What do you charge for labor?

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Forum topic by McFly posted 11-06-2015 10:50 AM 2190 views 2 times favorited 49 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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273 posts in 1025 days

11-06-2015 10:50 AM

A co-worker asked if I’d make him a chessboard for his wife. He made it clear he’d be willing to pay for the finished product, but I have no idea what I should charge.

I figure I would charge $20/hr for labor and whatever I spend on material. I can’t imagine I would have to dedicate more than 4 full hours to the project once I get rolling and I already have the material, so I’m thinking of charging $100 for the finished board.

Does this sound reasonable?

49 replies so far

View Kaleb the Swede's profile

Kaleb the Swede

1833 posts in 1967 days

#1 posted 11-06-2015 11:25 AM

Maybe some other things to consider also:

Once I get rolling….. Isn’t the planning faze part of the charge as well? I would definitely add that. Maybe an hour or two.

How about finish time? Is this factored in also? Even if it is two coats of something quick like lacquer, it is at least another hour.


If you have thought of this all just ignore it. I am basing what I do when I play classical guitar for weddings. Some people think that it is only in the hour or two you play at the wedding, but the preparation and time spent before is always a consideration.

-- Just trying to build something beautiful

View InstantSiv's profile


262 posts in 1593 days

#2 posted 11-06-2015 11:42 AM

I would look around for prices on custom made chess boards and base my price off of that. 1. you can see what kind of quality is out there and where your work fits in. 2. Your co-worker gets a fair price. 3. you can determine if it’s even worth your time for how much money is involved.

View SirIrb's profile


1239 posts in 1229 days

#3 posted 11-06-2015 11:57 AM

When I made one I had a 43” wide belt sander at my disposal. That made sanding the endgrain easy. If you dont have something like this you may want to add hours. Also, you have to cut, glue, plane and glue again and sand. They seem easy, and they are but there is a bit of labor. I was in a fully equipped cabinet shop when I made mine.

-- Don't blame me, I voted for no one.

View dhazelton's profile


2767 posts in 2295 days

#4 posted 11-06-2015 12:57 PM

Depends on how you make it. Are you making it like a cutting board or veneering squares to a piece of MDF and wrapping that in a frame? Whatever you charge make sure the guy knows up front – don’t be insulted if he says ‘forget it.’

View McFly's profile


273 posts in 1025 days

#5 posted 11-06-2015 01:24 PM

I’ll be making the board from scrap lumber at work – fully outfitted cabinetmaker shop – so the machines needed to complete everything are no issue. We just got a dual drum sander that runs 60/80 and 100/120 grits, which makes getting everything sanded evenly a breeze.

I guess my best bet is to poke around on etsy and see what people are getting for custom chessboards and price accordingly.

Thanks LJ’s!

View WoodNSawdust's profile


1417 posts in 1174 days

#6 posted 11-06-2015 01:38 PM

Know your competition.

I start with the following as a base:
$5 shop fee (covers electricity, glue, sandpaper, etc.)
$16/hour labor (what I think it will take + a couple of hours since it always takes longer than expected)
Cost of materials +20% (covers my time and gas to go get the materials)
$20/hour finishing labor
cost of finishing supplies +20%

Then I will adjust based upon market and customer.
Even if I use a “scrap” (and what is scrap?) board I charge the going rate for it.

Only 1 of the last 5 estimates was turned down. If I go over the estimate they I charge the estimate price and chalk the rest up to learning.

-- "I love it when a plan comes together" John "Hannibal" Smith

View sawdust703's profile


270 posts in 1418 days

#7 posted 11-07-2015 06:44 AM

+1 to what WoodnSawdust said. I charge $12.50/hr on the scroll saw, $25/hr shop time, which covers shop supplies, finish work, electricity, etc. And I charge wood prices here in our area. I use rough sawn lumber, & it’s a little cheaper, & better quality wood than what I can buy “over the counter,” so to speak. Some tell me I ain’t charging anywhere near enough for the quality of work we do, others gripe because we overcharge. What I done was sit down & figured my average monthly expenses, & then figured out what I wanted to paid per hour. Figured that all together, & come up with the numbers I have. It sounds like ALOT, especially when you get into a scroll project that takes 30 – 40, or more hours. Then I figure out something different.

-- Sawdust703

View JAAune's profile


1798 posts in 2315 days

#8 posted 11-07-2015 07:23 AM

$45 an hour shop rate (just an estimate since I actually use a spreadsheet to calculate rates).Next year after I get the new shop properly organized and efficient shop rates will probably go to $55 an hour. Customers won’t see a noticeable increase in pricing because I’ll be working much faster.

Some favored customers get better rates but that’s because they are very reliable, pay promptly, are easy to work with and send a steady stream of work my way.

A chessboard I could probably pull off in 4 hours counting design, build and delivery. That would put the price around $200 but I’d probably prefer to offer a higher end version at $300. Being rushed into doing a budget project is never a good experience.

-- See my work at and

View McFly's profile


273 posts in 1025 days

#9 posted 11-07-2015 10:54 AM

Excellent advice all around. Not sure I’m ready to dive in full time just yet, but it’s awesome to know this resource is available!

View Tennessee's profile


2873 posts in 2512 days

#10 posted 11-07-2015 12:12 PM

One last thing to consider. If you are looking on Etsy for pricing, I’m not sure you can see the ones that actually sold, and what they sold for. Plus it is national, not regional.

Like eBay, there is a huge difference in what people ask, and what they actually get.

And Etsy does not take into consideration your regional area. Where I live, getting $45 an hour shop rate would never fly for a woodworking shop. I’d never get a job. And in Long Island or Manhatten, a woodworker probably would go broke on a $45 an hour rate. I don’t know what your area supports.

I run with a $20 an hour rate, + all materials, + 10%. And that is a “semi-retired” rate that puts folding money in my pocket, and pays an occasional household bill. I could not live off that, but I still have people turn me down money wise, about 15% of the time.

This economy in the last 8 years has generated more people who are frugal than at any time in my life. Disposable income is at an all-time low since the Great Depression and WWII.

Back in the 80’s, when I ran my refinishing shop, we charged $15 an hour or so, (+ we always added two-three hours), + materials, + pickup and delivery costs and never got turned down. And that was about 30 years ago.

-- Tsunami Guitars and Custom Woodworking, Cleveland, TN

View jeffswildwood's profile


3188 posts in 1975 days

#11 posted 11-07-2015 02:19 PM

This is quite informative. I have found that if I charge an hourly rate it would be so expensive no one would buy it. That meaning I am slow. I figure up the wood cost, add a bit to replace my extra items, sandpaper, glue ect. Then raise price from there to a fee me and the buyer can agree on. Some projects I do ok, some not so good. Bu with left over wood I do have projects that there is no wood cost. Those are where I do my best.

-- We all make mistakes, the trick is to fix it in a way that says "I meant to do that".

View jumbojack's profile


1676 posts in 2622 days

#12 posted 11-07-2015 03:14 PM

I price like jeffswildwood. Figure my cost of material + what ever I feel comfortable charging. Most of the time it is about double the COM. I just recently completed a garden bench, cost was just shy of $300. I have just under 40 hours in it and charged $600. My customer was pleased, I am happy.
I do not do this as a vocation, it is a hobby, as such I don’t have a FIXED price for labor. Some smaller projects I am well under minimum wage.

-- Made in America, with American made tools....Shopsmith

View Yonak's profile


986 posts in 1519 days

#13 posted 11-07-2015 03:31 PM

As far as an hourly rate, I think it must depend on the area you’re located in. I usually go for $15. I think that’s higher than the rate most workers get in my area.

View a1Jim's profile


117091 posts in 3575 days

#14 posted 11-07-2015 03:57 PM

You want to charge for the product not just your labor ,look on etsy and see what folks charge there for chess boards.Haveing a woodworking business I’d starve to death if I charged $5 an hour, $200 divided by 40 hours = $5 hr. Any customer is going to be pleased if you sell you work for 90% less than a professional ,Sorry Jack,this is not an a personal attack on you ,but people who charge so little hurt professional woodworkers trying to make a living woodworking. Folks say there not doing their work as a vocation but still sell products to people they still call “customers” always puzzles me, this is acting as if you’re in business?
There must be at least 50 other threads that cover this subject on LJs take a look there too McFly.

-- wood crafting & woodworking classes

View Betsy's profile


3391 posts in 3894 days

#15 posted 11-07-2015 07:43 PM

You have to know your market. I do shows and it took about 3-4 shows at different venues to really find out what price range people would purchase in. One show – it was a little lower than the other – so I have to deal with that. Once I figured that out I now taylor my boards to meet that. I always take boards above the range for that occasional person who is willing to pay more, but I sell way more in the range than out. I make good boards that are priced to make a profit but are also priced to sale. I could carry $200 boards to every show I do and not sale a single one – but I can carry 20 o 30 $55 to $65 boards and sale them all. So you have to fit your market.

I both agree and disagree with Jim – undercutting the pros in the area can hurt their business, however, at some areas/markets you’ll not find anyone going to a pro who does what I do to buy a board or a small knick knack. If they can’t afford my price range they are not going to pay a pro the price he needs to make a profit/living. But if you hit into the furniture or kitchens, cabinets, etc. I can certainly see Jim’s point. But the people not doing this as a vocation but to make a little extra money to do whatever with should not be demonized/disliked/looked down on/criticized/etc. for doing what they like to do and for putting a little money in their pocket. I make good money to supplement my income and for that no apologies are necessary.

Jim – I mean no offense – but I’ve heard the undercutting issue many times and have actually received a few nasty messages telling me that I should not be doing what I’m doing because I’m hurting the pro business. Oddly enough none of those pros where even in my area – so go figure to vitriol I received. I don’t think in the long run the average Joe doing a few shows or selling an occasional project to a friend or acquaintance is going to hurt the pros – just an opinion and I’m sure others will disagree with me. Feel free to disagree – but please no nasty PMs (that’s not for you Jim – you’re not like that and I know it – it’s for the other trolls.)

Just my two cents – spend it wisely.

-- "Our past judges our present." JFK - 1962; American Heritage Magazine

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