In End Grain

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A nervous woodworker is aghast as his best projects arrive from storage.

The message “Up”(with a directional arrow, no less) seems unambiguous. When displayed prominently on all four of what should be the vertical surfaces of a crate, the intent of the person who went to the trouble to emblazon that simple message, multiple times, is quite clear: The surface at the business end of all of those little arrows should be, always and forever, the top of the crate. So it is written, so it shall be done. Or so one would think.

We recently relocated for the second time in three years. Because the first move was to Europe, many of our belongings had to go into long-term storage. The rest were packed in a trailer that was then loaded on a cargo ship.

As a woodworker, consider the implications of the previous sentence. Some of the pieces into which I’d poured my heart and soul, and blood, sweat and tears, would be stuck in a storage facility out of my sight and control for years; the rest would cross the ocean in a metal box lacking even the most rudimentary climate control. Oh, what hell is this? Take a kidney, but please don’t do that to my furniture.

Sometimes in life, we do what we have to do. In 2009, a couple of moving-company estimators showed up at our door. The visit of an estimator is not a particularly significant event for most of us, yet I will never forget the first to arrive. We’ll call her Satan. At the appropriate time during our conversation – while standing before my reproduction of the Greene & Greene entry hall table from the Gamble house – I indicated that I wanted a couple of our pieces crated. Satan’s reply was the stuff of which nightmares are made: “Your wife’s employer won’t pay for that. If the table gets dinged, we’ll fix it.”

I kept my cool. To this day, that fact surprises me. I excused myself and asked my wife to join me in the next room. I then said, none too quietly, “There’s no way we are using that company.” The choice, however, lay entirely with my wife’s employer because it was paying for the move.

To its credit, the company was willing to pay for crates for the Gamble House table and a Greene & Greene-inspired chest I’d designed and built. And we didn’t have to use Satan’s company. All of the furniture we took with us made it safely across the ocean. We hoped that the pieces in storage, including the crated pieces, were as lucky.

Fast-forward to June 2013 and our return to the United States. On a sweltering day, the movers arrived with the stored goods. It was like Christmas in June. As items came off of the truck, I rediscovered things I’d forgotten we had. Fortunately, I was kept busy checking off boxes on the inventory sheet; otherwise I would have driven the movers crazy constantly asking if they’d found the crates containing the two best pieces of furniture I’d ever made.

Eventually, of course, they did find the crates, near the front of the truck. Because this is a family publication, I won’t repeat what I said when I spotted them, both standing on end, arrows pointing sideways rather than up. To their credit, the movers quickly righted the pieces and apologized – though it wasn’t their fault; the truck had been loaded by a different crew 1,000 miles away. You can imagine my nervousness as I waited for the specialist to arrive to open the crates, expletives still occasionally issuing from my lips. What became of the breadboard ends? The hanging drawers? The shop-made wooden hinges?

It is said that “All’s well that ends well.” I don’t buy that. Carelessness, neglect, crass disregard – we shouldn’t tolerate them simply because the result wasn’t as bad as it might have been. My furniture is fine, no thanks to some ham-handed, dim-witted movers in Ohio. But I appreciate the table and the chest even more now – old friends rediscovered and none the worse for wear. 

This article originally appeared in the February 2014 issue of Popular Woodworking Magazine.

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