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Thread: Those of you who sell bowls

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Apr 2018
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    Cambridge Vermont
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    Those of you who sell bowls

    Today I happened to be in a maple syrup shop that had some craft stuff in it. I noticed they had some wooden bowls for sale. Since I'm getting into turning I took a closer look. I'm not trying to bash anyone's work but I was left stumped. While they didn't list the type of wood, was too dark to be maple but too light to be cherry, if I had to guess I would say oak or birch. They were at least 1/2 thick and looked like they were made with a coring system when green. All of them were warped from drying and if they were sanded it was with something like 80 grit. They had (what I would guess) 8" bowls for $60 and 12" bowls for $130. I didn't have my phone handy but if I go back I'll take a picture. Afterwards while talking to my wife she was saying that if what they sell for then I should see if some of the other similar shops in this area would sell stuff I make. I really have little interest in selling stuff.

    What kind of got me back into the idea of turning is that I've been making wooden buttons for my sister who makes scarfs. I just give them to her as I find it fun working with wood to make them. I like the idea of doing something more complex with wood from my land. So for those of you who sell your work how much is a reasonable asking price? I know that's not an easy question since a wooden bowl could be simple to a very complex work of art. What I'm talking about would be simple bowls that can be placed on a hutch for holding keys and other stuff or as a salad bowl. Would you sell a bowl that was more utility than a work of art if it was warped? I can envision a point in time when I have so many bowls from learning that I'm giving them away to friends and family. Sooner or later selling them might be an option. Since I don't have a lathe yet (it's on back-order) it's not an issue now but I'm trying not to get preconceived ideas in my head.

    This picture is similar to what they had for sale.

    bowl.jpg

  2. #2
    This topic has been addressed multiple times on the Creek. If you will enter this search line in Google, you should get links to many of the threads - how to price bowl site:sawmillcreek.org.

    Left click my name for homepage link.

  3. #3
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    Feb 2018
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    purely depends on where you live. In my area a 12" bowl will be lucky to be sold at $40. I hear others in other parts of the country who could sell something like that for $100.

  4. #4
    We all eventually come to the realization that the lathe is a form of addiction, and the bowls, pens, stoppers, etc. accumulate to the point of taking over all the available space in our lives. We give them to friends and relatives, but that outlet is soon saturated, and we are forced to sell the stuff for the sole purpose of supporting our habit. There is no easy answer to the question of "how much to charge?". Here is what I have discovered after a year of sales.
    Craft shows: Make two kinds of product - "art" and "tableware". The art should be polished, shiny, and have embellishments like inlay, or carving. It may be from a burl or highly figured wood. You put more hours into it so charge for the time. Tableware should have sealed grain with oil and wax, foodsafe, the finish is matte, and the wood can be plain, but attractive. A fellow turner told me "If it won't hold soup, it's art". Take a broad sampling of art and tableware to the show. You will probably sell some of each type.
    Consignment: The shop owner will tell you what she wants in her store. Take an assortment of sizes and prices. Bear in mind that she will add 20%-40% to the price. I have some pieces in the local art gallery and these are of the "art" type and priced accordingly.
    Juried art shows: You will probably be out of place here among painting and sculpture, but enter your best work if you want to make a favorable impression. Check out the prices for some of the other paintings and sculpture in the exhibit. You will be amazed. Just remember for some of these artists this is their main source of income. Not so for us old retired folk with a "turning habit".

    I decide on a price based on 1) how many hours did I invest? Pay yourself at least 20$/hr. As your skill set improves, and you get a reputation, you can increase the rate. 2) Was the wood rare and did it have spectacular grain to begin with? Double the price over a plain grained piece.

    Last week was a revelation. At a juried art show, I sold about half of my pieces. The lowest price was $20, the highest $150. I also got a $100 award. Now the problem is that I have another juried art show in two weeks, and I'm scrambling to build up the inventory. At least now I can buy a new saw blades and another gallon of epoxy.

    "Perfection is boring" - Richard Raffan (a favorite quote)
    Last edited by richard shelby; 04-14-2018 at 3:09 PM.

  5. #5
    Those prices are pretty steep as far as I am concerned. 8 inch bowls for me are in the $25 to $40 range, and 12 inch bowls can be in the $60 to $100 range, and there are a lot of variables here as well. I have been amazed at what people can sell some times which can vary from low quality for high prices and excellent quality for dime store prices... As far as warping, I sell green turned to final thickness, and the more they warp, the better they sell for me. Just my style. When I first started selling, I tried to figure out what my time costs would be when I got much more efficient from practice. I figured 8 inch bowls at being around 15 minutes apiece counting cutting blanks, turning and sanding I don't know if I ever got faster than that, but total time was close to that.

    robo hippy

  6. #6
    Join Date
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    Quote Originally Posted by John Keeton View Post
    This topic has been addressed multiple times on the Creek. If you will enter this search line in Google, you should get links to many of the threads - how to price bowl site:sawmillcreek.org.
    I did try a search but what came up was 5 to 10 years old. 25 years ago I bought a couple bowls as gifts for family. One was 12" and the other 10" made from maple (2" thick glued together). They are probably about a 1/4" thick with a food safe finish. I think I paid $25 for the small one and $40 for the large one. While equipment cost a lot more now I have to believe that it's more popular so more people have taken it up. Seeing those bowls for sale I was wondering if the price had gone up more than I thought it would have and if people's tastes had changed and the asymmetrical look of a distorted bowl actually appeals to buyers?

    John, I would have assumed that $40 would have been a fair price for a 12" utilitarian type bowl. I could see the shop adding $20 to $40 to cover their costs. That's why I was kind of shocked at the prices.

    Richard, thanks for the detailed reply. I'm not retired so the idea of spending time at a craft show on my days off has little appeal. Being on a 12 hour shift I do have lots of free time but I also work every other weekend which also adds to my desire not to spend it trying to sell bowls on my off weekends. That leaves selling at a craft store. I haven't looked around but there are a number of towns around me that do have pretty good tourist traffic. In the fall leaf peeping season hits hard for about 2 weeks. In winter it's skiing. This time of year there's a little traffic as it's now maple syrup season. I live near an odd place. On one side of the mountain we have the Stowe ski resort and everything is twice what it would cost compared to the Smuggler's Notch side. So I get that pricing will reflect what a shop thinks they can sell a bowl for as well as the shop needs to have a markup. That's the incentive for buying a table at a craft show to sell. I do like the idea of making a few bucks to turn it into a partially self sustaining hobby but I would like to avoid having to produce a number of bowls because there was a run on inventory and risk taking some of the fun out of it. Is that like a crack addict saying they just want to sample?

  7. #7
    Join Date
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    Cambridge Vermont
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    Reed, thanks for the reply. I remember as a kid watching a TV show (don't remember the name) and a guy just got hired to work on an organic food store. Another man was showing him the ropes when the new guy dropped an apple on the floor. He looked at the other guy and said he was sorry as he picked it up and started to throw it into the trash. Before he could the other man stopped him and said that the apple was now worth twice as much because organic buyers don't like perfect looking apples. It was funny but if imperfect sells then so be it. The fact that it's actually easier because you don't have to turn it a second time is just a bonus.

  8. #8
    I think seeing these prices will encourage some buyers. There are many who have only seen the extremely high prices
    typical of museum gift shops.

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Jan 2014
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    Colorado Springs, Co.
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    If you have to make a living selling turnings you will discover that what you think is a profit making price will not yield you a profit in the end. The bowl that you showed in your post would be one that I would put on a blanket on the ground with some others like it and mark $100, put an 80% off sign on it and sell it for $20 ... and be glad to get rid of it. Needless to say, I wouldn't make it in the first place. It is very difficult to sell anything for under $100 and make a house payment, insurance payments, phone bill, and buy groceries. It is one thing to make a few pieces and sell to buy a tool or 2. It is totally different if you have to sell 20-30 pieces a weekend for 30 straight weeks. The production costs are not just a little here and there. They become thousands of dollars. If you are going to make a 12 inch bowl it needs to have enough quality to bring more than $100.

  10. #10
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    Aug 2007
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    Realize that a bowl you see in a gift shop might be priced high because the shop could be taking 50% of the sale. In the case of your 8" bowl at $60, maybe the artist has decided the least amount HE will take for it is $30. I used to sell in a tourist store where the store took 50% of the sale. The owner wanted bowls with turquoise inlays and other embellishments that take more time to make, yet she didn't want to price them for what I thought they were worth or for the extra amount of time they took to make. This store sold other types of woodturnings that I didn't make, and I was shocked at the poor quality of the other turnings. But beauty is in the eye of the beholder and we are our own worst critics. It's easy to spot too thick of walls, too thick of base, tear out, poor sanding, poor finish, etc., but customers may not notice.

    I sell 8" bowls starting at $40, but I've seen others sell 8" bowls for $70 to $90. My 12" bowls start around $110 but can go up to over $200 depending on wood, features, inlays, etc. I only sell twice turned bowls, and I will not sacrifice quality for price. For me the way to maintain high quality and be more profitable has been to study production turners and learn from them.

    I saw a formula recently where a turner takes the diameter x height x 2.5 and uses that as a baseline for pricing work. Highly figured wood, etc., would be priced higher, but it gives him a consistent pricing structure. So a 10" x 3" salad bowl using the formula is $75, 12" x 4" bowl is $120. The 2.5 is just a number that he uses and can be adjusted up/down for your area or price point.
    Last edited by Pat Scott; 04-15-2018 at 1:24 PM.

  11. #11
    At least ten years ago I saw museum shop bowls about 12 inches at $200!

  12. #12
    Join Date
    Oct 2008
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    Yes, I'd sell bowls there too if that's the going prices. The big question is if people actually buy it..... You could price bowls that high and never sell anything. Or you could sell them for less and have them actually move. Out the door.
    Warped bowls sell, but personally I'd not buy a 1/2" thick bowl....... Get them thinner, and finish well, and you could get those prices. Your products will be "better". And they would move out the door. Good luck.

  13. #13
    Alex, my point in referring you to prior threads is that the answers are always the same - price depends on size, quality, and other aesthetic factors, but by far the biggest factors are location, location, location! If your are fortunate to be in a good market area, with tourist traffic and can produce a product consistent with what folks are looking for then you can demand top prices. The circumstances where you live will never be the same as those of other posters, so the answers, while well intentioned, are not very helpful. Do some local research to determine your market dynamics and decide if they will work for you.

    Left click my name for homepage link.

  14. A turner acquaintance told me that items bring prices that bare little semblence to reality. Items he was tempted to throw in the trash have sold quickly, and items he thought of value languished on the shelf for a year. We as turners see the product in our sense as turners. We can immediately notice the scratches we yearn for a finish that just glows. We judge items in the context of what we know and do as turners, which usually is not how the lay person sees the item. He tells me he can't give black walnut pieces away. Yet plain jane wood brings more. We appreciate a well executed swirly segmented design, yet a lay person might ask, "why didn't the turner just buy a bigger piece of wood?" Same goes for some "Art" pieces.Some lay folk appreciate the natural edge of the void in a piece, Some ask why the artist did not use a better piece of wood. At the monthly club meetings "show and tell" sessions, I see items I am almost afraid to touch, because they are of such exquisite fine turning with a wonderful finish, I am afraid simply handling it will detract from the piece. I see simple shapes turned from segmented blocks,this piece has 512 pieces, doesn't impress as much as the near glass finish the next guy achieved on a plain cherry bowl. The fact that the guy who made the segmented piece did so so well that I can't see any voids between joints, is remarkable, but almost seems like mowing the lawn with a nail clipper. Some folks act like it is a crime to paint a turning. I see stains, paint isn't much different depending on the effect wanted. Don't get me wrong, all these guys are far beyond my skill set. It gives me something to aspire to. To learn from, but I can easily understand why some pieces would not sell and others would. Bowls can be rather mundane or quite spectacular. The shapes are normally fairly uniform and frankly can be pretty boring. An odd shape helps, grain helps, color helps, even the finish. Decades ago , I turned teak bowls from cut offs from a furniture factory. They were small, and mundane but they sold. The wood was a novelty and there were not many turners selling their wares. I got $ 8-10 per bowl in 1970, for a 6 inch diameter 3 high inch bowl A few years ago, Mrs and I were in an antique shop and I saw one of my bowls on the shelf. It was marked $20. The shop keeper said it was made by a now deceased local artist. It still had my initials on the bottom. $20 was too much.
    Bigger is not always better, but just the scarcity of the wood and the lack of equipment to turn such bowls make the very large bowls have some value. I had a black walnut bowl from an unknown turner. It was graceful and finely done with good proportion for it's 14 inch size and 8 inch depth. No figure, but it was lighter than expected for it's size. I got it at a flea market for $8. To the seller it was just a wooden bowl, in a pile with some monkey pod salad bowls and other junk bowls. I wish I could turn something that delicate and sturdy. The other thing is what the market will bear, An artist with a following can certainly demand higher prices. Are the pieces unique in some way? Some folks will pay an extra, just because they met the turner or witnessed the product being made. Or because it was made locally of local wood. I had been away from turning for 40 years and happened upon a guy turning little Christmas trees at a Christmas fair. I watched and it brought back memories of when I made bowls and other items to earn money for college. Except that I could see where he made minor errors, where he was inefficient in his use of time and materials. That he really did not have the right tool for what he was doing. So I got a lathe and got back into it. A few hours here and a few there, and my skills are better than they were years ago. But I am still a beginner. Much of what I make is donated to charity and sold by them to raise funds. Two days ago, I was asked about making a run of 72 special Christmas ornaments for a business. I can get pretty close to a standard by turning free hand, but should probably get/use a copy attachment. I am trying to make a few just to see if I can make this work and to figure a price.

  15. #15
    Join Date
    Jul 2013
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    Flower mound, Tx
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    I got into woodturning for the sole purpose to make money. And the only product I turn is large hollow forms. They require large tooling, large effort, and large amounts of time. Most woodturners have no desire to venture down this path but in my experience, this is where you can make (and charge) appreciable money in woodturning. Prices for large, perfectly finished Hollow forms are in the thousands not hundreds. 7D5D8190-CD42-4070-9F33-AB9E704EEEE7.jpg

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