To put it bluntly, the entirety of my woodworking career thus far has been based on luck. I was lucky to come across a master craftsman in secondary school who ignited my interest in woodworking. I was lucky to be within commuting distance of a furniture making school. I was even luckier to have the full support of my parents when making this decision, let alone my Mum giving me lifts to the station and back 3 times a week, 20 minutes each way. I was lucky to have an Axminster Tools and Machinery store pop up in my hometown a year after starting at Rycotewood and I was lucky that they still took me on, despite being at full staff capacity upon opening.
I was lucky that I had an amazing group of friends and family when I had a long term relationship break down and I was lucky that they inspired me to be constructive rather than destructive at this time. I was lucky that I got a DSLR for Christmas and I was lucky that despite the initial confusion, my tutors and peers supported me when I first bought my camera into the workshop to start YouTube.
After graduating, I was lucky that I was sponsored a workshop for a year by Rycotewood at the Sylva Wood Centre. I was also lucky that my parents let me move back in after University, and for not charging me rent while I tried to grow my business and brand in that year.
I could go on but I'll stop there before the word ‘Lucky' becomes too meaningless. But you get the picture.
Now before I get stuck into the main bulk of this post, I'd just like to say that I often feel extremely guilty or have a strong sense of imposter syndrome when I do what I do. Especially when being open in posts like this. I realise that others don't have it as good as I do. Which infact is one of the many driving forces behind why I started the YouTube channel in the first place. (I'll write another post on this soon) I just want to give back to everyone instead of keeping it all to myself. This is a big factor as to why the Free Online Woodworking School is Free!
So how did I afford all of my equipment? Well as stated before, I was lucky enough to be sponsored a free workshop for a year thanks to Rycotewood, and I also worked at Axminster for 5 years. Hello staff discount!
Although, having these two benefits didn't automatically mean that my workshop was all of a sudden flooded with cast iron and Lie-Nielsen logos. In fact, those of you who have watched my videos for a few years will know that this has been a gradual process. And on top of the luck, a lot of it comes down to my patience and work ethic. While I often find it easier to criticise myself than I do praise myself, my patience and work ethic are the only traits that I will admire myself for.
In the past few years, I have rarely treated myself to luxuries. I don't buy nice clothes, I don't eat out often, I don't upgrade my phone every year, and I still don't have Spotify Premium. I also had a selection of very cheap cars for 5 years, instead of buying the most expensive, shiniest thing I could afford. (Although these inevitably started breaking down while my mileage started increasing. So I eventually had to cave into getting something more reliable)
Instead, I put all of that money towards tools, media equipment, and educating myself.
In fact, I roughly totalled up my purchases from Axminster over the 5 years I worked there and came to the conclusion that almost 3 years worth of my wages went straight back into their pocket. And that's only the Axminster purchases. That's a serious amount of tools!
The rest of my income was spent on material for projects at Rycotewood such as Bertha and Statum. It was spent on filming, audio and lighting equipment for my videos. And it was spent on 2 week long courses in London learning how to use the Adobe Premier Pro (For video editing) and Adobe After Effects (For special effects) among many other small transactions such as my website hosting fee, travel to and from the workshop, and the gym membership and business and personal growth books that taught me to look after myself. Not a penny was wasted on materialistic objects. They had to serve a functional purpose whether it's physical benefit or mental benefit, otherwise they were out of the equation.
I know many of you may be thinking “Ha! A guy who owns that many Lie-Nielsen tools is saying he isn't materialistic?! What a hypocrite!”
Without wanting to go to off on a tangent, I think it's the other way around. I think it's hypocritical for a woodworker to say to another woodworker “You do not need Lie-Nielsen tools because Stanleys work just fine!” Yet as soon as they get back to their workshop, they write a quote for a custom piece of furniture for a client, even though IKEA would work just fine! I'll probably do another post on this in the future because this comment really does get to me!
Despite being frugal in most areas of my life, I draw the line at anything around my business. I have the best lighting, the best camera and the best media equipment I can afford, because it pays off with the videos. And I have the best tools I can afford because I use them daily and I love supporting other small businesses such as myself.
As for where I stand now, I teach furniture making at the school I studied at. And I run my business where I teach woodworking on YouTube. My income from Rycotewood pays for my rent, bills, car and all that other fun stuff. Leaving me with next to nothing to play with each month. My income from my business doesn't even go into my pocket. Half gets re-invested back into the business, half goes into Index Funds to hopefully secure a stress free life in the future! (See FIRE Movement if you're interested) And I absolutely love it. I love what I do, I look forward to going to work every day and I feel in control… at the moment at least!
I do hope this post didn't come across as narcissistic or self indulgent. As stated at the start, I often feel guilty about the position I am in. I just wanted the post to serve two purposes. Firstly, so that people could know how I afford everything. But mainly so that it hopefully inspire someone younger (or older) than me to do the same and follow what their passionate about. Don't be caught up with owning the newest phone, or having the biggest shoe collection, or driving the flashiest car. Focus on things that make a big change in the long term as opposed to gain you gratification from your friends or family in the short term. (Who probably don't really care about your new shoes, car or phone that much anyway!) We will all be faced with some sort of luck in our lives, but you have to seize the opportunity while it's still there.
Let me know your thoughts below. Did it go too deep? Do you want to read more posts like this? Or should I just stick to dovetailing?
Thank you for reading!
Edit: After many years, I have just done my first self-confessed materialistic purchase outside of the business!
I have admired Sauer and Steiners work for a very long time but have never been able to afford it. But an opportunity arose a few months ago that I couldn't miss! His day job includes making high quality premium hand planes. But he recently made a batch of belts that were absolutely gorgeous.
I've been borrowing a belt from my girlfriend for the past few months and thought it would be time to treat myself and finally own some of Konrads work. So I went for it…
Hey, at least I'm still supporting a small maker right? 😉
I was curious how you had so many high end tools, thank you for the explanation. It’s about what I figured – you prioritized different things than I did. Makes perfect sense, and it’s your money, so no objections from me.
If you need someone to say it, then let me be the one: you’ve earned what you have, and you fully deserve the credit and respect you receive. The hard work & long hours you’ve put in is evident, as is the care and pride you take in your work. Your energy is infectious and that’s not something that can be faked or mined for clicks.
Thank you for your hard work, and I look forward to seeing you continue to grow.
All the best,
You are an admirable young man Matt. Smart, dedicated to your art and craft, a savvy investor great teacher, and fun to watch! I can see myself following you for a time to come.
I started into woodworking about 6 years ago. I was interested in high school but let circumstances at the time discourage me. I fell in love with CNC machines and bought one. That led me to woodworking equipment and now hand tools. Kind of backwards but it’s working for me. I’ve stocked my shop by denying myself of many things. I often joke that most guys joke about having a nice new car or boat or bike. I have woodworking equipment and love it. Keep up the good work.
As you say, there has been some luck involved, but ultimately you have worked and saved hard to build what you have. This is you investing in your education and establishing a business that, hopefully, will keep you inspired and fed for the rest of your days (or until you’ve had enough and you move onto another adventure). As for the rest of us, we are the lucky beneficiaries of all your labours. Please know that all you do is immensely valuable and enormously appreciated.
Fair play Matt! Hard work pays off!
Inspiring! keep on the good work and vibe
I feel you brother, although you may have been afforded a lot of advantages in life don’t let that detract from the fact that you have worked very hard to be where you are today. And nothing beats working with the best tools. cheers