How to Become a Carpenter

Carpenter Kevin Stevens of KMS Woodworks ruminates on how he got his start in the biz.

Posted by Kevin Stevens | Jul 24, 2012
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Here is the beginning of the rough framing of a cabin that I built. (Photo by Kevin Stevens.)I’ve been a self-employed Denver-area carpenter now for about 10 years now. Prior to that I worked as an Engineer in the Biotech / Pharmaceutical Industry.  These careers may seem quite a bit unrelated but the connections go a bit deeper that you would think.

Mechanical Minds and Details

Many people have heard the expression that the proof is in the details…and it is all details. This is true on a handful of levels. Carpentry work can range from rough framing to trim, add-in cabinet installation, tile and hardwood flooring, and the host of other tasks found throughout a home renovation or remodel and you can easily see which items demand precision.  When rough framing a wall, the tolerances for stud length are far greater that that of stain grade crown molding. Part of the carpenter’s skill set comes from knowing when to put these differences into play. As an engineer working under the FDA and following numerous CFR’s (Code of Federal Regulations), I learned details and documentation were required for every single task.  Carpentry by comparison is quite easy… “Board A” needs to be connected to “Board B” and it needs to look good.  The best part is you don’t need to sign your name for each and every step.

Learn from Multiple Sources

My carpentry work actually started some years before I became an Engineer. I have been building custom furniture for over 30 years and a lot of the skill comes from hands on experience. This knowledge is also supplemented from other sources.  When I first got into wood working I would watch Norm Abram on his show the “New Yankee Workshop” and I read a half a dozen or so woodworking magazines.  Over the years my brain started to see how things fit together and this visual learning took place. 

Today we are fortunate to have the internet and the breadth of knowledge that lays only a few mouse clicks away can be a great resource. The primary thing to keep in mind is that to become a good carpenter you need to blend the learning with the doing. Doing hands-on projects without the base knowledge will result in a steep learning curve with lots of mistakes. Just like the other side of the coin where reading and watching will fill your brain…but unless you can connect you brain to your hands, your projects will never come to fruition.

Add a Little Heart

Perhaps one the greatest bit of advice has to do with how you perceive your work.  This reminds me of a classic saying. “A laborer works with his hands, a craftsman works with his hands and his head, and an artist works with his hands, his head and his heart.”  One of the reasons I left the corporate rat race was carpentry work appeals to my heart. And when your heart is involved, your life is happier and the quality in your work shines through.

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