The next time you are not happy with the results that you achieve on a job, educate yourself on the how and the why.
This is not a technical article. There are no photos, no “how-to’s,” and no secret techniques involved. Please do not let that dissuade you from reading on. I also would like to say that I do not have all the answers, and I am far from perfect. I simply do my best on each and every job, I never settle for mediocrity, and I refuse to stop learning. I urge you to do the same.
Everyone is familiar with the quote, “knowledge is power.” These few words resonate so clearly with me in respect to my daily undertakings. They can be applied to construction and the trades just as easily as they can be applied to business or science. So many people ask me on a daily basis how I learned to do what I do, or how I came up with a specific technique, or how they can get started in the business. The secret is, there are no secrets.
So many individuals are solely concerned with the application and the technical side of what we do. They want to know how I go about making something look the way it does, how I maintain such clean lines, how I get my miters so tight, how I achieve the finishes I do, how I go about planning my jobs, etc. The truth is that I have achieved the level of detail and quality that I have by first and foremost arming myself with knowledge.
No one was ever there to teach me how to do anything. I learned a lot of bad habits early on working for other people. I knew that I wanted to do things the right way, but had no idea how to get from point A to point B. This is when I began researching, reading, studying photos, and analyzing every detail of every job and every home that I set foot in. I never started a job without having a complete understanding of what went into it. From top to bottom, I would educate myself on the process, the materials, the historical relevance, and lastly the application.
I may not be the best carpenter in the world, I may not have the strongest technical skills, I may not be the smartest tradesman around, but I pride myself on how much knowledge I possess. Even if I never step foot on a roof or side a house, I know what goes into it. I understand how it needs to be properly flashed, how water works, how ice works, and the order of operations that needs to be employed to make for a long lasting product. Armed with this knowledge (and lack of technical skill), I can ensure that my jobs are done correctly.
So my advice to anyone who asks me how I get the results I do, is to start by focusing on the knowledge, not the physical motions. If you understand why something works and why the design is functional / aesthetically pleasing, the construction is the easy part. If you comprehend how a finish chemically and physically reacts with different materials, tools, and environmental conditions, then the finishing is the easy part. If you grasp how water works in a wet area such as a shower, and how the drain integrates into the watertight envelope, then the actual waterproofing is simple. If you are aware of how mouldings and millwork historically were designed, proportioned, and laid out, then installing them is a no-brainer.
So the next time you are not happy with the results that you achieved on a job, I challenge you to educate yourself on how and why the system/products/materials you are using were designed and developed. Having a comprehensive understanding of these details is far more important than starting with the talent or technical skill. That end of things will come, but just like building a house, you need to start with a strong and solid foundation. Buy some books, read some articles, ask some questions because “knowledge is power.”
Tyler Grace is a Fine Homebuilding Ambassador. He is the owner and carpenter at TRG Home Concepts in Haddon Heights, N.J.