Building Furniture is Really Easy

When I first began building furniture, I loved doing it so much that I wondered why more people weren’t woodworkers. Everyone I met would say, “Gosh, I’ve always wanted to do that for a living!” But they all did something else for a living that they enjoyed far less. I felt pretty lucky by comparison, and thankful. They had to sneak in their fun on the weekends, while I could do it full-time! This will be so easy!

Well, it turns out that woodworking is easy. It’s the “for a living” part that’s hard.

I quickly learned that there are a whole swarm of tasks that are part of “doing it for a living” that I had never thought about, or felt I had to think about. Most were a real pain in the butt. Marketing. Bookkeeping. Packing and delivering. Designing. Logo design, for gosh sakes!

For a long while, I did these things resentfully, wishing I could hire someone else as a Man (or Woman) Friday. Someone who could talk to the customer, design their project, price it, do whatever paperwork was called for, and just give me the working drawings so I could stay in the shop and do what I loved. Then this Friday person would go deliver it, get paid, deposit the check, and leave me alone. In my most ridiculous fantasy, Friday would varnish the piece too.

These were all things I just didn’t want to do. What eventually had to happen was either that I find a Friday somewhere or learn to do these things myself. I discovered that no one alive could do all these many things all equally well, and that nearly no one would want to. Sure, I could contract any of these tasks to someone else, but not all of them. And contracting to someone else is not necessarily the easiest, simplest, timeliest or least expensive path to getting a thing accomplished.

Well, then, I’ll give a quick list of it all:

Preparing: Finding somebody out there to buy the work. Meeting with them. Shaking hands, discussing their needs. Finding out what they would like. Or, helping them decide what they like. Making sure both you and the client agree on the design; in other words, is the picture in their imagination the same as the one in yours? Establishing their financial commitment to the project. Establishing your ability to provide them with the project. Getting their approval for you to begin work. Finalizing the design and producing working shop drawings. Producing a drawing for the customer to see. (Not necessary, but very useful for that mutual imagination thing.) Giving them an anticipated time schedule. Inviting their participation in the project as it proceeds, with questions or suggestions. Going over the details (it is not possible to overdo this part) to make sure nothing was overlooked. Finally, saying, “I’ll be in touch in a few week when your piece is ready!”

Okay. Then just go build the furniture, and you’re done!

Just kidding. You weren’t fooled, were you? You’re so smart.

Now that the piece is built and finished: Getting the furniture ready to deliver. Packing (or shipping) and delivery. Arranging help and supplies to deliver it, if needed. Packing the piece into the truck. (Need gas?) Delivering it to the client’s house. Placing or installing it: attaching, repairing, detailing, and readying the piece for its lifetime of use. Sweeping or vacuuming up your mess. Thanking the client, explaining anything they need to know about the use and maintenence of their new custom furniture. Arranging for payment. Letting them know your availability if they have any problems.

Alright, NOW you’re done.

Sorry, not quite. There are those long-term tasks that will greatly help your future Mr. or Ms. Friday. Putting the client in your client list. Following up with them in a month, or a year, and finding out how they have enjoyed your work, or if there have been any problems (problems they may not have called YOU about but will tell you if you call.) Storing any records of the project, drawings, or important papers in your permanent file. Done?

Hurry, before I change my mind. Go cash the check.

Having tried to learn these peripheral skills through the years, sometimes painfully, I found that the process of just sitting down and devoting time to learn something about them, though sometimes a struggle, made the sitting down more enjoyable. It was very satisfying to know how the world of accounting, or marketing, or shipping, or designing, works, or at least to master some basic skills.

And every so often, perhaps after you’ve stopped thinking so hard about it, you look around and realize: “I can do my own bookkeeping!”

I heard a phrase the other day, “Lifelong Learner”, that seemed to sum it up.

Few things are more fun!

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