Subscribe to TIC

When Special Orders Go Bad

When the GC got to the jobsite on Monday morning, I could tell from the look on his face that something was wrong. After a quick glance at the materials in the back of his truck — two special order interior doors and some small moldings, I knew exactly what it was. The special order doors, like a lot of other special order items that are delivered near the end of the job, were the wrong ones.

(Note: Click any image to see a larger version. Hit "back" button to return to article.)

The profile around the flat panels was flat when it should have been a bead and cove profile to match the doors throughout the rest of the house.

Not having enough time in the job schedule to reorder the correct doors, the GC decided he would have us fix the doors — we’d add some moldings around the perimeter of each panel, all 24 panels. This was a job that would require the most basic carpentry skills, but it was made more challenging by the GC. Instead of buying the correct molding, a bead and cove, he bought a flat beaded profile, typically used to attach screening to a wooden frame. When I brought this to his attention, his response was direct and to the point — “You can make it work, can’t you?” And with that, he left.

I bet none of you have ever heard that before, right?

Before I start a job, project, or even a small task like this one, I like to do a basic mental layout so I can identify the different parts of the project, keep myself focused, and avoid wasted motions. That’s the best way to improve efficiency and avoid mistakes, which can ruin your attitude. My mental layout is basically just a list of facts related to the job, laid out in the order they need to be done. In this case, my layout involved the following:

  1. Chamfer back side of molding on both edges
  2. Record lengths and number of pieces needed
  3. Gang cut all 96 pieces with square cuts
  4. Cut 192 miters on both ends of all pieces
  5. Install all pieces with glue and staples (23g pinner would be better, but I didn’t have one — not everyone has every tool they want, like Gary Katz does)

The table saw and the miter saw are the two most-often used tools on the jobsite, and those were the tools I used for this job, but I didn’t use them the way they come out of the box. I like using different types of homemade jigs to make specific cutting tasks safer, quicker, and more accurate than just using the saw by itself. While it’s true that I could have made the cuts for this project by using just the fence on each saw, it wouldn’t be quicker, it definitely wouldn’t be as accurate, and it wouldn’t be safe. In case you haven’t figured it out yet, safety and quality are linked tightly — a safer cut is often a better cut.

The first task was to rip the chamfer on the bead stock. Sometimes it’s best to work backwards when making a jig that produces accurate cuts. I recommend using the finished piece and building your jig around it. If you know what the end result looks like, then you know how to set up your jig.

In this case, I cut a 6 in. piece of the bead molding and used my block plane to chamfer the edges until they were within the parameters of the flat panel. I began building the jig around that piece. A 6-in. wide sub-table, with a 2-in. rip attached to one edge, made the base of the jig. I lowered the saw blade and attached the base to the table saw fence with 3 vise clamps.

After setting the blade at 45˚, I turned the saw on and slowly raised the blade until it cut through the plywood by about 1/2 in., that way, I knew exactly where my saw cut would be made, and I could position my sample stock so the chamfers sat right next to the blade. I attached two rips, about the same thickness of my stock, on either side of the molding. Those would act as guides to steady the small, narrow stock as it passed through the blade. (See photo, Right)

I also added a small scrap of wood on top of the jig, directly over the blade, to put downward pressure on the material as I was ripping. I attached the scrap of wood with one pocket screw so that I could adjust the downward pressure to achieve a good feed rate. It’s safest if you position the block over the blade, and keep it enclosed. Four points of contact on the material produces a clean, chatter free cut. After 15 minutes of set up time and five minutes of cut time, I had about a dozen 8-foot rips of chamfered molding that were ready for the next step.

My next task was setting up the miter saw and the jig to gang cut the pieces to length, as well as cutting the inside miters on both ends. I used a simple sub-base made from a 1×4 and a 1×6, both about 30 in. long. I attached the fence to the base, keeping the screws a good distance from the saw blade. When I mounted the sub-fence to my saw, I slid it to the right about six inches, so I’d have more support for repetitive stops, then fastened it to the saw through the factory supplied holes in the metal fence.

Fig. 8

Before making my first cut, I set the depth guide on the miter saw to prevent the blade from cutting all the way through the jig. I wanted the blade to cut down through the fence and stop about a 1/4 in. into the sub-table.

After taking measurements, and making sure that the three different sized pieces were the same on all the panels, I attached a stop block to my jig at the correct distance from the blade (see Fig. 8). Then I began cutting the molding, adding a few extra pieces of each measurement, just in case I miscut something later on.

Once I had all the pieces cut, I changed the miter saw table to 45˚ and made a cut into the jig. This cut line helped align my stop block.
Then I put the individual pieces in the jig, and pushed them against the stop block to make the cut with the long point of the miter exactly at the end of my pre-cut piece.
I also added a second piece of 1×6 to the jig, parallel to the fence, to hold the molding so I could cut it like crown molding in position.

Then I put the individual pieces in the jig, and pushed them against the stop block to make the cut with the long point of the miter exactly at the end of my pre-cut piece. I also added a second piece of 1×6 to the jig, parallel to the fence, to hold the molding so I could cut it like crown molding in position.

After making all the right-hand miters, I reset the saw and stop block and made the left hand cuts. Making the jigs may have added about 30 minutes to the job, but it was time well spent — every piece was cut exactly the correct length the first time. Another advantage of square cutting the pieces first, and then mitering them, is that the saw angle only needed to be reset three times, and that saved time, too!

Installing the molding was kind of like running mini crown upside-down. Aside from needing to spring the long pieces in, it went together quick and easy. In the end, both the builder and I were pleased — we avoided a two-week delay. More importantly, the client was happy, too — the new doors matched almost perfectly with the existing style.

Read this article in its original format at TiC Issue 4!



“Getting up each morning and spending the day in my shop working with my two hands on a beautiful species of wood is the closest thing to a love affair I can imagine,” Sean Titmas says with a wide smile. A full time carpenter since 1986 when he went to work with his father building custom homes and commercial interiors on the Jersey Shore, Sean has worked almost every phase of construction, from residential building and remodeling to commercial and retail interiors, through the course of his career.

Now, 23 years after strapping on his first tool belt and practicing production carpentry, he’s decided to do something different. He’s opened his own shop and is building furniture and cabinetry. His first commission is from the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art in Sarasota. He’s doing a reconstruction of the table and six chairs used by the legendary circus impresario on his traveling home and office train, the newly restored Wisconsin, now on permanent display at Museum.

“To be working on a project that will be seen by tens of thousands of visitors every year is an incredible opportunity and a terrific challenge, but one I’m enjoying as much as anything I’ve ever done. I’m sure it’s going to be one of the real highlights of my career.”

The 38-year old single dad not only loves his work, he enjoys some of its perks, like the opportunities it’s afforded him to travel, working on projects in Belize, Guatemala and the Dominican Republic. He also appreciates the chance it gives him to pursue his passion for the outdoors, activities generally matched to those places he’s worked.

First it was surfing the beach break off the South Jersey shore. In the Connecticut and New York winters he skied and snowboarded. When there wasn’t snow he rock climbed. His time in Atlanta put him in close proximity to some of the best climbing areas in the southeast and he was able to learn many useful skills that would cross over into everyday life.

“It’s funny the thought processes you have when you are climbing 200’ above the valley floor with nothing more than a thin dime edge of rock to use in your ascent,” says Sean. “Having the ability to identify the obstacles and turn them into opportunities works no matter what you’re involved with.”

But it wasn’t until Sean moved to SW Florida and discovered Kite Boarding that he found what he considers quite possibly the most perfect sport. “By harnessing the freedom of the wind and combining that with the stoke of the endless wave you end up with the ability to surf any body of water as long as there is a prevailing wind.” It’s those self-taught skills that have allowed Sean to survive and even flourish in the most difficult business environments.

“I feel that in opening the shop I’ve opened up a brand new chapter in my life and I look forward to learning, experiencing and sharing these new adventures with my son, just like my father did with me.”


6 Responses to “When Special Orders Go Bad”

  1. Joe Stoddard

    Creative solution and good article, so don’t take this as any kind of criticism of your work – but three beads of screen door molding doesn’t look anything like the bed molding on the original doors. I guess if it’s not a critical restoration it might be ‘good enough’ – but if they really needed to match… If I were the owner I would have been happy to wait two weeks for the right units. As long as the frames were installed there really wouldn’t have been any critical path delay. The units could have been shop-painted and hung in installed frames when they did come in.

  2. Dion Richins

    While I agree that it would have been better for the correct doors to have been ordered. HE wasn’t in the position to make that decision. The GC made the decision to jerry rig these doors and I believe the author did an outstanding job. Basic carpentry skills or not, I know way to many carpenters who would have looked at the flat stock and said there wasn’t any way. Nice fix to the problem.

  3. john

    Yes, good execution of making do with what you’re given, but doesn’t make for a good article considering the professionalism I thought this website intends to portray. At the least, would have expected that someone would go out, get some flat stock and a bead & cove bit and get the profile right for the sake of the customer and an article on this site.

  4. Eric Tavitian

    For me this an all too common occurrence. I’m a GC these days but I most definitely came up through the ranks. I think given the situation as it occurred he made the best of it. I have lots and lots of tools but when this happens it seems as though they’re never exactly the right ones. At least the ones that are on the job at the time. In this situation I would have Okee-Doked the GC and found some scrap clear wood and began setting up a router with a better profile and then begin cutting my own moulding. (I always try to keep a good selection of bits with me. I can’t tell you how many times they have saved my but). Then strip cut each on the table saw. After this I would repeat the his miter saw work. His technique is sound & works well. It would have taken about the same amount of time and come out maybe a little closer to what the rest of the doors in the house looked like than the beading that he was given to re-work. I have to say that he did a great job with it and unless the customer is really picky & spends way too much time focusing on details it would be just fine. I’d keep him hired.

  5. Mike Hawkins

    Good article. I like the fact that you just didn’t tell the gc to go pound salt and made the best of a poorly planned situation. I like the setup on the table saw. I was wondering how you were going to cut the small molding safely. I make up jigs similar to what you did on the miter box for repetitive cuts. The little bit of time is well worth the ease of cutting and the accuracy it affords. Keep up the good work.
    Mike Hawkins

  6. Markore

    I’m a little confused. Is the white baseboard with the 45 on the miter saw sitting on top of the screen molding? Which is the “pre-cut piece” “the jig” and the stop block. Thanks!


Leave a Reply

Please note: Your first comment will be held for moderation/review by our staff before it appears. After you have one comment approved, all of your subsequent comments will appear immediately. Read our comment policy for more information.