Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Right Tools for the Job

I had my construction experience yesterday, tearing down and rebuilding a set of stairs.
They are up now, accurate and perfect, awaiting the wrought iron banister I am to build.
I went into construction 35 years ago. I lost my school teaching job due to a recession and a lay off of over 30 teachers. A friend had a large construction company building motels and huge apartment complexes and hired me as a foreman. I was in charge of a 20 man crew on my first day of work. I knew nothing about building anything. "You know about people," he said, "keep them working and happy." So I did that, for him for a year and then for myself for over 30 years.
There is a hierarchy among construction crews. The guys who could do lay out, the ones who could cut in the rafters were near the top. The guy who made the stairs was at the very top.
Always even, above the boss. There is a lot of math in a set of stairs and you have to know the total picture. What will the final job be? What are the final treads? What will be the top and bottom landing? Carpet? Tile? Hardwood floors? This all affects the outcome and alters the math.
You need a really good saw blade and America doesn't make these any more. We still make construction saw blades that are okay for everyday framing, but for precision work you need a blade "made in Japan." They use better steel and have a pride in their work left over from the Samurai sword making days. If you can imagine a perfect artist's paintbrush versus a house brush that is the difference.
I needed to learn these trades, layout, rafters and stair building if I wanted to stay in this business and make a living at it. I practiced them every night. I went through reams of paper with hypothetical problems, moving the stairs, moving the landings, changing the windows, adding this or that.
So I discovered yesterday that this is all a bit like riding a bicycle and I can still do it. The neuropathy in my hands made it all a slow motion procedure but the brain remembers and I had a great day! After Christmas I will build the railings and that will be a wonderful present to me!

my Steel Website is HERE


  1. And you'll enjoy this gift Jerry, just as you do with life itself.

  2. I don't know how you manage to be so prolific! Two posts in one day, and both worth the reading. Good luck with you construction project!

  3. Congrats on the job! Sounds like it's just what you needed. ;)

  4. building stairs...sounds like a wonderful metaphor for climbing higher and getting stronger...i read both blogs, and i admire your honesty

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