Your Friendly Neighborhood Publisher & Furniture Maker?

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My Covington neighbors don’t know what to make of me. Every day, someone from the neighborhood stops by my storefront shop and asks: “What is this place?”

My best and shortest answer: I build furniture and write books about it.

That is, of course, no help to them. During the last 12 months of working in downtown Covington, I’ve been amazed at how many people – working-class for the most part – would love to have the services of a neighborhood furniture maker.

They have furniture that needs fixing. They need shelves cut to size. They need a new top for a metal table. They need a simple kitchen table to fit a small space. They need moulding that matches the stuff in their house. They need corbels for their box gutters. They need a new gate to replace a rotted one.

All the above job offers came in the last 14 days. I honestly could stay busy just servicing the neighborhood residents and its businesses.

And I’ve also become a depository for all things woodworking.

Need clamps? A Work-mate? Old doors? Piles of lumber from a basement? The neighbors are happy to give me these things when they find them.

So I feel weird when they ask me how much my furniture costs. They come in, sit in one of my chairs and ask how much for a chair and a table. The chair is $700. The table is $2,000. Both are fair prices (a bit on the low side – neighborhood discount). They look at me like I’m crazy.

I try to explain why the furniture costs that (It will last forever), but in their minds it should cost the same as what the see at Furniture Fair or one of the other big retailers of rickety pre-refuse.

And then I say: “You know the other option is to make it yourself. I got started making furniture because I couldn’t afford to buy what I wanted.”

We shall see if that tactic bears fruit.

— Christopher Schwarz

About Lost Art Press

Publisher of woodworking books and videos specializing in hand tool techniques.
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45 Responses to Your Friendly Neighborhood Publisher & Furniture Maker?

  1. albion223 says:

    And then I say: “You know the other option is to make it yourself. I got started making furniture because I couldn’t afford to buy what I wanted.”

    That’s how I got started…. 🙂

  2. laterthanuthink says:

    People never recognize their hometown celebrities. Folks in Hibbing mostly think Bob Dylan is a clown.

  3. ouidavincent says:

    Be careful. You may end up hosting an open space for would-be woodworkers.

  4. jayedcoins says:

    “And then I say: ‘You know the other option is to make it yourself. I got started making furniture because I couldn’t afford to buy what I wanted.'”

    Hah! This is why we love LAP and follow what you do, Chris. This is the exact attitude that turned me onto the craft about 14 months ago, and while 14 months is a very short time in most regards, I can already say this is the craft/hobby/interest that I’ve stuck with the longest and has held my interest in such a unique way.

    Some people would negotiate to sell furniture and not look back (and hey, good on those people). But it takes another type of person to evangelize the craft and given an answer like you gave. Hopefully more people hear answers like that, and instead of being bristled by them, they do what I did and think, “Hmm, that does sound fun…”

  5. gilgaron says:

    That’s why I started building things and repairing things myself. Can’t afford the labor to pay someone else but I can afford the tools and materials.

  6. I knew a guy who sold coffins at a funeral home. His pitch was always the same. He’d hit them with the most expensive one he had, and when they recovered, he’d point them to a much less expensive one and make the sale every time.

    So, you tell them the chair costs $700, but you have a much less expensive version for $54 (some assembly required). Then you hand them Peter Galbert’s “Chairmaker’s Notebook.”

    Then you sit back and watch the book sales roll in. 😉

  7. Tact? Or tack? Anyway, I hope it works.

  8. Rachael Boyd says:

    I got a lot of the same thing when I opened my school/ furniture store. I did a lot of repair on stuff that had been in there family for over a hundred years. it was kinda funny that the people that were looking to buy were shocked at the price.then the ones that wanted the good stuff and didn’t care how much it cost,cause they knew it would last forever..

  9. Nice seat shaping happening here. Looks good. >

  10. Maybe the small size ATC with basic toolset would be quite the seller, now that people realize the actual cost of what they really want is☺ …of course also containing Crucible dividers and holdfast. Then no. 1 project would be a couple of mortise & tenon sawhorses in 4×6” – the perfect place to start building a workbench. Fitted with holes for the holdfast of course 😊

  11. meanmna says:

    Now if there was only some way to take a class from you to build that chart and table … 😉

  12. Unfortunately, one of the hardest things for a woodworker (budding, old, experienced, amateur – time spent in the craft doesn’t seem to matter) to learn is how to pay yourself.

    I learned a long time ago to be very minimal in how I talk about my works until after prices are discussed. If they still aren’t turned away when I say making a wooden key grip is going to cost more than $10 or a box can run more than a high car payment, then I’m happy to go into further details.

  13. rwyoung says:

    Mr. Hooper, izat you?

  14. fitz says:

    How much for a baggie of plane-blade-testing shims? (My purloined stash is running low.)

  15. Salko Safic says:

    The funny thing about woodworking is, you can make money on tools but not the things you make with them. Ironic…

    • Do you ever wonder if your furniture is going to be considered the furniture of someone else’s gaoler someday (if it isn’t already)? What would the level of quality have been for a table and four chairs that cost nearly 10% of an average US family’s household income at different periods? Or what if we just looked at specific examples of furniture that cost the equivalent of $4800 USD in 2016. I would love to know this.

    • Whoops. Replied to the wrong thing. Sorry.

  16. Do you ever wonder if your furniture is going to be considered the furniture of someone else’s gaoler someday (if it isn’t already)? What would the level of quality have been for a table and four chairs that cost nearly 10% of an average US family’s household income at different periods? Or what if we just looked at specific examples of furniture that cost the equivalent of $4800 USD in 2016. I would love to know this.

    • When my parents were married in the 1960s, it was common to spend a lot of your income on your bedroom suite, your dining suite and your living room furniture. It was an investment in furniture you would have the rest of your life. (When my grandparents died, they had the furniture they got when they were married.)

      Cheap furniture was regarded in the way we would regard a cut-rate medical implant. Why would you?

      My prices and the way I work reflect the way things worked for hundreds of years. My practice hasn’t changed. But the people and the economy has.

      So I can:

      1. Make cheap crap (gun please).
      2. Starve (bread please).
      3. Refuse to give up this traditional practice and try to show others the value of it.

      I have chosen No. 3.

      • I like your answer and I don’t think your prices are unfair. I do think they are outside the reach of the average person in the US though (if not financially then definitely emotionally/mentally). That’s why I keep buying your books and tools.

      • Coisas EM'adeira says:

        Thank you for that choice!
        Because of that choice (yours and others like you) I can read your blog/books and I already was able to made some of my own furniture!
        My only regret is I was unable to “sell” my wife the idea of a coffin/cabinet on the house 🙂 I wonder why…

  17. turdfighter says:

    Nice chair.

    My family is deep into woodworking. We are a big family and my dad’s stuff was the only thing that would hold up to our abuse.

    The huge trestle table he built that seats 12 still looks great 40 years later.

  18. kendewitt608 says:

    This comes on the same day as my THOS MOSER catalog did. Keep a copy in your shop and your prices will show what others are getting.
    Grandma always told me you get what you pay for !

  19. Martino23 says:

    Your experience sounds like an opportunity to teach classes in your new location. As one who has taken a class from you, you are an outstanding teacher. I would welcome another opportunity to take a class from you. I bet your neighbors would as well.

  20. Karl Newman says:

    I used to get “but I can get it for less at Walmart”, yes ma’m you can, and in 2 years it will be trash.

  21. So I assume a set of four chairs and and a table in a staked style is $4800.00? Why do you think a working class person is shocked at that? I’m not sure it’s because they think they can get the same at Ikea but rather there is not than much money in the pot to buy your chairs, no matter how much they like it.
    I’ll get around to making a table and chairs for our home some day. In the meantime the set I bought for £120.00 (total crap) has lasted six years of family use no issue. At the rates you propose for goods a working class family would never afford to do very much at all. I don’t think your rates are wrong based on how you work, but even if a family ditched their tech for a year or two they’d still be miles away from affording one or two chairs with all the other costs of having a family.
    The only concepts I’ve seen that looks at the issues around the cost of furniture without having to go down the store bought flat pack route is shown within books like “Nomadic Furniture”. Sounds like the community needs a good local carpenter. If I’ve gotten the wrong end of the stick or sound like a tool I apologise in advance as I do both very well indeed!

    • Then I propose if they cannot buy it from me or another woodworker, then they build it themselves (see blog entry and “The Anarchist’s Design Book”). And we offer books upon books that show people how to do this.

      I refuse – flatly – to work for nothing, and I do not apologize for my prices to my customers or the Internet.

      It’s easy to become drunk on the cost of IKEA – even for woodworkers, apparently.

      This is a recent thing.

      • Funny, I paid more than $2000 on the last table I bought.
        Oh wait, that’s $2000 American!

        Never mind.

      • Sorry Chris I think you missed my point. You said that people looked at you like you were crazy. It’s because the item they wish to purchase is too expensive and beyond their means. They are likely in situations where time and money prevent them making things too. Even though great value books and quality tools can be sourced easily from second hand sources. I assume they want to get jobs on the home fixed first.

        It’s good that you refuse to work for nothing, life becomes hard if you do. No apology needed on cost. It the same situation the Arts & Crafts movement found itself in, the methods put the simple vernacular furniture beyond the reach of ordinary people. This is a recent thing.

        Drunk on Ikea? Don’t think so. For better or worse they’ve created a situation where more people can live like the wealthy of the past, changing their homes as new styles and designs are available.

  22. mnrwoods says:

    What amazes me is not that quality furniture made by a craftsman costs a pretty penny, but that some poorly made furniture can also cost the same pretty penny. I’ve seen sideboards built from reclaimed wood employing cheap metal drawer slides with $2800 price tags.

    The price of a thing and the value of a thing do not necessarily correlate.

  23. Dohnn Wood says:

    We are a country who have been sold the story that more is better. That cheaper means you can buy more, and if you can cheat the other guy and pass the savings on to yourself, that is best. There are citizens who refuse to go along with this idea, and so businesses who sell quality goods still have a niche. and like chopping down a mighty oak with a hatchet, with enough niches the tree will fall. Thanks for your hatchet work.

  24. Salko Safic says:

    Then you have a false economy with it’s users living off of their credit cards till one day the banks pull out their scissors and chops them up leaving you with nothing but the truth. Going, going, gone sold for a loaf of bread.

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