Celebrating 25 years of pricing research
Reading nook project

What would you charge to build this children's library reading nook project? It's one of the projects in the 2023 FDMC Woodworking Network Pricing Survey.

The 2023 FDMC Pricing Survey marks the 25th year for what is the woodworking industry’s only vehicle for comparing pricing in custom woodwork. To celebrate the survey’s silver anniversary, there are projects representing some of the most popular categories of custom work the survey has tackled.

Born in 1998 in the last issue of WoodshopBusiness magazine before that publication was merged with CabinetMaker and FDM (now FDMC) magazines, the survey was inspired by readers’ constant questions about how to price custom work. 

One reader who made signs as part of his custom woodwork told me about a sign publication that occasionally posted a sign project and solicited sample bids from its audience. No one had ever done that for mainstream custom woodwork such as kitchen cabinetry and furniture, so I decided to give it a try.

The response was overwhelming with more than 60 people sending in bids for projects ranging from a full kitchen to a single wood part intended to be turned out on a CNC machine. Some of the projects in that first survey were fantasy projects made up just for the survey. Since then all the projects in the survey have been based in reality — real jobs done by real shops who have generously shared their specifications and data to better help the industry understand the challenge of pricing.

This year’s survey is sponsored by Lockdowel.

Lockdowel logo

How it works
Each survey is founded on collecting projects from original bidders who provide the original specifications. Then that information is shared with our audience, and shops across North America are invited to “bid” on the projects, submitting not only a total price but also break-out data on such things as materials, construction hours, shop rates, installation, and finishing. 

Over time, other information was requested such as software and CNC use, years in business, design fees, and the like, all designed to give a better picture of the bidders and their bids but still keeping all bidders anonymous except for their state or province. That encourages honest bidding but still gives some regional information for the survey.
Let’s look at some of the projects in this year’s survey.

Reading nook
We have rarely had commercial or institutional furniture projects in the survey, but this year includes a Reading Nook project designed for public library use. It combines a shelf unit with a small upholstered area that is enclosed with a roof over it. Just perfect for curling up to read a book. It’s the kind of project that is attractive to a wide range of shops even if they aren’t regularly doing commercial furnishings or upholstered work.

White oak Shaker kitchen

White oak Shaker kitchen
Two big trends today are increasing use of white oak — usually rift or quartersawn — and the ubiquitous Shaker style with flat panel doors and clean design. This kitchen combines those trends in a compact but somewhat complex design.

Birch mantle project

Birch mantle
Some architectural millwork projects we’ve run in the survey in the past had been too larch in scope to attract a lot of bidders. This project is a basic fireplace mantle in birch that offers a classic built-in look well within the reach of most shops’ capabilities.

Crab-leg coffee table

Crab-leg coffee table
This table combines clean lines and simple curves in a coffee table that fits well with popular Mid-Century Modern style. Even with something as simple as this, we have found wide variations in pricing. What would you charge?

Display cabinet

Display cabinet
This cabinet illustrates the classic challenges of pricing custom work. It is a compact display cabinet that can be hung on the wall or be set on a stand, high table, or other cabinet. It’s relatively small but it has fussy details that complicate construction and pricing. It features highly figured bird’s-eye maple, knife hinges, and two small drawers with hand-cut dovetails. 

Why should you participate?
The obvious question posed by the survey is “Why take the time to bid projects I’ll never win or get paid for?” The answer is because you’ll learn a lot about pricing and be better able to price work profitably in the future. You’ll also be helping the industry as a whole to do a better job of pricing. That means fewer low-ball prices to compete against, fewer unprofitable jobs, and more realistic customer expectations across the board.

All you have to do to join the survey is to go to woodworkingnetwork.com/pricing-survey to directly download the bid package. Or you can phone me at 203-512-5661 or email [email protected], and I’ll be happy to mail you a hard copy. But don’t delay. All bids are due in by September 25 so the results can be published in the November issue of FDMC.


Have something to say? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.

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About the author
William Sampson

William Sampson is a lifelong woodworker, and he has been an advocate for small-scale entrepreneurs and lean manufacturing since the 1980s. He was the editor of Fine Woodworking magazine in the early 1990s and founded WoodshopBusiness magazine, which he eventually sold and merged with CabinetMaker magazine. He helped found the Cabinet Makers Association in 1998 and was its first executive director. Today, as editorial director of Woodworking Network and FDMC magazine he has more than 20 years experience covering the professional woodworking industry. His popular "In the Shop" tool reviews and videos appear monthly in FDMC.