If you’re thinking about starting your own woodwork business and it’s all completely new to you then this post will help you get started. I’ve covered my experiences going from an employed IT manager to a full time furniture maker. Yes, thats quite a big career change but one that I didn’t regret for one second.
If like me you’re looking to start up your own reclaimed wood furniture business then I’m sure these hints and tips throughout this post are going to benefit you.
Starting any business can be difficult so it’s good to have specific information and guides on getting started from someone who has already done it. However not everyone in this business wants to share this information due to increasing their competition. Not me! I think more people should be making reclaimed wooden furniture as it increases to use of recycled materials and diverts attention away from big greedy corporations.
First steps first
To get started you’re going to need a business name and branding. You want your customers along with their friends and family to recognise your work so a catchy name and memorable logo are essential. Only you can come up with a suitable name but when it comes to the logo there are a few key things to remember:
- Keep it simple by sticking to basic graphics
- Include the whole name where possible
- Pick a font and stick with it throughout all your branding
- Pick a colour or two and stick with them throughout your branding
- Make sure it can be adapted to fit large and small spaces
- Look at other popular brands for inspiration. McDonalds, Shell, Coca-Cola etc. all have super simple logos that everyone recognises.
With your branding all sorted you might want to invest in a branding iron. These heated logos will allow you to brand you furniture so that everyone knows you made it. Here are a couple of suggestions:
This is a basic branding iron which you will need to heat yourself with a blow torch.
These branding irons are powered from the mains and heat up themselves.
The less exciting bits
Setup a bank account. You won’t need a business bank account (as a sole trader) but you will want a separate account to your current account. This will be used for all your cash flow in and out of business. You’ll want a debit card and most likely have a linked PayPal business account.
Try and avoid credit cards for your business in the early stages. You don’t want to rack up debt before you get started and I’d suggest saving money from your main employment to invest in your business to get started.
Register for self employment through HMRC. This is simple enough but whilst you’re doing this it’s worth reading up on the self assessment process. It can be a little complicated at first glance but with a little bit of research you’ll have no issues. HMRC have loads of guides on the official gov website with links to resources so you can find everything you need for setting up your own business.
To start with it’s probably best to register your business as a sole trader. As time goes by and revenue increases you may wish to setup a limited (ltd) business to take advantage of the tax benefits. At this point it’s likely you’ll need to hire an accountant to sort out your returns and VAT. But until then, so long as you are organised, and want to, you will be able to manage your sole trader self assessments by yourself.
Start a cash flow spreadsheet to track all your incomings and outgoings. It’s important to track all your expenditure with your business. Use Microsoft Excel or an open source (free) spreadsheet program like Google Sheets or Open Office. Create columns for date, expense description, incoming, outgoings, investments and salary to ensure you record all transactions for the business.
Selling your products is vital to your success. You need people to find you so getting your name out there is essential. There are so many ways to do this but you’ll need to find out what works best for you.
Selling locally is going to be great for you, your customer and for the environment so it’s always good to focus 50% of your marketing in and around where you live. Listing your items in free places like Facebook Marketplace and Gumtree is a no brainer but you could also consider listing in local magazines and papers which will cost between £30 – £200 per quarter.
Selling nationally is also going to make up a reasonable percentage of your sales but you’ll need to factor in higher costs to cover your shipping. Platforms such as Etsy, Ebay, Folksy and NuMonday are all worth considering. About 50% of my sales came from Etsy but it took a little bit of research to find out how best to sell on their platform. Here are some top tips for listing on Etsy:
- Ensure you title is long and covers all your key words for the item.
- Write good descriptions and cover as much detail as possible.
- Take amazing pictures of your items in situation, as if the buyer could see how it is being used.
- Take good pictures of the items with plain backgrounds.
- Ensure light is great for the pictures.
- Make sure you have 10 or more listings. This some how improves search results of Etsy and the more listing you have the more likely you will get someone to see your work.
- Offer options with drop down menus. (size, colour, legs styles etc.) People are more likely to buy your items if they can select exactly what they want without having to contact you.
Social media marketing
A great way to get your name out there is with social media. I’ve been using Instagram, Facebook and Twitter to drive potential customers to my site and Etsy shop. The use of hashtags can help furniture hunters home in on your products. This again is an important time to get your photography right.
You’ll need to spend a fair bit of time on social media to increase your visibility to your audience. I tend to spend anywhere between 30 minutes and an hour a day posting pictures, business updates and promotional offers across the above channels.
You can also try get free instagram followers to bulk up your visibility and online presence. With a big following comes big rewards.
How to price your items
You need to find the right price point to ensure you are making sales and most importantly making some profit from those sales. Have a think about how much you’d charge as an hourly rate or a day rate. Being self employed isn’t the same as being employed. There’s so much more that you need to think about. For example, not only are you paying yourself a fair salary you will also need to cover things such as a pension, holiday pay, sick pay, income tax, national insurance contributions which would otherwise be covered by your employer.
So depending on where you live you will want to be earning between £130-£200 per day. Perhaps to the lower end of this when you first get started.
With each piece of furniture you make you will need to ensure for 7-8 hours worth of work you are making this £130-£200 profit.
Therefore, if it takes you 7-8 hours to make one table then you need to be charging £130-£200 on top of materials, shipping, packaging, overheads and marketing costs.
Calculating the materials costs is easy. It’s the other costs that are a little more difficult to workout.
Hidden costs and time
- Tools break down and need replacing from time to time so you’ll need to consider having a buffer in your account to cover urgent replacements. After all you can’t produce furniture without tools.
- Consumables like sand paper, drill bits, glue and new blades for your saws all need replacing as you use them so ensure you factor in these costs.
- Returns. This is a tricky one but from time to time you’re going to get an unhappy customer or a faulty item that needs to be either replaced or refunded. Whilst you can keep this to a minimum by making good quality furniture it can still happen for a number of different reasons. So be prepared.
- Clean up time. Making furniture isn’t just about creating the piece. You’ll also need to factor in the time it takes to clean up the workshop every day. Joinery is a messy process and it can take up to half an hour a day to clean up ready for the next item.
- Dealing with waste. Sawdust, off-cuts and scrap metal from scaffold boards all need to be put somewhere. You can’t keep them pilled up in your workshop forever. Taking them to a recycle centre or paying for them to be taken away is another cost that needs to be considered.
- Marketing and social media. You need to promote your business and it’s going to be too expensive to pay someone to do this for you. Expect to spend up to one hour a day promoting your business.
Finding a workspace
In an ideal situation you will have space to build furniture on your home premises. Whether it’s a shed, garage, barn or workshop, having your own space will help you keep costs down.
I built my own workshop in my garden but many of you might not have this option and will need to rent workspace to make your wooden treasures. To find the lowest prices I would ask around locally at farms, sawmills, warehouses, friends and family to see if anyone has any spare space you could utilise. Just bear in mind you’re going to need power and you’ll likely be making a fair bit of noise.
Failing the above you could consider renting your own workshop or finding a shared space. Renting your own workshop isn’t very cost effective and you could be paying between £500 – £1000 a month for a small space. Finding a shared workspace will significantly reduce this and is certainly worth considering.
Come up with designs that don’t exist, look amazing and that you can easily make time and again to satisfy continuous orders. This is the key to success with any furniture business. Having an understanding of the latest design trends will help you design something that is exciting, unique and desirable.
You’ll need to make some prototype models, experimenting with sizing and dimensions to get the right feel for your products before you list the item but this process is all part of the fun.
Once you’ve experimented with different designs and styles you’ll want to try and focus on one, maybe two that will become the core of your target audience. Try and avoid going down a route of multiple styles as they will become difficult to reproduce and your audience will be confused about who your are and what you do.
I was fascinated by mid-century design and also really liked rustic furniture and started to make both at first. Whilst I sold a few items, it was until I started focusing on the reclaimed rustic wood style that things really started to take off. I then started experimenting with a little fusion between the two styles and thats when I hit gold.
Find a good courier
Finding someone that will look after your items whilst in transit is extremely important. You want your customer to receive their items in perfect condition or you’re going to start losing out on profit. Damaged items will get returned and it’s you thats going to pay the bills. Some couriers will insure your items but if they are signed for by the customer then there isn’t a lot you can do. This is also where the importance of packaging comes in.
My top tips:
- Make sure your customers know to check their items over before signing for them on delivery.
- Use a trusted courier. Check reviews before using them.
- Avoid standard couriers like UPS, TNT and Parcel Force as they don’t tend to take care of fragile items. (In my experience)
- Experiment with small local ‘man with van’ types until you find one you can trust.
- Try Shiply to find a courier. Then go to them directly once you have established a good, trusting relationship.
I have been using a company called Proovia for quite some time now and 99% of the time they get it right. I trust them and their customer support is good.
This is another expense you need to be aware of that is going to eat into your profit margins but without it you’re going to end up with damaged items. It doesn’t matter which courier you use, even if your delivering items yourself accidents can happen.
Making sure customers find your items is very important, as without them your not going to sell anything. To start with you’ll want to try listing your items on a few different platforms and see what works best for you. I had the most success with Etsy. For local selling Facebook Marketplace was great, not to mention free!
Here are a few other platforms I listed items on with varied success:
- Folksy (UK based handmade store)
- Numonday (Uk sellers)
- Personal website
- Popup shop on another website
Etsy was my most popular selling platform but you need to know a few tricks to get the views and get the sales. If you decide to use Etsy as one of your platforms try these to help boost your performance:
- Take great pictures of your items. Good photography will help you stand out from the crowd.
- Take pictures of your items on their own and in situation. If it’s a dining table, put out all the plates and cutlery as if you are sitting down for dinner. If a desk, place a laptop and a couple of plants etc.
- List at least 10 different products of a similar style. This will help you show in search results
- Make use of key words in the title. Make use of the whole title.
- Write detailed descriptions of your products
- Provide drop down options on your products. Make it easy for your customers to select customisations.
- Use promotional deals on your shop. 10% off weeks etc.
- Use abandoned basket promotional deals that are built into Etsy.
- Promote your Etsy shop on social media.
- Provide great customer service and customers will return and praise you.
Whilst these tips will boost your Etsy sales they also apply to most selling platforms.
Finding reclaimed wood isn’t all that difficult if you know where to look.
You can find great metal legs from many different places but here are some of my favourites:
Good quality X style legs can be found from makers on Etsy. These are quite expensive but are extremely well made and worth the money.
You might also like some of these which I’ve found to be very popular.
I was also very lucky to have a friend who is a metal worker and was able to make custom legs and shelving stands for me. Reach out to local metalworkers in your area and see if they can make what you need. It’s always great to support local individual businesses and with a continued relationship you may be able to get great prices too!
Finding the right wood can be a little challenging but when you have a good supplier, make sure you look after them as this is the core of your business. I’ve been using reclaimed scaffold boards for 95% of my items. This is because they can be inexpensive, plentiful and just look amazing.
Finding good quality, dry, straight boards is the tricky part. Ideally you want to be buying from a supplier that keeps their boards indoors. If you are buying wet boards be prepared to dry them out before working with them.
So how do you find a good, used scaffold board supplier?
The best way to find scaffold boards is to get in touch with all your local scaffolding companies. I simply drafted an email and sent it to about 10-15 local companies. I had a response from about 5 companies and ended up dealing with 2 of them on a regular basis.
Another great way to find boards is by looking on Ebay. There are normally plenty of sellers on there that specialise in selling reclaimed boards. It is however always better to find a local supplier if you can as this will keep cost down and reduce your environmental impact.
As a 3rd option there are companies out there that specialise in reclaimed scaffold boards and can offer a number of services including cutting, sanding and staining. I have been using The Scaff Shop based in Somerset now for 6 months and whilst their pricing is quite high they do deliver an amazing service.
If you are after reclaimed timber other than scaffold boards then you can try one of these:
- Stratton Reclaim in Swindon
- Wiltshire Wood Recycling
- The Reclaimed Timber Company in Berkhamsted
- Sav’s Reclaimed Timber in Bulwell
- The Reclaimed Timber Business in Beeston
If you are after new timber then you can try your local timber merchant. Try one of these:
Make sure your wood is fit for use
Reclaimed scaffold boards are a great material to work with but there are a few things you need to be mindful of.
- Ensure the wood is completely dry before you work with it. Working with wet wood is a big no no! If your boards are wet then you can dry them with a heater and a dehumidifier. Try section off a small area in your workshop to run a heat lamp and the dehumidifier.
- Control the humidity of your workshop. Wood will expand in high humidity environments and contract when the humidity is low. The inside of most houses will be about 50-60% humidity. An outdoor workshop in winter can get as high as 95% humidity. When a wooden table top moves from one environment to the other, a 100cm wide top can shrink or expand up to 20mm. This can be a huge issue when attached to metal legs. Wood can split and screws can snap. So buy yourself a humidity monitor and control your environment with heat and a dehumidifier.
- Keep your wood flat. Don’t lean your boards up against the wall or store them upright. Doing this will cause the boards to warp and twist. Build racking on a wall too neatly stack boards and help them dry.
- Keep your wood flat and separate by using stickers in-between boards. Stickers are slim pieces of wood that sit between each board and allow air to move around the whole board. This will ensure boards dry evenly.
- If you’re sanding your boards then start off with an 80 grit, then move to a 120 grit and finish off with a 240. 240 grit should make the boards smooth enough to finish. I sometimes go down to a 400 grit for special pieces of furniture.
- You can fill deep cuts and cracks in the wood with a wood filler like this.
You can’t start a furniture business without tools. They are the backbone of your business. You won’t need to go crazy to start with but as things build up you’ll most likely want to invest in some better tools. Here is a list of tools I think anyone needs to make decent reclaimed wood furniture:
It’s important to get a sliding miter saw with a cut depth of at least 230mm. There are plenty to choose from but I was more than happy with this Evolution R210SMS+ Sliding Mitre Saw
I also upgraded the blade to a cross cut wood blade. The standard blades provided with the Evolution is a multi blade and doesn’t leave a nice finish on wood.
When it comes to jointing boards then these tools are essential. They will help you line up your boards when gluing and make for a nice even surface.
I went for the Dewalt DW682k and purchased some spare blades. It’s a little more expensive but it’s control is amazing. Some of the cheaper model don’t provide the same level of accuracy which is very important.
You’ll need to rip lengths of wood. A decent table saw will help you do this with ease. Again, it’s worth investing here as a cheap table saw will make sloppy cuts.
Combi drill and impact driver
One of the most important tools you’ll need is a powerful cordless combi drill and impact driver. I am a fan of Dewalt again here as the price is very reasonable and they tend to last forever! (OK, not quite forever but my last one went on for about 8 years)
You’ll likely need more tools on top of this list but you will work these out as you go along. Hand tools like chissels, hammers, mallets and drawing tools will be essential.
A happy customer is likely to tell about 5 others about a good experience when buying a product, especially a handmade one. However, having a bad experience will likely cause them to tell 10 people. So getting this right will reward you with repeat orders and friends and family placing order with you also.
Try and get customer feedback through your selling platforms and offer incentives to do this such as discount codes etc. Emphasis you are a small handmade business and you are more likely to have someone help you out with a review.
Post reviews and testimonials on your website. Others reading your story will like to hear what past customers have to say about your work.
My experience in the last few years of running my own business have taught me so much. Hopefully if you are thinking about embarking on a similar journey this post will give you a head start. I’m very keen to help support like minded people on their mission to setup their own small business as it takes away sales from the big corporations who don’t really care about their customers, staff and the environment.
Please have a read of some more of my posts that may help you setup a successful reclaimed wood business.