2 Days, 20 Beers, 200 Euro & a Bathroom Cabinet - a Fail Story




Introduction: 2 Days, 20 Beers, 200 Euro & a Bathroom Cabinet - a Fail Story

About: I made a beer mug with only a knife and a hatchet. I think that says a lot about me.

This summer my best friends started to renovate their bathroom.

Exit old stuff, insert new stuff. An old cast steel bath tub & 500m lead plumbry went out & a new walk-in shower walked in. All by itself. Really.

The eye-catcher of this new modern bathroom was supposed to be a fancy wooden cabinet.

When I saw it in their glossy catalog I was quite impressed. Not about the design - never discuss about taste - but about the price of this device.

Almost one thousand euros.

Equal to 1000 euros.

Aka 10 x 100 euros.

Or 1.000.000 divided by thousand. Euros.

That's a lot of money for a modificated sawhorse, I thought.

'That's a LOT of MONEY for a modificated SAWHORSE!' I said.

I couldn't believe that such a simple thing could cost that much, and before I repeated my judgement I asked if the wood used for it really came from the Titanic. Or at least from the Amsterdam, which wrecked in a storm in 1749.

It didn't. Apparently it did came from recycled stuff - 'Recycled Teak', said glossy. But not from the Titanic. And neither from the Amsterdam.

So I confirmed my judgement.

Money. Sawhorse. A lot.

For the first time in my life, my heart broke. And so, overwhelmed by this totally new feeling I proposed my friends 'to make this simple piece of furniture all by myself.'

'Give me 2 days, 20 beers & 200 euro and you'll get exactly the same!' I said.

'I'm a woodworker, you know, and I am building my own seaworthy canoe, you know!' I said.

From a canoe to a bathroom cabinet is just a small step. In my logic.

Yes I did have some beers, that day.

So that was then.

They gave me 200 euro, to buy stuff.

And now is now. 4 months further.

Nope, it didn't turn out that way..

Step 1: Exit Teak

I convinced my friends to skip the teak scenario and to use wood from our region. Non treated wood. Eco-friendly.

Teak is good stuff, of course. But why do it exotic if you can do it authentic? Of course not every piece of teak comes from an illegal harvested tree. Of course not every teak has been transported thousands of miles to get it to our workshop. Of course there are plantations of this wood species, now. But of course to get those plantations wild forests have to get cut down. Ecological nightmares & socio-economic problems, the teak business is a smelly business and the more you dig, the worse it gets.

So I said to my friends that I wouldn't use teak, but wood from our region. Our = Western Palearctic, at least.

'Will it resist to the humidity of our bathroom?' they asked. 'And what about varnish, resin & that stuff?'

First answer: 'yes'. Second answer: 'none'.

My solution: Epicea deck floor boards. Heat treated.

These boards have been treated at high temperature to make them less appetizing for insects & fungi.

No need for chemicals to conserve them.

So far so good. I had a go.

Step 2: Translation Problems

Since we're living in France, I tried to find that Epicea over here.

For some reason, I thought that this kind of wood was called 'bois autoclave'.

I found that 'bois autoclave' at a reasonable price - thàt should have warned me - and hauled a nice reserve to my workshop.

On my van. Attached the wild way. A hell of a load. The slowest ride of my life.

When I did the first cut, I noticed something was terribly wrong.

This wood was treated with something. Definitely.

Read: I bought the wrong stuff.

A bit of research learned me that the wood I needed was called 'Heat Treated'.

'Autoclave' meant that the wood had been treated with a lot of dirty stuff in a vacuum environment.

Read: using this in a sensitive environment - body wash & teeth brush environment, for example - would have been a bad idea. I love my friends, that's why.

To get this story short: I hauled my bad 'autoclave' back, ordered the HT stuff and hauled the new good stuff in.

And got for a lot more than 200 euro.

And one month of delay.

Step 3: Building the Top

I wanted to build a top just like the one on the picture: small slices bolted & glued together.

Here's the theory: cut slices, drill holes, insert long wooden plugs, glue & wait.

Once the whole was assembled, I started planing to get a perfect flat surface.

In this initial stage of the process - my friends already started to ask when their cabinet would be ready - I learned that sometimes, there's a canyon between theory & reality.

My top wasn't perfect. Those boards are profiled, wich makes them difficult to align.

Read: to get this step right the alignment before assembling had to be laserperfect.

It wasn't, and so my top wasn't like it had to.

'How's it going? Almost ready?!' my friends asked.

'Don't worry, it'll be fine' I answered.

I still believed it, at that moment. Minor problems happen. In every project.

Step 4: Cross Leg Issues

In the teak version of this cabinet the cross legs looked quite elegant. Teak is hard, sturdy & solid and to hold a heavy natural rock washbasin - my friends have good taste - you don't have to use railwaybeam-sized legs.

But, I wasn't working with teak. This was epicea. Wich turned out to be a lot lighter than I had expected.

The problem was: I already made a quite elegant top. Too elegant for the boulderbasin, in fact.

Adding elephant legs to the image would have been an aesthetic nightmare, an so instead of making those legs square, I decided to make them larger than wide - which was a quite clever solution.

And so I started glueing pieces of board together. Again.

I believed in my skills, nothing was lost. Flowers are only given at the end of the race.

'Do you mind if you show us what you've got? Next week? We're so excited!!!'

They are nice, my friends. But impatient.

Pressure was on.

In the meantime, while my friends had their summer hollidays I had to work 70 hours a week to get my own business done.

Read: during more than a month I didn't open the door of my workshop.

Like I said, the pressure was on.

Step 5: When Issues Become Real Problems

The idea was to get those legs right once they were nicely glued together.

With 'right' I mean calibrated. Even width everywhere. Not one millimeter error.

Problem: I didn't have the right equipment. No table saw, no table plane. And I still don't have, btw.

So I made a rudimental rig & started planing. Manually.

I made another rig & I started cutting angles to the boards.

Mister Theory told me this could work. And I believed him.

Miss Reality showed me this wouldn't. And I had to believe her, too.

My beams looked calibrated, but I discovered too late they weren't.

In fact I discovered it when I tried to puzzle the pieces together.

Not one angle was correct.

Not one.

I discovered that, since my beams had small differences in thickness, the angles were all different. All of them.

The situation became worse when I discovered that I had cut those beams too short.

Correcting the angles could have been the option.

But, shorter beams meant smaller crossbeams, which meant a lower top.

Not only my crosses were terrible, but also the final height would only have been perfect in Middle Earth.

Hobbit size. You've got the picture.

In that stage, my spirit went down.

The awkward moment you discover the road is blocked.

I wouldn't disappoint my friends & I wouldn't let down the project.

And more, I simply had no time. And I was tired.

'Our bathroom is ready!!!' my friends told me.

Mentally, I touched the bottom.

Step 6: Collision Course

One of the reasons why I lost apetite quite fast was that I've never been very good in copying the work of others.

Better failing than cheating. That's me.

In that darkest moment of this project, I realized that I had it totally wrong from the very beginning.

From the moment I promised my friend 'the exact copy' the whole project was set on collision course.

I don't like copying, in fact.

I hate copying.

And so, one sleepless night I decided to do what I've always done.

I dressed up at 3 hour in the morning and went to my workshop.

And restarted the project. From the beginning.

I decided to do it my way.

No more exact copies. No more bullshit.

My design, my method, my result.

Creation versus copy.

Fight versus fear.

Craftmanship versus wannabe.

That was only a few days ago.

The cabinet is ready.

Two days. No more. I had it right.

Step 7: Survival Mode

I understood a lot, that night.

Growing up ain't easy. Even when you just passed the cape of 40.

I understood that lying to yourself just doesn't work.

I don't want to be paternal & I don't want to be a preacher. I'm just hoping that this project can be helpful for someone somewhere. Sometime.

You know, I made almost 100 instructables & some projects may seem quite awesome.

This doesn't mean that I never fail. Failing is part of the learning, and lessons always come when you don't expect them.

'Easy peasy!' I thought in the beginning of this story.

I didn't think about details and I neglected the most important topic.

You know, every project of mine starts with a lot of scetches and reflections about a lot of details, showing the project from all possible sides in order to anticipate as much as possible. Drawing is thinking. Thinking is anticipating.

In this project I didn't. The drawing was already done, in fact, and so I started without any background.

My first action was violating my first personal rule. Never. Copy.

I neglected the fact that a project without personal input or creativity is just not worth to be done. My opinion.

I neglected the fact that I only can give the best of me when I don't have creative limits - that's why I've been fired more than once, btw, and that's why I've got my own business now..

'Carte blanche', they call it in French. Someone who has the 'white card' is someone who's totally responsible for his own acts.

Starting from a picture just wasn't a good idea.

Wasting all this wood just wasn't a good idea, either.

Instead of taking profit from the texture of those magnificent wooden boards, during months the only thing I did was doing my very best to dissimulate their creative potential.

I had it all wrong, from the beginning.

To get the best, you often have to dig very deep.

No pain no gain.

That night, I went on survival mode.

Step 8: Bathroom Cabinet 2.0

Like I said, in a few minutes I redesigned the whole thing and the very next morning - 3 hours later - I started cutting boards.

After two hours the top was done, a few hours later the crosses were built and the evening of the second day the whole was assembled & ready.

I don't give you a detailed step-by-step description of how to do it since the concept is based on simplicity.

A plus B. If you got a saw you can make it.

Here's a brief guideline:

  • cut the top boards to length
  • cut the top crossings to length
  • clamp both together, drill the holes nice in the middle & use button-bolts to assemble the top
  • take a beer, a good one
  • cut the 4 long crossboards to length
  • bolt them 2 by 2 together
  • cut the 'halve-crossboards' (8 pieces) to length (measure those angles correctly)
  • bolt the 2 crosses together ONLY ON THE DOWN SIDE
  • take another beer, you deserve it
  • cut the 6 boards of the sides of the coffin to length
  • cut the inside boards (the white ones) to length
  • clamp every cross with his corresponding coffin-pieces, drill & assemble
  • use 4 steel corner elements to bolt the assembled crosses to the top
  • take a 3rd beer
  • and a 4rd, you just did the heaviest part part of the job and thus you deserve it
  • cut the bottom boards of the coffin to length
  • screw those boards to the coffin & feel the sturdyness of the whole
  • feel it, and take a beer
  • cut the back boards of the coffin to length & screw them to the coffin
  • feel more sturdyness
  • you can feel it, it's heavy & good
  • take a beer, you only live once
  • cut the front boards of the coffin to length
  • cut the front crossings of the coffing to length
  • insert the front panel & fix the hinges (custom made)
  • insert 2 magnets & add 2 safety ropes
  • finish with beer, as much as you want & as much as you need

That's it. Easier than IKEA. Better than IKEA.

Step 9: Another Fail Story

In fact, this story didn't start with a cabinet.

It started with a log. A nice, heavy, cedar log.

Let's do the flashback.

Bathroom. My friend's. Renovation.

The new cabinet had to be placed against a new wall, which had to separate the new shower from the rest of the place.

Since this new wall stood lonely on itself - at least on the plan my friends showed me - my professionnal conscience forced me to interfer. This was dangerous.

Instead of proposing a stupid pole from the floor to the ceiling, I proposed a customized natural forked tree.

I made a scetch, they became wild and I found a cedar log. It took a while, but I found it.

Here's the theory: unbark & sand the log, cut a groove, insert the new wall & fix the whole.

Sturdy & stable. And extremely beautiful.

To get this story short: during 3 weeks they asked me to modify form & thickness & finally they realized there wasn't enough space since there were also a window & hughe mirror in the equation.

Read: I f... up a beautiful log & I wasted my time.

I still have that log. Or what's left of it.

It'll become a grating pole for our cats. Yay.

Thàt, was the very beginning of this project.

And still, I love my friends.

Step 10: Psycho Terror

Loving your friends doesn't mean you always have to forgive them no matter what.

Vengeance isn't always bad.

I wanted to let them pay for that ruined cedar.

They hàd to pay for thar beautiful sweet ruined cedar.

And so, at D-Day minus one, I started my terror. Text messages.

ME: 'Hi mate, do you like Game Of Thrones?'

HIM: 'Yeah, I love it, we saw all episodes!'

ME: 'Good answer!'

ME: 'And do you like Pirates Of The Caribbean?'

HIM: 'Yeah! Why all these questions?!'

ME: 'You're gonna love it, your cabinet!'

HIM: 'Huh?! What do you mean?!'

ME: 'You'll see, tomorrow.'

HIM: '?!'

ME (2 hours later): 'It isn't a real copy, in fact.'

HIM (immediately): 'You're kidding, no?!'

ME: 'Sorry, got to work now, see you tomorrow!'

The road to the next day had been paved with chaos & questions.

Step 11: 20 Beers

We inaugurated the Game-Of-Thrones-vs-Pirates-Of-The-Caribbean-cabinet in my workshop.

They removed the cover & discovered the thing I'd been promising them since June.

And they cried of happiness & emotion.

And they gave me a hug, which I appreciated.

And 20 beers, which I prefered.

Glory, at least.

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    6 years ago

    The best laid plan never survives the first encounter with the enemy, er, client!


    6 years ago

    That is an amazing "modified saw-horse"


    6 years ago

    "Canyon between theory and reality" I would like to build a bridge there.


    6 years ago

    I love step 5! I have felt that defeated feeling. That feeling where I often pick up a tool (not a good one) and throw it at something (not something that is worth anything) and yell f*^%! Then this feeling is followed by a sense of hopelessness and a desire to give up on the job tip petrol on everything and burn the workshop down. Haha you captured it well.

    This was an excellent write up and I feel like I have been missing out not reading all your instructables. You have inspired me to put a bit more emotion into my writing. Thanks for making stuff.

    One day if you want we will get that catalogue and we will make an exact copy together. We will buy 1000 euro of beer to drink while we make it and sell the finished one for 2000 euro.


    Reply 6 years ago

    I worked for a sheetmetal guy for a bit, one of the other boys threw hammers also.. My joke is the rubber mallet was for training purposes, if hes serious then its ball pein hammer.. Best not throw your toys.

    hammer graphic.jpg

    Reply 6 years ago

    You just made my day my friend! Thanx a lot for this comment & even more to make me feel that I'm not the only one who's failing projects from time to time.

    Coming out of the burning building stronger, that's the only thing that matters.

    I'm liking the idea of those 1000 euro of beer a lot - that means some 750 trappist beers of 33cl! Just too bad you're living down under, I'm sure we have a lot of thing to discuss about..


    6 years ago

    Great failures can lead to great success !


    6 years ago

    What a beautiful story...


    Reply 6 years ago

    Thanx - it's more a lesson in life than a makers manual, in fact..


    6 years ago

    I read the title, read the intro, realised I didn't have the time to read it completely and forgot about it. Until this morning, when I was strangely reminded of this instructable by my classmates during chemistry. Let's just say beer, boiling, distillation and the smell of soy sauce were involved. Anyway, great instructable, great read, as always of course, but really though, easier than IKEA?


    Reply 6 years ago

    Your chemistry lessons are scaring me! Thanx for the very nice compliment - I do can assure you that once all pieces are cut the assembling is just a piece of cake ;)


    6 years ago

    I always have this same experience in woodworking when I try to copy somebody else's plans (even detailed plans). My own designs work out so much better, but not without a preceding parade of failures. So much that when my wife tells people woodworking is (on of) my bobbie(s) and they inevitably ask "what do you make" I tell them "debris."


    Reply 6 years ago

    That's exactly the reason why I didn't give away measures or details - you totally got the picture. Burn them, those plans!

    Tecwyn Twmffat
    Tecwyn Twmffat

    6 years ago

    Hey Bart - at least you made it into the spectacular failures contest, unlike my own latest instructible, which got viciously rejected. I can only celebrate your success and comissorate myself by drowning my sorrows in more home-brew :(


    Reply 6 years ago

    Hello comrade Paddy, it's just too bad we can't celebrate this together - what an idea to go live on an island - but I'll raise my beer especially for you, this evening! Remember, my friends gave me 24 beers, last weekend, and they have excellent taste. Both, btw.

    I really need to have a look on your latest I'ble, btw(bis), you made me curious..


    6 years ago

    "I learned that sometimes, there's a canyon between theory & reality."

    A lesson I am still struggling to learn.

    I am impressed that you were able to write down your thoughts so nicely - in fact I am impressed you were able to untangle those thoughts with a cabinet looming in the workshop. An instructable that makes me think!


    Reply 6 years ago

    Thanx a lot for your compliment! I really needed to write this story down because it was just too long ago I didn't had a lesson in modesty. And also, I felt so excited since I finally found a way to finish this project 'head up' that I just rushed on the same adrenaline to write the story in one wave. It'll serve to others, sure!


    6 years ago

    This is a very timely instructable- I've been contemplating a woodwork project outside my comfort zone of 1/2" plywood and screws, and your philosophical truths in step 7 (especially "drawing is thinking") have made me more motivated to make it happen. I anticipate it being something of a failure, but the sort of failure you can learn from is still worth doing.

    We Brits are still waiting for the canoe, though :)


    Reply 6 years ago

    Thanx! This instructable is more about the thinking than about the making and I'm glad the story inspired you. Keep on, that building.

    The keyword of the Sooky You is patience. If everything flows right, 2017 will be the year. Patience.


    6 years ago

    As always, quite a ride. I'm glad you shared this trip with us.

    Personally made is always better than commercially made. Anyone who tells you otherwise has a financial investment in commercial products. Personally, I think yours looks better. The commercial one is more svelte, but less functional.

    I have only one quetsion: Where's the canoe!?!