin of the global economy. But we live with the satisfaction we can touch, knowing that our contributions to society are real and tangible, bringing beauty into the lives of others.

I hope this helps.

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