Student crafts career out of hand-built furniture
September 17, 2018
John Bieber has done woodworking since he was 15 years old. Now, he’s trying to make a business out of his hobby.
Bieber, junior in ACES, runs JB Woodshop — a business where he creates custom, affordable furniture for other students.
He learned his woodworking skills from his father, but Bieber found out over winter break that some form of carpentry or woodworking has been in his family since the 1850s.
The problem with furniture bought online or in department stores, Bieber said, is it’s not of high quality. He started his business to create furniture he said “makes the room,” while also earning a few extra dollars on the side.
“That’s the drive behind me making what I do. It’s quality stuff that’s going to last, that fits perfectly for the situations all at once,” Bieber said.
Bieber builds shelves, TV stands, flower stands, multimedia centers and more. Right now, he’s making a couple bookshelves and a multimedia stand.
For Bieber, a typical order starts with a Facebook message or phone call where he goes over what the customer wants and what they are expecting for the piece. If he’s at home, Bieber drives to the customer’s house, measures out the dimensions and sees the space to ensure he’s making a complementary piece.
Next, he draws a 3D sketch of the piece he shows the customer to make sure they’re on the same page. Then, he starts the creation process. Bieber purchases materials and supplies — like wood, glue and screws — at either Menards or smaller lumber stores.
The last part involves putting the piece together. Each project takes Bieber about a week, from start to finish. He also makes sure to keep the customer updated throughout the entire process.
With each project, Bieber likes to challenge himself and expand his knowledge. Every project is different.
Bieber said he changes it up by using different hinges or joinery techniques which challenges him to some degree.
“I try to do that with every project just so it’s as educational for me as it is someone who’s never really thought of getting hand-built furniture for their own place,” Bieber said.
Bieber works on the projects wherever he can. He sometimes goes home for a weekend to get all the boards cut, as that’s where he keeps his table saw. Bieber usually saves around five orders to cut in bulk at home. He transports the boards back down to campus and does the rest of the work in his apartment.
With the tools he has in his apartment, Bieber can do joinery with chisels and drills. He can also put the piece together, glue it and stain it. He saves the heavy power parts to do at home.
The price for each piece varies. Ninety percent of the cost is materials and Bieber charges around $20 for labor. He’s able to make the pieces affordable because he’s not trying to make a living off the business.
“I’m just trying to expand my hobby into something a little bit more than a hobby,” Bieber said. “At the same time, I understand the value of being able to have a personal, unique piece for your apartment.”
Bieber said he’s looking at his business right now as something that will help him build connections, and will give him a platform to expand on when he can build full-time.
Sara Mason, junior in ACES, knows Bieber from classes. Bieber built her a desk shelf that she uses for storage.
“When I heard that he did carpenter stuff, I was like, ‘Oh this will be a good way to get a really nice quality shelf that I can keep for a couple years. I don’t have to worry about buying it at like Ikea or whatever and worry about it breaking,’” Mason said.
She sent him pictures and dimensions, and from there, Bieber came up with a plan.
Mason said Bieber came up with many interesting ideas she wouldn’t have thought of. He asked what kind of wood, stains, trim and features she wanted, and if the shelf needed a back or crossbar.
“I really appreciated that, that he took a lot of input into what I wanted and it was like a collaboration,” Mason said. “He was the one building it, but he came and conferred with me if he had any questions or if he wanted to do anything that was maybe out of the norm.”
The shelf is just what she wanted. It fits all her items, is sturdy and it looks great, Mason said.
“The way it’s divided up, I have room for my books, I have room for my school supplies and makeup and any other kind of knickknacks I want to store,” Mason said. “It’s just storage, but there’s enough space that I can fit a mirror under and a desk lamp and I still have room to do all this stuff, and it doesn’t take up a lot of space on my desk.”
Emma Robbins, junior in ACES, is dating Bieber. He’s made her three different pieces: a plant shelf, a shelf in her bedroom and an organizational shelf in her bathroom.
Robbins said she had needed more storage for her spaces. So, Bieber came in, measured out the spaces and made custom shelves for whatever she needed.
“My shelf in my bathroom sits perfectly around all my outlets and where I have things hanging on my walls, so I didn’t need to move anything,” Robbins said. “It was custom made for my counter.”
Throughout the whole process, Bieber updated her and sent her photos.
Robbins said she loves how personalized her pieces are. She said there’s no furniture piece in a store that compares to a custom-made one. Robbins appreciated that Bieber took the time to measure out the space and consult with her.
“I’m really proud, this was just something that he loved to do as a hobby and it’s something that he really, really enjoys,” Robbins said.
She said she thinks it’s great that other people are starting to value Bieber’s work as much as she does.
“To me, furniture is like the intersection of every skill you can have in woodworking,” Bieber said. “You have to have the measurements, the precision of chiseling. Every thirty-secondth of an inch will add up and it will change the project. So it’s insanely important to be mindful of the bickery of precision.”