Pricing for Custom Desk

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Forum topic by lblankenship posted 04-20-2018 01:18 PM 1320 views 0 times favorited 5 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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53 posts in 1388 days

04-20-2018 01:18 PM

Topic tags/keywords: pricing desk question business quoting

I just had a friend of mine reach out wanting me to build her a custom desk. Something simple with 4 drawers and metal pipe legs. I’ve recently been reading through posts here about coming up with your shop rate and also have read on other places on the web about establishing a flat day rate. I asked for her budget and she mentioned something nice yet inexpensive (ha go figure) but told me not to cheat myself and if she needed to get something from Target or TJ MAXX then she could always do that. In reading about pricing and what not I know that I’m not going to be able to compete with Target or another big retailer and that isn’t going to be my core customer. So I know not to bother trying to compete with a $100 or $200 desk that is most likely made of MDF. I am looking however to get some opinions on my pricing and see if I should change my approach.

Just to note, I am located in southwestern Ohio.

I figure the desk will take me a full day to make including finishing, since the legs won’t be made out of wood it will cut down on my labor time.

The more I’ve read about setting your shop rate I’ve kind of gravitated towards setting a flat daily rate. I was thinking of $500 a day (8 hours) plus materials when pricing out a project, of course if any project would take less than a day I would price that accordingly (1/2 day plus materials, etc.) but the $500 would cover any overhead, my labor as well as profit. I want to start doing commission pieces enough to start earning some income in addition to my current job and hopefully down the line switch to this full time.

Does $500 plus materials seem too much for a simple 4 drawer desk? Should I start with a lower day rate (say $350) and work my way up from there as time goes on and I get more work?

Also I understand that a lot of what I’m asking is subjective, but if you have any wisdom or experience to share on the subject I would greatly appreciate it.

5 replies so far

View ryguy's profile


37 posts in 4066 days

#1 posted 04-20-2018 04:28 PM


To me, your price seems very low. I would be probably double that. Of course it also depends on how detailed and well built the piece is. I am not a professional but I do custom pieces for people and I can’t see how I could build and finish a piece like that in just a day. The top would be easy and the pipe legs as well, but the drawers if built well would definitely take me some time.

As an aside, I also live in Cincinnati and know the market here moderately well. As in other markets there are is a big part of the population that thinks because you build it at home it will be cheaper than the box stores. I have had a number of people ask me to build something like they have in Ethan Allen (on the high end) and Ikea (on the low end) and my price is always higher- it just doesn’t compare in the end product.


-- Ryan, Cincinnati, OH

View ChefHDAN's profile


1808 posts in 3964 days

#2 posted 04-20-2018 04:44 PM

For a friend I generally have them buy the materials and then add in some shop supplies I may need, abrasives, blades etc. Having someone else buy the supplies for my wood working therapy is a win win.

If it’s for a less than friend and a commissioned piece that is not overly complex, I usually price at 3X cost of materials, or tell the person to find an item similar to what they want at IKEA and expect to pay 3 to 4 times more for a custom piece designed from quality hardwoods.

-- I've decided 1 mistake is really 2 opportunities to learn.. learn how to fix it... and learn how to not repeat it

View lblankenship's profile


53 posts in 1388 days

#3 posted 04-20-2018 04:45 PM

Thanks Ryan! I appreciate your insight, it’s especially nice that you’re in the same area as me also. When you often quote pieces for people do you tell them $XXX.XX plus materials or do you figure out what they want it to be made of and then just give them a total price that is with materials included?

View Loren's profile (online now)


11207 posts in 4762 days

#4 posted 04-20-2018 05:03 PM

A lot of customers will run away screaming from
a $60/hr shop rate, but those aren’t the customers
you want. The drawers could take a lot of time,
depending on how you make them. Setting up
machines for joinery takes time and so does sanding
and finishing the boxes.

$60/hr is reasonable if you’re really set up to build
things efficiently. Just don’t expect your friends to
want to pay that much for something they regard
as a commodity.

View ryguy's profile


37 posts in 4066 days

#5 posted 04-20-2018 06:38 PM


I don’t quote pieces that often as I try to make items and then sell them so that I get to build what I want, but I do get asked to quote prices at shows. (I don’t think the people are really serious most of the time) I have learned whatever my initial thought of a price is, it is always more than that. I don’t do a by hour price, just finished price where I factor cost of materials and how much time I think it will take. My first few times doing this made me realize I didn’t make much money on a per hour basis so now I factor that into my costs and I don’t give my time and skill away for free. I am at the point where I will give a crazy price and it scares 98% of people away, but the few that are left I make a nice profit on it and don’t have to beat myself up about it afterwards. As Loren said before, in your project the drawers are where I think you will spend most of your time and if you do them right I can’t see 8 hours time. I also mill all of my own lumber from rough cut so that will always add time to my projects, but I make money on the cost of materials. In the end it has taken me a bit of time to learn and I am still not great at it, but as a rule for me, I overcharge my first thought because every time I still think I should charge more for a project.

I don’t know if that helps but I don’t have a strict formula like a lot of the guys on here do. I will say though, this is not my career and it is purely for fun and a little side money.


-- Ryan, Cincinnati, OH

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