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Blog entry by Steffen posted 05-18-2007 06:33 AM 1494 reads 0 times favorited 9 comments Add to Favorites Watch

As most of you might know I am pretty new to this site and catching up with all of you in the whole blog world might be a little dicey at first. This is actually the very first blog I have ever written. Go figure, everyone I know blogs or multi blogs or blogs while reading blogs…you get the picture.

For starters, I am always shocked when someone commisions work from me and when I tell them I don’t have time they up the anti in the form of “MORE MONEY”! I think to myself, why would you pay 40% more just to have me do it when there are 20 guys who do just what I do and some of them are cheaper? ( I have one couple in Yorba Linda who have been waiting for me to have time in my schedule for 6 months just so I can put an arch over their stair well)

The fact of the matter is, that’s the begining of a loyal customer base who will ultimately continue to buy from you throughout the years. In the world of art it is very difficult to judge what people are going to display in a glass case and what they will want to put tortilla chips in (I’m not gonna let that go Trent).

I read Marc’s blog about getting advice for a business plan and I posted the following knee jerk response. I think valueing our work is one of the most difficult problems we have…that is, once we settle the age old argument of Domino or not to Domino…Saw Stop, no Saw Stop…or maybe Spiral or Strait cutter head…you get the idea. After I posted the reply to his blog I thought “ding” this could be a good first blog for you Mr. Werner! So here it is…uncut and unedited.


I would like to add my two cents worth of advice and a little story if I may. Pricing fine woodworking is a very subjective and difficult thing.

I work as a docent for Sam Maloof. Every third Tuesday night we have a meeting in Sam’s house where we all have dinner together and talk about what’s going on that month. The best thing I like about it is I get to talk to Sam and sit in all of his furniture.

I was sitting talking to another docent and he saw one of the pens I make in my pocket. He said “hey, I make pens too” (this man was about 40 years my senior). He then asked if I give them away and I kind of chuckled and said no. I said I actually have them in a store in Orange and the retail price is $110 to $135. He about fell out of his chair. Apparently he gives his pens away or will sell them for maybe $10 which doesn’t even cover the cost of the kit, wood and electricity to make the thing.

He spent the next 15 minutes practically scolding me for trying to get so much for my pens and he finally stood up and walked away…Stood up out of a $35,000 Zircote rocker that had already been sold. Oh yeah, there is a 4 year waiting list for those rockers and Sam and the boys can build about 60 of them a year along with a lot of other stuff…Do the math!

All out of Sam’s shop, attached to his house (don’t get me wrong, there aren’t too many of us who have 750,000 BF of lumber at our house). But Sam started in a chicken coup where he had to take every tool out at the begining of the day and put it back at the end and he was nearly 40 when he started doing it as a full time income. His house was then and is still today, his showroom.

When I get discouraged about not making enough money or there won’t be a client for my product I tend to visit the following site. It is a woodworking cooperative and there are a lot of artisans there who list their work and how much it cost. Some of it is shocking but most of it is all commisioned work.

Good luck…stay focused…be encouraged.

-- Steffen - Kirkland, WA

9 comments so far

View scottb's profile


3648 posts in 4292 days

#1 posted 05-18-2007 06:43 AM

What an opportunity you have being in Sam’s circle!

I’ve seen pens going for that and If I had the money, would have no qualms about paying it. I once saw a coat of chain mail armor at King Richards Faire, with a thousand+ dollar price tag. Being a poor student at the time,.. Why so expensive I asked… “All the labor” was the matter of fact reply. Turns out he was barely breaking minimum wage, for good quality work. Supply vs. demand though.

An art director once warned me not to just give away my work as Christmas presents either – at least not unless I’d have spent that much money on said recipient, as it just devalues our work, or the preceived value.

Welcome to Lumberjocks!

-- I am always doing what I cannot do yet, in order to learn how to do it. - Van Gogh -- --

View frank's profile


1492 posts in 4171 days

#2 posted 05-18-2007 11:08 AM

Hi Steffen;
—-well I really enjoyed reading your first blog story here! You write in an easy and informative manner, great story!

And then also thanks for the link to the woodworking site, great artist there and a ‘great links’ page….

Thank you.

-- --frank, NH,

View MsDebbieP's profile


18615 posts in 4126 days

#3 posted 05-18-2007 01:55 PM

great blog. I enjoyed hearing about your meetings.

I find it interesting that someone there would de-value the pen. Very interesting.

-- ~ Debbie, Canada (

View Greg3G's profile


815 posts in 4051 days

#4 posted 05-18-2007 03:43 PM

Welcome Steffen, an excellent Blog. It is a constant pet peeve of mine, people under pricing their work. I see it as an example of low expectations for themselves and the industry as a whole. I have noticed that some people’s self-esteem often reflects their pricing. If they don’t feel worthy of the price, they won’t ask for it, no matter how good it is. This not only makes it difficult for them to make a living at it but it also impacts those who are also striving to earn a living at it as well buy lowering the customer’s expectation of what a fair price for our work is. Why can a senior executive at a major corporation expect to receive a 6 figure salary? Years of experience. Now why must a craftsman who has just as much experience building fine studio furniture expect to make minimum wage? He or She should not. Our time is a finite, diminishing resource. We should price that accordingly.

The example of the gentleman who was upset about the price you were getting for your pens is a good example. He probably felt that he could never meet the level of Sam Maloof, not many of us can. But that does not mean that his work is any less valuable than yours. I would have taken the news of someone pricing above me with compariable work as good news, I would have immediately reflected this in my pricing models.

The next issue is hobbiest vs professional. I am not speaking to skill level but rather where they make their livelyhood. A hobbiest will almost always underprice their work because they think that since they don’t make their living at it, it should not be worth the money that it could other wise bring. This impacts the professional when customers compare what the hobbiest, neighbor down the street would charge them compaired to someone who runs a business would charge. The customer seldom sees a difference between the two except when they expect the hobbiest to deliver a project on time, most hobbiest have a very hard time meeting deadlines because they have a lot of other demands on their time as well as a lack of understanding of project scheduling and time management.

Enough of my ranting about pricing.

How blessed you are to spend time with Sam. He seems by all accounts to be a very personable man with a genuine love of his art. I couldn’t imagine opening up my home to the public as well as my shop. It would be too distracting for me. Just curious, Is he still buying more wood? One would think that at age 90 and 750,000 BF of lumber already on hand that he might think that he has enough. 

-- Greg - Charles Town, WV

View Steffen's profile


326 posts in 4001 days

#5 posted 05-18-2007 04:02 PM

Well, I think he still buys some wood for particular projects. I know one year would normally not make a difference to most of us but when you’re Sam’s age it might be. Sam turned 91 in Jan. He still makes time every day in his shop.

Though I get to work there and be in his house on occasion…I don’t get to talk to him about that kind of stuff. Though he probably would if he had the chance.

-- Steffen - Kirkland, WA

View MsDebbieP's profile


18615 posts in 4126 days

#6 posted 05-18-2007 04:05 PM

pricing: when I finished my challenge table I asked my daughter how much she would pay for it.. (I asked, ”$20?) She frowned and said, “No, I was thinking $50”.
After scanning through some spring flyers that came in the mail I saw some simple little tables that were on sale for $49 and thought that she was right – a handcrafted table made from “real wood”.. it should sell for $50. A lesson learned

-- ~ Debbie, Canada (

View Bill's profile


2579 posts in 4127 days

#7 posted 05-18-2007 05:18 PM

A nice blog Steffen. You are in a great position to learn from someone like Sam.

About the pens, I agree with Greg that if I found out my pens could be making that much, I would raise the price instead of getting all upset. But, he also has a different set of customers too. Maybe you should offer to get some of his pens into a store so he can make some money. Selling a few pens at that price would make him feel much different I bet.

I would love to have a backlog of customers wanting my work. My dream is to someday get where I can pick and choose what I want to do. Right now, what ever comes along is good.

-- Bill, Turlock California,

View scottb's profile


3648 posts in 4292 days

#8 posted 05-19-2007 06:04 AM

I guess there is the offchance (but unlikely) possibility that this gentleman was thinking of the price in terms of when he was your age, and $10 could buy a weeks groceries. Forgetting about inflation and all that.

Karson has talked about giving away the pens he made, but usually he ends up with a truckload of lumber in exchange, so he’s really cashing in.

-- I am always doing what I cannot do yet, in order to learn how to do it. - Van Gogh -- --

View woodspar's profile


710 posts in 4065 days

#9 posted 05-19-2007 06:22 AM

Excellent write up Steffen, appreciate the perspective. The pricing issue is what it is. I think that marketing has a lot to do with it. Marketing is a whole ‘nother world and skill set…
Greg – good comment about deadlines and meeting them!

-- John

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