In this age of information overabundance, keeping things simple is critical. One of the simplest estimating methods is the stick method, which many contractors use when they first get started — me included. I used to make a list of the materials I needed, then go to the hardware store and lumberyard to find out what everything cost. To determine a project's price, I doubled the cost of the materials — thinking that would also cover my labor — added a bit for Murphy, then added overhead and profit. While I rarely lost money on materials, I often didn't make...

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