'This Old Crack House' #20: To be a carpenter or not to be… Chapter 20

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Blog entry by Dusty posted 03-16-2007 05:27 PM 2505 reads 0 times favorited 14 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 19: Help Wanted...Carpenter...Start Immediately...Jerks need not apply Part 20 of 'This Old Crack House' series Part 21: How not to build and deliver a woodworking project…Life Lessons in woodworking… »

(Ms D doing her day care with the shop hounds)

My options were limited. I could run an ad for a carpenter, and risk the same experience I had with the last one. I wanted to go through this about as bad as I wanted to have my wisdom teeth pulled with a claw hammer. I pretty much gave up on the idea of hiring some handyman or contractor because of the added cost. I was the one that was responsible for the mess and it was me who gave him the advance. The way I saw it, it would be me who would get us out and me alone who would take the hit for the advance.

I wasn’t quite sure how I was going to do this. I just knew I would somehow see it through to the end. Before we can learn a lesson and move on, they say it has to hurt, even sting. You have to walk before you run I guess. If that’s the case I was on a dead run.

In my mind, there was one thing I could do. It wasn’t what I had first envisioned, but it seemed like a possible and practical solution; that was for me to finish the work, or at least attempt to move forward with the project until I found a carpenter. There was just one problem with that plan.

I had no experience at installing kitchen cabinets or counter tops. In short, I didn’t have a clue where to began.

I remember having a huge headache. I just sat in my shop thinking (and feeling a bit sorry for myself) about my options and next move. I looked up and noticed someone walking down my driveway towards me. It was Sid, my plumber’s friend. I had missed him the last time he was here, I was taking a nap.

In his heavy accent he asked, “How’s it going?

“Not worth a darn!” and I briefly explained the predicament I was in. He listened carefully, and let me both vent and finish explaining what had happened with the carpenter.

After I finished giving him the details, he asked, “Why don’t you finish the job yourself?”

I tried to explain that I had never installed a kitchen before.

He looked right at me and as if he didn’t hear me repeated,” Why don’t you finish the job yourself?” but added this time, “Possibly, I could help you.”

I stumbled out, “Do you know how to? Do you have experience installing cabinets? Would you be able to …”
Interrupting me, he answered with a smile, “I helped a friend once and did my own a while ago and they turned out OK”.

I thought about it for a moment and decided it wouldn’t be fair for me to ask him to help because if something went wrong I wouldn’t want him to feel like he was to blame. I got myself into this mess, I needed to work through it and get myself out. I thanked him for his offer, but declined his help.

We then made some small talk for a while. I offered my apologies for not being much for company. I had a lot on my mind. He seemed to understand. He stated that in a couple weeks he would be done with his teaching job. He taught in an alternative high-school for the socially and academically challenged. In other words the losers; the kids who got kicked out and no-one wanted to have in their school. I knew the school in which he taught. It wasn’t located very far from where I lived. It is a very tough school.

I explained that I was just getting my shop going. I wasn’t in any position to hire anyone let alone try teaching anyone because I didn’t have any experience to speak of as a carpenter.

He said that he just wanted a place he could come to and try help out. He loved woodworking. He helped his grandfather build boats with hand tools in the Bahamas.

“I’ve never lost my interest in woodworking. I don’t expect to get paid. I just wanted a chance and don’t have a place or shop where I can work.” With a pained look on his face, he explained that he was recently separated from his wife and she had all his tools. He didn’t even have access to them.

I wanted to know why, but I didn’t ask or make any comments. He seemed both grateful and relieve I never pried or ask any more questions. I then found myself saying, “Well, if you would like to come by when you finish school, feel free to do so.” I went on, “I’m sure we could learn from each other.”

His face lit up. He turned and walked back down the driveway towards the road. He suddenly stopped and returned saying, “Dusty please inform your neighbors that its ok with you if they see this black man hanging around your shop, just in case you’re not here.”

I was taken back, even shocked at his statement. I snapped back, “There won’t be any need for you to hang out and wait for me if I’m not here.” I reached into my pocket and gave him the key to my shop and house. I then said, “I’ll see you in a couple weeks. It’s time for me to get some work done. I have a kitchen to build and I turned and walked towards my shop.

I remember thinking out loud, “I wish I had a clue how I’m going to build this kitchen or, for that matter, where I should start.”

I finally decided to approach it using my training in law as a para-legal. Let me try to explain this. I was trained that when a client brought a problem to the law firm, the lawyer in charge of the case would assign me the task of doing the required research. Study the facts of the case, I would review the pertinent case-law, become familiar with any legal precedent, and research a number of other sources relating to the problem being presented. I would then take all this information and organize it in a memo, report, or brief so that the client could be given an overview of the case and the most likely outcome. Then strategies could be devised and various options proposed to solve the problem. After presenting this to the client, a recommendation would be made.

This is how I approached the challenge at hand to finish the cabinet installation and countertop. I started from a problem-solving vantage point. I identified what needed to be done, and researched how to best do it. I then put in place the plan; this I adjusted as necessary. I keep good mental notes as the job progressed. I paid particular attention how I would do this type of work differently, if I were to do it again. I am a quick study and I learn best by doing it myself with my own hands. I am a very visual learner. I am also quite analytical and logic-oriented. I relied on my background in drafting, law, and being around and observing the various construction trades.

The single biggest challenge, it turns out, was overcoming my own mental doubt that I could do this. This is not to say that I don’t really appreciate all the talent, complexities and time it takes practicing the craft of fine carpentry or cabinet making. I’m simply saying, because of the predicament I found myself in I had few options. This seemed like the best way to go about solving my problem.

When I look back, all I can recall is, I just started. I took a few tools, and just started hanging upper cabinets. I had read a few how-to books and articles about how to install cabinets. I even made a special trip to the local big box hardware store and they gave me a few tips.

I just dug in. It’s as simple as that. No the job wasn’t simple; the simple part was I really had only two choices. They were, to try installing the cabinets and complete the job, or find someone else to do it.

It’s was that simple.

I wish I could claim that some great wisdom came upon me and I installed the cabinets.

That simply wasn’t the case.

I took one cabinet at a time and screwed them to the wall.

In hindsight this was a real life lesson for me. For so long I had convinced myself or had been told by others that I couldn’t do that type of work.

I had come to believe it; I even acted it out. I had told myself that, because of my hand and lack of training in carpentry work, I couldn’t possibility do it.

Was the job perfect?

No, not even close.

But, it was well within acceptable standards. I can show you every flaw in the kitchen. I find I’m a perfectionist I also know that I am my own worse critic. One of the hardest things I had to overcome, and still do, is not to let myself become paralyzed over a project. I find it easy to come up with any number of excuses not to do something. I’m not proud of this flaw, nor have I overcome it. I am just aware of it and try to work on it.

As it turns out, I still use the problem-solving approach that I used to finish Ms. D’s kitchen. It has become the model that I use to teach myself carpentry and fine furniture building skills.

I take one step at a time; even baby steps at times. I need to walk before I run.

I need to remind myself of this; time and time again.

The next time I was to be reminded of this hard lesson was when I found myself in cross-fire between rival gangs.

This was not exactly a good time to review one of life’s lessons.

I guess you never know when you will be called on to re-learn the lessons of life.

Copy right all rights reserved D.Jerzak 03-12-07

-- Dusty

14 comments so far

View Jeff's profile


1010 posts in 4117 days

#1 posted 03-16-2007 06:31 PM

Inspiring. I can truly relate to the baby steps, Dusty. The just starting part is one of my challenges as well. I read, I study what I want to do, etc. and then I sometimes stare at the wood as if it was some obstacle instead of thinking, “whoo hoo! this is going to be a blast!” Being a perfectionist myself, the fear of the big screw-up is always something to contend with. I think it must come from a career full of tight deadlines for the last 15 years. ‘No room for error. No time to fix this later.’ It wears on a guy.

The best thing I ever did though read an article about drafting your design and prototyping (goes to the analytical/logical process). I had a need to build some shelving/storage drawers and so I measured the space and sketched the design. I was determined to just do it and not overthink it. Whadaya know…. it worked. I went and bought the baltic birch, followed my cutting plans, made some modifications along the way but had everything for the simple box and all the drawer parts cut in two and a half hours.

Thanks for sharing your model and reminding me about taking baby steps. I hope the cross-fire situation you mention had a positive ending.

-- Jeff, St. Paul, MN

View Karson's profile


35125 posts in 4424 days

#2 posted 03-16-2007 06:56 PM

Very Good Dusty.

-- I've been blessed with a father who liked to tinker in wood, and a wife who lets me tinker in wood. Southern Delaware soon moving to Virginia †

View dennis mitchell's profile

dennis mitchell

3994 posts in 4338 days

#3 posted 03-16-2007 07:26 PM

I related to being a visual learner. I can read books and books on something or just see one good drawing. I’m really enjoying your blog, keep it coming!

View Dusty's profile


785 posts in 4180 days

#4 posted 03-16-2007 07:35 PM


Thank you.

Long ago I come to realize I am my own worse enemy when it comes to trying new things. I have finally adopted the attitude with woodworking that ” I only need to be a little bit smarter than the wood”. I say that because its so easy to allow myself to be intimated by a project. I tend to make things a lot more difficult than they really are. I also have found if I have to lighten up and have some fun. Other wise it feels to much like work. and it becomes just a job, rather than my passion.

Then it is no fun. I tend to make more mistakes when I am tense and frustrated. If i allow myself to make mistakes and to be less than perfect I find the project goes much better. I have had to learn how to laugh at myself. That part is getting easier.

Now I just need to figured out how to enjoy all the others who laugh at me. :)

That said: Jeff, and with you living across the river from me, your surely aware that this week has been a stressful week for me as a bus driver in Minneapolis. The two murders, on our buses and the bank robber who used the bus for a get away sure, puts in perspective, the old saying -a bad day in the workshop is still better than any day at work.

I seem to be cherishing the time in my shop all the more this week.

-- Dusty

View Jeff's profile


1010 posts in 4117 days

#5 posted 03-16-2007 08:12 PM

Yes, I would agree this week has been a stressful one! My gosh! I had not heard of the two murders… I heard about the get away. Man, keep an eye out and trust those insticnts! I’ll be thinking of you as the weekend approaches. I hope our fair metro doesn’t bring anything nasty your way…

Here’s to safe and fulfilling woodworking. Cheers!

-- Jeff, St. Paul, MN

View MsDebbieP's profile


18615 posts in 4184 days

#6 posted 03-17-2007 02:50 AM

as I read the part where you turned down the offer for help, I was reminded of the story where the man was stranded on his roof during a flood. He declined help from people in boats, canoes, and even helicopters, saying that he trusted the Lord to save him. When he drowned and reached heaven the Lord said, “What happened?? I sent 3 boats, a canoe, and helicopter to help you!!”.

I see that we have a sequel to the story: Dusty and The Bus.
Scary stuff, mister!!!

-- ~ Debbie, Canada (

View Dusty's profile


785 posts in 4180 days

#7 posted 03-17-2007 03:04 AM


I like your parable. I completely understand not asking for help and being available to receive or accept help.

I also think there is times we need to do things on our own.

In this case I took responsibility for the mess I was in. I think it would of been unfair to ask him for help because I didn’t know him that well and i didn’t want him to feel like he was responsible for something he had no control over if it didn’t go well. I didn’t want to pass the buck so to speak.

I met this challenge head on.

-- Dusty

View MsDebbieP's profile


18615 posts in 4184 days

#8 posted 03-17-2007 03:15 AM

the choices we make “just are what they are”.
You needed to do what you needed to do—which in the end has brought you here: one of the finest woodworkers that I know.

-- ~ Debbie, Canada (

View scottb's profile


3648 posts in 4351 days

#9 posted 03-17-2007 03:22 AM

when the time comes to decide… do you do what is easy, or what’s right?

Bravo Dusty!

keep the story coming!

-- I am always doing what I cannot do yet, in order to learn how to do it. - Van Gogh -- --

View Dusty's profile


785 posts in 4180 days

#10 posted 03-17-2007 03:43 AM


I am touched and honored by that comment. Thank you.

There are many woodworkers here.

I want to be remembered and known not so much for my woodworking, but what I am like as a human being.

I find one of the greatest things about the other Lumberjocks is they are decent, honest ,and caring people.

They have there integrity and priories in order.

That is one of the hidden jewels of this site.

What good would come from being surrounded by impressive talent, if it has no desire or passion, to reach out and share – or teach others – who wanted to partake in their gifts.

-- Dusty

View oscorner's profile


4563 posts in 4334 days

#11 posted 03-17-2007 06:16 AM

Dusty, you’re an inspiration!

-- Jesus is Lord!

View MsDebbieP's profile


18615 posts in 4184 days

#12 posted 03-17-2007 11:34 AM

You got that right, Dusty.
Everyone with whom I chatted about LumberJocks I have tried to describe how amazing everyone is—good souls, kind souls, spiritual souls, artistic souls…
I’m proud to be a member of this wonderful family.

-- ~ Debbie, Canada (

View Diane's profile


546 posts in 4147 days

#13 posted 04-13-2007 08:11 PM

I ditto OS’s and Debbie’s posts. On to reading ….


View MsDebbieP's profile


18615 posts in 4184 days

#14 posted 04-13-2007 08:30 PM

it’s a wonderful “nail-biting” story, isn’t it Diane?

-- ~ Debbie, Canada (

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