Who pays for loss ?


Well-known member
A customer delivers a very rare and expensive piece of thick figured stock to the furniture maker to be resawn and incorporated into multiple raised panels of a cabinet, all to be carefully finished and matched in location and alignment for appearance.

The furniture maker makes an error and cuts one panel too short.

To replace the materials is impossible, and if a substitute can be found the cost will consume the profit and some of the costs budgeted to build the piece.

What would be an equitable way to settle this;  do all the panels get replaced, who decides of the substitute material is truly comparable, and who eats the cost ?

Purely hypothetical, no actual ox has been gored.

Try to think of it from both sides so the customer is likely to return, and the builder would want to work for him again.

Recounting actual experiences would be of interest too.

I'll add my 2 cents... Furniture making is avoiding mistakes( and being able to see them coming)... I probably would have figured out how many "extra" panels I may be able to get out of the stock.  If there are none like you said, the client would have been told it is risky and why- warping/movement, tear out etc...... I would attempt the job but with a strong verbal disclaimer that I may not get all the panels etc.... I would also make sure my full attention was on the job to make sure there are no mistakes.



Good start, but in a way you also sort of just kicked the can down the road.

You deliver your verbal warning, he says O.K. , the wood turns out fine after resaw and finish - you got all the pieces - but then you ruin a piece just by measuring wrong.

Now, who pays ?

You are right.  I did dodge the question a bit.  So, if I knew there was a high risk to the job, the price would go up.  Now, wether I eat the material on the job would be based on the client.  If I did eat the material cost.. they would be told it was happening.  I will bend over backwards to keep the client happy(within reason).  Happy repeat clients have kept me moving in slow times.

This is all a bit speculative which is fine but still- with a high risk situation like that with no "out" or replacement, I would make darn sure there was no mistake....

Dont know if that answered much more. 

I guess I would most likely man up and eat the mistake and hope the cllient would understand and split the cost or something....

your business insurance would/should pay for the loss ! if you do not have insurance
you made a mistake to start with.

What sort of policy do you have that covers you making a mistake and ruining wood, and are you sure it would cover very expensive special wood, not just "replacement " wood from Home Depot.

I am not talking about replacing the wood after the customer makes a claim, I am talking about flat out reimbursing you for a mistake that ruins very expensive materials.

I am guessing it must be a very special and rather expensive policy.

Insurance?  Really? 

Can you explain how that would work?

I just spent the past two weeks dealing with a policy for my shop- closing out one and finding another... along with home and auto.  Having a home based woodworking shop with insurance is not easy....This could be a whole other topic on here.  Who/how many with home shops(a legit business) actually have insurance? 

I would expect that any going shop adds to the labor and materials what amounts to overhead, profit,and a contingency allowance to any bid. They may not call them that, or make any allowance, but those are typical real world costs of doing business. In theory, the contingency allowance gets used up sometimes, and  not other times, but on thr average it pays for unforeseen events like mistakes that ruin stock. However, if you say you are going to add an additional contingency allowance to your bid to cover the expensive wood risk, I can't help but think that it would raise the price of this particular enough to attract attention. Do you give a special one time amount it back if you do not make a mistake ?

Maybe it will raise the price to attract attention.. I dont know, its all speculative.  But yes, if I deem something to be risky or something is not replacable then why should I not raise the price?  Why would you want to assume more risk for the same money? 

If there was not enough wood to have an extra or two, I seriously might not want to do the job anyway.  And like I said before, If I did do it, I would make darn sure NOT to make a mistake. 

IMHO the first mistake is agreeing to work with customer supplied wood.  In the few times I did that, it never ended harmoniously.  I will never do it again.
I made a surround for a church for their original alter "early 1800" and cut a matching pair of boards. One was cut short. Don't cut a church short. I was able to find another matching set of boards (at my cost) which made them happy (Thank God)
in your post you say that "The furniture maker makes an error".  I have been in business for 36 years and I never charge someone for my mistakes. I have made many in that time frame, but cannot bring myself to charge for my errors. It's one of those "do unto others....." kind of thing.
I can't imagine getting a phone call telling me my mechanic accidentaly over-torqued the bolts in my engine and now the engine needs to be pulled, plugged, retapped and reinstalled now costing me thousands, and saying "OK, no problem".  In my business I win some and definately lose some. It stings but as I approach my retirement I realize that even though I've had to eat some screw-ups, I have kept my integrity, and have stayed busy by "word of mouth"
Having said that, I would do everything in my power to find a solution to the problem that I created, at my cost.
If you or your workers made a mistake, you must pay to fix it.  My business is growing orchids for other people, talk about trying to find a replacement.  I know it hurts but the customer did not make it. 

Because a couple of people mentioned insurance as the solution to ruined wood problem , and because I was skeptical and was surprised that an insurance copmpany woule pay - it seems like they never pay for things I thought I was covered for [ turns out your policy specifically excludes left-handed squirrels dropping aluminum anvils on your car, Mr, Kirkman ] I searched for woodworkers insurance, and found a company that specializes in it for woodworking operations of all sizes including amateurs: Gerard P. Smith Insurance Agency, I do not want to risk putting words in the mouth of Ian Smith who took my call, but in a nutshell if you have the appropriate coverage, the insurance would pay if the wood was damaged by an unforseeable event like an accident, but not for an error by the woodworker. Since getting appropriate insurance for woodworking was mentioned as a problem I hope this is a help.