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Can a living be made from traditional crafts ?

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default Can a living be made from traditional crafts ?

Post by Chilli-head on 14th November 2012, 11:19 am

Last night I turned my first bowl on the pole lathe. It's not really up to big stuff, this one is about 5", made from an awkward gnarly bit of cherry wood. I did resort to a handsaw to save some of the axe work on the blank, and a cordless drill instead of the brace and bit to make a hole for the mandrel. I reckon that, if I allow for stoppages, and take off time for making the (reuseable) mandrel, I spent about 2 hours from log to bowl. Enough time to do some thinking and arithmetic ... I reckoned that, to make any money, I'd need to sell bowls like that for £50 !

It also brought to mind some things mentioned in this thread:

http://forum.homemadelife.com/t2145p21-new-tv

- regarding the Handmade Revolution TV show, and some discussion I read on the APTGW site about amateurs underpriceing work and making it hard for anyone to make a living from it.

The green woodworkers I know of who do it as their day job also make money from courses, toolmaking etc. And while some of them argue vigorously against using "modern" innovations like sandpaper, most seem to be very happy with their chainsaws, or a bandsaw to speed up making bowl blanks.

So on one hand, their other activities are subsidising their craft goods - just like my day job does. And on the other, they have adopted some power tools for efficiency - so maybe putting a motor on the lathe is OK too ? Or even ... sandpaper Exclamation

Is it possible to make a living at all, when crafts are up against modern manufacture, without striving for efficiency to the extent that all the joy is lost, or "cheating" with modern tools and methods ? Perhaps if energy prices get a lot higher we traditionalists may have our day again.
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Post by polgara on 14th November 2012, 3:58 pm

Couple of things to say.
Making a hobby a full time job very often takes the fun & enjoyment out of it. The reason being that you HAVE to make money to live & pay the bills. I put my knitting macnine away about 25 years ago & have no interest in getting it out again. The pressure of meeting orders etc was not enjoyable at all.

Using some modern tools, is I feel no different to using things like breadmakers in the kitchen. We also had a discussion about this somewhere.

As far as I am concerned for me crafting is all about the pleasure I get from the task I set myself. Sure I would like to sell some of my things, but circumstances do not really give me the oppertunity. I do sometimes use fleabay though.


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Post by freebird on 14th November 2012, 6:04 pm

It's a tricky one, CH. When I was a full-time, professional calligrapher, three quarters of my income was from teaching. This often ends up being the case for craft workers. However, I never saw the teaching as 'subsidising' my craftwork, but just a way of earning money still in connection with what I trained for.

With regard to speeding up a process to make it more financially viable, that has to be a personal decision. I don't think there is a right or wrong about it. If I had a commission to complete that required gold, the decision on how to put gold on would be down to client expectations, budget etc. Someone who wanted their poem to look pretty would probably get real gold leaf, but on a simple flat gum background. Something more prestigious would get the proper medieval gesso recipe for raised gold.

Overall, I think if you are serious about your craft, you should know all the original techniques and be able to employ them proficiently. However, if it is not practicable to use all these techniques all the time, I can't see that it matters.

The success of any business is down to supply and demand. I think the sad fact is that there isn't a great demand for really well made craft goods; a realistic pricing makes them a luxury item. This is an issue I've debated with myself many times over many years. Personally, I would rather just work for family, friends and exhibition than lower my standards to make my work financially accessible to all and sundry. I still have many contacts who do earn a living at calligraphy, and all teach, work for print and diversify as much as possible to make it pay. None of them are rich!
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Post by Chilli-head on 15th November 2012, 2:55 pm

I should point out that my musings are academic, I am not planning to give up my day job !

Pol makes a point I am acutely aware of; in fact my day job WAS my last hobby (I took up hobby electronics when I was 12), but doing it as a job certainly does take the edge off ones enthusiasm.

To give my view, I suspect it is not possible to make a living without sacrificing either the principles or the enjoyment. Which brings me back to the argument that amateurs, by not realistically pricing their work, make it hard for professionals to make a living. I do have some sympathy, but when it comes down to it, the reason there are amateurs is that the process of crafting is enjoyable, and sadly few people ever have the luxury of being well paid to spend their time doing enjoyable things.
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Post by polgara on 15th November 2012, 3:33 pm

To make the right sort of money, you have to have the right sort of outlets, like the touristy centres where a lot of people come through. Even though I live in a tourist area, it is a very small area & rent Etc would be more than most people could afford. In my time I would love to have the oppertunity but whatwvwer way I tried it did not bring enough.
Might add not well enough these days to contemplate that sort of thing, that is why I have enough Christmas cards for next year & when I have finished with what bits I have, enough for the year after as well. laughy

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Post by Dandelion on 15th November 2012, 7:52 pm

Even if you're making something for yourself it can be a lot more expensive than buying it ready made commercially. I priced up some wool for a jumper a while ago - it was beautiful, but the yarn alone was going to cost £70 before I'd even made it.
We have a neighbour who makes rag rugs (she's written books about it too.) One of her bugbears is that badly made rag rugs can be bought in touristy shops at a fraction of the price she charges - people buy them without realising that they're not well made and think they've got a bargain.
BTW Chilli head - what's wrong with sand paper? I've never done turning - do you only use sandpaper if you've made a mess of it?

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The richer we have become materially, the poorer we have become morally and spiritually. We have learned to fly in the air like birds and swim in the sea like fish, but we have not learned the simple art of living together as brothers and sisters.

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Post by Chilli-head on 16th November 2012, 9:15 am

Sandpaper seems to be a contentious issue - amongst power lathe turners, it is a normal part of the process. But green woodworkers have differing views, as far as I can tell. Many take a relaxed view. Some purists argue sandpaper is not part of the tradition, and regard the "tooled" finish you leave if you eschew abrasives to be an important feature (and I guess selling point) of a hand turned item. I guess part of the issue is that it requires quite a bit of skill to leave a smooth finish with a chisel or gouge, but little if any to do it with sandpaper, so perhaps it undermines the skill in it ?

Personally, I think it is horses for courses. A goblet that you plan to drink from needs a smooth rim, and it is a fragile area to work with a chisel, so maybe abrasives are in order. On a bowl, there seems to me to be little point putting in all that effort treddling away for an hour to turn out something looking like it was machine made in half the time with none of the effort, and the tooling is part of the rustic "artisan" feel of the item.


Edited to add - I know what you mean about knitting yarn. I've asked for some alpaca wool from a friend of a relative for my mother to use, and I've just seen the price ! Certainly an expensive way to get a jumper.
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Post by polgara on 16th November 2012, 3:02 pm

I thought if you wanted a smooth inner for a bowl, you got a handful of fine sand a smooth pebble & worked it with that laughy

Well it is what it said in a book I read. LOL

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So take care of yourself, be Happy, Love Deeply and enjoy life!


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Post by Robin Wood on 17th November 2012, 11:35 am

Just an occasional visitor here these days but will chip in here.

Is it possible to make a living? yes, I made my living purely from turning bowls on the pole lathe for 11 years before starting to teach spooncarving. When I stated nearly all green wood professionals were following the Mike Abbott route of paid demos and teaching courses, I wanted to make a living from making stuff.
I don't know what you do for a living but I suspect if I tried it for a day timed myself and worked out how much I would have to charge to make it pay I may come out with a similar result. When we start we are slow and the results leave room for improvement, in time the finish and speed improve, in craft they say the first 1000 are the hard ones.
Sandpaper. The question here is partly about skill partly about function and partly quality with a little tradition thrown in.
Beginning turners tend to make a poor job with the tools and resort to sandpaper to get something more presentable. experienced woodworkers can get a great finish off the tools and then decide if they want a sanded finish or tooled finish. Sanding is not a pleasant process, it creates fine dust which is very bad for you if inhaled. It tends to create a poor finish for functional items which is why most power turners tell folk not to get their bowls wet. When a sanded finish gets wet then dry the abraded fibres fluff up and if feels all rough and nasty. A clean cut finish gets better and better with use. It is possible to do a good functional sanded finish but it takes a long time going down through the grits wetting to raise the fibres light sanding, oiling and cutting back again. I suggest folk aim for a tooled finish because it helps them improve, if you know you are going to resort to sandpaper it holds back your learning.

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Post by Chilli-head on 19th November 2012, 11:53 am

Hello Robin, I'm delighted you have "chipped in". When I started this thread I was hoping to prompt a response from those who've persued their craft commercially; I'm interested in how they made it work for them, what compromises they had to make, and what else (like courses) they did to augment the "making stuff".

I hope I haven't make it look like, having turned a couple of things, I now I think I know all about it ! Quite the opposite, I mentioned how much I'd have to charge just to show how far off from it I am. I know that both skills and equipment are lacking - and that's not an excuse, because I made such equipment as I have, so it's shortcomings are mine too.

I've watched what I can - including some of your videos Robin, and Ben Orford's. Some inspiring stuff. It did strike me that there were a few mentions of chainsawing blanks - I think Ben Orford used a bandsaw cut blank to speed things up a bit. Which got me wondering about how much compromise is accepted. I was turning at a craft fair on Saturday (for entertainment value only, not selling !), and I overhead a chap mutter to his wife "It'd be quicker if they stuck a motor on it though". I suppose it would, but it woudn't be the same thing.

One final thing; 1000 bowls sounds like quite a lot. Or maybe not ... My business involves electronic control systems. I started learning about electronics when I was 12, thirty something years ago, so I guess enough time to have done 1000 bowls (or other craft item) if I'd been that way inclined. But I was fascinated by electronics as a kid. Now though, I find the edge has definitely been taken off that enthusiasm. I don't plan a career change, but I wonder how I would feel about woodworking after the thousandth bowl, does it still excite, fascinate, challenge ?

Ah well. Only 997 more to go now Smile
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Post by Robin Wood on 19th November 2012, 1:25 pm

1000 isn't a lot, it is a start and as I said they are the difficult ones, once you get past around 10,000 then it is second nature like driving a car, the body does it without conscious thought. I don't see a chainsaw as a compromise it is a useful tool I come from a forestry background so it is what I use. A pole lathe is not slower than an electric lathe whenever I have raced against one I always am much faster. There is a youtube of one race. I am not a reenactor I am using a range of technologies that I feel are appropriate for the 21str century, including the web to sell and royal mail to deliver.

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Post by Jaded Green on 21st November 2012, 9:32 pm

A friend of mine does some very lovely wood turning using a lathe. At craft fairs they were never able to sell much as people were not prepared to pay the price for hand made wares.
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Post by Chilli-head on 1st January 2013, 9:04 pm

Just to add that the video that Robin mentioned can be seen on youtube here. I think that the power lathe turner stops turning first, but only because in is haste he knocks the work out of the chuck ! By any reasonable measure, Robin's bowl is the winner.

Further to my Christmas reading of John Seymour, I think this bit is appropriate:

"I have known many young people who have tried a craft and given it up because they found that, although they could make enough, they could not make more than enough. And more than enough is what they feel they they require. A planet on which every inhabitant tries to get more than enough is a planet that is in for a hard time. And in the final reckoning I am sure that having more than enough does not make us more happy. You can definitely have too much of a good thing. What makes a person happy is doing work that he or she loves doing, being fairly paid for it, and having it properly appreciated."
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