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A Fine Finishing Fable

18. June 2018 15:59

By: Jim Larin, Fuji Spray

In the suburbs of Madison, WI lies a high end fine furniture production shop run by a 3rd generation woodworker named Tom. Tom learned everything he knows from his father, who was taught by his grandfather. Over the past 30 years, Tom was able to build his father’s two man shop into a ten-person operation servicing Madison and the greater Milwaukee area. They are well known for their ability to make something out of nothing.

              One of Tom’s greatest resources outside of his company was Bill, a wise, 40 year old veteran of the local lumber yard, and Tom’s fathers first contact when building his shop. Tom and his father always seemed to joke at family reunions, “Bill’s invite must have gotten lost in the mail again”.  Despite the family’s admiration of Bill and his decades of wisdom, Tom would soon have a new-found appreciation for their family friend.

              It was the start of the busy season for Tom when he stopped by the lumber yard to speak with Bill about getting some slabs for an upcoming project, a high-end board room table for the top law firm in Milwaukee. As they spoke, Tom went over his workflow and how he planned to build & finish the table. After taking in the impressively elaborate plan of attack, Bill asked suspiciously “The plan sounds great, but what happens if something goes wrong?”. Without fully processing Bill’s concern, Tom confidently responded “Bill, you know me, and you know my father – our process is so calculated and carefully thought of, nothing can go wrong”. Together they both chuckled while reminiscing about Tom Sr. After the lightheartedness subsided, Bill couldn’t help but say, “I don’t want to be the one to say I told you so but remember what your Dad would say – “when it rains it pours”. Tom nodded, thanked Bill for his input, loaded the remaining slabs into his truck, and started the thirty-five minute drive back to his shop.

              Over the next three weeks Tom worked in his shop on perfecting every angle and profile of the table to meet the specifications of the designer. Tom was so confident in his ability to meet his deadline that he included his new apprentice, Mark, during the build to show him the ropes of what it takes to build for high end clients with premium materials. As week four approached, Tom began preparing for the delivery of the finished piece. The law firm was on the 37th floor of a tall corporate building so Tom knew he had to plan ahead to make sure everything ran smoothly on delivery day. First, he arranged for a large rental truck as the table was far too large for Tom to transport in his truck. Since this was a corporate office, Tom was unable to secure a freight elevator during working hours and was told he must deliver on the weekend. For this reason, Tom had to pay overtime for two of his employees to come with him during transportation and installation.

Despite all the preparation, delivery days were always stressful. This particular delivery would prove to be the biggest test Tom would encounter since taking control over the shop thirty years ago. To start things off, heavy traffic caused Tom to miss the drop off time. Because of this, the team had to wait for security to get off break to gain access to the building. Then came the install. While moving the table through the tight boardroom doorway they scuffed one whole side of the table’s live edge and damaged two of the legs. Despite this, Tom was confident that they could buff out the scuffs. The table leg damage was only a minor aesthetic issue, would not affect the tables structural integrity, and was hard to see unless you really looked for it. That was before Mark, carefully removing the packaging straps, lost hold of his end of the strap and let the metal claw gouge the centermost part of the table. Tom was devasted, but before he could react, one of the firm’s partners walked in and said jokingly “you had better fix that or else we’ll sue”. Tom was too upset to find the humor in the comment and immediately began moving the table back to the elevator and down to the truck. During a moment of perceived levity, Mark joked “I guess Bill was right again, eh?”.

Tom delivered the rental vehicle without gas and had to spend the rest of his weekend in the shop reworking the problem to prepare for a second delivery. Due to his frustration and anger, he felt it was necessary to let Mark go. Next, the employee time cards and the rental invoice from the weekend came in – already Tom knew he would be losing a lot of money on this job. Luckily, the firm was understanding and reserved a freight elevator during working hours. Tom was grateful until he saw the $350.00 parking ticket on his rental vehicle for parking in a fire escape. At the end of the day, the table was delivered and the client was happy, but Tom was not.

A few days passed, and Tom learned how important it is to repair and refinish on site. He decided he would purchase a portable spray finishing system. His local retailer, the lumber yard, had just what he was looking for. So, Tom went on the thirty-five minute drive to the lumber yard to pick up his new investment. As Tom arrived he noticed that Bill’s son, Jeff, was holding down the fort on that day – Tom was relieved he didn’t have to speak with Bill, tail between his legs. Tom spoke with Jeff sharing the nightmare he encountered. After finishing his lumber yard therapy session, Tom shook Jeff’s hand and thanked him for his time. Before closing the door of his truck he said to Jeff “so what are the odds this stays between you and me?” Jeff smiled and waved as Tom pulled out of the yard.

After the final payment came in from the law firm, Tom decided he deserved a long weekend and took Monday off to spend time with his children. Around noon Tom heard a knock at the door and saw that a delivery woman was waiting out front with a long and slender parcel. Tom wasn’t expecting anything and was excited to see what was inside. Upon opening the package, to his dismay, he found a large umbrella and a small hand-written note from Bill. It read:

“Hi Tom,

I spoke with Jeff. I hope this umbrella serves you well.

Sincerely Bill.

PS: I told you so…”  

 

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