Stripping and Refinishing Pricing

Stripping furniture is laborious and slow and so a fair price may create some sticker shock. March 26, 2009

I recently started stripping and refinishing furniture. Been doing it for a while as a hobby and in conjunction with woodworking, but new at doing bids and estimates.

This probably sounds naive, but I could really use some feedback. It appears that I'm the only one in town (pop. 61,000) who offers this service, so I have no one to compare with.

For stripping, sanding and clear coating (poly, spray lac, or Danish oil) a simple oak dresser of average size and construction (no real fancy detail, no stain or glaze, etc. - just varnish), I have been trying charge about $400. A simple dining chair for about $150, etc. I sometimes get a little sticker shock from clients, but usually get the job.

Problem is, I'm not making any money! I do all stripping by hand - don't have a flow-over system yet, though I plan to build one when I have the cash. It seems that to make this work I would have to charge a minimum of $500-700 dollars plus materials to do that simple oak dresser, with upcharges for stains, glazes, bleaching, wood repair, etc. Does this seem out of line to anyone? Bottom line... Am I undercharging, or am I just working too slow?

Forum Responses
(Finishing Forum)
From contributor C:
You didn't say how long it took you to finish the piece you need to get $500-700 for. That really is the way to figure out how much to charge.

From contributor L:
Whether people think it or not, this is custom work. It is done by hand, per piece. The finishing is usually a fairly hefty charge to begin with, and the stripping should be also, but should depend on the complexity of the piece. The more inset areas (turnings, carvings), the higher the charge should be. Sticker shock or not, you need to get paid for your time, materials and your space required to do it.

I find that just about everything I do, I give people sticker shock. But if you take the job for less, you are just doing harm to yourself and your business. If it doesn't work out and you can't afford to stay in this line of business, you need to get out before it pulls you under. If you explain the process to most people, then most people will get why the price is what it is. I don't do stripping because I cannot make money off of it. It is just too time consuming. I just let the jobs slither away. If you have the necessary tools to do it quickly (dunk pot), then you can make some money off of it. Otherwise, charge more, or get out.

From the original questioner:
Thanks. The dresser I described, though I failed to keep an accurate accounting of time, I would estimate took two days to strip, and another 1 1/2 to sand and finish. At even $200 a day (way below the $35 an hour I believe any shop owner should consider minimal), that's almost $600 for labor. Materials will usually run up to $100 for a fairly simple job.

I know that price ultimately depends on local market, on how long it takes me to do the job, etc. But I need to know if $700 is considered out of line with the industry standard for a job like the common oak dresser I described. Your input is requested to help me gain more knowledge of what's acceptable so that I can take the advice and get out now if what I need to charge is far more than the job is worth.

I realize that I could continue experimenting and spending money on advertising and eventually find where the market is in my community, but if I'm way out of line in my pricing needs, please tell me now so I don't have to waste the time and money trying.

From contributor A:
On a good summer day, a job like this should take a day, start to finish, the final coat being shot the following day after the first. No flow over, hand strip good MC stripper, either 120ed or 220ed depending on final color. The key is having a good - very good - guy doing the strip, sand and stain. Finish is a no-brainer provided you have no issues/problem. Problem is not in your pricing as much as it might be in efficiency. A flow over will be a big help when it comes to stripping, particularly chairs small tables, parts, etc.

From Paul Snyder, forum technical advisor:
The price seems reasonable. Like contributor A, I think you'll get much faster with practice.

For help and guidance in the refinishing business, contact the folks at the Professional Refinishers Group and the Professional Refinishers Guild.

From the original questioner:
Thanks so much. You're probably right about the weather, contributor T. I'm working inside the closed shop of course now, and cleaning the piece and details after the initial stripping takes the longest, trying to keep everything tidy. I'm guessing that's where the flow over would save time - getting the little blobs out of the nooks and crannies. Outside or with the overhead door open it would be a lot quicker and easier to hose everything out afterwards. And you've given me something to shoot for time-wise.

Thanks so much everyone. I don't know if I could even have started this business without all the info I get from this forum on a daily basis.

From contributor B:
Another often overlooked factor is the chemicals you are exposing yourself to on a daily basis. That in itself should be worth whatever you charge. Keep track of your time and materials. That is the only way to dial in on what you should charge. You will get a lot of sticker shock. Expect to lose many bids. How much do you think it would cost to have your car stripped down and repainted with a custom finish? Probably more than you would ever expect. If you can't/aren't making money doing it, then do it for the fun of it, and get a good job.

From contributor M:
This is one of the reasons I avoid doing refinishing if possible, although I'm always willing to do it if the price is right! Most of the time when I quote someone a price for refinishing, I get a huge sticker shock. I explain to them the amount of work that goes into it, and the fact that I will most likely run into fisheyes and other similar contamination issues... which exacerbates the issue a lot. Material costs on a refinish job aren't cheap, but as always, the labor is huge. Most of the time I find that people are asking me to refinish what-nots and do-dads they have had and abused over the years - not actual nice pieces of furniture or antique.