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Forum topic by docspencer posted 03-26-2018 10:28 PM 2073 views 0 times favorited 32 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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453 posts in 3277 days

03-26-2018 10:28 PM

A local guy contacted me and wants me to help him build a coffee table. Or as he put it, mentor him. We would use my shop and tools. He would supply the materials. He is willing to pay me. I’ve never done this sort of thing and the two obvious questions are: do I charge by the hour or a flat price? And, how much. Anyone have any experience with this? If it helps, we live in Howard County Maryland. Thanks in advance.

32 replies so far

View Alongiron's profile


654 posts in 4025 days

#1 posted 03-26-2018 10:36 PM

I had a guy here in Indianapolis do the same thing. Use my shop; but the materials, etc. He gave me $150 bucks to help him out but now he calls all the time wanting to use my shop!! He has got the bug but no tools yet!! Lol. I did check with my homeowners insurance and they said it is fine and that if there was an accident, it would be covered less the deductible. He is a friend but I hope he buys some tools pretty soon !!

-- Measure twice and cut once.....sneak up on it! Steve Lien

View John Smith's profile

John Smith

3033 posts in 1494 days

#2 posted 03-26-2018 11:10 PM

Doc – has anyone ever helped you in the past in anything ?
I have done small jobs like that for free. and if the guy wanted
to pay me, I put that money in a special coffee can that I supported
my local volunteer fire department with. Pay it Forward

now, a set of kitchen cabinets would be a different story all together. (I would just say “no”).


-- I am a painter: that's what I do, I like to paint things. --

View BurlyBob's profile


9510 posts in 3597 days

#3 posted 03-27-2018 12:27 AM

My question is just how good of a friend is this guy? A friend asks for occasional help and offers the same in return. A user, simply uses to get what he needs. From my perspective I’d rather work with a friend. Doing anything for money makes it more like a job and that requires a greater degree of meeting expectations. I wood work for my enjoyment. I’ll help others out of the goodness of my heart and develop friendships. Honestly I don’t get many requests for help. I get requests to do it for them. SCREW that! I’ve got way to many things on my own personal to do list! You want it done do it yourself or pay someone else to do it for you. I just don’t need the money and don’t offer myself out for hire. I’ve done it 4 times and the stress I placed on myself made the money I receive hardly worth the effort! I avoid such things as serious hard and fast rule. I honestly doubt I will ever build anything else on an order basis. A gift is a whole nuther thing!

View docspencer's profile


453 posts in 3277 days

#4 posted 03-27-2018 12:42 AM

I should clarify. I had never met him before he called me the other day. He got my number from a local sawmill. He’s a very nice guy but not a friend.

View Rich's profile


7743 posts in 1921 days

#5 posted 03-27-2018 12:47 AM

I put that money in a special coffee can that I supported
my local volunteer fire department with.

- John Smith

What? Nothing for the widows and orphans?

-- Half of what we read or hear about finishing is right. We just don’t know which half! — Bob Flexner

View DMiller's profile


555 posts in 1805 days

#6 posted 03-27-2018 02:03 AM

Good afternoon to all of you! If it is ok, I would like to comment from the opposite point of view. From the viewpoint of the person asking for help.

There is a project that I have began working on; a project in which I have asked several questions about here on LJ’s. A while back I received a pm from an older gentleman here inviting me visit him and his shop; he very graciously helped me use tools I don’t have- one’s which I will not be able to afford for many years. His help has been a huge blessing to me- primarily in that I don’t have a lot to do at once but just need a specific tool quite often.

I can totally understand the point of not wanting to share my shop (if I had one), but I will just mention it can greatly bless the person in need of help. Just my two cents. Hope it helps!

-- Dale Miller Modesto, CA "I can do all things through Christ, which strengtheneth me." Philippians 4:13. "Woodworking minus patience equals firewood."

View oldnovice's profile


7764 posts in 4700 days

#7 posted 03-27-2018 02:05 AM

You might want to check your liability insurance in case someone gets hurt!

-- "Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored." -- Aldous Huxley

View Rich's profile


7743 posts in 1921 days

#8 posted 03-27-2018 02:20 AM

As I see it there are different things being discussed here. The OP is asking about someone who approached him to walk him through a project. Someone he’s not even acquainted with. That smacks of a classroom situation, and one-on-one at that. Look around and you’ll see some pretty hefty fees for that sort of thing. To address the OP’s main question, I’d charge a flat fee, just like the woodworking schools do. Depending on your expertise, I’d say $300 to $500 is a good range. Decide on a format, document the final goal in SketchUp, or something like it, and plan out the number of days, hours in each day, goals for each day, etc. Also, decide if you’re going to include material costs in the fee, or have a separate fee. It’s probably best not to have the student bring the wood, since you don’t know what they’ll show up with.

Now, if we were talking about a friend, an acquaintance, or a fellow LJ who wanted to come over and hang out a while and see how I do things, that’s different. I’d never think of charging for that. In fact, shipwright had invited me down to Green Valley where he spends winters to show me some tips on hide glue, veneering and such. He was called back to Canada a couple of weeks early, so we’ll have to plan it for next fall, but that’s the sort of gesture folks on here do for one another. I do have a small gift I’d saved for Paul.

It’s kind of like taking a bottle of wine to someone’s house when they invite you for dinner. It’s not required, they’d never ask you for it, but you do it to be polite.

EDIT: I just saw oldnovice’s post and he makes a really good point. If someone is just hanging out with you and gets hurt at your house, homeowner’s will cover it. As soon as you charge a fee, it likely changes everything from an insurance standpoint.

-- Half of what we read or hear about finishing is right. We just don’t know which half! — Bob Flexner

View JCamp's profile


1533 posts in 1882 days

#9 posted 03-27-2018 01:26 PM

Not sure this question has been brought up but the biggest thing is Do you want to do it?
If you do you might want to start by figuring out what he has in mind. He might think $20 will cover your time for the whole project….
Helping someone get started is great but at the same time you have to make sure its not screwing u over as far as insurance and shop time for yourself.
I think personally if my insurance would cover any accident my starting cost for a stranger would be the deducible and Id still have them sign a waiver to further cover my butt. You might also decide if you are willing to do this again in case hes one of those guys that keeps coming back instead of investing in his own stuff

-- Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with all thy might

View Dustin's profile


707 posts in 2072 days

#10 posted 03-27-2018 01:58 PM

I’ll chime in to say that I’m in the same camp as everyone else suggesting to check with your insurance first.

Also, another consideration is whether you’re looking to make new friends. That may sound a little juvenile, but should this guy take a liking to hanging out with you, you may end up with a frequent tag-along. Not necessarily a bad thing, but personalities sometimes clash, some people are more demanding/needy than others…I think you get my drift.

Also, as JCamp mentioned, is this something you want to do? Furthermore, do you have any previous teaching/mentoring experience, or is it something you enjoy doing? I do a little math tutoring on the side, and really enjoy being able to correct a student’s misgiving surrounding the subject (things are usually easier than they’ve been led to believe). But if a student of mine messes up, it’s much less likely to result in an amputation :p

-- "Ladies, if your husband says he'll get to it, he'll get to it. No need to remind him about it every 6 months."

View Planeman40's profile


1560 posts in 4093 days

#11 posted 03-27-2018 02:57 PM

Over the years I have had any number of friends ask me to “take this and fix it for me”. In the beginning I did it, but soon I began saying “I will be happy to, but you must come keep me company while I do it.” About 3/4 of them decline. My attitude is if it isn’t worth their time, it isn’t worth my time.

-- Always remember: It is a mathematical certainty that half the people in this country are below average in intelligence!

View oldnovice's profile


7764 posts in 4700 days

#12 posted 03-27-2018 05:32 PM

Planeman40, you made a good point!

If it’s not worth their time why should it be worth your time!

-- "Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored." -- Aldous Huxley

View CaptainKlutz's profile


5150 posts in 2826 days

#13 posted 03-28-2018 11:01 AM

+1000% agree with Rich:
Must structure the arrangement like a formal class, or as formal project plan with milestones;
regardless of whether you charge for helping or not.

Most important part about this:
The effort and process of making a formal plan will teach mentor if the trainee is actually capable of following though on the project.

I attempted to “mentor” a person who lived a few a streets away from my house before I knew the pit falls.
Did not know the trainee. They saw me wood working in garage and out of blue one day stopped by to ask if I would teach them to build a coffee table. Reluctantly agreed, and it was total chaos.
Chaos that resulted in unfinished project sitting idle for months in my garage. It is horror story with details best told over a couple drinks in a bar…...
End result being that I finally could not take it anymore.
Being a kind person, I spent my time to complete building of the mission style QSWO coffee table. Then took the table, all extra lumber they bought for future end tables, and dropped it off at trainee’s house. It was bare wood, ready for finishing. Student was not home, told his wife; “Sorry, but I was not able to help anymore.” Her response floored me: “Thank you it’s really nice, can you paint it black to match our other one? Didn’t he tell you we bought one from IKEA last month?”
why me?
Needless to say, that attempt at mentoring was not successful: mostly as I did not develop a plan up front with a trainable student.

After learning my lesson:
Two follow on requests for “help and training” mentor-ship resulted in discovery that neither student really understood that wood working is a passion. It is not a fast/easy way to build furniture where you start and finish in a single Saturday and save thousands of dollars .vs. buying at Walmart.

Best Luck training everyone you can!

-- If it wasn't for bad luck, I wouldn't have no luck at all, Doom, despair, agony on me… - Albert King - Born Under a Bad Sign released 1967

View TimInIndiana's profile


161 posts in 1472 days

#14 posted 03-28-2018 11:47 AM

Heck, I’d just like to shadow an experienced woodworker with his/her projects. I’d stay out of the way as best I could, help if I can, and try to absorb as much information as possible. If I were requesting help for one of my own projects, I would definitely want to pay. If the mentor wouldn’t accept cash, I’d pay in new saw blades.

It does seem like insurance could be an issue. I wonder if it helps at all to draft some sort of basic waiver? Not sure how useful those are. But I agree with other replies that you should check with your homeowners insurance before offering any paid mentoring services.

View Steve's profile


2677 posts in 1914 days

#15 posted 03-28-2018 01:11 PM

HO insurance will cover others getting hurt on your property, but there will be limits on coverage. An umbrella policy is definitely something worthwhile to look into.

If this is something you would be interested in, turn it back around on the person asking for help. Ask him what he was thinking along the lines of payment or doing the work, etc.

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