Pricing a Custom Piece of Furniture

A custom cabinet-maker asks for input on pricing a specially-ordered free-standing chest of drawers. The discussion covers a lot of ground on estimating, pricing, and the difference between cabinets and furniture. October 19, 2005

I will be building a Cherry dresser, 56"x 20"x 36" that will be 8 drawers, 4 small (6" high) across the top row, then 2 rows of 2 which are 9" high. Unit is full inset, 1-1/2" beaded stile and rails. Drawer fronts are all slabs, with 5/8" dovetailed maple drawer boxes, using Blum 562H full extension slides with Blumotion. It will have 5/4 thick cherry top, scalloped rail mounted to the top at the back. Base will be scalloped on face and ends. Construction is dado with cherry veneer side panels, back panel and interior floor. Face frame, drawer fronts and top are solid cherry, stained and finished in 15% sheen CV and delivered 3 hours away from my shop. How much would you charge?

Forum Responses
(Furniture Making Forum)
From contributor A:
I would review my time studies for the various tasks for building the dresser and come up with a total of estimated hours. I would add one third more to that number because it always takes longer than I think for nice furniture.

You then can bill this adjusted figure at your shop rate. Add the cost of materials for a final figure. I usually end up absorbing the cost of design and drafting because adding it in prices me out of the market with most clients.

From contributor B:
Assuming you know your costs, you should charge enough to cover your costs and make a profit.

From contributor C:
Sounds like about $2,500.00. The shop I work at would make it in about two days and then finish it in one day for a total time, to be safe, of about a week.

From contributor D:
Letís break it down.
Hardware, Blum #141353 (457) 18" slides, get the slides and the locks for about $20.00, the Blumotion hardware for about $6.00 = $208.00
Solid cherry stock for face, 56" x 36" = 14 sq ft 14 x 40% = 19.6, letís call it 20 bd ft at $6/bd ft = $120.00
Top - 21" x 38" at 5/4 = 5.5 sq ft, 5.5 x 40% = 7.7 bd ft letís call it 8 bd ft at $7.50 bd ft = $60.00
Maple for the drawers, about 20 bd ft is needed at $4.00 bd ft = $80.00
One 1/4" sheet for drawer bottoms is about $30.00.
Cherry plywood is about $90.00 sheet and you should be able to get away with one sheet.
It would take me about three days to build such a creature, my rate is $50/hr. 50 x 8 x 3 = $1200.00
Gallon of stain, gallon of CV about $60.00 and 1 day to finish everything $400.00
Delivery, 3 hours $150.00 labor, I get 15 mpg in my truck so that is about 4 gallons per hour which is 12 gallons one way so 24 gallons round trip at $2 a gallon = $48.00

$ 208.00
$ 120.00
$ 60.00
$ 60.00
$ 80.00
$ 30.00
$ 90.00
$ 400.00
$ 150.00
$ 48.00

Plus you need to mark up your materials costs by at least 15% and up to 100% which gets you in the range of about $2,500 to $2,800.00.

From contributor E:
I came up with $3,700.00 plus $250.00 shipping. Do not forget, you may want a second pair of hands to help deliver the piece. Or even sub out the delivery, and save you very valuable time.

From the original questioner:
I figured my material at $1600 before markup and figured 3 days at 8hrs @$75.00 per hr (our normal shop rate), plus profit and delivery (one entire day since it is 3 hrs one way). I will charge $4000.00 for this piece, and the customer has agreed to this price.

To contributor C: This unit is for an existing customer. We did a large amount of custom cabinetry in her summer home and she asked if I would build it for her. We do primarily custom kitchen cabinets and occasionally we are asked to do some furniture pieces. I know the building principals are similar to cabinet making, but when you need to build a custom piece it slows down the progress in the shop and should be reflected in pricing. The piece will be completed and delivered next week.

From contributor G:
In my shop I figure the cost of construction materials and use a multiplier of six. That is only for construction. Then I add 50% for finish, which includes materials, and then add another 20% if it's an install. For delivery we charge an hourly charge per man needed. This usually works out fairly well but sometimes you can come up short because you never know when a project may linger. Remember - you have a unique skill and you deserve to be paid for it.

From contributor E:
To contributor G: Let me see if I have this right:

Bobís Materials cost $1600.00
Labor $75 x 8 x 3= $1800.00

By your numbers:
Material cost x 6 = $9600.00
Finish cost = 50% of Materials = $4800.00
Delivery charge 8hours at $75 = $ 600.00
Total = $15000.00

I would like to get that kind of money. I will have to try that.

From contributor H:
It's always a challenge getting paid appropriately for furniture. I'm sure the fact that you already knew the client and what they tended to spend also helped.

I came up with $3,500 here as a bottom number. I'm not sure I could do the finishing part, at least the way we like it, in one man day. Here, it would most likely be two man days.

Also, something that we rarely get reimbursed for is design and discussion time with the client.

You draw a sketch and get client feedback. If you're lucky they go with it, or maybe require another sketch and another meeting.

Then you draw up working plans for use in your shop. All of these rack up hours.

From contributor A:
I sure would be richer if I got paid for consultation, design and drafting.

From contributor I:
If this is really supposed to be furniture as opposed to a freestanding kitchen cabinet with two exposed sides, sitting in a bedroom, then perhaps it should be built as a piece of furniture, with web frames between, above and below the drawers, preferably with dust panels.

Drawer fronts would be dovetailed to the sides, sliding within the waxed webs, properly graduated. Frame and panel sides would hold that plywood, and even a frame and panel back, with ply. The extensive horizontal webs and frame and panels would give the piece real stability.

A kitchen cabinet gets its anti-rack strength from the wall and other cabinets it is attached to.

A dresser built as described above will rack with the least bit of less than perfect floor, and will noticeably twist with a little side pressure, especially when loaded. Despite the price, it will likely disappoint the buyer, if not also the maker. It will end up in the basement, or in the tag sale, and within a few years be a waste of time and materials - two resources we are all in short supply of.

I hate to sound like a snob, but the fact that people can't or won't afford properly made furniture does not make it our responsibility to cheapen what we do to make a sale. Further, the whole craft is damaged by yet another buyer that feels he was taken advantage of. Look at antiques, or to Thomas Moser for the proper way to build for time. Learn to do it and then charge accordingly.

From contributor A:
To contributor I: I agree with you in part about one thing. I often tell clients that the reason another companyís cabinet outfit can make a piece of furniture at a lower cost than I can is because they will build any kind of casework they want, such as china cabinet, stereo cabinet, home entertainment cabinet, computer desk, hutch, credenza, etc.

But the difference is that for the price I am quoting, I am going to build an actual furniture piece, with the moldings and joinery that go along with it, not a kitchen cabinet shaped like a china hutch.

That said, if you were a King, the only subjects in the kingdom that could buy custom furniture would be the very wealthy because, according to you, furniture must be built with traditional methods or not built at all. I think people of moderate to low income should be able to have a piece built to suit their personal needs and budget.

Some people cannot afford to spend what it takes to buy furniture made to last through the ages.

I am capable of building in the traditional manner and also in kitchen cabinet fashion. I am supportive of all walks of woodworkers. I do not condone shoddy workmanship.

I donít consider a well made cabinet or cabineture, if you will allow the expression, to be shoddy.

From contributor G:
I figure materials around $600, which puts the price more around $5400. I would never deliver an item more than an hour away from my shop. Maybe you could arrange for them to pick it up. I still make a lot of bidding mistakes mostly because whenever I come up with a price, I think it sounds like too much money, and I cut it back only to regret it later.

I don't think this piece can be built and finished in the time estimates Iím reading here. Every project takes longer than I estimate.

If you are not doing this project to pay any overhead or feed your family then any of the prices quoted here sound reasonable. Take good notes regarding your time and you will be much more knowledgeable for the next project.

I received some good advice from a seasoned woodworker when I got into this business. If you finish the project in the amount of time you thought, you are not making any money for your business to grow.

From contributor J:
The problem is that, in general, people don't know what they are getting. The product is being produced by a woodworker, not a big company, so they think they are getting fine furniture. I have never heard a woodworker tell a customer that a piece will only last 20 years or so. In that case the customer would most likely try to find it cheaper elsewhere. After all, why pay a higher price for the same thing one can buy in the store for half the price? Iím sure you have heard a people talk about their motherís furniture, for example, and how well it is built because it is heavy and appears to be solid wood. If you look at it, you may find it to be made of particle board throughout. It is hard to sell fine furniture and getting harder if cabineture is being sold as fine furniture.

From the original questioner:
To contributor I: I agree with you to some extent about certain joinery techniques like you discussed, but in our shop to do that we would have charged about $5500.00 for such a piece. We are a professional shop with about 95% of our work being custom kitchens in an average cost range of about $65,000.00. Some of the lower prices I saw must come from some guys in garage shops who do work on the side. I need to consider my building and property costs (our shop is about 4000 sf), my costs for equipment maintenance, my vehicle maintenance, insurances, etc. I am not knocking anyone here, but I need to make a living. The customer had looked extensively for a piece she could just purchase and couldn't find one she liked. Since she dealt with us before and knew us, we were commissioned to build it. She said after delivery that the price was not as high as she had seen elsewhere including furniture stores carrying Pennsylvania House, Crawford, etc. furniture. I guess it goes to show that existing customers who return to you for more work is the best form of flattery. We obtain about 75% of our work through existing customer referrals. That should tell you about the product we build.

From contributor I:
I do practice what I preach and do turn down a lot of this kind of quick work, but please realize that I am playing devil's advocate here also. I don't know if I'm preaching to the choir so much as the empty pews.

When I started out on my own, I took anything and everything. I soon realized that that was precisely what I would be doing in 25 years, perhaps as much as 65 hours a week - anything and everything, and not what I truly wanted to do.

One thing I have learned from this forum, from 35 years in the industry and from the last 14 yrs on my own, is that you must have a clear picture or goal of what you want to do, then make a plan, and work towards it. Work the business instead of it working you.
The garage shops will always be there, nipping at our heels, and turning out curb furniture. And established shops will continue to work outside their area of expertise, either to please a customer (never say no) or to make a few more dollars without much effort. Better or worse, I don't know. I guess it depends on the situation.

The true fact is that people don't know what they want, as contributor J stated, and the bar is lowered every single time by these rackable cabinets sitting on shims in some unknowing customerís living room. Once they are knocked off their shims, or the carpet replaced, or moved to another room, then the drawers rub, the veneer chips, the edge tape peels, and the thing is on its way to the curb. But your glue and pocket screw joint didn't fail, so it's not your fault. You were just doing what was asked of you, and staying in budget. Thereís nothing wrong with that, right?

I have never met a customer that understood the idea of racking and how to prevent it. I just build beyond it or not at all. I don't think they understand antilock brakes either, nor do they need to, but they buy them.

The other fact is that there are a fair number of customers who are looking for an eager cabinetmaker with a new Unisaw in his garage to rip off the Baker piece or maybe a Lauren. You can do it, and probably for a lot less than that other guy, so why not?

But as I said, I'm just playing devil's advocate here, to provoke a little thoughtful discussion and share my opinions.

From contributor K:
To contributor I: Good comments, and it's nice you've found success with your work. Are customers hard to find or do referrals to the right type of client keep the pipeline full? Also, for this piece, built the way you describe, how much would you charge?

From contributor I:
That type of work comprises about 30% of our work. The rest is custom architectural. I have worked towards a goal of that type of work for 25 years, and have never marketed or promoted other than doing the best work we can.

That dresser would be around $6,500.00.