What's a Finish Carpenter Make?

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(...besides sawdust?) Pros share info on wage rates around the nation. June 16, 2005

Any suggestions about average wage of finish carpenter in southern California? I have an interview tomorrow. In the resume, they ask how much I want, but I didn't answer yet. I have my own tools and perform the job myself. I install crown, base board, door and window trim.

I'm also thinking of buying a new SCMS. Can't decide between the Dewalt 708 and Hitachi C10FSH with laser. Any experience with them?

Forum Responses
(Cabinet and Millwork Installation Forum)
If you buy the DeFault, be prepared to spend another $200 or so on a spun blade. Most 12" blades have too much deflection for close tolerances. I have the Hitachi 10" (w/o laser) and have found it to be a much more accurate tool, but if you have to have the 12", you'll have to spend considerably more to make it accurate.

Go with the Hitachi. I used the Dewalt for several years and finally bought the 10" Hitachi because of the deflection in the blade. I am extremely impressed with the performance of this tool.

If you're experienced and have your own tools, I'd start asking at around $25.00/hr. If you're courageous and don't mind the risk, start at $30.00. You can always accept less. With the market as it presently is, and if you have tools and are organized, they'll probably make you an offer of some kind, no matter how high you quote yourself.

If a finish carpenter can get $30 per hour I will sell my shop and start doing that. Who in the world could afford to pay that? I have had a custom cabinet shop for over 20 years in So Cal and I don't make $30 per hour.

Wow, less than $30 for all of that work? I'm a finish carpenter in So Cal and I get at least that. No shop, minimal overhead, minimum headache. If you can't make more than that, why bother having a shop? Get out from under it and charge what you are worth.

The finish guys from So Cal used to charge $25 - $35 cash fifteen years ago. Some were worth every penny. The ones that were not were at least smart enough to leave you the hardest part of the job to finish when you figured it out. Today's market in some areas allows the good finishers to charge lots more.

In MA and RI, if you are not getting $65 per man hour, you are looked upon as a hack and not even considered. I am talking about high end New England homes. No split jamb, no scribe moulding, everything pre-finished. The bad get weeded out pretty quickly.

You ego maniacs should get real. The only way you're making those figures is if you only work a couple hours a week. All a person has to do is right here on the internet. The federal government has sites where you can find average and even above average incomes for any profession.

I charge 65 per hour and my top guy makes 40 per hour. My clientele and area warrant such a salary. If I had a guy on one of my jobs that did the quality of my top guys for less, I would feel guilty not paying him what he is worth. The reality of it is guys think they are worth a lot more then they are. If you can scribe to a stone fireplace without gaps, you are far and few between in my area. But those are the guys that think they are the cat's ass until you put them on a high end job and they can't even read elevations correctly.

I am installing cabinets in Los Angeles, mostly Westside, north of Sunset Blvd. clientele, and there are lots of trades making that kind of money. Truthfully, I charge more than $30 for installation. When I figure out what it will cost to install a job, I will plan on paying myself $45-50/hour. With overhead and profit, the "shop rate" is closer to $60/hr. Bear in mind that these are luxury homes and everything must be installed perfectly, and there is usually a deadline and a multitude of obstacles to overcome. I work independently and carry my own license and insurance. No shop, just insurance and vehicle/tools for overhead. I have 3 or 4 showrooms/custom shops that I have a relationship with, and they desperately need me, and are often overflowing with work. I'd close the shop and get out in the field. There are really very few good carpenters available anymore. I have tried to hire them and they don't exist. What I'd do for a clone of myself on the payroll...

Comparing wages becomes relative to the cost of living in different areas of the country. Using government "bean-counter" averaging doesn't apply everywhere. $15/hour might work where you live, but in many places, you would barely be able to pay the rent.

I'm lucky to meet carpenters around the country at workshops and seminars, and I've learned there's a great disparity in wages - folks in Florida seem to have it the worst, with $15-$18/hr being tops for many carpenters. But I bet that changes now, with all the demand after the hurricanes. At the same time, I've met more carpenters making $30 plus than I have the opposite, possibly because a lot of my clinics are held near upscale or metropolitan areas.

As for L.A... I know door hangers who are getting $130 for an interior hollow core door. It's easy to hang 8-10 in a day. You do the math.

As good as that may sound to some, the cost of living in L.A. is outrageous. That is what you have to charge to stay in business. I couldn't afford to live in the neighborhoods I work in if I charged five times what I do now. I drive a long way to get to work sometimes.

I have two top hands here in Maine who I pay $30/hr. I feel lucky to have them for that. It is interesting to hear that someone in one of the most expensive parts of the country can't make that much.

It will depend on what type of finish you are doing. Residential tracts are the worst - 12.00 to 20.00 per hr. Customs and remodels are 20 to 40.

The comments below were added after this Forum discussion was archived as a Knowledge Base article (add your comment).

Comment from contributor A:
I have been working in the trade for 28 years now. I started at $25 per hour with bags only. Now I make $65 per hour with tools, truck, and general B license. I was making $35 per hour before the license.

Comment from contributor B:
"I have two top hands here in Maine who I pay $30/hr. I feel lucky to have them for that. It is interesting to hear that someone in one of the most expensive parts of the country can't make that much." Yes, that is interesting. I live in one of the lower wage areas, rural Alabama, where I have done custom cabinet work on low-to middle homes mostly. Twenty dollars an hour is the number my up-to-recent partner and I have stuck with, but I'm sure other shops/craftsmen in my area and in surrounding cities make a lot more. I also speculate that there are people in and around metro areas who can scarce afford the high-end shops and so there are people doing work to accommodate them.