Trials and Tribulations #1: Turned Down a Project... Not Enough $$

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Blog entry by DamnYankee posted 11-10-2011 04:54 AM 1319 reads 0 times favorited 20 comments Add to Favorites Watch
no previous part Part 1 of Trials and Tribulations series Part 2: Tic Toc Can't Wait to Get in the Shop »

One of my previous customers (the Doll Wardrobes) asked me to build her a Hall Tree. She had pictures of two that she liked parts of, one she liked the bead board back of the other she liked the bench of. I did some rough designing and thought through the process/steps and determined the project would take about $350 in materials and take me about 40+ hours to complete. The time included shopping for the materials, the cutting, the assembly, and finishing (she wanted it painted). I then started talking to her about what I’d charge her. Based on blogs and forums here on LJ and discussions with other woodworkers I’m thinking 3 to 4 times materials so about $900 to $1200. Through our conversation she wants to pay me $600. I said thank you, but no thank you.

To add some perspective … the doll wardrobe—one of which she bought—(you can see it in my projects) had about $50 – $60 worth of materials in it, and I sold them for $200.

I am essentially a hobbiest, so I tend to make things for friends and family. Not always, but usually. The doll wardrobe mentioned above came about because I had made one for my daughter mostly out of scraps in my shop. Various mothers of girls who also have American Girl Dolls went nuts over the one I made for my daughter and I’ve ended up making and selling 5 so far, each for $200.

My wife felt insulted by the offer as it worked out to about $5 an hour to build it if my time estimate was correct.

Any comments on my decision to say no thank you would be appreciated.

-- Shameless - Winner of two Stumpy Nubs Awards

20 comments so far

View Mark Shymanski's profile

Mark Shymanski

5300 posts in 3132 days

#1 posted 11-10-2011 05:03 AM

That is the basis for free economy…you get to charge whatever you want, they don’t have to buy it. If they really want it from you they will meet your price.

-- "Checking for square? What madness is this! The cabinet is square because I will it to be so!" Jeremy Greiner LJ Topic#20953 2011 Feb 2

View MOJOE's profile


548 posts in 2688 days

#2 posted 11-10-2011 05:03 AM

I think you did the right thing. If your time estimate was correct, you can’t build for customers for that hourly rate. On the other hand, if you ever decide to dedicate more time to commissioned work, it might be wise to run a couple projects “on the cheap” to get a feel for the amount of time it takes you to complete the work. That way you can more accurately estimate pricing for the future.

-- Measuring twice and cutting once only works if you read the tape correctly!

View Bill729's profile


241 posts in 2501 days

#3 posted 11-10-2011 05:27 AM

As others pointed out, you reponse to say “no” is perfectly fine. I productive way to proceed might have been to describe to her the hall tree that you would be willing to build for around $600. For instance, you could provide a price and a product that does not include finishing or one that uses lesser materials. I am not in the business, I am just sharing my thoughts.


View bubbyboy's profile


137 posts in 2113 days

#4 posted 11-10-2011 05:30 AM

Sounds to me like it was the perfect answer.

-- I just don't understand. I have cut it 3 times and it is still to short.

View HerbC's profile


1567 posts in 2279 days

#5 posted 11-10-2011 05:39 AM

I’ve lost more money by committing to doing a job too cheaply than I have by refusing to do a job too cheaply.

You did fine. Bill’s idea to come back with a proposal that would fit the buyer’s price point might have helped but you did fine as it is. And your wife shouldn’t take it personally, it’s all just business unless you start to get personal about it.

Good Luck!

Be Careful!


-- Herb, Florida - Here's why I close most messages with "Be Careful!"

View William's profile


9906 posts in 2262 days

#6 posted 11-10-2011 05:47 AM

I, like you consider my wood working to be a hobby. I do sell some of my work from time to time. I build what I want to build. I often have people see my work and ask can I build this or that for them, custom work to their specifications. I work up a price based on an estimate of time plus materials. I have found that very (as in VERY) seldom does anyone actually want me to do custom work once they see the price. I am fine with that. I would rather not do this custom work if it means me doing it for next to nothing. It doesn’t matter (in my opinion) what the price is, high or low. If you cannot get a price for the work that you think is worth it, then there is your answer. It is not worth it.
By the way, I did not run the numbers, but if your five dollar an hour pay is correct based on you estimate of time, that is a ridiculously low price. I say this for several reasons. It is below minimum wage. Besides that, your estimate will wind up being on the low side. Trust me. I have never done anything (if you do everything to the best of your ability like I do) that doesn’t either run over on time, over on material, or both.


View littledempsey's profile


25 posts in 2268 days

#7 posted 11-10-2011 06:10 AM

When I bid a project my goal as a business is to have the materials 30% of the whole cost this price allows me to be profitable as a small business and actually pay myself. When I am slow and sense the potential customer will be stubborn with the budget materials are 50% of the entire project this is the bare minimum.

-- Unique Carpentry,

View YanktonSD's profile


190 posts in 1951 days

#8 posted 11-10-2011 06:16 AM

Good Job! Quality is worth the money, and people have forgotten what quality is worth.

View ShaneA's profile


6417 posts in 2018 days

#9 posted 11-10-2011 06:21 AM

If the money is not what you want, you did the right thing. I think most non woodworkers have no clue how much time, effort, and energy goes into a finished product. They really dont know any better, they have been de-sensitized to quality items. That is just the disposable mentality of the world, where cheaper is the most impotant thing.

View willie's profile


533 posts in 1874 days

#10 posted 11-10-2011 06:25 AM

I would have done the same. I worked for peanuts while I was learning this skill. Now that I have gotten to this level I will not work for apprentice wages.

-- Every day above ground is a good day!!!

View Tootles's profile


779 posts in 1921 days

#11 posted 11-10-2011 09:55 AM

It’s a hobby for you so unless you have a particular non-money related reason for doing a job, you should charge what you feel it is worth and not do it for less.

As a goodwill gesture, perhaps give her some scenes from shetchup so that she can find someone who will do the job fer her. Chances are that she will find out that you are not overestimating the fair price for the job.

-- I may have lost my marbles, but I still have my love of woodworking

View BilltheDiver's profile


250 posts in 2305 days

#12 posted 11-10-2011 05:37 PM

You did the right thing. To me one of the problems with this kind of situation is that if you accept the offer, you start the project already lacking enthusiasm for it. If you don’t look forward to working on a project, then it isn’t a hobby any longer, it is drudgery and instead of wanting to do your best, you settle for getting it over with.

-- "Measure twice, cut once, count fingers"

View Pop's profile


427 posts in 3366 days

#13 posted 11-10-2011 06:00 PM

The story of my shop work. I keep pricing my work way too cheap.


-- One who works with his hands is a laborer, his hands & head A craftsman, his hands, head & heart a artist

View Rob_n_Wood's profile


109 posts in 2768 days

#14 posted 11-11-2011 07:13 AM

Ok here is mystory regarding pricing I made a French rolling pin and took took it to our wood working group
A local person who stops in quite regularly was admiring it and said that she wanted one. well the one I had made was for the wife. but went home and made her one just like it .And here is what I did ….knowing I would not get paid what
I wanted I told her you pay for the materials=M Plus pay me what you make per hour=H and you match the hours
that I put in it= X so it looks like this (H x X)+M=$ Now I know she can’t do what I do in woodworking (and thats not much) and she dose not make much money either. but I thought it was a way making her realize what it cost in time.
which I think a lot of customers have a hard time realizing. Oh and by the way I will let you know how much I made
when she pays me (she is on the honor system)
By the way I am in sales and tell people no more than you expect.


-- "I predict future happiness for Americans if they can prevent the government from wasting the labors of the people under the pretense of taking care of them." Thomas Jefferson

View ratchet's profile


1389 posts in 3206 days

#15 posted 11-11-2011 09:20 PM

Custom commissioned furniture aint being sold in IKEA. Move on knowing that this may by far be the best way it could have turned out for you (maybe not her though).

Thank you for your service. Those of us that get to do what we want with our day appreciate those of you that keep it that way for us.

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