Throughout the years I’ve read accounts of people who “discovered” hand planes and had it change their lives. “I was a cabinetmaker for 30 years” they write, “then I” read this article or took this class “and I sharpened my plane iron and now I know what I was missing for all those years”. As I write this I know many of you are nodding in agreement. I know that happened to you too. It happened to me too.
Hardwoods are separated into two categories, temperate and tropical hardwoods, depending on their origin. Temperate hardwoods are found in the regions between the tropics and poles, and are of particular interest to wood workers for their cost-effective aesthetic appeal and sustainable sources. Tropical hardwoods are found within the equatorial belt, including Africa, Asia, and South America. Hardwoods flaunt a higher density, around 65lb/cu ft as a result of slower growing rates and is more stable when drying. As a result of its high density, hardwoods are typically heavier than softwoods but can also be more brittle. While there are an abundant number of hardwood species, only 200 are common enough and pliable enough to be used for woodworking. Hardwoods have a wide variety of properties, making it easy to find a hardwood to suit nearly any purpose, but they are especially suitable for outdoor use due to their strength and resilience to rot and decay. The coloring of hardwoods ranges from light to very dark, making it especially versatile for aesthetic purposes. However, because hardwoods are more closely grained, they are typically harder to work than softwoods. They are also harder to acquire in the United States and, as a result, are more expensive.
My basic advice is to develop lots of connections with people. Most branches of woodworking are hard to sell without knowing the right people – especially when targeting the luxury furnishings or corporate markets. I started down this path with the idea that I might own my own shop but forgot about that once I’d accepted employment in the field. Since I was satisfied working for others, I didn’t bother making the connections, and now I’m so busy it’s hard to get away from the shop long enough to do so. That’s not the end of the world, as we’re still pulling in plenty of work. It just took longer to get there than it should have. For those considering a self-employed woodworking career, it’s a good idea to meet individuals who associate with the types of people that are likely to become future clients. Word-of-mouth is still a powerful form of marketing even in this age of internet.