Cost for Staining Custom Moulding

A small shop does some basic cost figuring for unfamiliar work: an incidental stain job. October 19, 2013

I'm making up about 1k lf of custom moldings for a local contractor who was referred to me by another shop. I bid and got the job and am currently on schedule despite my wood showing up several days later than promised. So far so good! Then I get a call from the contractor wanting to know how much for me to sand and stain the material? Now I do a couple custom molding jobs a year at best, and I've never stained one. But it's been a slow summer. I told him I'd get back to him. I went back, sanded a couple profiles at a leisurely pace, figured a good time to spray and wipe one coat of stain, then added a little extra since I didn't necessarily want to do it! I called him with a number - he agreed without even thinking about it!

So now I'm curious as to where the average costs for this type of work are? I came up with $1 a linear foot which should put me well over my hourly shop rate (minus a gallon of stain and some sandpaper), or better depending on my speed. I'm not worried about losing money as even if it takes a bit longer I should be safe. This is more of a curiosity question to see where other shops are at.

Forum Responses
(Architectural Woodworking Forum)
From contributor M:
I'm wondering if your pricing included all the necessary handling of the material that will come along with the finishing or if it just allowed for the actual act of finishing the material? You will have to stack material aside to dry, remove it from drying racks to make room for the next run, bundle, and so on. You would be handling and bundling this material anyway as you're making the molding, but there are numerous handling steps mixed in there when you add finish.

From contributor E:
Depends also on what your overhead and other costs are. $1/lineal is probably half or less of what it should be.

From the original questioner:
Mark, I do have some time figured for handling. This is just a coat of stain, so not nearly as much involved as a full finish, but as you mentioned I'll have to handle the material a few extra times. And in my small shop handling 16' lengths is no picnic.

Contributor E, shop rates include those other costs like overhead and, believe it or not, even profit! So when you say "probably," do you charge $2+ per lf, or are you just guessing for the heck of it?

From contributor M:
While I have no direct comparison for pricing in my shop, my initial feeling was it was too low. But when I think about it a bit more, and in the context of you having been slow, 1K to wipe on a coat of stain doesn't sound all that bad, especially where you can just fold it into your workflow as you're already handling it all.

From contributor A:
We bought an automatic line that can prime about 30,000 feet of molding a day in 1996. At that time contractors were charging about $1 to prime molding in the field. We can stain and top coat about 20,000 feet in a day.

If you lay out 1000 feet of molding in your shop so you can do it all at one time, it ties up valuable floor space and time.

You are looking at 1-2 gallons to cover a 4" flat with no edges on 1000', so that's your material cost. Sanding between costs can be significant as well as trying to match for color.

Then there is the cost of rags, rag disposal, and of course local EPA rules.

When we sold just clear coated material to wholesalers, we were getting about .5 a foot and were running a lot of footage with one person running the line. Our line moves at about 120 feet per minute.

So without counting up edges and coats and profile sanding, I think $1 a foot is at the low end of what to sell prefinished molding for. Make sure you do samples and they understand that there will be color variations based on the species.

At 1000 feet you can figure out what it costs at the end and if you were upside down on it.

From contributor A:
I think your $1 a foot is low as well. There is a good deal of handling time involved. The staining can take a lot of time as well, depending on the wood and product. Simply wrapping up all of the sticks to prevent damage takes time.

We used to do $1 l/ft per coat. Primed $1, primed and topcoated $2. Keep in mind the other option is to have an onsite painter hand stain and then slather a coat of poly. Sprayed finish costs money.

From contributor M:
It seems everyone is doing as I did and thinking of this as a full finish. This is just sand and applying a coat of stain... No finish.

From the original questioner
Thanks for the responses! I'm starting to think maybe I could have charged even a bit more?

As mentioned, this is just sanding and a single coat of stain - no topcoat involved. The contractor asked about it and I declined, as I can't do a full finish on long lengths efficiently in house! However I can stain a 16' piece of base and stand it outside against the building to dry.

So the good news is so far I'm ahead of the game. Sent out 400 lf of base last night milled, sanded, and stained and came out a bit over 50% higher than shop rate! Now that's going to change as I go on, as the base is the easiest of the 3 profiles I'm doing. The other profiles take longer to sand so it will start to offset that number. I'll update as the job progresses and let you guys know how I make out!

From contributor T:
Try a brush sanding hand tool. I have a one man shop and with the Flex Trim hand sander I bought, it cut my sanding time in half. You can also make a custom machine with one of their heads at the end of the molder. You go from cutting to sanding to staining with only touching the board twice.