When starting a woodworking business or side project, one of the most daunting aspects is likely going to be shipping. Not only are heavy woodworking projects more expensive to ship, but they’re also harder to package to keep from getting damaged. Despite these challenges, there are ways to cut down on costs so you can share your work with people who will appreciate it all over the country.
To ship your woodworking projects, evaluate the best way to cut costs while protecting your pieces, such as finding the right packaging and padding. Next, find a service that works for you and price your items to cover expenses. USPS is great for some, but large projects may need freight shipping.
This article will help you determine the most cost-effective way to ship all of your woodworking projects. Keep in mind that most of this advice is only applicable for shipping within the United States.
Determine How Much Your Project Weighs
First and foremost, you’ll want to determine how much your project weighs. This is the most critical step because it will help you figure out your shipping options later.
If it is not too late, plan to build a product that will conveniently fit into one of the more economical shipping methods I will talk about later.
Unfortunately, heavy packages can be a big obstacle to making money as a woodworker, and there are a few things you’ll want to think about when building if you intend to ship them.
Plan Your Projects To Be Around the Same Size and Weight
When working on different projects, a great way to keep your shipping costs down is to make sure they all have similar sizes and weights. Doing this will allow you to order packaging in bulk, which will be cheaper than purchasing lots of different options.
It will also prevent you from having to recalculate delivery costs each time you ship something. You can charge most of your customers similar prices for all your products if you maintain a uniform size.
Try To Keep Weight Down
While not always possible, you will run into fewer shipping issues if you try to keep your items’ weight down. If you manage to keep your project’s weight under 15.9 oz (450.76 g), you will be able to use USPS First Class. If the item is more than 1 lb (0.45 kg) or under 70 lbs (31.75 kg), you can use USPS Priority Flat-Rate. This will keep your cost of shipping as low as possible.
The downside of this is that you will have to use USPS standardized boxes, which can look unprofessional to consumers. (We will discuss the best packaging options further in the article.)
If you’re just starting a woodworking business and only have large, heavy items to ship, consider developing a smaller flagship item to sell first. Having a product that’s easier to ship will help you learn the ropes of shipping your products. You’re more likely to generate a profit this way.
Can I Ship Heavy Projects?
One of the unique problems posed to woodworkers when they try to break into e-commerce is their work’s size. Like it or not, that lovely dresser you built weighs 200 lbs (90.72 kg), and it is going to be much more costly to ship than a key hook.
That said, there are shipping options for woodworkers who specialize in bulky items like furniture. For heavier items, look into freight shipping, which is more cost-effective and less likely to damage your items. (We’ll explore this option later on in this article.)
However, if you regularly build and ship high-value items like furniture, you may also want to consider 3PLs. 3PLs encompass much more than just shipping, and this article will cover them later on.
Package & Protect Your Products
Now that you have a weight for your project, you need to figure out the best way to package and send it. When shipping wooden items, consider first and foremost that you want to protect them from potential mishaps – if a client receives a broken chair in the mail, you’ll have to reimburse them.
The following will help you minimize the likelihood of damage to your woodworking during the shipping process.
Consider Using Padded Envelopes & Bubble Mailers
If your project is small and relatively flat, you may be able to ditch a bulky cardboard box and use a padded envelope or bubble mailer instead. The advantages of this include:
- Envelopes are cheaper and easier to send.
- A Padded Flat-Rate Envelope at USPS costs only $8 to mail.
- It’s less of a hassle to stick an item in an envelope than to pad a box.
That said, the obvious disadvantage of using padded envelopes is that they offer much less protection and are much more likely to be crushed by something else in transit. Keep in mind that commercial shipping is jam-packed.
While it can be tempting to default to bubble mailers, you should only use them if you’re confident that your project is sturdy enough to withstand that much stress.
Remove Detachable Pieces
The first thing you’ll want to do is determine the easiest way to ship your product. If thin pieces are attached with bolts or screws, consider removing them and including the screws in a plastic bag. That way, the item will be less likely to get damaged in transit.
Find the Right Size Box
If your project doesn’t fit in a bubble mailer or envelope, make sure you find the right size box. Boxes that are too big can cause unnecessary jostling during the shipping process, leading to damage. Boxes that are too small, on the other hand, will press against delicate parts of your project, which can also lead to breakages.
You want at least 1 in (2.54 cm) of space surrounding your item for padding and protection. If you have any delicate parts attached, you may want even more space for extra padding. Though anything more than 3 in (7.62 cm) will be challenging to fill up.
You’ll also want to invest in a box with corrugated cardboard. Corrugated cardboard is composed of three layers of cardboard material, with a “fluted” layer sitting in between two flat ones. This middle layer acts as a sturdy cushioning in the box itself, protecting it from bending in transit.
Corrugated Cardboard Sheets
If your piece has an odd shape, you can use corrugated cardboard sheets to help keep it safe. Such sheets can be cut to fit an irregularly-sized object with ease.
To make corrugated cardboard sheets into a box, follow these steps:
- Get your cardboard sheets, a boxcutter, and packing tape.
- Center your item on the sheets, leaving at least a 1 in (2.54 cm) margin.
- Mark the corners with a pen or pencil.
- Cut your first sheet to size with the boxcutter.
- Repeat for each side as necessary.
- Assemble with packing tape.
- Make sure your box will fit your item.
Styrofoam & Bubble Wrap
It’s common knowledge that when shipping something fragile, you’ll want to wrap it up in plenty of soft padding. The problem is that there are many kinds of packaging materials out there. So, which one is the best to use?
If you’re running a business, you won’t want to use packing paper or clothing, as it does not look professional and won’t keep your work safe.
When shipping woodworking projects, you’ll want to use both Styrofoam and bubble wrap. This is because styrofoam is often not protective enough on its own, and bubble wrap is too thin to keep your item from jiggling around.
To best protect your project, wrap it up in a layer of bubble wrap, then fill the empty spaces in your box with Styrofoam. Amazon offers a great deal on three cubic feet of StarBoxes Anti-Static Packing Peanuts. These are “s-shaped” packing peanuts, offering extra protection for less material.
This article from Move.org demonstrates the various ways you can pack your projects and test each one.
Use Polypropylene Strapping
You’ll also want to invest in polypropylene strapping if you plan on shipping a woodworking project. This will provide further structure to your cardboard box and can prevent it from being crushed.
This PAC SP-W Strapping Kit comes with metal buckles and includes 3,000 ft (914.4 m) of ½ in (1.27 cm) strapping. It also has over 200 five-star reviews on Amazon.
Finally, if you are shipping an expensive enough item, it’s probably worth getting shipping insurance. There’s only so much you can do to mitigate the risk of damage during shipping, and accidents happen.
USPS will insure any package for up to $5,000. Shipping insurance will add only dollars to your cost, no matter how much your package weighs. If you have to reimburse a client for a chair that broke in transit, you’ll kick yourself for not having the insurance.
Calculate Shipping Costs & Method
Now that you have your project’s weight and a way to package it, you should figure out the best way to ship it. Once your project is built, determine the most cost-effective way to ship it before even listing it on your website.
It’s so important to keep costs down for yourself when you start up a new business, and the less you pay on extras like shipping and packaging, the less you’ll have to charge your customer to make a profit.
USPS Flat Rate Boxes
If you’re a small business, odds are you’ll be shipping through USPS. This leaves you with multiple cost-effective ways to ship as long as your projects are under 70 lbs (31.75 kg). USPS offers multiple kinds of flat-rate boxes, and as mentioned above, USPS First Class shipping applies to anything under 15.99 oz (453.31 g). It’s inexpensive, fast, and protected by insurance automatically.
USPS Priority Flat-Rate boxes must be under 70 lbs (31.75 kg) and have a maximum combined length and girth of 108 in (274.32 cm), and cost as little as $7.70.
However, some retailers don’t like the depersonalized look of these flat-rate boxes. When you build a brand, packaging can go a long way when trying to make yourself professional. If that’s the case, there are fortunately ways to ship your projects at a relatively low cost and still maintain custom packaging.
If you find yourself shipping out most of your projects in batches, PirateShip is one of the best services out there. By taking advantage of something called Cubic Shipping Rates, you may find your shipping costs go way down.
Cubic Shipping Rates don’t use the weight of a product to determine the price of shipping but are based on the box’s dimensions and the distance the box is traveling. That means even with heavy wooden items; the cost will be the same as shipping a small pillow.
To qualify for Cubic Shipping, it’s a requirement that you ship over 50,000 units each year. That might be impossible for small business owners to reach themselves. However, by signing up with PirateShip, you can qualify for the rates.
That isn’t the only advantage of PirateShip. The service allows you to design a custom box, use spreadsheets to create labels, and will help you compare prices to keep costs down. You can even integrate your own company’s website into PirateShip to streamline orders.
Unfortunately, PirateShip is capped at 70 lbs (31.75 kg) and a length plus girth of 130 in (330.2 cm). If you’re building larger projects than that, PirateShip won’t be much use to you.
This video goes into further detail as to how to use PirateShip:
If you are shipping heavy objects, you can also opt to ship your item via freight shipping. As mentioned above, freight shipping will protect heavy objects from damage and will also be significantly cheaper than standard shipping rates.
FedEx has an easy step-by-step guide on how to ship via freight. LTL Select is a tool that will allow you to compare freight shipping costs from different carriers if you’d like to make sure you’re getting the best deal.
Figure Out What To Charge Customers
Now that you have calculated the cost and shipping method, you will need to figure out what to charge your clients. To be profitable, you should be shooting for a gross profit margin somewhere around 30% for each individual product. So, if it costs you $2,000 to create, package, and ship a product to a customer, you should charge the customer at least $2,600 for the product itself.
Making your gross profit margin as high as possible will help your prices remain competitive, even if you’re making high-quality items. Here’s how you calculate your lowest reasonable charge.
To calculate your prices, add up all the charges you have paid to produce your product. When working in bulk, calculate how much a batch of products costs to produce, then divide it by the number of products in each batch.
Charges for your products will likely include:
- Box & Packing Materials
- Shipping Insurance
After calculating the total cost to produce each product, add around 30% to that cost, and this should give you a good estimate for your price.
It is also a good idea to take a look at your competitors’ prices for similar products. Are they much lower than yours? If so, consider taking a different approach to your manner of production or how you plan on shipping.
How To Keep Costs Down
There are a few things you can do to keep your shipping costs down:
- Buy in bulk. The more of anything you buy at one time, the cheaper it will cost per unit. This includes boxes, packing labels, ink, paper, etc.
- Weight scale. Purchase a weight scale that is big enough to handle the projects you find yourself doing. This will take the guesswork out of each cost estimate without having to lug your project all the way down to the post office.
- Label printer. Label printers can streamline the process of bulk shipping and cut costs. The MUNBYN Thermal Label Printer is compatible with multiple shipping platforms and takes only a minute to set up.
If you read through this article and found that your typical products will weigh more than 70 lbs (31.75 kg) and that freight shipping will still reduce your profit margins, you may want to invest in the help of 3PLs.
3PLs are Third-Party Logistics companies and can be extremely helpful when dealing with the headaches of shipping heavy items. Not only that, they can help with storage, packaging, and distribution assistance. 3PLs are useful to the makers of oversized items and any small business owner who feels overwhelmed by the logistics of shipping.
Popular 3PLs include ShipBob, which is ideal for batch shipping, and Red Stag Fulfillment, ideal for makers of heavy luxury items. If you’re interested in 3PLs, do some research to find which one will best suit your needs.
When shipping woodworking projects, focus on keeping your pieces safe during transit while keeping costs down. Look into services that will help make the process easier, like PirateShip and 3PLs, especially if you’re new to the business.
If you’re used to building heavier pieces, consider starting your business with lighter, more compact items. Once your profit margins become consistent, you can move into heavier and more expensive items without having to worry about paying basic business expenses. Remember, shipping is critical when establishing an e-commerce brand.
- USPS: First Class Mail
- USPS: Priority Mail
- Wikipedia: Third-party logistics
- Wikipedia: Padded envelope
- USPS Store: Priority Mail Padded Flat Rate Envelope
- Wikipedia: Corrugated fiberboard
- Move.org: The Best Packing Materials and How to Use Them
- USPS: Insurance & Extra Services
- PirateShip: Free USPS shipping software
- Stamps.com: USPS Cubic Pricing
- FedEx: How to ship freight
- LTL Select: LTL Select
- ShipBob: Fulfillment Quote
- Red Stag Fulfillment: Fit Small Business