I dove head first into carpentry well over a decade ago when I decided I wanted to build my own home.
I was hired by a small, newly formed construction company that had recently broken ground on a high-end home on the shores of Lake George. On my first day of work my new boss told me to thaw a massive pile of frozen dirt so that it would be easier for me to shovel. I was surprised.
Surprise because the night before I was down at Sears shopping for basic carpentry tools - a tool belt, a hammer, a tape measurer, a chalk line, and some pencils. When I pulled up for work the following day I immediately put on my tool belt and walked up to meet the crew. Little did I know I wouldn't use my tools for some time.
A few hours later, I was shoveling dirt while wearing my tool belt. I was getting some puzzled looks from the other carpenters. Obviously shoveling with a tool belt on didn't make sense, but somehow I knew the sooner I took off my tool belt, the longer it would be before I could swing my hammer.
I wanted to build.
I made a point of wearing my belt everyday, regardless of the menial task at hand, waiting for someone to ask for help. Digging or sweeping, it didn’t matter; my tool belt stayed on.
A couple of weeks later, I was walking around picking up scrap wood, when one of the lead carpenters, atop a ladder, yelled down for a pencil. I reached into my belt and threw it up. He looked at it and said, “Nice and sharp! I like that!” Later that day, he had me working as his ground guy making all the cuts.
Over the next few months, I picked up some carpentry books and poured through them at night. During lunch break I would ask the other carpenters questions. “What’s the SPF stamp on all the lumber stand for?” Everyone shrugged their shoulders except for my boss, Joe, who said “spruce-pine-fur.” With that, something clicked it my head. The big picture of home-building, from the tree to the finish product, it all came into vision.
I wanted to know more.
I would learn more from Joe than from anyone else. I also taught myself a considerable amount as I became more interested in furniture making and finer woodworking. I volunteered to work on weekends - they hired someone else to sweep. I collected tools at a pace that made my boss nervous. My growing knowledge of wood species, how it should be milled, and how it should be joined turned me into a respected finish carpenter.
Years passed, and I paid my dues.
Eventually, though, the scale of these custom homes the company took on began to wear on my conscience. The houses got bigger, and so did the crew. I decided to start my own business and began picking up small jobs. At the same time, my wife and I bought land and built a 12 x 18 foot cabin on the property using nothing but a chainsaw and some hand tools. The experience spurred an unknown nostalgia for forgotten ways, not only in carpentry and woodworking, but in everyday life - a way to live lighter and more sustainably with a sharp focus on our built environment. My tool collection started looking more like an antique shop.
Never losing sight of my original plan to one day build my own house, I finally sat down and began drafting plans. We decided to build a traditional timber frame home with non-traditional straw bale walls. We also decided to live off-grid and power our new home with solar panels.
We have now enjoyed living in our new home for some time now, and though it is not one hundred percent finished, we're happy to have a place to call home. The final details will be reserved for long-weekends and one-off projects.
I have since reinventing my business. I've decided to hang up the heavy tool belt I once refused to take off and instead focus on woodworking full-time.
My workshop is located down the road in an old converted barn that once housed horses and cows, Fords and Chevys, and now - tools and sawdust.
The shop is now open.