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a few realities of professional woodworking

Thanksgiving Day, 2012

Many people dream about running their own woodworking business. I understand. I had the same dream in 1979 when I signed up for a basic City & Guilds training in furniture making after dropping out from university.

The dream persisted for the first several weeks of my first job. Then some of the basic realities of making furniture and cabinetry for a living hit: the repetitiveness of the work, especially when you’re building something as large as a kitchen. The need to mind your client’s budget, which sometimes translates to joining drawers with biscuits instead of dovetails (never mind hand-cut). The client who changes her mind about critical design elements…after you’ve started building.

When you run your own business, you add a few other dimensions to these common realities. For one thing, there’s a host of legal, insurance, and tax requirements to deal with. And sometimes the very officials whose job it is to keep those things straight don’t seem able to do so. Here’s one of the current examples in my professional woodworking world.

Having your own business = double the potential for exasperation

I keep obsessive time-sheets for every job I do for my clients, whether it’s a design for a kitchen or a full-scale design-build. These records are a huge help in estimating future job costs. But I’ve lost track of the hours I’ve spent trying to sort out two distinct demands for business-related payments from our nation’s taxing authority — each of them in error. I pay a professional bookkeeping service to do my payroll work and fill out the forms at the end of each quarter, then at the end of the year. Those bookkeepers do an excellent job. I also pay an accountant to prepare my corporate and personal taxes. All of them are serious, highly competent, above-board professionals.

So when I first received each of these notices (complete with threatening language about seizing my assets, etc.), I immediately contacted the payroll service. The manager sent a letter explaining why the demand for payment was in error, and I anticipated a notice of resolution. Instead, I received a second notice about the payment that was supposedly due. This time the manager of the payroll company called and spoke to the authorities, who sent a notice saying that they would put a 60-day hold on the accrual of late-payment fees (for a payment that had not been due in the first place). I’ve been expecting to receive a notice of resolution.

Instead, last Friday evening was made vastly less enjoyable by my discovery of a “notice of attempt to deliver certified mail” slip in the mailbox.

The slip had one full tracking number and another partial number below. Because they were so long, and on a handwritten form, the carrier had simply put ditto marks under the top number until he got to the final two digits of the second. In my desperation to find out who the certified mail was from (because I am one of those who live in fear of the authorities and consequently do my best to abide by All The Rules), I tried to track it, deciphering the many numerals (there were, like, 20 of them). Miraculously, I found the link…which said the pieces of mail in question were not yet in the system.

These were pieces of certified mail that our carrier had already attempted to deliver. How could they not be in the system?


So, what could make for a more enjoyable Saturday morning than driving to town — though in this case, it was not to rub elbows (or organically grown cotton shopping bags) with shoppers at our town’s widely admired farmers’ market, but to retrieve my two pieces of certified mail, which I expected were ongoing demands for payment. It’s not that I expect the worst; I just know from experience that when these issues have been sorted out, the notice of resolution comes via regular first class mail, not certified.

After waiting in line for 20 minutes while the friendly woman behind me talked to me nonstop about her garden, I finally got to the desk, where there was Just One Clerk working on regular mail. By that point I was so distracted by all the talk of eggplant, berries, and much-anticipated summer tomatoes that it didn’t register until I got home that I had only been given a single piece of mail, presumably because the overly busy clerk had not noticed the ditto marks and two long numerals on the second line.

When I opened the envelope, I found that this piece of mail simply repeated what its predecessors from many weeks ago had stated, with no acknowledgement that anyone on the receiving end had even read the explanation that my payroll service had re-sent when asked to do so by the government representative she’d spoken to on the phone.


What is going on?

For this professional woodworker, Monday morning has been rescheduled. I will not be milling walnut boards for the current dining table commission, but contacting my payroll service yet again. They have been very kind in helping me with this so far. This SNAFU is not of their doing, but results from the design of the relevant tax form, which subsumes several categories of “benefit” into a single line, which makes it look like taxable income.

This time I will probably go to their office so that I can be present while they call the authorities.

Fun addendum: I now have to try to track down that other piece of certified mail without the paper notice, since the Post Office clerk took the notice away, and in my eggplant-and-eagerly-anticipated-fresh-tomato-distracted state I signed a receipt stating that I had taken possession of something — was it just the one? or was it both? I have no idea. I only know that if I don’t track down this second notice, there will be hell to pay.

If you’re employed by someone else, you may regard this tale as dark comedy. But for those of us whose business and personal assets are on the line, depending on the performance of the official authorities’ employees, this kind of thing is anything but comedic. My livelihood depends on wise use of my time.

– Nancy Hiller


And then there’s this. A hardback book nearly bent in half? The mind boggles. Did someone drive over it? Note that the package is a padded mailing envelope. There is a reason why some of us invest in cardboard mailing boxes, which generally cost between $1 and $1.50 apiece, when sending books. (Photo sent to me by a would-be reader who purchased English Arts & Crafts Furniture, though not from the author)




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