Small Business Idea – Furniture Stripping

How to Get Started with a Furniture Stripping Business

start a furniture stripping business

Description of Job

• Clean valuable old furniture.

• Use chemicals to strip furniture of one or more old coats of paint, varnish, or other finishes.

• Prepare furniture for application of new finish.

The Need and Demand for this Business

Family heirlooms, an old favorite chair, or just a change in decor—sometimes it makes eminent sense to strip an old varnish, shellac, or paint finish from a still- usable piece of wooden furniture. Once the piece has been brought as close as possible to its original raw wood state, it can be re-stained and refinished.

The process can result in a rejuvenation of a valuable old piece at much less cost than buying a new piece.

wood stripping

Challenges Faced by This Small Business

This is not rocket science, but furniture stripping involves a great deal of hands- on dirty work and the use of caustic and toxic chemicals. You have to work within local, state, and federal regulations on the use and disposal of chemicals and waste materials.

Communicate clearly with your clients to make sure that they have reasonable expectations about the final product. Some finishes can be completely removed, and others cannot. Some modern finishes, including certain polyurethane and acrylic products, are difficult if not impossible to strip.

There are also some environmentally safe stripping solutions that don’t require special handling or disposal; depending on the finish being removed, they may be as effective as harsh chemicals.

Use chemically impervious gloves, eye protection, and protective clothing in your shop; make sure there is adequate ventilation to remove fumes.

Make sure your contract with the customer limits your liability for damage or loss of the furniture; don’t accept a very valuable antique or an irreplaceable heir- loom if your financial exposure is too high.

What You Should Know Before You Start This Business

The most common methods for stripping furniture are hand stripping, cold tank dipping, and hot tank dipping.

Hand stripping is the slowest, most labor-intensive, most expensive, and gen- erally the safest way to remove a finish. A chemical stripper is applied to the fur- niture with a brush, and after a specified period of time the solution is removed with rags and brushes; multiple applications may be necessary. Residue is cleaned off with lacquer thinner or other solvents.

For the cold tank method, the furniture is immersed in a tank filled with a chemical stripping solution. After a period of time, the chemical is scrubbed off and residue is washed off with water or a solvent. This method is generally the

quickest and least expensive option for commercial users and works best on pieces with just a single coat of finish; homeowners working on just one piece would end up wasting a great deal of costly stripping solution.

The most intense commercial stripping method uses a heated tank of caustic lye which removes many types of finish but may be too harsh for delicate pieces. The lye is washed off using water. A side effect of the use of lye is that it may darken some types of wood. For that reason, most pieces must then undergo a second dipping, usually in a tank of oxalic acid or a similar chemical to lighten the wood and neutralize any leftover lye. Hot dipping is well suited to removing layers of paint from architectural elements of a home, including doors, moldings, and banisters. It can also be used on painted furniture.

Modern chemicals are much easier to work with and less likely to cause any damage to furniture than older methods, but any stripping process has the poten- tial of causing some discoloration or other stress.

The most difficult finish to remove is paint, especially on pieces that have a lot of detail. For example, the paint on flat surfaces of a dresser may come off relatively easily, but it requires a lot of handwork to get the coating off of carved decorations, spindles, joined edges, and interior angles. Some practitioners use sprayers to get a stripping solution into tight spaces and objects as fine and small as jeweler’s or surgeon’s tools.

The final step may be to return the near-raw wooden piece to the customer for application of a new finish, or you may offer that service yourself. Some furni- ture strippers partner with expert furniture finishers.

How to Get Started In This Small Business

Advertise your availability at home centers, community centers, and retail stores. Make your services known to interior decorators, auction houses, and used fur- niture dealers. Place ads in newspapers and shoppers.

Ask satisfied customers to recommend you to friends and acquaintances; offer a bonus or discount for new business they send your way.

Up-front Expenses

The amount of up-front expenses for a furniture stripping business depends on the level of service you plan to provide to your customers. The least expensive setup (and the most expensive service to sell) is hand stripping; considerably more expensive are operations that offer cold and hot dipping.

For hand stripping, you’ll need tarps and level work surfaces, a selection of stripping chemicals, a set of brushes of various sizes and firmness, wooden

scrapers, disposable rags, and steel wool. You’ll also need containers for the safe disposal of flammable rags and other debris, and for disposal of used chemicals. To protect yourself, you’ll need heavy rubber gloves, safety glasses or a face

shield, and a strong ventilation system. For dipping, you’ll need several tubs large enough to fully accommodate a

piece of furniture and hold caustic chemicals and acids. You’ll also need to ar- range for safe disposal of large quantities of the solutions.

How Much to Charge for this Service

Charge an hourly rate for your time and the use of chemicals, tanks, and tools. You can offer the client an estimate of hours, but be careful not to lowball the price for intricate pieces. Plan on at least 50 percent more time for removal of paint than for shellac or varnish, and add more time for pieces with intricate carv- ings and inside angles.

If the customer has not already removed hardware such as knobs, hinges, and badges add time or a fee for that service. Add a freight charge for pickup and delivery.

Many companies also add a charge for disposal of hazardous wastes, either as a percentage of the total price or as a flat fee.

Legal and Insurance Issues

Special notes: In dealing with your client’s property, seek to limit your liability for damage or loss to the actual replacement value of items in your possession. You should protect yourself against claims for sentimental value or loss of use.

Small Business Idea – Wallpaper Hanger

Start a Small Business As a Wallpaper Hanger

wallpaper hanging business idea

Description of Job

• Consult with homeowners on wallpaper projects.
• Measure walls and order paper.
• Hang wallpaper and special treatments, including trim and borders.

The Need and Demand For This Business

Wallpaper is an attractive way to decorate a home, but most homeowners lack the time or the expertise to do a professional job by themselves.

Here’s a secret: It’s not that hard to do and does not require great feats of strength. You can learn to hang wallpaper in your own home or by working with someone else on a project, and then you can use your skills to start a profitable small business.

Challenges Faced By This Small Business

No two jobs are the same. The shape of walls and their condition will vary greatly. Some wallpaper patterns are much more difficult to match panel by panel. Some wallpapers are heavier or in other ways more difficult to work with than others.

You need to know how to accurately measure walls and how to apply those measurements to standard widths and lengths of paper.

You should also become an expert on wallpaper itself, able to make recom- mendations to your clients on the best products and to warn them off of a selec- tion that will not work well in their home or that is extremely difficult and expensive to install.

Sometimes the most difficult part of the job is in preparing the walls for the paper. There may be layers of old wallpaper to be removed, rough paint surfaces that need to be smoothed, holes to be filled, and any number of past sins to be covered up.

Any liability you accept should be limited to the value of the paper itself. In general, you should have the homeowner remove any paintings or other wall hangings and move furniture out of the way before you arrive to do the job.

What You Should Know Before Starting the Business

Visit home supply stores and wallpaper specialists to become familiar with all the different types of coverings. Contact some of the manufacturers and ask for samples and technical advice. You’ll find a wealth of information on web sites from stores and manufacturers.

You need to learn which types of paper work best in particular rooms. For example, wallpaper in a bathroom is subjected to a great deal of humidity, and paper in a kitchen needs to resist food and grease splatters. You should learn about different hanging techniques for various types of paper.

An important skill is learning how to match patterns from panel to panel; some wallpaper allows for easier matching than others, and some room designs may make installation much more difficult.

Make contact with wallpaper wholesalers and find out about programs they offer to small businesses. You may be able to direct-order wallpaper on behalf of

your clients, offering them a discount from retail prices or building some addi- tional profit into your business by reselling the wallpaper at retail price.

When you purchase wallpaper for a job, make sure the store or wholesaler is willing to take back unopened rolls of paper; you should generally order more paper than you think you will need to account for errors and problems you may encounter.

You may also be able to work out a deal to receive a discount or a commis- sion from a retail store on wallpaper and supplies you purchase on behalf of a client.

Look for information about wallpaper companies on the Internet and in ads (many of which you’ll find in women’s and home improvement magazines).

How to Get Started in the Wallpaper Hanging Business

Post ads and flyers at home supply stores, in community centers, and elsewhere. Place ads in neighborhood newspapers.

Make yourself known to area contractors who may need to hire wallpaper subcontractors for new construction or renovations.

Ask friends and relatives to spread the word, and offer discounts or referral fees to satisfied customers who recommend you to new clients.

Up-front Expenses

In addition to advertising and promotion expenses, you will need ladders, buck- ets, drop cloths, and brushes. You will also need measuring equipment.

Depending on your level of experience, you may want to practice on walls and rooms in your home before seeking outside work.

How Much to Charge For This Service

Jobs can be priced on an hourly or square-foot basis; if you charge per square foot, adjust the rate upward if the walls require extra preparation or if there are any extraordinary demands on your time.

In addition to the cost of time, the customer should pay for the wallpaper and supplies, including paste. If you order the wallpaper from a wholesale source on behalf of your client, you can mark up the price to retail prices or slightly below.

Be realistic in any estimate you make on the number of hours the job will require, and don’t promise completion of a job by a particular date unless you are certain you will have all of the supplies and the job entails no special effort.

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Small Business Idea – Low Voltage Outdoor Electrical Wiring Installations

How To Start A Business Doing Low-Voltage Outdoor Electrical Wiring Installation.

Outdoor wiring business idea

Description of Job

• Install low-voltage landscaping and driveway lighting.

• Install specialized low-voltage illuminated street numbers, poolside light- ing, and deck lighting.

The Need

Nighttime lighting can serve security, safety, and decorative interests. Many homeowners like to show off their landscaping by night with subtle lighting. In other areas, a bit of light helps demarcate driveway edges or winding pathways.


The biggest challenge to installers of outdoor lighting is avoiding excess. Poor design wastes energy and creates “lighting trespass” that bothers neigh- bors, dangerous glare that can affect pedestrians and drivers, and “lighting pollu-

tion” that washes out the view of the dark night sky. As an installer, you need to work closely with your client and tour the prop-

erty to design the best system. You may need to work with a licensed electrician in some localities, espe-

cially if you are asked to include high-voltage outdoor area lighting and motion detectors for security.

Know the Territory

This is a job that can be accomplished by anyone with a small amount of land- scaping and simple home improvement skills.

In most jurisdictions, use of low-voltage systems does not require the involvement of a licensed electrician; if your client’s home does not have a proper exterior outlet or access to an indoor outlet, you will have to engage an electrician to have one installed.

Plug-in lighting systems attach to an outdoor grounded outlet with fault- interruption protection or to an indoor outlet. A transformer reduces line voltage to safer 12-volt power.

Another alternative is the use of solar-powered lamps that use batteries that are recharged by sunlight each day and require no wires to interconnect them.

Consult web sites, catalogs, and home supply stores to learn about available systems and techniques. Contact manufacturers or distributors for samples, cata- logs, and photographs of lamps and accessories.

How to Get Started

Advertise in community centers and garden centers. Some hardware stores or home centers may permit you to advertise your installation services in return for an agreement to purchase lights and supplies there.

Send brochures and letters to landscapers, pool installers, and contractors asking them to recommend your services to their clients; you may want to offer a bonus or commission for business they refer your way. Ask satisfied customers to advise their friends, offering them a bonus or discount.

Up-front Expenses

For most jobs, you’ll need a power trenching tool; this device can be a single- purpose unit or one that attaches to other equipment, such as a rototiller or a trac- tor. Short runs may be possible with hand digging.

You’ll also need some basic hand tools, shovels, and hole diggers.

Other expenses include creation of a portfolio of samples of available sys- tems and advertising and promotion.

How Much to Charge

You can charge a flat rate for your services based on the number of lamps and the length and complexity of the wiring involved, or you can quote an hourly rate. Add the cost of any lights, wire, transformers, and accessories; you should be able to purchase equipment at wholesale or discounted rates and resell them to your client at retail prices.

Legal and Insurance Issues

Special notes: Some municipalities have ordinances aimed at reducing light pollution, and some subdivisions may have regulations that limit outdoor light- ing. Some localities may require a licensed electrician’s involvement or an elec- trical inspection.

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Small Business Idea – Garden Tilling Service

Description of Job

• Using a power rototiller or similar equipment, turn over a garden patch at the start of a season to prepare it for planting.

• Mix fertilizer, lime, or other garden chemicals into the soil.

• Cut down plants at the end of the season and compost the greens or haul them away.

• Turn over the earth at the end of the growing season to prepare it for the winter.

The Need and Demand for the Service

Garden tiling

Have rototiller, will travel. Many homeowners love to grow their own little patch of tomatoes, green beans, onions, and flowers. They look great and taste better than anything they’ll find in the supermarket. (So what if the tomatoes end up costing them several dollars apiece or if the massive zucchini squash quickly outpace their ability to eat them, give them away, or use them as doorstops?)

For many gardeners, the most difficult part of the process is tilling the earth: breaking it up to a depth of six inches to a foot to allow easy planting and faster growth. Doing it by hand is a major chore, and purchasing a power tiller does not make sense for the casual gardener.

Your appeal is that you will bring a heavy, commercial rototiller or small tractor to their property and make quick work of a job that is beyond their abili- ties, interest, or equipment.

Challenges faced by the business owner

This is a seasonal job, with most of the work coming in the spring; jobs in the fall will be less common. You’ll need to amortize the cost of the machine and trailer over a fairly short period of time.

Things You Should Know About The Business

Tillers come in front-tine, mid-tine, and rear-tine designs; in general, rear-tine machines are the most powerful, and front-tine devices are more maneuverable. Mid-tine tillers claim to balance power and maneuverability. Spend the time to research (and test, if possible) various designs to find the one that suits your needs best.

The horsepower of the engine varies; the larger the engine, the more power- ful the churning of the earth and the movement of the wheels. Some designs use the rotating tines themselves to move the machine forward; many commercial designs apply power to a set of wheels that help pull the heavy device forward while the tines concentrate on breaking the earth.

Many lawn tractors with a power takeoff can be adapted to add a tiller; they may have sufficient horsepower to do the job, but may not be as maneuverable as a special-purpose tiller.

How to Get Started with the Garden Tilling Business

Post flyers and ads at garden centers and community centers. Place ads in news- papers and shopping guides.

Ask satisfied customers to recommend your services to others; offer a bonus or discount for new business they refer your way.

Up-front Expenses for the Business

Commercial-grade rototillers cost in the range of $500 to $1,000 or more. Lighter-weight and less capable units intended for casual gardeners sell for as lit- tle as $300.

You may be able to find a reconditioned used machine through a dealer or pri- vate seller; either way, you will need a reliable source of parts and maintenance.

Other up-front costs include a trailer and hitch and a vehicle capable of pulling the tiller from place to place; you may be able to use a ramp and open- bed of a pickup truck to transport the device.

You’ll also need to pay for advertising and promotion.

How Much to Charge

Charge an hourly rate, taking into account the cost of the equipment, wear and tear, gasoline, and your travel time to the site. Add a surcharge for especially dis- tant travel and for especially difficult access to the property. Add the cost of fer- tilizer, lime, or other garden chemicals tilled into the ground.

Legal and Insurance Issues

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