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  #1  
Old 05-07-2008
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Question bidding a large brightwork job

So I have done a couple of bright work jobs, and I have been asked to bid a job much larger then the few I have done. The last time I bid a job was almost 2 years ago. I have 2 issues I need help with. One is bidding the job. The jobs I have done in the past were trim, toe rails, seats, and the largest singular piece I have done was a companionway. This boat's entire transom is varnished teak. I remember I bid the last job per linear sqft., plus cost of materials. I made a couple of mistakes (like working on it too late, trying to meet a deadline) and although I was able to fix all of my mistakes, the cost in time made the job not so profitable. I got frustrated and put it down for a while. So, I would like to learn from this, and not sorely underbid this job. Being that this one is much bigger, I imagine that mistake would cost me much more. Any suggestions on how to bid this job? I want to be fair and I dont want to hurt myself in the process. Second issue is all of the varnish looks like I may be able to scuff and add new coats, except for the toe rail. It appears that the metal strips just below the rail were not removed in previous applications. Moisture was trapped under those rails, and now the varnish is bubbling up. And I donít think its a traditional varnish. I believe its urethane based something or another (consistency of a thick nail polish). It seems to have fared well everywhere else on the boat, except on the rail. I am thinking that the rail should be dealt with differently. I believe I should remove the metal strips, use a chemical solvent to strip the whole rail down, bring the natural teak back, and start the buildup over. My understanding is that the bright work has been pretty well maintained (reapplication every 6 mos or so) and it appears to be the case....on the rest of the boat. But you canít tell by looking at the toe rail. There are a few spots where the wood has been exposed to sun and bleached, and a lot of spots (only along the metal strip) where moisture has seeped up from the metal strip and caused the finish to bubble. I am pretty sure the wood where the moisture has gotten (under the bubbles) doesnít look pretty. Would I charge differently for stripping the teak, repairing damage, and reapplying? It is going to be a lot more work than the rest of the job. I think it may be easier to bid by the foot instead of the hour. I have no idea how long this is going to take, and if I bid by the foot, should I charge per sq ft. on the transom, and linear foot on the rest? And what is fair to charge for stripping it and starting over vs. slapping a few more layers on? I dont remember what I charged last job. Again, bidding the job is my biggest dilemma. I am going to try and attach some pics. and if any one has a better idea on how to deal with the bubbling, I would love to hear it. Thanks in advance,
Laura
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bidding a large brightwork job-100_1399.jpg   bidding a large brightwork job-100_1407.jpg   bidding a large brightwork job-100_1412.jpg   bidding a large brightwork job-100_1418.jpg   bidding a large brightwork job-100_1408.jpg  

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Old 05-07-2008
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Old 05-07-2008
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Welcome Laura,

When I was much younger I would often work for people on the side around the marina where I lived. I always work by the hour and asked the owner to provide whatever materials he wanted me to use and then show me how he wanted me to use them .

But I didn't exactly have a business. I was just working for guys around the marina.

Perhaps what it really depends on, is whether or not you are ready to go into business.

You are probably great at brightwork but are you great at running a business.

If you aren't, then let the owner take most of the responsibility. Let them purchase the materials and dictate the procedures.
If the owner isn't directly supervising you, then work as if they were.

Charge a fair hourly wage and make sure you work a fair hour.

If you run into problems along the way, you won't end up losing your @$$.

If you are ready to take the responsibility of being in business then unfortunately you are going to have to take some chances, and probably learn from some mistakes.

There are no shortcuts.

Make the best bid you can, then stand by what you agreed to.

If you want your business to prosper, your #1 job is to make sure that this job leads to a few more.

Good luck

Last edited by knothead; 05-08-2008 at 09:18 PM. Reason: misspelled words
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Old 05-08-2008
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Having dealt with the teak toe rail on my old 1967 Tartan 27' for 5 years now I have some experience with the issue(s) you asked about. On my own boat I am about ready to throw in the towel with varnish for the toe rail as it never holds up as well as the rest of the brightwork (companionway and boards, combings, tiller). Every horizontal surface (hatches, seats and toe rail) seem to get much more exposure to sun and the varnish always degrades fairly quickly. I think that one of my problems is never putting on enough coats of varnish to begin with. Six to ten coats is not too many for exterior teak but it is very labor intensive (in spurts) and the inevitable result is that the sun and salt degrade varnish in a season or so requiring maintenance.
I am considering other products beyond varnish for our exterior teak like Cetol and Bristol Finish. They may cost a bit more than traditional varnish (i've been using Interlux Schooner for outside work) but their maintenance schedules seem to be much easier on the sweat equity. You might suggest these products to your client, who, if they are not a varnish Nazi may give it a try. I have yet to put anything other than Teak Oil and Schooner on our varnish but our toe rail looks worse than your small photos.
Here is what I think I know so far. Those spots you are calling bubbles are where the varnish is separating from the surface of the teak and the teak underneath is beginning to weather leaving a yellow looking coat of loose varnish. The yellow varnish can be chipped off with the tool of your choice; I like the 4 x 1/2" long carpet cutters razors for this. You would then hand sand the bare spots and entire toe rail with say #120 sandpaper. I would apply teak oil to the bare spots where the yellowed varnish was peeled from to restore the color and resilience of the wood and allow it to dry for a few days. I even like to oil over the better preserved varnish as it seems to restore that as well. After a few hot, dry days it is time to start putting on the new coats of varnish.
Start out by rubbing all the wood with acetone on a rag to remove an excess oil. Then varnish, coat after coat; ideally one coat per day but perhaps you can get in one in the morning and by afternoon re-coat if it is dry enough. Light sand the next day, if needed, with a fine grit sandpaper (#220 or higher) before starting the next coat. Talk about labor intensive.
I take some of my pointers from Rebecca Wittman's "Brightwork" (a confirmed varnish Nazi) and personal experience which tells me that I hate those sponge brushes for applying anything that she endorses.
My original point was about being a slave to varnish and trying other finishes which don't require maintenance every 6 months or less. Talk to your prospective client about some of them and do some research (on the web). By pointing out alternatives you might sound even more knowledgeable than you are. Many people swear by Cetol (re-coating once a year while looking good) and quite a few just adore Bristol Finish or Honey Teak. A new and different finish would work best if the varnish coats were all stripped off prior to applying something different which is still more work for you and should be factored into your estimate.
In any case the prep work you have to do will be the time you lose money on if you are doing the job for a price so try to factor that in at the rate you want to make. It ain't all that easy to do but you do have to add in a fudge factor for yourself just in case things take longer than you initially thought they would (kind of like insurance).
It is a coffee table book but also contains some useful info: Amazon.com: Brightwork: Rebecca Wittman: Books
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Old 05-08-2008
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Charge by the hour. Let the owner and not yourself take the risk. Give the owner a rough estimate on time though. I think most reasonable people would agree to that.
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Old 05-08-2008
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On large transoms, particularly in warm weather, we always use two people for the last couple of coats. We roll and tip, it doesn't take long, but it has to go on quick and thin but with no holidays. One guy rolls and spots and the other guy brushes it out.

That toe rail looks pretty bad. I don't think it's going to hold varnish long no matter what you do. It will look good when you're done but by the end of the summer it will probably deteriorate. Suggest to the owner that he let the toe rail go gray or use cetol (the new cetol teak doesn't look bad.)

Take into consideration that if it rains, you have to retape. That can take a lot of time to do it right - especially around hand rails. Also, if the hand rails are on a no-skid surface, varnish will always get under the edge.

Gotta go to work now. More later.

Capn Larry
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Old 05-08-2008
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OK - home from work.

I looked at your photos more closely - and I would tell your customer that you STRONGLY recommend letting the toe-rail go gray or cetol. The problem is that in a short time, any varnish you put on there is going to lift - and there goes your reputation.

As far as stripping, a heat gun, a sharp scraper (I custom make the handles on mine so they're longer and keep my lovely, manicured fingers away from the heat), and then sand. (We use a 3/16" D.A. - 3" diameter with a soft interface pad for any curved surfaces for toe-rails, hand rails, smaller cockpit coamings, etc.) After the D.A. hand sand with the grain to remove any swirl marks left by the D.A. (You can use a rag to wipe alcohol on the surface and it will help spot any swirl marks you have missed.) We use the 3M green tape while sanding to protect the adjacent finishes. Pull it and retape with the 3M blue for sealing and varnishing.

If your customer insists on varnish, let the teak stay open for a few days while you work on the rest of the brightwork. That will help dry it, and even out the color some.

If the hull, or deck is painted keep the heat away from it. And a chemical stripper can wreak havoc on painted surfaces - and it's almost impossible not to splatter unless you mask everything with plastic film - very time consuming - and then the wind blows.

As far as the actual bidding goes, I would give a very wide ballpark because there are so many variables. Part of it depends on the quality of work the customer wants. Does the finished product have to pass the 'two foot' test? (Perfect sharp edges, mirror finish, furniture grade) or the 'Ten foot' test? (Looks nice from the dock, just don't get up close or you'll see all the flaws.) Or the 'Fifty Foot' test? (Applied with a long handled broom from the dock without benefit of tape.) (We've all seen those jobs.)

From the looks of the pictures, he probably wants to pay for the 10 foot job, but hopes for the 2 foot. It takes some skill and experience to 'read' the customer on this one - and some persuasive skills to get him to be realistic.

Another point, you weren't sure what the original finish was - (thick fingernail polish?) Could be a number of things - sand some of it and see how it works. Scrape some of it and see if it is adhered well before going over the top of it. If it's a two part - like the Bristol finish - it can be a bear to sand or strip.

In any case, you can use almost anything over anything as long as it is fully cured.

Best of luck and let us know how you make out and how the job goes.

Cap'n Larry
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Another factor that can affect your bid is the weather and the clients schedule. If you get some bad weather it can damage a coat that you then have to sand off. Or the client may press you because he wants to take friends out a specific day causing you extra work.
It is very hard to treat the customer well if you are loosing money. Make sure your price is high enough so you can afford to do some "extra stuff" for free. There will be extra stuff.
It is all about expectations:
If you underbid at 1,000 and have to charge extra for stuff you forgot or in any way complain about the clients expectations and it ends up costing him 1,300 he will not be happy.
If your bid 2,300 and say "I'll be happy to scrub the deck and polish the brass even if it wasn't mentioned at the start and don't worry go take your sail I'll do an extra coat no charge when you get back."
You will have a one-man chamber of commerce.
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Old 05-08-2008
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Davidpm, you're right on the money. Last Friday, I was given 2 hours notice that the customer wanted his boat. I found this out at 12:30 PM. Had to remove all tape, put all of the hardware, including dodger, back on.

The finances regarding this are between the yard and the customer - I just do what I'm told and fill out the time - but so far on this job, the customer has paid an extra almost $500. so he could use his boat on the weekends.
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Old 05-09-2008
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I am so thankful for all the help… I just wanted to give an update. This boat is 55’, and I asked what the job had been bid at previously. I was told 1500., including materials. I can’t believe it. I told them that there is no way I could match that. I was honest, and said that this was bigger than any of the other jobs I had done, but there was not anything on the boat that was beyond my scope. I suggested that they do some shopping around, and if they decide that they want to work with me, I would be willing to negotiate a fair hourly wage, and they could take care of materials. If they were looking for fast or cheap, they may want to shop around. If they want it done right, I am going to work on a broad time estimate. I work steadily, and have good references. I wanted to ask Larry and Susan what they think about honey teak for the toe rail. I have used it in the past with success. I get the feeling he’s not going to want to let it go gray. I agree, varnish is not going to cut it for the toe rail, and I think initially varnish was used, and then maybe it was switched up to cetol. (baby **** color bubbling up). I have never used a D.A. sander (for fear of swirls) I use a palm sander and (carefully) a dremel (for those hard to reach spaces). I invested in some nice scrapers on my last job, and a good heat gun…but do you think I should strip the toe rails completely? I think a patchwork job is going to be just as time consuming and end up with shoddy results. I neglected to mention, I am not speaking to the owner directly. A boat detailing company is looking to sub the job out to me. So as far as an hourly wage, for quality work, (2 ft test) what’s the going rate? As for Wittmans book, I own it, and consider it to be a brightwork bible. (I love foam brushes too…I’m a sinner that way. I know they don’t last, but they don’t have to. I like being able to toss them after a good use.) Thanks again for all the tips, I will keep you updated,
Laura
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