Estimating Time

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I was reflecting the other day on how poor I am at estimating how much time each project will take. I seem to grossly underestimate the amount of time it will take me to complete a project. For example, I started making a sled for a friend’s child ~6 weeks ago. Originally, I was going to make two sleds, one for two separate friends. I estimated that this relatively simple project would take me two weeks at the most….now going on six weeks later I’m just at the point of putting the first coat of finish on one sled (and having abandoned the idea of making two). It’s not that anything unexpected came up, just that every project takes much longer that I planned for.
Thankfully I don’t woodwork for money, or I’d be broke! How are the rest of you at estimating how long your projects will take?

Rob, Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario

I am afflicted with the same problem.

I am sure I could cut my “overtime” by at least half if I actually plan everything on paper before starting the project and stick to plan.

My biggest problem is I think it through quite a bit in my head. In fact for difficult project I go through the motion and figuring out problem area every now and then for a few day and, sometimes, take quick notes.
When I am ready, that’s the time I have to postpone the execution for either the kids have a project or my wife had something planed that I had said “sure” to…

When I actually start the project, I barely look through the notes, if I have not lost them.
The first “on the fly” modification usually comes within the hour most of the time because I cut the wrong piece. From there: finish time= ETA x 10 to 15

But for me it is all a hobby, no deadline pressure besides the one I create.

Abbas, Castro Valley, CA

I do the same thing; plan most of the project in my head with only a few things written down…in my head it is just a few boards to mill and cut. In reality though, it is always a lot of small things that add up.
I have so many projects churning around in my head that I’d like to make, I wish that I could roll out 5-6 projects a year but I guess like most of us, life gets in the way.

Rob, Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario

It’s nice to finish something. Maybe even nicer to start something! I have about 50 projects on the drawing board and none currently in process. My wife is the arbiter of time. She always complains that it takes me 3 times as long to finish a project than what I say it will be. So that seems like a fair number to stick with. Estimate the time and multiply by 3. I did surprise her this weekend by almost finishing on time.

Losing fingers since 1969

I always thought I was the only one with that problem .
Now that I am retired I have the time to make some of the ideas I have reality but that is the problem ,too many ideas .
I usually play with several projects and jump from one to the other sometimes to speed things up or reflect on a design detail or just to let the glue dry properly .
I just finished a box that has been residing on my bench for a couple of month half finished and restarting the project took a lot of time because of the changes I made in the design .
Planning and sketching and all that takes time but things change during the construction process and that is what takes the extra time but I don’t worry about it as long as I have fun doing it .

I usually use at least twice as long as my pre-project estimates. Things are a lot easier to do in your mind, but reality can be quite different.

Mike, an American living in Norway

That’s easy, whenever the deadline is. I can do a 3 week job in 2 weeks or a 2 week job in 4 weeks,
just depends on the deadline for me. LOL
Joking aside, my jobs are usually big enough that instead of figuring hours, I figure days, or sometimes even by the week. My wife tells me it always takes longer as well, huh, what does she know? (but she’s usually right) :)


I rarely even come close to my time estimate. A couple of times I’ve surprised myself and actually finished something more quickly than I had thought, but that is extremely rare. I make most of my plans in SketchUp now and that helps me not to forget joints and processes that I’ve thought through numerous times. Before SketchUp, I would often forget the little details and end up remaking parts. Even though I spend an inordinate amount of time designing in SketchUp, I think it has saved time and I know it has saved materials and aggravation.


“Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.” Benjamin Franklin

Visit any of the professional woodworking websites and count the number of posts on this subject!

Time management is just as important to the hobbyist as it is to the professional. If I take too long to complete a project, I lose money. If a hobbyist takes too long to complete a project, frustration sets in. Either way, we all have a finite amount of time to complete a project and the goal is to get it done in a timely fashion so we can move on to the next project.

Before we moved into our current shop, I was functioning in essentially a 2 car garage. Whenever I estimated a project, I had to include set up and tear down times into the timeline. When you have limited space you have to remember to factor in the time it takes complete one operation (sawing the pieces) and then set up for the next operation (assembly). Invariably, you tear down the table saw and set up to start assembly only to realize you needed one more piece cut. Spending that extra amount of time planning out and drawing your project really pays off.

Whenever I start a new bid, I have a spreadsheet that lists almost all the possible steps I will take in constructing and completing the project. I mentally complete each step, including any set up or tear down involved, to determine the amount of time I believe will be sufficient. Once I have a total amount of time calculated, I add a “fudge”: factor of between 10% and 50% depending on the complexity of the project. It has taken practice, but these days we generally complete projects in less time than estimated.

Artisan Woodworks of Texas-


Another solution for those who do woodworking as a business is: Don’t worry about the time factor. Just estimate your hours as you always have, but change your hourly rate to between $8,000 to $10,000 and you should be able to come out just fine! ;-)


“Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.” Benjamin Franklin

lol, I would just have to find the right market….

Rob, Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario