Pricing: Paint Grade Versus Stain Grade Work

Many cost factors differ between a paint-grade job and a stain-grade job. March 18, 2005

Recently I was asked to bid out an entertainment unit. The client requested two prices, stain grade vs. paint grade. At first I thought alder vs. poplar as the two contenders, so I figured basically the differences in price would be the difference in wood. Anyone had a similar situation?

Forum Responses
(Business Forum)
From contributor B:
What is meant is... two kinds of finishes. Paint vs. stain/glaze or paint/glaze vs. stain/glaze. So different grades of wood are used. One cheaper for painting and the other a better grade for staining... Makes difference in cost of overall unit for construction and usually for the finish as well.

From contributor A:
When I do this, the stain grade is usually quite a bit more.

Differences are:
Quality of wood (cost) - For paint, I can use the import stuff. For good paint, I use maple. For stain, it's usually maple at the least, cherry at the top end.

Construction - For stain, no visible nails; for paint, we can always fill. Same with tightness of joints, or defects in wood, or splits. We can always patch. For stain, we shoot for no defects, tight joints, no glue squeeze out, etc.

Finish - If we stain, we hand stain. We don't spray anymore. We tone as needed and then topcoat. For paint, we prime, again if needed, and 2-3 coats topcoat. That's it.

For paint grade we usually cut our doors on the CNC out of MDF. For stain, we still build in shop.

When you price paint vs. stain, think about all the factors that will change. It's lots more than just the difference in the cost of the wood.

From contributor O:
Allow me a finisher’s view. If it's high end work, then the job should be priced in increments. For finishing, I simplify by charging the same for paint as for a simple stain-seal-topcoat finish. Trust me, for a true high end paint finish, you still end up putting in the time.

From contributor B:
There's more work involved in a high end paint finish, particularly if glaze is involved.

From contributor O:
Ditto. When I say paint, I'm talking about sand-fill-prime-fill-sand-prime-2-3 topcoats. No glaze, no clear coat – it's all extra. I charge for every step. If the customer says it's too much, I tell him, thanks for the opportunity to bid the job.

From contributor J:
Something to keep in mind - beware of the customer/cabinetmaker who tries to slip you paint grade cabinets (different colors and grades of wood) and wants a high end stain finish that matches some architectural magazine picture! I'm ashamed to have fallen for this okidok maneuver.