Forest 2 Home team member, Madeleine, sat down with Scott Seaman to discuss his woodworking journey. Scott has a family, has a full-time job and woodworking has become his side-income, so how does he balance it all? Scott answers all of our questions about starting his woodworking and establishing his woodshop business below. Want to listen in? Check out Shop Talk, a Forest 2 Home podcast, where you can listen in to the talk with our friend Scott. Tune in on your favorite streaming platform: Amazon Music, Spotify, SoundCloud, or Audible.
Scott's start with woodworking
Madeleine: First and foremost, I want to know, what was your initial draw to woodworking? When did you start? Why did you start? The floor is yours to introduce your interest.
Scott: Sure. So it probably goes back to childhood. My dad always had tools; he wasn’t necessarily a woodworker but he was handy. So we always had tools and a pile of scrap wood in the garage. It was kind of free reign to make something with and I was always pounding something together or whatever. And the joke was, I would never say what I was making because I was never completely sure what it would turn out to be. So you know, there has kind of always been an interest there and just working with my hands, being creative, that kind of thing.
In 2000, my wife and I bought our first home as a 1920's bungalow. That was basically a full gut, so, out of that, we learned how to do plumbing, drywall, framing, a little bit of everything. And then once the house was done, it turned into starting to create furnishings because, you know, it’s expensive when you’re starting out. So, the first projects were probably pretty crude, and they have evolved over the years to the point where I’ve made a number of beds, dressers and different kinds of things for our family.
Turning hobbyist woodworking into a business
S: A couple of years ago- I started around Christmastime- I would make some gifts for people in the family. Usually every year I’d make one item for my mom, mother-in-law, sister, sister-in-law; kind of everybody got one of something, usually something pretty small. So, then that’s when my wife really encouraged me, she said you really ought to sell some of this, you could do more than just have it be a hobby. So kind of 2018, 2019, I thought lets jump in and see if we can sell some stuff-really more just to upgrade my power tool collection and help pay for our projects using somebody else’s money. That’s grown to the point where I turn down way more than I take on just to try to balance my full-time job with family life, with that as more of a hobby that brings in a few dollars.
Balancing work, family and workshop life
M: Right. I was going to ask you specifically about that; you have a full-time job, you have a family. Other than turning down requests from customers, what are you doing to balance all of that?
S: Yea. And we even homeschool, our youngest daughter who is getting ready to start her senior year of high school, so that will hopefully free up in a year. The big thing that I kinda said is just a limit of when and how long I’ll work on something. So part of that’s being realistic with the projects I take on and their deadlines. A lot of mornings, I will work an hour or two, maybe in the shop at like 5:30 am or 6:00 am, doing a little bit of working before I do my full-time job. Typically, in the evenings, I don’t do much woodworking-that is really family time. On Saturday mornings, I’ll work till lunch and then the afternoon and evenings, again, family time. Sunday afternoons I might do a little bit of something I want to work on-I don’t do any kind of paid work on Sunday, so maybe its cleaning up the shop, its just something that’s more relaxing and I can feel like there’s a break in the week, I’m not just running day in, day out.
That's kind of where I balance. It’s anywhere from 10 to 15 hours a week usually, just trying to be very intentional on the time that’s productive.
Scott's first custom projects for sale
M: You mentioned that these initial projects, they were for family members. What kind of projects were those and are those the projects that your first customers wanted as well? Or what was the woodworking project that really got you off the ground running, knowing this was going to be your side hustle and extra income?
S: Those first ones were really just reclaimed wood, like little boxes on the table for napkins or decorative stuff; some kinds of crosses and stars and different things. I think a few of the projects, some customers or friends had seen things in our home and asked if I would ever build stuff. I’d always kinda turned that down but they had interest in different kinds of things, they brought ideas to me and usually it was, if it interested me and I could make a few dollars on it then great. If it wasn’t interesting, I just didn’t want to do it, I wasn’t just trying to make money.
Some friends of ours have a tree house cabin in the smokey mountains and they were needing a platform bed, but it had to be able to be disassembled to a certain point to actually get it up into the treehouse. That was kind of one I took on for them. It was interesting, a little something different that I had done before.
Then I started making some cutting boards for some friends that are realtors, and they had seen me brand my logo onto my project. And were like, could you put our logo on that so I could give it as a housewarming gift or closing gift? So I kind of researched that and got into how to laser engrave. Now I’m like, yea, I can put your logo on it. So now, I guess in the last two plus years, I have probably turned out a couple of hundred cutting boards because I can put their logo on it, I can put the names of the buyers.
Popular woodworking projects and custom cutting boards
M: Would you say cutting boards are your most consistent project now?
S: Yea, I do. I don’t know, I probably do 10 to 15 a month for these realtors just as they’re closing gifts. I’ll batch out and make five or 10 at a time, and then as they need them, I’ll engrave and oil them up and finish them off. It’s not like doing one at a time and works out well.
M: It seems your business has grown significantly. Was there ever a project that somebody came to you and you knew you simply couldn’t do it? Would turning it down be a matter of time allocation or are their other factors, such as a nice that you want to stick to? How did you decide between projects in that way?
S: Yea, I’ve turned down a lot of work. Its either not interesting because I’ve, you know, its making the same table again. Or just because of the limited time in the week, its going to take a long time to get it to completion. It’d rather work on 10 small things or simply don’t have the space in the shop to take on certain sized projects.
(various custom made cutting boards crafted by Scott from Forest 2 Home hardwood kits)
Mixing creative elements in the woodshop
M: That’s understandable. Outside of wood branding projects like you mentioned before, are there any other kinds of mixing of mediums? That’s what I call it on the Forest 2 Home blog, where you incorporate other elements like wood burning, pyrography and wood staining. Are there other elements you really like to incorporate with your woodworking projects?
S: I don’t know that there is anything that I incorporate, I like to work with different materials as I’m going. If you look kind of back on my Instagram account-way back-I did a lot of stuff with barrels. Whiskey and wine barrels. I saw a picture of a wine barrel chair, I thought, well, those would be kind of cool, found a source locally for some and made two for sitting by our pool. They’re kind of an Adirondack style, kind of low sitting, relaxed and they’ve had a number of requests so I kind of made-being that we’re in the middle of Tennessee and whiskey is a big thing around here. I made a number of them out of Jack Daniels barrels, which was kind of a big thing. But then, I had made six or eight sets of them and was just kind of like, all right, well that’s been neat, lets try something else. I’d probably try different materials more than different styles of things.
Setting up a woodworking business
M: Very understandable. I have a few questions about sustaining a woodworking business while you have so much else going on in your personal life and professional career. What elements do you need to have set up to be able to have a successful woodworking business? It sounds like a lot of your customers have come through networking, but what about a website, or an Etsy? Or what kind of social presence do you need to be successful?
S: Yea, so I do have a website. I kind of set that up out of the thought that I have something out there in case somebody were to Google and go looking for it but I don’t sell anything through it. It’s really more just pictures of past projects. I have tried Etsy out and have a few items there. I found it to be very inconsistent for what I make, because I don’t batch out the same things consistently. And I really don’t like dealing with shipping-its one of those things you try to include in the cost but end up losing more money. So I think trying not to generate a bunch of revenue out of it, Etsy hasn’t worked out well but I’ve kept a few items out there and occasionally something will sell. Really, its been more of friends and family locally, just kind of know what I do and have seen the work.
I’ve sold things through local orchards and through their little farmer’s markets. Other than that, Instagram’s probably my biggest drive. I’ve tried to build YouTube a little bit. On Instagram, I was naïve that I was like, oh, if I get out there and I post my stuff, maybe I can get a bunch of freebies from companies. Then I realized I wasn’t social media savvy at all before that and there’s already 10,000 people doing this with tens and hundreds and thousands of followers. I had no idea what was involved, but it has slowly grown and, I learn how to put out better content and connect with others. I think out of it, more so, I’ve connected with other woodworkers and made more friends in the community than I ever imagined that path would go down that route.
M: I think that that is something common we hear from out woodworking community, that, if nothing else, Instagram has been a great way to connect with other woodworkers and other makers in such a positive way. For a new woodworker, or somebody who wants to become a semi-professional or complete professional, would you recommend Instagram as the platform they use for connection and advertising of their product?
S: Yea, I think it can work well. I’ve see that others that are doing it full-time. The goal isn’t driving followers but they have content out there and it seems to work well to drive sales either directly through Instagram or over to their Etsy or websites. For me, it hasn’t been that, but I’m not consistently doing that so I don’t think people would come to look at that very often whereas others maybe, you know, everyday they’re posting something new in a story that’s for sale. Then, shortly thereafter, they show that its sold. Its working for them in that regard.
Small business payment methods and custom-order projects
M: Just a few more questions from me. I think when you’re getting set up in a business, whether you’re doing it intentionally or otherwise, there are more elements than meet the eye. We think we can just start up but its not always that simple. Have you found that as you’ve established your woodworking business, there are different payment options that work best for you? You’ve mentioned your schedule and your website but what is working best for you that you didn’t initially think of when you started off?
S: I think, like payment wise, for me, Venmo has worked really well. I’ve just set up PayPal. I’ve got a square card reader, but I think I’ve only used that once or twice. Most people don’t carry cash and dealing with checks can be a pain, so Venmo has been kind of a consistent way of getting paid without any backend issues. Especially when it’s a person to person transaction kind of thing.
I think just kind of learning as a process. I think the hard part is learning how much time something will take, if you, especially, if you’re not making the same thing over and over in calculating not just material cost but your labor cost to where it is actually profitable to do it. You want to come out where you don’t lose money, but you might not actually make any. So there’s kind of a continual adjustment unless you’re making the same item a lot. You really need to know what your material and time costs are in there.
M: That’s great. My last questions here are, when you’re looking at the current market as a woodworker, what are people buying? What are they most interested in? Is it a certain species or is it a certain project and do you like making that projects?
S: I’ve had, it seems to be a lot of interest now in built-in cabinets, bookshelves, things that are more custom instead of just going and buying something generic at the big box store. I guess either people are setting up new homes or kind of updating their homes because they’re staying put because of what the markets doing. For me, going outside my house to work on things doesn’t fit in my schedule so I shy away from that. I’ve got a number of local friends that do that and are doing it at fairly high part-time hours or full-time. I always try to send work their way cause I’ve seen their work and its good. Keep those people busy that want to do it and need it.
Otherwise, I’ve seen a lot of people seeming to be into the live edge epoxy type stuff but it definitely is nice to see…I think there is a new generation shying away from, you know, the mass producing. They’re valuing handmade crafts of any type, whether its wood or not and they’re not just going to the big box store because they see value in unique items.
Workshop tips from Scott
M: Definitely! These answers have been super informative! Is there anything else you would like to add?
S: Sure! I think one of the questions I get through Instagram, from new folks or folks trying to step into it from a hobby to trying to sell stuff is what should they do and where should they go? The advice I keep trying to say over and over is that they really need to figure out what their niche is. Its going to be really hard to be everything to everybody. So, whether its cutting boards or built ins or whatever. They’ve got to figure out material and costs and overtime, you’ll get better at the items you’re repeatedly making so your quality is continually improving. Chances are if its good, your customers are going to show that off to their friends and family and you’ll see that word-of-mouth marketing show up. I think a lot of people do that well when they’re creating good projects.
Find Scott on Instagram by searching @seaman_custom_builds! Want to find more of the F2H community members? Follow along our Instagram account @shopf2h where live conversations and interviews with woodworkers, crafters, makers, DIYers and more are regularly featured! Happy Woodworking!