Saddle making

Should I turn my hobby into a full time business and quit my job?

One of the most common questions that I get asked from younger craftsmen is, “When should I turn my hobby into a full time business and quit my job?”

This is a question that I do not feel qualified to answer.  Outside of college, I have never had a job.

This usually gets a chuckle in response… but it is the truth.

After I graduated from college I began doing contract work for the man I did my apprenticeship with.

I use the word apprenticeship without a complete understanding as to what a true “apprenticeship” might look like to others in the craft. But more on that in the future.

After some time he offered to sell me the shop and I began my dance with banks to make it happen.

Fifteen years later, years of trial and error, and piles of debt taken and paid off, here we set.

So when someone asks me if they should walk away from a secure career?  Walk away from a steady paycheck?  Maybe even walk away from health insurance, dental, not to mention their own parking spot… I say maybe not.

I once heard an ole boy say, closing his business and getting a job was like “coming in out of the cold.”

The Cost of Full Time

It’s easy to get excited about our businesses early on. We are making improvements on our skill level, product designs, and figuring out our pricing. With this, we are beginning to see some profits left at the end of the month.

If only we could put in more time. Then we would make that much more money. Heck, we have gotten the calculator out and figured the math on what we think we might make. We can’t fail! It’s a no-brainer!

The thing that we forget is all the other areas of a business that require resources when we decide to make it a full time gig.

It’s very easy to feel overconfident in our side hustles. But the thing we have to understand is that there is a ton of things that come with a “real job” that will no longer be there if we make the leap.

This goes farther than just health insurance, steady income, workman’s comp, vacation, and sick days.

When we take something we love, like leather craft, and try to force it to pay for our household, lifestyle, and kids college… the work takes on a whole new appearance to us. It may not happen right away, but it will happen.

Because at that moment, we have taken this thing that we love and put it up in a position of “it has to work.” This is a horrible way to treat the craft that we love.

If it fails to meet our needs, it can leave us struggling financially. Putting a strain on our family and lifestyle. This is a way to create a lot of resentment towards a skill that we once loved and admired.

Resentment Sucks…

I was in that type of a relationship with my beloved craft for a few years in my career.  I had taken something that I couldn’t get enough of and turned it into that one thing that I greatly wanted to quit doing.  I took time out of my schedule during those “dark” years to turn my focus towards trying to use my degree. I felt like I should get a “real job.”

I wanted so bad to come in “out of the cold.”

I smile now looking back on those days in my career, at how naive and immature I was. I look back and wonder what would give a 24 year old recent graduate the confidence to think that he knew the first thing about running a business. And more than that, I laugh thinking, “What was the banker thinking giving that kid a loan!”

Looking back I am glad that my wish to walk away wasn’t answered. Since that time in my life, I have worked on shifting the focus on the business. I have worked to create a business that I now love and plan to do till my ticket is called. But I also know that I could not have gotten to where I am now without the struggle that I went through.

But this is not to say that I would wish that type of timeline on anyone else. I had to experience that struggle and time in the shop’s history only because of the way I started it… unprepared, under trained and naive.

For what it’s worth…

So when a young craftsmen asks me when to take a side hustle or hobby toward a full time business, my answer is always …

If you are in a position in which you have a “real job” that pays for your bills, lifestyle and family, then don’t simply cast that aside so that you can live in your hobby everyday.

Don’t do that to your craft.

Use this season in your life to nurture your skills and craft. Spend time developing your product, honing your business skills, building your tribe of followers and laying the foundation. This will only strengthen your future business and save you the struggle that “is not” mandatory for success in this business.

You are in a unique position to be able to set your financial life on its own path through a full time career.

You can protect your precious leather craft business and keep it from the horrible chore of having to pay for your life. This gives it much better momentum to grow as well as your skill level.

“I have watched so many other people murder their creativity by demanding that their art pay the bills.”
― Elizabeth Gilbert, “Big Magic” (amazon affiliate link for a great book I read last year)

When you get to the point of making the jump, it should be such an easy transition that your family and your finances are not changed at all. It should even be a financial raise for you.

Making the change in this way will make you smile when you look back years later. Your business will be stable and your craft will not be hindered at all with the stress, anxiety and resentment that comes with having to get a project done by Friday so you can get paid and make the light bill.

How to Cut Parts from a Leather Hide

In this video, I show you how to cut parts from a leather hide for many types of different projects.

Choosing the right leather and the right spot to cut the parts on the hide, is crucial to creating the most functional and beautiful piece that you can.

If you are new to leatherwork, then cutting into a brand new full side of leather can be daunting.  But in this video I help to clarify some of the mystery and hopefully help you to feel confident that you are utilizing the resource to the best of your ability.

For more video tutorials like this, be sure and subscribe to this channel.  Also be sure and check out all our other Leathercraft Resources at and while you are there don’t forget to sign up for the Leathercraft Newsletter!

Here are some links for suppliers of Herman Oak Leather which is the leather that I use in my shop:

Thanks a bunch!

Sanding Tools for the Leather Shop

When it comes to getting the best possible edges in your work, sanding tools are one of the most important areas to focus on.  Without a well sanded edge on your leather project, you won’t be able to get the smooth finish you are looking for.  Even the best possible cut piece of leather still needs sanding on the edge to prepare the leather to be burnished.

There are many different ways to accomplish the same thing in leather work.  Sanding is no different.  There are antique line finishers, who’s sole purpose is to sand and burnish any leather edge to a high gloss finish… particularly on shoes and boots.  But these machines are heavy and take up a lot of room in a workshop.  There are cabinet finishers that take up much less room and do just as good of a job.  But finding one of these on the used market can be difficult… most folks won’t part with them.  There are even other “powered” machines used in other industries that can accomplish your sanding needs. Continue reading

Leather Sewing Machine Best Practices

Sewing leather is by far the most common task that we have in our leather shops.  Whether you are hand sewing everything, or using a leather sewing machine, you will have to sew leather on just about every project.  In this post, I share the first of a three part video series on leather sewing machine best practices with the hopes of helping you become more efficient and safe while using an electric sewing machine.

When I started doing leather work, I didn’t have a leather sewing machine and spent many hours hand sewing my projects.  Though this is not the most efficient way to complete projects, I do believe that it is very important to become proficient at this skill.  So if you are still in the hand stitching stage of your leatherworking journey, don’t fret!  You are at a very important stage and learning this skill will serve you well for the rest of your leather career.  But when the time comes when you can upgrade to an electric sewing machine, I would highly recommend adding this piece of equipment to your shop. Continue reading

How to Slick Edges on Leather

I have already written an article here on how to slick edges on leather, but in this blog post I want to share a video that I did that goes a little more in depth on slicking edges on leather.

If you have done any amount of leather work at all, then you have experienced the chore of finishing your edges on your various projects.  If you find this task time consuming and boring, then you are not alone.  This is probably the one task in all my projects that I do not love (actually dislike) the most when it comes to making anything out of leather.  But, at the end of the day, if you are going to do leatherwork and want to have a professional look about your work then you must properly slick and finish your edges. Continue reading

How to Make a Doctoring Saddle Bag

If you have been dabbling in leatherwork for a short period of time, or have been cutting your teeth in the leather industry for decades, then you have had someone ask you to make a doctoring saddle bag before.

These bags are fun at times and other times they can be a very challenging project to complete.  This is mainly due to the particular requests from the dayhand cowboy that is ordering it.  Every cowboy is unique and particular of how his gear is arranged in the tack room, how his horses handle, and how his doctoring bag is designed.  No two cowboys are alike and that can pose a challenge when designing one of these bags.

In this Quick Tutorial Video on our Youtube channel I show you how I approached this particular request we had this week in the shop.  This is by no means the only way to make this type of doctoring bag, but it is how I took a sketch and turned it into a useful tool for my customer.

Check out this video and see if this is something you would like to try and make.  If you like the design that I created here, then you can purchase the pattern pack that goes with this video by clicking HERE. Continue reading

A Review of the book “The War of Art” by Steven Pressfield

resistanceThis is a review of the book “The War of Art” by Steven Pressfield.  Pressfield has written many books in both the fiction and nonfiction space with one of his most successful being “The Legend of Bagger Vance.”

I am an avid reader of nonfiction books specifically directed at business and development.  I came across “The War of Art” last year and consumed it first in audio form while working in my shop.  After listening to the book multiple times and gaining great insight every time, I have added this book to my list of “Must Reads” for anyone wanting to succeed in their business and personal life.

If you are a creative in any field, this book will bring to the surface those things we all do that sabotage our focus and productivity.  Whether your gifts and talents are put to use as a hobby or they are the sole form of revenue for your household, using these talents in a way that the universe calls for you to do is not something you can ignore.  What Pressfield calls “Resistance” sets up shop in our lives with a sole purpose to keep you from that which your guts tell you has to be done to be complete and happy.

Continue reading

Do You have Projects You Procrastinate On?

img_1011Have you ever found yourself working happily on the project that you are most excited about only to have a voice in your head reminding you of that one job you put off for way too long?  Those projects you procrastinate on consistently? That one job that you set on the bench in the corner of your shop and feel it staring at you throughout the day?  In your mind you know that you need to just put down what you are doing and get it done so you can get back to what you love.  But as the days, weeks, or maybe even months continue to cycle by, you make an honest attempt to convince yourself that you will do it “tomorrow.”

 This is procrastination, resistance, or simply lying to yourself.  We all do this from time to time, but for some of us this can become a chronic disease among the best of craftsman.  We work so hard to improve our skills and talents, that we tend to put off the types of work that don’t add value to our skill set.  In an attempt to be good stewards in our business and remain financially responsible, we take these jobs because of our lack of confidence in our true passion.  We tend to look at these jobs as a necessary evil because it must be a sin to turn down work.  So we end up taking the project on, knowing in our minds that we don’t want to do them and in turn putting them off to the point that the customer is upset.  And we ourselves are upset for having to do them.

Continue reading

Saddle making and Cantle backs

In this video, I walk you through the process that I use to put my cantle back and plugs on when building saddles.

Everyone has their own way of doing this step within a build and this is just to show you how I do mine.

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