March 15, 2023

It's All in the Details

Being that I have self-performed so many trades during my career, I am often faced with the question of, “What is your favorite trade? For me that’s easy, carpentry. For me, it is not necessarily the most challenging, but it is the most fulfilling and creates the least amount of stress. Being a perfectionist by nature, finish carpentry is gauged by cleanliness, preparation, and execution, so it serves me well. From the tools, to the planning, to the materials, and the jobsite sounds and smells, nothing is better than carpentry.

I absolutely love walking into a freshly drywalled and primed job to start setting up for trim stage? Sitting here typing this I can almost smell it! I get to break out all of my favorite tools, I am able to showcase my skill set, I am celebrated for being anal and obsessive, and I get paid to make things as close to perfect as possible. Every single day until I am finished and ready for paint/prep, I open the door to the jobsite and get smacked in the face with the overwhelming smell of sawdust and wood. It truly is something special and creates a visceral sensory experience that will never be forgotten. Side note, I cannot be the only person who loves the smell of wood glue, can I?!

Early on in my career I enjoyed finish carpentry because the stakes were low. It is an applied finish that serves no structural purpose, it cannot leak, and if it fails, not one gets hurt. I knew that short of driving a nail or screw into a pipe or electrical cable, my exposure and liability was limited. The results are typically dramatic and the customers are generally thrilled. The work is relatively clean and there are no tools to wash or clean. The execution requires patience and skill, and the tools are a blast  to use.

Now, I am not saying that I want or have what it takes to be a production trim carpenter; but if I had to choose one trade, carpentry would be it. Looking back on my career and measuring the evolution and growth of my business, my love for carpentry has remained steadfast. I still have piles of books and magazines next to my desk published by Taunton and/or featuring guys like Gary Katz, Norm Abram, and Gary Striegler. I can recall thumbing through these pages attempting to mimic their skills, knowledge, and execution. I had no idea what I was doing, and these guys paved the way for our generation, sharing their knowledge, reinforcing the craft, and boosting my self-esteem.

For me personally, there is nothing more rewarding than coming into a blank space and executing a high end trim package. Finely tuned miters, tight scribes, precise nail placement, strong joinery, and making the imperfect appear perfect. I absolutely love using my miter saw, my coping tools, nail guns, sanders, routers, table saw, biscuit joiners, dominos, handplanes, and scribes. I love solving problems and figuring solutions for quirky existing conditions that either hide the imperfections or integrate them into intentional design. 

As a finish carpenter you are responsible for cleaning up the mess from previous sub trades and making mistakes disappear. For a type A control-freak like myself I take full accountability and find great joy in fixing what others were not able to fix or lacked the patience for addressing. There is nowhere to pass the buck, and it stops at me. By the time I pack up my tools and clean the jobsite, I want the space to both feel and look good. I do not want to leave the painter with a mess on their hands or much work to do. I take pride in the fact that I will make that part of the job much easier for whoever comes after me.

By no means will every workday be joyous, stress-free, or seamless. In fact most days will not even come close. For the past decade I have been able to find joy and fulfillment in even the most mundane of tasks during the course of a project. Regardless, the days that I enjoy the most are when I have the jobsite to myself, all of my trim tools setup in a neat methodical manner, a fresh cup of coffee by my side, a large stack of trim in front of me, and some good tunes to pass the time. In this world I feel as if I have no agenda other than making sawdust and noise.

- Tyler Grace