Pricing custom millwork?

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Forum topic by Ben posted 07-09-2013 05:38 PM 4504 views 0 times favorited 11 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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372 posts in 2819 days

07-09-2013 05:38 PM

Just met a new customer who has an antique piece missing a baseboard molding.
Told her it required custom shaper knives which cost about $110 (costs me $100).
So I told her $150 installed, as it’s just a little 2’ chunk of baseboard which will be painted.

Am now kicking myself wishing I had charged more. Have to go back to the site to remove the piece to mail off as a sample, take the time to box it up and mail it, buy a piece of wood, mill it, and go back to the site to install. Insane.

Is this as ridiculous as it sounds? Then again, how can you justify charging much more for this?

How would you guys have done it? What is a reasonable markup on the shaper knives? How do you charge for something like this that takes about 10 minutes of “work” but 2-3 hours of running around and organizing?

11 replies so far

View Loren's profile (online now)


10243 posts in 3610 days

#1 posted 07-09-2013 07:50 PM

well, if the client is buying other work as well…

But if not…

My rule of thumb is “if it feels like you’re doing the client a favor, you’re getting underpaid”

You may be able to make the moulding with hand
tools and sanding blocks, coves cut on a table saw
and rough out what shapes you can with router
bits. If it’s paint grade you can use something easy
to work with.

View rrww's profile


263 posts in 2075 days

#2 posted 07-09-2013 08:02 PM

+1 James101 hit it on the head

All my custom molding knives get marked up a minimum of 25%, unless its something I think I can use more than one time. If so, I charge cost.

Custom short run molding is expensive no matter what, and a lot of the big guys won’t mess around with a couple feet, if the customer didn’t know how expensive this is, after calling a few places they would figure it out quick.

My bid would have been no less than $225 to get the sample, send it off, get the knives, set up a run and make the molding. Painting and install extra at a hourly rate.

Sometimes somethings are just expensive, short custom moldings is one of those things. It’s the customers job to determine if it is worth the costs involved.

Hopefully the rest of the deal goes smoother for ya!

View Earlextech's profile


1160 posts in 2653 days

#3 posted 07-09-2013 08:42 PM

I come up with $275 and if the customers demographics allows I wouldn’t hesitate to charge more. You clearly know what you’re doing, most other shops or woodworkers don’t or wouldn’t be interested because they make their money building cabinets or such. You have the advantage, don’t fail to use it.

Don’t ever tell a customer a price that you “think” is reasonable because you will lose money. In my custom cabinet business I didn’t aim to make things expensive, but I did like to see a small tear drop in the corner of their eye when they are writing the check.

One more thought, if they don’t want to pay your price, you’re better off without them because they are the ones that will make your life miserable.

-- Sam Hamory - The project is never finished until its "Finished"!

View Jorge G.'s profile

Jorge G.

1537 posts in 2437 days

#4 posted 07-09-2013 09:01 PM

How do you charge for something like this that takes about 10 minutes of “work” but 2-3 hours of running around and organizing?

The answer is right there in your question, you charge your shop rate for the total time it takes to do the job. Without knowing your shop rates it is hard to know if you did good or not, but at a glance I think you did fine. If it takes you 3 hours to do this, then you charged $50/hr.

No one likes to leave money on the table, but you have to balance this with obtaining a reputation for doing a good job at a fair price. IMO you have done that.

-- To surrender a dream leaves life as it is — and not as it could be.

View Ben's profile


372 posts in 2819 days

#5 posted 07-09-2013 09:36 PM

@ Jorge:
Thanks, but actually my $150 number included the knives! So basically if I can ship the sample, get the knives and the material, mill it and install it in one hour then I’ve done OK. But I realize this is not going to happen.
She did want other work done, but I have a feeling once I give her a price on that it won’t go through.
So I don’t feel I can go back to her now and change the price on the molding job. Gah.

View joeyinsouthaustin's profile


1294 posts in 2035 days

#6 posted 07-09-2013 09:49 PM

Simple answer, I mark up other’s services %35 (to account for my time in the process), that would be the special knife and/or milling, For services I charge a min charge, and shop rate after, this varies by task. My min charge for repairing trim is one day labor, time estimates above that I add %35 to my best guess. If I am good I deserve the money my experience has earned me, but most the time I get paid a fair wage, and don’t have to worry about working for free. Repeat clients have earned different up and down charges based on how nice, or not, they are. Anyone who thinks it is too much, I offer cost, plus mark up, plus time. Those clients have almost always ended up paying more that my original estimate, and the ones who are return clients have taken my number with out gripe.

-- Who is John Galt?

View Ben's profile


372 posts in 2819 days

#7 posted 07-09-2013 09:51 PM

This is really helpful, Guys. Thanks.
I’ve been mostly a carpenter and am starting to get more custom millwork/turning jobs and have been having difficulty pricing stuff.
Hard enough time with carpentry, actually…

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404 - Not Found

2544 posts in 2931 days

#8 posted 07-09-2013 10:06 PM

Grin and bear it this time.

I’d have a look and see if that piece of molding could be made without having to buy cutters. If it’s being painted you might be able to rout it in sections and glue it up.

If I had to buy tooling that I will use again and again I charge 75% of the cost, occasional use 100%, once off 125%.

View Jorge G.'s profile

Jorge G.

1537 posts in 2437 days

#9 posted 07-11-2013 02:20 AM

Thanks, but actually my $150 number included the knives!

Ahhhh,,,you screwed the pooch buddy… :-) Live and learn, been there done that…

-- To surrender a dream leaves life as it is — and not as it could be.

View Makarov's profile


102 posts in 1768 days

#10 posted 07-11-2013 02:34 AM

Make sure to make sample s of the trim while the machine is set up. You can probably sell it to another customer at a premium.

-- "Complexity is easy; Simplicity is difficult." Georgy Shragin Designer of ppsh41 sub machine gun

View ,'s profile


2387 posts in 3509 days

#11 posted 07-11-2013 02:53 AM

Jorge is right. ‘Live and learn’. I have learned the hard way a lot. I would have charged a ‘knife set up’ fee ranging 250 to 300 depending on cost of knife. Then I would charge 1 hour shop fee for producing and painting and then there would be a delivery / installation fee or the customer could pick it up and install it on their own. It would be costly. If she said no and moved on I would be relieved I did not have to bear that headache, if she said yes then I would be actually charging enough to purchase some advils so I could get through the headache.

-- .

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