Thursday, January 27, 2011

Applicable Wisdom

Here is part of a blog post that I wrote about a year ago. I had more to say but I know that I'll never get around to it. Enjoy.

In 2006 I was let go from a job and was in desperate need of more income. This happened to coincide with the middle of the housing boom and my wife had a contact with a laborer on a carpentry/framing crew so I got the boss's number and called him up to see if I could get some work. The conversation/interview was pretty interesting:
Him: You have any experience?
Me: I've only done a little bit of framing, trim is mostly what I've done.
Him:Do you know how to use a skilsaw?
Me: Yeah.
Him: Do you know how to use a tape(measure)?
Me: Yeah
Him: You sure?
Me: Yeah
Him: Monday morning at 8.

I showed up Monday at 8 ready to work with my shiny new tool belt and clean boots, in retrospect I should've rubbed some mud on them or something. Like most trade/blue collar jobs they like to beat down the new guy and this was no exception. Fortunately for me I'd heard all the practical jokes before so I didn't fall for those(grab the board stretcher out of the back of the truck.) My boss was a functioning alcoholic(like 20-30 cans a day) and a devout catholic and I started near the beginning of lent for which he had given up beer. He drove me/us pretty hard those first few weeks. The first day we were framing up walls...10' 2x6 walls and I learned quickly they had no tolerance for a guy that would only carry 2 or 3 studs at a time. 4 was acceptable but 5 or 6 was more like it. My first task was to use my square to mark all the bottom and top plates with a straight line and the appropriate marking for various types of studs and cripples on the marks that had already been laid out. So I spent a good amount of time bent over doing this. Next up was toting studs to the plates and more bending over nailing them and eventually lifting them in place. At the end of this 9 hour day I was in so much pain that I have no doubt I wouldn't have been able to sleep were it not for my sheer exhaustion. I also know that were I not in desperate need for that job I would not have returned the next day. I stuck it out and adapted, to date it has been my favorite job besides being a potter/teacher.

Along with the knowledge and experience of being a carpenter, I was the recipient of many little nuggets of wisdom from my carpentry boss, most of which are probably not blog-propriate. Some were quite profound, one of my favorite stories is as follows: We were doing a trim job in a spec house, you know, those 2000 sq. ft-ish houses that popped up like crazy the last few years? One of those. The trim work for those houses is pretty simple and straightforward: doors+casing, baseboard, closet shelves, window stools and aprons, and maybe crown molding in the living room or master bedroom. The bad thing about these dime a dozen spec houses is that the trim doesn't pay well at all, it's usually paint grade and as such can be installed by just about anyone. For a crew of 3 we had to be in and out in 2 days, 1.5 if there was no crown, if we wanted to be paid well.

I was setting up to start installing the baseboard and made the suggestion to my boss that to save time we should just miter the inside corners(as opposed to coping, google it if you're not sure what that is.) It's paint-grade, it's going to be caulked, primed and painted, no one would be able to tell the difference. He looked at me for a long second and said:"You'll know. Coping and mitering is the difference between a carpenter and a laborer. Do you want to be a carpenter or a laborer?" Enough said, and I never forgot it.

Pride in your work is of the utmost importance, without it you are just a laborer.

Good enough is never good enough.


Lori Buff said...

We have been thinking about the same thing today. I've been collecting bricks from a job site (with permission). The first day the carpenter helped me load them in nice neat rows that were easy to unload when I got home. Today the laborers helped me, they just tossed the bricks into the back of the truck making it very difficult to unload.
You are so right about pride in your work.

Nick Friedman said...

Great post, Brandon. Why'd you wait so long to post it?

Kyle Carpenter said...

This brings me back to my carpentry/construction days. I suddenly feel a pinch in my lower back. Nice post, for sure.

Mr. Young said...

Good craftsmanship is hard to come by. Most don't have the patience to take the extra few minutes or so. It DOES make a difference.

-Rob, Simple Circle Studios said...

Hear hear! It sounds like you had a damn fine teacher there. I love that he put it on you to decide what kind of craftsman you wanted to be. I go around with my wife on this issue every now and then, usually when I am trying to get rid of stuff that does not meet my standards. She says "But someone might still like it, even if you don't think it is perfect." I try to explain that it is not necessarily about whether a customer would buy it or not. It is about knowing that I am putting the best work I can out there instead of leaving it as-is.