I was contacted by some clients and asked if I would take a look a repairing an antique table they had. Antique may be used loosely here but it was an old table and was part of a set of nesting tables. The set may not be of any particular value as antiques, but the clients hold a certain fondness for the tables and wanted to see if it could be repaired.
I arrived to their loft apartment, greetings were exchanged, and I was given a brief introduction to the project. The top had pulled loose of the legs. It was a clean separation on one side, but on the other side, the stretcher between the front and rear leg had an irregular break where it was attached to the top. Fortunately none of the material was missing. I assured them I could take care of it.
We immediately turned to other talk, catching up on our latest activities since we had not visited in a while. These people are really pleasant and I have a close tie to them because I did the remodel work on their loft apartment some years ago. It was right when I was hitting my stride for custom work.
A Bit of History
The apartment is on the top floor of a historic building downtown Billings. I helped transform office space into a loft apartment that was sensitive to the original design and historic nature of the building. I custom fabricated a lot of the trim and it was one of the first jobs that I was able to give a really professional finish on the woodwork myself.
This was actually the first loft apartment done downtown when the revitalization started and my name is on it. The job is a real jewel in my crown and the clients loved the results. The first year the loft apartment was done it was featured in the Heritage Home Tour.
I was also pleased to have some custom cabinets in another house that was part of the same tour. This was my first set of cabinetry and I lost my shirt on the job, but they still look great and are holding up extremely well. I have continued to do work for these clients over the years so I would say that I recovered from the loss of the first job.
Back to Business
However, I digress and shall return to the table. I picked up the small table while talking to the clients. I clamped the top to the stretcher between the legs with my hands and flipped it upside down to carry it. I took it out to the truck and it fit easily and safely upside down on the seat of my truck. When I got to the shop, I continued to carry it in upside down and placed it so on a towel on the workbench.
I took a look at the dry fit of the legs to the top. It would be a clean glue up but I decided to place some dowels to aid in alignment and create a more secure joint.
The glue up went smooth and even with adding the dowels the process was just hitting 30 minutes for the repair. Another successful repair and easy money. Those jobs are great and they leave you feeling good because I have seen simple jobs like this butchered up pretty bad. I do not claim to do repairs at the level of antiquities curator but I pride myself in doing tight, professional work.
I applied the glue and started adding clamps to draw the parts together while it was upside down. Then I flipped the table upright and proceeded to add more clamps. It was at this time that I bore witness to a half dozen fresh scratches – or actually GOUGES in the delicate leather top.
I was Horrified! Mortified! Confused! OH Crrrap! What in the world did I do? How could I have done this?
I finished adding the clamps and paid attention to the glue squeeze out. The whole time my eyes kept going over the obviously fresh damage and wondering how I could have managed this? Did I have something on the seat of my truck? did I set the top on something without realizing it during the glue up?
Glue ups can be particularly stressful and mindlessly setting the top on a sharp or damaging object would not be out of the question. I used quick set epoxy on this one to insure the best bond so I was under the gun, but what could I have set it on to create SIX GOUGES? Everything seemed to have gone so smoothly!
After the clamps were removed I wiped the whole thing down with a light application of lemon oil and it really freshened the appearance. But the gouges in the leather made the acid injectors in my gut start pumping at maximum capacity. I have to tell these people that I damaged their little table. Yeah the repair looks great but I wrecked the leather top.
One thing clients don’t fully realize is the liability we assume when taking on a job and what it can cost us as a business. And there I stood, looking at a perfectly good example of an easy job-turned-nightmare.
A Death Wish
My wife came into the shop just then and asked what I was working on. I showed her the table and told her the story. She knows me and how careful I am with my work. She has commented to me that sometimes when she enters the shop she can hear the “anal sucking sound” because I can get – well – pretty anal with my work. She insisted that there was no way I did the damage and said that I was worrying myself to death over something that I did not do.
While I appreciated her support and belief in me, I told her that I would face the reality that somehow I managed to botch this job and would assume responsibility for it. It was time to return the table and face the clients with my shameful handling of the job.
At this point I secretly hoped to be hit at an intersection by an out of control semi that would cause my truck to burst into flames. This would certainly destroy the evidence of the damaged top and should I survive the accident, pity for my situation would relieve me from providing them a replacement. If I died, well then I wouldn’t need to worry about it.
Dead Man Walking
However, I arrived without catastrophic incident to my clients and I would have to face them in all my shame. They immediately commented on how impressed they were with the turnaround time. I thanked them and immediately pointed out that I somehow managed to gouge the leather top in several locations. I was so incredibly embarrassed but I wanted them to know I was taking responsibility for it.
My client waved his hand in a dismissive motion and casually stated, “Naw, the cat did all that. That was done before you took it.”
The tsunami wave that swept over me was relief. My wife was right and I was more than happy to admit so.
The Moral of the Story
There is a lesson here to share. After 12 years of business, I have learned to take a visual accounting or inventory of the condition of the project. No matter if it is a room, a piece of furniture, or whatever. But just like my story got you sidetracked from the table to the remodel project, I got distracted by friendly chit-chat.
The lesson is – Stay Focused in your business! It will save you a lot stress.
The damaged leather looks worse in person than it does in the picture. The guilty party is seen in the chair but shows no remorse.
Share the Love~Share the Knowledge
-- Todd A. Clippinger, Montana, http://americancraftsmanworkshop.com