Pricing for Cabinet Finishing

A furniture finisher who would like to branch out into cabinet finishing gets feedback on how to charge for the service. February 18, 2007

I am currently a furniture refinisher with more time on my hands than I would like. I would like to expand my business to include more new furniture and cabinetry. I have done cabinet finishing for a cabinet company when they had too much work. I simply looked at the pile of cabinets and told him a price. I only did it 3 or 4 times and I know I didn't lose money. Now I want to have a standard pricing system for finishing cabinets.

Here are the numbers I have so far:
$30 per upper or lower cabinet box
$50 per full height cabinet box
$8 per sq foot for raised panel/ornate doors
$6 per sq foot for flat panel/simple doors
$3 per linear foot for moldings

Prices include stain and clear finish.
Glazing and distressing is extra.
Clear finish is 1-2 coats SW vinyl sealer and 1 coat SW CAB acrylic lacquer.
Prices do not include raw wood sanding.
Prices include finishing interiors of cabinets, clear finish only. Cabinets with stained interiors are double.

I would like to develop a pricing structure that allows a cabinetmaker to outsource his entire finishing operation to me for less than it costs him to keep it in house. About what percentage of a cabinetmaker's costs go to finishing operations? I am guessing it is under 20%. So I figure I should be charging around $4,000 for a $20,000 kitchen. I know what a $20,000 kitchen is and that seems about right to me. Are my numbers reasonable? Obviously there are a lot of issues not covered by the prices above. I am only looking for a starting point.

Forum Responses
(Business Forum)
From contributor G:
I went through this process a couple years ago when I was doing the same thing you are. The Knowledge Base will give you widely divergent numbers which, of course, depend on what the local market will bear. I solved the dilemma by doing a mental rundown of how long each piece takes me multiplied by my hourly rate and came up with a workable figure for me. A suggestion: check into other finishes. Some are way more user friendly, thus speeding your output.

From contributor R:
Look at your offering a little closer. Is one coat of topcoat sufficient for a kitchen cabinet? And a cab acrylic at that!

From contributor F:
I sub out my cabinet finishing to a painting company. They have one full time guy in an industrial space (with a legal spray booth, etc.) who finishes cabinets for cabinet shops and contractors. For pre-cat lacquer (two coats sanding sealer, and two finish coats) he charges 17 bucks a lin foot for base or uppers; tall cabinets are x2 or $34 a lin foot. For stain, add $2 a foot or $19 a lin foot. All mouldings, corbels, scribe mouldings, etc. are thrown in at no extra charge. They do a great job, better than most cabinet shops can do in house around here.

They make good money even at these prices. Recently they did an entire kitchen in one day, start to finish, and the charge was around $900. So they're making money, so much so with this one guy that they pay him quite well and give him bonuses. We all hope and pray he doesn't move back to Mexico. Other painting companies around here charge close to this amount, but don't often do a consistent quality finish. I quit finishing my own stuff a few years ago as I was getting sick from time to time even with a good fan system and a well-fitting mask. I figure I'd rather build cabinets and make sawdust than breathe sanding sealer dust and fumes. Painters choose this lifestyle of paint fumes, or at least tolerate it.

From contributor A:
Around here twenty percent will be the cost we charge the customers for a simple stain finish, thirty percent for paint, add five for glaze. But that is what we are selling it for; to cover overhead and profit it would need to be done for less.

Used to be you could get large quantities of wood furniture finished for between five and ten percent, for pretty nice work. I am talking new stuff, sanded well and delivered and picked up. We did many a press back chair for $5.00 and a table with leaves and ball and claw pedestal for $25.00. Of course lacquer was ten bucks a gallon, but skilled help didn't cost any less than today.

From contributor E:
In the SF Bay area, clear coat CV faces only for base cabs runs anywhere from $36 to $45 per LF. I've seen many instances where the cost of finishing exceeds the cost of cabinets.

From the original questioner:
Thanks for the input. Contributor F, thank you for the details. I must admit, though, that I am skeptical about your finisher's quality of finish. 2 coats of sealer and 2 coats of pre-cat in one day? On a whole kitchen? With stain? Sounds as though some shortcuts were taken.

A couple people questioned my use of CAB acrylic. The clarity is great and so far it has been easy to use. I have been using it for about three months. Previously, I used a post catalyzed lacquer on cabinets and a pre-cat lacquer on furniture. The cost is the same and the ease of use is the same. Both coatings are approved by KCMA. I was exploring the idea of not using the lacquer at all anymore, but perhaps I should keep it around for cabinets.

I will also consider charging by the linear foot instead of by the box. I was doing it this way because that is how the cabinetmaker billed his customer. He also purchased his doors from a door company. He always had an exact count of cabinets, linear feet of molding, and sq feet of doors.

From contributor G:
Here's a related article in the Knowledge Base: How to Charge for Finishing

From contributor R:
I would also suggest staying away from catalyzed lacquer on kitchen cabinets. Sure it may have the industry approval, but in my experience it doesn't hold up around the range hood/stove, and dishwasher. If the weather is right and he uses the right solvent based stain, and the booth keeps all the dust out, one day is okay for a complete kitchen. Remember, they don't want him going back to Mexico; he's a hard worker and probably doesn't take much for breaks.