I am a disabled vet. Upon retirement, I began pursuing my lifelong dream of designing and building fine furniture. I work in a custom cabinet and furniture shop but am at a stand still. I need to learn more advanced skills in order to go out on my own. There aren't any other shops, furniture builders or schools in my area to find a mentor. I am in negotiations with the VA at this time to get the formal education to move on, but it doesn't look good. I'd like to know if there are any vets or disabled woodworkers out there that would share their experience in this profession, or methods and equipment used to overcome any obstacles they have had. I would like to be able to use any success stories as case histories when I go toe to toe with the VA.
(Business and Management Forum)
From contributor G:
Don't know if this will help or not...
Being a veteran myself, I did use my GI bill to help me get my journeyman certificate in cabinetmaking. It was a four year program working 8-10 hours a day and school 2 times a week for 3 hours a night. They paid me the difference between what the journey got paid and what I got paid. It helped me a great deal. I know the GI bill has changed over the years but it's something you might look into. Good luck to a fellow vet.
This is very expensive for the VA and consequently they don't go above and beyond to advertise it. If you don't get the right answers, call your congressman's office and ask for their veterans affairs liaison. You may want to back your call up with a letter. That usually helps unclog the system. The VA is a pain; most third world countries are easier to negotiate with. Keep after them. Sometimes they give you money to stop calling ;-)
My advice, as a long time shop owner doing everything from furniture with 40 employees, to furniture in a small custom shop, is to learn by paying your dues. Find a shop that does what you want to do and sweep floors if you have to till you get the chance to learn skills you think you need. You will learn not only the skill, but how to do it quick enough to make a living. Shortcuts don't work on the path to learning craftsmanship.
Disabled being a reason to question your choice of occupations? Maybe. We have tried several guys with physical handicaps that thought they could handle the job. Usually handling 4 x 8 sheets of panel stock will tell, or handling the boxes during assembly. Keep in mind that while a select few manage to climb into the top of the food chain, it came after years of bad pay and hard work. Being talented isn't enough to make it; experience and business skills are just as important.
Your comment about there not being any shops or schools in your area is something you need to think about as well. Why not? Most furniture is produced in China nowadays. Is this a way to earn a living or are you asking the VA to finance a hobby? Yes, on the east and west coast there is money spent on custom furniture. Do you have the time and the talent to compete in that market?
Forgive if I come across harsh, but if you need this to support you, look long and hard.
I've done it all over the years, literally thousands of press back chairs per year, over a thousand ball and claw foot tables per year, a couple thousand curved glass china cabs, restoration of $100,000 + antiques, down to cheap stuff for craft shows and one of a kind furniture. Don't turn your nose up at some of the inexpensive stuff. If it is done right, you can make some money and hone your skills.
Taking months to make a perfect piece can be done, but it isn't really a test of skill as much as a talent for finding suckers who will pay that much for a piece of furniture. The real test of skill level is doing really good work on a budget.
We do some of the highest priced kitchens in the state, but we will also do a three thousand dollar entertainment center. Open a shop, starve a while as you work your butt off, climb the food chain and have fun. I'll tell you one thing, with the price of overhead in most shops, you aren't going to learn much even if you find the kind of shop you want to work in. If my loaded shop cost is $30 per hour, it costs me $60 per hour to train an employee.
One of the benefits of a course like this is basic networking with other woodworkers, and I wondered if there was a way for you to do that where you live. Many small shops keep a low profile and don't advertise too much, and if they are good they may not need to. Check out WOODWEB's shop listings for businesses in your area that may not have a listing in the phonebook and perhaps you can meet some people doing the higher end stuff. As far as your disability hindering your work, that may be a bigger factor in heavy duty production work and something you could work around with special jigs and fixtures and teamwork in a more specialized higher end workshop.