One of my memories from my childhood is of spending time with an older cousin in my grandfather’s workshop tinkering with small pieces of wood, making cars and planes and whatnot. In my adolescent years I set up a small shop in my parents’ library, mutilating all sorts of wood and getting sawdust in the carpet. Working on the family farm also provided many opportunities for building and repairing just about anything.
I put a lot of myself into every project–it really matters to me if the foundation is square, not only because I’ll be the one dealing with it during framing. By the same token, the framing must be square and straight, or the trim will be a nightmare and the entire house will be less than perfect. My philosophy is to build the strongest, most accurate, and most beautiful house possible. This means doing even simple layout tasks with the utmost care, and taking the time to ensure that studs are straight, walls are flat, and blocking is complete. I take pride in the fact that I have an excellent relationship with the building officials, who arrive on my jobsites confident that the work will exceed their standards. Additionally, no one is perfect, and I certainly cannot claim to be so, but one thing that I strongly believe in doing is fixing my own mistakes. If I lay out a wall incorrectly and someone else assembles it, often I’ll stay late to tear it out and repair it. Fixing someone else’s mistakes is one of many carpenters’ biggest annoyances, and I won’t ask anyone to fix mine.
An aspect of building that is all-too-often overlooked in the custom market is efficiency. This is not synonymous with speed–rather it means using the appropriate amount of material in the best way. A simple example is what is called the “California Corner”. It is an exterior corner that when framed uses only 3 studs, as opposed to 4 in the other common methods. Many framers will argue, but the fact is that the California Corner is just as strong, faster to assemble, and allows for much more complete insulation. Many such small framing details can really impact the overall energy efficiency of a house, as can insulation details. When I run a project, I spend a lot of time and energy making sure that not only is my own work (and that of my employees) at the highest standard, but that the plumbers, electricians, insulators, drywallers, tilers, masons, and roofers live up to the same standards. Constantly running around and keeping people straight in the final months of a job is exhausting, but is the only way to attain the results I demand and my clients expect. I spend time after work keeping current on advances in materials and techniques so that I can always be sure to do things as well possible. Many times the “standard method” of doing things is clearly outmoded, but the new way has just not been popularized. Construction is a slowly-changing industry, but I believe in adopting better methods as soon as possible. Naturally whenever I meet someone who has something to teach, I eagerly listen—everyone has more to learn.
Perhaps the most crucial carpentry in a home is trim work. For me this means that joints must be tight and lined up correctly, doors must close perfectly and be perfectly square in their frames, and cabinets must look as though they are one piece. Small details like whether cabinet doors are perfectly aligned, or whether the attachment screws on a door handle are on the correct side, or whether electrical outlet covers are square to the floor take time, but the end results set the truly carefully constructed home apart. Tiny details like having and using the smallest possible air-driven fasteners (rather than the gun that happens to already be lying on the floor) for small trim pieces can really make a cabinet installation look so much better. Choosing the right glue from the myriad choices can mean the difference between a long-lasting joint and one that separates as soon as the humidity goes up.
It sounds cliché, but one’s home is likely to be the largest and most long-lasting investment one will ever make. Choosing the right person to build or remodel it is critical. I cannot promise to be the least expensive of the builders you will meet, but I can promise a high value for your dollar. Quality comes first, with everything else far behind that standard.