Estimating and purchasing software

Recommended reading and computer software for estimating architectural woodwork. February 7, 2001

I'm looking for a relatively inexpensive, user-friendly estimating program, which can produce cutting lists and purchase orders at the same time, for institutional projects. Also, let me know of any courses or books related to estimating woodwork.

Forum Responses
The Architectural Woodworking Institute cost book can be an invaluable reference. Bill Norlin's book "The Business of Woodwork" is a good one.

There are some "construction" bid packages that are inexpensive, but they are not cabinet specific. An accurate estimate should account for economies of scales, waste, user times and costs. The construction programs have labor and material, but not waste. You could give your materials a certain factor over cost, to account for waste.

I learned estimating from a senior estimator in the first business I worked for. Then I did estimating for several large millwork companies.

I started my own business a year ago with two others, and have conceived El Nino, which is our estimating software. This is a fairly simple estimating program, which permits you to break down material, shop labor and field labor.

Taking the waste into account is not very complicated, but estimating the labor is. The Architectural Woodworking Institute offers a cost book that could help with this.

The Architectural Woodworking Institute does a very good estimating seminar. I am Chairman of the Project Management Seminar team and I have worked with the Estimating team extensively. The two seminars go well together. Estimating and project management are part of the cycle of business--you can't estimate well unless your project management has been generating good feedback information and you can't manage a project well without a detailed, thorough estimate.

Takeoff, a program written by a very good, medium-sized millwork company, is an excellent off-the-shelf estimating package. It is written by people who really know the business and is structured to reflect the way you actually do work in your shop. Once you have built in your data, it is quite simple to use, especially at the takeoff level, and the process of building the data files is simple once you get the hang of it. But it is not and should not be simple to develop the data in the first place, and it is never simple to make the final pricing decisions necessary for a successful estimate. One of the things we teach in both seminars is that cost is fact and pricing is policy.

I recommend "The Woodworker's Marketing Guide" by Martin Edic, published by Taunton Press.