Bookshelves - A Commission That Almost Got Me Committed....

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Project by RobH posted 02-20-2008 04:59 AM 3695 views 7 times favorited 19 comments Add to Favorites Watch

I thought I had already posted this project, but I guess not. I got this commission last June to build some bookshelves that would be installed in a new house. The contractor on the house goes to church with us and he appreciated my work enough to ask me to do it. Well, here is the finished product.

That is 13 feet of bookshelves that are all 8 feet tall. In all it is made up of 4 39” wide by 8 foot tall shelf units that are joined across the front by a single face frame.

The finish is Minwax golden oak stain with three coats of satin polyurethane on top.

The home owner ended up needing more shelves for the units, and I ended up making them (much against my will). I finally finished everything up shortly after Thanksgiving last year. This project taught me a lot.

(1) Working for money is work. Taking a hobby and getting paid for it turns it into work.
(2) The money I made was not worth the strain it put on me and my family.
(3) My shop is WAY, WAY too small to build and store these four units in until everything is done.
(4) Always get a signed off copy of the drawings before starting construction (signed by the end user).
(5) I charged WAY too little money for this project. Next time (if there is one), I will charge at least 4x what I feel is fair, and that will be about right.
(6) The look of satisfaction in a customer’s eyes when they see a well installed finished piece is priceless.

Yes, it was a difficult y job that tried the patience of me, my wife, my kids, the contractor, and even the homeowner a little bit, but everything worked out fine in the end and the homeowner was extremely happy with the finished product.

Hope you all enjoy viewing.

-- -- Rob Hix, King George, VA

19 comments so far

View sandhill's profile


2128 posts in 5374 days

#1 posted 02-20-2008 05:07 AM

So what ever happened to the jig to make the holes for the shelf pins you were going to tell us about????? LOL

View GaryK's profile


10262 posts in 5439 days

#2 posted 02-20-2008 05:26 AM

Looks very nice! Those are the reasons I don’t work for money. It takes all the fun out of it.

-- Gary - Never pass up the opportunity to make a mistake look like you planned it that way - Tyler, TX

View CharlieM1958's profile


16292 posts in 5669 days

#3 posted 02-20-2008 05:31 AM

Great job, Rob. Ditto what Gary said about woodworking for money. The same reason applies when people ask me why I don’t play piano professionally.

-- Charlie M. "Woodworking - patience = firewood"

View Woodchuck1957's profile


944 posts in 5214 days

#4 posted 02-20-2008 05:47 AM

Join the club Rob, we all learn eventually, well some do. I still need a reminder every once in awhile, I’ll take on a job about once a year thinking this time I got my butt covered, and then end up kicking my self repeatedly for weeks afterwards. It can really wear on a guy after so many years of it. Nice job on the bookcases.

View mrtrim's profile


1696 posts in 5331 days

#5 posted 02-20-2008 05:53 AM

ill take all those commisions that you dont want !! lol well you did an exellent job you can certainly be proud of that .

View dennis mitchell's profile

dennis mitchell

3994 posts in 5765 days

#6 posted 02-20-2008 07:00 AM

OH the joys of going pro!

View gizmodyne's profile


1785 posts in 5540 days

#7 posted 02-20-2008 07:47 AM

Came out nice.

Good advice.Since you don’t need it, just charge high and they can take it or leave it.

-- -John "Do I have to keep typing a smiley? Just assume it's a joke."

View Scott Bryan's profile

Scott Bryan

27248 posts in 5272 days

#8 posted 02-20-2008 01:13 PM

Hi Rob,

The job turned out nicely. Irrespective of what you charged, the client got their money’s worth. A friend of mine, who was a carpenter by trade had some sound advice for me about a similar subject. He told me he never turned business down but when faced with a job that he really didn’t want to do he simply tripled his normal price. Usually the client would move on to someone else but occasionally he would get a contract. But the higher commission for the job helped ease his angst at having to complete the job.

Getting commissions is a nice way to help supplement your woodworking expenses but you cease to work for yourself in the process and, as such, must adhere to their time lines. I have a great deal of respect to anyone who can do this. It is just not for me.

-- Challenges are what make life interesting; overcoming them is what makes life meaningful- Joshua Marine

View cpt_hammer's profile


133 posts in 5263 days

#9 posted 02-20-2008 03:02 PM

Great advice. I’ve been planning alot of projects lately mostly for my wife and I always get her approval on the project plans before I even buy the wood. (She changes her mind alot). I did find that drawing them up on Sketch Up in the proper way makes a great way to estimate the amount of wood I would need. Then I just figure out what type of wood I want to make it and I get a pretty close price on the materials. It’s the labor that I can’t charge for. The best I get is a happy wife!!

View Critterman's profile


601 posts in 5261 days

#10 posted 02-20-2008 03:18 PM

Sounded tough, but you did a really nice job Rob. They must have been absolutely delighted with the finished product. I do have a question as I know you’ve done this stuff before. What method do you use to attach the hardwood front edge to your shelves?? Do you use a joint, like tongue & groove or do you just glue them up? LOL, maybe a good forum topic huh? Just courious.

-- Jim Hallada, Chesterfield, VA

View Moron's profile


5048 posts in 5344 days

#11 posted 02-20-2008 03:35 PM

We live, we learn ?........when I first joined LJ I read about your plight.

This saves both time and money forthe next time? should there be one?

not to say this is the right way, or the only way because it isnt.

break the piece into components where ever possible, with the least amountof sub assemblies as possible while considering how you move them around so….....

A seperate base sub assembly. Easy to carry in, easy to level, easy to scribe to the floor and or wall.

leave the stiles between cabinets seperate. I love biscuits for this very reason. I would make the rails on all the shelves fixed and stop them where they meet the gables/sides. By cookie cutting the stiles to one or both gables you can put two cabinets on the base, apply glue to stile and use masking tape or clamping device to secure it to both gables and work your way down. It looks exactly the same, its quicker and will last just as long. Same for the top crown…............a seperate assembly that you simply place on top and secure.

If I were you I would be proud of this project. It looks good.

-- "Good artists borrow, great artists steal”…..Picasso

View Robb's profile


660 posts in 5384 days

#12 posted 02-20-2008 03:41 PM

Rob, I enjoyed reading about your challenges making this project, and I also enjoyed seeing the finished result. Great work, and good learning…you can’t beat that!

-- Robb

View mrtrim's profile


1696 posts in 5331 days

#13 posted 02-20-2008 04:03 PM

i think rob has brought up a subject that would make a topic for a forum entry . a lot of hobby wood workers are tempted to do what he did as a way to buy new or bigger tools for their hobby . or are considering taking the leap from hobby to business . i would personally dissagree with the triple your price and they can take it or leave it method . that could have an adverse effect on your reputation . i never value my paycheck over my reputation . i dont underestimate my customer he may have no clue how to build his own bookcase but that dosnt mean he dont know what one should cost . again this could be a very interesting thread and informative to others like rob my 2 scents thanks

View Brad_Nailor's profile


2545 posts in 5408 days

#14 posted 02-20-2008 08:34 PM

That piece came out beautifully! Despite the hassle you should be proud that you finished it and the customer liked it! As far as what you said about getting paid..I agree. I love woodworking but when I worked at a cabinet shop it took all the fun out of it…it became a job…something I had to do rather than wanted to do…got stuck making things I didn’t want to for people that didn’t appreciate the work I put into it. I moved from the production floor into the design studio and I liked that allot better. At least then I had more influence on what was being built!


View Dan Lyke's profile

Dan Lyke

1531 posts in 5575 days

#15 posted 02-20-2008 08:37 PM

We’re planning out a number of such installations in our new house, and I’ve been looking around at various places on the net to try to figure out the right way to build such things, and in the process I’ve found a number of professionals who say that their ballpark starting number for built-in cabinets is a thousand bucks per foot of wall.

I think those of us who play with wood on our own way underestimate what it’d cost to make a profit on a project, by the time you add in equipment amortization and true labor costs and all of that it costs a heck of a lot more than we just off-the-cuff guess.

-- Dan Lyke, Petaluma California,

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