'This Old Crack House' #21: How not to build and deliver a woodworking project…Life Lessons in woodworking…

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Blog entry by Dusty posted 03-17-2007 05:01 PM 2843 reads 0 times favorited 6 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 20: To be a carpenter or not to be… Chapter 20 Part 21 of 'This Old Crack House' series Part 22: I watched a three-way happen from her bedroom!.. Shots fired… »

Gaining too much self-confidence is the danger that results from having some success with ones first remodeling project. I think in my case, it’s more appropriate to call it false-confidence.

There is no doubt my skill as a carpenter improved and I had learned a lot from the remodeling jobs I had taken on. I can even claim tremendous success in learning to use and overcome the severe limitations of my hand.

That said, I am in no way making light of this achievement. I recognize that, for me, this was a life changing event.

What I am referring to is this. Just because I had some success at something doesn’t make me a master carpenter or furniture maker.

I don’t know if it was foolishness, false pride, or simply stupidity on my part, to think I was ready to jump from basic carpentry to fine-furniture building. I suspect it was a lot of all those things. I am always amused at myself when I look back and find that I have grasped something pretty fast how soon I am ready to elevate myself up the progress scale a lot faster than I deserve and have really earned.

I know that we all have egos. It’s healthy to take on challenges and keep raising the bar. I like to use this example to explain what I mean. If I had a new born child, would I buy them a new car for there first birthday?

Certainly not.

They aren’t ready for it yet. They have several stages to go through and years to mature to prepare for that day.

With this example in mind, share with me how you shouldn’t build a fine piece of furniture and deliver it to your client without having substantial experience in furniture building. I won’t even mention my lack of delivery skills.

I had made less than a half a dozen fairly easy pieces of furniture at this point. My shop had expanded in both size and in the number and quality of tools. I had been adding tools as I could afford them and any money I had made on side jobs I returned to the business. Remember I was still going to be and always wanted to be a real-estate baron.

It’s easy to loose sight of the goal when suddenly you think you are the next Sam Maloof.

I don’t know which sin is worse; thinking I am something I clearly wasn’t or offending a world renowned craftsman. If I was under the influence of something I might have an excuse.

I’m not nor was I.

So let’s just agree, I am about five bricks short of a full load.

Better yet in plain and simple terms, I’m nuts.

I had built a couple country cupboards and an entertainment center for Ms D and a few other pieces for neighbors. I had pretty good success with these projects and got a lot of encouragement to build other pieces.

Armed with this new confidence and fresh new plans from “Woodsmith” and various other magazines and books, I was ready to take on the world.

Or so I thought.

Now, just for the record and the following confession and testimony I am about to give under oath, please refer to the publication, Woodsmith, issue number 108, page six. This was one of the very first projects that I took on.

To answer the question you are asking yourself right now, no, I wasn’t committed. I probably should have been, but I’m sure at that point I was long beyond help anyways.
For those of you who don’t have the full library of Woodsmith issues, I am referring to a Classic Cherry Bed.

The reason I choose this project was simple I needed a head and footboard and besides it was a “Feature Project” and I am quoting now, “With this bed, you certainly won’t lose any sleep figuring out how to make all the mortises for the slats. With our method, it’s as easy as counting sheep.”

Well, with that for a headline and a fine magazine like Woodsmith, this project was perfect for beginners.

Well, not this beginner!

More on that later, but as an interesting side-note under what a fellow LumberJocks, MsDebbieP, refers to as ‘life’s lessons’, this is where I first came to understand woodworker’s law, number thirty-two. That is, there are no mistakes in woodworking, merely opportunities to alter the design. Of course, it goes without saying that, from the very beginning it was your intent and is evident that it should have been built this way anyway.

On this project, I had a chance to put in practice that very law several times.

Having completed that project and really going off the deep end I decided to take on the matching piece. Please refer to Woodsmith, issue number 67, page eighteen. For those of you that don’t have this, it’s a six foot high by four and one half foot wide twenty inch deep armoire; or as I refer to it, a large wooden duck-boat without the oars, or a two person wooden coffin.

Your choice.

Again I am quoting here, “This graceful arched top and the raised panel doors of this cherry armoire make it a classic. It’s sure to become a family heirloom to be handed down from generation.”

Let me get back to you on that one, OK? As for handing it down, it’s not very likely, at least, not without a small crane.

In my defense I chose to build these two projects out of oak. In that way, if they didn’t turn out, I wouldn’t be out the cost of expensive cherry.

How’s that for thinking ahead and with confidence?

And you thought I was a rookie!

Ok now the true confession begins. Please bow your head and take a moment of silence. This will be as close to a spiritual awakening as you will probably ever get here on earth.

I know it was for me.

Now for the lessons learned. There were so many I will only highlight a few of the major ones.

1. Be sure you have enough clearance in your shop to build the project. This is so you don’t have to cut open the sheet rock attached to the bottom of the rafters. That is to enable you stand this project up so that it fits between the twenty-four inch rafters.

2. Do not alter from the plan until you have sufficient experience, or are well versed in designing and building furniture. This includes not making the doors half the size because you are convinced a door that large will warp. (see accompanying picture for my design)

3. Do not follow the plans because your measurements and layout vary from theirs.

4. Don’t worry about that shooting pain in the lower back and leg that only hurts when you breathe, walk, talk, or move. It’s just part of the experience of working with a little larger project.

This list will give you a start. I’m sure that I could add many more but again its just a highlighted overview.

Oh, did I forget the most important one? I’m sorry, it must be the glue fumes from my shop that causes me to have these memory lapses.

6 Before you build it, measure the headroom and clearance in the narrow hallways of your house and the space into which it is suppose to fit. It’s better if you do this before you take the doors off and line up extra help to move this into the intended room, especially if they are your buddies

To this day, I have no idea how I missed that one. Well, I really do, but I’m sticking to the glue fume story.

Ok go ahead and say it, I blew it.

Ouch, that hurt.

Now, let’s move on to the best part of this “life lessons” that I learned the hard way.

I kept thinking to myself that it would make a great, albeit expensive, storage locker for my shop, so not all would be lost. Just one problem though; remember it is lodged between two rafters. It’s poking thru the sheet rock and located to one side of the garage, but near the middle of the floor.

Not good.

I could just tell people, who visit the shop, that it was part of a showcase of my work.

I’m glad I didn’t go with that one.

Just bye luck and sheer coincidence, a co-worker at the bus garage stopped by my shop that day with a chair, to see if I could repair it. We had previously spoken about it at work. Of course I could. Remember, I am the new “Yankee Workshop.” I can do anything.

My buddy brought along his finance and introduced me to her. She seemed very nice and certainly was a classy lady. She was looking at the Armoire very carefully. She asked if it was for a client or was I building it for myself. I said, sheepishly, “It’s suppose to be mine but unfortunately, it won’t fit down my narrow hall, nor into my bedroom where I had planed for it to be.

“Oh!” she said. “Is it for sale?”

“Well,” I said, “To be honest it’s more of a prototype. This is the first time I have attempted to build anything like this. I figure that I would put it in my house and nobody would know the difference. I would learn from my mistakes and make the necessary changes to the next one so it would be perfect.”

I pointed out all the flaws, like the upper doors not matching the lower doors and various other flaws I had discovered. I was very honest with her. At that point there was no sense pretending. It mistakes were so evident that there was simply no hiding them. Well, at least I thought they were obvious.

She asked again,” Is it for sale?”

I said yes, not knowing if she was serious.

“How much?” she continued.

I said, without even thinking, “Five hundred dollars.”

I had more than that in it, but it just came out of my mouth and certainly it was no good to me the way it was; not to mention were it was, stuck in middle of my shop taking up valuable space.

She asked “Does that price include delivery?”

“Of course!” I said, “For you it does, because I’m a good friend of your fiancé.”

“Sold” she said, “When can you deliver it?”

I answered, “Let me call my buddy and see if I can get him and his company delivery truck to help.” I explained that he had a large truck and it would be better if we stood it up and didn’t have to lay it down on its back.

I then called my buddy and arranged to have it delivered later that afternoon. She told me that would be fine. All she needed was some time to go home and empty the dresser that was in the bedroom. I obtained their address and told them that I would see them shortly.

I stared at the address they had given me. My buddy noticing my expression said “Yes, it’s the center of the ‘Hood’. Before you arrive, call so I can open up the 8 foot fence and you can park inside the yard. You will be alright there because I will let my German Sheppard roam outside while you are there. Just don’t try coming in until I tell you it’s clear.

As they left the shop I said, “OK, we will see you in couple hours.”

I was so excited to be rid of this albatross, I could hardly stand it; simply giddy.

I had already planed on what I would buy for tools with my recovered five hundred dollars. Better yet I wouldn’t have it taking up half my shop. I thought, it’s a great day in the woodworking shop.

My buddy promptly showed up with his truck and said, “Lets get this over with because I have dinner plans and I need to get this company truck back before 5 pm.”

He and I with my business partner loaded the armoire. This was no simple task. It took three of us almost an hour to maneuver it into the truck and get it tied down. I called my buddy and told him we were on our way. He lived only about 20 blocks from me so it wasn’t far. He said he would be waiting and to come to the back.

This was an experience all by itself. I rarely ever get to this part of town let alone this particular area. It has the highest crime and murder rate of the Twin Cities. I simply couldn’t understand why my buddy was living in this area.

We arrived and he let us in the back gate and promptly shut it and tied his German Sheppard up with firm instructions not to pet him. Trust me; he didn’t have to worry about that from any of us. The two inch spiked chain link he used as a dog collar tipped me off that this wasn’t Lassie.

The house was huge from the outside. It appeared to be built about 1900 and from what I could see, was in great condition. It was one of the original mansions built long ago before this part of the city fell to urban blight. I asked my buddy how it is to live in this area. He bluntly told me he hated it. It’s dangerous but his fiancé had inherited the house from her father and wouldn’t move. So if he wanted to be with her he had to live here.

I suggested we go inside to see where we were going to place this armoire. The inside was stunning. The house looked like it belonged in Architectural Digest. He gave us a tour. I was spellbound and understood why he lived there. He commented that he loved the house but was so tired of the crime that he wasn’t sure how long he would be able to last there.

We unloaded the armoire and carried it in. We had to take it up a solid oak winding staircase. The heavy armoire made this task very difficult because we had to hold it above the oak railing. While building a small fire in a floor-to-ceiling fireplace made of field-stone, his fiancé was watching us with a keen eye.

This added to the uncomfortable feeling I had. She also never spoke a word during all this moving.

We made it to the top of one landing on the spiral oak staircase and stopped to catch our breath. I could see that the next section of the stairway was gong to be a challenge.

We tried several times and various ways by tilting the armoire to different angles to get beyond the landing. Every once in a while you could here the clunk of wood on wood. Followed by a excited voice saying, “Careful!”

It was getting tense

After several attempts and some bumps to the side of the armoire, I declared, “It’s not going to fit.”

It became very quiet.

We studied the situation. It was obvious that the spiral staircase was not going to allow us make the corner with that large a piece of furniture. Knowing full-well that it wasn’t going to happen, but breaking the awkward silence, I fumbled with the hand rail and said, “Unless, that is, unless we take the stairs apart.”

She looked up and said, “Then take the stairway apart. Just be careful, it’s over 100 years old. My father built that stairway”.

I cringed.

I looked at my buddy and he said, “You heard the lady, take the stairways apart.”

I explained that I didn’t have any tools with me. He responded, “What do you need? I have tools.”

I worked for about 20 minutes to take off a section of the stairway. The last two spindles split and pieces chipped off them.

Inside, I was feeling sick. I told my buddy, “No worries I will take them back to the shop and fix them as good as new.”

We began to move the armoire again. This time we made it to the top of the doorway. But it wouldn’t fit through because it was too tall and too wide. It wouldn’t tip at a enough angle to fit through.

I wanted to sit down and cry.

I suppose this is a good point to mention “lessons of life” woodworking law number six.

6. Measure all stairways, hallways, entryways, and doorways regardless whose house it is and how big it looks before you unload the furniture and tear apart the oak stairway.

My buddy asked “Now what?”

I replied in a joking tone, “Well, looks like she could use some more firewood.”

This broke the tension, but they didn’t realize I was serious.

I sat down, staring for a moment, at this mess. My buddy with the truck was getting anxious because of his commitments. I said, “OK, this isn’t going to work so let’s load this back into the truck so my buddy can get going. I will custom build a new one at no additional cost to you. I will make it in two pieces so that it will fit.”

They said that I didn’t have to do that.

I said I would and that was that. I would figure out something.

We loaded the armoire back up and took it to my shop. My buddy was running way behind, so I told him to just leave it in the driveway and that I would take care of it from that point.

He then left.

On the shop radio, playing in the background, was a live show called ‘The Great American Garage Sale’. Listeners would call up and describe their items and list them for sale. I called, got through and described the oak armoire and said that the first person who shows up in my driveway with cash would get to take it home.

Within minutes there were four calls. One guy, who was listening on the radio while driving near where I lived, pulled off the freeway and quickly arrived at my house.

You don’t want to know what I got for it.

I was never so excited to take such a monetary loss on a piece of furniture as I was with that armoire.

It was such a treat to see it head down the road never to return.

I still think my idea about the firewood was better.

Now I had to build her a new one and fix the stairway.

Little did I know, I would need a bullet proof vest for this next delivery!

-- Dusty

6 comments so far

View Karson's profile


35125 posts in 4423 days

#1 posted 03-17-2007 05:32 PM

Keep it coming Dusty

-- I've been blessed with a father who liked to tinker in wood, and a wife who lets me tinker in wood. Southern Delaware soon moving to Virginia †

View dennis mitchell's profile

dennis mitchell

3994 posts in 4337 days

#2 posted 03-17-2007 07:29 PM

I was thinking Brad Pitt could play Dusty in the movie version, but now I’m thinking Steve Martin would be better.

View Jeff's profile


1010 posts in 4117 days

#3 posted 03-17-2007 07:36 PM

I’m in pain over here. Arrgg…

I, for one, am glad it did not become firewood. You never know how valuable that piece may become someday. Yes, that’s a compliment.

-- Jeff, St. Paul, MN

View Chip's profile


1904 posts in 4115 days

#4 posted 03-17-2007 07:41 PM

I guess “measure twice, cut once” has taken on a whole new meaning. I’m not sure whether to laugh or cry. Bet writing all that helped get some of the frustartion out though huh Dusty? No? (Chip runs for the door)

-- Better to say nothing and be thought the fool... then to speak and erase all doubt!

View MsDebbieP's profile


18615 posts in 4183 days

#5 posted 03-17-2007 08:50 PM

I laughed out loud on that one.. I’m still picturing that beautiful piece of wood, I mean furniture, stuck in the shop..
Oh Dusty, you are a great writer!!

-- ~ Debbie, Canada (

View Dick, & Barb Cain's profile

Dick, & Barb Cain

8693 posts in 4322 days

#6 posted 03-24-2007 05:39 PM

It sounds almost like a Laurel, & Hardy movie.

-- -** You are never to old to set another goal or to dream a new dream ****************** Dick, & Barb Cain, Hibbing, MN.

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