Seeking general commission advice

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Forum topic by Ted78 posted 03-08-2017 04:10 AM 1051 views 0 times favorited 10 replies Add to Favorites Watch
View Ted78's profile


401 posts in 2172 days

03-08-2017 04:10 AM

Topic tags/keywords: rustic question

I’m pretty new to the getting paid for your woodworking game. A friend e-mailed saying she had given my name to a gentleman who wanted a ‘conference table built’ I contacted the man and it turns out he wants Eight! 3’x6’ tables with an ‘industrial’ or ‘tap room’ look. He sent me a link to an iron plumbing pipe table frame and pretty simple 2×6 plank top. I looked up price for buying and having the pipe cut to size and threaded. I shot back a price of $400 per table $$3,200 thinking that would be the last I’d hear from him, but he still seems interested and we are meeting tomorrow to discuss it.

I’ve drawn up half a dozen different sketches of table designs I think might meet the aesthetic he is looking for.

1. The tables need to be fairly simple to construct if I have any chance of building eight of them in a reasonable time frame, woodworking is a hobby for me, I have a full time job.

2. He wants a ‘tap room’ ‘industrial’ ‘reclaimed lumber’ type look, but I’m having a hard time combining this with a table top appropriate for taking notes on a sheet of paper with a ballpoint pen as I imagine would happen at a conference table a lot. Any thoughts or advice of this topic would be appreciated.

3. Any advice going into this meeting tomorrow also would be appreciated.

Sorry, I know this post post is me just sort of rambling on and pretty disjointed, but that is about how my thoughts about all this stand right now. Should I stop wasting this poor guys time and tell him to bugger off. Could I actually make a little money at this? Support my hobby? I’d much rather build people tables than do what I actually do for a living all day.

-- Ted

10 replies so far

View Picken5's profile


261 posts in 2864 days

#1 posted 03-08-2017 04:40 AM

If you’re confident that your quote is fair for the project as you understand it, then you should be fine. Just be ready to discuss details such as lead time, payment terms (I’d ask for somewhere between 30% & 50% upfront with the remainder to be paid upon delivery), and design details. If the client wants to change something that would impact price, let them know right away.

I’d bring up your concerns with the practicality (point # 2) at the meeting. Maybe he hasn’t considered that and would appreciate the heads up. Or maybe his “application” for these “conference tables” aren’t what you think. 3×6 is pretty small for a conference table. Sounds like something he plans on using in bar or pub. Be open in your discussions and ask lots of questions. You’ll get a better idea of what he’s looking for and will do a better job for him.

-- Howard - "Time spent making sawdust is not deducted from one's lifetime." - old Scottish proverb

View Durbs75's profile


134 posts in 788 days

#2 posted 03-08-2017 12:39 PM

Picken 5 has some great points! Below are my 2 cents!! Before I quit my day job and went full time into woodworking as a career, I did the same thing you did. Since I was doing it as a hobby to start out with, I eventually knew 100% I wanted to make a career out of woodworking. If you just want to make a little cash on the side and keep it a hobby, that is cool too!! But if you want to make it a career, then make sure you are build your profit margin into the price so you can actually have profit AFTER you have taken out the cost of the materials, IRS taxes, and any sales tax you will have to pay. There is a whole lot of info to consider when making the leap from hobby to full time, but that is for another forum topic!!!!

1. Get EVERY single detail that you can including exactly how these tables will be used, type of wood to be used, stain color, and type of finish. Like Picken 5 said, it’s likely these are going to be used in a restaurant or bar. Having said that, if these are going to be used commercially and daily, MAKE FOR DARN SURE that the construction is exceptionally solid and well built, as you don’t want to be liable for failure if a customer or someone get’s hurt as a result of the table breaking. This is assuming normal use and not abuse. Also, if these are actually going to be used in a restaurant or bar, make sure you use a finish that will take the daily repeated abuse.

2. If these are going to be used commercially, likely the the guy will be writing off the cost of the tables on his taxes and therefore will likely provide you a 1099 at the end of the year. You will be responsible for the income taxes on this income whether he pays you cash or check.

3. Since this is a hobby for you, make sure you have all of the necessary tools and accessories to complete the job in the required timeframe you are given. Nothing is worse (well maybe, haha!!) than having to get a new tool to complete the job halfway through.

4. For self protection and to lay out the terms that you both agree on, provide him with a contract or something in writing that you both agree on. This way you are covered and have protection and it won’t be a he said she said type of situation. I have an agreement contract that I give all my clients that is VERY thorough. Unfortunately, I have learned this through experience.

5. For the pricing, if you are comfortable with the proposal, then go for it. Make sure you have built in your profit as well as any fuel it takes to go get materials and your delivery methods. Are you delivering the tables or is your customer picking them up? Do you have a truck and or trailer to deliver? Eight tables at 3×6 will take up space and if you are delivering, make sure to factor in the time and fuel it takes to deliver all 8 tables.

6. Lastly, like Pickin 5 said, ask lots of questions. In his quest to get tables made, you have to be sure that you can meet his expectations for the price you gave him. When meeting face to face to talk details, you can get the actual details he is looking for. If his expectations exceed what you are comfortable with or exceed what he is willing to pay based on his expectations, then you have to protect yourself. As a hobbyist, you don’t want to back yourself into a corner just by wanting to do a job. If it’s not profitable for you, exercise your best judgement based on your intended expectations for yourself and your eventual outcome!!!!!

-- Carey Durbin, Marietta GA,

View Aj2's profile (online now)


1787 posts in 1970 days

#3 posted 03-08-2017 02:39 PM

I think your projecting too much.Just focus on building the table and collecting the money.
All the rest you figure out as you move along.
I didn’t make very much on my first couple years of commission work.
But learned how to make commission work exciting and enjoyable that’s was very important to me I don’t need stress or drama.

-- Aj

View Loren's profile


10477 posts in 3820 days

#4 posted 03-08-2017 02:59 PM

Clients generally have a pretty vague idea what
they really want so I think you should take control
of the conversation and offer something like
a distressed/wire-brush finish. You can use
construction grade pine for this.

You will quickly discover that reclaimed wood
dealers charge a pretty penny for it, these days.

View rwe2156's profile


3134 posts in 1653 days

#5 posted 03-08-2017 03:05 PM

First, I would get a deposit of at least $400, then build one and let him look at it before doing the rest.

As for the rough top, just discuss that with him. Its not a big issue most people use pads to write on.
If it turns out to be an issue, you could put a piece of thick acrylic or glass on the tops.

As Loren said re: reclaimed lumber. Don’t be surprised if you are in the $7-12/BF range.

You may want to take a look at rough sawn lumber instead.

-- Everything is a prototype thats why its one of a kind!!

View canadianchips's profile


2609 posts in 3170 days

#6 posted 03-08-2017 05:09 PM

I think you quote is LOW !
I deal in reclaimed lumber… planks sell for 9-12 bd. ft.
Your one table 3’x 6’ x 1 1/2” thick has 27bd.ft. in it. At $9 bd ft thats $243.
Pipes and fittings will add up as well.
Allow 1 days wage to build, assemble, finish them. Polys on the wood- paint on the legs.

If it were me doing it i would buy new 2×10.
There are methods that replicate the ruff sawn look.

The client probably wants the “look” with the smoother finish….ask him or her ?
Sounds like a great project.
Best of luck in it.

-- "My mission in life - make everyone smile !"

View Ted78's profile


401 posts in 2172 days

#7 posted 03-08-2017 10:25 PM

Thank you for all the great advice! I’m feeling a lot more aware now at least of things. I’ve met with him and over my lunch break. They will be used as ‘conference’ tables for a non-profit “South of Downtown Association.” I brought him some pictures of design ideas and he picked one he liked sort of a picnic table look in my opinion but he liked it and should not be overly complicated to assemble. He seemed to be fine with a table that would get dented and scratched up with use. He was worried about splinters :) I assured my tables wouldn’t give him splinters His desire for reclaimed lumber stems from a mistaken belief it would be cheaper and a desire to be earth friendly. I promised to use ‘some’ reclaimed lumber and I told him I would use reclaimed lumber ‘where I could’. I proposed a top made of random widths of 2 x lumber. Again thanks everybody, all this advice is invaluable and I’m sure has saved me from a lot of headaches down the road.

-- Ted

View a1Jim's profile


117272 posts in 3750 days

#8 posted 03-09-2017 12:20 AM

I agree with a couple points, I think your bid is low. I never start work without a minimum of 50% down ,charge extra for everything, finishing, delivery customers expect it. Take an order for one table first and work out anything the customer wants differently with it. Get a signed agreement and if you have a sketch have him sign that too. Don’t commit to a time frame until you have the first table made. As you build the first table keep very close track of your time and material cost, this will tell you if the rest of the jobs worth doing for what you have bid it. In your agreement leave the terms loose in your favor and include your right to cancel after the delivery of the first table for any reason.

-- wood crafting & woodworking classes

View TungOil's profile


1040 posts in 667 days

#9 posted 03-09-2017 12:41 AM

Some good advice above. I think you may have gotten a bit ahead of yourself by providing a price to you potential client before meeting with him and establishing exactly what he wanted. When I was doing a lot of commission work I would always meet with the client to establish exactly what they wanted, when they wanted it and if possible what their expectations were around pricing. This allows you some time to go back to the shop, develop some designs and price the materials properly before you offer a bid for the job.

I always got 50% up front as well before I ordered any materials or started the work. Also don’t be afraid to walk away from work- frankly some clients are just too hard to work for and its not worth the trouble. You get a sense for these things after a few jobs.

-- The optimist says "the glass is half full". The pessimist says "the glass is half empty". The engineer says "the glass is twice as big as it needs to be"

View jmartel's profile


8193 posts in 2323 days

#10 posted 03-09-2017 02:46 AM

Definitely too low of a bid. I did a similar sized and style of table for someone and I charged $600. Even then, that was a bit low.

-- The quality of one's woodworking is directly related to the amount of flannel worn.

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