How much does it cost to become a furniture maker?

I meet lots of people who are wanting to change their lives and do something more, more creative, more real, something more……. The issue that stops most is fear, if you can put some numbers on that change and work out how to deal with that risk then it can be less scary. I can’t make it work for you but I can help fill in some of the boxes. So, How much does it cost to become a furniture maker? Here is an interesting e-mail I received a couple of years ago – for those among you that might have missed it first time round, as well as being a refresher for those of you that may have seen it in my newsletter at the time:


Hi David,
Many thanks for the comprehensive response.
Unfortunately I am not in a position to progress this dream career at the moment however I am hoping that if I can get the finances together over the next two or three years then the leap of faith may be taken.

The piece of information missing for me is what happens after the course is finished and hence my original question about the cost of setting up on your own i.e. a workshop (realize this varies but generally speaking), how long one could expect on average to be able to make a living from their craft i.e. 1 year, 3 years and in those years what the percentage of self funding would be required e.g.

Year 1
Course (£18k)
Tools (£2k)
Materials (£2k)
Living (£25k) (min I would need to feed and water myself and maintain current home – at a guess)
Total (£46k)
Year 2
Living (£25k)
Workshop £? (say I guess at £50k tools and machinery plus running costs – rent, rates, electricity, marketing, etc.)
Income £15k
Total (£60k)
Year 3
Living (£25k)
Workshop £? (say I guess £10k running costs – rent, rates, electricity, marketing, etc.)
Income £30k
Total (£5k)
Year 4
Living (£25k)
Workshop £? (say I guess £10k running costs – rent, rates, electricity, marketing, etc.)
Income £50k
Total £15k

Working that through you would be looking at around £100k to get yourself through the year training and three years before an income was being realised. It would be really useful to understand a middle road view on that, fully accepting that anyone could be a roaring success or serious failure. What are the success rates of those doing such a course and making it? – for me that just means being able to eat, pay the mortgage, run a car, support the family etc. the satisfaction in life coming from what you are doing each day as a fine furniture maker.

Be really interested to hear your knowledge of that, as that is the crux for me.

As a side I’m a business analyst working in the world of marketing so have more than ample business skills, reasonable at art at school (was offered a graphic design apprenticeship at 16 but peer pressure meant I stayed on at school and ended up in business instead), have studied graphic design at a basic level subsequently as well as photography – I have a creative streak hidden in me somewhere and am pretty practical doing lots of DIY and make loads of stuff for the house (badly compared to fine furniture making I would admit) and would love nothing more to combine those interests of mine into what I feel would be the dream job.

Look forward to hearing from you in due course.

Kind regards


Hi Mal
Thank you to your e-mail, I think that given your background in business management and the creative work that you’ve done in the past you have a very good basis upon which to move forward. I like the way you raise the question of costs extending beyond the training year. When I talk to students I encourage them to work out a three-year plan which is exactly what you have done.

I’ve been talking to students in the workshop now and getting back from them some idea of costings. What they are doing at this minute; costing machinery and workshops. Woodworking is one of the least expensive businesses to set up, which means that it attracts a lot of people with dreams and not much else. But this can work to our advantage. We regularly see students equipping a full machine shop for less than £10,000 there will be some hidden costs that you need to consider such as wiring and establishment costs. There are also also hidden costs such as the dust extraction certificate at £350 every year, and insurance costs are usually higher than one wants to think about.

Don’t make the mistake of needing all the machines just to be a woodworker. You can rent time on a great sander in the next town rather than spending cash on it now. In ten years you may have a different case to make but now hold your cash it is life blood to a new business.

In your year two I would suggest that your 50K tools and machinery could be brought down to a generous 30-50K and your income could be increased to 20-30K. Your objective in this year is to get into serious marketing, spending your time rushing around between exhibitions, seeing prospective clients and doing drawings. Any serious making should be sub contracted, to reach a point where you can take on staff. I know this is not the idealistic one-man workshop dream but I think that economically the two person workshop is far more efficient. The more marketing costs the more income.

Year three to year four should see you moving towards that situation of having a permanent member of staff making furniture whilst you are partly making furniture partly seeing clients and partly doing the drawings. This has the benefit of allowing you to be more creative more of the time.

I cannot get this right for you, I can only advise you of the mistakes I have made and encourage you not to make them. We have successes and we have people that fail. On balance I think eight out of ten of our former students are still in the biz full time or part time after 27 years. One or two are teaching, some have dropped back to kitchen making, or shop fitting, some have gone into antique repairs.
Hope this helps


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