The Up-Charge for Finishing Cabinets

How much should finishing a piece add to its cost, asks a cabinetmaker? Finishers chime in with rough percentages, whys and wherefores. October 28, 2005

A client asked me to produce two estimates for a built-in entertainment unit, one with finishing (tinted lacquer) and one unfinished. What percentage would be recommended to tack on for this type of finish? Also, what percentage do you tack on for stain grade? Any suggestions are appreciated.

Forum Responses
(Finishing Forum)
From contributor L:
I add 65% to the bill for finishing. Simple finishing that is. If I’m doing glazing, antiquing, making it look older, or faux finishing then it’s more. Sometimes I don't think this is enough, as it takes almost the same time to put on a quality finish as it does to make the item(s).

From contributor L:
This is usually a way the customer checks out how much you charge for doing something without actually asking you. Next, after they see what you make on finishing they will have the leverage to try to knock your price down. Most of my clients are somewhat flabbergasted when they see how much the finish adds onto the price, I tell them it is very low in materials but high in (skilled) labor, therefore a lot of money.

From the original questioner:
Contributor L - I’m wondering - 65% sounds like a lot to add on.

From contributor L:
Yes it does sound like a lot until you figure in the hours. I used to always be surprised by how much finishing cost when I was outsourcing it. Then I started to do it myself and then I realized how much work went into getting a quality finish. Don't short yourself. There is a big difference between the quality of a finish that you get from someone who is painting at the client’s residence and one that is done in-house. It takes more time/skill to produce that quality finish. Start to count your hours when you finish something, if it has a lot of nooks and crannies, they all need to be sanded before the final coat can be applied and that is where all your time gets burned up.

From contributor B:
Years have gone by since the "norm" was about 30% of construction cost less installation. Nowadays, in my area, some have increased the finishing portion to 35% and some even higher to 40%. The higher would dictate as to type of finish that is requested such as glazing, distressing, and etc.

Of course, the cost is variable because every cabinet makers cost is different from another as another may charge only $8,500 to your $10k but the finishing process is the same regardless. So from a finisher’s standpoint it makes no difference to him as to what it cost to make. His cost is what he makes it. So to answer your question, I think you should figure on a higher percentage for finishing.

From contributor T:
Adding a percentage to a cost doesn't net the same percentage of the total. To keep it simple, adding 50% to a $1,000 product, totaling $1,500, nets a 33% cost (of finishing, in our case). Your math has you forcing your product cost down to $750. It doesn't work that way. Adding 65% for finishing to your product would net closer to 40% of final cost (price) for finishing. We have had many cases of less than exotic finishing cost as much as or more than the unfinished item.

From contributor D:
I agree with what Contributor T just said. You don't deduct 65% of your total bill to see what you would charge on the unfinished item. You said you wouldn't make that Entertainment Center for $3,500. I wouldn't either. In actuality you would be making that E/C for $6,100 and charge $3,900 for finishing it (if you were trying to get a total of $10,000).

If I make a exterior door for example and I charge the customer $875.00 for it unfinished, then it would be an additional $437.00 to finish it with a 7 step finishing process, for a total of $1,312.00 I only charge around a 50% increase in price for doors, something like an E/C or built-in bookcases are more only because there is more time involved with spraying and sanding. Doors are relatively easier than a piece of furniture due to them being flat. It’s all about time, if it takes you 2 days to make an E/C and 2 days to finish it, why wouldn't you charge the same amount for labor? 16 hours of time is same regardless of what you’re doing.

From contributor L:
I agree that when you say it will be 65% more with a finish on it, it sounds like a lot. People now have a Wal-Mart mentality, that is, how can you sell me something for that much when I can get something similar for a third of that price.

Not many people realize how much work has to go into a project, large or small. So if you gave them a price for the E/C with the finishing included they would probably say "Wow, that's more than I expected" but would ultimately bite. But now that you have told them how much it was with and without the finish they would probably not want to even say anything but "Why does the finish cost so much, it just a little lacquer?" I was the one who came up with the original 65% number and that is just an average. Flat plywood style doors with a simple stain and clear would cost about 35-40% while more complex doors with panels and beads would come out around 70%, just because of the time factor.

From the original questioner:
Here are a couple of points I want to make:
1) I agree with everyone that there are too much variables to agree on a certain percentage.

2) Being a cabinetmaker and doing my own finishing I think that it should cost more to build than to finish because there is more overhead in building versus finishing although finishing might require more training and mentally more exhausting. Building is not without burden either. There are endless errands to run, client handholding and backbreaking millwork, etc.

3) I don't think most clients have the Wal Mart mentality, at least not here in the Bay Area, CA. They don't call me unless they want custom and realize they have to pay for it. It's no secret that you get what you pay for.