First paying job - little old lady next dor

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Forum topic by johngoes posted 12-07-2010 03:30 AM 1611 views 0 times favorited 11 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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54 posts in 2859 days

12-07-2010 03:30 AM

Topic tags/keywords: cabinet quotes business

Often while working in my garage shop, folks passed by the open doors in the neighborhood and offered greetings. Once, our next door neighbor stopped by and mentioned that she would like something built for her office and she followed up with her request a few weeks later so I visited her and got her requirements.

Her request was for a cabinet to fit under a window in which she can store books and documents. I drew up a design, did some research on pricing (lumberjocks had good information) and presented a quote, that was quite frankly very low because she’s an 85 year old nice neighbor lady.

What I would like to do is present the specifications and request what you would quote in this circumstance (and for someone who’s not your nice elderly neighbor.) After I get some feed back, I’ll post a photo and let you know what I charged and how long it took to build.

Thank you all for your input!

Freestanding oak cabinet to fit under window, dimensions 31” tall, 18” deep, 52” wide. Three shelves, with doors to hide the contents. Would like the color to be a dark shade.

Also, at what point does one start thinking about the real business aspects? Do I need to file for a tax id if it is my goal to build up a business over time (while keeping my engineering job until I “retire” to this job…)

-- Anybody can become a woodworker, but only a Craftsmen can hide his mistakes!

11 replies so far

View canadianchips's profile


2306 posts in 2414 days

#1 posted 12-07-2010 04:14 AM

All I have to say is GOOD LUCK.
The “worst people” that I worked for were and still are the “little old ladies” Many years ago I had my own carpentry business. The little old ladies of the town I worked in neede jobs done. I always did the work ! Most of the jobs were trimming a door or adjusting a cabinet (Mostly 1-2 hour jobs that othere would not bother with.) I had a minimum $10 fee. I lived 10 miles away from town, I used my tools, I felt $10 was very CHEAP. All I heard was complaints from the OLD ladies to everyone else. He charged me $10, can you imagine..!
34 years later I did a job last week for another OLD LADY. Was asked by the Condo owners to look at her kitchen, the vinyl doors were peeling. I took them off, reglued them, adjusted ALL the rest of the kitchen.(About 4 hours work total) She was sitting in living room, I called her when I was done to look and make sure she was happy with what I did, She said she was and that there was some money on the counter for me for doing all that work. On my way out I picked up my $2. and left. YES I made TWO dollars last week.
SO, my advice as what to charge : (I have a heart bigger than my business head) Whatever you ask for, the neighbor lady on the other side is going to hear about it and want one for same price too !

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

View huff's profile


2828 posts in 2702 days

#2 posted 12-07-2010 05:15 AM

Johngoes, Your question is one that’s been a delimma for many. I’m not sure how you figured your materials for the job, but because of the size there will be quite a bit of drop from the sheet goods that will be required to make the cabinet. (Bottom shelf, shelves and the top being approx. 18” wide by 51” long) will require 3 sheets of plywood for the casework and one sheet of 1/4” for the back. Depending on the type doors you plan on making, you will need to figure enough solid Oak for at least the door frames, the face frame for the cabinet and your edging for the top and whatever you plan for a baseboard. Hinges, shelf pins (if the shelves are going to be adjustable), door pulls, stain and finish. Depending on where you can buy your supplies, you will probably have $400 – $450 in materials. Labor…....Be honest with yourself about how long you figure it will take you to make it, finish it and deliver it (if required). Your hourly rate is really up to you. Now to answer your question. Since I do this for a living and I have to figure all my overhead, taxes, insurances, etc., I would charge somewhere between $1,375 – $1,575, depending on the style doors and finish. If you are thinking about doing woodworking as a business, then you will want to talk to a good accountant and a good lawyer…..........and listen to them. They will be able to help you with what will be required to operate a business in your state. Good luck and I look forward to seeing the pictures of your cabinet. Let me know if you have any questions.

-- John @

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54 posts in 2859 days

#3 posted 12-07-2010 06:15 AM

I was out turning a gift for my wife – nice to see some replies in such a short time!

Man, I thought I was being too easy! $2 on the counter?!? I’ll have to watch out for that.

Huff, I have a good tax person to talk with and plan to when we discuss my taxes next year. On the materials, I bought retail (if I get a tax id I get a break on the sales tax in Texas for supplies bought for a business.)
1 sheet of 3/4 oak ply handled the entire carcase, except the shelves which were a 16 inch slice off another sheet. 5 4/4 rift sawn 96” rough oak lumber handled the face frames, top, door rails & styles.
I bought 1/4 ply for the back and the door panel, but the back of that ply was so ugly, I decided to buy big box 1/2” oak boards and make my own door panels. hinges, knobs, latches. Total for supplies (including stain and finish) $332 and change.

Finished cabinet picture:

-- Anybody can become a woodworker, but only a Craftsmen can hide his mistakes!

View huff's profile


2828 posts in 2702 days

#4 posted 12-07-2010 02:18 PM

Johngoes, Your oak cabinet turned out really nice and I’m sure your neighbor was really happy with it. How long did it take you to build and what did you end up with for a final price?

-- John @

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54 posts in 2859 days

#5 posted 12-07-2010 02:38 PM

Pricing story now… (I like to drag things out :) I took my preliminary sketch and estimated I would need 5 boards of rift-sawn oak, one sheet of 3/4” and 1 sheet of 1/4 ply. Looked on rockler at hardware prices and in the end estimated I needed $260 for supplies. Online I found more than a few sites that said one cost estimation method was to do a supplies times 4 or 5 multiplier to get price estimate with a simple piece getting the 4. Using that, the cost of the piece should have been $1040. However, given we’re talking my 85 year old widow neighbor, I didn’t want to go that high. I thought a lot about what I should submit and came up with $625 which I quoted as I presented the sketches of the design and she agreed to. I gave her a six week delivery estimate (working on weekends.)

When I delivered, she admired the work, then she said, “It was $450 wasn’t it?” I very quickly corrected her as I wasn’t going to go under the quote. (I brought the quote and sketch with me so she could see what she agreed to and that I built what I sketched.)

In my estimated costs I forgot to factor in stain and finish, and I didn’t plan on buying 1/2” oak boards from big box to build the door panels. Those added $62 to the cost.

-- Anybody can become a woodworker, but only a Craftsmen can hide his mistakes!

View Dark_Lightning's profile


2619 posts in 2526 days

#6 posted 12-07-2010 03:00 PM

I’ll say it here, if you’re going to be a businessman-

1.Get the price in writing.
2.Don’t give it away, even if it’s a “nice old lady”. You do one low price job, and every cheapskate in the county is going to be lowballing you on your work, then complaining about it.
3. Their friends will hear about your low prices and get you to do that for them…and then complain about it.

I worked automotive repair for years. Every person I tried to help out by giving a price break abused that largesse.

-- Random Orbital Nailer

View millssnell's profile


46 posts in 2188 days

#7 posted 12-31-2010 04:09 AM

Thanks for sharing this story, I feel like it really helps to get my bearings and learn from you.

View jim C's profile

jim C

1467 posts in 2515 days

#8 posted 12-31-2010 04:40 AM

Send them to IKEA and keep your sanity.

-- When I was a boy, I was told "anyone can be President", now I'm beginning to believe it!

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jim C

1467 posts in 2515 days

#9 posted 12-31-2010 04:59 AM

One more thing to say about trying to make a living/profit on woodworking. Unless you are capable, and can build a one of a kind “Greene and Greene” quality furniture AND have a showroom in a high society location like the Hampton’s, Lake Forest, IL, or Rodeo Drive, give it up. You need a serious investment in location, a pazazz factor and marketing finesse.
Other than that you’re competing with K-Mart, Ikea, and Naked Oak franchises (China imports) in the eyes of the public.
Quality furniture, one of a kind, is limited to those with money to burn and their bragging rights of purchasing specialty made objects. These clients are only in certain areas of the country. And they are really tough to deal with.
Other than that treat it as a hobby, and a love of doing.

-- When I was a boy, I was told "anyone can be President", now I'm beginning to believe it!

View TopamaxSurvivor's profile


17570 posts in 3093 days

#10 posted 12-31-2010 07:15 AM

I will second JimC’s comment about them “being really tough to deal with.” One of the first areas of service I quit doing were the high end residential areas when I started business. Too demanding, unreasonable and life is too short to put up with their crap. I do enjoy working for very low rates or free for those in real need or retired on limited incomes.

I taught myself to tool leather when I was a teenager. Back then people were able to support families on minimum wage jobs as farm laborers. Even then, I could see there was infinitely more money and a better living milking cows and hauling hay than in had craft work ;-)) If you want to be in business, do it as a consultant.

-- Bob in WW ~ "some old things are lovely, warm still with life ... of the forgotten men who made them." - D.H. Lawrence

View kcrandy's profile


285 posts in 2849 days

#11 posted 01-01-2011 07:24 AM

Great thread this. Informative. I’ve just started working on my first commissioned piece and pricing is a mystery. Been thinking about taking the materials number and then multiplying it. I started with .5 as the multiplying factor. Think I’ll go to 1. Greedy me.

-- Caulk and paint are a poor carpenter's best friends

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