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I've been making quite a few commission pieces these days, and have always had the issue of how much do I charge for labor.
I have no problem charging the materials, but when it comes to how much to charge for time I'm kinda lost...
I don't want the customer to feel that they got ripped off. What do you have to say? What's your advice for me?
 

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Figure how much your time and shop is worth per hour-hint: it's not less than $50. Make your best estimate how many hours the project will take, then double that amount, times what you came up with for hourly rate. If it's a big job, make the factor x4. You won't be able to make a living by doing people favors. Of course, this will vary if you have no experience at all, but if you are getting commissions, I would think you have some experience.
 

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One of the things that newbies do when selling their work is to underprice it thinking that people won't buy it otherwise. Well, some people won't but why should you be doing them favors. It's tough to sell good work at a fair price because buyers often think it's too expensive, but you need to stick to your guns if you want it to be other than a hobby where you are giving away your labor.
 

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I commissioned a friend in the business to make two bed side chests. He said he needed some money. Then he came later and said he needed some money. I was getting annoyed at the price. Then I went to a local furniture store and looked at prices and the quality. I shut up and was grateful for the low price as compared to the junk in the store.

My house is furbished in early attic and old garage furniture bought in the 1970's so I am somewhat outside the furniture buying loop.

I worked with him some when is shop rate was $18/hr back in 1980. He flat out told me to charge what time you put in and do not back down. Not less that $50/hr is good advice. My local auto shop rate is close to $100.00/hr. Furnace guy charges $90 to just come look for about half an hour.

Look at tennis shoes. Retail over $100 for many. Cost to produce less that $8. Production cost, storage costs, tax cost, building cost, tool cost. utilities cost, delivery cost, and lots more.

Price is determined buy cost to manufacture. Always has been and always will be.

You are not competing with IKEA or a China Mart. Your customer is not the same.

My wife is an artist. We have to keep reminding ourselves that we are not our market.
 

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Labor rates will vary around the country so I won't go there. Just keep in mind when you bid a job it always takes longer than you think and there is travel time back and forth to the job site and a certain amount of slack time between jobs you need to average out. Then you have overhead expenses and you have to maintain your tools and replace them from time to time so what you charge for yourself should be about 25% of your hourly rate.
 

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To elaborate a bit on what's already been said. The problem you'll face is that many people have a "Walmart" mentality. They expect a good looking piece at a similar price to what Walmart sells an item for. Problem is, you'll likely have as much in materials alone, and nothing for your labor. The commission market is different from the mass market. What you're selling is quality construction, perhaps local materials, local craftsmanship, and exclusivity by being totally custom. Building commission stuff is one off work and should be priced accordingly. You won't be able to compete against IKEA or Wally world. You'll have to also point out that the materials you use (hopefully the "good" stuff) isn't what they see in a mass produced setting. The sales guys have bamboozled the public with what constitutes "real wood". I recently installed some under cab lighting in a $650k custom house. The owner was proud of his "solid wood" maple custom cabinets. He wasn't so proud when I showed him that what he really had was maple veneered mdf that, while it looked great, was still maple veneered mdf.

A recent illustrative case. My son recently got married (another long story), and he wanted a chest of drawers for their bedroom suite. The problem he had was that many of the off the shelf/floor items were wrong size, didn't like the finish, didn't like the wood, no design suitable. His reply was he didn't want a thing from me for a wedding present, at least in a usual sense. He said he wanted my and his grandfather's labor building a custom piece and he would supply the wood. Well, my dad and I built him an arts & crafts style piece out of qswo and maple. He specified that we were not to finish it, that he and his bride would do the staining and finishing. Some 50 manhours later, he had his custom chest of drawers, ready to finish. He had a friend of his come by to see his and his bride's handiwork on the piece and to give a rough appraisal for the piece. Price came in at $3500. Why? It's solid qswo, not a veneer over mdf or plywood, the drawers are half blind dovetailed solid maple, the drawers are inset into the frame with the face about .125 proud of the frame. The corners are 2in square billet on all four corners. The top is picture framed t&g with splined corners. Frame going to the corner billets was all m&t joinery. Simple, very solid, no mdf, and is of heirloom quality. Won't get that at IKEA or Wally world.
 

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It is sorta funny you bring this up. My wife told me the other day I should start selling some stuff I make. I had to go through the whole explaination that first I am a newbie so stuff takes me a little longer and the time it takes to make certain items no one will ever buy them.

For instance an endgrain cutting board. Most know how much time is involved with them. If you have proper tools that time is cut way down but then you have the cost of the tools. At the end of the day who is going to pay 200 bucks for a cutting board when you can go online and get one for 20 bucks or less?

So I have resigned to making them for presents lol. I would rather make nothing on them then make half of what they cost me to produce lol. Also what comes with that is if something would ever happen to them it is a present and not a paid for item that I would have to fix or replace.
 

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In big cities where everything is high priced and labor prices are through the roof, you can ask for a fine craftsman's wage and get it...as long as your work is good. Where I live, in rural MN, labor prices barely hit $20.00 per hour for anything. Here, most items are compared to what they can get at Slumberland or Ethan Allen....or Target.

As a beginner, you have to realize that your hourly rate can not be accurate compared to a seasoned pro with lots of experience under his belt. A project that might take you 30 hours could be done by him and his fancy equipment in half the time.

If you want to work with the elite, then keep your prices high. If you want to sell to the hard hit middle class and under, you have to bite your lip and work for less. If I were you, I would talk to some cabinetmakers and woodworkers in your area and see what they charge per hour.
 

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Awesome adivice all. I too am making items and going to be selling them. I am tracking my material costs, and time. to figure how much I need to sell for to maintain a decent margin. I love the work and seeing the progress, but I too agree trying to keep up with Walmart and other mass produced items will not happen without taking a loss. I was taught long ago, A sale without a profit is a gift, and I am not in the gift giving business. Now to finish this project and see how it turns.

thanks again for the advice all, just read through this thread today (joined today) and already enthused in being here

Cptn
 

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I think that there are such variations in regional economies, plus the "Wally-brains," it's hard to decide.
Here's what I've done in the past which worked quite well.
1. Pure silver, analog, photographic prints on archival paper, made from 4x5 negatives, 16" x 20" = $80.00 each. Copyrights sold for hanging in your home or office, all other rights reserved.
2. Watercolor paintings on d'Arches papers. Various sizes, from 11x15 to 22x30. $50.00/sqft. Copyrights as for #1.
3. Wood carvings. Mostly western red cedar. $10.00/inch, longest dimension.
4. Kitchen tools: spoons and forks, about 7/8" x 14". $0.20 beautiful birch heartwood, oven baked finish, about 90 minutes in each. $12.00 each is all the market can bear.

You might have seen me on a dock/hillside somewhere, sometime. Slapping out the 11x15 w/c paintings 4-6/day. They all sold, provided that people actually saw me working on one.
Same with the kitchen tools.

I'd get some veneer coated mdf and put a framing hammer through it. Sign says: " Is this what you think is worth paying for?"
Real Wood. Real Furniture.

I wish you the best in finding a solution to this puzzle.
 

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Steve Neul said:
Labor rates will vary around the country so I won't go there. Just keep in mind when you bid a job it always takes longer than you think and there is travel time back and forth to the job site and a certain amount of slack time between jobs you need to average out. Then you have overhead expenses and you have to maintain your tools and replace them from time to time so what you charge for yourself should be about 25% of your hourly rate.
Good point Steve. While all the advice here has been spot on. I can tell you I may wear out my sander doing a job for a friend. I budgeted all my small tools router bits and a set of knives for the planer. Along with a new HVLP spray system to do the job as he wants. I'm also renting a box truck to avoid damage at his expense.

Remember. Just because someone is a good cook, is not reason enough to be in the restaurant business. Run it like a business and garner a profit not a wage.

Al

Nails only hold themselves.
 

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Robson Valley said:
1. Pure silver, analog, photographic prints on archival paper, made from 4x5 negatives, 16" x 20" = $80.00 each. Copyrights sold for hanging in your home or office, all other rights reserved.
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Robson Valley, I'm wondering if you mistyped by saying that you sold the copyright along with your photographs. For your sake I hope you didn't sell the copyright. If so, then you cannot use that photograph for anything ever again and the owner is free to make copies and sell them.
 

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FrankC said:
There are many ways of pricing jobs, I know this has nothing to do with woodworking, a printer I know prices what he charges for menus by taking the highest priced entree listed and multiplying by 10.
I've heard of stuff like that. LOL

Al

Nails only hold themselves.
 

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Copyrights sold for hanging in your home or office, all other rights reserved.

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Robson Valley, I'm wondering if you mistyped by saying that you sold the copyright along with your photographs. For your sake I hope you didn't sell the copyright. If so, then you cannot use that photograph for anything ever again and the owner is free to make copies and sell them.
What this means to me, being married to an artist, is the customer owns the copy right only as far as he can hang the work in one place and view it. The customer can not copy the work or make any money from the work unless he is able to sell it later for a profit relinquishing all rights to the work. The artist reserves all other copy right benefits even to make a copy and sell it to someone else.

I would be interested to know if some thing else is meant but I doubt it.
 

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Hackberry said:
What this means to me, being married to an artist, is the customer owns the copy right only as far as he can hang the work in one place and view it. The customer can not copy the work or make any money from the work unless he is able to sell it later for a profit relinquishing all rights to the work. The artist reserves all other copy right benefits even to make a copy and sell it to someone else.

I would be interested to know if some thing else is meant but I doubt it.
That's how I understand it. (all other rights reserved)

Al

Nails only hold themselves.
 

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The correct statement is "Copyrights." They are subdivided with as many restrictions and/or exclusions as you wish to make or nominate. That is the law. I sell as much and/or as little as I wish (as the ultimate holder of all rights).

As I said, I'll sell you the rights to display the image, with restrictions. You try to make postcards or posters and sell them, I am and I will be your worst possible nightmare, even before we get into court.
Please do think about 5 and 6 figure settlements with me before you call my hand.
 

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If I was in it to make money, it's a simple call:

I would never charge less than what I make at work. Period.

If I was retired, I would just live off of my retirement, and make furniture for fun.
 

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I charge $30.00 per hour, but have often felt that was to high for the project at hand, and have charged $15.00 per hour.

If you are retired like I am, and NOT AN ARTIST IN DEMAND, then anything above what you could make working for someone else is gravy in my opinion. If I REALLY enjoy the task at hand, then $15.00 per hour works for me. Understand I have very little if any overhead, and lots of time, so a 20 hour project that produces $300.00 fits my pocket well. I also understand that PROFIT is NOT a dirty word, PERIOD.....

I have had lots of requests for items that can be purchased at a cheaper rate than I can make it for, so I tell them such. If they want something that ISN'T easily found, then that will produce a higher hourly rate.

It's your call, but don't expect to make $50.00 per hour on each and every project, but there are some REAL ARTISTS that can get such and more.

I wish you well,

Dale in Indy
 

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Robson Valley said:
The correct statement is "Copyrights." They are subdivided with as many restrictions and/or exclusions as you wish to make or nominate. That is the law. I sell as much and/or as little as I wish (as the ultimate holder of all rights).

As I said, I'll sell you the rights to display the image, with restrictions. You try to make postcards or posters and sell them, I am and I will be your worst possible nightmare, even before we get into court.
Please do think about 5 and 6 figure settlements with me before you call my hand.
You have every right to limit restrictions on your work and I certainly understand your intention. I was only concerned about your chosen wording. If you are using contractual language to transfer rights to your clients, you may want to think about transferring a "license" rather than "selling" the copyrights. It's a small, but very real, distinction. When you buy a music CD or a printed book, you aren't buying the copyright to any part of the original work, you're only buying the physical medium, which you then have a right to resell, burn, throw away, etc.

I am an intellectual property attorney and I deal with these issues on a daily basis. Btw, in the US, copyright infringement carries statutory damages of $10k per act of infringement, and maybe more.
 
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