Self-Funding Passions

I occasionally field questions about how it is possible for my shed to have a decent assortment of tools, especially when ones like the latest Nova DVR XP turn up, and that raises the whole topic of affordability of one’s passions (hobbies with obsessions!)

My various activities have always come at some cost, (for some reason I don’t choose cheap hobbies!), such as woodworking, diving, photography.  In each case, I have, or had the potential to get the pursuit to a point that it was reasonably capable of self-funding, so as not to be a drain on the finances.

There are a whole raft of revenue streams that are available, and at the start there is a choice: is this a hobby that you want to generate a bit of income from so it can self-support, or are you intending it to be more of a money-earner that happens to also be a bit fun?

Personally, I’ve been sticking to the first option – actually deliberately trying to make money leads to stress, disappointments, and financial & time decisions based on making an income, and quickly the pleasure of the pursuit is lost.  It can lead to a rewarding career, but for every 2 small businesses that start, 1 falls by the wayside, along with the loss of the business assets.

Pursuing the ever elusive dollar leads to many hours of repetitive work, the quintessential cottage industry.

However, if it is, and remains a hobby, each dollar that is earned is particularly valued, and can go back into sustaining the hobby that generated it.

There are plenty of avenues for woodworking to generate an income, from writing to woodchips and everything in between.

To give some examples:

Pen turning is very straightforward, even on quite modest equipment (even a drill press or GMC lathe is capable).  For a minimal investment, you can produce pens for birthday and Christmas presents, and by having one or two on hand, when someone needs to borrow one you can lend one of yours.  This invariably leads to a conversation about the magnificent writing device, and how you made it.  Take that one step further, and they will often be looking to purchase one from you. $10 out. $50 in.  (More or less – there are plenty of considerations obviously).  You can take that further by offering a unique product to a local business.  I’ve made pens for people from objects they have discarded, such as an old redgum fence.  Taking a small sample of that and turning a pen, they then have something unique to show off.  An arborist cutting down a dead tree could offer back to their clients a pen made from the waste (and you also have a ready source of lots of timber – no point spending money on what you can get for free!)

Boxmaking can have similar results, giving back something with sentimental attachment as it is made from timber important to the person.  In this instance, I also used a piece of leather that had been used for a pair of shoes for the daughter’s now departed Mum.  Huge sentimental value, and there is no need to overcharge.  A dovetail jig such as the Gifkins is invaluable for this sort of operation.

Memory Box

Memory Box

The huon pine bowl I made the other day (2nd bowl ever realistically) has had 3 offers already – could easily have sold it for $100 each time if I had wanted.

Working for other woodworkers.  With a Torque Workcentre, you can slab and in particular surface boards of a size that is typically unheard of in the average woodshop.

Repairing the odd bit of furniture, or wooden (or plastic) toy, advertising on the shopping centre noticeboard.

Magazines are insatiable in their quest for the written word.  An article on a recent project, or technique can easily net $50 – $500 depending on word count.  When you start getting known, you can find them approaching you for content.  Have a look around at backissues to get an idea about both short and long submissions – magazines like both.  And you will see my name there as well, many times.  Not necessarily woodworking mags either.  The weekend mag in the newspaper, handyman mags, lifestyle mags and on and on need content.

Woodshows are a definite way.  Get to know a product, get to know some people at the show and you can find opportunities arising to help at the show (all hands on deck for those things).  You can get a pretty major tool with the money from a single wood show, more if you save (and more as you build a reputation for sales!)  Woodshows present all sorts of opportunities, and you don’t have to be pushy, just interested and have the ability to project your passion.

There are short courses you can be a part of as you get more skilled at Tafes and University short course centres, which lead to a regular cash injection.

There are many opportunities for your hobby/passion to pick up a bit of funding on the side.  Start small, and remember, keeping the focus on the hobby and not on making an income will keep it both enjoyable, and self-funding.  And slowly, your workshop will grow, and become the envy of others.  As it grows, more opportunities to continue the self-funding will present themselves.  Worth thinking about don’t you think?


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