June 12, 2018 01:00 PM

Clint Harp was always calm, cool and collected when appearing alongside Joanna Gaines on Fixer Upper, but before he landed the show, the furniture maker hit a serious rough patch that almost ended his career.

“We had many days where I had a breakdown,” he tells PEOPLE of his financial and personal struggles as he and his wife, Kelly, tried to build their life in Waco, Texas.

Clint had left a six-figure job in medical sales in Houston to pursue his passion for woodworking, with dreams of opening his own shop in Waco. But things didn’t go to plan, and the family found themselves on the brink of financial ruin. 

RELATED: Fixer Upper Carpenter Clint Harp on How Meeting Chip Gaines at a Gas Station Changed His Life

“We had savings that we thought would last us for a certain amount of time. It didn’t,” he admits. “I came up with this plan and talked about it with my wife and she was on board, but of course it didn’t end up how you think.” 

The family moved into an apartment. Kelly was in school working on her masters and Clint, now unemployed, started volunteering with Habitat for Humanity, which allowed him to work with his hands, but didn’t pay.

“While we were living there, that’s when the bottom really started to fall out,” he says. “I was like, this is it. I can’t believe it. Kelly, this is stupid. I need to find a job.”

On his lowest day, he focused on the one bright spot: his family. He and Kelly share three children.

“In this moment of hardship and pain . . . I had to be honest with my wife and my emotions. I’m feeling horrible. I’m crying,” he recalls. 

“We went to the park to hang out with our kids and the gas light came on, and that’s when I went to the gas station where I met Chip [Gaines].

Of the fateful encounter, he remembers, “All of a sudden this black truck pulls in front of me that says ‘Magnolia’ on it.” Clint had previously reached out to the company looking for work but didn’t hear back. Now, he had a second chance. 

“I thought, why not just throw a hail Mary here and see what happens. I got out of the car was like ‘Hi, I’m Clint. I was calling you guys looking for some guy named Chip. I don’t know if you know him.’ And the guy was like, ‘I know him. That’s me. I’m Chip.’ And that’s how it happened.”

That chance run-in would change the course of Clint’s life. He would become a regular on the mega-popular HGTV series, collaborating with Joanna Gaines on tables, kitchen islands and custom wood pieces for the houses she designed.

RELATED: Fixer Upper Carpenter Wasn’t Surprised by Show’s End: Chip and Joanna Wanted to ‘Go Out on Top’

While he never had a contract with the network, he says he always felt like part of the Fixer Upper family, thanks to the show’s supportive fans, who’ve followed him over to the DIY Network, where he’s currently starring in a new series, Woodwork. He also has a memoir, Handcrafted: A Woodworker’s Storycoming out in September.

“They ask, ‘What does it feel like now that [Fixer Upper] is over?’ For me, it’s not so much over. The series is over, but for us, it feels like it’s just beginning,” he says. “We lived in that. We were all in. And now all this new stuff has happened because of it —  because we gave our all, because we were so authentically in it. I think that helped people connect with us. It’s been really cool to see their support, and to feel it.”

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