About a year ago I pitched the idea of moving back to Wisconsin and building a house on my family’s farm to my wife. After some thought we decided to go for it and we began looking at house plans and drawing floor plans. A year into the process and at least 13 house plans with multiple variations behind us we are closing in on a buildable design with a rough draft of construction documents that I created using SketchUp.
Over the next – well, however long this takes to build – I will be writing here about the process and paths I have taken and will take to design, plan, cost estimate and build our home. It is my hope that I will be able to use my experience as a Lead Carpenter, Project Manager and Construction Estimator to create a road map that could be used by one of the many brave DIYers who wish to take on the challenge of building one’s own house.
A little more than a year ago during lunch on the job site, my new co-worker Andy Engel and I were discussing typical carpenter topics; love of tools, love of tools, frustrations with employers and apprentices and love of tools. After a lengthy rant on one of these topics Andy, a former editor of Fine Homebuilding, told me I should start writing. Andy was un-phased by my initial “yeah whatever” and went on to explain the need for new voices in the seminal publications of the building trades. Andy went on to introduce me to several editors of Fine Homebuilding at JLC Live in Providence Rhode Island in March of 2019. I also met David Gerstel at this same event. David was giving a talk about estimating based on his book Nail Your Numbers which I had use to start rebuilding my employers estimating system. Through David’s mentoring I was introduced to Clay DeKorne the editor of JLC who offered me the opportunity to take over the business column of JLC for 4 months and flesh out my ideas for training young tradespeople.
Jump ahead to now, one year later, and it is clear that there is something special about the the trades and how we can influence each other and our careers. I like to say that we all stand on the shoulders of someone who came before us. Andy likes to say that we are all part of a continuum.
Being a carpenter is the only job that I’ve ever been any good at.
I have had the good fortune of working as a Lead Carpenter on many challenging commercial and residential projects both alone and as part of a crew. But this was not enough to stave away feelings of there being something more for me. Something that could provide a better, more enjoyable life. More glory perhaps. Post 2008 recession and heart surgery at 27 years old I hit the path looking for that more. House flipping, self employed journeyman carpenter, bartender, furniture maker and architectural woodworker followed over 8 years of living the self employed lifestyle.
Then in November of 2016 in a moment of self doubt brought on by need, I began to remember fondly the only job I’d ever been any good at. But mostly I realized that being a carpenter is the only well that has reliably held water for me so I took the first job on a crew that presented itself. It was the perfect job. Established firm doing high end architect design residential work. I was given space to set up shop on site to reproduce all of the interior and exterior doors and loads of Greek Revival trim for an 1800s federal home. Work that I considered my wheelhouse.
I hated it.
I needed more. Again. Being older and debatably wiser I realized that I needed to be a leader. I found that leadership position with a small remodeling company known for their historic preservation and design build work. They gave me the keys to the crew and let me do as I saw fit. I’ve joked that my career has come full circle as I am driving a silver pick up truck and managing a crew of young carpenters just as I was in 2004.
More consequentially my present day employers, through their membership in NESEA Bottom Lines and their passion for continuing education through programs like JLC Live, The Timber Framers Guild and The ICAA, have encouraged me to be involved in the project management side of the business. As of February of this year my time is split between field and office, with an ever increasing presence in the office, working on estimating, design work and the operational end of construction.
I love it.
I am happy to have finally found that something more, even if it was at the bottom of that same old well.