The Big Think

September 2, 2014

A Workman Worth His Hire

Filed under: Business,Woodworking — jasony @ 10:06 am

A response to some work that was going to be referred to me.

No offense, and a sincere thanks for thinking of me, but my experience with most people is that they’re not willing to pay hourly rate plus materials that most accomplished woodworkers (with money invested in equipment) need to charge to make a living (hence why I’m not making a living woodworking!).

Most peoples’ expectations of price for custom woodworking comes from the fact that they can go to the furniture store and pick up, say, an entertainment center for around a grand-and-a-half for a decent one. However, “decent” means that it’s cheap particle board with a nice looking laminate on top (which means its value is only skin deep). If they’re lucky it’ll last a decade or until the first major move. But, hey, appearances are what most people go on. 🙂

Meanwhile I spent 9 months and 200 hours building our solid quartersawn red oak entertainment center with ebony inlays and custom stained glass. The materials alone (unfinished, unplaned, pretty much just a hunk of tree) cost me almost twice what a Fry’s entertainment center would cost. And that’s before hardware like hand-hammered brass latches and handles. Several coats of hand-rubbed, custom tinted coloration and shellac, hand cut glass, etc. It’s an heirloom piece that will be around for at least a century or two as long as it’s not mistreated.

When I asked the employee at the woodworking store what he’d consider a good price for the piece (and thinking he might say $4,000-$5000), he responded by saying that something like this would probably go for the mid-teens. As in around $15,000. I’m really proud of that.

So yeah, most people probably don’t want to pay for that sort of workmanship.

I’ve had a few people who understand hand work and heirloom quality contact me and I’ve done pieces for them. They’ve been thrilled. But then again they’re the kind of people who have an “art budget”. 🙂

Renovations and around-the-house kind of stuff is still charged at plumbers rates. In my experience, though, most folks are looking for someone who would be willing to charge minimum wage and also include the materials in that. It’s depressing.

And also the reason that most custom woodworking shops either cater to the wealthy socio-economic market (who understand the value of super high quality) or go out of business. You’ll rarely meet a woodworker competing downmarket who is happy with their situation.

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