The most pressing question for any would-be cabinetmaker is almost certainly this; can I make a living as a cabinet maker?

Here at Rowden, we have had the benefit of thirty years of experience in training students to become professional, working cabinetmakers. Of course, not every student comes with the desire to work full-time as a cabinetmaker, but with regards to skills, we treat every student the same.

We consciously and deliberately set about training them with the techniques necessary to become a fully rounded maker. One that is equally capable of operating their own profitable workshop or joining a professional workshop as a paid maker.

These are the two distinct directions a trained student can take. To earn your living as a cabinetmaker, you can:

  1. Seek employment at an existing professional workshop
  2. Set up a business for yourself and sell your own work for a profit.

Forging A Career at Rowden

What is interesting to us as teachers and mentors of the students at Rowden is that the skills for both directions are broadly the same. You will need the same level of aptitude to work as an employee, as to make a living as a cabinetmaker on your own.

Having said that, we make sure that, during the year they train here, they are given plenty of opportunities to discuss their futures. We talk about the best way to achieve their goals and customise the dialogue around the specific needs of each individual.

Let’s take a look at the skills all students need to earn a decent living.

  1. Attitude: Probably the most crucial single key to success is having the right attitude from the start. While cabinetmaking can be a wonderfully romantic, peaceful and creative pastime, it takes dedication, effort and hard work to turn it into a profitable, income-generating business. As a consequence, it is essential that students and cabinetmakers alike take their time in the workshop seriously and work diligently to ensure they are both productive and professional in equal measure.
  2. Open Mind: The students at Rowden that are the easiest to teach are those with an open mind and a willingness to learn. In twelve months, they will accumulate an incredible number of relevant skills. Keeping an open mind and a willingness to learn will also help their future success, not only in developing their skills but also in interacting with clients and people in the industry.
  3. Efficiency: Rowden has a machine shop that is representative of a typical professional cabinetmaker’s workshop. All the students are trained in how to operate these machines with great accuracy and confidence. When they enter a professional workshop as a trained maker, these skills ensure that they will quickly be up to speed on how to operate and maintain them. We also prepare students on pragmatic workshop layouts and appropriate machines to invest in, to ensure they work as efficiently as possible with good flow and minimal disruption when they begin to make their living as a cabinetmaker.

“Long-term success in this industry begins with your outlook. You need the right attitude to make a go of this because dedication to the highest echelon of quality is the absolute key. If you want to make a living as a top cabinet maker, you have to think like one.”

David Savage, Founder, Rowden Atelier

Can I make a living as a cabinetmaker?

8 Steps To A Successful Career in Cabinetmaking

If a student is looking to establish their own cabinetmaking business, then there are several key factors to ensuring it flourishes as a profitable enterprise:

  1. Know Your Market: A good maker knows their market. Our students are trained to make fine furniture to the very highest standards. They are also trained in art, in how to design, and in the history of furniture making. During this developmental period, they are encouraged to think about the sort of work they would like to make when they become professional makers. This leads to them considering their markets. In our experience, a good understanding of the world they plan to sell to is key to making a living as a cabinetmaker.
  2. Showcase Your Work: Armed with the knowledge of who they want to sell to, a furniture designer maker needs to create and market their portfolio of work. To this end, they must have a beautiful website which best displays their work with high quality photography. At Rowden, we devote time to these areas ensuring the students understand best industry practice.
  3. Know Your Value: A good cabinetmaker needs to understand the actual value of their work and the time spent at the bench (the bespoke bench they’d have made at Rowden). This ensures they are paid a fair price that covers not only their salary but their overheads and time for portfolio development. Pricing can be a dark art, but we teach every student objective pricing techniques to ensure a profitable income as a cabinetmaker.
  4. Look Out For Opportunities: A smart maker will always have an eye on interesting opportunities to diversify their portfolio and broaden their business and client base. Eyes open!
  5. Network: Beyond working directly with private clients, a healthy income stream can be created by working closely with good galleries, independent retailers, interior designers and architects.
  6. Preparation: Profit is directly linked to productivity. Keeping good notes and preparing well for each project are reliable techniques for reducing lost time and so increasing productivity and income as a designer maker.
  7. Go Local: One of the most reliable ways to boost profile, raise brand awareness and find new clients is to participate in local and regional exhibitions and shows. For a prospective client, nothing beats seeing fine furniture in the flesh. This is their best opportunity to see just how good your furniture is and, if you’re making a living as a cabinetmaker, one of your best options to ‘press the flesh’ and make new connections. Every year the students at Rowden visit one of the UK’s finest furniture shows to see the extraordinary furniture being created in workshops around the UK. Many of those exhibiting are ex-Rowden students themselves!
  8. Professionalism: And finally, a cabinetmaker looking to earn an income from furniture should always deliver on time, on budget and quality. Your reputation precedes you, and word of mouth will be a powerful new business driver if you cultivate the right reputation.

So that’s it – our top tips on forging a living as a cabinetmaker. The industry is competitive, of course, but there is always room for new talented designer makers.

If you are considering enhancing your skills and trying cabinet or furniture making as a career path, then check out our woodworking courses page to see how we can help.

How can you make a living as a cabinetmaker?