Reflections on my hammer--real long

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Forum topic by lwllms posted 02-22-2012 04:22 AM 2011 views 1 time favorited 4 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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555 posts in 3280 days

02-22-2012 04:22 AM

I’ve got this problem with my house, it’s been there since I bought it 32 years ago. I spent most of my life as a carpenter/contractor and if it was an easy fix, it would have been taken care of long ago. I suffered a badly broken arm 12 years ago and gave up carpentry but not wood working. My use of my left arm is limited and no one needs a one armed carpenter.

At our age, it’s time for my wife and I to start getting this place ready to sell and the foundation problem on one corner needs to be fixed but the house needs to be raised, all three stories of it, to fix the foundation. We have enough money to do this and I’ve talked to several contractors and “foundation specialists.” Not one understands balloon framing of 100 years ago and they all talk about doing this piece-meal. That won’t work, the structure has to be treated as a unit—the whole framing as a system.

With the steep topography and trees it’s hard to get a photo of the house. Here’s one from google street views and it’s the light blue house in the background. I need to raise a corner of that three story bay area.

I know some good carpenters and I’m going to have to hire some and self-contract the job. I need to take the walls apart in a couple places to make sure I know how the house was put together. I gathered tools at the shop but we use my hammer for a couple things. A clerk in a big box store told me Vaughan no longer made the hammers I used. Wow, the best finish hammer ever made was discontinued??? In these days of nail guns, I guess no one really pays attention to hammers. I swung one for a lot of years and I can tell you a good hammer makes a lot of difference.

On the internet last night, I found Vaughan still makes the Series 999 16 oz. finish hammer and ordered a new one for the shop. These are great hammers, I also used the 20 oz. as a framing hammer, it swings like other makers’ 16 oz. hammers but drives nails with the authority of other makers’ 22 or 24 oz. hammers.

While thinking about my hammer, I remembered something from my days as a carpenter. I was helping an other carpenter finish out a high end house about sixty miles from home. One of the hardwood dealers had given him my name and it turned out he was pretty much a jerk. It would have been better, though, if he had been half as good a carpenter as he thought he was.

The architect for this house was also the general contractor and he had an architecture student working for him as a draftsman. The student was a nice and competent guy who came by daily to check on the job but he was graduating. He graduated shortly before the job was finished and got on with E. Fay Jones as an illustrator. I don’t know if you’re familiar with Fay Jones but he was a pretty famous architect and a good one.

Fay Jones was an old-school architect. There was no CAD in his office, anyone working there had to be able to draw. They had to be able to make designs come alive on paper.

Not long after the architecture student left, he showed up saying Fay Jones was looking for a carpenter to do some special small jobs. He wanted to know if the other carpenter and I could have lunch with them and discuss that work. We set up a lunch date but something happened with Fay Jones’ schedule and it was put off for a week. One day, the next week I looked around at lunch time and the other carpenter was gone.

A while later he showed up and told me he’d had lunch with Fay Jones and the student. He didn’t want any competition for that work and had cut me out but didn’t say so. I asked him what they had talked about and he looked puzzled as he said, “Not much. He asked me about nail guns and that’s about it.” I asked him what he’d said and he told me he had extolled the virtues of Senco nail guns and how he always used them. I had to laugh and told him, “Wrong answer.” He never worked for Fay Jones

I would have liked to have met and worked for Fay Jones. I would have told him, “Nail guns are nail guns, if you want a tight solid house let me build it with a hammer.”

A couple years ago, I told Chris Schwarz this story and he said, “Oh, that’s a famous story.” Chris was a fan of Fay Jones and has read the books about him. I haven’t read them but Chris told me that was how Fay Jones evaluated a carpenter. If the carpenter didn’t say he could do better work with a hammer than a nail gun, Fay Jones wasn’t interested.

4 replies so far

View Lifesaver2000's profile


551 posts in 3111 days

#1 posted 02-22-2012 04:44 AM

There is a house next door to me that has been having an addition done, adding about 800 square feet I would guess. One guy working alone, and I haven’t seen any sign of an air compressor or nail gun, but hear the hammer banging a lot. So there is at least one “old school” carpenter still around. I have seen a miter saw and heard the circular saw running though.

Of course, he has been working on it for a year full time and still nowhere near done.

Oh, I have to say that the way that the buildings are built into the hills there in Eureka Springs is something to see.

View yrob's profile


340 posts in 3651 days

#2 posted 02-22-2012 04:49 AM

Very well written. It is so true that nowadays its harder and harder to find true crafstmen. I suppose power tools have a place in production environments but there is nothing that replaces the trained eyes and hands of a true crafstman with hand tools for the utmost quality. When I had an addition put on my house, the crew of three carpenters worked exclusively with hammers, no nail guns. They used cutoff saws to speed up the work but the hammering was all done by hand. It was amazing to watch those guys. Two or three blows of the hammer and the nail sank into the wood like it was butter.

-- Yves

View Caleb James's profile

Caleb James

149 posts in 2928 days

#3 posted 12-31-2012 06:45 PM

Liked the story. My father was a home framer for 30+ years. I did lots of work with my dad in the summer time and weekends. I remember how with about 3 to 4 swings those nails where in. I couldn’t understand why my swings didn’t do the same thing. I somehow thought swinging harder was the answer but that never worked either. Nothing beats doing that one action a million times. Practice make perfect is so true.

My dad is quite aged these days. We live along way apart and when he needed an addition and repairs done to his home he paid to have it done. Took him about 7 or 8 years to accept that he just didn’t have it in him anymore to do the work himself. It was really disappointing to me when the workers completely did a shoddy job on everything, because he was so upset. He couldn’t believe that “carpenters” did work like that these days.

When I higher a contractor to do anything. I look for the oldest guy in the bunch to hire. I don’t care if he is slower or if he uses help as long as he is overseeing it then it never seems to fail to be the right one to go with. Every time I go the other route I have been burned.


View Bill White's profile

Bill White

4930 posts in 3959 days

#4 posted 12-31-2012 07:27 PM

Maybe my old (1978) 16 oz. Stanley will qualify as a keeper after all.
Yep! Craftsmanship is timeless, and the hammer skill is sometimes lost.
Good post.


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