Can downtime be good for a young woodworking professional?
Matt Buell in shop

Matt Buell says young woodworking professionals should make use of their downtime to reinvigorate themselves, their craft, and their business.

In the course of your long career as a professional I hope you stay slammed with incoming work. Unfortunately, Young Wood Pros, it is more likely that you will at some point have small pockets of downtime along the way. Especially in the early years of getting started. 

Do not be discouraged, the reality of our profession can be that at times things can be slow, although in my experience, they never stay that way long. If you end up being really good at what you do and run a good honest business, work gets more plentiful with time, continuous commitment, and hard work.

What is downtime?
For the sake of clarity, what I mean by downtime is time when you do not have any work in your shop. For this article and example, I’m speaking about it only really being a time period of one to a few weeks (longer than that is a whole different topic). 

Knowing it is likely that this can happen at some point, let’s talk about ways we can use it for the best. This situation is only bad if you choose to see it that way. Do not panic, there are ways you can use downtime that actually help your career.

Get some rest
The first way you can utilize downtime is obvious. Get some rest. It’s not lazy to rest your body, and mentally prepare for the next round of grinding at work. Take it from me, this profession can take a physical toll on you over time. I will admit having a little more downtime along the way would’ve been much more beneficial to me now. 

It’s also good to give your mind a break. running a business is stressful on many fronts. Clearing your mind and enjoying other facets of your life can be healthy for a short period of time. There is nothing wrong with coming back to work after a week of getting refreshed.

Time to upgrade
Downtime is also the perfect time to upgrade, install, and acclimate to new machinery. That process always takes a bit longer than I plan. It especially did in my earlier years of work. 

The process of getting bank loans and documents together can be slow. The time for preparing the workspace for new machinery and the proper integration of dust collection can also take time and focus. Consider yourself privileged if you can do so during downtime.

Clean and organize
Another way you can utilize your downtime, is to clean your shop. A clean shop space is safer and yields more efficient workflow. Obviously, the best practice is to keep your shop clean throughout the time you’re working, but we all know there are some jobs or times we are so busy it’s hard to get to all of that. 

Take this time to do a deep cleaning of your workspace, and to do a massive, thorough maintenance of all of your tools and machinery. In this time of cleaning your workspace I also would add that workspace improvements after a good cleaning are wise. When I have a little time to look around it is easy for me to remember certain things I had wanted to do to make my workspace better but have not had the time. 

This can be anything from building a new storage cabinet for something that you now have a need to store, it could be building new jigs or fixtures that you’ve been needing to better help your workflow. One example I’ve been meaning to get to is to make a veneer press or a vacuuming system for veneer work (I’m still deciding). The point is when you’re in the middle of a job it’s hard to justify breaking stuff down just to build a whole new fixture, and I have found those things can get put off when you stay pretty busy.

Better your skills
The last way to spend downtime is to get better at your craft. This is my favorite. Work on the thing you need to get better at or take the time to learn a new method that could widen your skillset and in turn, increase your capabilities and profit. We all have areas as craftsmen and craftswomen where we can be better. It is something I love about woodworking, there is always another level to aspire to. 

This is the time to cut loose and prototype something amazing out of some of the scraps and leftover lumber you have been saving from previous work. Enjoy the moment of just taking the risks of building something new without the pressure of money or people. 

I think this is really important because this is what will allow you to hold onto your love of this craft that can get muffled along the way of it being a business. For me it’s important to tap into the fun and excitement of a piece I personally want to see happen. Downtime is a perfect time for you to do that, focusing on whatever aspect of woodworking that might be for you. Stay in contact with the part of this craft  that excites you. This practice has kept my “woodworking heart” young, so I must recommend it to you.

Business focus
One final thought, if none of these ideas sounds like a good use of a little downtime, then I also would suggest looking at other aspects of running your business that could use your energy or have been neglected. 

This is a great time to up your marketing game and to get out amongst people to network. Ultimately you have to drum up some more business, it’s not going to do it on its own. Most importantly, it is vital to not get too down on yourself. If you can hang in there, I promise you there will be times in your long career when a little downtime might sound pretty good. 

#YoungWoodPro is a contest and an educational program sponsored by Grizzly Industrial to help novice professionals improve their skills in business and woodworking. Entries are closed for the 2024 contest, and the winner will be announced April 18 at Wood Pro Expo Illinois.

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About the author
Matt Buell | President/Owner/C-Level

Matt Buell of M. Buell Studio the host of the 2023 #YoungWoodPro contest and lead coach for the people who make up the YoungWoodPro audience. Buell has achieved national acclaim for his custom furniture and was honored as a member of the Woodworking Network 40 Under 40 Class of 2018.