Should hobbyist pricing undercut the professionals or not?

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Forum topic by Njner posted 12-29-2020 03:39 PM 1752 views 0 times favorited 36 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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54 posts in 1627 days

12-29-2020 03:39 PM

Wanting to get some thoughts on pricing. I’m not looking for a typical time and materials formula. I’m having an ethical quandary.

I’m a relatively inexperienced hobbyist woodworker. I started about 22 years ago, but with some very extended pauses in between due to lack of shop space availability. I’m working on getting my shop set back up and would also like to sell some projects with the goal to minimize my losses on my hobby. Making a profit would be great, but it’s not the objective. The objective is to get to practice my hobby without breaking the bank. And having the additional funds would allow me to do more projects. You know, the actual hobby part of it!

I believe in paying for/earning my experience and education either through formal channels or reduced profits/wages. But with the reduced prices on a sold piece, I feel like it could unfairly take market share and profits from a more experienced professional woodworker who relies on the craft to make a living.

And just as detrimental to professionals livelihood is selling inferior goods at full pop and polluting a consumer’s trust in craftsmen if the item fails in some way. I see this all the time on the Facebook marketplace, where people are putting crap out there just to make a buck. There’s not a warning label on the post saying they are inexperienced when in many cases they clearly are.

My dilemma is that I don’t feel it’s proper for someone with only a few months or years to price their projects at the same level as someone with drastically more experience. But at the same time, I wouldn’t want to undercut them either.

I know there are both pros and hobbyists here and would like to get a take from both sides.

36 replies so far

View TravisH's profile


757 posts in 2942 days

#1 posted 12-29-2020 04:07 PM

Price it for what you want and can get. Let buyers decided what is fair, ethical, etc..

View 987Ron's profile


365 posts in 323 days

#2 posted 12-29-2020 04:32 PM

Does not matter if you are learning or not, the quality of the work is the thing to consider along with what you feel is fair and ethical as stated by Travisti. The market you are selling in will also determine pricing.
Good fortune with the venture.

-- It's not a mistake it's a design opportunity

View Tony_S's profile


1425 posts in 4090 days

#3 posted 12-29-2020 04:47 PM

What woodworking market are you considering competing with?

-- “Wise men speak because they have something to say; fools because they have to say something.” – Plato

View Rich's profile


6519 posts in 1596 days

#4 posted 12-29-2020 04:54 PM

Price it for what you want and can get. Let buyers decided what is fair, ethical, etc..

- TravisH

Yep. They’ll decide with their wallets. I never try to compete with commercial options since my work is far superior. If someone wants a top-quality piece, they’ll have to pay my price. I never bid low just to get the job.

As for the ethics of taking work from pros who do it for a living, that’s one of the things they deal with. It’s not my problem if a customer chooses me over them. They’re not doing it because I undercut them. My prices are quite high, often higher than theirs.

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

View a1Jim's profile


118161 posts in 4584 days

#5 posted 12-29-2020 04:56 PM

I think it’s great that you want to consider the ethics of possibly undercutting a professional woodworker Njner. As a so-called pro myself, no matter what you decide hobbyists will always be out there who will undercut pros prices because they want to or just don’t know any better.
Over the years I have customers come to me saying their neighbor will build their project for less than I pay for the materials, in my experience many want-to-be pros sell for less than their cost of the material. Why? because they don’t need to make a profit and they want to show what they can build and be a nice guy/gal. This zero profit or building at a loss makes it impossible for a pro to compete if they wish to compete in the first place.
Let your product speak for you by itself and price it so you can make money, you can’t determine how you’re affecting others and their businesses unless you know a specific business that your prices affect negatively then let your conscience be your guide.


View JAAune's profile


1932 posts in 3323 days

#6 posted 12-29-2020 05:28 PM

Don’t worry about what other people are charging. Focus on your own costs and desired profit margin.

Chances are if you spend much time working for slim margins you’ll get burned out pretty quick and will either raise prices or quit accepting jobs.

It’s also unlikely you’ll take much business away from professionals. People that can afford it pay extra to buy from an established pro with a good reputation. Branding works.

Don’t be surprised if the pros undercut you. Try competing with Walzcraft on selling cabinet doors and see how well that goes.

-- See my work at

View JackDuren's profile


1460 posts in 1966 days

#7 posted 12-29-2020 05:37 PM

I worked for many shops. I worked for a good shop that was one one of two shops that charged the least for cabinets. I took his pricing when I opened my shop…

If your slow you can’t charge double. You need to find out what going rates are…

View mitch_56's profile


56 posts in 1480 days

#8 posted 12-29-2020 05:40 PM

This becomes a billion word essay on free markets showing why the OP is….a nice person, concerned about fraud and fairness, but ultimately wrong, because it is a free market, and the OP does not have complete knowledge, and value comes from the buyer, not the seller.

TravisH has it right. Even if you make a Shaker piece which is inferior to one made by Christian Becksvoort in the eyes of every woodworker on this forum, a buyer might still prefer something about your piece to one made by a master like CB. That’s the buyer’s right, and it’s not for you to say the buyer is wrong. To do so is pure vanity.

OP sounds like a nice person, who will deal honestly with buyers. That’s all anyone can ask of you. Worrying about causing problems for “pros” sounds like an ego run amok. A pro is going to be far more skilled than you, have a far longer history in the industry than you, be far more productive than you, have a far greater range of skills than you, provide support such as consultations, installation, repairs years after the fact, have recommendations from past clients, be able to reproduce past pieces, will build pieces they don’t enjoy building, etc, etc. If you truly can compete with a pro, you’re probably not a hobbyist, and 99% of all buyers will easily be able to discern the difference between a real pro and a hobbyist.

In fact, as an ethical hobbyist, I’ll bet the OP will be cautious of allowing a stray buyer, who is clearly in need of the services of a professional, from buying from the OP by accident.

View northwoodsman's profile


510 posts in 4753 days

#9 posted 12-29-2020 06:14 PM

I don’t think it matters if it was made by a jr. high shop student or a 50 year woodworking veteran. It’s the end result and the finished product someone is buying. What would matter to me is the complexity of the joinery, the fit and finish, and the quality of the materials that went in to it. I know this contradicts my first sentence but I would also consider the maker and their reputation and willingness to stand behind the work if/when something does goes wrong. Let’s say that it’s a laser engraved Christmas ornament made out of a single piece of wood, not much could go wrong. On the other hand it could be a large farmhouse table with breadboard ends – lot’s of opportunities for eventual failures.

-- NorthWoodsMan

View CWWoodworking's profile


1491 posts in 1186 days

#10 posted 12-29-2020 06:17 PM

If a professional or production shop is worried about a hobbyist banging out a couple pieces a year, they have serious problems.

I make furniture full time and couldn’t care less if a hobbyist “steals” one or two pieces. In the end those people were probably never my customer anyway.

I actually give advice/help hobbyist from time to time. You never know when you might need them or the opposite.

View Woodknack's profile


13549 posts in 3387 days

#11 posted 12-29-2020 06:39 PM

After a few pieces sold you probably won’t be undercutting anyone, you’ll want due compensation for the aggravation of dealing with customers and the time put into each piece. And if you’re cheap, friends and family will line up to take advantage.

-- Rick M,

View JackDuren's profile


1460 posts in 1966 days

#12 posted 12-29-2020 07:02 PM

I don’t care abut a hobby woodworker except when they ruin a job and we get called to repair their mistakes. A lot of times the home owner doesnt have money to fix the repairs. Sometimes there major. You do the best you can to make things work and move on to the next one.

View Njner's profile


54 posts in 1627 days

#13 posted 12-30-2020 03:56 PM

Thanks again it’s been enlightening. I especially appreciated the pro perspective. I’ve had this thought in the back of my mind for a while and it was fun to get your thoughts.

I believe in free-market setting prices but I also believe it comes with some ethical and moral responsibilities beyond simply “caveat emptor”. Even Friedman constrained free-market ideology with ethical behavior.

“There is one and only one social responsibility of business – to use its resources and engage in activities designed to increase its profits so long as it stays within the rules of the game, which is to say, engages in open and free competition without deception or fraud.” -Milton Friedman

View splintergroup's profile


4650 posts in 2229 days

#14 posted 12-30-2020 04:27 PM

Consider that the “pro” woodworker is (or should be) selling a Rolls Royce and pricing accordingly. A Hobbyist is selling a Chevy and also should be pricing accordingly. Some buyers will love the styling of the Chevy over the Rolls and pay up. It’s all based on reputation and if the Rolls falls in quality, the price they can command will also slide. It really comes down to the discrimination of the buyer and their perceived value. There will always be a market for Rolls, even if there are a lot more Chevys being produced.

The wonders of a market based economy 8^)

View ChuckV's profile


3355 posts in 4534 days

#15 posted 12-30-2020 04:35 PM

As as hobbyist, you might be willing to do a one-time custom job that a pro would not want to take on. There is value in this as well.

-- "Melodies decaying in sweet dissonance." - I. Anderson

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