Custom Furniture Maker in Greater DC area

steve_aSeptember 25, 2008

We are in the market for a custom "writing desk" Shaker style table for our computer. It is a very simple design, which may or may not include a drawer. I am considering building one, but would also like to see if there's a custom woodworker in the area that is within our budget. These tables are available unfinished for about $200. My estimate to build, including millwork, is about $500. I recognize that master craftsmen justifyably charge much more--we have an estimate from a gentleman who apparently does very nice work, but the estimate is more that we can pay. I've also requested information from a woodworker in Leesburg, VA. If anyone is (or is aware of) a custom woodworker in the Washington DC metro area (including MD and VA), please let me know. I don't know if I've completely exhausted the internet for sites, but close to it. Thanks for any leads, Steve

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If you can get what you want for $200, why are you looking to have one custom made?

    Bookmark   September 25, 2008 at 1:11PM
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Please forgive my confusion, but did you or a professional woodworker estimate that the desk could be built for $500?

Here's my take, as a working carpenter and sometimes furniture maker. In any wood, $500 is extremely low. Off the top of my head, here are a few of the tasks involved in such a job (and I'm sure I've forgotten some). You can guess at how long they take, but note that vehicle time isn't free.

- meet client to find out what they want
- produce working drawings and budget
- show drawings, budget to client and get signoff
*now, some would argue that the steps above are part of a 'free' estimate. I've done it for free; I just know that the cost of those activities ends up on someone's bill eventually.

- buy lumber -- about 30 bf @$4/(take time at the yard to find nice boards)
- mill lumber to close thickness/width/length
- glue up tabletop (jointing/biscuiting/gluing/clamping)
- cut remaining stock to finish width/thickness
- mortise legs; shape legs if not rectangular
- tenon aprons
- build drawer wasn't included in this exercise, but if it got built, it would also need to be fitted and hardware-d
- tabletop out of clamps, cut to final size and smoothed
- assemble legs and aprons
- attach tabletop
- final sand; no finishing
- deliver to client

For the non-free tasks, I guessed 22 hours, and I always guess low. Which brings us to our final task:
- pick up cheque for $500 ($120 for cheap hardwood; $380 for labor @$17/hr)

- then, after hands are shaken, go to the accounts shoebox and deduct taxes on that $380; pay various overheads; pay for the cost of the machinery used in the production; pay for the vehicle; pay for consumables in the shop like sawblades...

Then, realize that the net wage for that job was about $10/hr.

    Bookmark   September 25, 2008 at 6:56PM
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Aren't forums great? To clarify and illuminate: If I only had $200 to spend on this table, I would certainly consider an unfinished one, along with a used piece, if I could find one of the proper dimensions, style, interest, etc. For $200 I would get a mass-produced piece of inexpensive hardwood (or pine), which may or may not take a stain well, and which I would do my best to finish attractively. Since it looks like I can afford to spend more for the piece, I would like a table made for me by a craftsman, to my exact specifications, out of nicer wood of my choosing.

justnigel, forgive me, but I was not quite clear in my post. When I said that I estimated $500 to build the table, that was for me to build the table, using some pre-fab parts, and having some millwork done locally. I did not include any amount for my labor, of course. Nor was I expecting anyone to build my table for that amount. I am more or less aware of what goes into a custom project, but thanks for the detail. I don't ask or expect anyone cut their prices for me. I ask for an estimate, and if I can't afford it, I say so and walk away. I wouldn't want a craftsman of any kind to work for less than his going rate. If someone wants to come back and make another offer, that's fine. As I posted in the "joiner" post on this forum, I'm close to making a deal for this table, and I'm looking forward to it.

    Bookmark   September 26, 2008 at 11:11AM
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Sounds like you need to spend at least $1,500 to have a woodworker make the desk you envision. Make your own drawing to provide to the woodworkers you get estimates from. That way the estimates are for the same thing.

    Bookmark   September 26, 2008 at 1:08PM
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