Glazing and Distressing: Productivity, Quality, and Pricing

Cabinetmakers and finishers share views on how to estimate and cost out the work involved in distressing and glazing cabinet doors. May 13, 2013

How many of you, when doing a rustic glaze to as set of distressed doors, apply this to both sides of the cabinet doors? What is most common? I have done it both ways, and the last few times I have only applied it to the front sides of the doors without any complaints. This has saved me a lot of time.

Second question - how long does it take you to distress an average sized cabinet door, letís say 15x24"? How long would it take to glaze said door? This particular job I am working on is a fairly heavily distressed rustic maple job, my schedule and time for each procedure is as follows:

1. Distress door (heavily, front side only) for seven minutes.

2. Stain door with general finishes golden oak (both sides) four minutes (I spray stain on and wipe off).

3. One coat of general finishes pre-cat urethane. One minute per side.

4. Sand coat Ė four minutes.

5. Second coat precat urethane. One minute per side.

6. Apply and wipe back general finishes Vandyke brown glaze to front side of door Ė five minutes.

7. Sand glaze for looks Ė three minutes.

8. Vacuum door Ė one minute.

9. Spray front side of door with one last coat of precat urethane Ė one minute.

So I have roughly 30 minutes into each door not counting handling time (from cart to rack and rack to sawhorses).

Forum Responses
(Finishing Forum)
From contributor A:
I have to start with your last statement. You have to factor in your foot traffic as well. Your actual times don't seem too high to me, in fact at my shop a lot more time is spent in reality.

I would ask the customer about the one sided glaze and have them sign a sample door. Or just dab a little glaze here and there on the backs and add some color without spending too much time on it. You don't distress both sides, right?

From the original questioner:
When pricing I do add for handling/foot traffic. I do need to correct that the glazing takes seven minutes per door, and that I vacuum the doors twice, not once. No I do not distress the backs of the doors. The goal of my post is to check myself to see if I am being efficient or if I have wasted time or motion going on anywhere. I am not able to price this kind of work with much margin for profit due to the cut throat competition out here in southern California. Therefore I am trying to find ways to cut time and smooth out these kinds of processes.

From contributor D:
I only distress the outside of the doors. The art of distressing is to simulate the effects of time and usage. I have worked on many 100 plus year old pieces, where the interior of the doors looked perfect and the outside looked like it had gone through the war. I do however glaze both sides so there is no color discrepancy when open.

From contributor F:
I must say I have never seen a finish schedule in such detail. I will also add I doubt that I would put such time constraints on something that is more art than science. Distressing is meant to imitate wear and tear and age and lots of things. How in the world can you put a clock on something where ideally every door and drawer front should be different yet the same? You do not sand after distressing?

I am not familiar with Generals products and I will not use urethane on wood. I also do not understand sanding glaze. It dries in five minutes? I never have sanded glaze nor do not understand two coats of sealer.

I suppose you must come up with your schedule in order for pricing. I set my price by the cabinet box. Generally itís two hours for an average base cabinet with a door and drawer front. Some bigger cabinets might be double that. Those times are for a stain, seal, tone, and topcoat. For distressing and glaze itís likely three hours. If it is a painted distressed rub through glaze job that would be four hours. Lastly not glazing the backs of doors is really bad.

From the original questioner:
My schedule did not include dry times. I let the glaze dry overnight. I sand it for effect/the look it gives. If I had better control over the application I would not sand it at all. If the glazed font were to be offensively different in color to the unglazed back I would definitely do both sides. In this case after sanding the glaze back showing the stain color underneath the back that is also stained does not clash. Also keep in mind that while I do my best to provide a high end product people out here in southern California are not willing to pay for it.

I would like to add that I do sand after distressing. I just included it as part of the distressing time. I do price by the box but recently I felt the need to do a time break down so that I can sort through my weak areas. I also agree that this is more of an art than a science that can be constrained by time, however for a cabinet shop in southern California time is money, and when you are a solo finisher who has to get through 65 doors in a reasonable amount of time it starts to make you think about improving your methods.

From contributor D:
I understand your need to figure out your "exact time" on your jobs, however looking too closely at things will cause you to watch the clock while working. Letís say you have ten doors to glaze. Your schedule allows for 50 minutes to glaze all the doors. Letís say these doors take you 90 minutess instead. Are you now aware of the time loss? Are you then pushing through the remaining doors and sacrificing quality? Or are you going through the last steps of your schedule trying to figure out where you can get those 40 minutes back?

I learned a long time ago that some jobs will cost you money and others will make you money. I was fortunate and most of my jobs made money through the years. I did however have plenty of jobs that cost me money. For many reasons; bad estimating, bad workmanship on cabinets themselves, complex finishes, etc. I came up with a lineal foot price for my shop. This price eliminated clock watching by myself and my staff. This is not to say I wasn't acutely aware of the time spent on every aspect of my schedule. There are too many variables that are out of our control in the finishing trade. Worry about the things you can control.

From contributor F:
Contributor D's response was right on the mark. I could not say it any better and I too have made pricing mistakes in the past. I have been fortunate that all that is worked out now. I do not use any urethane because I do not like end results. I have been producing the highest quality finishes for many years and I will not compromise. I also will not use any waterborne sealer or topcoat for the same reason.

As far as General finishes go I plead ignorance I have never used them. I only use Sherwin Williams Company products in this order - Becker Acroma, ML Campbell, and the SW. I would never ever not glaze the inside of doors, even if I priced the job wrong and was going to lose money. Quality is what gets you your next job and keeps you in business. I am not a cabinetmaker just a finisher. I work with many shops that bring me their unfinished case goods and built-ins. If something is built wrong or not sanded to my specs it is on them and at $200 an hour you would be surprised how few mistakes they allow to get to me.

From contributor U:
To the original questioner: I'd like to know what your distressing procedure is? Edges of doors worn? Dings and dents? As far as pricing goes, I have my own system like everyone else does and it works for me and probably wouldn't for anyone else. I have what I call a base price which is what the cabinet would cost if it were a natural finish. Then there is a percentage increase for stain, an increase for glaze, and so on. I've been doing it this way for the last couple of years and it has worked out well.

This is just my two cents worth, but I wouldn't break it down into minutes. When I figured out my percentage increases I documented the time I started the finishing and ended it and kept track of the finishing products used, and then factored in what I needed to be paid for my labor. If lumber goes up I will raise the rate to my base price, if finish goes up I will raise the percentage increase, hope that makes sense.

I don't know anything about how business is in California, but I'm not into cut throat cabinets. I feel I do top quality work and I have a good reputation. I build and finish the way I do it and strive to satisfy. If they want to pay my price we will do business, if not let them get someone else. I don't try to stay competitive, honestly I find that more people are more leery of the cheaper price and feel that they are getting what they pay for and will go with the higher price. I have never advertised at all, it's all been word of mouth for me and it has served me well.

From the original questioner:
A little back ground on me; I have been finishing Cabinets for 14 years, the last 8 of which have been completely with WB products. I would like to say that I am not trying to make a time constraint schedule for my processes. I do this about every other year or so to check my processes for efficiency. I do normally glaze both sides of doors.

There have only been a couple of occasions, including this one where I felt that the stain color alone was close enough to the face side finish that it would not look odd. I did not do this to save money as I did not make any bidding mistakes on this job I just have to bid everything really lean in general. I will also say that I always go the extra mile to make my product top notch even if it takes a few extra days.

I understand that solvent finishes are still ahead of WBís in terms of look/performance, but using WBs in my area has been beneficial for many reasons so I will be sticking with it. Believe it or not I am considered to be one of the highest end finishers in my area, and one of the more expensive. Finishing is a deeply flooded market out here in California, and if I donít stay competitive I will end up risking having to close my doors as many other good shops out here have done over the last few years. I would love to be able to charge more for my work, but my local market wonít support it. Either that or I havenít tapped into it yet.

From contributor M:
To the original questioner: You are right to "take your temperature" once in a while. Estimating is also an art since there are so many factors to finishing. I periodically do some number crunching too and run different scenarios to see how I am doing. I also just shoot from the hip sometimes because I have been doing it for a long time. I use all waterbased materials and am ok with the products I use. The first time I saw a "professional" cab finish that only had the base coat in the inside of the door I was shocked. To me it is a very cheap shot, but if you are in a tight market you should offer price tiers. That is what I do and sometimes I am surprised at what is or isn't important to the customer. If the quote is too high for them, I always have ways to be creative with it. Most times I can still snag the job. I never compromise my quality but there are many ways to abbreviate the finish schedule so save labor and pass it on to the customer.

From the original questioner:
My distressing schedule for this particular job is as follows:

1. Wear down corners and edges with shaping planers and rasps - heavily for this job.

2. Make faux cracks.

3. Beat the door with different blunt objects. I have yet to establish a solid system of tiers for my finishing, but this is something that I need to develop further so that the options to my clients are more concrete.

4. Make worm holes.

5. Sand the entire door with an orbital sander to soften the previously applied effects.