I am a Crapenter

I love to cook.  Saute. Roast. Grill. Braise.  If it’s food, I can do a pretty decent job making it taste good.  In fact, if I didn’t woodwork, I would probably list cooking as my favorite hobby… and tip the scales at a much higher weight than I do already.

The only one skill I have yet to master is baking. I mean, it seems so simple.  Depending on the recipe, all you have to do is mix ingredients like flour, sugar, butter, eggs and baking powder, pop them in the oven and BAM, you have cake.

But baking is different.  If you aren’t absolutely precise on your measurements and your process, you can end up with something that looks like a modern art masterpiece and sits in your gut like a ton of bricks.  It’s completely opposite of the loosey-goosey kind of cooking  that takes place in a skillet.

The same holds true for working with wood. I like to do fine woodworking.  No, I don’t cut every dovetail by hand or thickness my boards with a classic infill smoothing plane until the surface glows.  But, I do like to carefully mark components and fit them with a great degree of precision into the project.  For me, that’s a pleasant way to while away time in the shop.

Rough carpentry, however, is a completely different animal.  My wife and I have decided that the home’s original kitchen counter top which I had tiled over when we first moved in  had seen much better days.  In fact, it is pretty darned gross and needed to be replaced.  While we were checking out the solid surface counter tops, my wife was struck with the idea of adding a high sitting bar to the existing kitchen design.  The fellow who sold us the new counter top drew a quick yet thorough design of how to add this feature with a simple 2 x 4 framed wall screwed to the existing kitchen cabinets.

“And, you look like a pretty handy guy.  I’m sure you can do it.”

Let’s just say that as with baking, rough carpentry is something I just don’t do well.  It doesn’t make any sense.  After all, isn’t it just cutting dimensional lumber to a certain length, butting it together and driving some nails.  Piece of cake, right?

Not so fast.  I soon discovered that I can’t cut a straight line with a circular saw to save my life. And, forget about hitting an exact dimension.  Some of the studs I cut were off by half an inch, requiring me to use shims to get the boards to fit properly.

And, then there was the nailing.  I’ve become a brad nailer convert, just like my power-driven fastener idol Norm Abram.  My skills with driving nails using a hammer are dodgy at best.  And, when it comes to driving 12d spikes with my 16 oz. claw hammer, let’s just say that the results can be humorous.

In fact, the toughest part of the job was framing the wall in my shop.  I had to send the family far away from me so I could practice using all of the naughty words I was told to never use when I was in grammar school.

I’m no carpenter.  I am, however, a proud CRAPenter, builder of lousy rough carpentry projects.

Eventually, I got the wall inside and properly secured to the existing cabinets.  If I walk by and try to shake it, it is actually pretty solid.  Maybe it’s just a tad out of plumb on one side, about 1/16 over its 41″ height.  Not terrible, but I’m sure I can do better next time.

The moment of truth arrived when the gentleman came in from the counter top company to template for the job.  He walked into the kitchen and looked around.  “Who framed in your wall?” he asked.

Sheepishly, I owned up to the deed.  “Not bad.  You should have seen the awful job I saw at the last house  I was at.  I told the guy he had to tear his wall out and start over again.”

OK, maybe I’m not quite as bad as I thought I was.

And, once those new counter tops go in, I’m going to have to try to learn how to bake…

7 thoughts on “I am a Crapenter”

  1. I’m with you, Tom. Especially with living in an older house where nothing is square—everything has to be cut at a different angle in order to fit tightly. No thank you! I’ll take fine woodworking over carpentry any day.

  2. Tom,
    There is a reason that shims are sold in bulk.

    Rough carpenter isn’t finish carpenter which isn’t furniture making. The skill sets are just similar enough to cause massive frustration for those who think they are identical.

    The best tip I could pass along, for next time (for rest assured their will be a next time) is if you don’t have access to a nail gun and the project isn’t to big use screws. They are easier to use than hammer and nails and they ‘pull out’ when necessary.

  3. Next time, call me and I’ll let ya borrow my framing nailer, or at least my framing axe. Driving 12ds with a finish hammer is a bugger for anyone.

  4. Tom,
    Nice job. As I’ve approached fine woodworking from a general carpentry background, I know the journey is farther then it seems.

    Based on two items in your post, here’s a bit of advice for you next time.

    1. Use screws, not nails. I’m sure you have a screw gun (as opposed to a framing gun). Screws are a bit more money, but on a small project they’re easy, especially if you’re not a good hand nailer.

    2. On a small project, cut your dimensional lumber with a cheap pull saw (I think you showed one in one of your saw postings). I use mine for single cuts. It’s quicker than pulling our a circular saw, and much more accurate.

    Good luck with you’re next carpentry try.

  5. I’m no carpenter either, but I do consider myself a woodworker, of middling skill.

    My younger brother on the other hand, can do everything EXCEPT woodworking. He’s a master locksmith, an expert plumber, and the fastest, most accurate, and most knowledgable carpenter I’ve ever encountered.

    Oh, and I suppose I should mention that none of these are his actual vocation. Not directly. He’s in fact a master electrician, who’s owned a successful commercial electrical business (30 or so journeymen and electricians working for him these days) for…I dunno…6 or 7 years now.

    But like I said: awesome carpenter. He can frame the heck out of a wall. I wanted a new wall in my basement shop (about 16 feet; between a pillar and an outside wall), and he told me he could slam it up in about 20 minutes. I was skeptical.

    He showed up a couple days later with his compressor and a nail gun, and his truck bed stacked with 2x4s. And sure enough: bam, bam, bam. 15 minutes later, the thing was framed-out and solid as a rock. All I did was man my chop-saw and cut the 2x4s where he told me too.

    Since I wasn’t going to add drywall or anything (planned use it as hanging space), when he was done, he asked me if I wanted a bench hanging off of the new “wall.” I said, “Sure, but it’s not neces–.”

    15, maybe 20 minutes later there was a rock-solid bench framed-out hanging off the wall frame. Flat, level, square as a Swanson, and I mean, ROCK solid.

    Later I covered the bench with a tiled oak top, installed an end vise, drilled dog holes, did a final finish, and now I have a sort of secondary workbench that’s already more than earned its keep.

    So the little bro’s a heck of a carpenter, but don’t ask him to build a keepsake box, or heaven forbid one with marquetry or inlay or wooden hinges, or any other sort of fine detailing. If he can’t join it with biscuits, screws, or nails, he doesn’t want anything to do with it. 🙂

    Anyway, point being, I sympathize with Tom, and I think jlsmith hit the nail on the head (pardon the pun) when he pointed out that all of these different disciplines have just enough overlap to make many of our personal expectations deceptively unrealistic.

    Nope. I ain’t framing no walls. That’s what the telephone’s for. 🙂

  6. I have basic woodworking skills and can assemble flatpack furniture but I’d have to say that kitchen fitting is a whole different skill, specialist tools and fittings and uncompromising materials, not something I’ve dared venture into yet.

    Here’s some of my recent work

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