Friday, November 11, 2011

365 Jobs: Good Craftsmanship is the Lack of Botch

Diary of a Small Contractor, Days 17 and 18

Saturday, October 18, 1986

Surrounding the ultra-wealthy center of deep Woodside lies a territory that is merely well-off and sometimes, on the periphery, downright normal.  Today I'm in shallow Woodside working for normal people, spiffing up some closets. 

Magda is a chainsmoker, a “financial advisor” whatever that is — a tough-looking woman whom I wouldn't want to cross.  Her house is set on stilts clinging to a steep hillside.  The structure is solid but small.  The bathroom has been remodeled and is a knockout.  The bedrooms are plain.  The kitchen is an eyesore, poorly laid out.  The living room is falling apart, awaiting a remodel.  They seem to be upgrading the house piece by piece as money allows.

For Magda I install two sets of sliding mirror doors.  Easy.  Takes less than an hour, and I do a perfect job.  In this case, a perfect job is one that nobody will ever notice — the absence of botch. 

Next, Magda wants me to install a pair of birch doors on a sliding track for another closet.  These doors are solid core, heavy, easily scratched, difficult to carry without banging into something.  I install the track, the rollers, take meticulous measurements.  I place towels over sawhorses, scribe my cuts with a knife to prevent chipping, slide my power saw over paper to prevent rub marks on the wood.  After three cautious hours, the doors are hung — and one is nearly an inch shorter than the other.

Sacré bleu!

I had meant to trim 7/16 inch off each door.  Instead, I trimmed the same door twice!

So I have to trim the other door 7/8 inch too short, which means I have to lower the track that suspends them, which means I’ll have to buy and install a wider apron to hide the track, and I’ll have to eat the cost for time and material.  The doors would’ve looked better with the extra inch.  And I was so careful! 

So far Magda's husband, Kerry, has spent the entire day on the sofa flipping channels on Saturday afternoon television — a football game, an old movie, a panel interview, a standup comic.  Magda's gone out, so I tell Kerry I need to discuss a small problem with the doors.  From the sofa Kerry waves me off and says, “I’ll never drink again.  Until next time.”

A few minutes later, Magda returns.  I tell her we need to discuss the doors.  Without waiting for an explanation, Magda stomps to the bedroom and pushes the wooden doors along the track. 

"Why do they stick?" she asks.  "They're too hard to push."

Aha.  She hasn't even noticed the door length. 

"That's a light-duty track and roller set," I say. 

She frowns.  "It's what they gave me at the door store." 

"For solid core doors, they should have given you heavy-duty track and rollers."

"I'll get them," Magda says.  "And I'll give that salesman a piece of my mind."

I pity that man.  But I benefit from his mistake.  At least for a while.

Tuesday, October 21, 1986

When I return, Magda has the new heavy-duty track and new wheels for the closet door that I botched — and she still hasn't noticed that they're nearly an inch short.

To my delight, the new track and wheel combination requires nearly an inch more space.  My botch is perfect!  The doors are pre-trimmed!

Magda also asks me, as long as I’m there, to try to make some recessed lights fit into her ceiling.  I say okay.  She goes off to work and leaves me a bakery roll and a cup of coffee.  Nice lady.  Seems tough as nails at first.  But nice.

Whoever installed the recessed lights didn’t cut large enough holes for them.  His error becomes my pay.  I spread a dropcloth, remove the cans, resaw the holes, replace the cans, pick up the dropcloth, clean up some dust that settled on the floor.  Like most craftsmanship, in this case doing it right means doing nothing showy or creative — nothing you'd notice — it means simply the lack of botch, followed by a good cleanup.

It takes four hours to do the additional chores.  All billable.

Sometimes, everything works out.

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