real stories behind
life lessons in The Carpenter’s Notebook
did not happen in one day. They came to me over time, little
bit by little bit as I worked hard to put the pieces of my life
together so they worked at top speed. As I struggled to learn my
trade, build my business, and improve my life, I thought about how
they all fit together and saw many of the answers in how houses
Building can be repetitious work, even for a
home improvement contractor like me who did different jobs every
day or week. Even still, things kept popping up that seemed to make
sense of the randomness of my life, whether I was building a fence,
sanding drywall, or framing a sundeck.—Mark
to have it and not need it, than need it and not have it. Mark
lived (and still lives) by this mantra. When he was a contractor,
Mark had his truck loaded to the gills with every portable power
and hand tool it could carry no matter what project he had been
called to perform. Even if it was supposed to be a simple job, there
was some unknown condition that required unexpected resources. Sometimes
it was little things: a 3-prong cord just didn’t fit the 2-prong
outlets in old houses. The solution: adapters, which he kept in
the glove compartment. “Better to have it and not need it” pops
up in life outside the jobsite all the time. Sometimes it’s mundane
like packing for a trip. Other times, it’s more important. It’s
about considering the challenges in life and being prepared for
them. Even the really hard ones.
is a team sport. Mark remembers building a set of I-beam
sawhorses for a project and thinking: “Jeez I just couldn’t get
along without these. Lumber would be everywhere and I couldn’t get
decent cuts.” He then realized the same thing about the people in
his life he couldn’t get along without either. Friends, family,
loved-ones—they are all there. “Sometimes they bear the weight of
my life, supporting me, helping me, carrying the load above them
so the project can go on. Life cannot be lived alone. Hopefully
I work as a sawhorse in their lives too. A single sawhorse does
not work as well as two. We need each other.”
what is right, not what is easy. Mark’s friend and college
roommate Dave Juliano used to train bartenders for TGI Friday’s
(both in the U.S. and around the world). His sense of doing the
best job possible—a reverence for his craft and how it is practiced—is
unshakable. It is unshakable because he loves it and a love like
that is powerful. Doing the best you possibly can is not automatic.
The way to be the best is to do what’s right. That goes for tending
a bar, for carpentry, for business, for love, and for raising your
kids. Doing what is right requires conviction, courage, and bravery.
It also requires time, attention, and work. In certain aspects of
a carpentry job, close enough is not good enough.Things
need to be done properly or they need to be redone. As hard as it
can be to face that or figure out what the right thing is, it is
a simple rule. And one that works. Every time.
It. Nail It. Sometimes
you can’t babysit a piece of framing or a roof shingle into place.
When you need to “persuade” a piece of 2 x 6 to fit, you don’t act
tentatively or you’ll fail. You
can’t go a week on any jobsite in this country without hearing two
carpenters working on a problem together where they’ve worked and
adjusted and sweat the details to the point of diminishing returns
to get that board in there, that piece of molding up, or that kicker
brace in place. That’s when you’ll hear the universally accepted
version of: “We’ve taken this as far as we can. Let’s move on.”
In carpentry-speak, that’s: “Fuck it. Nail it.” The next thing you’ll
hear is the nail gun popping off nails.
isn’t a job you can do well because people like you.
Mark was cutting crown molding outside a row house in Boston, Mass.,
his friend Kevin asked why carpenters cope moldings. His answer: “Carpentry
isn’t a job you can do well because people like you. There are no
office politics to play. The molding either looks right or it doesn’t.
It’s that simple.” It was in answering that question that it became
clear that there were other definitive rights and wrongs—more answers
to the questions in life—than he had ever before believed to exist.