A personal email from Benjamin Darrington:
Inspired by your book The Homebrew Industrial Revolution, I've decided to try my hand at this backyard industry thing.
I've decided to go into the furniture business. Per the ideas in your book, I'm taking advantage of new technology (or newly cheap technology) to start very simple with very low up-front costs, little or no overhead, and close to zero stock and no licensing or bank loans.
I'm ordering a 2'x3' CNC router kit from this guy
for $1,400. I think I can make cool, custom, coffee tables, benches, and shelves, that can compete on price with the mass-produced crap they sell at Ikea. For $15 in pine boards or salvaged materials, I should be able to make beautiful, one-of-a-kind coffee tables, emblazoned with highly-detailed old public domain woodcuts (or any image the customer wants). This sure as hell beats the hideous $40 MALM low-end particle board and plastic-veneer Ikea coffee table that you find in every dorm room and first apartment ever. I can even let my customers choose from a couple of different kinds of finish and leg design since I don't have to make the product until after they've actually ordered.
One idea I have is to sell my furniture at the local flea markets. With some pre-cut lumber and example pieces, I can churn out new articles for people while they watch. A CNC router is a pretty cool thing to watch if you've never seen one before. My customer gets an beautiful, inexpensive, piece of furniture and an interesting story, while supporting local, sustainable, industry.
Due to the nature of this sort of production, I can start small with a couple of simple items that I can market to local college students and hipsters (free delivery!). If they sell, I can move onto more elaborate and expensive items as my woodworking and artistic skills improve. The learning curve is shallow, and my risks are few. I can afford to botch some projects and turn out some dud products without breaking the bank or wasting massive amounts of materials. Eventually, I'd like to use digital camera shots from multiple angles, and the software that pieces them together, to make accurate reproductions of furniture and wood crafts that I find in museums or in the temples and palaces I visit in Asia and Europe. What a skilled craftsman, commissioned by an emperor, would have labored on for weeks or months, I should be able to reproduce quickly in my shop with minimum preparation and cost.
If things don't work out, I can pay for the router in a couple of months with extra money from my tutoring job, and I'm left with a cool craft toy that fits on a desktop. If I can make, say, $100 from the sale of a furniture set, I can pay for all of my capital machinery with less than 20 sales.