Learning Beginning Carpentry Skills

Learn beginner-level carpentry skills, including the fundamentals of building such as measuring, marking, cutting, nailing, tools and aids, building tips and building diagrams.


| July/August 1987



106-086-01

"Level twice, build once." Constantly checking—and rechecking—is a key to good building.


PHOTO: KEN FORSGREN

MOTHER's Handbook: Carpentry skills are really more of a mental game than a physical one: The pencil is more important than the saw.(see Figures 1 through 15 in the image gallery.)

Learning Beginning Carpentry Skills

A couple of summers ago, I took a leave from my desk job to work with the three-man carpentry crew that was building my family's new house. I didn't know much of anything about carpentry skills, but I wanted to learn and was eager to participate.

One day during the initial framing, I was talking with the utility company worker who was hooking up our temporary power line. "How many people you got working on your house?" he asked me. "Three," I said, referring to the paid crew and shyly omitting myself. "That's good," he said. "Three's the perfect number. If you have any more than that, one of them's usually a lunt who does more harm than good."

That was me, all right—I was pretty incompetent. But I learned. And, as a result, I may not be a professional carpenter, but I am past the initial mismeasure and misnail stage. So (with the help of two contractor friends, Bill McCurdy and Chris Crosson), I'd like to share some building lore for other people who don't know a speed square from a chalk line (and might feel a bit embarrassed about that lack of knowledge). Anybody already competent with such tools can stop reading now—you won't learn anything new here. This article contains those basic tips that real carpenters don't often deign to tell beginning ones.
It's just for us lunts.

Carpentry Skills: Measuring

The real secret to carpentry, one friend told me, is to not misplace your tools. That may sound so obvious it's stupid, but it's not half as stupid as you'll feel the first day you spend more time hunting tools than using them. So, right off the bat, buy yourself a tool belt. Stash your gear in those leather pouches, and you won't have to retrace all your steps every time you need the tape measure.

(By the way, you know what a carpenter's most important tool is? I was shocked to realize this: a pencil . Carpentry involves constant figuring and measuring. So if you ain't got a pencil, you cain't build.)

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