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Building Things

The Expert

What does it take to really be an expert? And who decides when that level has been reached?

I know of an online course that will teach you how to be an expert in any field in three months. I also know people who have been doing the same thing for forty years and haven’t mastered fundamentals. There is a difference between comprehending a subject and knowing it. In a couple of minutes I can explain in detail how to sharpen a chisel. That does not mean you would be able to do it. That claim could only be made after the learning is turned into a skill, or only after you have successfully sharpened a chisel.

Even then, you have mastered only one of the many skills needed to build a house. There is no internet course that will give you the skills needed. Those are only gained through experience. If those skills are continually honed in their use, soon the work will praise the carpenter. By then, the carpenter will have come to the realization that woodworking will never be completely mastered. That’s why Master Woodworker is a title given out of resect by other woodworkers.

To get personal, the way I like to learn a subject is to start with education. It was more than knowing what boards went where to build a house. I wanted to know the boards. So I know the scientific difference between a hardwood and a softwood and what it takes to truly identify wood. I really got started building sets for plays in high school, so I’ve been dabbling with wood for thirty plus years now. As I sit here writing this, I’m confident to say I know more about carpentry than you do. So in carpentry, to you, I’m an expert.

That won’t be true with everybody. I have peers and a peer is going to have knowledge and skills I do not. I’ve done inlays, but not marquetry and there is a reason those woodworking trades have different names. And you may have the opinion you know another expert who is more qualified than me. This also brings the perceptive that everything cannot be mastered because there are not enough days in a lifetime. But if you’re a woodworker, we can talk and gain new applications just from that conversation. Understanding the value of this skill is partly because it’s not that common and the time it took to gain. And the value of the fact I know how to keep you dry in a storm.

Which means I can just as confidently say as I sit here writing that you know more about something than I do. For you to have gained that, you should have been chasing value, no?

At what are you an expert? Let me know.

A Carpenters Point of View

I have a career in construction. I came up in the trade of carpentry and the things I learned there shaped some of how I see life.

I mean, there is always measure twice, cut once. But most of what wound up being important in the movie biz I learned in the construction department. Like- Be on time and get along with everybody. A moving target is hard to hit. If you’re walking with your boss and he has something in his hands, your hands need to have something bigger or heavier in them. If you’re on the clock and just talking, a hand grenade should never be able to get more than three of you. If you don’t have anything to do, do it importantly. And if you have to look important suddenly, point at something. When it comes to work, you take the first phone call. Don’t take another one until that job is finished. Don’t ever make a mess for someone else to clean up.

One of my first real jobs in construction was as a laborer building a doctors office. The Superintendent was I. W. “Coot” Thrasher. Coot would always give me the worst jobs, like he would hand me a shovel and say “The mason’s sand needs to be moved across the parking lot” or a crowbar and say “That shed needs to be torn down and thown in the dumpster.” One day I asked him why he gave me all the crap jobs and he said “I believe in giving the hardest work to the laziest man cuz he’ll find the easiest way of doing it.” I thought about it for a few minutes because I wasn’t sure if he was insulting me or complementing me. Ultimately, to steal a Maggie Smith line, I take everything as a compliment because it avoids so many awkward social situations. I’ve since discovered Coot’s idea is not a bad approach to life.

I also learned it’s not just the tool, but how you use it. If you do good work, it will praise you. You don’t have to ask what kind of carpenter I am, my work will tell you. You won’t have to ask what I did during the day because the place will look different at the end of my day. It’s always good to know that whatever may come, I can always put on a tool belt and hang doors or build stairs, wherever I may be.

Notice I’m not calling myself a Master Carpenter. That’s not a self appointed title.




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