Wood Grain Auto Paint Contract Gone Wrong

Some words of caution and tips for avoiding trouble in your wood grain auto paint client services work.

The Good

The work was for a customer I’d done other work for, so I knew it would be worthwhile. Especially when I realized that the project was being done right, down to the last detail.

Would you put your name to that?

The quality of any project is very important because your name and business will ultimately be associated with it. There’s nothing worse than walking away from a paint job with a feeling of dread that people will find it unprofessional or poorly executed.

The same goes for the relationship with the customer: One bad interaction can lead to a lot of missed work and negative word of mouth.

Wood Grain Auto Paint on 1947 Chevrolet dashboard

The Bad

On day one, I drove across town to pick up all the trim pieces and dash board. I counted 15 pieces in all. Here’s where I messed up: Because this was a project for a friend, I wasn’t as diligent about the paperwork and other small details.

I got a 50% labor and 100% materials deposit up front, as always, but I didn’t create a contract or take a careful inventory of all the parts before I left the upholstery shop. This would prove to be a bad thing.

The Ugly

The parts sat in the back of my Volvo Wagon over night and the next day I delivered them to the media blaster for stripping. I counted them as I took them out of the car and carried them into the media blasters shop: 15 pieces. The guy who did the stripping counted them and wrote down the total: 15 pieces.

If you’ve read this far, I bet you can guess where this is going…

Two days later I picked up the trim (counted again, of course) and took the trim to my studio. Over a period of 4 days I primed, base coated, applied burl wood grain paint technique, sealed each with a clear coat and carefully wrapped the pieces (15, to be exact) in plastic. Then I loaded everything into my car and drove it to the customers shop.

He looked the project over and loved the work of course. At some point he said “Wait… there’s supposed to be two of these. I only see one.”

He was talking about the trim piece that covers the rail between the wing and main window in the passenger door.

We searched the shop and my car and found nothing.

A valuable wood grain auto paint lesson

This is where it could have gotten pretty bad, if I’d let it. The customer didn’t really handle the situation very well. He became angry, insisting that he couldn’t possibly have lost the part. He claimed that his guys are perfect and never lose anything…

I could go on about how his shop is very messy and disorganized and how they have several projects going at once and… But that’s not the point of this post.

I told him I’d go home and search my studio, call the media blaster and look through my car again. I suggested he search his shop some more. Long story short; the part did not show up and my customer became more indignant that I had lost the part, not him.

At this point I had to make a decision: Was I going to cave in and take responsibility (why? I counted carefully!), or was I going to take a hard-headed attitude and tell him to go pound sand?

I didn’t need the money (remember; materials and 50% of labor were paid for) or the aggravation. I could walk away and be done with it.

Just The facts, Ma’am

1. I screwed up by not taking careful inventory on paper and with a camera. If I’d done that, I wouldn’t be involved in the missing part in any way other than waiting for the customer to produce it so I could paint it.

2. I wished that my customer had said “Wow, too bad the piece is lost. I guess either of us could have lost it. How about we split the cost of replacement and be done with it?” But he didn’t. He took the low road: “I’m perfect. It’s your fault.”

So it was my job to follow my own principles, and practice what I believe to be right. I told him I’d find a replacement part, paint it and get it back to him asap.

I did some searching on line and sent inquiries for parts to several suppliers around the country. After a couple days I got no replies and started contacting sheet metal shops to have the piece fabricated (this is the expensive option, btw).

Finally, Ida from Ida’s Classic 1937-1948 Chevy Parts in Vancouver, WA got back to me. She had the part! 3 days and a mere $30 later, the part was in my hands. If you need antique Chev parts, Ida’s the best.

I painted the piece and delivered it to the shop. The customer was grateful, paid his bill and called me when the work was installed so I could come shoot pics, something that wouldn’t have happened had I walked away from the situation in anger.


  • No matter who you’re wood grain auto paint work (or any work) for, always follow solid contracting protocol. Get everything in writing, and take before and after pictures of the wood grain (or any) work (and work space if you’re on location).
  • Get the customers signature on all paperwork including inventory sheets.
  • Have the customer provide his own inventory to check against yours BEFORE you start work or remove parts/projects from location.
  • Take the high road. Even if it doesn’t get you more work from the current customer, you’ll sleep better knowing you did the right thing.




Would you like some help with Faux Woodgrain?

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5 Responses

    | Reply

    Your story could have come out of my shop, iv been doing my thing for 60 yrs. What l know about l have taught myself to some dagree , l do graining almost every week but l want to see your book there is not much out there for that kind of work, any help would be great thanks LYLE FISK

    • Norman
      | Reply

      Hey Lyle. Well I hope the horror story aspect couldn’t have come out of your shop. I assume you mean the wood grain faux finish project.

      Love your work (click his name to see his work).

      Please download the free Macassar Ebony ebook. I’d love to hear your feedback.


  2. Chris
    | Reply

    Its nice to hear that the world isn’t only out to get ME!

    • Norman
      | Reply

      Hey Chris. Sure feels like that some times. Still it was worth it to “take the blame” and finish the job. Definitely a big lesson learned.

  3. Pat Rockey
    | Reply

    I have a 1940 Packard 110. It has faux quarter sawed oak wood grain.

    I like the burlesque grain even better.

    Please respond with contact info as I’m in the process of restoring this car.


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