How to start a fabrication business from your welding and metalwork hobby?

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If your interest is making things using welding and your metalwork skills, could you start a fabrication business?

1. What is the definition of fabrication?
2. What are the typical materials used in a fabrication business?
3. Which type of people are amateur metalwork fabricators?
4. Are metalworkers and welders usually creative?
5. The typical home metal workshop tools
6. What is the difference between a hobby and a fabrication business?
7. How do you get from being an amateur into a business owner?
8. What is a micro-manufacturing or micro-fabrication business?
9. What does owning a fabrication business entail?
10. What changes to your workshop might you need to make to start a fabrication business?

We all know that many people are looking for new ways to boost their income or change their lifestyle. We also know that there is a strong focus on buying locally manufactured products.

If we take those phenomenon together, now could be a perfect time for hobby fabricators with good metalworking skills to become a small business owner.

Should woodworking be more of your interest, check out this article about starting a woodwork business.

If food is more your thing, what is it like owning a mobile coffee business?

What is the definition of fabrication?

Fabrication is the process of making something from raw materials. It is distinct from other forms of manufacturing that may involve the assembly of pre-finished components. The output of fabrication is finished structures or products.

Metal fabrication, as the name suggests, involves cutting, grinding, bending, folding, joining or welding, metal.  

Fabrication can be carried out on either a small or large scale. Small-scale, commercial fabrication is usually carried out in workshops or light industrial units. Large-scale fabrication businesses, on the other hand, often reside in enormous, sprawling factories.

In most cases, Fabrication businesses are considered to be part of the manufacturing industry.

What are the typical materials used in a fabrication business?

Steel fabrication can use galvanized or non-galvanized materials such as:

  • Circular Hollow Section (CHS)
  • Rectangular Hollow Section (RHS)
  • Square Hollow Section (SHS)
  • Sheet metal
  • C-Sections
  • I -Sections
  • L-Section or right-angle steel
  • Rods  
  • Flat Bars

Aluminium fabrication is also very popular due it its lightweight, corrosion resistance and availability in extruded shape profiles. 

Image of man hammering to indicate metal worker

Which type of people are amateur metalwork fabricators?

Amateur metalwork fabricators come from a variety of backgrounds. It is not uncommon to find engineers, apprentice-trained tradespeople or mechanics engaging in it. There are also plenty of amateurs with no formal qualifications, giving metalwork a go. One common thread is that they all have heaps of talent and passion for working with metal. 

Often, metalwork enthusiasts develop their skills and knowledge over time and eventually reach a high degree of competence. They are often members of groups, regularly attending meetings or events in their area of interest.

Some of them might also be active in internet forums or have even run YouTube channels!

They get a buzz out of what they do!

In many cases, amateur enthusiasts do not have experience in running a business.

Are metalworkers and welders usually creative?

Fabricators and welders are often highly creative, coming up with designs and making physical products that solve problems. Often, though, they do not consider themselves as “creatives”. 

Some metalworkers produce sculptures or decorative metal art as opposed to functional products.

Some gifted welders make welds that are best described as a work of art, worthy of millions of Pinterest and Instagram followers! While others love to devote their passion for metal work to creating products that solve every day problems.

Whatever style they pursue, I’d say its a given that creativity is an important part of any metalworkers’ toolkit.

If your style is more of an artisan than a fabricator you might find this this post about starting a part-time artist business interesting.

The typical home metal workshop tools

As a hobbyist, you probably use a variety of power-tools or hand tools such as:

  • bench drills
  • rivet guns
  • hydraulic presses
  • welders
  • plasma cutters
  • grinders and linishers
  • hand drills
  • air compressors
  • lathes or milling machines
  • metal benders or folders
  • metal bonding adhesives and sealants

You may work to plans, drawings or sketches of your designs. Alternatively, you may just work from designs you’ve imagined in your head.

As an amateur, you are likely to be working from your home, shed or Garage. And, as a result of limited space, you probably only work on one project at a time.  

What is the difference between a hobby and a fabrication business? 

Hobbies are great fun. They can also be a great release from the pressures of daily life.

For your metalwork skills to generate an income, however, you will need to scale up. In addition, to attract a constant supply of work for your new business, you will need to engage in some marketing and sales activities.

You may also need to review the tools that you need in a business and here’s a good article about  What is the difference between DIY and professional-grade power-tools?

Building your hobby into a business will require you to do some planning before you start.

Some questions that spring to mind are:

  • Do you have a business owner mindet?
  • What products would you make?
  • Are there enough customers out there?
  • How would you tell the world you exist and get work?
  • What prices would you charge, and when should customers pay?
  • Are they any local licences or restrictions that you must meet?
  • What would be the best legal structure for a backyard business?
  • How would you produce designs for customers to approve?
  • How do you work out how much money you will need?
  • Will you make enough money?

How do you get from being an amateur into a business owner?

  • If you want to start your own business, the first question to answer is Should I Own A Business? The purpose of the “Should I Own A Business Podcast?”, and our specially developed pathway to business ownership, is to help you answer this question. After all, being a business owner is not for everyone and our Small Business Stories are a great resource.
  • There is some personal preparation that you can undergo to increase your chances of success. The place to start is establishing what you want to achieve in life and then understanding your motivation.
  • Owning a successful small business requires a lot of things to work in harmony. It is vital to have a good understanding of them before you leap in. 

What is a micro-manufacturing or micro-fabrication business?

Micro-manufacturing refers to the size of the business rather than the size of the products. Many countries describe the smallest firms that employ one or a few people as “micro-businesses”. Increasingly, micro-businesses are involved in manufacturing or micro-fabrication.

Micro businesses are found in all economies and account for the greatest number of businesses. 

What does owning a fabrication business entail?

As a part-time or full-time Fabrication workshop, you will be spending time running and growing your business.

This means that not only will you be the “chief fabrication manager”, but you will need to be across all of the other Critical Business Functions.

Critical Business Functions exist in all businesses, and they have to work harmoniously for the business to thrive. If they are not done to a high standard, there will be trouble ahead!

What changes to your workshop might you need to make to start a fabrication business?

As a hobbyist, you might handle one project at a time. However, to grow your business, you are going to have to step things up a bit.

You may need to review things like:

  • the type of tools you need to make you more productive. 
  • upgrading to professional or commercial-grade tools.
  • a bigger workshop area to cope with multiple jobs.
  • de-cluttering and re-organising the workshop floor to increase productivity and safety.
  • the amount of lighting. 
  • fume or dust extraction
  • a fire prevention and escape plan
  • an organised storage area for materials 
  • if the electrical power supply in your workshop is big enough
  • your material suppliers and their service agreement
  • any new products that you might offer

You may also need to create some systems to speed up things like:

  • build a website
  • design software
  • cost estimating
  • price quoting 
  • purchasing materials
  • warranty terms and conditions
  • customer order acknowledgement 
  • workshop job instructions  
  • invoicing
  • stock management
  • bookkeeping
  • work health and safety
  • quality control and quality assurance
  • any licences or certificates you may need
  • insurances for your workshop, products and people

Using your existing skills and passion to create an income for yourself can be exciting. But, it is also a lot of hard work. Staying healthy is often overlooked but this can be achieved through planning.

And, there is a lot more to it than you might think.

So, spend some time preparing yourself for the challenges that will arise along your business journey. You’ll be glad you did. Check out other Small Business Stories for inspiration and building your knowledge.

This interview discovers the challenges a young business owner had when he took over the family bakery. Taking Goldelucks Doughnuts from a single outlet to become an online success is a great episode.

Try our free Entrepreneur Personality Quiz to give you some ideas on how to prepare.

Written by Brendan Barrow
Brendan Barrow is the Co-Host of the Should I Own A Business Podcast. Brendan has a wealth of business experience across many different businesses and 3 continents.

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