Commissioned Assignments

First, let me congratulate you if you have achieved the skill needed to consider accepting a private commission. As craftsmen and craftswomen, we spend countless hours developing our skills and our understanding in order to produce quality finished goods. We often make huge investments in facilities and equipment. When others recognize that we are capable of such work, it can be quite flattering if not challenging. The principles and advice contained in this article apply to a broad variety of disciplines and not just woodturning.

Over the years, I have made hundreds of custom woodworking projects ranging from something small costing a few dollars to commercial projects at over $50,000.  They all have certain elements in common. I would like to offer a brief outline of things you will need to consider when these opportunities arise to help you make good decisions.

You already have certain skills and equipment so that the request under consideration isnít unreasonable on its face. The item isnít something you normally do or isnít already a stock item. They canít walk into the corner store and purchase the item(s) off the shelf readymade. If they can, that is almost always the better choice for both of you.

The process:

  1. Is the project within your capability?
  2. Do you want to do it?
  3. Should you do it?
  4. Do you have all of the equipment needed, or can you get it?
  5. Is all of the material required readily available?
  6. If you need help, is it available?
  7. Do you have enough room to do this project?
  8. What is the time frame, exactly?
  9. How will you fund the project?
  10. What is the liability involved?
  11. What is the downside to accepting this project?
  12. What is the upside to accepting this project?
  13. How do you price the project? Be specific and detailed with this step. Donít be embarrassed to quote a fair price which reflects the real value of your work. All they can say is Yes, or No.

Brief Case Study #1 Ė Porch Rail Balusters for Antebellum Home
I have been approached, more than once, to make replacement balusters because some were rotten beyond repair. Obviously the replacements would need to match the originals very closely. One of the projects needed 100 pieces 3Ē x 3Ē x 30Ē high. The customer was willing to accept my time frame for completion and there was no hard deadline.

This project was going to be plain old hard work.  The first few balusters would be fun, after that they would be repetitive, dirty, dusty, demanding chunks of wood. Before I gave the price, I located the wood supplier and calculated my materials cost to within a few dollars total. I estimated conservatively how many I could turn out in an 8 hour day so I could calculate labor cost and time to delivery. I figured in the cost of consumables to come up with a total cost. I always add a small percentage to allow for the unexpected Ė usually 5 to 10%.  When the customer accepted my quote, I began the project, finished on time and everyone went away happy.


Brief Case Study #2 Ė Laminate covered work tables & Magnetic Dry Erase White Board with Cork Side Panels
My only comments on this project are about the price of the quote. I submitted my quote which I thought was quite reasonable. Luckily I had a friend who worked for the company (the reason I was asked to bid in the first place) who let me know that my price was $10,000 less than the other bid. My bid was way too cheap and the company didnít trust me to deliver their project so they had decided to accept the much higher bid from the other guy.

What to do? I called the customer and apologized profusely that I had made an egregious mistake in calculating my materials cost and that I would need to submit a new bid that was almost $7,600 higher than the original. Needless to say that I got the job and it turned out magnificently. The photos below donít do it justice as this project was a little over $20,000.

Expanded discussion of each point is beyond the scope of this newsletter. You can find many articles on the web which will help you with the specific details. Be prepared to under bid some projects and live with the consequences. Be prepared to have customers accept some of your bids which bring you a windfall. When I give a price, that is the price, it is firm except for change orders the customer requests along the way.

In the end, it all works out the way it is supposed to, because wherever you go there you are.

Here is my inspiration for this article:
1 Timothy 5:18 DBY
for the scripture says, Thou shalt not muzzle an ox that treadeth out corn, and, The workman [is] worthy of his hire.
Proverbs 14:23 NKJV
In all labor there is profit, But idle chatter leads only to poverty.
Exodus 26:1 MSG
Make The Dwelling itself from ten panels of tapestry woven from fine twisted linen, blue and purple and scarlet material, with an angel-cherubim design. A skilled craftsman should do it.



We will be in the Peachtree Woodworking Supply booth again this year at SWAT in Waco, Texas on August 26-28, 2016.

I will be demonstrating my Laser Cut Kit process at the Peach State Woodturners Club at their September meeting. The club meets at my good friend Don Russels shop in Oxford, Georgia (Covington area)


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