Penmaking articles Penmaking Tips
'Turning' A Profit

Can This Hobby Make A Profit?

by Scott & Kathy Griffith, premiere turning artisans
Reprinted by permission from Creative Woodworks and Crafts Magazine

Selling your work
Once you have accumulated a growing collection of completed projects, there are inevitably thoughts of how to start selling as well as questions regarding what you should charge. Pricing your turnings shouldn’t be difficult if you keep track of the expenses incurred. On the one hand, if the intention is to sell only a few items a year, then we have a simple formula to determine a base price: cost of ten kits + cost of bushings + cost of drill bit = base price of two completed items. This base price can be adjusted to include the price of wood (i.e. some exotic woods, such as pink ivory, are quite expensive, while American walnut doesn’t add much to the expense). Keep in mind the market to which you plan to appeal so your prices do not exceed the pockets of potential customers.

On the other hand, the penmaker who chooses to produce and sell wholesale and retail needs a much better accounting system. Take time to look into local zoning regulations, state licensing, tax collections, wholesale records, as well as regulations concerning home-based or cottage industry income. More information can be obtained through the small business administration, the Internet, or your local library (which probably has some good reference and guide material).

Once there is a product and a base price and the licenses are in order, where do you sell it? Keep your eye out for local craft fairs sponsored by schools, churches, fire companies and parent associations. There’s even a free website,, that may prove helpful with its “Sell Online” feature. Be sure to read the contracts and take the time to work out your setup prior to the show. Local fund-raisers often include silent auctions as well as raffles. Any products you donate will generate funds for the organization as well as provide low cost advertisement for the penmaker. Always be sure to donate first quality items so there is a lasting good impression.

Setting goals and ironing out the details
After you have participated in some local shows and feel ready to invest in your hobby, it is time to set some goals. This list should provide a loose schedule to guide your work and should include timelines for production, sales, display updates and inventory control. Set these goals in one- to six-month increments, and as each is achieved be sure to determine your reward (something along the lines of an equipment upgrade or addition). Before ordering any business stationary, be sure your business name is available and your licenses are in order. Check your phone company. Some require a separate number for in-home businesses.

Most shows have some display requirements, so be sure to read the contracts for each specific show. The basic setup usually requires a table cover that goes to the floor in front of the table. Our trick here involves a trip to the fabric store. Look for 60"-wide fabric in a solid color since your turnings will provide the pattern. Most shows use 8' tables that are 30" wide and 30" high. However, some have different sizes or may require you to provide your own tables; be sure to verify table requirements before paying the exhibit fee.

We will use a 30" x 30" x 8' table as our example. There is a chance the table would be exposed on one or both sides, so our fabric length includes the extra cover necessary (8' + 30" + 30" = 13' of fabric). Look for fabric that is machine washable and wrinkle resistant and keep the color neutral or black. Remember: this is the background on which your turnings will shine (see Fig. 6).

Fig. 6. Black fabric helps to enhance the appearance of your turnings when you are displaying at shows.

Lighting is a must to get the most sparkle from your turnings. The exhibit halls have area lighting, not task or spot lighting. Swing arm lights are economical and can clamp onto most tables. There are also a variety of light bulbs available. Check the recommended bulb size for your lamps. Look for daylight-type bulbs to get the clearest visual impact from the wood.

Always be sure to present yourself professionally. Depending on the location and its market, a sport coat may be called for. At most shows, a neat appearance is adequate. Treat your turnings as the valuable items they are being sold as; don’t just dump a mixed up box of turnings on the table (see Fig. 7). Use place mats to define a group of pens, i.e. all Polaris style pens on a mat with a sign describing the pen and the price for it (see Fig. 8). There are various trays, stands and boxes available, and I’m sure there are some very creative ideas just waiting to be discovered. Know the pens and their necessary refills; know the woods used and whatever history they might hold. We often have pens made from lumber reclaimed from log cabins, historic barns, or even a historic tree. The stories and history of these particular pieces can be really intriguing. You might also try gift boxes. If necessary, pass the cost on to the customer. The extra dollar or so generally causes no concern.

Your table should be pleasant to look at. Try to keep the clutter to a minimum and place several small notepads on which people can sample the pens. Still, the most important thing to remember: nothing beats a good first impression.


This article reprinted by permission from Creative Woodworks and Crafts Magazine


Fig. 7. The wrong way to lay out your turnings.

Fig. 8. The correct way to lay out your turnings.

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