To the OP, don't confuse the smith's "cost" with his "fee." Doubt very much they will talk much about their costs (expenses).
Another question you should consider is whether or not the smith is going to stay in business awhile, is he passionate about his work, and as touchy as you want to get about the security of his business, especially after what happened with the other smith who filed bankruptcy and failed to return thousands of dollars in equipment back to the owners.
I think that is a parallel to asking your surgeon how many times he's been sued and why and what were the outcomes. My opinion is you have a right to know.
Derek I think in the use of the term cost, he was referring to the cost to himself, as the customer, for having the work done, not what are the smiths cost to operate a business.
As far as the "other" smith who stole from the public, He must have been a first class liar, and that type of person who can lie for monetary gain can only be weeded out by people coming forward with bad experiences and looking at the consensus of the results. I had a few calls from guys who had work done by him, who had bad things to report but didn't.
You could ask a man all the financial questions you want, the one who intends to cheat you, will give you lies. Bernie Maidoff come to mind.
OP if you send in all your parts and the smith wants a deposit for your labor or a scope, then run. Deposits are typical when the smith orders and funds all the parts, typically they help to cover the expense of accumulation, if he has 30 builds at $2000 in parts on each build he may need a little capitol to keep the business ball moving with-out interruption. I usually require a $1500 deposit on a full custom build, this does not cover all the parts, I fund the rest. The reason I do it is so the customer is invested. I wouldn't want them backing out of a build that may be completed or getting hung with the parts, seeing how they are selected by him, and may be hard to get there value out of.
I have been in business full time about 5 years and in that time I could supply a list of names for testimonials, or you could read them on my site, or you could ask on many forums, and I never make it my intent to "get all the work" I couldn't possibly do it all. If you have a local guy who is new and starting out, go visit him he will be more than happy to answer questions face to face and visit. When you do that he knows you are serious and he will give you his time. He will be more than happy to show u recent builds and target results, ect. When going over with an out-of state smith, look at his web-site that is the best face to face you may likely get. Ask about him in the forums, don't assume from the responses posted in other thread questions, that the guy is great, you didn't see the PM's the OP might have gotten recommending against him. You will only see those if YOU ask, in your own thread. Then give him a call on the phone, get a feel for him and go with your very best judgement.
I'll add my business philosophies. I find myself on both ends of the stick very often, as a customer, and as a service provider. I like to do business with people. I am relationship oriented. I view business transactions as personal relationships.
When I wanted to have a custom rifle built I put together a short list of smiths who had consistent positive reviews. I knew any of them could / would turn out a quality product. The question became, who do I want to do business with?
I looked at their websites, and gave 'em a call. One smith would not take a phone call under any circumstance. Another smith didn't respond to email or voice mail. One answered the phone, but was brusque and bothered. The best suited to me returned my phone call the same day and happily discussed my build. He showed enthusiasm for his work, desire to do my work, and interest in me and my project. When I hired him I asked for his input on a couple of items, then let him do his job. The other smiths are quality smiths too. I understand their positions. I simply prefer to do business on a more personal level.
I enjoy small outfits because they tend to treat you like a person, a friend even. I choose a person I like, an outfit I want to support, and I trust their expertise. I have no interest in dealing with "sharp" business people, or people who aren't genuinely friendly.
I feel the pertinent questions for what you want done, depend on Exactly what you want done. Example.
Mr. Jones I have heard great things about your work from some of your past customers, I have in hand a Stiller Predator SA, a krieger 8T 264, a badger dbm, and a McMillian a-3.
What would the cost be for the following? ;
Barrel thread, fit, chambered and crowned, in 260 rem to feed XYZ bullets out of an XYZ magazine?
Pillar bedding into the stock?
Instal a jewel trigger supplied by you?
All fitting, assembly and function testing?
I do not want to have the rifle blasted or coated in any way.
Instal the 20 moa stiller rail I am supplying.
I do not need rings or a scope.
What is a Realistic time frame for completion IF I send in the parts by March 15th 2012. I would really like to see this rifle back to me by July 1st 2012 or earlier. If this is impossible for you to do please e-mail me as such, and I will continue my search for a smith, or is there one you know and could recomend that would do a good job and meet my time expectations?
Thank you for your time,
This should be the extent of your questions, how he does this or that, whats your experience level, ect are questions he really doesn't want to take the time to explain to a neophyte. If you have done your research and have read good things about the smith or talked to guys who have used him then those questions are pretty irrelevant if 6 guys told you that he was "great to deal with" "built a tack driver" ect ect. Many of the questions can also be answered by going thru every page of a smith web-site.
You want cost give him a description of work so he can price it to you with-out going back and forth for 7 emails while he has to pull the info out of you.
Notice how I asked the time line question, it pins him down to a commitment. He may be happy to get the parts and work the week-end that his wife or GF is out of town, just to fit you in and get a little cash flow. You also gave him a clear deadline and a quick out if he really can't take on the extra work. One of the worst things you can do is price the work with a smith and after 4 e-mails you ask him to have it done by x/y/z and the smith knows he can't do it. Now you wasted his valuable time, and at this point he is a little vested in you and may say, "sure I'll try and get it done by then." you take that as a YES, and that is where the trouble starts.
Personally if I got your original post as a first contact e-mail I might not even answer it, would depend on how my day was going weather I even wanted to deal with the vague silliness of it.
Excellent post/point. I think the barber/customer and gunsmith/customer relationships are the last of the old school consumer/producer relationships where both parties are expected to act in good faith. Quality takes time and money period. In today's instant gratification society people seem to lose sight of that.
"Let glorious acts more glorious acts inspire,
And catch from breast to breast the noble fire!
On valour's side the odds of combat lie,
The brave live glorious, or lamented die;" - Iliad, Book V