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A Carpenter’s Ethos

The Path of the Carpenter Apprentice -A Carpenter’s Ethos

A Carpenter’s ethos started on a Monday morning. I had forgotten my breakfast and coffee on the kitchen counter. It was starting to rain and my boots were soaked through. It was only 8 am.

A Carpenter's Ethos

It was day one of the new job, which meant that all the tools needed to be organized, lumber picked up and organized on-site, compressors, cords and hoses plugged in, doorways sealed off to prevent dust contamination of the house, battery chargers plugged in with spare batteries powering up, nail guns oiled and loaded, workstations established, and any other miscellaneous tasks completed in order to establish the workflow of this particular job.

I was excited about the new job. It was a kitchen and bath remodel, and based on the other kitchens we had done, I knew our crew would be getting into some interesting framing systems and clean finish work. There would be three of us: one lead carpenter, a self-proclaimed “rough carpenter,” and me, the apprentice. I’ve participated in one kitchen remodel, a mudroom remodels, an entire house remodels, and some trim remodeling in my short eight-month career. So, while I’m not completely unversed in the process of remodeling someone’s house, I’m certainly not the most essential asset to the crew. What value do I bring to the team?

As I trudged across the wet lawn back to my truck, I asked myself this question: what value do I offer? What can I do that no one else does? As an apprentice, you spend a significant amount of time observing other carpenters make things. While I may cut the 2×4 to length, my lead carpenter knows where it needs to go and how it needs to fit with every other piece of the puzzle.

Observing someone else on your team create art in front of your eyes can inspire you but also make you question your own contribution to the overall effort. Looking at the project in front of us, I knew I would have to largely depend on my lead carpenter to contribute to the building aspect of this job. I was feeling deflated. Wet boots and socks and an under-caffeinated start to the day also didn’t help my overall mood. As I stood at my truck preparing my tools for the day, it occurred to me that there are more aspects to a project than just sawdust and banging nails.

I saw that our framing stock had been delivered. I identified the most logical location to organize it and got to work. There were forty 2x4x8’s, eight 2x4x12’s, ten 2x6x8’s, and two 2x10x16 LVL’s. Thinking about how fast I could move all this material to join the rest of the guys inside, I wondered how many 2×4’s I can carry safely and efficiently at one time. How fast could I move this material? I started to approach my work with a goal in mind: to make it as neat as possible and do it as fast as I could. Then, I moved onto setting up cut stations, plugging in saws and compressors, running hose, oiling, and loading guns, charging batteries, laying out all our demo tools, taping off doors, laying drop cloths, and putting out our trash bins.

A ​carpenter’s ethos is not necessarily a skill level, that sets one apart from his counterparts. It could even be argued that a stronger, more morally sound ethos allows a carpenter to achieve a higher skill level because he’s driven to achieve more than just solid construction.

When I finished all of this, I checked the time: just after 9:00, less than an hour in. At that point, our lead carpenter was finishing up his meeting with our general contractor and the client. And it was then that it occurred to me what value I add to the team. Hustle.

My job is to hustle. It’s other things, too, but for the most part, when things need to be moved and organized or picked up and discarded before the “real” carpentry work can begin, I’m the guy that makes it happen. My work isn’t what clients necessarily see, but it can set a tone, and hopefully a tone that makes the job go more smoothly. My work contribution is often values-based as opposed to skills-based. But it’s the values that I practice now, as an apprentice, that will become the foundation for the skills I’ll develop later in my career as a proficient carpenter. Carpenter or not, we all live by an ​ethos​ in life. It’s “​the distinguishing character, sentiment, moral nature, or guiding beliefs of a person…” that sets one person apart from another person (​Merriam-Webster​).

Therefore, a ​carpenter’s ethos, and not necessarily his skill level, set him apart from his counterparts. It could even be argued that a stronger, more morally sound ethos allows a carpenter to achieve a higher skill level because he’s driven to achieve more than just solid construction. So, as I observe my lead carpenter build really cool stuff and pull off things that I can’t do now, I remind myself to do the things I can as well as I can.


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