Error Chest

  • Woods Used: curly anigre, holly, black palm
  • Size: 8" x 11" x 17"
  • Storage: Anything that might be found lying around on a coffee table, including remotes. Doubles as a stand for sculpture.
  • Price: $695

The guy who doesn't make mistakes doesn't make anything.

I think Bud told me that.

In New York, and, I suppose, other Eastern cities like Philadelphia, Boston or Washington, an important consideration when you're planning a cabinet job is the route you're going to take to the residence. You'll have to enter the basement of a residential building that may have been built 100 years ago, advance through a maze of subterranean hallways, maneuver into and pack a possibly tiny service elevator, and then negotiate the apartment's back (service) entrance. Luxury buildings erected before "architectural cabinetry" came into vogue just don't accommodate the delivery of large structural pieces very well.

But larger components are generally more cost effective and sometimes are definitely required by a design so you have to weigh your choices carefully. If you're successful...I've seen guys get standing O's after jockeying an 8' cabinet around a narrow basement bend, 1/16" to spare.

You want to fabricate cases small enough to make the trip, but big enough to make money: You definitely don't want to spend all day assembling and aligning smaller knockdown or modular pieces - always best to limit the time on site - when the whole thing could have been built solid in the shop and just set in place at installation. Yet getting larger pieces in depends on that path that must be traveled, the turns, the service elevator, that odd landing in the back hallway.

The elevator problem is sometimes solved (don't tell anyone) by placing things that won't fit in the elevator on top of the elevator. This is, of course, completely illegal and usually requires a quiet financial transaction between contractor and elevator operator. But a hallway problem cannot easily be finessed. Walls are, unfortunately, fixed.

So, during a Friday afternoon delivery, when it became obvious that not one, but two, pieces we had built - under my deft supervision - were too large to be steered through one particularly tight corner, you might imagine that the owner of our company, Ed, (I was the foreman) would be somewhat perturbed, and you would be right. It was my responsibility to make sure everything could make the trip. It's one of the first rules of high-end interior cabinetry and I had flubbed it completely. I had thought about the route, considered it, contemplated it. Evidently, not enough or not very well.

Voice rising. "Maybe we can angle the front, diagonal the length, drop the top..."

We couldn't.

"Foreman? My ass." Ed was holding his forehead. "More like floorboy! You're an idiot, you know that, Steve? A goddamn nitwit. What could I have been thinking when I hired you?? I must've been out of my mind."

And so on.

Couldn't blame him. Ed was, actually, a real good guy, and it was his cash I was blowing. We would have to reload the truck, go back to the shop, get in real early Saturday morning, recut, rejoin, reassemble the offending pieces (not so easy - finished pieces) and would have to redeliver ASAP.

And the client must not find out what happened. Clients can never find out, cannot even guess an error has ever been made. These are, after all, really wealthy people who pay a lot of money for something they want to believe is flawless, as if quality has something to do with perfection. A mistake on your part gives them leverage to be used when the final invoice is presented. And they will use it. So stories would have to be prepared and performed, lost time made up somehow (no overtime on site - you're prohibited from working before 9:00AM and after 4:00 PM in almost every luxury building in Manhattan). An error equaling at least a couple of grand. More, definitely, than I was going to make that week. Or three.

Totally embarrassed, I was down, down, down as I left work.

One stop to be made before going home. Pick up a check for a private job I had just installed in Peter Cooper Village. Done in my spare time to earn some extra cash, a child's room. Loft bed, ladder, storage cabinets, desk, that kind of thing. I don't remember now if the finish was wood, or laminate, or paint-grade. I had completed the installation the night before. The couple who owned the apartment had been away and I had yet to find out if they liked the job.

Loved it. When I came to the door they were both there, excited hands outstretched, faces beaming. How beautiful it all was, how wonderful I was. What craft! What workmanship! It's fabulous! We're delighted! Would you please stay for dinner? We want our friends and neighbors to meet you!

Whoa. Asshole to all-star in 5 short minutes. My ears were still ringing from Ed's sweet nothings and here I was being nominated for sainthood. There wasn't much to say but I was thinking...

Sometimes, things are very funny.

This little chest is mostly anigre. The drawer fronts are quartered and have that beautiful iridescent curl, chatoyance. The drawer sides are black palm so I could show its weird spotted end grain by using through dovetails, left rather proud. The handles are holly, mortised and tenoned into the fronts - very small floating tenons.

And there are errors. Not obvious, but places where the lines aren't perfect, the surface not impeccable, the finish not flawless. You build something, you know it very well.

The guy who doesn't make mistakes doesn't make anything.

Yeah. Bud told me that.