What’s My Worth—Part II

There is work for which one charges a fair price and then there is work for which you can add a design fee. Don’t forget such things. A fair price would not be a good guide for me if I spent several weeks developing an idea to make a design come to reality that I designed. Were I to copy a Hepplewhite or a Shaker piece, say a woven chair with straight back legs and post and rung bored holes, a Windsor chair even and copy it from an existing antique, it would not be my design. I would just be taking off measurements and shaping components according to someones greater effort from the 1800s. The production time is much quicker as there is no experimentation. Not much thought goes into it so the design would have no or very little valid reason to charge for design. If in another scenario I do own a design and set up jigs and guides to continue production of the same piece over a number of years, say as with my Craftsman-style rocking chair where it was not so much a copy but Craftsman style inspired I would feel the design is less distinctively mine. Comparing the $6,500 rocker with the $2,500 rocker you can see that one will take a week or less to make and the other will take two weeks. But the design work took much longer on the distinctive rocker and that chair is indeed worth as much as people are willing to pay. This has nothing at all to do with fairness determining the price but fairness being what the design is actually worth. Were I to set up to make 20 Craftsman-style rockers in say oak, and I machined every part including the joinery, then the design still has value but designing then has more to do with machine set up than the shape and sizing and aesthetics of the chair. My distinctive rocking chair requires mostly handwork and indeed I only made them by hand. It might surprise you to learn that the Craftsman-style rockers I have made were all made by hand too. Even though they can be machined all the way through. Setting up the production run of 20 mens they can be made by one man in two weeks. It’s at this point where I might consider more the possibility of selling them at a fair price. This is where the formulas work best.

Not always is it horses for courses. Were I to need a deck building on my house I would consider taking bids from three or four carpenters. I would want everything specified in the bid. Treated wood, 2x6s, decking and so on. The work from the four carpenters would hopefully be identical so I would get my deck to the same standard. This then would lead to my expectation of a competitive and fair price. On the other hand `i come up with a birdhouse design made from rubberised composite material that’s indestructible. I designed every part including the composition. Whereas it is just a birdhouse, it has added value in a variety of ways and this increases the price I might want or need to charge for the piece. This then would have nothing to do with how long it takes to make the piece with the caveat that the piece is only worth what customers are willing to pay.

Ultimately you, the maker, have decisions to make. Reading Yoav Leberman’s book makes one aware that many people, the majority perhaps, might expect to pay much less for a dining table made from scaffold planking, but Yoav’s evaluation must include his trips to the dumpster, denailing, preparing the wood with a belt sander and such. His ambition was not to come up with a low-priced item but to make use of wood that would otherwise be discarded. His book is more about concern for wastefulness, design with a difference, enjoying the dynamic of making something from something of minimal value. In fact, he wants to elevate people’s perspectives to a new high. He wants people to wear a different pair of spectacles. His book is about opening people’s eyes to alternative options.

It’s hard to say how long a project will take to make because people will often use short cuts to get a product that might look the same but is not. When I went to my first craft shows in the USA I met other crafters selling at the same venue. I displayed my hand made rockers on the parkland and people admired them. Hand made joints, all surfaces planed by hand. No short cuts. Another maker had very similar chairs and a quarter the price. He looked at my prices and raised his. His rockers were made with pocket-hole screws and he had stock parts in bins in the back of a long horse trailer with a production crew and screw guns assembling them. Side by side the rockers looked very similar. What to do? These were the questions:

  1. “How long a project should take as well as some reference to its value if to be sold.
  2. “How you might arrive at a price point for the projects you share? For example, in the FAQ section you mention you could get $6500 for the rocking chair you show. What about the rocking chair you build as part of your teaching series? Even the workbench you mention your sons could get $1000 for the hardwood version…..what about the garden series bench or the most recent video series bench you have out?
  3. I know it’s tough but for me, it’s the one area I always feel is always missing in your paid video series and just wish there was more discussion on it….. time range the project should take, factors to consider when pricing and some sort of $ range you’d value a project. It would helpful to at least hear your thought process on the subject.

And the second questioner:

  1. How to price your work, a general idea of what items a one-person hand tool shop would or wouldn’t be worth making etc…?

I realise that many woodworkers see their hobby and their developed ability in the craft as a passport to an income-producing future. They would like to turn their passion for woodworking into a business. Some see that step as validation. They are becoming a professional. They can sell what they make. Success. In reality I have seen many woodworkers enjoy far greater levels of success by simply enjoying their normal working and keeping their woodworking as a separate entity to turn to at the end of the day or weekends. The reality is that the change from perhaps hobby to business often brings with it a change of attitude, vision, direction and of course goal. In its origin, woodworking was more a feeling. Wanting to create something from wood regardless of the methods used. Woodworking to begin with was perhaps more a stepping out of the business world into a world of creativity. The intended hobby was indeed the antidote to the tedium of their work that actually supported them well; the work they were trained fir and did day in day out to earn money. The question then for me is not how can I but should I? I could jump in with the business formulas on developing structured pricing systems to cover cost, generate profits and have a business that survives where others fail. The important thing is to consider why you want to change from your original plan to become  woodworker to become a business person.

Selling rocking chairs for thousands of dollars may well seem to be a great goal. For me it was that I lived and worked as a furniture maker based on my choosing my occupation in answer to what I considered to be my vocational calling. When I applied for an apprenticeship at 14 years of age I was not already a woodworker nor did I have any skill per se. I simply knew I wanted to be a full time woodworker as a result of making a few things from wood. I think some inner examination is really in order for anyone wanting to start out. Whereas I did make my living from crafting anything and everything  I could with my hands, I was also highly skilled to make furniture. Chopping a mortise of 8 minutes, fitting the tenon in ten more, means a dining table with tapered legs in a shaker style is two to three days work. I sold them for £1,200. A dining chair only sold for half that, but six sold at once. I made a living.

Part III soon.


  1. Thanks Paul for this series.

    I sold my first piece recently at the local school holiday boutique. It was one your wall clock designs. I made $100. I was so excited.

    Also, now having built four wall clocks I can see where I am getting faster. This spring I will build a fifth (like to build one about every year or so to gauge my improvement in skills). For that one, I am going to first make 3/4″ thick Baltic birch templates with knife marks for layout points. That way, should I ever want to make more of them, I won’t need to measure out the part sizes and I can transfer over line marks. It would definitely speed things up. All I really need is one top, side, and cross piece. I will also likely have a face piece as well. Using 3/4″ ply would be handy should I ever get and use a bandsaw and want to thickness the wood.

    I know I have asked in the past about how long such and such takes to build. Mostly I’ve asked out of curiosity to see how quickly a well trained craftsman can do it. It gives me an idea over time how I might improve. Not that how quickly I can do something is all that important. I have enough things that I want to build for my family where speed isn’t that important.

  2. it’s great to hear some prices and know what is attainable, I’d like to know what to charge for smaller items such as small boxes, trays and chopping boards? I have realised that these things are a lot easier to send in the post so it appeals to me more than say making a bed or chest of drawers.

  3. Hello Paul,
    Thank you for all of the “behind the scenes” looks of woodworking, including this series.
    I do have a very honest question that I hope you and others here, may offer insight. It has to do with spec building of another’s plans and selling those items, accordingly. Of course, giving credit where credit is due.
    For me, I keep referring back to a blog post you put out about a maker using your design for a dovetail template and gaining profit without at least your consultation of it. It struck a chord with me, as I take intellectual property very seriously. As such, I am hesitant to seek profit for any item that I duplicate in design, dead or living, unless uniquely and specifically asked for. In other words, not for mass production or to enhance adverts, however a “one-off” piece.
    What is the accepted protocol for such endeavor in crafts, such as woodworking? I do direct any infringements more towards contemporary woodworkers such as yourself and others.

    1. I think in some ways it can be a compliment, but still very annoying if you see others using your hard work for their profit. Once I saw a guy using stolen photos of my work (from my website) to advertise his own work on his website in the UK.

      From what I could tell his craftsmanship was very poor, I often wondered what happened when the customer actually received the item and it looked nothing like the photo on his website (my photo – of my item).

      I tried to contact him about it and never got a reply.
      I don’t think he’s still using it but who knows, I have a life to get on with, just take it as a compliment and move on. it happens all the time and unless you can afford expensive lawyers and a court case it’s not worth worrying about. The nerve of some amazes me though!

  4. As the 1st Questioner…..Thank You!

    It was great to get a peak into your overall thought process on this subject. For me personally, I just retired a little over a year ago. While I may make some items to sell and support my desire to play more golf too, I’m really not looking to do woodworking as a business. More of a hobby really.

    Irrespective, and perhaps a bit shallow, I just thought it would be kind of nice to have some kind of reference point along the way as to what a skilled craftsman might charge for some of these handmade items, big & small….in addition to the satisfaction we get from actually building it of course.

    How long it should take for a skilled craftsman to build an item would also be a nice reference point to assess our progress.

    I recently built 5 of your Keepsake boxes out of cherry for my granddaughters per your design and teaching video….. It was great fun and I learned a lot but I couldn’t help thinking when I was done that wow, how could anyone ever make a living doing this. I didn’t track actual hours but I had to spend the better part of 3 weeks on those boxes from planing down he boards I had to putting my last coat of finish on.

    And the other part I wondered about is how long would it take a skilled craftsman like Paul Sellers to actually build these boxes….. disclaimer being I’m no Paul Sellers of course in either speed or craftsmanship yet but hope to be that good one day.

    When done, I felt like I’d have to charge like $300 to $500 a box if was was doing this for a living. So I was left very curious and I guess that’s what led to my question in the first place.

    These keepsake boxes of course were built out of love as gifts for my granddaughters and I can’t wait to tell them that the design for them was from a guy that has actually built furniture pieces for the White House as well as for 2 former presidents. They’ll eat that right up for sure!

    Thanks for all you do and share us. I always look forward to your next project series or blog or vlog for some new tidbit or some new joint to learn.

    PS…. just finished the drawer for my workbench earlier this week and it came out awesome! Aside from the joinery itself, I was so impressed with how little play (up / down, side to side) there actually is in the drawer when finished, yet it slides in and out with ease. Still just a workbench at the end of the day of course but the methods / process you taught on how to custom fit the drawer to get that fit was a priceless lesson.

  5. Rocking Chairs which I meant to comment on. The difference between the craftsman style vs you distinctive style in you Dec 2015 “An Answer For Today” post is really stunning. While the joinery appears relatively similar, all the shaping involved as well as the type of wood used really makes the distinctive style stand out and clear to see the difference in value.
    Currious to know if that was made with tiger maple or some other exotic type wood?

  6. Only moderately related to the topic at hand, but still something that has given me quite an insight over the years: I always keep account of the expenses of all my projects (mostly electronics, but also woodworking or anything else I do/build/repair) and of the time spent on them. I normally only work a few hours at a time on each of them with (sometimes long) pauses between the work. Time is kept account of pretty roughly: rounding off to the nearest half hour or hour based on my best honest guess at the end of every day. It’s mostly to give myself an idea of how much time and money in total is spent on a project.

    Invariably, I’m always surprised about the amount of time it takes; I manage to keep expenses down pretty well but time involved is always much more than I had beforehand expected or would’ve guessed afterwards, if it weren’t for my paper trail. Usually I don’t take into account time in the designing/informing-myself phase; searching the internet, thinking/solving possible problems when lying awake at night, etc. If those are included too it probably doubles the time involved.

    I don’t do this for cost-calculation purposes or to price my projects (they’re all for my own use), only as information for fun for myself. I don’t act on this information: I don’t change projects based on them, skip corners or skip projects entirely. It’s just extra information that gets included, at the close of a project, in the project’s documents (description, drawings, design-calculation sheets, etc.) Even if you have no plans of going the commercial route it’s insightful to do this, without going overboard in details. It takes about 10 seconds at the end of the day to write down the amount of hours spent that day on that particular project. And at the end of a project you’ll find those hours add up pretty quickly…

    (I recall a simple birdhouse that took 23 hours to build, including making stainless steel hardware for it and painting; as usual, the devil is in the detail)

    1. I personally find it very relevant and a good example of why todays craftsman that’s good at their craft can charge a lot of $$$$.

      I didn’t keep track of time as you did but I still found it amazing how much approx time I spent on the above project. I may keep better records the next time. Like for you, it would be nice to know and a good reference for other projects in the future.

      It sure makes you appreciate a little more all the beautiful work done by our craftsman in the past.

  7. Course it’s harder to impress upon others what the actual design and execution is worth. It’s easy for me to look at a roll of spring steel and brass and see half a dozen saws worth of material //now// but prior to actually working with the metals and wood and producing something I would be happy not just using myself, but giving to someone else to use? Totally different story. Then weighing the difference of copying a design vs using my own?

    How many people grab a chest of drawers and start looking at the back and bottom sides to see how it was assembled? I’d be a lot happier paying for something with nicely cut–if not always flawless–joints than a generic miter+nail+glue frame I’ve noticed sitting under all the cheap furniture we have around the house.

  8. Excellent point about charging for design time/effort. Even in production of something off the shelf, time building the jigs and setting up the process has to be paid for.

    And another excellent point about the calculations, at best, giving you the price you _have_ to ask just to operate as a business. Finding the value people actually place on the work is yet another process, combining some market research and some experimentation… and some patience; if the first person to look seriously always buys, you are probably underpriced.

    Turning a hobby into a job takes some of the joy out of it and adds stress. Ask any programmer. (I can’t speak for other callings.) Turning it into a business takes that up another step, by adding a whole new layer of tasks and risks.

    (Note: I barely call myself a woodworker; I’m definitely not a pro. But these principles apply to any way of making a living. The ideal is when your job is also your calling, but for many having the job support the calling is more realistic. There are good reasons that “starving artist” is such a cliche.)

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