Measuring and Estimating Trim Quantities

Tips for figuring quantities and ordering lengths. March 14, 2005

I run a small custom moulding and millwork shop. I usually leave the estimating of linear feet up to the builder or customer, but there is a demand for measuring. If I do it, then I don't have to make up for their mistakes. I am looking for suggestions on measuring methods. I have been using a measuring wheel, getting total linear feet by rolling without stopping for doors, and then adding 10%. For casing, I count door sides and provide 8' sticks, then measure the remainder with wheel, adding 10% again. Any experience with this?

Forum Responses
From contributor J:
Why don't you just get the building plans from the builder or homeowner and read them yourself? This way you don't even have to leave your shop.

From contributor M:
All sounds okay except for your casings. You want 5 7' casings for each standard (6-8 ) door, not 8'. As a trimmer, I can tell you there's way too much waste in 8' casings. 4 7' for sides and 42" per header equals 5 7'.

From contributor P:
As a trim carpenter, I like to meet with the salesman whenever possible to go over material specs and quantities. This way I know what is being ordered and can order specific lengths for specific projects. Of course, this is not always possible.

When ordering material myself, I count 16 ft. pieces of crown, base, or other horizontal trim rather than measure actual footage, then add 10%. Let's say we have an average bedroom (12 x 12) and closet (3 x 6). Take 66 lin. ft. of base. Add 10% = 72 lin. ft. I would order five 16' pieces (80' not including 10%).

Reason? Most trim carpenters are going to cut each 12' wall section out of a 16' piece of base. It will take another piece to do the closet. If he is smart he will use the drops in the closet. Besides, it is much quicker to count pieces rather than footage.

For door casing, why not order 14' pieces? You can get 2 legs or 4 or more heads from each 14' piece. If using wide casing, order 15' or 16' material. Or order 10' material, from which you can get one leg and one head. Less waste with these lengths.

This works pretty well in most cases and is how most salesmen I deal with order material.

From the original questioner:
Thanks a lot for the input. Contributor J, that is great for a quick estimate and even an initial bid, but unless you actually spend some time with the homeowner and discuss options (profiles, species, etc.), you may as well tell them to go to Home Depot. I have been awarded numerous bids because I took the time to meet with (and usually educate) the customer on trim package options, even when I wasn't the lowest bid. It is a practice that puts me above the competition in my area. Two other benefits are that I usually sell more product (crown, wainscoting) and I can adjust for changes that have been made from blueprint to framing.

Contributor M, I use 8 generally speaking. I provide 73 usually (or a little more for wide casing). But I like the 7 across the tops. Easier than measuring - Im going to start using that. Simplifies things a bit. Thanks.

Contributor P, that is exactly why I like to meet with people. As for your lengths, I often deal with species that are difficult to get in 14, let alone 16. Cherry, for example - this year long stuff is premium and looks horrible. I personally would rather look at a well made scarf joint than some of the junk I have seen out there, even in a crown. Also, I usually order my material in random lengths, but I will keep your ideas in mind for species where long stuff is not an issue.

From contributor J:
From your original e-mail it sounded like all profiles where finalized and you just needed linear footage. When I first went into business, I was quick to do estimates, only to find that some people were just wasting my time. But I did manage to get some jobs. As time went on, I learned to do some initial questioning over the phone in order to narrow down a price line. Sometimes I'll ask the customer to come out to my shop. This saves me time, impresses the customer (they see my shop), and I have any profiles and other tools that I need to sell the job.

From contributor L:
I really hate it when someone orders all 16' moldings and then I find out they cut it up into 4' or 7' pieces. Long lengths are at a premium in most commercial woods. Using the long lengths indiscriminately is a waste of resources and an indication someone doesn't give a damn, or at least doesn't know enough to order smart.

From contributor D:
I agree. In fact, what you wrote is almost exactly what a builder said just about a hundred years ago. He added that unless we learn to use wisely, the resource may vanish. The builder was Frank Lloyd Wright and he was speaking in reference to the design of his house and studio now open for the public in Oak Park, IL.