True Craftsmanship: Doing Your Job to the Best of Your Ability, Especially in Paying Attention to Detail

by Dale on February 4, 2013

Woodworking on Houses – circa 1962

In 1962 the most highly skilled woodworkers who worked on building new homes were the trim carpenters. Most of the homes built were 3 bedrooms, 1.5 bath, living room, dining and family areas and the modern kitchen. They almost always had the attached two car garage as well. They were called ranch houses.

Across the U.S. this type of architectural style had different names but all used the word ranch in some way. This style originated in United States and became in vogue from 1940 – 1970 most architectural sources agree. I find it interesting there are now groups, mostly the generation that never lived it them trying to preserve these homes. But this review is my experience within the industry when I was trained in woodworking by my father and the same type of work done today.

1966 California Ranch

1966 California Ranch

In 1962 trim carpenters usually completed the tasks below:

  • hung all the doors, inside and out
  • installed doors, trimmed them out with casing
  • trimmed the wood windows with matching casing
  • installed 1/4″ plywood 4 x 8 sheets of paneling in family room on walls
  • ran baseboard at the floor on all walls
  • closet shelves & poles in place
  • installed plywood or particle board on all floors nailed by hand every 5″
  • the more expensive homes had crown molding in some or all rooms

All this woodwork was done with an 8″ circular saw (electric skill saw), coping saw, Stanley handsaw mitre box, crosscut and ripping handsaw,  one block plane, framing square, hammer & nails, a few chisels, with a folding bench for the mitre box and a set of saw horses. The tool arsenal also had one router, one electric planer, 1 or 2 electric drills and an electric sabre saw.

The trim crew had to pre-hang all the doors, install hinges, locks, door stops etc., the mitre cuts were done on the hand mitre box. Every inside corner on the baseboard and crown molding was coped with a coping saw and rasped to fit. Stair treads were cut with the power saw, a slight back bevel. Stair railing parts (usually beech) were cut with the hand mitre saw. It wasn’t unusual for one crew member to spend an entire 8 hour day continuously cutting 45° mitres on the ends of casing boards, especially when pre-hanging doors.

I worked on a three man crew. Actually it was a one man and two boys crew that consisted of my father, my brother and me, the youngest. We took all our tools to a job site in an English 1959 Ford auto. We carried everything in the trunk and backseat to the job site. This vehicle was about the same size as a Volkswagen Beetle.

We upgraded at some point to air powered nailers, a vast improvement over hand nailing and no more hammer marks caused by missing the nail. We still hand nailed everything in place to hold it secure for the air gun.

Then one day a kitchen cabinet installer brought a new invention into the house. It was the 9″ Rockwell electric mitre saw. He used it to cut the small 1/4″ x 3/4″ scribe molding that trimmed the cabinet top and sides. The rest is history. We find innovation after innovation; incredible improvements that bring us to today with cordless tools, even airless nail guns without hoses are today’s tools.  It’s almost unbelievable when you stop and think about it.

Most trim crews today drive a one ton full size van to move their tools from job to job. They have several sliding compound bevel mitre saws, a vast array of drills, saws, routers, air nailers, sabre saws (oscillating, of course), air compressors, Kreg jigs, the list goes on and on. The homes built today have also changed as they are more complex.

When you consider the quality of workmanship it takes to do a job with primitive tools, a bit more time, lots more training and more patience, compared to modern tools and methods one gains a respect for the old times and the work that was accomplished. A mitred casing joint back then was achieved with a hand mitre box and a well tuned sharpened block plane looks no different than one achieved today with an electric mitre saw.

The modern method is much faster and much easier. Were these tools available to craftsmen in 1962 or 1862 they would have embraced the advance in technology just as we are quick to acquire the new lithium ion battery technology in cordless tools today, as well as countless other new innovations.

The puzzle to old codgers like me is the poorly fitting joints produced today by people with all the new equipment that makes it so easy. Why would they leave a poorly fitting joint? Why would they leave a router burn in a prominent place for all to see? All I can say is there is no excuse for this carelessness. It appears that despite excuses of deadlines or high pressure to complete a job, the fact can only be they just do not care. Our job to trim a home in 1962 had deadlines and pressure as well, but craftsmanship was a stamp of your personal integrity.

That true craftsmanship my caring friends, will make all the difference in the world to the client and yourself!

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