I shipped a butcher block countertop to an out-of-state customer a couple weeks ago. She requested a food safe finish and I used General’s salad bowl finish. It seems to last a little longer than mineral oil alone but as a blend, contains some waxes that give it a little sheen. While I’m no sheen expert, I would guess that it finished to a satin to semi-gloss with the four or five coats I applied. Well, she’s angry about the sheen and wants me to refund or replace.
Her first email: “Looks great but you varnished the top and I cannot use it to cut on… We talked about the fact that I want to cut on it…”
My response: “Here’s a link to the manufacturer’s website. Not varnish or lacquer, but food safe with a little sheen because of the wax/blend… Sheen will disappear with use.”
Her second email: “It is lacquer and that won’t work.”
My response: “No, it isn’t lacquer and is food safe.” I told her she could scuff it with 0000 steel wool to knock down the sheen.
Her third email: She is going to hire a finishing expert to tell her what finish it is and that I need to check with the guys in the shop to see if they didn’t lacquer it by mistake.
My response: “I’m 100% certain that it isn’t lacquer and is food safe, as I put all of the coats on myself.” I had to do this to get a coat on early in the morning and stay late to put one on before leaving in order to turn the order around quickly.
Her fourth email: She quoted my website that explains that the finish produces a “dull, wet look” and states, again, that it is lacquer. She’s never acknowledged any of my responses.
My response: “Dull for depth of grain compared to solvent-based finishes and wet look – like a pool of water, implies some sheen, as water is a reflective source.” Maybe I need to better explain my interpretation, but what’s done is done. I also offered her $100 credit for her to hire someone (or herself) to scuff sand to knock down the sheen.
Her fifth email – She wants a full refund or for me to take the top back (shipped across the country) and “give me the top I ordered.” She states that she won’t undertake, or coordinate someone else, my scuff sanding offer.
My response – I asked what condition the top is in and if it has been installed. She responded that it is still in the crate (uninstalled).
I’ve contacted a couple of cabinet shops in her area and found someone to do the work that she is unwilling to do. I haven’t put that party together with her, or mentioned the idea to her, just yet. I thought I would gather some more opinions first.
Most of the people I’ve spoken to basically tell me to ignore her. I built exactly what she requested and have signed paperwork to back me up. The only thing I don’t have is a youtube video of me applying the finish. I provided her with what she ordered, and while the description of the finish will be revised as a result of this fiasco, the unintended ambiguity can fault neither party. Of course, she never asked or requested anything about the finish prior to receiving the finished product.
On the flip side, my catholic guilt and desire to be liked by all direct me to make it to her liking. The problems in doing so are costs and now taking responsibility for someone else’s sanding job. Also, it might appear that I’m correcting a mistake (admission of guilt) rather going beyond what our contract states by making it to her liking.
I have been paid in full via credit card and she isn’t in my state. She is still within 30 days to dispute the 50% balance charge but all communications have been through email and I have them saved. Her actual responses make her sound less creditable than my paraphrases here. So, what would you do?
(Business and Management Forum)
From contributor A:
Are you sure she is getting your emails? Send a notarized letter that states it was finished with the material you used and that it is not lacquer. That it is food safe and the sheen will wear with time. Send her a can of the material to touch up with over time and a use and care document that says it will need to be maintained. Find a manufacturer's recommendation that says to do what you did and include it. Send a statement that this is a custom top and not finished like cabinets.
This is definitely not a good client. I would try the suggestions given previously and if those do not have the desired effect, ask your attorney to send her a nice note explaining that you've made several reasonable offers that go beyond your contractual requirements and that if she chooses to turn them down, tough luck.
I do have a care pamphlet I sent with the top that states the finish by name and reviews the do's and don'ts. She seems to only be hung up on the sheen and has convinced herself that it is lacquer. I have reiterated in every response that the finish is what she requested and food safe for use as a chopping block.
General gave the same advice to remove the sheen, but didn't give me any warm fuzzies. The person that answered the phone helped me, instead of answering my request to be transferred to technical support. I might try them again and give them the full version of the story.
I don't have a regular attorney, and it will likely cost more than what I would pay someone to do what she wants.
Some people need to get up and move on with the day and all of the wonderful and not so wonderful parts of life. Some, however, have so little to do, and so little to occupy their minds, and a slightly sick enjoyment of argument and minor strife that they move from one thing to fixate on and complain about to another. They look for one victim after another to whine at. You are the dream victim (you care), you have volunteered (by continuing the dialog), and are fulfilling her need to whine about something for a while until she grows bored (has milked it for all it is worth), and has moved on to the next victim.
No advice until I know what the downside is of just adding her to your block sender list.
I do like the idea of sending her the rest of the can and a wad of steel wool as a present, and telling her these are for touchup and final surface conditioning and sheen adjustment after installation.
If it helps, say three I Won't Be a Victims, for the good of our souls, and sin no more... You are forgiven.
If you have been paid the 50%, and have offered reasonable resolutions to her objections, then she should not have a leg to stand on with the credit card company. However, it will take some time for them to investigate, and your payment could be held up for that period - I would guess 30-60 days. However, it doesn't sound like she is going to accept any other solution that is reasonable. My suggestion would be to either get a lawyer to write a letter, or simply prepare your case for the credit card company. Putting another third party in the middle is simply going to add to your headache factor - I would bet next week's paycheck on it. God help you if they should do something to tick off the customer!
If you send her the product info and she looks it up, she will probably have all she needs to reject the order. If she calms down maybe she will uncrate it and let it air out and fully cure. But I doubt it. You may need to send someone out to resolve the problem.
I'm guessing that this won't be well received, as it isn't me taking the top back or refunding her money. She seems to be gold digging.
No doubt there are so many areas that I'm supposed to be an expert in, and I misspoke about waxes being in the finish. I thought I remembered reading this in a Fine Woodworking magazine years ago. I've personally used this product on a cutting board that my wife and I have used almost daily for the past three years, so I feel pretty comfortable with it. I'm also comfortable with the fact that General markets it for that purpose.
My contact says finish - food safe. It doesn't denote what type, chemical make up, sheen, or anything else. She never inquired about any of this prior to receiving the top and has been the first disappointed customer.
Your best bet is to take it away from her view and her nose. This is a common mistake that people make, shipping before it is done off-gassing.
If you can, get the service company to take it to their shop, have them wet sand it down with mineral spirits and let it finish drying and out gassing before they take it back. Employ fans for air movement.
As long as she will agree to the type of finish it is, and you get that in writing, if she can't smell it she will be okay with it. Let her maintain it with mineral oil. Even canned waxes have solvents in them.
So, yes, you have applied a varnish and depending upon how many coats, there will be a film finish that is not good for cutting surfaces. You can find the MSDS to both at the Rockler.com site. In other words, be careful as you are in a shaky position.
How much did the shipping cost?
I'm surprised she has not already stopped payment via credit card. You're going to be beat one way or another. The local guy is going to rake you for his time and the client still may not want it. Have it picked up and refund her money when you receive the top in original condition.
You're going to be beat on this no matter how you look at it, and she knows it. What you don't want is for her to end up with the top without you being fully paid. Better you have it to resell or rework to sell.
I've offered to remove the finish, at my expense, even though I've already provided her with the product she ordered. The fact that she is demanding I have the top shipped back for me to fix is unreasonable and seems like gold digging.
You wrote: Her first email: "Looks great but you varnished the top and I cannot use it to cut on. We talked about the fact that I want to cut on it."
You did varnish it. At 4-5 coats at 30% solids with a conservative 3 mils wet = minimum of 3.5 mils dry. Some soaked in, impregnating the wood, but you still have built a film coating of a couple mils on top.
Even a salad bowl finish isn't meant to be cut on. It's not toxic dry, but every time it gets cut there will be particles. The cuts would hold in bacteria.
You need to have the coating removed. Pick up the phone, apologize for your misunderstanding and resolve the problem expediently. Before she tells you she is done doing business with you and cancels the charge. When an error happens, never let them see your tail lights.
She has stuck to her message. She is fairly bright. Most women are. Treat her as such or you're asking for trouble. Curious - did you finish all sides of the block?
Contributor T, once again you have nailed it. This has been my rule for the last 25 years and it's the best way to resolve problems. I've never seen it stated so perfectly before.
To the original questioner: If you can't afford to fix your mistakes, try harder not to make them. Why didn't you submit a finish sample for approval? You rely on a vague recollection of something you read years ago to tell you what's in a finish? You aren't acting like a professional. I hope when you are done apologizing to your client and replacing the top that you change your game, or else your career will be full of these episodes. Sorry to be harsh, but based on the facts as presented here, you are 100% in the wrong.
I plan on changing my description, offering mineral oil (seemingly food safe, but it is a petroleum byproduct), and making it more clear that no product is 100% good for you. I contacted my customer this morning to arrange pickup from a local shop to refinish.
I did finish all sides. Also, all of my communications have been professional and courteous. I let my hair down for the forum but not with the customer. I've offered to fix the problem and so far her response has been missing, or out of line. (Why do I need to have the block shipped to me to refinish when someone local can do the same job? The result on her end will be the same.)
I did not submit a sample because it wasn't requested or even discussed prior to ordering. This is the first time there has been an issue. I've volunteered samples in other cases if I can sense any doubt in a client's decision about any part of the build. Like most of the builds in our industry, there are 1000s of products and options and it would not be productive to run through every option with every client. I'm sure you understand this as you probably don't do this with all of your clients.
Your opinion about me is short-sighted. It is your opinion that I'm 100% wrong. General Finishes makes and markets the product I used as being safe and suitable for butcher blocks. Am I supposed to know more than the manufacturer? (I plan on copying them on our discussion and asking for a response.) My experience with this product contradicts your opinion, as do other published accounts and General's customers.
I would never finish a cutting board that was meant to be used. I tell the client they can use almond oil or a wax if they want, but serious cooks are worried about imparting the oils in their ingredients so they prefer nude wood.
However, it looks like you told her you were going to finish the top, and she agreed. Or she might have even asked to finish it. In that case, tell her that you are an honest man and would not lie about the finish you used. Tell her that if an independent lab (not some redneck refinisher) verifies that it is not a food safe finish, you will take care of it. This customer is likely to not use you again unless you do replace the top, but is this the kind of customer you want?
You sold her on a finish that you believed and relayed was a wax base. It wasn't. The coating you provided would get cut as she intended to use it. It is not one of the self healing coatings. When it gets cut, particles will dislodge and get into her food. Food safe does not mean it is meant to be eaten, only that it will not transfer, as in leach, into the food placed upon it. This is not confusing.
She wants you to take the block back because she wants you to take responsibility. You told her that you would send a service to "fix" the problem, but that you would not take responsibility for what they did. She doesn't want a third party to get into this mix.
You finished all sides, so you will have to remove the coating from all sides or you will have cupping problems. Do some homework before you put something back on and make certain that it is very clear to your client.
It is a good thing that you are going to clear up your descriptions on your offerings. Learn your products before you use them.
She has been and remains clear and concise. She paid your fee. Right now she holds your wallet. That makes her decidedly bright. I think she is a great client. I am truly sorry you are suffering this pain. Git 'er done and move on.
There are really two things that make finishing complicated, as you have found out:
1. Things happen at a chemical and not physical level. You can measure a board and see that it fits. You can't see what is happening inside a finish.
2. Manufacturers intentionally misrepresent and obfuscate products by their names and descriptions. If I had a dollar for every woodworker that thought he was applying tung oil when he used Minwax or Formby's Tung Oil Finishes, I'd be rich. Neither is tung oil at all.
"GF Salad Bowl Finish
Create a beautiful and safe finish on wooden bowls, cups, spoons, countertops and butcher blocks or any wood surface that contacts food. Easy to apply (just wipe on with a soft clean cloth), it achieves the sheen and durability of a varnish. Dried film is non-toxic for food contact 72 hours after drying. Additional coats can be re-applied at any time if maintenance of item becomes necessary."
Maybe you should send her a link to the site.
I'm emailing General Finishes right now with a link to this discussion.
Also, the charge is being disputed. I just got a call from the credit card company and emailed all of my communications and the contract. There should be some sort of initial decision made by them by Friday. Stay tuned.
MSDS sheets are extremely informative. I would get in the habit of reading the MSDS sheet for every product you use in the shop - if nothing else, you'll have a much better idea what you are exposing yourself to every day. And again, looking at it upfront would have given you better information to use in evaluating the manufacturer's claims.
Finish samples and education are costly, but you pay a little bit at a time. Mistakes are even more costly, and you pay when you can least afford it. Take your choice. I apologize for sounding mean in the earlier post, and wish you the best of luck in resolving this with your client.
The manufacturer did not suggest anything. They stated, "...and safe finish on wooden bowls, cups, spoons, countertops and butcher blocks or any wood surface that contacts food." This is an accurate statement. Nowhere did they suggest you could take a sharp steel knife to this surface coating. Nowhere is there any insinuation that you can pour this wet into your morning milkshake or sprinkle its dried form on your Cheerios. It's not the breakfast of champions!
The fact that you will not die from getting some of this running through your intestines is immaterial. You sold a product as an assumed, by you, composition. What you sold and assumed is not reality. No, it is not reasonable to assume anything. You do so at your own peril. She asked for a cutting board the size of a counter.
Instead of getting on the phone fast and owning up to the problem, because you misunderstood what you were providing, and you continue to hang onto that misunderstanding, you are now faced with a client who has "lost confidence in your ability" to provide said product. She has a legal right to reject, cancel, dispute the contract and stop payment.
Not only did you not provide her with a product that she asked for and contracted for, but you sent it uncured, with residual solvents still out-gassing. I understand that you did not understand, but by now you should understand.
You have screwed around, squirming to get out of the liability, long enough that what I guessed might happen to you, has. She has stopped payment. Go have a beer, get in a better mood, and laugh it off. Take care of the problem and move on.
There was no mention of product, sheen, chemical make-up, or do's and don'ts in the contract.
It would be nice if she would allow it to be resurfaced locally, nothing wrong with that, as long as the end result is right. If it doesn't turn out right she has to start the battle again.
Did she or did she not explain up front, either verbally or in writing, before she accepted your contract proposal, that she intended to use this as a cutting board? If she did not state that point until after delivery, then this whole thing would turn around.
I got stuck at the end of a job one time and the customer never gave a reason. Lawyers got involved, settled for a lot less. Five years later she was the first one to find my new website and email me saying how much she loved my work. Like I said, professional stiff.
That would be no different than what he did to his client. She ordered a cutting board with an oil finish and received one with a poly finish. He's the expert; he should have just corrected it without all the banter and attempts at arse-covering. Now she's angry, and rightly so, but she must be the bad guy because he screwed up and refused to take responsibility for his screw up.
Since seeing the error of my ways, I've contacted the customer to see about correcting this and plan to move forward as quickly as possible. I disagree that I should have to have the block shipped back to me when someone local to her can do exactly what needs to be done (and turn it around quicker). I've even volunteered to take responsibility for that person's work. I would think that this would be the best solution for her since she (rightfully so) has not much confidence in my abilities.
Lack of experience is not a good excuse, but I see this as the defensive player that recovers the fumble and returns it to the wrong end zone. I worked hard to get myself in trouble. My intentions are not to mislead the customer. I'm trying to make things right.
Here's what General Finishes replied.
I just want to clarify - can I use the salad bowl finish for cutting boards and on items that will be cut on so long as I keep the coats thin (and limit them to two or three)? I have been using this finish on cutting boards but I typically apply two thin coats as follows. I apply the first coat with a rag and let it dry. I then scuff sand and wipe on the second coat. I wipe it off after a couple of minutes and let everything dry for a day or so. I haven't noticed any build up or side effects (chipping or flaking of the finish) and have done this on a cutting board that I have used for a couple of years.
Obviously, my goal is not to poison my customers (nor is yours) and prior to this I've been satisfied with your product. I like the protection and low-maintenance but will use something else if there are any potential health risks. Please clarify this.
"Yes, you can use it just as you described soaking into the wood and leaving no film on the outside. I do have several guys that use it this way and like you, have been doing it for years. The trick is not leaving a film on top, and the way you described, you should have no problems - you are wiping all product on the surface off.
The dried film would not poison anyone as it is non toxic once dry. But if you use that product and build a film, not only does it look bad after a short time from all the cutting, but you are cutting little flakes off in the food, which we don't recommend. Of course no one would ever know, but not what you want to do."
Very interesting, but I would guess that the responsibility would be on me to not apply it too thickly (or at least that would be the legal argument).
Which is different from the: "... but I typically apply two thin coats as follows..." which you inquired about.
My expectation is that after a couple of coats of this varnish you are building a film.
A chef once told me that every night they take a lemon cut in half and rub it all over the surface. Next they spread sea salt on the top and let it stand until the next morning. Every month they would oil it with mineral oil (I think he said mineral oil). I may be off on the procedure, but there is a food safe way to take care of the cutting surface, worth researching perhaps.
My guess is this client is never going to cut anything, let alone raw meat on the top. If they were they wouldn't care about the gloss of the surface.
At that point I notified the credit card company and my contact there called the homeowner a week after she had retaken possession. She told the credit card person that she was going to find a finish expert to tell her if the finish (mineral oil) is food safe. The credit card person tried to contact her for a couple of weeks without any reply and then closed the case.
Certainly, this wasn't a fun adventure, but I've learned not to trust everything you read (I still wonder how this isn't false advertising and thus a liability for General Finishes) and made a contact across the country.
Butcher block surfaces are, as this lady expects, to be cut on. As such, they need to be treated differently than standard countertops. Generally, mineral oil is used. However, there are some exotic blends designed to slow the loss of oil. It's not rocket science - everything needs care and maintenance and there is no silver bullet. In this instance, non-hardening oil will work fine. To reduce labor, maybe a bit of bee's wax to seal the surface (although, much of what is thought to be an oil loss is actually wicking to adjoining wood fibers). Live and learn.
Years ago, a customer insisted on a hand rubbed finish for a suspended kitchen cabinet. I knew it was a bad plan, but no attempt to educate the customer worked. In the end, I took the job and cheated. They got a finish that required all the maintenance effort associated with a hand rubbed finish, but without the vulnerabilities. To this day (20 years later) they probably haven't notice their cabinet is, for the most part, waterproof.
My point is you may be able to take the approach you were planning and back off the original finish to the point it will take oil. At that point, you should be off and running.