Woodchips and Nailguns: Lessons From My Father

Some of my most vivid memories of growing up with my father are from the projects we worked on together. My dad, among his many other skills, is a carpenter. He built 2/3rds of the house I grew up in — my grandfather built the other third. Together, we’ve torn down walls, put down flooring, remodeled kitchens and bathrooms, installed doors and windows, built decks, and a whole lot more.

The truth is, I hated working on carpentry with my dad when I was a kid. Alabama summers are horridly hot and humid. Sawdust is itchy and irritating. I was often bored, and Dad usually ended up frustrated and cussing, especially once he started getting tired.

When I moved away for college, I didn’t touch carpentry for years — not until I moved back home in late 2015.

I’ve been thinking about working with wood more over the last year. Last year, my dad and I built a wooden wheelchair ramp at their house. Later, we removed a portion of wall in the kitchen to create a beautiful little passthrough window to the living room.

Carpentry tools


Learn By Watching

On all of those projects, I’ve mostly served as my dad’s assistant. Go find this tool. Hold this board. Measure this. Mark this. Go ask your mother to come see and tell me what she thinks about this.

Most of the major cuts with tools like the circular saw and tablesaw, my father did. Not because I couldn’t, but just because it was the way we’d always worked, ever since I was a child. My father was always very good at explaining each step of what he was doing. He showed me everything he was doing, and told me why he was doing it.

I guess you could say I have a lot of theoretical knowledge of woodworking, but not a ton of practical experience.

I know and understand all the mechanisms of a circular saw. I can change blades, set the height and angle, etc. I probably haven’t made more than 10 or 20 actual cuts by myself, though, and that experience gap is something I want to work on fixing.

There are dozens of tools that we own that I have a pretty solid understand of after 20 years of observation, but haven’t actually handled much myself.

Learn By Doing

So, with the projects I’ve been working on lately, I’ve been trying to fix those gaps in my knowledge. I’ve been experimenting with tools and methods that I’ve seen my dad use, but haven’t actually handled much myself.

I made Angela a growth chart for the girls, and Angela’s Valentine’s present, which I can’t share just yet. This week, I made a few other pieces for use around the house. Yesterday, I started a walking stick, and I have some reclaimed pieces of wood sitting in the backseat of my car that I’m going to make into little decorative pieces that I’m hoping to sell on the local Buy-Sell-Trade Facebook pages.

None of the pieces I’ve built lately are very complex. Most of them are just one or two pieces of wood. I’m not up to the level of building furniture or cabinetry, although I’m thinking of trying my hand at some simple boxes or stools soon.

But building them has helped me feel more confident about my own carpentry skills. I’ve gotten better at handling various tools, and practicing various cutting and sanding techniques. Here’s a few of the tools I’ve used on the last couple projects:

  • Circular saw
  • Table saw
  • Jigsaw
  • Palm sander
  • Wood chisel
  • Drill
  • Impact driver
  • Carpenter’s square
  • Tape measure

Organization Is Everything

My dad is a wildly disorganized carpenter. Every project is a whirlwind of misplaced tools. I honestly can’t recall a project we’ve worked on together where the tools ended up in the same place at the end of the project that they were when we started.

Partially that’s a time management thing — my dad tends to work to the point of exhaustion, not budgeting in time for cleaning up and putting away tools. So when he finishes a project, the tools just end up anywhere they can in the workshop or storage room.

I just can’t work like that, and I think it’s one of the reasons I hated carpentry with my dad as a kid. I don’t want to stop the project I’m working on and search for 20 minutes for the next tool I need. I’d rather know exactly where in the workshop it is.

Things are a little different now than they were when I was a kid, though. We have a garage workshop with lots of shelves and storage space, so it’s easier to put tools back in their places.

When Angela and I have our own cabin, I plan on having my own workshop with my own tools. I’ve already sketched a few designs for tool storage.

Will I Teach My Kids Carpentry?


Bubba wants to build a platform bed. Money is a little tight, but once we get the materials together, we’ll probably work on that together and I’ll see how he enjoys it. It it goes well, maybe I’ll show him more. It should be a relatively simple project to work on together.

The girls are little too young to teach them any carpentry skills right now. We might experiment with it as they get older, especially if they show an interest in it. I feel like Baby might like it. She has a fascination for building things that comes out in the type of play she does right now. On the other hand, Monster is more adventurous and likes getting messy, so doing sweaty work that leads to clouds of sawdust might be right up her alley.

I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.

What Skills Did You Father Teach You?

Were there any skill that your father taught you, like carpentry or music or mechanics? Tell us about it in the comments.

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