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Forum topic by rockindavan posted 05-30-2012 05:48 AM 1808 views 0 times favorited 21 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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299 posts in 2630 days

05-30-2012 05:48 AM

So a guy I have done some work for asked me the other day if I would be interested in taking on doing all the cabinets for his kitchen remodel. He is willing to pay for quality work, and he’s not interested in the cheapest option.

So heres my story. I just graduated from college with a mechanical engineering degree. I have been interviewing for jobs, but don’t currently know exactly where I will be working. The place me and my fiance will be living in has a detached one car garage. I have been using the wood shop at college for the last few years, so I have become accustomed to industrial machines with dependable accuracy. I have built up my hand tool collection and such, but I haven’t had a need to update my personal portable type tools.

So to take on a job like this I would have to update almost all my tools. Not sure how much a job like this end up bringing in. Also I assume I would have to get insurance and all the paperwork in place. Also once I got a job in engineering, I wouldn’t have much time to work on the cabinets.

Looking for input from someone who does cabinets for a living. I have a feeling it may be too big of a job. I would be nice to have a reason, and money, to update all my tools, but I feel like it could be a deal with the devil. Also I think a one car garage is a little too small. The kitchen is about 25 or so feet of wall space. Whats a reasonable price? Is it worth the trouble?

21 replies so far

View Loren's profile (online now)


10373 posts in 3641 days

#1 posted 05-30-2012 07:23 AM

You can do it. Do the design, order the doors. The face
frames are the most difficult other than doors and they aren’t
difficult at all.

Question is do you want to do it for the experience or not?

I won’t be specific about lineal foot pricing because you
have not specified style, material, hardware and finish.

View bruc101's profile


1200 posts in 3535 days

#2 posted 05-30-2012 08:18 AM

Question is? Have you ever designed, priced and built a set of kitchen cabinets before and how much time would you be given to build this set of cabinets?

Also follow Loren’s advice if this is your first set.

-- Bruce Free Plans

View Woodknack's profile


11601 posts in 2374 days

#3 posted 05-30-2012 08:27 AM

Here is my view, if you need the money and want to do it, then do it. You might be able to write the tool purchases off your taxes if you claim the income. But if you are on the fence then don’t do it. You also have to consider where you will store and how you will transport all those cabinets. Building a kitchen is a lot of work especially if you are truly going high end. Quality work means different things to different people – is it a $10k kitchen, a $50k kitchen or a $120k kitchen?

-- Rick M,

View Charlie's profile


1100 posts in 2280 days

#4 posted 05-30-2012 10:56 AM

I’m not a cabinet maker, but I’m jumping in here because I’m making all of the cabinets for my upcoming kitchen remodel. If you’ve never done this before, it can take an incredible amount of time. You also need to have room to process the cabinets through finishing. I have to move each completed cabinet out of the shop (small shop, about 1-1/2 car garage size) and into the garage so my wife can do the finishing. Garage was getting crowded so we’ve now stacked all of the pantry cabinets in the living room to free up space in the garage.

I’ve received a lot of help here on LJ and one-on-one with real cabinet makers. And it’s still taking me a lot of time. In my case, we had a severe need to keep the $ figure as low as possible and still get some stuff we wanted. If I were to do this again, I’d spend a little more money to get all prefinished sheet goods, and I’d send it out to be CNC cut. This requires that you spend time doing DESIGN for the CNC, but overall I think you’d end up with better cabinets and you’re basically doing assembly. This leaves you time to do doors and drawers.
For drawers I’m going with Blum Tandembox system. You cut a bottom and a back and assemble the drawer. The glides ARE the sides. You drill the drawer front for a “fixing plate” and the drawer front snaps on. These are not cheap snap-together drawers. They turn out quite nice. And they’re considered an upgrade. Cost is working out to about 30% more per drawer than if I’d used Blum undermounts with soft close. But the speed is a huge plus for me as I’m on a deadline.

So, how quickly would you need to complete the cabinets?
Where are you going to STORE them before delivery?
Do you have some idea how much the HARDWARE is going to cost ? (my hinges and drawer system are around $1100 right now)

Go into this with eyes wide open. If you’re not a cabinet shop, this can be challenging. Cabinet makers are worth the price. I wish I could have afforded to have Bruce make my kitchen :) I’d be sippin’ tea on the screenporch. Instead, today I’m working on a sort of non-standard wall oven cabinet and then I have to start on the base/support for a 36 inch farm sink. When those are done I have to start on doors and drawers and shelves.

View Gene Howe's profile

Gene Howe

10476 posts in 3422 days

#5 posted 05-30-2012 12:21 PM

If your customer is willing to work with your possible future time limitations, go for it. But, I would suggest having the necessary tools in place before starting the job.
The year I retired, 10 years ago, in rural AZ, for plain Red Oak cabinets with paneled doors and one line of drawers under the counter top, I charged $150 a linear ft. and $100 for each extra drawer. Tall cabinets are also an add and price depended on configuration. Some drawers were more if we used under mounted soft close Blum hardware. Also, drawer dividers were more. Big Box cabinet prices were much less expensive. I didn’t try to compete on price. If a potential customer was price shopping, they were directed elsewhere.
The last set I built and installed was from QSWO in the Craftsman style. Lots of upgrades, all blum under mounts and Blum hinges, two base cab lazy Susans, one upper cab lazy Susan and a double trash/recycleable trash pull out. That one was $235 a foot + the upgrades. It was 20 ft on one wall, 12 ft across a connecting wall and a return of 16 ft set of back to back bases for a dining counter. (No uppers)
Transportation and installation was extra. At the time, I was charging .54 per mile, portal to portal and $60 per hour for two men/women, also portal to portal.
You must figure your lay out time, also. Always do it on site. Never trust that the walls will be true and the dimensions as built will match the blueprints.
It was part time for me as I was fully employed also. But I never lacked for cabinet work.

-- Gene 'The true soldier fights not because he hates what is in front of him, but because he loves what is behind him.' G. K. Chesterton

View Danpaddles's profile


573 posts in 2305 days

#6 posted 05-30-2012 12:39 PM

It is possible that the first time you do a cabinet job, will not be the best cabinet job you are capable of. For sure, there will be some serious “head scratching” time, and probably a few things you will have to do over.

You list some hurdles, they are not insignificant.

And there is a reason good cabinets are expensive.

Personally, I’d pass, but that is just me. I’d go for the route where I ordered unfinished cabinets from bLowes or Home Despot, then do the install and finish myself.

If you do it- there are books written about how to do it, check Amazon. You might also look for a local ww to partner with.

-- Dan V. in Indy

View Sawkerf's profile


1730 posts in 3062 days

#7 posted 05-30-2012 01:39 PM

As a retired mechanical engineer and current cabinet and furniture designer/builder, I recommend that you pass on this job.

Upgrading your tools will cost far more than whatever “profit” you could get from 25lf of cabinets. Even if you could do a qualiy job of construction, the real challenge will be getting a good stain/finish. Appearance is 99% of a kitchen cabinet job. Technical errors can be lived with, but a bad stain/finish glares at your customer (and his wife) forever.

-- Adversity doesn't build reveals it.

View a1Jim's profile


117086 posts in 3571 days

#8 posted 05-30-2012 01:53 PM

I would like to tell you go for it ,but there’s not enough profit in that many cabinets to pay for all new equipment. The other issues are cabinets take up a lot of room so you need a good size shop not a single car garage. Your already saying you may not have a lot of spare time how will you cope with being under a time crunch to get these cabinets made. Go with your instinct and pass on this job ,doing woodworking for a hobby is a lot different than doing it as a business.

-- wood crafting & woodworking classes

View rockindavan's profile


299 posts in 2630 days

#9 posted 05-30-2012 03:08 PM

As far as the time frame, I’m not quite sure how fast they want it done. After designing and building it would probably be at least a year, and they would be fine with that. I built a cabinet for them to match some wainscoting with 2 doors and homesawn veneer for 3k and money was no concern to them. If I did the job, I would make everything, M+T doors, whatever drawers they want, hand cut dovetails, etc. so it would take a long time. I would have to go over how long everything would take but my gut instinct is that I would start at 30K and go up from there. I have finished plenty, so I’m confident there is no worry of the finished product.

View Lee Barker's profile

Lee Barker

2170 posts in 2844 days

#10 posted 05-30-2012 04:10 PM

I am not confident that I have much to add here; the posts have been thorough and well thought out. It is a marvel that there are pros of the above quality willing to spend time on LJ to share the benefits of their experience.

I will respond as if it were my dilemma: I do not do my best work when I am preoccupied. I do my best work when I wake up in the morning, know what I’m going to do, and am confident I have the tools and the experience to do the job competently.

If I were wondering, each time the phone rang, if it were asking me to come in for an interview for a job that I had devoted years of my time preparing for, I would not have the focus necessary to do something as complex as a kitchen.

You may be wired quite differently and be able to deal with the ambiguity with grace and style, in which case, go for it!



-- " his brain, which is as dry as the remainder biscuit after a voyage, he hath strange places cramm'd with observation, the which he vents in mangled forms." --Shakespeare, "As You Like It"

View Doss's profile


779 posts in 2258 days

#11 posted 05-30-2012 04:38 PM

I’d say right now that if you are having doubts, it’s probably best to back out.

Here’s why:
1. If you are not confident you can do an high-end cabinet job, it’s probably not best to take on as a first job of this sort.
2. You have a limited amount of time from what it sounds like. Don’t underestimate what’s going to happen when you score a job in engineering. You could end up busting your butt for the first few years doing that and have little time for anything else. Ask me how I know.
3. While $30K plus sounds like a lot of money, you can find yourself over budget really quickly after buying tools, materials, and other consumables. Think about this, if you spend $6000+ on tools and (depending on materials) about $10,000-20,000 on materials and other expenses (fuel, power, beer), how much are you actually making? Not much. Or, if you end up having about $10k-20,000 left over after to go towards nothing but your labor, you’re making ~$10-20 an hour if you can do it in half a year’s full-time work hours.

I know of two different professional cabinet makers who would spend months on a set of cabinets for high-end homes. Think about that. These are professionals who do nothing but cabinets but end up spending 2-3 months (or more) building these high-end cabinets. How long is it going to take you devoting possibly limited hours?

My thought… pass. That is, unless you don’t mind possibly working for free because of improper cost analysis or if your customer really doesn’t mind that you’re now taking two years to deliver a set of cabinets to their home.

-- "Well, at least we can still use it as firewood... maybe." - Doss

View Loren's profile (online now)


10373 posts in 3641 days

#12 posted 05-30-2012 05:10 PM

Well, if you’re client is going to cough up that kind of money,
you can outsource parts of the job you don’t have the
space for, like the carcases, and put your time into all
that dovetailing.

You should know that clients pay for the end result, not
you having the tools and space to do the whole job in.

View Doss's profile


779 posts in 2258 days

#13 posted 05-30-2012 05:16 PM

You should know that clients pay for the end result, not
you having the tools and space to do the whole job in.

Which is one of my points Loren, though I did not state it clearly (thanks). The reason why cabinetmakers keep doing what they do is because they probably enjoy doing it or know that it’s what provides for them. Besides that, they take on enough jobs that the client’s money is going more towards the labor and materials rather than the tools.

You can view it as a good opportunity to stock up on some high-quality tools, but keep in mind that those tools require lots of space and eat up a lot of your profit that could be used to pay off some bills.

-- "Well, at least we can still use it as firewood... maybe." - Doss

View CharlieM1958's profile


16274 posts in 4212 days

#14 posted 05-30-2012 05:59 PM

My initial response when reading your question was “don’t do it”. (For all the negatives that have already been mentioned.) But after seeing your further comments about your past experience, and the time the customer appears to be willing to wait, I’m thinking it might be a pretty good idea.

Look at it this way: You’ll be doing it in your spare time… not as a means to put bread on your table. So whatever the labor portion of the price would be can be applied directly to new tools. (A professional would not have that luxury, because he needs that money to pay the rent.) I’m guessing there is enough labor in the job, as you describe it, to outfit a very nice shop, so essentially you would be trading work for tools. At the end of the project, you’ll have a lot of experience, and a well-equipped shop.

-- Charlie M. "Woodworking - patience = firewood"

View rockindavan's profile


299 posts in 2630 days

#15 posted 05-30-2012 08:23 PM

What is a common down payment for a large cabinet job? My brother is a finish carpenter and he got a 20,000 desk job where he got paid half up front. Is this common for a bigger job? I assume I would do a down payment then figure the rest by hourly after that. I would probably do somewhere around 30 an hour since I am not as efficient as a dedicated cabinet shop.

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