Cabinetmakers and Installers

Should cabinetmakers install their own work, or hire an installer? September 25, 2009

Can you really afford to install your own cabinets? I can not. Local carpenter rates are only about 65% of my shop rate. Their overhead is nowhere near mine. If I were to charge my shop rate to install, people would think I am ripping them off. Because of this I choose not to install. Have any of you run into this?

Forum Responses
(Cabinet and Millwork Installation Forum)
From contributor M:
I don't get any customers bitching about this issue because I, probably like most shops, don't break out a separate price for installation for our work. It's a package price. Do you really feel comfortable letting someone else install your work?

From contributor H:
The few times we tried having our products installed by others I always ended up on the job at some point. After those few times, I decided to just do it myself. It also solves the sales tax issue for us. Contract price installed in the home as a package. The shortest line between you and the end user is the one that gives you the least trouble. That in itself is worth something, to me anyway. No confusion, no passing the buck, no arguing over mistakes when they happen. Just charge your shop rate to install. It's that easy.

From contributor J:
I think this is one of those situations where different things work for different people. I do all my own installs and charge for it. On bigger jobs like large kitchens, I sometimes make more profit (per day of labor) than on the fabrication. I know from past experience installers in my area charge very well for their work and I do the same.

I have a buddy with a shop the next town over, and he doesn't do any install work. So whatever works for you is the way to go.

One thing I would say, though, is I would not trust a carpenter to install any of my work. Installation might not be nuclear science, but it does require a set of skills the average carpenter may not have (at least in my experience). If you're going to hire someone to install for you, make sure you hire an experienced installer. Otherwise it will very likely cost you a lot more than you'll ever save on labor rates.

From contributor G:
Thanks. We have not had many issues with others installing our work. I do not care to install, so that has also influenced my decision not to do so. We are not responsible for the installation, as that is between the homeowner and carpenter.

From contributor J:
I can appreciate you not wanting someone to do a poor job of installing your boxes and then blaming their poor craftsmanship on you. I think, however, your perception of remodeler/carpenter rates being significantly lower is flawed. We won't deduct much money from our bid because we have to be there anyway. My typical situation is that a kitchen is a major remodel - historic district permit, multiple building permits, building a temp kitchen with sink, stove, fridge, and micro, moving walls, eliminating 2-3 story old chimneys, moving doors and windows, patching siding in, roof patch, leveling floors, hvac, gutting plaster, insulation, new electric, plumbing, drywall, and finally - I'm not qualified to install the boxes.

I was recently asked how much I can deduct from my bid because the cabinetmaker would like to do his own install. The answer is 8-16 hours, and $20 for shims, screws, bits. Actually, I should add $120 to cover the smoked Forrest blade they didn't have permission to use.

The typical homeowner thinks this should be a multi thousand dollar discount. Every tool I own is on the property, I typically run 2X12 blocking so there are no studs to find, I have already run all the drops, plastic, etc. The cabinet installers will probably piss off the plumber, the neighbors (no, you can't leave your 8X8X20 trailer parked there), use my dumpster and shop vac, fill my trash can, etc. I need to be there anyway to supervise other trades, and the second the cabinet installers are gone, I better have the flooring in, be there running trim, painting, etc.

From contributor D:
One of the distributors I install for shares stories with me (very often) about the installs done by the carpenter or the contractor and his cronies, and while the stories are hilarious to me, I feel very sorry for the homeowners whose drawers hit appliances and won't open, or whose doors are upside down with knobs on the hinge side, or whose microwave is 3" off center from the oven, or the molding that's on upside down with two scarf joints in 4 feet, or the 1/2 shims under their granite tops, etc. And I bring and use my own tools and would never borrow anyone's tools no matter what, and I take all my tools home every day and clean my own mess. If you do the same thing every week, eventually you get good at it.

From contributor A:
I sub out most of my installs, but I have an excellent installer that I use. This guy has his own cabinet shop, so he understands that good installation is a craft in and of itself. I pay him accordingly.

I've been approached by a few trim carpenters wanting to do our installs. They've always been cheaper, but during the conversation, it became obvious I'd end up with problems if I went with them.

At the end of the day, I have to figure out how I'll make the most money. A day that I'm installing is a day I'm not building cabinets. A day that I'm fixing something the installer did wrong is a total loss.

From contributor L:
We do very little install because most of our work is sold through other companies that hire the installers. It is shipped far and wide, so it wouldn't be practical for us to install. There are a lot of poor installers out there for store fixtures!

From contributor Y:
Contributor H, how does it solve a sales tax issue? Can you give more info?

From contributor P:
I'm with contributor H on this one! I've had installers call me on many occasions asking "how to" or "where does this weird looking piece belong," even with the plan in front of them! And it really is that simple to bid the whole thing as a package. The client loves to see the boss show up on the job as well, plus I get to sort out the problems before they arise in most cases! The only thing I would recommend is the right licenses, permits, and of course, insurances to be able to work in people's homes or commercial venues.

From contributor U:
So then, would you guys tell a customer like myself to stay away from Ikea cabinets or something similar? My buddy's a woodworker, but I can grab an e-book and do an installation myself for much cheaper. Obviously there's the downside of the craftsmanship. I wouldn't mind some feedback on this.

From contributor A:
I don't know anything about the Ikea cabinets, but most of the factory cabinets I've experienced are absolute junk. Let the buyer beware. There are some good brands out there (KraftMaid, Merrilat and others), but in most cases, you'll pay more for them than custom and still not have as good a product. In any case, it's not rocket science to install factory cabinets.

I'll bet you anything that you can find a good, reliable, custom shop in your area that can do the job for surprisingly close to what you'll spend for factory cabinets. In the end, you'll have a better product, professional installation and certainly more bang for your buck.

Sometimes, if I'm confident with the customer's ability, I will build custom cabinets and let them do the install. I want to emphasize that I do this very selectively. I don't want/can't afford to hold their hand all the way through the install. You may be able to work out a similar deal with a local shop in your area. In my opinion, custom cabinets are much easier to install than factory cabinets simply because they are custom sized to fit your space. You won't have to deal with fillers, cut-down cabinets, uneven reveals, etc.

From contributor U:
Thank you for the tips. I will look deeper into some local woodworkers' offerings.