The Furniture Maker and the Princess

Once upon a time there was a furniture maker who worked long hours building simple (but well made and beautiful) furniture in his workshop in Putney, Vermont. At the end of every day he would go home and check his email (this was a very tech savvy furniture maker) and delete all the emails he got from Nigerian Princes whose fathers had just died in a car crashes leaving them millions of dollars that they had to get out of their country with the furniture maker’s help.

One day the furniture maker received an email from someone claiming to be a decorator that the furniture maker thought might be from a Nigerian but he wasn’t sure. The grammar wasn’t great and the email was from a foreign country but the email’s author did seem to have a legitimate question: “Could you make your mission bed for a european size mattress?” The furniture maker decided that there could be no harm in answering this question so he replied that he could make the bed in whatever size the customer desired. A week after replying the furniture maker received another email explaining that the decorator was waiting to hear back from his client but that he thought he would certainly be ordering the bed within a week. The furniture maker was still very suspicious that this “decorator” was really just someone trying to somehow steal his hard earned money.

Another week passed and by now the furniture maker had forgotten all about the foreign “decorator”. Then one day when checking his email the furniture maker saw a reply from the decorator saying that he would like to order the mission bed and two mission night tables for his client and that the furniture maker should send the bill for this to:

HRH The Princess of (name withheld for privacy)
The Princess’s Palace
The Princess’s Country

Now the furniture maker was sure he was dealing with someone who was trying to steal his money. After all, why would a princess want his simple (but well made and beautiful) furniture? Surely a real princess could have whatever she wanted for her palace and surely she wouldn’t want his simple (but well made and beautiful) furniture. Knowing now that he was dealing with someone who was trying to steal his money the furniture maker decided that he would see how the “decorator” would try to go about doing this. The furniture maker replied to the “decorator” that for all foreign orders full payment was required when the furniture was ordered. Once the furniture was completed full payment for shipping charges would be required before the furniture would be shipped.

The reply to the furniture maker’s email came quickly: “That is fine and the Princess needs your bank account number.”

“Just as I suspected” thought the furniture maker. They want my bank account number so that they can steal my money. The furniture maker’s reply was short and to the point “NOBODY GETS MY BANK ACCOUNT NUMBER!” And with that the furniture maker decided to ignore any future emails from the “decorator”.

But then the furniture maker received an email from someone claiming to be the Princess’s secretary. She wanted to know how much the shipping costs would be. The furniture maker ignored the email. She email again a week later: “Did you get my first email? We need to know what the shipping costs will be on the Princess’s order.”

“Boy”, thought the furniture maker, “these Nigerians really want my money.” He ignore the secretary’s second email too.

Several weeks passes and the furniture maker forgot all about the decorator and the secretary. One morning, while the furniture maker was working in his shop building simple (but well made and beautiful) furniture, the phone rang. It was a woman claiming to be the Princess of (name witheld for Privacy)’s secretary. She spoke with a foreign accent but in excellent english and was very polite. She wanted to know if the furniture maker had received her emails. She needed to know what the shipping costs would be for the Princess’s furniture. The furniture maker answered that he had not replied because he knew the shipping costs would be expensive and he thought perhaps the “Princess” wouldn’t think it was worth paying that much to ship his simple (but well made and beautiful) furniture. The secretary (who was translating the conversation to another person on her end) replied that she still would like to find out how much it would cost so the furniture maker agreed to get a shipping quote and reply to her email with it.

At this point the furniture maker started to wonder if perhaps the “decorator” was a real decorator and the “secretary” was a real secretary and the “Princess” was a real princess. But how could he know for sure? He decided to contact the consolate in the U.S. for the Princess’s country and ask them if they could help to confirm whether it was the real Princess who had contacted him. The consolated agreed to do this and in a couple of days the furniture maker had the answer: It was, indeed, the Princess of (name withheld for privacy) who wanted to buy his simple (but well made and beautiful) furniture for her palace!

The furniture maker got paid and his simple (but well made and beautiful) furniture is currently on its way to the Princess. Hopefully everyone will live happily ever after.

Moral #1: Not every email from a foreign Prince or Princess is a scam.

Moral #2: Princesses are just like you and me. Sometime they just want a simple (but well made and beautiful) piece of furniture.

Moral #3: I recently received a resume and photos via email from a man in Nigeria who is looking for work as a cabinetmaker. He appeared to be legitimate. It leads me to believe that not everyone from Nigeria is running a scam. I hope he finds a job.

Richard Bissell
Putney, Vermont
To learn more about my simple (but well made and beautiful furniture) visit Bissellwoodworking.com

Friday the 13th

Friday morning the 13th of February went rather smoothly. Chris, my assistant, was finishing assembling a set of spindle back chairs while I was working on a Mission bed. With any luck we’d be putting finish on both these pieces later Friday afternoon. But this was Friday the 13th and there turned out there was no luck to be had. When I went home for lunch (a short walk up the road) I discovered a plumbing leak that took me most of the afternoon to repair. When I did finally get it fixed I returned to the shop to try to salvage what was left of the day. As soon as I walked into the shop Chris asked me in frustration “What’s the stupidest thing you’ve ever done making chairs?” It turns out Chris had assembled one of the chairs he was working on with the front legs on one side of the chair and the back legs on the other side. Since the front legs are 1/2″ longer than the back legs (to create a backwards slant to the seat) this is a big problem. Chris was forced to cut the rungs of the chair and carefully drill out the center of the legs where they go through the seat so that he could remove the legs and install a new set without damaging the chair seat. That’s what he’d spent his afternoon doing. Just for the record I have never made that mistake before. I did once miscut the taper on a post for a pencil post bed and realized this about halfway through the cut. I instantly stopped but it was too late and the post was ruined. I set it aside and made a new one. It was standing in the corner of the shop for at least 12 years as a reminder of what not to do until Chris salvaged a portion of it recently for use as a night table leg. I’ve never made that mistake again and I can assure you Chris will never again lose track of which are the front legs and which are the back legs.

Stand-up Desk

This stand-up desk is based on my standard Shaker writing desk but was custom designed for a customer. For added rigidity I opted to keep the legs straight rather than have them taper and also added the lower stretchers. The cross stretcher is near the front of the desk to provide a foot rest. The drawers are 6″ deep and the outside corner of each leg is beaded. The desk shown is 45″w x 23″d x 42″h but these dimension can be customized to whatever you need. When purchasing a stand-up desk it’s particular important to make sure you get the height correct. Most stand up desks I’ve seen have slanted tops which looks cool but I think a flat top is more practical. I suppose the slanted top design comes from the days when people wrote with pen and paper. Of course now it seems almost everyone uses laptops.

January’s to-do-list

Furniture making is not all fun and games in the workshop. January is a month I dread because of all the tax forms that need to be filled out and paid. Here’s my list:

W2’s for employees
federal 941 employment tax report
Federal 940 unemployment tax
VT sales tax
VT unemployment tax
VT withholding tax
Worker comp insurance audit
Federal estimated tax payment
VT estimated tax payment

In addition to this I have to fill out college financial aid forms. My daughter is applying to college for next year and my son is a senior at UVM. I think I hate financial aid forms more than tax forms.

The good thing about January is it is generally a very busy month for furniture orders. People are done with the holidays and are getting back to normal life. Long winter nights inside give you plenty of time to decide you need to spruce up your home a little with a new piece of furniture. Need anything? Give me a call.

Inspiration

This Salada tea bag tag is tacked to a post in my shop. I got it when I was just starting my woodworking business and thought it was very appropriate so I tacked it to a post and it’s been there ever since. It has gotten a little hard to read over the years but it says “It is easier to do a job right than to explain why you didn’t.” This sums up my approach to making furniture and it applies to pretty much everything else too. Not bad for a tea bag tag.

Beginnings

I’ve been working for myself making furniture for a living since April of 1982 when I was only 22 years old. I really had no idea what I was getting into when I decide I was going to be a furniture maker. I’d read a couple of books about woodworking by James Krenov (A Cabinet Makers Notebook may have been the first) that made woodworking seem really romantic – working in a small basement shop making fine pieces with beautiful yet simple details. Choosing the wood carefully paying attention to grain and color. Painstakingly cut dovetails and hand planed surfaces.

So I’d read a few books, bought a few tools (an 8″ tables saw and 4″ jointer, a router and sander, a 7″ planer) taken a very basic evening woodworking class and made a few very simple pieces on the side while working as a carpenter for about a year and a half. By that point I decided I pretty much knew it all and so decided to start my own business – Richard Bissell Fine Woodworking. I quit my carpentry job and moved my tools into the basement of my parents vacation house in Putney, Vermont and hung a sign at the end of the driveway. Only after I’d done this did I come to the realization that nobody knew I even existed (as far as woodworking was concerned) and that I really had no idea how to change that. Quite a scary realization.

As it turned out I didn’t know a heck of a lot about woodworking either but I wasn’t aware of that and as it turned out I had plenty of time to hone my skills while trying to figure out how to sell things. I believe my first sale was a crude file cabinet for a friend had seen one I’d made for my brother. It was frame and panel construction with oak frames and 1/4″ luaun plywood for the panels. The drawer fronts were oak as well and if I remember correctly the drawer boxes were made of 1/2″ or mayby 3/4″ plywood. In hindsight it was a hideous piece but it did hold files and the drawers went in and out.

Anyway, that’s how I got started making furniture. Fortunately I was very young and I’d read a few books that made furniture making sound very noble so I stuck with it. I’m glad I did. It’s a wonderful way to make a living and I’m fortunate enough to do it in a wonderful place to live – Vermont.

My plan is to use this blog to give readers an idea of what it’s like to be a furniture maker and to show what goes into making a well made piece of furniture. I’ll also present new designs here and show work in progress so please check back regularly.