Craftspeople don’t go in to their work with the anticipation to earn lots of money. Making things tends to come without the desirable salary of other professions, and if it’s yourself you’re working for then there’ll be no so called ‘ladder’ to climb or the perks and security of a company job. Want a pay rise? Work faster.
It seems an unjustified fact, if you sit and give it any thought, that someone who develops the skills and finesse of a craft shouldn’t be as well paid as other professionals, but I think it’s a fact that most of us accept, and go in to our work regardless because we understand there’s more to life than money, and our craft is part of who we are and what we love.
But being undervalued is something I find much harsher than being underpaid. Most things today are made by machine and produced on mass, so naturally items made by hand will be expensive compared, and perhaps unaffordable for a majority of needs. There are two occasions though where I find the attitude towards the price of handmade items annoyingly wrong.
Firstly is when mass produced items are considered more valuable. People dismiss handmade wares because they know that they’re ‘too expensive’, and yet they will empty the over stocked shelves of a toy shop at Christmas, fighting over the last plastic encased piece of plastic, formed to have a vague resemblance to something which will remain on trend for the rest of this month, probably. This doesn’t only apply to toys; there are examples of almost any object, including furniture, where the price doesn’t relate to the amount of time or skill gone in to making them, or their quality and ability to last (shoes and handbags are excellent examples of this). This suggests that handmade is more affordable than it is perceived to be, but it just isn’t sought after in the same way as a fashionable brand.
The second attitude annoys me the most. This is when I hear people who make things with their hands, call other craftsman’s work overpriced. I see this more than you might expect, and whilst it isn’t as broad a problem as the first, it bothers me and it‘s hypocritical. If a maker can’t respect the work and time of another maker, then do they not respect their own work, or expect other people to? Expensive does not mean overpriced, and not having the need or budget to purchase something yourself doesn’t always make it the later. A craftsman can make furniture, like myself, but they could equally build workbenches (also like me), make beautiful hand tools, or make items that are not out of wood at all. It should come natural to feel equal respect.
One of the quirks of where we live is having a working pottery nearby. This is small in scale and run together by a couple. We could buy our plates and tea cups from a cheap supermarket and save a few much needed pounds, but we don’t need them often and when we do it is a lovely experience to pop down to the workshop and select a couple of bits fresh out of the kiln. I seek irregularities in size and colour because to my eye that’s always where the beauty lies. These are far from overpriced; we could spend a lot more on items from a factory. And there is a lovely cycle in knowing that they have been made with pride and pleasure, and that for such a small thing they can add their own bit of joy to your day, every time you warm your hands on your cup and feel the roughness of baked clay against the smooth glaze. Just a small reward for learning to value our crafts.
Ken Haygarth says
Yeah agree with you completely Richard
Peter Zimmer says
Thanks for this Richard, it’s so true: craftsmanship reflects the craftsperson, machine made stuff reflects the machine.
definitely Peter. With machines, the wood is brought to the tool. With hand work, the tool is brought to the wood. With the latter, the craftsman has much more to do with how the work turns out.
I must say, as a woodworker using both machines and hand tools, I don’t think machine made stuff reflects the machine alone. If it is that simple, anyone can make fine furniture with a machine. Many noted furniture makers rely heavily on machines from their saws (tablesaws and bandsaws) to their joinery machines (mortisers, for example) to build one of a kind cabinets, tables, etc. Tools are tools, whether hand tools or not, and they require good skills to deliver great results.
Some power tool users fail to appreciate the work a traditional woodworker does and vice versa. We must avoid falling into such a trap — even more so as a hand-tool user.
Graham Haydon says
We are where we are with societies appreciation of craft and it’s worth. I guess I see this through the eyes of “the trades”. Tradespeople have maintained a similar position for the longest time now, even the greats like Chippendale were never well off, few were. Local communities valued the wheelwright etc and perhaps that being valued is, as you rightly mention, something that has changed as many traditional crafts are not required to stay alive.
The only thing to improve that is to demonstrate the quality of what we can offer, make it look good, be durable worthy of consideration.
On your second point I have noticed a touch of that mindset here and there. Sad really, as I mentioned above it’s important to promote the quality of what you like, there is rarely a need to snipe at something others have made or are offering. If you have nothing nice to say…….I have read in an odd place or too how professionals only do things for money. While it might be true a professional service must be profitable to survive rarely have I found professional craftspeople solely motivated by money. Another example of if you have noting nice to say…….
Keep up the good work, demonstrate your skills and you will continue to improve the appreciation of what can be done by the individual.
Micheal Kingsley says
You have me in agreement as well. I draw pictures for a living, and make guitars for fun, since I can’t really sell them for what they are worth. The pictures I draw are of homes and businesses, I’m the CAD GURU people come to for plans. I still get a lot of knocks about my drawings, but mostly because they either don’t know what it takes or because they know someone who stole the program to make the drawings and are selling theirs at half price because they didn’t have to buy the tools. I LOVE drawing pictures and making money at it, but my greatest love is WOOD. The smell of my shop each afternoon is what I work for every day. When I get to the shop each evening is when my day is really starting. Everything else is just to pay the bank.
Steve Tripp says
My wife and I are also makers and we gravitate to the handmade when we are looking to purchase. Our cupboards are full of mismatched local pottery that we use everyday. We use handwoven baskets to store just about anything and I am slowly building the furniture to replace our existing as it wears out. This is a new thing for us, though, as we only really started paying attention to this in the past 10 years or so. In my mind it dovetails nicely with the desire to support our local economy and to help build strong and resilient neighborhoods, towns and even cities.
Over the 4+ decades that I worked in wood (periodically going to teaching for the stability and percs), my earnings as a woodworker slowly diminished in terms of buying power, even though my skills and efficiency steadily improved. Just an observation, not so much a complaint, because I loved the work. Still do, though now in retirement, I can work for no income and without the pressure to mechanize.
This is unfortunately a by-product of our modern, throw away society. We don’t expect anything to last because it doesn’t, so we don’t even think about buying junk instead of quality.
Add to that our society’s backward system of what skills are valuable. Here in the US, my favorite baseball players make more in a year than I will in my lifetime, all for playing the same game I did as a kid. All the while people with real skills get very little in monetary compensation. Alas, I think this has been true for a long, long time.
As for the second thing, I seem to remember reading that in our great grandfathers times, the Guilds would publish a list of what could be charged for an item. This would put each shop or journeyman on equal footing (when followed), hopefully eliminating the mark down form of competition (though I’m sure it wasn’t unheard of to trash talk another workman’s quality).
For the benefit of the masses, the factory made, disposable items will always be high in demand. Fortunately there has always been a small percentage of the population who appreciate the work put into a handmade item, and are willing to pay for it’s unique beauty and long life.
Remember the old saying, “If you want to make a small fortune in woodworking, start out with a large fortune”.
assar torp says
What annoys me most as a maker is that if I want to be reasonably compensated for my work, I have to market it to people whos values and frame of reference I rarely share. Otherwise I end up giving things away, which actually feels more rrewarding…spiritually at least.
Great post, it’s a really tough one to gauge for me as I’m currently self employed in another industry (film) and I look at it in much the same way as far as ‘worth’ goes. When you set aside materials I just see it as you’re paying a day rate from there on – same way how I work in my main job. As a camera guy I’m basically a tradesman, I do a very specific role and do it to an expected standard – much like site workers.
So where I’m picking up more work as a furniture maker I break it down in the only way I know how, the day rate and materials – I don’t ‘value’ the pieces I make in any more detail than that (whether it’s an ‘on trend’ or in demand item or if they are typically a certain price).
I get the same issue as you describe with calling work ‘overpriced’… everything is relative, you can’t compare things like this!
Anyway, sorry for the ramble!
Robert F says
I absolutely agree. Price and worth are two very different things.
I remember reading (FWW, I think) of a woodworker (a woman, I seem to recall) who charged for her work at an hourly rate equal to the hourly pay of the client. I’ll wager she didn’t get many CEO’s, neurosurgeons, sports heros……….
A Minneapolls furniture maker whose work has appeared in FWM publishes his rate on his site: $35 per hour plus cost of materials. I know of no tradespersons who charge a fee based on how much their clients make and I believe no clients will reveal howmuch they make, to start with.
Furniture maker and FWM contributing editor Christian Becksvoort has written more than once this advice to aspiring furniture makers: Keep your day-time job.
Christopher Schwarz is successful financially not because he builds furniture and sells it; he finds a niche market — in publishing and teaching.
Sam Maloof and the like were really exceptions. Many skilled and noted woodworkers supplement their incomes with writing, teaching or selling tools. I know at least two furniture makers who also have another job to provide the financial stability they need. They spend 70% of their time on their jobs and 30% on their own furniture business and that tells us for most, woodworking is fun only when you don’t need it to feed a family.
A skilled woodworker will make more money doing kitchen cabinetry work in the construction field than making and trying to sell fine furniture.
Douglas Coates says
I think the promotion of value needs to start from within, I mean amongst the community of fellow-workers. I sometimes come across examples where our own are grossly and quite vocally under-valuing our work – including one example recently on a UK forum.
My other point is to do what we can to amplify the differences – those hand-made touches that machines can’t do. I mean play to our strengths.
And my final point about value – if I bought a saw from a maker in Scarborough let’s say, there is no retail margin, no distributor margin, no import duties, no shipping across half the World… just some wood, some metal and a lot of a very skilled man’s time. So a part of the message should be that if you want value, cut out all the middle-men.
(Not wishing to start bother or anything… rant over!!)
Mike Hancock says
Very well said indeed. It is a horribly frantic world and all of us get bombarded by messages that influence our decision making. How many of those decisions do we regret? My business, in order to survive, must try and utilise some of this marketing wisdom however much it goes against the grain. Happily I am not a slave to all suppliers and we regularly enjoy telling some suppliers of the next best rip off to find other people to sell their wares. We enjoy building trust and relationships with smaller tool makers who cannot ever hope to make UK market penetration on their own. If only people took a breath now and then to take time to value individuality and best quality over cheaper mass produced stuff then the better makers would get their just rewards. Anyway, keep up the good work you two. I reckon I will enjoy reading your missives for a long while to come.
Bravo. I am just at the end of 2 mega battles with 2 friends (they dont know each other). The battle was with the pre concept they had that , somehow, mass product are better than hand crafted, and that osb, plywood, mdf and other composites are better than real wood. After 3weeks of fighting , i am tired and dissapointed. It is beyond annoynment – i just have a feel of emtiness. You post alleviates that feelling, but they are just to many…are we in Matrix already?
Just wondering what happened to the wooden plane build?
Is it still a ‘go’?
Michael O'Brien says
All that you say is true and I agree with you. I am an amateur woodworker and Nature photographer. There are times when there is a similar occurrence with photographs and their artistry. The oft heard comment on a quality photograph is, ” you must have a really good camera and lenses”. When, in fact,while the camera equipment can certainly be an asset, it is so only if the user has the artistic skill and equipment familiarity to create a lovely photograph, but superior equipment is just not a necessity An analogy for a wood worker would be, ” Richard, what a splendid job you did on that workbench you built, you must have really good planes, saws, chisels etc.” ( we readers know what you own) The point is that a heart-made item created with your hands and mind is rarely given its proper monetary value or recognized for what it truly represents to its maker/artist.
Polly Becton says
On point two:
I agree, but I suggest something more is needed.
There are many very fine toolmakers whose tools are admirable and valuable and fully worth the prices they command. They have, in many instances, elevated tools to the level of art. I for one admire them and value them and have no question about their worth. I don’t buy them, however, since my budget can’t be stretched that far and my work gets by at satisfying levels of quality without them.
There are a number of woodworkers who cannot justify the prices of quite a lot of these fine tools The vast majority of practitioners of our craft are, after all, “leisure woodworkers” as some call them. The want good performing tools, but they have limited shop time and often limited budgets. Sadly there are few toolmakers who supply such a market potential: good user quality tools at a modest price, with great emphasis on performance and little or no emphasis on esthetics.
The guy who struggles to carve out an hour per evening in the shop doesn’t want to spend that hard won hour refurbishing used tools bought on e-bay or haunting estate sales. And she doesn’t care to make tools as that would leave him no time to use the tools she makes or the others she already has.
That woodworker may admire a finely crafted infill plane and recognize it’s worth. The same woodworker also admires Michaelangelo’s art and da Vinci’s art. But he or she isn’t going to buy them either.
“Sadly there are few toolmakers who supply such a market potential: good user quality tools at a modest price, with great emphasis on performance and little or no emphasis on esthetics.”
Sometimes, you can find good deals: The Aldi chisels or Narex chisels are so economical that everyone can afford them.
Woodriver planes perform well for their prices if someone has a shoestring budget.
You also can’t find a cheaper saw as the Veritas dovetail saws ($70?) which give great value.
There are many other examples and Paul Sellers’ blog is a source of such information.
I think that the time versus cost argument gets forgotten a lot. It is often because the amateur woodworker does not need to cost up their time, so it does get included in any cost calculations. If I buy a £50 Stanley No5, and then spend 4 hours fettling it at minimum wage, then it is actually a £50 + £6.70*4 (£76.80) plane.
If I value my time higher, then the cost goes up. Yes, I would have to value my time highly to be able to justify a high end bench plane on purely financial grounds, but for some people the cost is justifiable.
I am building a workbench with some of Richard’s vises, because I could not afford the cost of one of his benches (and I wanted to do it as a project). However once I cost up the hardware, the timber and my time it would work out the same, if not cheaper to buy one outright.
Sometimes the difference between “hand made” and “mass made” is not as large as people think it is going to be. For instance we are having some horrible conifer hedge replaced with a wall. It is actually cheaper to get a dry stone wall put in than a brick and cement wall, and it will look much nicer, and last a lot longer.
Once my wife started her own business making bespoke period gowns, and she started pricing up her time, she realised the value of the goods that she was making.
Hi Richard, this is not directed solely at your blog as I know this wasn’t the point you were making, but from reading the comments above, I don’t understand why it has to be one or the other. I work with wood to earn a living and support my family. I started my business in 2008, and I make cabinets, furniture and general joinery items. From what I gather from the comments in this blog…. I used to be a craftsman when I started out, but as I now use machines, I’ve sold my soul to the devil, and am just a machine operator and my work has no personality. The time I spend designing individual pieces, marking out, setting up, using my knowledge of woodworking and of wood to ensure what I make for my customers last the test of time and looks anything but ‘mass produced’ counts for nothing.
I use machines because that is the way of the world, and I have both aspirations of working with wood and making money, and yes that is possible. There is no right or wrong tool, my work is no better or worse because I choose to use either a hand or power tool to get something made that started off in my head. I use machines, my work isn’t mass produced
Why do a portion of woodworkers feel the need to say that what they make is better than someone else’s just because they have used a different tool to make it.
I’m really looking forward to the guy who starts making furniture out of sharp rocks like they did in the Stone Age, now those were the days…non of that modern sharp tool steel nonsense!
We are all woodworkers, amateur or professional, machine users, hand tool users or both, why can’t we all just get along without p*ssing each other off
P.s I use both hand and machine tools in my workshop, it’s just no one stands up for the craftsmen who use machines, and I think if most people look inwards and are truly honest, we all use machines at some point or another. And if not, you can bet the wood you are using has been either planed or sawn using a machine.
The reason why some hand-tool users (most — if not all, but most) of them started woodworking with machines, by the way) think the stuff they make are “better” as compared to those using machines is that (they think) they use skills and other don’t.
That is a fallacy, of course, as I can assure you that many of them (when using machines) were not able to cut dead-on mitres using a tablesaw or what not. Ask them to flatten a twisted board on the jointer is like asking them to blind themselves and use one hand to sharpen a chisel — impossible to them.
The machine world is full of techniques and skills that many hand-tool users are lacking, even if they are using machines simultaneously.
Almost all noted woodworkers — past or current — use machines in their work. Paul Sellers tells us he uses the bandsaw a lot, Rob Cosman’s shop is full of every power machine we can expect, Chris Schwarz is proud of his SawStop (and his jointer), many hand-tool manufacturers use drill presses and thickness planers to ensure consistency and precision. Even Tom Fidgen relies on power to lit up his shop and radio (or CD player?).
But no one can maintain doing woodworking by hand only forever, because he or she will get old and in their late 60s or 70s, they will be too weak. James Krenov was a good example.
By the way, Sam Maloof used machines and made more income than most other traditional craftsmen and so does furniture maker Michael Fortune.
ken hatch says
I couldn’t agree more. Pat is a potter and we will in time have nearly everything in the house made by myself, Pat, or other craftsmen. Seeing and feeling the the work of man’s hand and the beauty, the little bit of the soul of the maker brings great satisfaction to my life.
Mark Jenkins says
My take is all woodworking machinery was based on hand tools. The more I use hand tools the better I can use machinery efficiently. 18th century cabinetmakers would have given their right arm for a thickness planer.
Also in regard to an earlier post, Chippendale was extremely wealthy with probably hundreds of under paid craftsmen working for him. They did the work but he, the business man and extremely talented craftsman, took all the credit, and rightfully so.
I never met a cabinetmaker who chose his profession with the hopes of becoming wealthy but rather a love for the craft. I can spend hours on perfecting a simple dovetail joint without any chance of recouping financial gain for my efforts. That is what makes human nature amazing.
That’s my rant. Thanks, Mark
I’m a powertool/ hand tool guy. I’m 67 years old and can’t stand, bent over sawing boards. Table saw and Miter saw gets it close. band saw and planer get it closer still. Hand planing is mostly just smoothing. I make most of my joints by hand cause I can sit on my fat arse and make them. Nothing wrong with that at all. The snobs be damned. How you do it doesn’t matter. Just get out there and do it. Having fun while doing it is the icing.
Salko Safic says
This my friend you need to print in newspaper, posts signs on streets at shopping centres etc. Preaching to other woodworkers who already feel what you feel doesn’t cut it anymore, the public needs to be reeducated, undo what the marketers have successfully done for the last 50 years.
Matthew Platt says
Easy – just build in a nob surcharge. Then if you get someone who isn’t, you can hand it back to them over a cuppa when you deliver their bench. : )
Andrew Murray says
Matthew this is a brilliant idea because, in my humble opinion, it allows us to give some leeway to those who are appreciative and perhaps could use a break in price, and do it at least in part, at the expense of the unmindful arses … seems simple and only right for a self employed person…tailor made goods with tailor made prices…flexible but sustainable in a very satisfying way.
Jim Linn says
Last night I went for a tour of Joules Brewery in Market Drayton. They describe their beers as “craft beers”. Someone asked what they meant. The answer was that they only have four guys making six beers in small (8500 pints) batches. To avoid using forcing additives etc, they watch and care for each batch very closely. Very hands on, even though there is some high tech equipment to help. The result is very very good ale and even two drinkable lagers (I know, I was sceptical too..). They give the used husks to a local farmer in return for a pig. So, for £10, you get all the beer you can drink – pouring it yourself – and a pulled pork bap as well. All they needed was a steam train to make it bloke heaven.
Craft sells. Just need good marketing.
Jim Linn says
Sorry about mentioning “marketing” but everything needs marketing. This blog is marketing. Not all marketing is bad.
+1 on this; very accurate. You can make serious wealth in just about any discipline – arty people however tend not to have the patience for the ruthlessness that’s needed for serious success in the business world.
I’m a plumber, so a craftsman of sorts and I do fairly well with regards to income.
I think another crucial fact with regards to the accumulation of wealth is people’s disregard for the importance of what one does with their earnings (I.e investments) is just as pertinent as what one gains from a salary.
My friends and neighbors are always asking me to build them custom bookcases, cribs or other furniture pieces. Years ago, I started saying no to these requests. People were always interested until I told them how much a custom piece would cost.
I don’t have the money to buy a one-of-a-kind piece of furniture; that’s why I started building my own. I know people will pay for quality work, but how do you reach them when you’re just not on that level yourself?
Ken Haygarth says
Well I have to comment on this statement. (But no one can maintain doing woodworking by hand only forever, because he or she will get old and in their late 60s or 70s, they will be too weak. James Krenov was a good example. )
I’m 67 and can do a 12 hour day in the workshop using hand tools, planing rough timber, ripping and crosscutting, I never sit down. Plus I’m in the gym 4 days a week at 06:30 I’m as strong as I ever was, so classing older guys as to weak to do a days work is a bit of an Insult in my book.
I use hand tools because I enjoy it, I have nothing against power tools what so ever, as long as people enjoy what they are doing, I don’t think it makes one bit of difference.
Good for you…and you made another exception. Most old woodworkers I know (30% of the members in my local club are over 65) who also use hand tools rely on machines mainly. And none in the club of that age would (can?) do thicknessing by hand — if they ever use rough lumber.
When I say exceptions, I of course mean they do exist. Capable of handplaning/sawing 12 hours a day? I haven’t met one in my woodworking community, not even those in their 50s. I do know a guy who is strong and hog out rough lumber fast and quick, but he is in his 30s.
As “Craft(persons)”, none of us will be appreciated for what we do, until all the good antiques have been bought/used up!
Continue to make what ever it is you make. If you want to make money on it, charge what ever you think it is worth (what would YOU honestly pay for it). If someone agrees with you they buy, if not, they don’t. On to the next customer.
If you just want to have fun but, need to offset the cost of supplies and raw materials, charge just enough to do just that.
Nothing is worse than turning an enjoyable hobby into a business that in turn becomes a nightmare, all for the sake of a couple bucks….. ask me how I know…..
Brian Noel says
I understand where you are coming from. It is a common understanding from crafts workers who really love what they do. There is a divide in understanding that separates those who sell their work, thinking they will make it rich and become the next woodworking rock star and those that quietly chisel away in the dark dusty room all for the love of the craft. There is always going to be discrepancies in pricing debates, questions of originality and critiques of construction technique when so much passion is involved and it is your lively hood and their hobby. It is hypocritical for one to criticize another craftsman for their work. We all are in differing stages of learning and it is our own work that speaks for us. We need to learn to let it speak truthfully and show the world our love for this work rather than run our mouths in haste and vanity. I am very fond of Mark Loves essay entitled “Risk”. http://marklovefurniture.com/risk.pdf
Thanks again, I enjoy your site.