Vanity III

The episode with the vanity gradually morphed into a rather stressful situation. Much of the responsibility for that lays squarely with me, not following normal steps in the furniture commission process, taking too much on faith, and not developing a personal and communicative relationship with the client. My final mistake was allowing the piece to be picked up without having received payment.

As it turned out, when the GC ‘agreed’ to my price, he was in fact employing deception, as part of a strategy. He figured that once he had possession of the piece, he could withhold payment and pressure me to his terms. For the first week of this process, he was suddenly very hard to reach on the phone. For the second week, he was reachable, but, “needed to confer with the clients to discuss the revised price”. By the third week I was starting to feel a little anxious, especially as my financial cushion had all but evaporated. I really did need to get paid. Entreaties to shop owner K, in regards to making some pull with his ‘personal friendship’, proved futile. Disillusion was growing.

Finally the GC gets back to me at the end of the third week. He tells me that the clients really like the piece, and have now decided that it is too nice to have in the private bathroom and that they wanted to put it out in the suite in a more prominent place. Therefore they wanted me to make a wooden top for it. Then he said that they were prepared to offer me $4000 for the piece, including the top.

At this point, I could see that he was playing a game, and I am not much of a sport for these sorts of games. I told him that I declined the offer, and asked him to package the cabinet up and send it back to me.

Another week goes by, at which point I’m starting to get ever more worried about the entire situation, having neither the cabinet back in my possession, or payment. More phone calls ensued, and he then came back with a somewhat higher offer, but I had had enough by that point. Eventually, after 5 weeks of this process, I took matters into my own hands, took the ferry over to Vancouver with my wife-to-be riding shotgun, down to the site of the remodeling project. I took the cabinet back. It was the third week of December – a tough Christmas season for me compared to past ones. I was glad of having my partner around for support.

I have no idea to this day if the GC actually communicated any information to his brother the client, or whether he was playing me like some sort of fish. In the end, I at least had the piece back in my hands, though I had just worked for 4 months for no pay. I left the shop shortly after completing a bit more work on the vanity- partly due to a new timber frame project I had on the slate, a project that would have been difficult to execute in the confines of a shop set up for working with sheet goods, and partly because I had come to a point where continued presence in the shop was simply untenable. As I had learned during my period there, both K and his son M shared a strong tendency towards depressive episodes and outbursts. That pattern, which led to some sort of mental health crisis/lapse of functioning, is what had led to K’s extended leave from the business. Each, on their own, K or M could be okay to work with. But when both were together in the shop, as it was most days, it was like some sort of ‘perfect storm’, two black clouds clashing with thunder lightning and bluster. Lots of dark looks and threatening postures, and though it wasn’t directed toward me, it was certainly not the best environment to work in. To say the least. As the project wore on, K got darker and angrier, his earlier expansiveness all but evaporated.

K ended up building a vanity for the client after I was down the road , which looked pretty much like the original drawing he had shown me. Later still, as I heard, K got into a row with the GC in a very similar manner to which I had done, and ended up getting stiffed for $20,000+. I guess that friendship wasn’t quite was he had thought either. Part of my hostility towards GC’s stems from my own encounter with K’s ‘friend’.

So, that’s the sordid bit. As I mentioned, some good lessons for me, and mistakes I hope never to repeat.

In order to make the cabinet useful, I felt I needed to build a top for it. Before I get to that, there is one small detail I wanted to share which I omitted in the previous post. The doors employed little sprung ball catches, which were concealed in the upper frame. I realized that over many opening and closings, the ball bearings in the catches would wear out the tops of the doors that rubbed against them. I could have laid in some sort of metal plates, but I thought an all wood solution using lignum vitae inserts would be a little better. Lignum Vitae, the hardest and heaviest wood on earth, outlasts bronze 3 to 1 and is an excellent choice for high wear applications, like hydro-electric turbines, propeller shaft guides in ships, and so forth. I have a few pieces of this wood. I inlaid a couple of small dovetail-shaped pieces into the top of the doors, as illustrated:

I think these catches should last at least as long as the cabinet – my bet is on the Lignum Vitae to outlast the metal parts of the catches.

Now, on to the top. I thought I should keep to my original drawing, and make a top in the size and shape of the granite one meant to be fitted. I was going with a frame and panel construction, and thought it would be nice to use a wood, unlike Walnut, which would polish to a glassy finish and give some of the look of granite. I wanted a wood like stone in other words, and happened to have a few boards, picked up in San Francisco, of East Indian Rosewood, dalbergia latifolia, imported in the 1980’s. The boards I had were a silvery gray color – I was surprised when I ran them over the jointer that the wood was a deep purple-black color! Some woods lighten over time, and others darken, this was clearly the former. I thought the purple color would work well with the walnut, which also has purple tones. After a few rounds of planing and jointing to get the pieces down to a 0.625″ thickness, I matched them so the grain ran pleasingly:

I used to simply edge glue boards, but again, I have come to have less trust in glues over time, and now I always use a tongue-and-groove (on thicker boards, a double tongue-and-groove), glued. Once the boards were glued together, I followed by cutting the top to dimension, and cutting a rebate along the top edge, comprising half of the tongue. Here I’m lightly chamfering the tongue:

Then, a round of hand-planing:

And scraping, for a couple of troublesome areas:

I think there’s room for personal improvement in the realm of rosewood planing.

The frame for the top needed to cantilever, as it were, from the smaller cap rail it sat upon, and if I made a standard sort of frame, it would result in a top side visual of a very wide-frame. I wanted to show off the rosewood, and therefore the frame was cut so as to have a stepped rebate and dado to carry the panel:

Here I am working the step-down on the backside of the panel with my shoulder plane:

This method of construction allowed me to keep the full thickness of the rosewood in the middle of the top, so it would be really solid. Where the panel met the frame, it stepped down to 0.375″ (3/8″) in thickness, and then to a 0.1875″ (3/16″) tongue. Here’s a view of the edge of the panel:

The next post in this thread will start looking in detail at how I made the frame and the corner joints, and then how I attached to top to the cap rail.

Anything to add?

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