Business, Finishing Estimating Costs

The soul of your wood finishing estimating system - estimating costs

Look at your estimating process. Is the person doing the estimating familiar with all of the operations that are necessary to create the various finish and coloring systems? Secondly, do they have a good idea of how long it actually takes to perform these operations in your shop? Has the estimator ever done any finishing? Most people in the woodworking business are familiar with building, not finishing. There is a big difference between imagining it and doing it. My guess is this is one of the biggest reasons that, on paper, finishing often loses money.

The success of any estimating system depends on how well you set the system up, and how well it reflects your actual results. Do not be lulled into a state of complacency once you have an estimating system. Talk with your finishers about time estimates. They are a great source of information. If they keep grumbling that you are not allowing enough time for jobs, then you should determine if your estimating numbers are inaccurate or if there is something wrong in the system that is keeping them from operating efficiently.

Assumptions. As we start to develop our estimating system there will always be a number of things that you will need to assume. For instance, all parts are ready at the time that the finishing cycle begins. If you finish the job and then someone realizes that they forgot to make one door, then your total job finishing time will be affected.

Another assumption might be that all parts have been properly prepared and sanded. This includes things like the filling of nail holes, if appropriate, and breaking of all edges. Again, if your finishers have to spend a lot of time sanding out glue spots that should have been caught by another department, then the finisher’s times will suffer. You should discuss these assumptions with everyone involved in the process – by doing so, you define who is responsible for what. This helps eliminate confusion and maybe even some employee discontent.

In reality it doesn’t matter what estimating system you use. All that matters is that it makes you money .

My experience in the world of estimating has uncovered one universal flaw in almost everyone’s equation/technique. Only a small percentage of people go back and see how close their estimated times/costs were compared to their actual times/costs for a given job. We always check the fit of a joint or the setup of a machine so we don’t make scrap, but we are willing to go by gut feeling or intuition when it comes to the bottom line success of our company. Did you estimate the job correctly? The answer to that question lies right in your own shop, all you have to do is go back and check. If you never seem to be making money on your finishing, consider the fact that you might not be charging enough.

For estimating purposes remember that material movement times will vary greatly depending on the size of the job, whereas set-up, clean-up, and maintenance may be influenced only slightly by job size.

On any given project, you also have to consider if there are any special circumstances that would require you to adjust your “normal” price. For instance, when working on a large conference table you might find that you spend a considerable amount of time just walking around it to get to where you need to be to work on it. Special effects like filled finishes and glazing also add to your normal finishing costs.

Finally, have confidence in what you do, and don’t be ashamed to charge for it. It is far, far, better to lose the job than to lose your shirt. When it gets down to fine-tuning a price it seems that the first place people are willing to cut times is in the finishing operation. I think that’s because they don’t really understand all that goes on there. Considering the importance of the finish to the overall success of the job this is the worst place to try and cut times. I also think it is ironic that the first place companies are willing to shave costs is the exact place that they complain about not making money.

The Effect of the Digital Age on your Finishing Department

  • Is your shop using some type of CAD program to increase your drawing productivity.
  • How much time has this saved you?
  • Is your shop using a CNC to decrease your cutting and/or machining time.
  • How much time has these investments saved you?
  • Between software and hardware what do you think your dollar investment is?

So we are drawing, cutting, machining, and as a result assembling cabinetry at a record pace. My next question is how much have you invested in your finishing department to keep up with this improved production?