Everyday Woodworking Podcast Season 2, Episode 5
Woodworking Projects That Sell. Or Not.
Well hey, everyone, and welcome back to the show.
Have you been following me on Facebook!? If you haven’t, you definitely need to join our Everyday Woodworking group there. I’ve been posting all week about the cool stuff we’ve been doing.
So in case you don’t remember, we’ve been working on several guest interviews, and two of them came together this past week.
Roy Underhill, for one, and Phil Huber and Chris Fitch, hosts of the Woodsmith Shop TV show.
It’s pretty surreal, just getting my head around these conversations. You know, trying to keep it all organized but informal, and trying to shake my nerves.
But in the end, it all came together so well. Roy, Phil and Chris were all just fantastic interviewees. They all shared SO much knowledge and wisdom, and…you definitely want to stay close and listen because those episodes are going to be coming out, probably starting next week.
Very exciting. Very fun. And dude, I am very blessed. That’s a fact.
We also started using, or I should say “trying”, a new recording platform that records our remote interviews in the cloud and applies a host of editing effects to them, automatically. It’s called riverside.fm and frankly, I don’t think we’re going to be able to live without it. It’s amazing so far.
But we’re still tip toeing through it, so…more to come as we dig deeper into its functionality.
And on top of all that, we’ve got this week’s show!
This week, we’re talking about probably one of, if not THE biggest challenge that woodworkers who sell their wares, face. If you sell your work, either as a full-time profession, as a side hustle, at festivals and fairs or online or all of the above, then this is a subject that will hit home. I know it will, because it gets me right where it hits me.
And that is…coming up.
We’re going to jump into all that in just a second. But before we do, let’s take a quick break.
OK, welcome back. And I know you’ve been dying to find out what I’m talking about today. Well…that is, unless you’ve read the title of the podcast!
But this week, we’re looking at simply…what sells. Or more accurately, “What sells?” With a question mark.
That’s the same question we’re all asking ourselves. That is, if you sell your woodwork.
And let me preface this discussion by saying, we’re going to look at this from a purely business POV. We’re not even bringing up things like satisfaction, personal pride, or emotional and psychological benefits and effects. And I mention that because all those things are for me, some of the THE most important factors you should be considering. But for the moment, we’re just looking at the black and white of it.
So…the idea that we just work in a social bubble, and make what brings us peace and contentment, and the world responds to that and supports us financially because they share in our happiness…that’s fantasy.
Does it happen? Yes! It definitely does. But only like 1% of 1% of the time. How do you pay the bills (or at least cover your expenses) the rest of the time when it doesn’t work?
What we want and need to do is have some sort of glimpse into what our clients and potential customers actually want, before we make it. Right?
Well hallelujah…did you know that there is already a way you can do exactly that?
Absolutely. Just Google “Woodworking projects that sell”. And you’ll get like 25 gagillion search results, most of them “guaranteeing” you absolute insight into the buying habits of the global consumer.
I mean here are some of the titles of articles, blog posts, videos and books:
35 Woodworking Projects That Will Sell
50 Woodworking Projects That Will Make You Rich
17 Woodworking Crafts That People Want
150 Woodworking Plans That Will Make You Money
Wow! Who knew!?
OK, if you haven’t picked up on the sarcasm…I’m kidding.
If it was that easy, everybody would be doing it.
Well actually, let me rethink that. Actually, it probably WAS that easy, and everybody IS doing it. That’s why you can’t sell these things. Because the market is just saturated.
Yes, you’ll use Google and dozen other resources to help you find the products that pose the least risk and the greatest chance for profit. But there is no crystal ball. At the end of the day, you’re going to have to make an educated guess.
“What sort of products are you talking about, Ricky?”
OK. Let’s pull up a few of the most popular…excuse me…the most “guaranteed, sure-fire, money in the bank projects”! (Please)
We’ll pull from an article entitled “23 Genius Woodworking Projects That Sell in 2021”. Hey…Sounds like we’re about to get some very reliable information.
A Wine Rack
Nice. A simple but functional wooden rack that holds a few wine bottles and allows some stemware to hang underneath.
Hey, I like it! It checks a lot of my “research” boxes. Simple. Rustic. Affordable to make. Potentially profitable.
But what about popularity? Or even better…what about trendiness?
Because a popular item will sit in your shop for 6 months. But trendy items can sell faster than you can get them made.
A rustic DIY-type wine rack has been around for at least 5 years already. It isn’t trendy any longer.
Do they still sell? Yes. You bet. Do they still sell enough to make it
Worth your time to build a dozen? Most likely not. You may sell a1 or 2, and then it’s over. That isn’t a smart way to structure your business.
Wait. Let me back up…
Can you make money, or even make a living, selling 1 or 2 of this and 1 or 2 of that? You bet you can. That’s how I did it for the first 5 years of our woodworking business.
But it’s hard. I mean hard work, Jack.
You’ll never find an efficient workflow like that. You have to hone your focus to a handful of items that you can build a process around. So you can make, say…50 of them at once. And actually SELL them!
If you get a dozen products like that. Now you’re doing something.
OK, back to the “genius list”.
Let’s take something that we actually make.
Cutting boards are in fact both popular and trendy. We make them in our shop. And we sell them. Although we don’t sell as many as we did a year ago.
And art of that is multi-fold. One, a lot more people are making them. Two, a lot of people already own them. And three, the consumer demand is shifting away from a traditionally designed cutting board, to more novel shapes. That’s not something we’ve adapted to take advantage of. So what’s happening? Our sales are down.
Are cutting and charcuterie boards a good item for this subject? IMO, yes. But only if you can set yourself apart with either your price, your design or by using wood that has such a compelling story/history that it compels people to buy them.
So that one…that’s good. (For now.)
Chess Board with Sliding Cover Case
Come on. Seriously?
A chess board?
OK, let’s say you have the skill to make a dual wood species chessboard. Then you have to build a storage box for that lid to slide into. And according to the article, little storage compartments for each of the pieces. Which, by the way, you’ll turn and craft by hand.
And when you’re finished, you’ll have like 30 hours and $100 worth of material in this guy.
If I search for “handmade, wooden chessboard”, most of the results I see are selling in the $150-200 range. Yeah, there’s a $1,700 one, but you and I both know, that’s the exception, not the rule.
So let’s say you can sell yours for the top of the average. No let’s double that to $400. Minus $100 for materials. That leaves $300, and you spent 30 hours on it. That puts you making $10 an hour. And that doesn’t even include the time and cost of going to the store for the materials or the cost of electricity, running all your tools for 30 hours. And the depreciated cost of those tools that you had to purchase at some point.
Hey, if $10 an hour, gross, is good with you, then more power to you. But I’m out. I can’t live off that. And I certainly can’t keep my passion alive for that, as a business owner.
This one, I’m on the fence about. We actually make picture frames as well. However, we don’t sell picture frames.
We do sell artwork that we package in one of our frames. And it’s profitable.
A picture frame, as the list suggests, isn’t terribly difficult to make. Especially the ones we make. We use a very simple butt joint to make a rust frame out of reclaimed wood.
As long as our ends are square and our rabbet is deep enough, then everything works like a charm.
The problem with picture frames is that, like the wine rack, people do still buy them, but the market is very saturated and the demand is very low.
So I say I’m on the fence because I do believe frames can be a great project for a woodworker to sell, but not as a stand-alone item. You just have to sell them with some included artwork, prints, paintings, original photos, etc.
Wooden Bath/Door Mat
Trash Can Holder
Log Lamp (or any “log” craft)
Console (or Hall) Table
And that’s just getting started.
So now that I’ve totally bashed on the experts out there about all those guaranteed-to-sell projects you can make, you might be saying “OK smartypants, what DOES sell?”
Alright, I’m going to give you a quick and dirty list of what works for us and what I would invest my time in as a woodworker. Keep in mind though, one, this is my opinion, not a guarantee, and two, this is at this moment, and not a prediction for next Spring.
OK, my Top 10 suggestions for woodworking projects you can sell and actually make money…
Cornhole Boards – But they have to be unique…or cheap.
Cutting Boards – But again, unique. Basic is so last year.
Welcome Signs – Yes they’re everywhere, and yes, well-lettered ones keep selling.
Turned Bowls – Out of my wheelhouse, but a well crafted turned bowl never goes out of style.
Wedding Signs – If you have the calligraphy knack, you’ll never go hungry, because weddings never stop.
Birth Announcement Signs – What I just said. Babies keep coming.
Birdhouses/Feeders – Another perennial favorite. A well-made bird house will always sell.
Bathtub Caddy – Although post-peak, if you already make cutting boards, it’s easy to add some hands and a hole for a glass. An easy to make profitable item.
Kitchen Tables – Although in my list of no-no’s (above), a unique combination of materials and finish can make this incredibly profitable.
Stove Top Covers – But only if you can personalize them, well. That means, not with vinyl decals or stencils.
So now that I’ve offended half (or more) of the entire woodworking and crafting community…
No, I realize that many of my no’s are yeses in the right setting. And many of my yeses are no’s when the right customer comes along. So hey, I get it. Please understand that I’m giving you a generalized opinion.
But…I’ve been doing this for a very long time. So while I’m not claiming to know the future, I’m very confident in my evaluations here.
Nevertheless, as always, if you have some suggestions or additions or even some outright, in my face arguments about any of this, you are more than welcome to let me know.
One of the best places to share your thoughts or questions is on our new Facebook Group. Just search for Everyday Woodworking on the Facebook app and join us there or I’ll leave a link to the group in our show notes.
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And that is it for now. Again, thank you so much for being here. We hope you enjoyed this. Have a great day, and we’ll look forward to seeing you next time…right here, on Everyday Woodworking.
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The music for our Season Two podcast intro and outro is from the song Blue Vibes, by guitarist Michael Kobrin, courtesy of Pixabay. - https://pixabay.com/music/modern-blues-blues-vibes-100-bpm-michael-kobrin-3780/
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