No announcement yet.

I need some advice

  • Filter
  • Time
  • Show
Clear All
new posts

  • I need some advice

    The past few years I've been giving semi-retirement a try, but of late I notice I've been getting a bit bored, and am looking around for something to do to fill in the time. Plus, I have to admit, the retirement fund isn't quite up to where it should be, so I'm thinking it's probably a good idea to add to it while I'm still able. I enjoy spending time in my shop, so I got to thinking, what the heck: why not kill a couple of birds with one stone and see if I can generate a little revenue doing some work for local firms?

    I have a pretty well-equipped shop in my basement, and I have about 30 years experience as a machinist and mechanical designer, so I feel pretty confident that I can handle any jobs that are within the capacity of my equipment. My equipment is all manual, and is a bit small by professional standards, but I can get a bigger lathe or mill if I need it. I live in CT, so there are many sources of used machinery around.

    What I'm wondering is, what kind of work should I look for? I don't have much experience doing production machining, and that's fine with me. The thought of making hundreds of the the same part really doesn't turn me on. A dozen or so is OK, but that's about it. Besides, I doubt I could compete with the CNC guys. With my experience making prototypes is an obvious possibility. Also maintenance machining. Can anyone suggest any other possibilities?

    One other question, related to the above. What's the best way to approach a company for work? Call on the phone or knock on doors? And who do you talk to? I've designed a business card, and I'm making up a facilities list, as I know I'll need one. I thought about a flier or brochure that I could mail out, but those require pictures, and I have very few. Who takes pictures?

    I'm thinking that with the focus of this forum being on the home machinist there might be others out there in a similar situation. I thought about posting to PM but they're all pros over there and I'm afraid they'd tell me that without a basement full of CNC equipment I can't do a thing. I'm not looking to start a big business, just enough to keep one guy busy.

    Sorry for being so windy. Any advice or suggestions would be appreciated.


  • #2
    Bob, some shops that are full of CNC equiptment occasionaly get or have offered a job that is not worth the time it takes to write the CNC program to run it. The Shop Foreman should/could put you on to such customers, or perhaps even sub-contract some of it out to your shop.


    • #3
      A couple of thoughts come to mind. A lot can depend on your personal interests.

      The first thing is that since you are not making any money now, any additional income is a plus. Many times the feeling is that if you are not generating some significant hourly rate, you are wasting your time. I do not agree with that concept, but feel that if you are doing something you enjoy, and can turn a dollar at it you are ahead of the game.

      Depending on the size of your machines, you can probably find repair work at smaller manufacturing facilities in your area. A list of the tooling available and a resume of your experience and abilities mailed or dropped off in person will help in getting your name out. Try to talk to the maintenance people or production manager, and let them get to know you. You have advantages over large shops in being able to provide a quick turn around and availability for emergency work. The same applies to small production runs.

      There are other areas to consider. One is writing for the magazines. If you are making something in your shop now, the little additional time involved in photographing the procedure, making the drawings and writing it up will generate cash from something you will have done anyway.

      Another area is what are your hobbies? Many HSM's make model engines or other models. There is a good market for these, and making two or three at a time does not double or triple the time involved.
      Jim H.


      • #4
        Originally posted by JCHannum

        Another area is what are your hobbies? Many HSM's make model engines or other models. There is a good market for these, and making two or three at a time does not double or triple the time involved.
        JC (or anyone with knowledge of this topic),

        i have a question on this. do you mean there is a market for completed and assembled model engines, or there is a market for kits for people to buy and assemble their own engine? i see the models at various places on display, but i never really thought to search for completed ones for sale. my assumption was that folks buy the kits and build them themselves.

        i'm not looking to buy one (or start a business building them), just wondering.

        andy b.
        The danger is not that computers will come to think like men - but that men will come to think like computers. - some guy on another forum not dedicated to machining


        • #5

          You mentioned that there is a "good market" for model engines. I wonder if you would
          be willing to expand on that a bit. I haven't had much luck finding anyone
          here (Southern California) who would be willing to pay a reasonable price for a
          model engine.

          By reasonable price I mean something like $700 for an engine that might have
          required 80 hours to build - an effective hourly rate of ~$10. I realize that
          hobbyists building one-off models are never going to approach reasonable shop
          rates but I'm not going to sell something I sweated over for less than what it
          takes to, say, buy a nice piece of shop equipment that would ordinarily be too
          expensive to consider.
          Regards, Marv

          Home Shop Freeware - Tools for People Who Build Things


          • #6
            About a year ago, I hit several local machine shops to see about having some dovetail ways flycut. As it turned out, most were not set up to handle stuff that large and one that was was still looking at substantial setup/shop time at $150/hour to do the work. I was going to end up spending nearly $1000 to reduce some scraping time. In the end, I let my muscles save me some money. Most of the local firms cater to a local large heavy equipment manufacturer and have plenty of work and don't want to do some of the more trivial one-off stuff.

            I would go find the person in charge at some of the larger job-shops and pass along a business card. He may have inquiries from guys like me where they don't even really want the business or the customer can't afford them. If you can justify your time at a lot less than the "going rate", it may make sense for them to send guys like me to a guy like you for the one-off stuff.

            If you are a talented machinist, you may be able to do things the others cannot, too. I was reading an article yesterday in some sort of on-line industry publication about a shop business that was going gangbusters. The guy in charge came to the realization that the sort of thing that is most likely to get sent to China is the higher-tolerance or smaller size stuff. His shop chose to specialize in large machining and very close tolerance stuff so that they narrowed their competition.

            Paul Carpenter
            Mapleton, IL


            • #7
              BB, try your head around this. Instead of trying to bring in work, what about you offer your skills to any shops in your area at a discount (cash, maybe) rate?
              Just got my head together
              now my body's falling apart


              • #8
                There is definitely work out there for guys who do prototype parts, which is how I started. I was staying fairly busy doing a prototype here and there, and working a full time job. I had only manual machines at the time. One day I went to an auction and purchased a CNC knee mill. That really helped allow me to prototype parts much faster and a couple of the companies I worked for asked me if I could produce their parts in larger quantities. I wanted to work out of my shop full time so I quit my day job, sold my house, moved to a state where I could pay cash for a house and afford to start a business, bought a CNC lathe and VMC and now this what I do.

                Most of my work now is production work, which seems to be where the money is. But I still do prototype work, I will be starting a prototype job today on some water distribution manifolds today for a company in Texas. This job could turn into hundreds of parts a month. Right now I have a 30 day backlog so I really need to hire someone but I am putting that off as long as possible, I'll just keep working the 12+ hour days, which I don't seem to mind because I am not punching a time clock for someone else and I get to play in my shop all day. I have a job running on my lathe right now that is a quantity of 10,000+ parts. On jobs like that my wife will sometimes run the lathe or I have friends who come by and run it while I catch up on other stuff.

                Another area of machine work that can make you money is doing repair work. My friend has a small shop a few miles from here and he mostly does repair work. He fixes broken parts, makes replacement parts, modifies parts, welds and does general shop stuff. He seems to stay very busy.

                When I first opened the shop here I made up business cards and went around to local businesses like the rental yards, auto repair shops, bicycle shops, machine shops and any other business that could possibly need machine work. That generated quite a few jobs and got my name out there but took up a lot of time. Now I seem to get most of my work from word of mouth and the Internet. I recently picked up a prototype job from this BBS ( I also do sublet work for other machine shops.

                Another thing that helps is to have a product you can manufacture when work is slow. I have a couple of items I make but have been so busy I haven't been able to for a while.
                Mark Hockett


                • #9
                  I need some advice

                  Another aspect of the small shop for hire comes to mind. If you are doing jobs by word of mouth and do not have a huge volume of work, how do you set up your business to be legal and not become a red tape nightmare? I am in the same boat and plan to set up a business doing prototype and small production runs of simple gadgets for my former employers on a cash basis. I am not sure if I would be better off as a chapter S corporation, self employed, or as a consultant. You need to keep the government's palm greased and have liability insurance (so someone can not sue you out of house and home) but how exactly is the best way to go about it. I know some of you are doing this successfully and hope you can help a noobie self employed type with some advise.
                  Jim (KB4IVH)

                  Only fools abuse their tools.


                  • #10

                    You came to the right place for advice.....(or is that opinion?)

                    If you relish your semi-retirement, whatever that is, then you have to decide what you really want to do.. I mean of course, what machining you enjoy and are good at, and develop that into a niche job market.

                    Let's say that bicycling is really hot now. (Or skate boards, or hot rods, or industrial aerospace get the idea, this is just an example). Do some research and find out what breaks or what people are needing the services of a machinist for. In our example here, bicycle shops generally only replace parts or tune-up bikes so even the shop itself could use a machinist who could repair or custom build their customers part.

                    Empires have been built on just making quick release seat posts,

                    You got a computer; make up some business cards, or 5x7 cards telling what you will do for the customer, add some bling since that's what people expect now-a-days, and go to every place in your city and post on their bulletin boards. Go to some rallys or hang-out spots and pass out some cards. Check your answering machine to see if there is a market for you. If not, change markets and try again.

                    If you want to stay in the industrial or machining job-shop market then your competition will be pros and you will not be exposed to the yuppee who just wants his toy fixed.

                    Yuppees have more discretionary money for their toys than a company that needs a one off, close tolerance widget to fit in their high tech gadget.


                    • #11
                      The model engine kits are one method of generating business. At least one of the contributors to this forum is making castings for sale. The market for completed models also exists. A good place to look for customers is at farm engine & tractor shows. It might not make you rich, but it will cover your expenses and more.

                      Again, the rate/hour is the decision the individual will have to make for himself. If you feel it is not worth your time to make less than a certain amount, you will have to decide that. Quite a few of us get enjoyment or entertainment from spending three hours to make a $10.00 part. If you spend three hours and fifteen minutes and make two and sell the extra one for $10.00, what is your hourly rate? It can be either $3.25 or $40.00 depending on how you look at it.

                      If you don't think that there is a market for models and miniatures, look at some of the work done by rivett608 on the PM site. He, and more than a few others like him make a very good income from this sort of work.
                      Jim H.


                      • #12
                        hello Bob, I retired at 62, am 65 now.I knew I wanted to make custom knives when I retired, and spent the last two years of my "fulltime" getting a shop ready and building the equipment I would need.,Specificaly two 2x72 belt grinders.My knives are in the $150 to $300 range.No, I don't sell one every day or even every week,but they do bring in extra income to supplement the ss, and keep materials in the shop.the main thing is, this is what I enjoy.there is a market in the knifemaking community for good belt grinders that are affordable.may be something to think about.If I can help in any way,just holler....Tom


                        • #13
                          Specialized Parts

                          I've made several parts for the combat robot community. I myself am a builder and competitor. Several of the guys I would hang out with have had me make one of type parts. Even though I usually spend an hour or two or three on their parts, I usually only charge about $20 bucks or so. Depends on the age and if my customer is employed or not. Several of my customers are junior high or high school students. I do the work to keep them interested in the hobby and I get a chance to improve my machining skills.
                          No matter where you go, there you are!

                          Hal C.