The pricing dilemma

One of the hardest things about being an artisan is how to put a price on your work. Everyone who has ever tried to sell something they have made has faced this problem. There are a million ways one can calculate the value of a piece of work. You can figure out what the materials cost and how many hours it took to make it and what you want to earn per hour and then figure in your overhead and on and on.

This is a good method if you are going to be content to make wages. But it does not take into account any number of factors that might affect the actual value. Many of these factors are subjective and somewhat ephemeral. How do you figure the value of a unique piece of wood? How do you put a value on that sudden inspiration that elevates a particular piece to a higher level, maybe even pushing it into the realm of art?

In a gallery setting, prices can be pushed up because most people accept the idea that things shown in galleries are art and generally cost more than things bought at a craft fair or from someone’s Internet site. But getting galleries to accept anything made of wood as art can be a challenge in itself and even if they do take your work, they are going to add a substantial markup so you may not end up with a whole lot more than if you sold direct.

This is the situation I am facing with my turnings and, as they say, “I’m workin’ on it. I’ll keep you posted.



  • Gary Balcom says:

    I agree that pricing is very subjective. Even in most shops, pricing seems to be based on costs and a marginal markup, with no consideration of what the market can or will bear. It is my belief that most people who get out of touch with their market suffer, either by leaving money on the table, or by selling a product that their market can’t bear, thereby leaving little margin for themselves.



  • In 1972 when I quit mechanical engineering to start building cabinets full time, I had an old cabinet maker suggest this method: (1) make a complete list of every thing that it will take to build the piece, (2) add 40% to this cost, (3) multiply that figure by three and what ever the cost is, use it. This will allow for the waste. 30% for the overhead and 30% for the cabinet maker, the rest for materials. I have found over the yeras that if I make any changes to this, I will either make a little extra, or, loose money.

  • John Brooks says:

    At what point do you cross the line from “manufacturing” where pricing is mainly based on costs coupled with supply and demand, to “art” where pricing is mainly dependent on who made it? I think it is important to decide which you are, then build, market and price accordingly.

    I think the hardest part of pricing is making something as “art” (one at a time and special) but pricing as “manufactured” (many all the same). How often have I made a custom item and then said to myself, “It shouldn’t have taken me that long to make this.” and discounted the price. Too many. Over time I have painfully realized that I don’t have the name or the guts to charge for custom, one off work, and for boats there isn’t enough demand to set up to build on a small production basis to gain efficiencies. So I am relying on my design work instead–and keeping my fingers crossed.

    Best of luck!

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