Hiring a Woodshop Helper

Advice on hiring the right person for the right wage for general shop labor. April 22, 2014

Things have been steadily picking up and I'm going to need to try and find at least a part time helper soon. I tried this before and it didn't work out so well. It was mostly my own fault for a variety of reasons, but I consider it a learning experience that will hopefully make the next go work out better. In hindsight I believe I paid too much for what he brought to the table. Plus all the extra expenses of workers comp and payroll really made it an expensive mistake! So I want to try and avoid making the same mistake twice.

I think I'm probably going to look for a general helper vs. someone with a lot of experience. I want to offer a fair rate, not looking for super cheap labor or anything, but I also don't want to overpay again. What do you guys pay for this type of help? I'm in the NE just outside a major city.

Forum Responses
(Business and Management Forum)
From contributor A:
Regardless of all those that will post their disagreements to this, this works staggeringly well: post the wage and the requirements, don't assume you are underpaying. For example: Need experienced wood worker, $10/hour to start. Of course your full ad will be much more detailed than that. Hire the most qualified person that agrees to start at your starting wage - this is key. I have hired very talented people this way. Then you give raises when it is wise to. I’m 20 years in business and this is the best way of getting the most bang for your labor dollar.

From contributor W:
Make a list of shop maintenance tasks that need to be done every day. Mount them on a piece of plywood and put a nail at the beginning of each task. Get a bunch of metal washers and paint one side white and one side black and paint a couple of washers red. This is so that your protégé is not constantly pestering you for something to do when they are out of work. When every washer has been turned from white to black the daily chores are complete. Red washers indicate urgency. You can use this list to help interview people. Lots of people think woodworking is mostly just about wearing a leather apron and hitting a chisel with a wooden mallet. Better to screen these types early.

From contributor L:
For part time help I post on the local university's site. I've done this often enough to establish what I'm likely to get. I generally receive a fair amount of responses and most are smart kids willing to work with little or no experience. Our starting wage out here in the boonies is about $10 for PT student help.

From contributor B:
Basic labor and part time help starts at $10 per hour. Go to your local fire department and see if any of the fireman want to earn extra money. It’s the best help I have ever received. Most of them work 24 hours on and 48 hours off at the fire department. This will give you help at least three days per week. I am located in Northeast Georgia.

From Contributor G:
When I meet one I am willing to do my part to check out our working relationship. I ask "what would you like to earn" and I am wanting a specific answer, not a lifestyle change. If he hits my number $10-12 to start, we move on. If he ask for less I say "well, you are going to start at $10 as I need you to do this job and make enough so that you will want to do the work without a major focus on how a bill is going to be paid. I get right into what I expect - a clear head, a good attitude, and a productive spirit. If we hit it right we make money and we pay bills. We is an important word - he has a job and so do I.

From the original questioner:
Contributor B, I like your idea butin this area firefighters are making over $100k a year. I can't imagine they'd want to do grunt work for $10 - $12 an hour?

Contributor G, I like the up-front approach. Last time I hired I was looking for someone with just a bit of experience and was very, very descriptive in the ad with what I was looking for. I still had guys coming in looking for $25-$35 an hour! Heck I wish I made $35 an hour!

I think you guys have given me enough to have a general idea of where I should be. I also appreciate the other ideas. The plywood daily list is a great one as well. That was one problem, (of admittedly many), I had last time around. I wasn't nearly organized enough to keep him busy so I was constantly stopping what I was doing to get him set up for something else. Anyway I learned a lot from the last go and hopefully I won't make too many of the same mistakes twice! Though I'm sure there will be plenty of new ones to make.

From Contributor O:
I would search for a good basic hand and let them know you are going to train them for a career, and you have high expectations for them. Start with a list of short term jobs - daily and weekly things, then a long term list and hoped for completion dates. Then start them on S4S: reading a cutlist and filling it. Then go on to sanding or something like it.

You have to work on two fronts: one - make sure you have the work to keep you both busy, and two - you have to work to make sure you aren't working for the helper. Don't fall for the old, "It is just easier if I do it myself." That is, in a one man shop with a second hand, it is not reasonable to assume the number two guy will be a helper forty hours a week. They have to learn to work independently and to think independently. This makes them more than a helper, and worth more, eventually. So, your hiring task just got harder. If you insist on them only being a helper (or that is all they want) you will end up working to keep him busy and that will reduce your productivity. The second guy needs to double your productivity within three months or darn near it.

From contributor K:
I'm going to take a different approach. When I hired a guy (started part time, now full time) he began as support for me. This included planing, and general lumber prep so I could make components. Once components were milled, he glued doors, etc. Once I fit doors, he would sand them. Basically he would do the stuff I couldn't justify paying myself to do. The downfall to this process was me keeping a close eye all the time and being way too type-A (micromanaging, etc.) in the beginning.

The upside to this process was us finding things that the worker does very well. For example, I have not made a drawer box in two years. All I have to do is give a list, and they are done in a day. This guy started off at $10 an hour, now he can step in for me when I'm out and do 90% of all the shop tasks. He now makes $15/hour with health insurance.