My path to professional woodworking #1: A good read about charging people money for your skills

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Blog entry by hangdog posted 01-09-2010 05:47 AM 1646 reads 6 times favorited 12 comments Add to Favorites Watch
no previous part Part 1 of My path to professional woodworking series Part 2: Pottery Barnyard »

I stumbled across an article today. It was linked from the Wood Whisperer newsletter. You can find a link at the end of this article. It touched on a few good points about why we struggle with charging an appropriate amount for our efforts. To summarize, (and relate it to our specific craft) it said we do three main things wrong when deciding on a price. The first is taking our ability for granted. This comes natural to us. It’s no big deal. How can we charge hundreds or thousands of dollars? Heck, it was even fun and it’s not right to be paid well to have fun, right? The thing is we’ve got hundreds or thousands of hours of pain and suffering invested in getting good at this and we deserve compensation for that, even if it’s fun. And we have a product that people want to own and can’t make themselves. They are the demand and we are the supply.

The second point is that we doubt people will pay for our skills when we would not. The thing is there’s barely anyone that can do this. It’s hard to feel this way when there’s something like 15k lumber jocks out there but that’s 15k out of 4 billion internet users which is like…well…a really low percentage. If there are a thousand lumber jocks type sites that’s still only 15 million out of 4 billion, well below 1%.

The third point is that we focus on the flaws of our work. We spend 30 hours planning, cutting, assembling and sanding a piece of furniture. When we apply the finish we see a small spot on the side where the 80 grit scratches show because we missed it with the 220. Crap! We admonish ourselves and sell it for 5% over cost and call it a “second.” Either that or we spend another day re-sanding the whole thing just in case there are more screw-ups and miss the deadline and give 25% off for being late. But our biggest critic is us, no matter if it’s with our work or how we dress or how our hair is cut or how our breath smells or how dirty our car is. We need to be able to distinguish between what flaws are truly show stoppers and what flaws do not detract from the overall beauty of the project. Heck, we marvel at inconsistencies in antiques, why not on our own work? I have a friend who is a fantastic custom car painter and has made a fine living and won many awards doing it. He says there’s a mistake on every car he’s ever painted. He calls it his “signature.” People will recognize it after he’s dead and gone. Maybe some day Norm A. the VII will be on TV at an antique museum saying “you can tell this was one of Matt’s earlier works because he was always sloppy at squaring up his mortises before he invested in a dedicated mortising machine but still this is a fine work of art.”

To these three I would like to add a fourth point. I believe it is imperative that we charge an appropriate amount for our work. Otherwise it lowers the bar and the whole professional woodworking community suffers. There has been much talk on LJ lately about competition from China. The thing is this should not be considered competition at all. It’s like saying the Toledo Mud Hens are competition for the New York Yankees. yeah, they play the same game and could maybe win once in a while but they’re in a whole different class, just like our customers. A certain group of people will buy crap from IKEA and certain group of people will seek out skilled people who can build something exactly the way they want it. If we lower our prices then we lower our standards and everyone else’s expectations. Then our products become as much of a commodity as 2X4’s. We mustn’t let that happen.

If you would like to read the original article you can find it here:

This site has a lot of good info about selling art for a living so I encourage you to click around on it for a while. Thanks for reading and I look forward to your comments.

-- Don't just talk about it, be about it.

12 comments so far

View jason's profile


33 posts in 4461 days

#1 posted 01-09-2010 06:20 AM

Funny thing, I have sat and thought a lot of these same things. I often think about what I should charge someone if I make something, then if it’s not just perfect I feel like I should charge less. It usually turns out the person thinks it is beautiful , I cant help but to think to myself, it would be better if… get the picture. At least I know I am not alone thinking this.

View zlatanv's profile


691 posts in 4320 days

#2 posted 01-09-2010 06:28 AM

Excellent post, I struggle with this allot. Starting to get over it a bit, I’m still developing more and new skills and have the mindset that this is a profession and that I am not yet a pro. Even though I have gotten allot of positive feed back from people I have done things for and from them I get referrals because they have seen the work I have done and would like me to do something for them. Its still hard to figure a far price without fear of overcharging and loosing the project, but the sense that I am shorting myself is starting to speak up a little when I give someone a price now.

Watched a video with Sam Mallof while he was demonstrating a chair and talking about his career and how he was asked by people he knew to make a chair and he would try to squeeze it in or for less but his assistant Roz, I think, would put them back in there place and let them know what the price would be and when it would be done.

Some times we could all use a Roz to make sure we get what we deserve for our work.

-- Z, Rockwall, TX

View David Craig's profile

David Craig

2137 posts in 4195 days

#3 posted 01-09-2010 06:46 AM

I think this is the same in many businesses. You need someone who knows the product, and someone who knows how to advertise and thinks in terms of money and service. I know in the IT field, if the programmers had free reign, customers would be getting extensively bloated software with tons of extra features just because it is cool :) However, there has to be a price associated with each feature and if the customer only wants to pay for the basics, then they shouldn’t get the bonus stuff. So someone has to eventually put handcuffs on the programmers :)

Woodworking is not much different and unfortunately the perception of creation is about the same. I have people who call me up for free technical advice and think I should be able to just move my fingers over a keyboard and all their problems will go away. And, they shouldn’t have to pay me because it is “easy for me.” Likewise, I have had people ask me about progress on a project and are amazed that I hadn’t built an entire living room set over the weekend. Creating items that are structurally sound and will last is not an overnight skill but one that is taken for granted.

Great post and I agree with Z, if you are going into the business, get a Roz if you are not a Roz already :)


-- There is little that is simple when it comes to making a simple box.

View HickoryHill's profile


236 posts in 5232 days

#4 posted 01-09-2010 06:47 AM

I think this comes up for debate in almost every art/hobby/whatever. I know in the photography forums it’s always a hot topic….....not charging enough for your services. People shooting weddings for couple hundred bucks and throwing it on a CD is just undermining the good photographers. Tools/Equipment are becoming so attainable now days for people that everyone thinks they can do it. We see the same thing at work…........there is a reason that fence over there cost 1/2 of what we install.

This is always a good topic to follow!

-- Jim, Michigan

View KayBee's profile


1083 posts in 4332 days

#5 posted 01-09-2010 08:26 AM

This topic always reminds me of conversations I had with an ‘upholsterer and coach fitter’ I knew. He went through formal apprenticeship in England and worked there for years before coming to the states. He always said that people wanted it ‘made by real people that’s why they came here’, not walmart or pottery barn. So everytime you start beating yourself up, lowering the price because it’s not perfect- think about it. They came for hand made, people made , the good stuff not perfect looking factory garbage. Don’t be afraid to earn a living or charge for money you’ve earned. Especially when they want to give you their money : )

-- Karen - a little bit of stupid goes a long way

View degoose's profile


7281 posts in 4441 days

#6 posted 01-09-2010 02:30 PM

I too saw the link in the TWW Wrap-up… I know it and I still can’t help dropping the price for all the above reasons…. but I am getting better at saying no…. or telling people that I can’t drop everything and make something for them.. so no queue jumping and no ‘mates rates’ either….
On the other side I agree with the fact that I am my own worst critic… every piece that I have made and sold has been received very well indeed… and every piece has a flaw that it seems only I can see.. except where I point it out…

-- Don't drink and use power tools @

View Julian's profile


884 posts in 4612 days

#7 posted 01-09-2010 03:50 PM

I’m with you all on this one. I do lots of work for friends and family and always have a hard time charging what I should. I recently spent the day fixing sticking, doors installing a ceiling fan, then building priming and painting and installing fireplace mantel. When I told him how much the damage was he said that I charged him about the same amount as the mantel he saw at the store was. I only charged him hourly plus materials, but I guess I could have doubled it and he would have still been happy. I have a hard time charging more than my hourly wage for friends and family though, but it allows me to sleep at night.

-- Julian, Homewood, IL

View Bob Kollman's profile

Bob Kollman

1798 posts in 4277 days

#8 posted 01-09-2010 04:30 PM

Good artical…

-- Bob Kenosha Wi.

View FlWoodRat's profile


732 posts in 4995 days

#9 posted 01-09-2010 04:51 PM

Great advice… This past summer I built a blanket chest for our work’s United Way Campaign ( ). One of my co-workers asked me to quote him a price to build one just like it. So I figured it out and told him $3500. Laughingly, he said is Domestic Chief Financial Officer would never go for it. After I explained to him that I had almost 130 hours of labor in it, he said “with that much work and the quality of the materials, it’s worth every penny.” He actually called me after the holidays and asked…. can we talk? I think he meant.. can we negotiate a lower price….

-- I love the smell of sawdust in the morning....

View Craftsman on the lake's profile

Craftsman on the lake

3862 posts in 4524 days

#10 posted 01-09-2010 06:48 PM

I agree, but you can also look at it this way. Find a person with thousands of hours and countless dollars invested in learning to play the violin. Someone who not only learned but is a genuine talent. Most are lucky to get a venue at a college in a coffee house situation for a few dollars with a small group of people who probably play the instrument.

On the other hand, a bunch of kids in a garage learn a few chords, get a good song and a few years later people are paying $300 to hear them. And it’s often the look/stigma instead of the music that really makes them noticed.

Could woodworking like a lot of the arts often be like this?

-- The smell of wood, coffee in the cup, the wife let's me do my thing, the lake is peaceful.

View hangdog's profile


34 posts in 4166 days

#11 posted 01-10-2010 09:46 AM

Thanks guys, for the comments. Fyi I’m gonna try to post new entries to this blog every Friday. Please keep contributing to the fray if you get time.

-- Don't just talk about it, be about it.

View hangdog's profile


34 posts in 4166 days

#12 posted 01-10-2010 09:51 AM

Woodrat, I’m curious to know how your scenario shakes out.

-- Don't just talk about it, be about it.

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