How should I go about pricing wood bowls? This is a question I asked after realizing I am turning too many stacks of finished wood bowls.
The answer to pricing wood bowls isn’t easy at first glance. Many factors merge together when pricing wood bowls.
Some of the contributing factors for pricing wood bowls include time, materials, skill-level, quality, craftsmanship, salesmanship, attitude, and, less discussed, disposition towards money.
Methods for Pricing Wood Bowls
Just like turning a bowl, there are many ways to solve the issue of pricing a bowl. The approach you decide to take is up to you.
In this article, we will address three ways of pricing wood bowls.
- Piece-by-piece calculation formula
- Day-rate strategy
- Long-term income price structuring
But first, we need to understand more about why we are selling, who’s selling, and what our goals are for selling wood bowls.
What Is The Motivation For Selling
Like me, many woodturners resort to selling wood turned bowls for a variety of reasons.
Yes, I want to make money from all my efforts, and I also need to clear out inventory as bowls are piling up left and right. This can be a good and bad problem.
Just wanting to get rid of excess wood bowls can potentially be the worst condition for pricing wood bowls correctly.
In cases like the need for more storage room or a frustrated spouse, the marketplace isn’t necessarily the main factor that is driving the sale.
This situation can quickly occur when the idea of selling your wood turned bowls just “pops” up one day when you realize you’re tripping over your turnings or the cost of equipment has reached a boiling point.
When periodic selling opportunities, such as craft fairs or art shows are pre-planned in advance, the inventory situation takes care of itself more efficiently.
If storage space or a nagging spouse isn’t the issue and the simple desire to make your beautiful wood turned bowls available to a buyer is your goal, then read on.
Intrinsic Vs. Extrinsic
Forces motivating us from outside to sell our wood bowls is usually going to cause pricing wood bowls to be potentially erratic.
In an ideal world, we really want to be less reactionary and more internally driven.
Once our wood bowl turning skills reach that level where beautiful bowls can be dependably produced, it’s then when we can more proactively plan in advance for ways to sell our art.
An internal desire, like wanting to share the creations we’re capable of making with others is a much better starting point compared to an external force pushing us to sell our wood bowls.
Who’s Doing The Selling
Another variable in pricing wood bowls is the person doing the selling. Is this person a brand new novice wood bowl turner, a more experienced turner, or a seasoned production turner?
A weekend or part-time turner, like myself, will have different abilities and goals compared to a full-time production turner.
While a part-time turner might not be turning enough to quit the day job, they can also make decent money selling wood bowls.
Quality Is Key
Whether you’ve turned for a few months or many years, quality is a key determining factor in pricing.
A new beginner is usually thrilled with their first bowls. I was and still am. Those bowls of mine will never be sold for a couple of reasons. They mean too much to me and…they suck, quality-wise. LOL
We have to be realistic when we decide to sell our wares. Go to local farm markets, craft fairs, and art shows and look around.
What do you see there? Are your skills, techniques, and overall quality ready to sell in places like those?
If the answer is yes, then great! Start selling. If not, keeping turning and improving those skills.
Realistic Goals Pricing Wood Bowls
Pricing wood bowls with dreams of quick cash or easy money probably isn’t the best approach.
We need to have realistic goals when we decide to sell. Making a few bowls meticulously and expecting them to sell for thousands of dollars each is most likely not real.
Likewise, making dozens or hundreds of quick, cheap small bowls in record time doesn’t guarantee they will all sell.
Consider making the wood turned bowls you enjoy making, using, and seeing every day. Not only will you enjoy creating those type of bowls, but you will also be able to price and sell them effortlessly.
The underlying goal of selling wood bowls can be as simple as wanting to create a little extra income, or more complex like wanting to earn enough for a whole new woodturning shop and all the equipment imaginable.
Wood bowl turners who turn full-time need to think about pricing wood bowls appropriately to bring enough money home to pay the bills and support a family.
Our Internal Pricing Baggage
It’s almost more taboo than talking about sex. The way we think, deal with, and communicate about money is a deeply personal issue.
We all know people who buy whatever they see and those that never seem to buy anything. We’ve all seen people who complain about “wasting” an extra nickel and others that brag about spending thousands.
The psychology behind our connection with money is fascinating.
When pricing wood bowls, we need to be aware that our own personal feelings about money will play a significant factor in what we feel is a “correct” price for our product.
I know people that think they should not be charging more than their cost of the materials for a product, while other people believe bank vaults should be cleared for their creations.
These internal money issues we drag along with us need to be quieted when pricing wood bowls because something more powerful is at play – the marketplace.
The Market Will Bear
In a free market, supply and demand are kings. What people often overlook is that supply and demand are fluid, ever-changing equations.
Every market and every selling opportunity is different. What sells at one location might not sell elsewhere.
The “market” or customer may or may not want exactly what you have. This is all part of the game.
If a bowl doesn’t sell for some time, it may have nothing to do with the price. There might not be desired for that style, size, or shape of the wood bowl. Keep trying.
When a particular market is saturated with other vendors and tons of similar product, sales may diminish.
The temptation is to just reduce prices and undercut the competition.
Unfortunately, everyone loses with this practice. Instead, look for different locations to sell or start making different types or styles of products.
In a dream world, a paying customer appears at your lathe when a bowl is almost finished, and they hold out cash for that bowl in the ideal amount to make you both happy. I said dream world. 😉
Shop Your Market
Take time and look around to see what other turners are selling and how they are doing.
We have a local farmer’s market, and a nice gentleman is there each week selling turned goods. Unfortunately, his tables appear to have the same exact products on them every week.
It seems he isn’t making many sales and somehow justifies his time setting up, sitting around all day, and tearing down for what? I’m not sure.
Look for crowds that are interested in buying wood bowls. Ask people why they purchased a wood bowl. You might be surprised what answers you find.
If you find people selling products well, see what works and what doesn’t work for them. How can you improve your wood turned bowls to make a better or different product?
Make it your job to know what type of bowls are selling and for how much.
Asking $500 for a bowl that’s worth $220 might bring dreams of quickly meeting goals. But if the market isn’t buying, no income will flow, and the real transaction is $0.
Too High and Too Low
Like all products in a free market, there is a sweet spot. This spot is not too low and not too high. The customer leaves content with the purchase, and the seller feels satisfied with the sale.
When pricing wood bowls too high, potential customers might close down, and any conversation may become difficult.
Think about when you see a product priced more than you are willing to pay. All those internal conversations about high prices and spending too much get churned up.
The funny thing is when a wood bowl is priced too low, similar internal dialogs get started.
“Why is it so cheap? Is it damaged or is something wrong with it? Oh, it probably isn’t food safe. Maybe, he didn’t make it, it was most likely made in China.”
We are programmed to be skeptical not only when prices are too high but also too low.
Hidden costs are called hidden for a reason. Most people never consider them at all, as if they are really hidden. Hidden costs are real.
Most people understand that materials used to make a wood bowl and their time need to be part of the equation in pricing wood bowls, but hidden costs often get overlooked.
Equipment used to make wood bowls is costly and adds up over time. The electricity and utilities to run that equipment and heat or cool your working space are hidden costs.
Reusable supplies like sandpaper and wood finishes are also hidden costs.
Packaging, processing and shipping costs, if not paid by a customer needs to be included as hidden costs.
If you use a service like Paypal, or another credit card processing service, they all charge a fee for their services. These are hidden costs that can add up quickly.
A huge hidden cost that many people overlook is the road to where they stand right now.
That beautiful wood turned bowl you just finished, and you’re considering selling, was it made in one day?
The answer is a resounding NO!
The bowl you may have made today was made over the entire span of time when you first started thinking about turning wood, and in many cases even before that.
I have a college degree in art and design, and I can tell you that I use many of the ideas, skills, and concepts I learned in school in each of my turned bowls.
Can I expect to sell wood bowls to cover a college degree? Probably not, but that is one of my hidden expenses and attributes.
Likewise, you most likely didn’t acquire the skills needed to make that beautiful bowl yesterday.
There is a period of time when your skills are honed, and countless bowls are turned before you get to the point of making creations worthy of selling.
That learning time and all the associated expenses (tools, equipment, materials, etc.) are hidden expenses that need to be compensated.
Oh yeah, and what about all that wood you took the time to cut, load, haul, unload, stack, and…um it cracked up until it was unusable?
Everything is part of the process.
Pricing Wood Bowls To Sell
We make wood bowls. People who like wood bowls have money. The goal is to have people with money willingly give that money to us in exchange for our wood bowls.
The trick is to figure out how much of that money they are willing to part with for our wood bowl. It’s really that simple and that complex all at the same time.
Formula Approach For Pricing Wood Bowls
A cost per piece approach is probably the most effective way for a part-time turner when pricing wood bowls. This pricing technique works for one bowl or a hundred bowls.
I have done a great deal of research, and in the United States, there is a formula that is an ideal starting point for pricing quality wood bowls.
Obviously, this equation will need to be adjusted for other countries and other currencies.
We need to be able to account for the varying sizes of bowls when pricing wood bowls, and this formula does just that.
The formula pricing equation is the bowl diameter times the height times two and one half.
I have found this equation to be used by a large number of wood bowl turners for pricing wood bowls.
If you find that these prices come out to be a bit too high or low for your area or market, merely change the multiple to adjust. Try multiplying by two instead of two and a half, if the first equation seems too high for your market.
On the other hand, if the wood bowl you’re pricing is natural edge and made of burl, it may be far too low of a price point. Simply multiply by a higher number.
This formula is a way to apply a uniform pricing structure to pricing wood bowls. It is not etched in stone and can be used as a guideline or starting point for your pricing.
The only downside to this formula pricing method is that it does not take into account expenses.
For example, if you made a small burl bowl that measures five inches by two inches, the basic formula price is $25. If you purchased the burl bowl blank for $20, you would only profit $5, and that is not covering any other expenses like overhead, etc.
In a case like the small burl bowl example, I would add the cost of the immediate expenses, the $20 burl bowl blank to the formula price of $25 for a total amount of $45.
Day Rate Pricing Wood Bowls
The second approach is ideally suited for a full-time turner or a serious part-time turner as well.
This day rate pricing equation can be extrapolated to be used for a whole year or for shorter periods of time.
Instead of looking at each bowl to establish an individual price, let’s look at a day rate.
How much do you want to earn from a day’s worth of work? This is a self-created rate or goal, and it can change at any time.
If the answer is $500, then the next question is what can you make that will profit $500?
Knowing your particular selling market and current similar product prices are essential. You will need to spend your day wisely making products that will sell within a certain price range.
Let’s say your material, experiences, overhead, and any hidden costs are $150 per day. This means you will have to sell $650 worth of product to earn $500 per day.
Perhaps, you decide to turn two large bowls and seven small bowls. If the large bowls sell for $150 each and the small bowls sell for $50 each, bingo!
The neat thing about this formula is you can realistically value a day of work and look at it in a different perspective.
And this day-rate equation example works for one day, a week, or a full-time career of turning wood bowls.
Pricing Wood Bowls As Full Time Income
Full-time production turners usually will take a different approach to price. Instead of having the luxury of making “a little extra money” like a part-time turner, production turners need to make full-time wages.
Starting with the end in mind is best with this approach. How much money must be brought home to earn a living?
In our example, let’s say $48,000 is needed to earn an annual living. Let’s break it down from here.
Working 48 weeks a year allows for four weeks off. $48,000 divided by 48 weeks equals $1,000 profit per week.
On average, $200 profit would need to be made each workday of a five workday week, to reach the annual goal of a $48,000 income.
Of course, that figure of $200 profit per day does not include expenses, overhead, materials and other hidden costs. So those costs need to be added into the equation.
A full-time wood bowl turner then needs to know his or her market and be able to predict what will sell and at what prices to reach that $200 per day profit range.
Does it make sense to work all day to make one beautiful bowl that needs to sell for around $300-$350 to profit $200 after expenses?
Or does it make more sense to turn ten bowls for $30-$35 each to generate the same profit?
I don’t know the product offerings that will make a profit in your particular market, but the answer will most likely need to be a mix of products at different price points.
Experience and trial and error will sift out the most profitable products to offer and sell over time. The challenge is getting to that ideal mix quick enough with as little wasted time and money as possible.
You might be wondering, what hourly rate do I charge.
Skilled craftsman do not benefit from being paid by the hour. As a matter of fact, they are penalized.
Think of when you first started turning wood bowls. A single bowl could take hours. Great if you’re being paid by the hour.
But what happens when your skills improve? Now you might be able to make two bowls per hour, but the hourly rate is the same.
“Huh? That’s not right.” Correct!
A wood bowl turner is a skilled artisan that is dedicating their time and energy to learning and improving a specific skill. In my book, and especially in today’s world, this is priceless!
Hourly rates enslave craftsman to either become lazy or suffer. Instead, pricing per piece, by a day-rate, or on a long-term goal basis the artist is rewarded for speed and efficiency.
If you decide to set a day-rate goal of $500 per day and you figure out how to make $1,000 per day, you have options. You can bank the extra money, or take a day off.
Hourly rate pay for skilled craftsman is a no go.
Don’t do it and don’t get pulled into the “how long did this bowl take you to make” conversation.
By the way, the answer to that question is either your current age or the time from your first woodturning to the present moment, whichever is longer.
Think about it.
If you’re curious to merely know your hourly rate, as a barometer, add up a year’s worth of sales and divide the profit by the hours you’ve worked. Over time this should increase.
Cover Your Costs
This may seem obvious, but to make a profit we need to sell our work for more than it costs to produce.
The full-time production turners usually understand this and expenses, overhead, and hidden costs are taken into consideration at every turn.
If you’re only selling a few bowls occasionally and selling bowls is not your may income source, covering costs might get overlooked.
Indeed adding up all the time it takes to make a bowl from cutting timber to applying last finish coats takes many hours.
While it’s easy to look past that time and the equipment in your shop as not part of the pricing equation, they really do need to be included.
Give Them Away
If you’ve read this whole article to this point and you’ve gone through the three pricing wood bowls equations, you should have an idea of what your bowls are worth.
If you’re still thinking “that’s way too much to ask for these bowls,” then give them away. Yes, you heard me correct.
Give Them Away!
I’ve seen this too many times. A decent turned salad bowl about 10 inches wide by about four inches tall being sold for $20. Why?
At silly low prices, it’s not even about the money. At $20 that’s probably only $4 or $5 an hour (if you want to use hours as a measurement) for the labor alone, not to mention all the other expenses!
Apparently, some turners don’t value their work for one reason or another.
Here’s why you should give away the bowls in this circumstance.
By trying to sell wood bowls at prices far too low you can potentially do more harm than good.
Severely underpricing wood turned bowls has many damaging effects:
- Conveys lack of confidence with your work
- Customers question quality, integrity, and legitimacy
- Diminishes the whole value of woodturning
- Lowers wood turned items to the level of disposable products
- Discourages those looking for quality products
- Encourages thrift-shoppers only looking for cheap items
- Undercuts woodturners that are trying to earn a living
- Lowers market value of wood turned bowls
In this situation, a better solution is to give away your bowls to friends, family, or charities (who many times will auction them and use the proceeds for their cause).
This way the marketplace for other wood bowl turners is not disrupted by artificially low priced bowls.
Wood Turned Bowls History Luxury
I have to throw this in here. I love history, and this is too important to overlook.
Wood bowls were once commonplace. Every town had wood tuners, and they all made everyday goods. A wood bowl was once pretty much just a wood bowl.
After WWII, plastics replaced wood for everyday used products and eventually product woodturners literally disappeared.
What we are doing by turning wood today is reenacting the past. We are living historians–among other things.
We are resurrecting history in a beautiful, luxurious way. Most of us aren’t making the basic utilitarian semi-circle production bowls of long ago.
No, we are taking chunks of living nature, our time and with our hands creating beautifully finished pieces to be cherished and passed down potentially as long-lasting heirlooms.
Our wood turned bowls are amazing, beautiful, and even historical when seen in context. This is one of the many reasons why I turn wood bowls!
Our wood bowls need to be priced appropriately. They are worth every penny!
Pricing Wood Bowls Conclusion
Pricing wood bowls brings up so many related thoughts and ideas.
I hope this article helps you in the pricing of your bowls and sheds light on aspects you may not have previously considered.
If you’re already selling your bowls, I’d love to hear your thoughts. How do you come up with your prices? What has worked best for you?
Also, if you are outside the United States, I’d love to hear your thoughts and know how wood turned bowls are valued where you live.