Line-Foot Estimating

Advice on efficiently coming up with ballpark numbers for a cabinet job proposal. August 8, 2008

I have a two man shop. We are covered up with work but I have a few problems. #1, it is taking too long to get a bid together because we are so busy, so there's not a lot of time to do proposals, and since we are a fairly new shop (2 years), it is not in the budget to hire another employee at this time. #2, we have lost money on a few jobs because of poor estimating.

We have our doors and drawer boxes outsourced. I would like input on estimating cabinets per LF. I know the best way is material + labor + profit/OH = cost, but as said before, it is taking way too long to get these together. (I am working 18-20 hour days now.) So I just want to get in the ballpark to see if we have a chance of getting a project, then spend a bit more time on it. I have heard $XXX per LF, then add 20-50 per door and drawer and add 300-500 more for a full height cabinet such as a pantry or oven cabinet. And it has gone both ways.

Shops that do bid per LF... If you use a cost, for example, of $200/LF, is this 200 per LF for the bases and then $200 per LF for uppers? Then what do you charge for a full height such as an oven, pantry or fridge cabinet? Then a LF cost for custom islands?

Forum Responses
(Cabinetmaking Forum)
From contributor B:
So much of it depends on where you are and what prevailing rates are. I use the rough figure of $200/LF for bases and $200/LF for standard uppers. That's finished plywood ends. Raised panel ends are priced at $15/SF. Full extension hardware or dovetailed drawers are extras. Extra drawer banks are extras. Full height cabinets are about $500/LF. Glazed finishes or other extras are extra. This usually works fairly well for me.

From contributor J:
I have developed a spreadsheet that calculates bids really fast and gives you budgets for things like doors and drawer fronts, case materials, drawers, finish and install. It is prices per box and not per foot, because I believe that per box is much more accurate than per foot.

From contributor A:

Are you using any type of cabinet design software? If you're not, you're wasting a lot of time with this part of your business and it's not going to get much better for you. All the design programs that I know of (eCabs, Cabinet Solutions, KCDW, Cabinet Vision and others) have very effective pricing components built into them that do this work for you. I use Cabinet Solutions and it offers by-the-foot and cost/labor/profit modules that you can toggle back and forth between to see where your numbers are coming down. This doesn't have to cost a whole lot of money and the return is overwhelming.

From the original questioner:
Yes, we just started using e-cabinets. In fact we went to Thermwood in Indiana for the week long training class. There was not enough time to get into the cost estimating features of the software. But I see that before I can get a ballpark estimate out of any software, I will have to spend a good bit of time to draw the job out.

From contributor M:
If you are spending 18-20 hour days, you need another employee, at least part-time. This will give you some time to do some much needed administrative tasks.

One of the most difficult tasks of a new, small shop owner is costing. You can spend hours of that 18-20 hour day working up numbers only to hear, "I didn't think it would be that much," and walk. For me, LF pricing is just a qualifier. I want to give them a quick price ballpark to see if we are still on the same page. If so, then I spend time on a formal proposal.

I would suggest that you go over your past projects, measure the LF, and divide it by your cost. Bump that number up a bit, and you have a good idea of how much it will cost you to build your average job. Then go back and readjust often. Keep your pricing in a spreadsheet. Figure the LF pricing for each kitchen, and then average the prices. This way you can tell if you had unusually high or low prices, you can exclude them. Or, if you have another very detailed kitchen, you can go back and find a similar one for comparison. Make notes like, "cherry @ $4.50/bf," or "melamine carcasses," or "non-standard sink unit." Add the things that will help you tweak your pricing in the future.

As far as details of LF pricing, I count tall cabinets as 3 (a base, a middle, and an upper). So, using the number $200, I would charge $1,200 for a 24" wide pantry (400 x 400 x 400). Contributor B's would be $1,000, if I understand him correctly. I count corner units x2. I also count the dishwasher and fridge in my tally. And I also count uppers and base units separately. Some people use a "wall" price where they include uppers and lowers. They would charge $400 a LF.

Also look for modular pricing like the guys have mentioned before. I used finished ends, so that is included in my price. Some guys will charge by the box, and then add for each drawer, pullout, door (it is more expensive to make 2 small doors instead of 1 large one), and the list goes on.

Another thing I suggest you do is keep records of your bids. See how close your guesstimates are to the actual cost. I don't like paperwork. But good estimating is one of the most valuable tools in your shop. It doesn't cost anything to own, you just have to feed it time.

From contributor T:
Unless you already understand and are proficient with Ecabs, you will never have the time to get over the huge learning curve that it requires. If you are staying busy enough to work 18-20 hour days, invest in KCDW or Cabinet Solutions. Both are very easy to learn. You'll be doing bids in a couple of hours on KCDW. I would not waste my time with eCabinets... it will just eat up way too much of your time.

From contributor A:
I would have to agree about eCabs. I tried it for several months (the price was right) and ultimately threw in the towel. There's no question that it's the most powerful cabinet program out there. My problem was that I couldn't use it enough to get proficient with it. We only do about three sets of cabinets per month. I had to relearn it every time I used it. I leased Cabinet Solutions and in a couple of hours was drawing cabinets and producing cut lists and pricing numbers that I trusted.

From the original questioner:
Thanks for your comments about e-Cabinets. Yes, there is a bit of a learning curve and the price was right for it. We just got back from their week training class in Feb. Honestly I had not heard of cabinet solutions. If it is that easy to use, that's great, but how does a program such as Cab Solutions that is so easy to learn and use in a few hours compare with a very high end program such as eCabinets? Do you get quality and, more important, correct cut list? Material ordering lists and so on? But I just spent about 2K on the training/trip and would hate to throw in the towel only after one month.

But again, with any software to be able to spit out an estimate, someone is going to have to draw the design, enter material cost and so on. I am not trying to be lazy and get out of detailed estimating. I'm trying to be able to give a ballpark figure to a possible client to see if we are even in the ballpark.

I'm sure we all have done it... spent 10 hours on a great design with all the bells and whistles, a prefect material/labor list, just to have the client tell you that you are much higher that the other guy, or I already chose someone yesterday because he got me a bid in one day and it took you two. I know that there will never be that perfect answer.

From contributor A:
Cabinet Solutions has a free two week trial download that gives you full use of the program, cut lists and all. You should give it a try and see what you think. The 3D graphics are a little primitive but apart from that, I have no complaints. It sets up well for the way I build cabinets.

KCDW also has a trial that costs less than $50. I've never used this program but those who've used both Cabinet Solutions and KCDW prefer the latter. They say the graphics are much better. If you can break the learning curve with eCabs, you'll be ahead of the game. It just proved too much of a challenge for me.

From contributor U:
I have a guy nearby that uses Cabinet Solutions. I pay him $150-200 to figure it all out and give me drawings and price, which I adjust for what I want to sell. Once all of the details are done, he gives me a materials and cut list.

From contributor M:
Don't give up on eCabs. I only design 3-4 kitchens a month, and several other projects. I have become very proficient in it, and I ain't no genius, if you know what I mean. eCabs is awesome and as you know, they have a team actively upgrading and perfecting it every day. Got a problem, post it on the forum, and you will get a reply promptly.

From contributor N:
One thing you might want to think about is just charging per box. You need to create a standard box in order to do this. For us that is a 3/4" frameless birch ply box, 1/2" Baltic dovetail drawerbox, Tandem soft self-close slides, furniture grade end panels, crown (standard 3 7/16"), and under-cabinet skins. Create a flat rate per base, upper, tall. If you want to get picky, say 5% less for a shaker door, 10% more for cherry, 15% for a glaze, etc.

I will charge extra for anything I have to order, say from my hardware supplier - lazy Susan, trash pullouts, tipouts...

For what it's worth, I know you need numbers - I charge $425 a base, $325 an upper, $1,000 tall. Delivered but not installed, no subtops, no pulls. Those include necessary fillers, end panels, etc. I'm considered excellent quality but very cheap... Doesn't work for everybody, but it has for me (29 years old, 4 1/2 years in business and own shop, house, ranch, and tools outright with only money made from those 4 1/2 years). Also I'll charge extra for legs, arches, rope molding.

Again on pricing, I'm in Washington State (I find location to be just as important if not more than quality in pricing your product). I live in a very rural area where I could spend a day just getting back and forth from a job - for me, speed is important and I can put most bids together in 15 minutes, big jobs in 30 minutes.