You say “potato”

It’s amazing how many different terms we use to describe something. But when you’re contracted to make something for a customer, you’d both better be talking about the same thing no matter what term you use.

Shakespeare noted that a rose would smell the same no matter what you called it. He was right, of course, but when you’re the one heading to the florist with a wad of your client’s cash, it’s probably best you ask for the right flower.

I recently edited an online home improvement article on tongue-and-groove boards as a wall treatment. In the article, intended for a very general audience, the writer consistently used the term “wall paneling” as he described how T&G boards are installed, but never once used the words “board” or “plank.” That’s probably no problem for you and me, but for the article’s intended audience, “wall paneling” is almost guaranteed to evoke images of 4×8 sheets. That, after all, is what a nonprofessional will expect to get if they walk into their local Big Box and ask for “wall paneling.” The bottom line was that the article would be at least somewhat confusing to probably 90 percent of the people reading it.

Now, convert this scenario to the real-world process of a contractor discussing a remodeling job with a customer not conversant in the myriad terms used to describe home improvement products. The customer says he wants wood paneling in his man cave or whatever and you, as the contractor, give him a bid. Trouble is, the customer was thinking of that thin stuff that comes in sheets, and you’re ready to start nailing up 3/4″ T&G oak planks. Okay, so it probably wouldn’t actually go that far, but you get the idea.

I’m betting that as woodworking professionals you’ve encountered this on more than one occasion, and I’d be curious to hear what your most outrageous case was.



  • Mike grund says:

    One that I come across all the time is “Formica”, client wants “Formica” and I show them some samples of Wilsonart or Pionite laminate mixed in with some Formica laminates. The client doesn’t understand that “Formica” is a manufacturer/brand of High pressure laminate and often finds themselves correcting us on what is and isn’t “Formica”…simply because of the historical brand in the industry. (kleenex vs tissue)

    Simple example, same as what you have illustrated above, I’ve found education is the best way to get the jobs and to get them right. Often times the hard part is how to educate and how you show the client you are the pro and know more than they do, nicely.

  • AUSTIN GARNO says:

    Our business sells hardwood in a couple of different formats. Random stock sold by the board foot and finish trim stock surfaced four sides in nomimal dimensions sold by linear measure.

    We occasionally run into uncertainty by clients for what a board foot measure means. We get “it’s 12″ x 12”, or “same as a square foot but 1 inch thick”, and similar non malicious obfuscations. Part of our mission is to explain that a board foot as a measure of wood is equivalent to 144 cubic inches. This significant detail we found out is not totally understood by a couple of extreme examples.

    One gentleman inquired by phone to what our board foot cost was for 4/4 Red Oak. We responded at the time that it was $2.65 per board foot random with a discount for 100′ and over. Not long after the call, a gentleman came in and loaded up 100 linear feet of nominal 1×12 S4S. He became irate with our retail salesman when the price for the 1X12 was not $2.65 or less due to his 100′ load. When we explained that yield, finish labor and etc affected the costing (more) for 1×12 S4S and that we did have $2.65/bf oak but likely not all 12″ he was not having any of it and was not to be convinced we were not bait & switching.

    Another client comes in regularly and needles us for the 8/4 stock being “double” the price despite our assurances to the contrary. This man seldom is smiling, we are not totally sure he is serious, though he does comes back.

    We have decided we are lumber suppliers first and not math teachers. The best we can do for some customers is to accept our role and refer them to the competition.

  • Lee Gordon says:

    This also happens on home improvement TV shows. Just this week I saw a show in which the narrator said “band saw,” while the tool being used on screen was a jig saw. Then, moments later, the voice over referred to a “radial arm saw” when the guy on screen was clearly using a sliding compound miter saw. To me, when presented by so-called experts on a national network, this misinformation is inexcusable.

    Somewhat less problematic, but still not quite right, in my opinion, is when someone on TV refers to a circular saw not manufactured by Skil as a “Skilsaw” or a reciprocating saw made by someone other than Milwaukee as a “Sawzall.” I’m sure this especially rankles the people from DeWalt or Porter Cable or whomever might have been the official tool supplier on a show where these trade names are tossed about incorrectly.

  • A.J. The one that keeps getting me steamed up is the use of the term “jigsaw”. Who told Bosch that their sabre saw was a jigsaw? I tend to be old school having been woodworking for over 60 years. To me the tool that Bosch and everybody else calls a jigsaw is a sabre saw. A jigsaw is my Powermatic, a scroll saw is my DeWalt.

    Pop G.

  • Shane says:

    I was building shelves once for a closet. The customer said he wanted the front edge “beveled”. When you say beveled, in terms of glass, it’s two little chamfers on either side. this is what he wanted. Instead, I gave him one big bevel across the front. Whoops!

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