I started woodworking back around 72.. The tools I had barely qualified as such. However, people liked the simple things I did and my hobby bought me more and better tools. In time, my hobby bought me a shop and vehicles some small shops would envy. I was able to do more, do it faster, and still put out reasonable quality (I look at some of the work you other guys and gals do and I stay with calling my work reasonable).
I was just having fun, which, I believe, is key to success, whether you go pro or stay hobbyist.
As time moved on, I realized diversity of products would play a big role in my success. As such, my woodwork expanded until it included rough woodwork, or simple carpentry (but only to the degree necessary, as a filler).
I incorporated glass etch, granite and other things into my woodworking projects. I tried to focus on doing what others, cabinet makers, didn’t bother with. One day I might make a plant stand, another I might make a unique picture frame or shadow box, and on another a clock, burl coffee table or display pedestal.
I learned about finishes and probably knew more about making exterior wood, including cedar shakes and shingles, hold up to the elements than more than ninety percent of the contractors out there. I shared those secrets openly, so the people could do it themselves next time, knowing only a handful would, and that got me a lot of jobs.
When the “what others aren’t focusing on” projects were slow, I’d install molding and trim, build a deck or stairs, maintain a deck or fence and so on.
I cut consignment deals with little stores that couldn’t afford to buy inventory. Even stores that didn’t deal with my product were interested, if they didn’t have to put money out up front.
I ignored a [seasoned] friend, who kept pushing me to advertise. When I finally did listen, placed ads, and after they kicked in, I received calls on them five years after they went live. Long enough to build a clientele.
Sometimes I made $150.00 or more an hour. However, I might have only had an hour or two of work that day. Generally though, once I had enough tools to do whatever I was called upon to do, I began living better than I ever did working for someone else. Of course, I also came to understand that saying “[w]hy work for someone else eight hours a day when you can work for yourself eighteen?”
So, yes, you can survive as a woodworker. It just depends on how you go about it.
Regardless of what you do, there will be something to learn about it right up until you quit doing it. Some things are good to learn early on, such as, if you are getting all your bids, you’re too low.