Got the old "R U crazy $600 for a bookcase I can buy one for that"

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Forum topic by Todd Thomas posted 05-10-2011 03:30 PM 4334 views 4 times favorited 59 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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Todd Thomas

4969 posts in 4729 days

05-10-2011 03:30 PM

Bummer…I am currently doing and estimate for a repeat client to redo a 12 1/2×19 room/den new sheet rock ect ect….they wanted a stained oak book case that was 7×3….I wasn’t going to do anything real fancy, plywood sides and back 1×2 face frame with 1×2 faces on the shelve with a little arc and legs at the bottom. the materials ran like $296 and I figured it would take me about 12 hours to get everything and put it together stain it and put 4 coats of finish on it…...Am I wrong in trying to make $24/hr…....if so I need to let someone else build it..and truth be told I will probable have more then 12 hrs in it. I’m not real fast at the wood working end of things.

So am I way to high on this project???

If so, I honestly want to know….........
Thanks for your help

-- Todd, Oak Ridge, TN, Hello my name is Todd and I'm a Toolholic, I bought my last tool 10 days, no 4 days, oh heck I bought a tool on the way here! †

59 replies so far

View Kirk's profile


116 posts in 5335 days

#1 posted 05-10-2011 03:39 PM


No, $24/hr isn’t bad at all. People get what they pay for.

I would think it would cost 3 times what you are charging for hand built.

Just a thought.

-- W. Kirk Crawford - Tularosa, New Mexico

View Todd Thomas 's profile

Todd Thomas

4969 posts in 4729 days

#2 posted 05-10-2011 03:51 PM

I thought so to … I kind of figured the whole project and repeat client into it…...but I think they got a little mad and thought I was trying to take advantage of them…...oh well we will see how it goes.

-- Todd, Oak Ridge, TN, Hello my name is Todd and I'm a Toolholic, I bought my last tool 10 days, no 4 days, oh heck I bought a tool on the way here! †

View dbhost's profile


5812 posts in 4513 days

#3 posted 05-10-2011 03:57 PM

A young lady friend of LOML had a nice built in done like you are talking about, but with a bit more detail work. Similar size too, (7×4 actually, 18” deep), with similar construction. She paid $1,800.00 for it.

From what I can see, your customer is comparing hand built, hardwood and ply construction to MDF crap from Ikea. If they want Ikea / Walmart furnishings in their home so be it, but if they want quality, they are going to have to belly up to the bar as it were… Because from the way I see it, you aren’t charging too much. You are charging too little…

Mind you, YMMV depending on your local market conditions. (Supply and demmand, if there are too many guys doing this, and not enough paying customers to go around…)

-- Please like and subscribe to my YouTube Channel

View RexMcKinnon's profile


2593 posts in 4476 days

#4 posted 05-10-2011 04:52 PM

If they are insulted then throw some numbers at them. Like the cost of material alone, plus the cost of consumables plus the fact that your target is $24/h. Go to a garage and try to get work done on your car for less than $70/h. If they are reasonable they will come to their senses. If not then you pleaded your case and you should suggest they buy ikea and complete the other work you have to do. I don’t think you should drop your pants and take it just because people are unrealistic in thier expectations and want to cry a little bit.

-- If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail!

View Lee Barker's profile

Lee Barker

2172 posts in 4131 days

#5 posted 05-10-2011 05:22 PM

I respectfully disagree somewhat with Rex. If they think your price is too high, then you will not do business. A transaction requires two willing parties. They are not willing.

If you try to justify your price by quoting materials cost, you are lowering yourself to their level and gnawing away at your own integrity. It’s time to thank them for their past business, be totally friendly and courteous, and walk away as you open yourself up to the next opportunity that is bound to come along.

As for the $24 an hour: How did you get to that figure? There are couple good ways to find a number, and I’d be happy to discuss that with you, but we don’t have to clog up the forum if it’s of no interest.



-- " his brain, which is as dry as the remainder biscuit after a voyage, he hath strange places cramm'd with observation, the which he vents in mangled forms." --Shakespeare, "As You Like It"

View Aaron Taylor's profile

Aaron Taylor

37 posts in 4430 days

#6 posted 05-10-2011 05:34 PM


I think your price is a little low as well. I have found that my prices end up being around what someone could get the same “type”of furniture from Pottery Barn or Crate and Barrel, and I know that my product is better and will last longer. Now living in New Mexico I find that what clients will pay in my part of the country is different from what they will pay somewhere else (fewer people to buy anything). I have also found that providing a detailed bid breakdown helps people understand what it actually costs to build something. My contract includes a page that has a list the price of what I am paying for – sheet goods, solid goods, hardware, materials. Also on that page I list my hourly wage and how long it is estimated to take me (this of course is almost always way under what it will actually take me). After all of this if someone still thinks they can get the same thing for 1/6th of the price then I really don’t have a problem letting them go. I can’t say I like it when someone thinks I am trying to rip them off, but if you have been honest then what someone thinks of you really doesn’t matter.

Keep your chin up.


-- "Insanity runs in my family. It practically gallops."--Cary Grant from the movie Arsenic and Old Lace

View richgreer's profile


4541 posts in 4355 days

#7 posted 05-10-2011 05:58 PM

I come at this issue from a different perspective. This sounds like a very basic bookcase. I never like to build something in my shop that i can purchase at the local furniture store. For me, the reason for woodworking is to build something that you cannot get at a store. If you look at my projects, virtually ever one is some type of custom work that would not be available through retail outlets.

Latest example – For our church we wanted a couple of plant stands that were in the same style as our communion table. I call it the “D style”. The top is straight across the back with a half circle in front. We also wanted one to be 6” taller than the other because one would set on a step and the other would set on the floor. These would never be available through a retail outlet. I built them.

If you are talking about something plain and simple, the factories are so much more efficient that I, as a woodworker, cannot compete with them. Why try?

-- Rich, Cedar Rapids, IA - I'm a woodworker. I don't create beauty, I reveal it.

View pvwoodcrafts's profile


244 posts in 5202 days

#8 posted 05-10-2011 06:03 PM

Yeah I hear that all the time. $24 per hour. You a lucky pup

-- mike & judy western md. www. [email protected]

View Loren's profile


11306 posts in 4929 days

#9 posted 05-10-2011 06:10 PM

You need to work on creating rapport and conceptual agreement with
the client before you give a price or make design/build decisions that
the client isn’t aware of – decisions that increase the price you have to
charge while conferring a benefit the client may not understand or
be aware of.

Sometimes it’s a good idea to offer the “cheap date” solution and then
the “better way” solution.

For example, lots of the bookshelf can be done in painted MDF for less
money. It can have a fake woodgrain on it, and it won’t look that real,
expecially if you’re not an expert in faux finishes, but it can be cheaper
for the client.

So you offer that first and then you offer “and here’s a really nice way
to do it in solid hardwoods and plywood.”

They do consider YOU the expert, so use that, but also find out what’s
important to them if you want to do the work and give them options
that can strip their costs down. Often when you do give a bargain-basement
option next to a better one, they’ll accept the better option anyway.

People don’t actually (mostly) like to feel like they are cheap or are
pennywise and pound foolish.

At the end of the day, custom work is something people buy when they
have no other options these days. They don’t roll out of bed and say
“I’d really like to support a woodworker, so I’m going to have all the
work in my house done custom, costs be darned!”

Many cabinets and built-ins are sold to clients who have looked for, and
failed to find, an off-the-shelf solution that fits their space and meet
their needs.

View Loren's profile


11306 posts in 4929 days

#10 posted 05-10-2011 06:21 PM

Also, 7’ x 3’ is pretty big. The clients probably don’t realize that. I charge
a bit of “hassle money” for big, hard to move around stuff.

Build your value in the clients eyes, quote the price and if they want to
pay less, take value away. Never reduce your price without taking
something out of the project or rolling it into a larger job for the
same client. You can say “if you wanted to do the deck and the
bookcase at one time I could find some ways to control the costs
on the bookcase because I’ll be over here doing the deck anyway.”

... or whatever.

I never tell clients what I pay for materials beyond a general figure
if material costs are high and the work itself is clearly simple. I wouldn’t
quote materials costs for a book case, and I don’t quote my hourly
rate either. What I do is quote for the build, quote for the finish
if it seems relevant to make it separarate, and quote for the delivery
and installation because in some cases clients may want to pick it up
and screw it to the wall themselves.

When you make the deliver/install fees reasonable, but professional,
you establish the idea that you are running the job in a professional
way that is fair to your client but also to you.

When you’re starting out, it is very, very tempting to “buy work” to
build your portfolio and client base. I don’t recommend getting jobs
by underbidding. Instead, market more aggressively.

View reggiek's profile


2240 posts in 4551 days

#11 posted 05-10-2011 06:45 PM

There is some good info above. I just wanted to add that I would avoid anyone that thinks your work is too expensive….whether a previous customer or not. The reason is simple….getting paid. I have found that folks are more argumentative….very hard to satisfy…..and very quick to litigate when a job is started and the customer already has their hackles up about the price….I have never had any difficulties with a customer that sees the benefit of my work (and thus ok with the price)....but one that is already upset about the price would most likely be impossible to make happy – they will nitpick every small detail….and will most likely slow pay (get a deposit of at least the cost of the materials).

I would do as Rich says above….let them buy from Wallyworld…or another Borg store….that way…when it falls apart they only have themselves to blame….just a word of advice.

-- Woodworking.....My small slice of heaven!

View Loren's profile


11306 posts in 4929 days

#12 posted 05-10-2011 06:52 PM

I don’t know why you’re investing so much time in finishing the piece
either if the customer isn’t asking for a super-durable finish and isn’t
willing to pay for it.

4 coats is overkill in many applications. My standard finish is shellac
and wax. It is very fast and looks great. Dust in the finish isn’t
a problem either.

Sometimes when clients have moaned about costs I just tell them I
can deliver it for less finish-ready. They can finish it themselves or
hire somebody to do it. This makes them aware of the real costs,
especially if they do it themselves and screw up.

People are perfectly happy to ask you to strip and refinish their dumb
old furniture and gape when they hear the price. I tell them to
strip it themselves and bring it to me for the finishing if they want to
pay less.

Finishing is a real skill but many people, because they have painted
some rooms before, don’t think it is. You have to set them straight
if needed.

View MrWoodworker's profile


65 posts in 3876 days

#13 posted 05-10-2011 07:09 PM

I have had so many friends with businesses that undercharge. I’ve successfully convinced 2 of them to get their prices not only in line with the industry they are in as a whole, but also to position themselves as a premiere resource.

One charges about 30% more than the closest competitor and is as busy as he wants to be. Granted, he IS very good at what he does, but he was just as good when he did twice the work for half the money.

Yes, it’s scary to turn work away because people think you overcharge, but the jobs you DO land tend to be with much better clients that don’t nitpick your work sp much. They tend to have the mindset that if they are paying you so much, you MUST be worth it. So just prove that you are!


View CharlieM1958's profile


16292 posts in 5499 days

#14 posted 05-10-2011 07:13 PM

I’d agree with some of what Rex said and some of what Rich said.

I’d explain to the customer that the whole point of having a piece custom made is to get something that is quality built to their exact specifications with regard to both size and design. I’d tell them if they want something basic that can be found at a furniture store, having been mass-produced, they will no doubt save themselves some money.

There is no shame in admitting that you, as an individual craftsman, can’t match the sheer efficiency of mass production. What you bring to the table are customization options that no furniture store can match. Ask them which they think will cost more… a suit off the rack, or one custom made by a tailor?

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

View childress's profile


841 posts in 4823 days

#15 posted 05-10-2011 08:00 PM

7’ high, 3’ wide. That’s 6 LF of cabinetry that’s completely finished and installed, I would have charged probably $200 per foot! If there was doors and drawers, even more… You’re not too high, you’re actually too low. Have a cabinet shop come in and give a quote, that might put a little perspective in your customer eyes.

Loren has great advice. I can tell he’s a professional, so listen…

-- Childress Woodworks

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