Saturday, December 25, 2010

Log Rack - a tale of Client interface & Pricing

Sometimes, you just can NOT replace a face to face meeting with a client!

This saga is presented not by way of grumbling, but as a informative tale to young artisan blacksmith's, and hopefully to help potential customers understand both the design and pricing process for a commission.
I would like to see about a commission for an indoor wood rack to put beside a wood stove.
It would fit in a tiled space beside the stove... my husband wants to cram in as much wood as possible, and I want it to look beautiful.
so It seems that 46-48" long 48" high and 12-14" deep. with only one end (facing into the room) loking beautiful ...
I looked at the "enclume" ones online and that size runs $250. would it be possible to get something for twice that? and would it be possible to get it before Christmas?
I had this request forwarded to me from my close friend David Robertson (at Hammer and Tongs) who is currently working on a major public commission piece. As we often do, if either of us can not undertake a project (usually due to scheduling) we will refer to the other.

It took a bit to get in contact with the customer, and on December 3rd we had started the consulting process, with this additional consideration.
and...I have found out through sublte snooping that he would like 2 sections so that one pile would dry while the other section is being used.
The commercial log rack the customer had been looking towards is made by Enclume. This I found via a fast google search. (A note to potential customers, I can usually find the original source descriptions when you 'ask to make something like this' - just as easily as you did.) Specifically their 'Arch Rack' It is described as 'our largest at over three feet long' ( actually 38"L x 13"W x 30"H). It has a manufacturer's suggested retail at $220 US (without shipping). As a commercial product, it is designed to pack flat for shipping. Each of the two end arches are held to the lower frame with only two bolts, set at the bottom edge.

Now, although much of the weight of a log rack is down through the feet, there is also considerable stress pushing sideways, against the end pieces. I had a number of purely structural concerns about scaling up the size to the final customer's request for 40 inches long by 40 inches tall:
1) Stability - base footprint against height. The desired unit would need to be no more than 12 inches wide, to hold standard firewood cuts (range from 14 - 16" normally). However I was greatly concerned that at 40 inches tall, the rack would be unstable. If that weight of wood should fall outward, it would pose a major safety hazard.
2) Point Force - The commercial rack had quite small legs, so considerable downward force was being exerted over a very small area. If the rack was extended even taller than this, then the rack placed on the slate tile surface seen in the photo, I was concerned the slate might actually break.
3) Sideways Force - I recommended a rigid frame, or at least very heavy structure, to resist the potential sideways force exerted by the large pile of wood. This narrowed designs to rectangles placed 'on edge' or contained shapes (framing at top as well as bottom).

Admittedly, I was initially pre-occupied with these structural concerns. I did have a lot of problems communicating these restrictions to the customer. (Note that all this was done via the internet, the customer did not have a fax. This process was extended because the early December storm effected our internet connection here in Wareham)
I produced an initial pair of possible designs, as 'three view' drawings, with accompanying written descriptions :
The first uses single lengths of 1/4 thick by 1 1/2 wide flat bar, forged into a U shape. These are placed so the stress runs directly against the width of the bar.
The second (my favorite) is a pair of large ovals, placed to angle slightly into the centre. This design would have been the most difficult to forge, as the starting material would be some 12 feet long! Both these designs have the advantage of having the weight spread along fairly long strips running the full length (roughly 40").

At this point I got this image from the customer, showing the intended installation location. This proved to be of great value in terms of understanding the dynamics of the space and potential limitations.
From the start, I had was considering the view of the rack towards the long axis. The customer, as it (much) later turned out, was concerned about the view towards the narrow end - from the open room. This basic difference in viewpoint would be the source of the communication problems!
Now, at this point the customer also mentioned something about 'hoping it would fit into the car'
Back to the design board. I concentrated on a layout that would be structurally strong, yet disassemble into smaller units which would all bolt together. Now understanding that the end panel 'art work' was a major concern, the resulting design would allow a separate decorative piece to be constructed and bolted to place. The rear 'wall clip' was a potential solution to the stability problem.

Well - (admittedly) that was just too plain. The customer liked the use of the spear point U shapes from the initial design. Was there any way to incorporate these? Oh, and maybe the height can be reduced if there was really a problem with stability. That plaster wall had a pocket door inside it, so really did not have any structural framework to tie into either. Oh, can there be a gap between the bottom of the frame and the floor to allow for cleaning underneath? There should be a gap between wood and back and side walls to allow for drying ventilation.

So this is what I came up with. With the flat bar turned on edge now, it needed to be strengthened (force against the 1/4" thickness, rather than 1 1/2 width). Welding on lengths of 3/4" angle would solve that one. I determined that since the wood was at least 16 long, the legs could easily be that long as well. With the functionality of a rear wall bracket questionable, the customer determined that maybe only 30" tall would do. Perhaps a bit over engineered, I added the re-inforcing triangles (greatly increasing the amount of welding required).

Well no - "I wanted the flat pieces to run the other way" As in parallel to the 40 inch long face towards the wood stove. "But then you would only see the thin edge, I though you were concerned about the view from inside the room?" , said I.
Back to the drawing board (again)

Version 5 - the final. A variation on number 4, with the uprights now turned along the long axis. This solved the structural problems, yet allowed me to simplify the construction. You can see individual elements from the earlier designs continued.
Finally with a design confirmed, a deposit was made, and the physical construction was started. There was yet another design task, which was for the 'art work' panel for that open to the room end. Either through good luck (or fatigue) the customer approved my initial concept.

I had a piece of expanded aluminum sheeting that was just the right size to fit on the top as an accessory shelf, so included this in the package. This was the end result. (Note that this kind of thing is hard to photograph , these are not the strongest images).

Next - Pricing considerations:

The back and forth and re-design phase extended to December 17, that was a total of at least 14 days. Dozens of e-mails. You can see a total of 5 individual designs were produced, each with an associated scaled drawing, written description - plus a cost quote. Time for each design & quote : about one hour. Normal published price rate for design work is $50 per hour. So, one question : Do you charge for ALL the design work (total of about five hours) or just for the final designs employed in the commission (about 1 1/2 hours) ?

The original request was for the piece to be completed by December 20th. I managed to have the piece completed (including time for paint to harden up) for potential delivery on December 21. No problems on that score.
One aspect to consider here however : The delivery location is Orangeville. Elapsed distance / time from Wareham, 150 km / one and a half hours. Cost of the gas : about $30. Do you include a delivery charge?

On the work itself:
I normally quote a piece based on three separate methods -
1) Actual working hours - based at $75 per hour shop rate. (I don't actually quote an hourly rate normally)
2) 'Production days' - based on $200 per day. This is what actually gets done around here in a given day, so includes record keeping, communications, supply runs - and sometimes actual forge work.
3) 'Per element' - a rough price for each activity, then add the number of steps.
Remember to add in the cost of materials (at replacement)!
Now what I have found over the years that these numbers will calculate out pretty darn close to each other. It does give me a check to ensure I have not over (rarely) or under (more common) charged on the quote.

And don't forget the cost of materials! This is a mistake I make way too often. Large size stocks, structural shapes, components like stainless or copper can add up pretty darn fast.
Painting may seem pretty simple, but does it ever add up a lot of time, especially when hand painting complex forged shapes. My own experience is that no matter how careful you are, you almost always 'miss a spot' and end up going over the whole thing twice on the top coat. (A useful bit of advice, make sure you make that last check with the object in its final install position - what the customer will see.)

So these were the quotes for the individual pieces (does not include a design fee):
1) Open Top U - $615
2) Ovals - $630
3) Square - $405
4) Sideways U - $575
5) Spear Frame - $450
6) 'Sheaf' panel - $150

Now - how does one of the estimates get produced, using the final chosen design (Spear Frame) as the sample?
1) Shop Rate - total of 5 1/2 hours @ $75 = $412.50
2) Production Days - total of 2 1/2 @ $200 = $500
3) Per Element
a) Estimated - forge ends uprights - 6 @ $15 = $90
- top frame - 6 @ $5 = $30
- lower frame - 12 @ $5 = $60
- legs - (2 @ $5) + (6 @ $ 15) $100 ($280)
plus - paint - $25
- materials $100
TOTAL $405*

b) Actual 'medium' forge heats - 42 @ $5 = $210
welds (MIG) - 46 @ $1 = $46
cutting - straight - 16 @ $1 $16
- diagonal - 10 @ $1 $10
- slots - 2@ $10 $20 ($302)
plus - paint -(actually took a full hour) $50
- materials $100
TOTAL $452

On the 'Sheaf' panel, my published rate on decorative panels is $100 per square foot. I agreed with the customer to work with a lower budget :
Estimated -forge uprights - 6 @ $1 = $90
- forge ribbon - $25
- weld and paint - $25
- material - $10
TOTAL $150

* This was my own 'ball park' estimate total. I normally add on 10% additional for 'unforeseen' on any given project. This made the total quoted to the customer $450.
The two figures in brackets represent my estimate of the work total against the actual 'per action' total, which you can see are within 10% of each other.

So in the final, I billed the customer for a total of $600. The initial budget restriction was for $500. The customer paid a bit more (primarily to cover the addition of the decorative panel). I ended up absorbing the time spend on all those extra designs. The customer was quite pleased with the final piece when it was delivered.

1 comment:

BizarkDeal said...

HIO 8-Foot Log Rack from Bizarkdeal

I have been heating my home primarily with wood for the last 5 years. My family and I love the warm cozy heat put off by a wood stove. The problem is, it can be a big mess. I have been keeping my wood on pallets outside for years, but they are beginning to fall apart and the wood more or less just ends up on the ground because there is nothing to keep the logs from rolling down the side.

I decided to get this rack for outside use because I have one just like it (only much smaller) next to the wood stove and I love it. FIrstly, this thing is BIG! It can hold a LOT of wood, and it gets it a good 8 inches up off the ground (and away from unwanted slithering and furry guests.) Because it has sides, it holds more wood more securely than stacking it on pallets and it makes it easy to put a tarp over to keep it dry. I might just buy two more of these to hold an entire heating season worth of wood neatly.

It is worth noting that it was very easy to put together. It only took about 15 minutes to do by myself, but you will need tools that are not included in the package to do it. I used a pair of Vice-grips and an adjustable wrench.


February 15 - May 15, 2012 : Supported by a Crafts Projects - Creation and Development Grant

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