The Vanity ... what about the Vanity?

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Project by NoLongerHere posted 12-26-2013 04:58 PM 2786 views 1 time favorited 9 comments Add to Favorites Watch
The Vanity ... what about the Vanity?
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Someone recently posted on the forum about projects that never end.

Well, I think this project just might win in a contest.


It was supposed to be a typical Master bath gut and remodel. Should’ve been a cake walk.

Not to mention, it was for the daughter of one of my best clients.
She works full time and is raising two wonderful kids by herself who are just starting college.

I worked on her parent’s kitchen, replaced their deck and remodeled all three of their bathrooms.

They came out really nice and we finished on time.

Very nice family…Excellent reference and a great client to work for.

But this small bathroom took forever to finish.

Right from the start, we opened up the walls and found all kinds of issues.

Nothing new really, we’re surprised if we don’t find something or at least a bees nest or a few dead mice.

The electrical was a disaster. We had to rip it out and replace the recessed cans and the ceiling fan, then install new GFI outlets to code …. 2 ft. of blown in insulation in the hot attic made that job fun.

The plumbing must have been installed by a wanna be plumber. Everything was replaced.

Anybody see a sink vent? ... no wonder it plugged easy and gurgled.

The original plumber butchered the 14 ft. 2×10 joist in half to make room for the drain assembly.

Gotta say….it’s the original builder’s fault. right? It amazes me how often this happens.


The bathroom was remodeled back in the mid 80s.

Pre cast shower wall panels, brass fixtures and shower door, semi transparent glass, black and white tiled floor,
a white melamine vanity with a cabinet sitting on the 42” one piece purple counter top.

Yep, ... that was the style back then.

There was a seat in the shower that pushed the shower door towards the toilet and made it difficult to enter.

We discovered an old door opening in the wall too. Apparently, this used to be a Jack and Jill bathroom.
The framing was sloppy and had to be reworked, several protruding studs had to be planed flat.

We weren’t even planning on opening this wall until we saw the bad electrical and plumbing.

We also discovered there was no insulation in the outside wall. They removed it and didn’t replace it.

No wonder that shower seat was cold in the winter!

The walls were full of drywall cutoffs and demo debris, ... never understood why someone would do that.

The sub floor had to be replaced. The 1/4” underlayment was glued down and crown stapled every 2 inches.

Man, .... What a job that was.

At 57, I’m too old to be working on these bathrooms like a lead carpenter with a crew. It’s hard work.

I love being in the middle of it, tool belt and all, but the body keeps saying it’s time to hang it up.
It’s a never ending argument, and the ol’ body usually wins.

That’s why I have Mariano, a Mexican tile contractor who has 8 – 30+ cousins that will lay the durock, level floors, replace the sub floors, hang drywall – anything, and he’s a 5th generation tile man. He’s good.

But, just as we finished the demo for him – he’s so busy, he called and said he couldn’t get to the job for another month because the commercial job he was on just tripled in size. Great,... but, that happens to me too.

My other tile man moved to Belize and carves coconuts and paints sea shells on the beach. ..... nice.
I got a post card of him saying, Glad you’re not here! ... You’d make me work Saturdays! Ha!

There was no way I was going to bring a stranger in here at the last minute.
We can do this ourselves, I said.

Here we go.

And that’s where Randy comes in – my other project.

Randy has worked off and on for me for over 8 years.

He helps me maintain my large gardens and koi ponds, works on remodeling my house and Halloween displays,
cleans and helps in the shop and occasionally, helps on the jobsites, only if needed.


I’m sure everyone knows a guy like Randy.

A good soul but a walking train wreck in every way.

40 years old, lives with his mom in a trailer, no DL, smoking alcoholic but slowed his drinking because he’s broke, can’t give him tools ‘cause he’ll pawn them for a dime bag and a 40 oz., skull and daggers tattooed on every arm and leg while in prison 9 years for stabbing a guy in a fight when he was 19.

He’s loud – you can hear his hillbilly laugh on the other side of the jobsite. I try to keep him away from the clients but to be honest, he’s polite and charming, he’s hairy but clean, a true gentleman when he has to be.

He’s very crude but a likable guy and for some reason, I have a soft spot for him…. He’s my friend.

Remember Ernest T. bass on Andy Griffith?....that’s him.

He’s fun to work with most of the time and a hard worker – when he’s doing what he wants – how he wants,
but this tiny bathroom was too small and got the best of him.

We gutted the bathroom and discovered all the problems which for some reason pissed him off.
I think it was the glued down floor that did him in.

He walked off the job and left me to finish it….. some friend.
I made a few phone calls to find some help but, no luck. In these situations, I find the best thing to do is:

Quit lookin’ at it. Just get it done and don’t stop till it’s done.

The small bathroom job didn’t feel like it was that big a deal anyway.
After all, the demo was already done.

So, I decided I can do this job myself,.... even if it kills me.

I finished the shower tile quickly and was pleased the way it came out.
Mariano would approve…. She loved it.

Dan, the glass man came in and did a nice job hanging the 3/8” glass door. The shower was done.

I temporarily set up the old vanity and hung the mirror and medicine cabinet while I built the custom
cherry vanity, medicine cabinet and mirror.

At this point, the bathroom is back to normal and usable….. Finally, no more sharing the kids bathroom!
. The Vanity

From the beginning, I wanted to keep the contract price low and give this client the very best deal possible.

She would purchase the vanity, granite counter top, under mount sink, plumbing fixtures, mirror, medicine cabinet, towel bars and cabinet pulls. This avoided paperwork and was supposed to make it simpler.

But,..... She decided to buy a 40” white porcelain farmer’s style, wall mounted sink which wasn’t designed to sit on a standard cabinet in the corner. She couldn’t even find a 40” wide cherry cabinet, much less find a matching framed mirror and inset medicine cabinet.

So, I offered to build it for her. How hard can it be? .... I can do it all, right?

She also wanted an outlet to plug her electric tooth brush inside the medicine cabinet…. no big deal.

I picked up the cherry and maple plywood for the vanity but, I waited to start the build until I had the sink she ordered to see how it sat on top …. Good thing as it completely changed the design and drawer layout.

The prefinished maple base cabinet was built without any problems. I added 1/4” cherry plywood and 1×2 1/2 solid cherry to create the recessed panel on the right side.

The cherry face frame is attached with biscuits and it sits on 4” square feet.

You can’t see it but I built a 4” toe kick base just behind the feet so stuff doesn’t roll under the cabinet.

Despite the nasty demolition, added framing, drywall, electrical and plumbing, .... I’m on a roll.

The cabinet’s built, face frame is on, dovetail drawers are made, all that’s left is to make the 2 mission style recessed doors and drawer fronts and finish it.

but I guess fate had other plans:

I built the recessed panel doors and drawer fronts and had them assembled in record time … piece a cake.

After sanding the doors and drilling the hinge cups, I quickly cleaned the shop and set up a spray booth.

I applied a coat of stain, let it dry and sprayed two coats of oil base poly but the finish sagged on the sides and took forever to dry like I’ve never experienced before, as if the varnish was bad.

I had to gently scrape off the excess on the back edge and wait for it to dry before I could sand it down.
I bought new varnish and re sprayed them.

They came out OK but I could still barely see the sag a little ….. grrrr. More sanding and another coat.

But, when I tried to install the doors and drawer fronts …... I suddenly realized …... during assembly,

I switched the 2 door rails with the two drawer rails.

The doors were 3/4” too narrow and the drawers were 3/4” too wide.

I could’ve died, right then and there.

I felt like I was gonna hurl …... All that work for nothing.

I checked the fit before gluing them but I didn’t hang the doors and check the fit before I stained it … Geeez.

And, I didn’t have enough matching cherry to rebuild them and the hardwood store is 2 hrs. away.

It completely took the wind out of my sail.

I was already beat, working by myself on it, so far behind, so many other distractions like spring gardening,
opening the pool, starting seeds, .... forget about finishing my own cherry kitchen cabinets I had already started.

I couldn’t even look at those doors ….. threw them in the trash. I didn’t even care about the scrap.

On the way to buy more wood,

I ran into the back of a dump truck with it’s gate down going about 5 mph in stop and go traffic.
It took out my van’s hood, grill, both fenders, windshield, radiator, and head lights. Had to be towed away.

I was without a work truck for a month.

At the same time, we were having major issues with a sub contractor painter’s new crew on another jobsite.
I had to stop everything and spend over a week helping to finish that job.

It was a simple bedroom paint job …. We hired them so I wouldn’t be distracted from finishing this cabinet.

It was also for a very good client and of course, the project grew into a week’s worth of Honey – do projects
and I certainly couldn’t say no.

Could you completely rebuild this bookcase and replace all the trim in here?


The vanity can wait.

Then, .... my new strawberry patch was being attacked! I had to build a strawberry bin ASAP!

I even wrote a story about it: The Strawberry Massacre.

Then …... we lost a huge silver maple tree during a storm. The cedar fence next to it had to be fixed right away.

We were out of power for almost a week. So I bought a big house generator – that had to be installed.

THEN …. Lightning blew out the sump pump and 4 motion sensor lights, the pool’s solar panel sprang a leak,

pool pump filter was replaced, a new 16 ft. pear tree installed, wife’s car broke down, bought wife new car,

koi pond sprang a leak,

water heater started leaking, Van anti lock brakes went out, did I mention I had four crowns replaced?

..... it was one thing after another.

And, the cherry peninsula base cabinet for my own kitchen is sitting on my bench,

begging me to finish them.

Then, .... I got a call from a carpenter friend from the past. He’s a custom trim and millwork rep now.

He had a job he thought I might like to take a look at, .... a sweet custom stair railing.

The vanity will just have to wait.

I can build this in no time, right? I can do anything.


Sadly, during all this, we lost our 20 yr. old cat, Tess

and 17 days later, we lost Jack, my 9 yr. old Golden.

It was hard enough to say goodbye to our dear old cat who lived a long life,

but Jack took us by surprise.

Christmas just wasn’t the same without him,

we didn’t even put up a Christmas tree, .... normally, we go all out and decorate the house.

On a good note, we ended up getting a friend for Hunter – a new golden puppy named Tyler.

He is adorable!

He is my little shadow and the new shop dog.

Note: the picture above is old. He just turned a year old and has become quite a handful! ha!


Well, I finally got the wood and finished making the doors, again.

All I had left to do was stain, finish and install the vanity.

There was 2000.00 left in the final payout …... I was so close.


But now, it’s October 1st …. and, something weird happens to me.

I start thinking about nothing but Halloween props. I can’t help it.

It’s a 20 year tradition around here, we all get in to it and we have this huge reputation with the kids.

What vanity?

The phone rings …. it’s Randy.

He apologizes and says he felt bad about walking off the job. Says he’d like to help me again with the Halloween display. Even though I was very disappointed with the way he acted, I did miss him. So, I said, sure.

It turned out to be a huge undertaking: The Haunted Halloween Corn Maze – see project.

One of the first things we had to do was cut stake points on 12 – 8 ft. long 2×4s.

I had them laying on the pool deck already painted black. All he had to do was hold the boards while I rotated the blade guard up and cut the angles.

He wanted to argue about it – insisting we bring them in the shop and use my sliding miter saw.

I explained that the stakes needed to be sharper than a 45 to hammer in the ground, but he got pissed about it and just stood on the board with his hands in his pockets instead of holding it and feeding me a new board to cut, like I asked.

For some reason, he shifted his weight and the board jumped.

Next thing I know I’m holding my middle finger together while it’s gushing blood.

40 years on the job, ..... never once cut myself with a skill saw.

6 weeks later

It cut a 1/8” kerf right through the nail, just above the cuticle and took out the middle of the tip bone.


We left the hospital around midnight, didn’t eat all day, exhausted,

utterly humiliated, realizing I’m now banished from the silent Elite,

.... thinking of every song I can no longer finger pick on my mahogany D30 Guild, shit.

stabbed, stitched, heavily medicated ….... and feeling no pain.


I had to finish the Halloween display ..... I was too far in to it.

We had just unloaded 400 stalks of corn out of the van, topped with huge dead trees we dug out of the woods for props.

We already bought the storm fence and metal stakes.

The Halloween gang was pulled out of the attic and were waiting patiently in the dining room.

Randy tried to be a little more helpful after the accident, but it rained non stop for days and we could only work inside the shop or when the rain slowed down …... We got wet.

It didn’t take long before he’d had enough and walked off the job, again. Haven’t seen him since.


I finished the display as best I could and took it all down by myself. I was numb and couldn’t feel much pain, thanks to those little white pills they gave me, otherwise I don’t think I could’ve done this.

Then, my finger swelled up and the doc said there was a 50/ 50 chance I could lose it if I didn’t completely stop working for a week to give it time to heal. Great ….. just shoot me now.

It’s been two months since the accident and my finger is much better. It amazes me how the body can heal itself so quickly, if you let it.

The vanity….. what about the vanity?

Well, I did finally finish it and installed it the day before Christmas eve.

She had her parents over on Christmas day so I was really glad it was done by then. It came out really nice.

I was embarrassed it took so long. They were so nice about it, I waited a few days to give her the final invoice.
I also didn’t charge for the extra work and took 400.00 off the final bill.

Done ….. big smile.

I hope your projects run smoother and on time next year ….. and watch those fingers, will ya?

9 comments so far

View paxorion's profile


1107 posts in 3012 days

#1 posted 12-26-2013 05:57 PM

Great bathroom remodel, and what a story

-- paxorion

View mafe's profile


12844 posts in 4056 days

#2 posted 12-26-2013 08:25 PM

What a story.
Happy new year.

-- MAD F, the fanatical rhykenologist and vintage architect.

View Brian's profile


185 posts in 2998 days

#3 posted 12-26-2013 09:54 PM

That is an amazing read. Although it is full of setbacks and heartbreak, I find your post very motivational. Sometimes the jobs just get worse and worse the longer it goes on, but it takes a real professional to stick it out and keep going. Kuddos.

-- “Always take a banana to a party, bananas are good!” - Tenth Doctor

View GaryL's profile


1099 posts in 3797 days

#4 posted 12-26-2013 11:35 PM

And I thought I was the only one with the “DOH” moments.
I have also been through the “Randys” in life…frustrating to say the least.
Great story and thanks for sharing “A year in the life of Mark”.....when does the next chapter start…...

-- Gary; Marysville, MI...Involve your children in your projects as much as possible, the return is priceless.

View dpow's profile


504 posts in 3810 days

#5 posted 12-28-2013 03:13 AM

Hey, I think I know “Randy”. Around here we call him Bill. Anyway, I really enjoyed reading your story. With all the setbacks, unplanned problems, and what sounds like a overwhelming workload, your perseverance paid off. Thanks for sharing and Happy New Year.

-- Doug

View Holbs's profile


2373 posts in 2996 days

#6 posted 12-29-2013 04:17 PM

inspirational from start to finish! gives us new home owners optimism of what can be instead of what it is.
Never give up, Never surrender!

-- The Carpenter Bee is derived from the Ancient Greek word wood-cutter "xylokopos/ξυλοκὀπος"

View helluvawreck's profile


32122 posts in 3833 days

#7 posted 12-29-2013 04:50 PM

Very nice project even though you had a lot of trouble and setbacks and a great story. To bad you don’t have xray vision so you can see what is behind the walls and under the floor before you start.

helluvawreck aka Charles

-- helluvawreck aka Charles,

View NoLongerHere's profile


893 posts in 3642 days

#8 posted 12-31-2013 03:04 PM

Thanks for the comments everyone.

so many other things I could’ve added but it was long enough, I think you got the point! ha!

Gary and Doug – I still can’t help but worry about Randy. is that weird or what? ..... hope he’s OK.

Charles, yea, X-ray vision would help. Fortunately, I rely on a detailed spec sheet and budgets…no pressure.

Mafe, thanks bud, Happy new year to you too.

I’m off to buy last minute tax deductions!.... let’s seeeee, a laptop? a new Rolair baby compressor for trim? a lie neilson brass plane/ dust collector? an E Bay antique # 12 with a sweetheart blade from the 1900s? a Festool 4×6 sander? – I wonder if they’re on sale?

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