Working with local carpenters in Mexico
Most people moving to Mexico do so with not so many possessions. This means furnishing your home with things bought in Mexico. Shopping for furniture can present its own problems. Such as, where to shop, finding the right size furniture and things that will last in the climate. This might lead you down the road to working with a local carpenter. Many people would not think to have something custom built in their home counties because the cost. In Mexico, it can be very affordable to have something made for you. If you find a good carpenter, you can have custom made furniture made from local tropical hardwoods that will last a long time and look beautiful. But before you work with a local carpenter, here are some tips for you so the results turn out well.
Just a little back story, we have worked with many projects with local carpenters. We have also heard many stories of people that bought locally made things, sometimes having problems with delivery and people finishing projects or the furniture having issues later due to bad procedures. We hope all this information will make a success of your projects and provide you with a lot of information you might not have considered before.
Questions for a local carpenter
If you decide to work with a local carpenter, here are some things that you ask before starting a project. These questions can help you decide to work with the carpenter or choose another carpenter. These questions can also help alleviate many of the problems that people have with working with carpenters.
How to avoid delays with carpenters in Mexico
The first problem many people have is getting projects done on time. It is important to remember that you are ordering a custom made piece and there are many facets to the project that can take time or cause delays. To avoid frustrations later, here are some things to consider and possibly ask.
- How many projects does the carpenter have now? Sometimes carpenters take on projects even when they have a waiting list. This affords them time to work a little on each one and stay continuously busy. It is good to find out what they have for current projects to figure out exactly when they would start on yours. For example, if they have three semi basic projects, they might start on yours in a week and finish in about 11-14 days.
- Do they have the materials or do they need to buy them? Most larger pieces of wood have to be cut, dried and delivered to the carpenter’s workshop. You want to make sure the wood has cured (dried properly to avoid expansion and contraction later). If they don’t have dried wood or need to buy it fresh, it can take another two weeks or more to start your project.
- If you really care about your project and timing, you can ask how many days a week they work. Most work 5 1/2 or 6 days a week. Some might work less, so it is good to know ahead of time.
- Ask about transportation. Depending how far away your carpenter is and the amount of furniture you order, it is important to ask about how to get it delivered. Some carpenters will have a truck, usually the more professional, albeit more expensive carpenters. Others will have a friend with a truck or knows a service. `
It is also important to note that if they are drying the wood personally and painting or staining your project, the weather plays a big part.
Carpenters are not rich people
It is important to note that most carpenters are not rich people. Many work month to month with payments. That being said, being poor often means more bumps in the road sort of speaking. For example, when your transportation or a work machine breaks down, sometimes they don’t have enough to fix it right away, and this can affect the timing of your project.
Often locals give optimistic dates of completion the same way people help you with directions, even if they don’t know exactly where you want to go. Some carpenters give optimistic dates, but due to the stresses of life, things get delayed. Of course you don’t want someone that constantly has problems or excuses for being late. It is just good to keep in mind that there can be extra circumstances that can befall carpenters and sometimes having a little understanding and empathy can go a long way.
Planning your project for success
If you have decided to work with a carpenter, here are some tips for planning your project so you get what you want.
- Have a photo or drawing of what you want. Photos help A LOT! Most carpenters are very visual and often can make something from one drawing or photo.
- A good trick is taking photos of what you want from catalogs and often online there are the dimensions. The sizes help with shipping and help people know exactly what size the furniture is. Carpenters cannot guess all the dimensions, if they do, it might come out different than what you want. You have to remember that most of furniture that people want are things local carpenters have never seen nor understand the styles.
- Ask first for what you want, then check the price. Often we shop by price. Most of the time if you ask for what you want, the price is the same or just a little more expensive. It is best to have the entire idea and ask for exactly what you want. If it is too expensive, ask what adds to the cost. Sometimes the sealers and lacquers are $40 USD for a container. Yes, they might not need a full container, but they still need to buy it for your project. If it is an interior piece, you might, for example, coat it in a less expensive lacquer.
- Talk about different types of wood. The most common wood used is cedar. This is not the good smelling cedar that many know for decks and garden chips. Local cedar is a fairly sustainable wood that is semi resistant to bugs. If of course you are doing a table or project that you want to see the wood grain and are not going to paint or stain it, there are about a dozen choices to choose from locally. A good carpenter will be able to explain the properties of each wood. For example, tzalam is a popular wood that is beautiful. Sometimes mixing woods for one piece can work well. You can do legs in a more durable wood and the top of a table in another. The wood can match in looks but one can be harder than the other.
- Plan the thickness and scale of the furniture. Carpenters often default to most economical or functional furniture. But the art of scale is often not known.
- Ask about what they can purchase for hinges, pulls and hardware. Most local stuff is pretty basic. You can do better buying just once a good hardware instead of replacing it later.
Finding a local carpenter to work with
Often asking around locally for referrals is the best way. Remember that different people can have different results with the same carpenter. Hopefully with the information here, you will only have good experiences.
If you want to look around and visit some local workshops, here are a few places to check out. On the north end of Playa Del Carmen on the 307 Highway just north of the 28 de Julio road, you will find few places there. On the south end of Tulum along the 307 Highway you will also find some carpentry shops. Usually these are a little more expensive, but can be used to working with clients that want upper end furniture.
If you want to do a road trip to see some furniture shops and see what furniture is for sale, a good place is the road from Tulum to Coba. In the three communities you pass through, you can find many places with rustic to finished furniture for sale. It can also be an opportunity to meet with a carpenter and plan some projects.
A little further, but one of the best places to look for locally made furniture is the town of Temozon. Temozon is just north of Valladolid. It is between Valladolid and Tizimin, Yucatan. Here you can find about 25 carpentry shops and many displaying furniture along the main road. Prices here tend to be some of the best in the area. You just need to take transportation into account. Most the large places will make arrangements for delivery.
How do deposits work and payments?
Since most carpenters are independently owned, they are not a big company. This means they often do not have a lot of extra money to front projects. Usually the cost of furniture is over half in materials. This means a deposit can be between 30%-50% of the total cost. If a carpenter asks for much more, this might be a red flag. Since most projects take a week or less, the final payment is made when delivered.
If you have a large project like a custom kitchen, the project might take a few weeks. This means that a deposit will likely be asked for and maybe another payment half way to pay labor. Then pay the balance when done. No project should even be paid in full before being finished.
Most carpenters work on a cash based model. Some will have cards where you can deposit payments electronically. Only very large carpentry workshops will provide facturas (official receipts that can be used for tax purposes in Mexico).
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