Pricing Requested Work

I’ve completed enough projects to where friends are asking for specific work. Many of these have been relatively straight-forward case-work – blanket chests and book cases.

About two years ago I completed a Jatoba-based outdoor bench and a follow-up coffee table (about $300 and $125, respectively, for the wood). The Asian theme on these two pieces – long curves and intricate joinery – generated further interest, and is moving my requested work into more of the same and now Rocking Chairs (Hal Taylor-style, to be precise). I mention this, as the Labor/Wood ratio is changing, as I move away from case-work – the Rockers will require at least a week, if not two, to complete, and I expect the wood costs will approximate $400 each.

My question is age-old: how do price work that is 1) going to either friends or family; 2) requires both expensive wood and significant labor – and sometimes new tools (a right-angle grinder, special router bits, …); and 3) is being done not-necessarily for profit?

To be fair, I’m more interested in your thoughts and perspectives on this, than I am in finding a specific answer: as I believe the answer becomes a personal choice: your thoughts and perspectives will help form the decisions I need to make.

Thanks for your comments and considerations.
MJCd

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Madts ...

For friends it is freeeeee. They have to help, materials and provide the beer.
I have had more problems doing stuff for friends than anybody else.
Charge the most you can get away with for regular customers.
.
Trust me. Otherwise your life will be hell.

Dr. Sawdust ...

I hear what you are saying. I find myself in the same situation on occasion. I have tried two different approaches. On really simple things, a picture frame, or a box made from scrap pieces in the shop, The friend/family member usually doesn’t care what wood species is used and is very content to have something that works. For those projects I tend to just give it away. It’s good practice, doesn’t take long and uses up scrap from the shop.

However, when friends/family seek me out and make a formal request for a specific sized table or bookcase, made from specific wood. Knowing that the project going to take me a week to make I have to consider the time. I am only able to work in the shop in the evening and weekends. This is also when I spend time with my family. I explain to the customer that I will be happy to do for $350 plus the cost of the wood. If they are still interested I have them pay 50% of the total upfront and 50% upon delivery. The family knows that when I a finish the project we’ll all go out to dinner and ice cream. We have 5 boys, so going out to dinner is a huge treat . . . we don’t do it too often.

Art ...

Unless you intend the item(s) to be gifts (free), then you should, at least, cover your costs-stock, parts, finishing products, tool depreciation, disposables (sand paper, etc), electricity, heat, etc, etc. If you just enjoy making stuff, as most of us do, then you can count your time as free (if you so choose) because you would be making something anyway and the project in question helps keep you busy. I charge friends and acquaintances, but immediate family (siblings or offspring) is free unless they intend to give the item as a gift.

Huff ...

To be fair, I’m more interested in your thoughts and perspectives on this, than I am in finding a specific answer:

That’s the best way to look at it; because there is no specific answer and it will be the same questions you’ll be asking yourself in years to come.

1. Friends and family: That one was very difficult for me in the beginning, but as I grew my business, my friends and relatives began to realize this was my living and respected that by not asking or expecting me to build things.
With that being said, If asked to build something for a friend or relative, I try to do it as a gift and sometimes I have to gracefully back away if I simply don’t have the time.

2. As far as a project that may require a new tool, I usually chalked that one up to growing and giving myself the ability to advance my woodworking. Years ago, I did bid on a job that was restoring a century home that required turning 69 spindles to rebuild the gables. In my price I figured a new duplicating lathe since I decided if I tried to turn 69 spindles would be like repeating a story 69 times. (the last one is never excactly the same as the first). I did get the job and I did get a new lathe. lol

3. Sometimes it’s OK to do a job more for the experience than for the profit, but since woodworking is a never ending learning experience, that can be a slippery slope.

For me; owning and operating a custom woodworking business for 27 years, it didn’t take me long to realize I had to make a profit to stay in business and nothing will take the joy out of woodworking faster than giving up all your time for nothing.

If you’re doing woodworking only for the satisfaction of building the projects, then keep it strictly as a hobby and never worry about charging for anything other than materials.

The hardest thing for any woodworker, is trying to bridge the gap between being a hobbyiest to being a professional woodworker making a profit doing woodworking. _ Everything in between is a struggle trying to justify what and why we’re doing it._

The decisions you make on how to handle each senerio is whatever feel right for you at that particular time.

Good luck

lanwater ...

I don’t sell woodworking stuff.
My general rule is Don’t take money from friend and family for products or service.
free advise yes go shopping with them yes but I won’t sell anything to them.

That has gotten me in hot waters at time but I have peace.

MJCD ...

Many Thanks for the discussion and thoughts – these help solidify, perhaps rationalize, what I’m thinking. While I was not looking for a specific answer, I’ve come to the following ‘guideline’.

Summing it all …:
My immediate family – daughter, grand daughters, obviously my wife – everything is free. My recent DVD Holder – the Hard Maple, Sapele; the design time and execution was all done pro bono – and I believe that’s the way it should be.

My brothers and sister, and extended family – they’ll be offered at materials value, unless it’s a rocker (I’m sooo bad at rockers that I may die by the time I finish the three I have planned). I may have a ‘labor up-charge’ to a max of 100% of material cost (that is, perhaps about $400 max). But only if the rocker is perfect.

For Friends, probably the same as extended family – materials and a up-to-100% ‘labor up-charge’.

I’ve started to consider all of this, as my wood selections, and those of the individuals requesting specific pieces, have become more pricey, and I would like to cover at least a portion of my tooling costs.

I don’t want to end this thread, necessarily; so if the Forum wants to generalize the topic, that’s all the better.

Thanks, again – a big help.
MJCD