Dealing with a callback

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Forum topic by rhett posted 07-09-2010 01:12 AM 2824 views 0 times favorited 29 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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742 posts in 3667 days

07-09-2010 01:12 AM

I am in a bit of a situation with a past client and am wondering how to address the issue.

About a year ago I built a large 3’x7’ dining table for couple as a wedding present. It was commissioned by the wifes grandfather, so I never met with or dealt with the couple. I was just given the dimensions and some wood from the family farm. The wood was some cherry reclaimed by the deceased father of the bride. Sentimental value was the key here. The table is solid cherry with breadboard ends.

I get a call from the wife asking if I can come and look at their table, it is “coming apart” she tells me. This concerns me since I take great pride in my work and overbuild everything that I make. So I go over to see whats going on.

I can see the table through the front storm door, and her husband is seated at the end. When he sees me at the door, he gets up from the table. Take note, he grabs both ends of the breadboard and leans forward to assist himself in getting out of his chair. I am guessing he is 350+ lbs.

When we inspect the table that is “coming apart”, it is the joint between the breadboard and the table. The gap is on both ends where the joint is pinned and not glued and only on the end he sits at.

I think we all know why this joint is failing.

I have the table top in the shop now for repairs. There is none of the fathers wood left to just make a solid end to end top with no breadboards, nor would I want to on a table this wide. It would be bad business to tell the husband his inability to get out of a chair unassisted is what is causing this joint to fail.

I back all my work with a lifetime warranty that covers my craftsmanship. Any suggestions to avoid a yearly callback to this house. I know my joinery is solid and executed correctly. This is the 8th table I have done atleast this wide, with the same breadboard end construction and none of the others have had an issue. The first being made over 9 years ago.

This failed due to misuse not poor craftsmanship.

-- Doubt kills more dreams than failure.

29 replies so far

View jusfine's profile


2422 posts in 2926 days

#1 posted 07-09-2010 01:22 AM

Your final statement would have been my first.

I have found that sometimes people honestly don’t realize what they are doing or that the furniture will not take the abuse. Others don’t care, and treat a valued piece like it came from Ikea.

I have run into similar circumstances, and find total clarity and transparency is the best, be up front with them. It won’t last the way they treat it.

-- Randy "You are judged as much by the questions you ask as the answers you give..."

View Knothead62's profile


2584 posts in 2961 days

#2 posted 07-09-2010 01:34 AM

Make a cane for the gentleman.

View a1Jim's profile


117094 posts in 3577 days

#3 posted 07-09-2010 01:48 AM

I would fix the problem and when returning it explain what you told us about the husband leaning(or anyone) on the bread board and explain why it’s made the way it is for wood movement and that even though it’s made with proper construction any bread board table is susceptible to this problem. I would also tell them about the bread board may extend the table at certain times of the year or be inside the table top width. Then explain that you only warranty workmanship not misuse, of course leaving the husbands weight out of the conversation.
And of course next time there would be a $ 400 charge or ?.

-- wood crafting & woodworking classes

View swirt's profile


2737 posts in 2972 days

#4 posted 07-09-2010 01:56 AM

I agree with Jim. People have no idea why the end is breadboarded or the inherent potential weakness of using that same end as a standing aid. It may even help to show them how it goes together (assemble it in front of them. Education can go a long way and possibly prevent them from needing to call you back again.

-- Galootish log blog,

View CampD's profile


1667 posts in 3486 days

#5 posted 07-09-2010 02:15 AM

subscription to weightwatchers!

-- Doug...

View tooldad's profile


660 posts in 3715 days

#6 posted 07-09-2010 02:45 AM

I agree with Jim also on this one. If you have trouble saying it in person, make a contract/invoice which states the work completed and cause of the “warranty” issue. Go ahead and fix it this time, but also include a note in the invoice that states there is a charge for misuse/abuse whether it is deemed intentional or not. Additional repairs to fix the same type of problem will result in charges. Make them sign it, keep a copy, give them a copy. This way there is no discussion next time. You don’t even have to say a word if you don’t want to. Just deliver the table, have them sign the work order, and be on your way.

View Sawkerf's profile


1730 posts in 3068 days

#7 posted 07-09-2010 02:55 AM

No, it isn’t “bad business” to point out misuse or abuse. If you get T-Boned in your car because you ran a red light, would you try to hold the car company responsible? I think not! – lol

If your “lifetime” warranty is in writing, make sure it includes words limiting your responsibility to materials and labor issues resulting from “normal” use.

Since you assumed responsibility for this table, fix it, tell them why it failed, and that additional fixes will be at a price.

-- Adversity doesn't build reveals it.

View uffitze's profile


199 posts in 2955 days

#8 posted 07-09-2010 03:29 AM

If you want to keep the breadboard ends, my comments are pretty much what everyone else has said.

But, you could remove the breadboards and use battens to keep the top flat. At this point, you probably don’t have the option to dovetail them in, but screwed on could work. As far as making them beefy enough to withstand any cupping/bowing force from the top and still be sufficiently low profile, you might be able to use some 3/8” flat metal bar stock … drill holes, and file the ends so they aren’t sharp.

(Just an idea.)

View CryptKeeper's profile


132 posts in 2950 days

#9 posted 07-09-2010 03:40 AM

Your in tough spot but I agree with Jim and Swirt. I would fix it this time (good customer service and if it ever comes up you tried) and when I returned it I would explain my warranty. I would also take a sample breadboard setup and explain the weak points and that placing excess stress directly on the edge constitutes mis-use and not a failure in craftsmanship. Under no circumstances would I bring up the gentleman’s weight.

Just my 2 cents.

-- Ron - Any day that I don't learn something new is a wasted day.

View Mary Anne's profile

Mary Anne

1058 posts in 3209 days

#10 posted 07-09-2010 04:35 AM

I can understand you are upset, but I think if you start out taking about abuse and pointing to his weight, it’s going to come across as an insult and make them angry and more likely want to blame it all on you. Just because the guy is large, it doesn’t necessarily mean he is stupid or unreasonable. (Too bad the same can’t be said about those of you who are making the snarky comments about his weight.) It is a good bet, however, that they don’t understand the way the table was built and that that type of joint won’t hold up to stress.

A far better tack, in my opinion, would be to educate the couple. Explain the way the table is put together and that NO ONE should be leaning on the edges. He knows he is big; let him put the pieces together, so to speak, and he’ll figure it out on his own without being insulted. Chances are, once they are educated, it won’t happen again. Since the table was a wedding gift, it surely has some meaning for them and he would not want to wreck it. But you can still tell them nicely that you can’t guarantee it further if the same thing happens again.

View lwllms's profile


555 posts in 3282 days

#11 posted 07-09-2010 04:44 AM

Try to satisfy your customer. I’d start by repairing the damage and explain both the purpose of the clamped ends (the old term for bread-board ends) and the inherent susceptibility to abuse such as you witnessed. I suspect the clamped ends, in this case, represent a serious effort at quality construction. I’d carefully consider how to I would introduce the topic of your customer’s weight because you’re likely going to encounter considerable sensitivity to the subject.

View CharlieM1958's profile


16274 posts in 4218 days

#12 posted 07-09-2010 05:28 AM

I agree with Jim and Mary Anne. There is no need to bring his weight into the discussion. Just explain what a breadboard end is, and its purpose, and that it is not made to bear any stress by leaning, etc. I wouldn’t mention that you saw him doing this… he’ll know he’s guilty.

-- Charlie M. "Woodworking - patience = firewood"

View Dark_Lightning's profile


3161 posts in 3109 days

#13 posted 07-09-2010 05:48 AM

Lifetime warranty? Whose lifetime? Yer in a pickle, buddy. I’d recommend against making that promise in the future. You can’t predict what people are going to do to your handiwork. This reminds me of when my ex-brother-in-law rebuilt an old Ford 9N tractor engine. The farmer asked him what kind of warranty he made on the rebuild, and he said, “It has a shadowline warranty…once it moves out of the shadowline of my shop, the warranty is up!”. I bet he’s still trying to understand why he lost his shop. He liked his jokes, but the farmers did not.

-- Random Orbital Nailer

View David Kirtley's profile

David Kirtley

1286 posts in 2998 days

#14 posted 07-09-2010 07:53 AM

Craftsmanship is not a likely issue. Design choice and constraints probably are. Without seeing the joint in question I would have to just make a guess. What kind of tenon is on the breadboard end? Are we talking a tongue in groove on the end or a serious deep tenon? Both are perfectly valid forms of the joint but they have different properties and different strengths. Was the deep tenon specified in the original arrangement? You were given a quantity of wood that constrained the choices you could make. I assume that they didn’t give you a stack of 8/4 cherry that you could make a nice thick and deep tenon that could handle that type of usage. (I wouldn’t necessarily call it abuse.) There is a difference between a refined dining table and a chunky farmhouse style table.

I would put it this way:

The table was not specifically designed as an assistive device. It wouldn’t matter that much if it was a 400 lb person or a 100 lb person other than the time frame until failure. I would fix it once but explain that as built, it is being used in a manner inconsistent with the design and that you would fix it again but at your usual rates.

-- Woodworking shouldn't cost a fortune:

View CryptKeeper's profile


132 posts in 2950 days

#15 posted 07-09-2010 08:21 AM

I have thought about this a little bit more and here is one possible approach to handling the situation. First, I believe in good customer service and you have to ask yourself what is your name worth?

Having said that I would definitely fix it this time but when I returned it I would have a sample of the joint and start the conversation something like this:

“Mrs. Jones, I’m not sure what you are using the table for but this joint shows obvious signs of serious downward stress. The breadboard joint isn’t design to take these kind of loads they are designed to keep the table top aligned and the edge jointed boards from cupping. (Demonstrate how the joint is a assembled and when you force it down the joint opens up.) Because I believe in standing behind my work and I believe in good customer service I fixed it this time at no charge. However, if it requires further repair I’m afraid I will have to charge my normal shop rates.”

This is how I would handle it and I would be sure to use ‘the joint shows obvious signs of serious downward stress.” The word ‘obvious’ is very important here it will register in the subconscious that hey it’s obvious and everyone should see the problem (and she doesn’t know you saw her husband.)

She may not get it at first but if the table has any sentimental value at all I guarantee you the first time she sees her husband push himself up it will be the last time he does it. You may even want to tell her what the normal charge would be that way she will be able to associate a dollar amount with her husbands habit.

-- Ron - Any day that I don't learn something new is a wasted day.

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