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Being A Carpenter: Video with Gary Katz of This is Carpentry

by Marc Luber

Careers In Carpentry

Careers in carpentry are explored in today’s episode about being a carpenter. Our guest is veteran carpenter Gary Katz, a finish carpentry specialist, teacher to carpenters across America via the Katz Road Show and publisher of This Is Carpentry. Gary answers questions like what does a carpenter do, and tells us about education for carpentry careers as well as carpentry skills that you’ll need in order to find success as a carpenter.

SNEAK PEEK       (Full Episode below)

Home Performance
Professional Cellist

In Partnership with McGraw Education / College & Career Readiness

Today’s Guest

Veteran carpenter Gary KatzCarpenter & Finish Carpentry Specialist: Gary Katz
Grad School: Cal State Northridge in Northridge, CA
Grad Degree: Master’s in English
College: University of the Pacific in Stockton, CA
College Major: Liberal Arts
High School: The Orme School in Orme, AZ
First Job Ever: Delivering flowers for a local flower shop
Worst Job Ever: A particular carpentry client site

Being A Carpenter

In answering “what does a carpenter do”, Gary talks about the difference between rough carpentry (framing a house and installing walls) and finish carpentry (installing doors, molding, shelves, etc). He says being a carpenter is a great fit for people who like working with their hands. If you were someone who liked building things and taking things apart as a kid, then being a carpenter might be a great fit for you. You’ll get to watch your work develop and, since you’ll be learning on the job, you’ll need to be patient and able to learn from your mistakes. You’ll also need patience when being mistreated by clients – this happens as a result of careers in the trades not getting their due respect.

Education for Carpentry

When it comes to education for carpentry, Gary says the more knowledge and experience the better. While this can come from a college, community college or vocational school, there’s nothing like real-life experience from working on job sites. Those who don’t connect with school can still go on to great careers in carpentry right out of high school. Gary says that the key to carpentry skills is math skills and having sensitive hands. Don’t worry if you’re not good at math in school – math for carpenters is very hands-on and often learned differently than text book and classroom math. If being a carpenter interests you, find a contractor with a good reputation and make yourself available to them. Gary explains how to do this in today’s career video episode.


For our Audio Podcast: Careers Out There on iTunes


Careers in Carpentry 1:54-2:55
What Does A Carpenter Do 2:55-5:25
Carpentry Skills 5:25-12:25
Being a Carpenter 12:25-19:11
Education for Carpentry 19:11-22:22
Careers in the Trades 22:22-26:15
Rewards & Challenges of Careers in Carpentry 26:15-28:41
Keys to Success for Careers in Carpentry 28:41

Careers Out There host Marc Luber: Hey everyone, welcome to Careers Out There. I’m your host Marc Luber and we’re helping you find a career that fits you. In each episode of Careers Out There, we explore a career path by talking to a real professional who does that kind of work – and they’ll share all kinds of advice with us to help you decide whether it’s a career path that you want to pursue. Today we’re looking at the career path of being a carpenter – and we’re talking to Gary Katz – he’s a carpenter and finish carpentry specialist with over 30 years of experience. Let’s watch Gary in action. As you can tell from that video, Gary’s not only a finish carpentry specialist, but he also teaches carpenters. Gary published the only comprehensive DVD program teaching finish carpentry. In addition to that he teaches at live events all across America at national trade shows and at lumber yards through his Katz Road Show. You can find the schedule for that at KatzRoadShow.com. In addition to that, he’s been writing for leading trade journals for over 20 years, writing books on carpentry as well and he also publishes ThisIsCarpentry.com, which is a free online magazine devoted to craftsman and craftsmanship. And –as if all that’s not enough – Gary shares carpentry tips and techniques at his personal website, GaryMKatz.com. He’s a busy guy and an interesting guy, so this is gonna be a great show. Stick around! [Theme song] OK, we’re back. Gary Katz, welcome to Careers Out There.

Veteran Carpenter Gary Katz: Hey, thanks for having me Marc – I’m really pleased to be here.

[CAREERS IN CARPENTRY starts at 1:54]
Luber: I’m glad you’re here. Gary, I introduced you as a finish carpentry specialist. What is finish carpentry?

Gary Katz: The best way to describe it is to describe both finish and rough carpentry. Finish carpenters do the work on the inside of the home after the walls have been framed and the dry wall installed, the finish carpenters come in and install the doors and the molding and the shelves and the closets and all the hardware.

Luber: OK.

Gary Katz: And the rough carpenters are the ones who frame the house. They build the framing, they’re the ones who are banging together the studs and making the walls and putting the roof on and that sort of thing.

Luber: OK, wow – very interesting – I never knew that! As a carpenter, do you consider yourself an artist?

Gary Katz: I consider myself a craftsman or an artisan, but not an artist.

Luber: OK.

Gary Katz: I create things from nothing but it’s not art.

[WHAT DOES A CARPENTER DO starts at 2:55]
Luber: OK. Got it. Let’s talk about carpentry in general for a second. Tell us about the scope of things that a carpenter does.

Gary Katz: Oh, it’s so broad, you know, I could talk about it for hours. A finish carpenter in my trade comes on to the job and probably one of the first things he does is install door jams, installs doors and windows on the outside walls and then installs jams for doors and sometimes doors and jams on the inside. And then after the doors and jams are in, the baseboard goes in, just the molding along the floor, then the crown molding goes in which is the molding along the ceilings and at some point or other, maybe wayne’s coating goes in and other decorative moldings, maybe coffered ceilings and stuff that we do in high-end homes, and after the painters are finished, the carpenters come back and they install the hardware on the doors and that would be the locks and the knobs and even the hardware in the bathrooms. So that’s pretty much the scope of the work that we do.

Luber: Wow. So it’s gotta keep it interesting because it’s very broad.

Gary Katz: Yeah, definitely – and it’s always different.

Luber: Is there a typical day for someone who works in this field?

Gary Katz: Yeah, very typical. It usually starts – for me it always started around 5:00 in the morning, getting up and making lunch, getting your lunch in your lunch box because you’ve gotta pack your own lunch or you’re gonna be eating off one of those what we call roach coaches, you know – you’ll be eating off one of those little catering trucks which is kind of dangerous. And so you get to the job site usually, at least I did most of my life, about 6:30. Get there before most of the other guys got there so I could line everything out, organize everything, and everybody works then from 7 in the morning until usually 3-3:30 in the afternoon. Many carpenters work in the early day. They start early and they quit early.

Luber: And is there a plan laid out at the beginning of the day – “today everybody, we are working on THIS”?

Gary Katz: Yes, definitely. There are assignments that specific guys in the crew will get or sometimes the whole crew will be working in one room to complete one – if the rooms are fairly elaborate with a lot of trims or a lot of moldings, the whole crew could wind up in one big room for weeks at a time. And usually the layout – getting everybody laid out on a job happens fairly quickly because it doesn’t take a lot of stuff to keep several people busy. So you can get several carpenters laid out very quickly at work so you can get guys going very quickly.

Luber: OK. Who would you say is a right person for a carpentry career?

Gary Katz: Anyone who likes working with their hands. If you’re the kind of person as a kid who liked taking things apart and then could put things back together again you would probably make a good carpenter, because it’s really – a friend of mine told me recently “a good carpenter is like a good mechanic”. There’s a lot more to the word “mechanic” than just working on cars. Used to be that almost any trades person was considered a good mechanic if they’re really qualified for the job that they did and I feel the same way about carpentry too. It’s a hands-on thing, so if you like seeing your work develop and if you’re the kind of person that learns through the mistakes that you make and enjoys doing that – learning that way – then carpentry’s a great career.

[CARPENTRY SKILLS starts at 5:25]
Luber: And then if someone was thinking about this path, you were telling me earlier that math skills are important. Tell us how they’re important to this field.

Gary Katz: I can’t stress that enough. When sometimes a new hire on our crew, we’ll hire somebody number one if they can show up on time every day and if they can read a tape measure – I mean that’s the very first qualification that we usually use. You need to be able to read a tape measure – you need to be able to isolate and identify those little marks on a tape measure right down to a sixteenth of an inch. And you need to be able to learn how to divide fractions very soon in this career. You need to be able to work with fractional measurements very quickly or you’re just not gonna make it. So that would be the beginning, I’d say, the very basics of the math skills used in construction. But from there, they get a lot more challenging very quickly. If you’re laying out a home, for instance, you’re gonna be using the Pythagorean theorem: that a-squared plus b-squared equals c-squared kind of thing, ya know? You’re gonna be using that a LOT to make sure that the walls are square. If you’re laying out a foundation on a hillside, you’re gonna be using what I learned were tangent and co-sign functions, and these days we use construction calculators for. And also a construction calculator if you’re framing a home, you’re gonna be using that big-time for cutting rafters on a roof – any kind of roof work – or if you’re a finish guy building stairs, my goodness – it’s math intensive!

Luber: Yeah, because you were telling me if you make that one mistake, it just keeps getting worse – it keeps compounding itself, right? All the way through the process?

Gary Katz: Absolutely! And the only way sometimes that you can prevent yourself from making that one mistake is by using math skills to prevent yourself from making mistakes. And it’s something you can rely on -as long as you know it, you can rely on it 100%.

Luber: Got it. And just because you have a calculator, people can’t say “well all I need is a calculator”. You still have to understand the skills and the concepts.

Gary Katz: Absolutely – you have to understand what’s behind it. In our business, we don’t use a normal scientific calculator. We use a construction calculator that simplifies all of that Pythagorean work but still you have to understand what the calculator’s doing.

Luber: OK. And for the people watching who heard you say Pythagorean theorem and instantly reached for their ulcer medication, do they have to be good at math before even looking at this career path?

Gary Katz: No – not at all. I was terrible at math in school. As I said to you earlier, I pretty much refused to take any more math when I went to college. I picked a school where I didn’t have to – just because I was terrified of it. I felt I was stupid, I’d never understand math or trigonometry especially, but I learned from other guys on crews and other guys on job sites that actually I’m pretty good at math! And I use it frequently. As long as I have the tools that enable me to use it easier, and that’s pretty much a construction calculator makes that possible for me.

Luber: Great. So in addition to math, what are the other skills that you’d say are really important for people to bring to the table for this?

Gary Katz: I think tactile skills. Having sensitive hands. And what I mean by that is if you’re the kind of person that’s able to use a screwdriver successfully, you know? Without stripping the screwdriver or something. If you’re the kind of person that can use a hammer to hammer in a nail without leaving too many marks on a piece of wood – that sort of thing. Those kind of skills are very, very important. And I would say also patience. Patience really is important in my business because a lot of the things you’re learning, you’re learning the hard way – and that takes time.

Luber: That makes sense. And then over the phone you were telling me that people skills and business skills are actually important for people who really want to grow and develop within the profession. Can you explain why that is?

Gary Katz: Well the construction business is really all about socializing with other people. I mean the people you’re working with shoulder-to-shoulder you have to get along with, but more than that, you have to get along with your employer and you have to get along with your customers, your clients. And if you want to become successful and then let’s say you want to work for another contractor, an employer for most of your life, you want to become that guy’s right hand arm, you know? You want to become his right hand. You want to be the guy that he goes to and relies on on a job site, which means you have to get along with his customer – and I mean make them happy – that’s your job – it’s customer service. And some people don’t realize that in my business or in any business, I think. There’s often times people don’t realize that “boy, this is all about taking care of people” and you have to have that attitude. And that’s partially when that patience comes in sometimes too, ya know?

Luber: Yeah! And would you say the business skills are important because so often people go off to start their own company and represent themselves rather than being on someone else’s crew?

Gary Katz: Yeah, I think business skills are essential and you hear that from every carpenter and contractor, “boy, I could have been a lot more successful if I’d just been a better businessman.” Or you’ll hear someone say, “he’s a great carpenter but he failed because he was never very good at business.” So I believe that being a good carpenter requires organization. You have to be very organized, you have to be very disciplined, you have to be very prepared – and not just for the jobsite, but at your desk too. You have to discipline yourself in the same way with your business – and computers have helped us enormously as far as that goes, you know, spreadsheets and keeping track of stuff – of bids and paperwork and stuff on a computer is so much easier.

Luber: You were telling me over the phone also that if someone wants to break in to this path, it’s best to go to a certain type of carpentry. What would that be?

Gary Katz: You mean to specialize in a certain type of carpentry?

Luber: Yeah, you were saying not to be the cabinet guy…..

Gary Katz: Oh, yeah. If you want to work in people’s homes and actually build stuff and work on your own and be independent, I believe that there’s an awful lot of cabinet folks in this business and they usually start with a shop in their garage and then they build a shop – they get a big shop or a little one – and then they end up with employees – and before you know it, you’re just a manufacturer. You know, you’re working with C&C machines and you’re just manufacturing cabinets and parts and stuff – or, cause if you want to be a real carpenter, you’re gonna have to work on jobs and one of the best areas to specialize in is finish work and built-ins – because those things have to be done on the job site in people’s homes or in new homes that are being constructed. And it’s an industry and a career that’s gonna always be in demand – people are gonna always – even if they’re not building new homes so much like today, they’re gonna be remodeling those homes – remodeling those homes that they live in or adding on to them or freshening them up and that’s what a finish guy does.

Luber: And so even if there’s a dip right now because of the economy, in construction, it will come back and there will be all kinds of opportunities once again because there’s always gonna be that need.

Gary Katz: Well it always comes back because they’ve always referred to our business as feast and famine. And I think that’s an over-exaggeration. I think there’s just dips and peaks that we run through in the business and sometimes they’re severe and sometimes they aren’t so severe, but you can weather the dips – you can weather the low-points easily if you’re really good. It’s all about reputation and being one of the best. If you’re one of the best, you’re gonna always find work, always have your phones ringing. It might not be ringing off the wall but you’ll always be working.

[BEING A CARPENTER starts at 12:25]
Luber: Excellent. If someone wants to just break in to carpentry period, they want to get in now, what should they do?

Gary Katz: You have to get a job. So the best way to get a job in my opinion is to find a contractor you want to work for. You can’t just go out and start working on your own right away because you don’t know enough. And you’re gonna be working for somebody for a while – so be careful – one of the sayings in my business is “hire slow and fire fast”. Well it works in reverse too, ya know! Research who you want to work for very carefully and find somebody that fits your need. The best way to do that is to run around, drive around your town, find some jobs that are going on that look like the kind of work you’d want to do but keep your eye open for jobs that are well organized, that are run well, that are neat and clean – where the guys are fairly happy. If you walk on to a job and start talking to some guys and they’re friendly, that may be a good place to work. And in a way, remember that the potential contractor is gonna be interviewing you, but you’re gonna be interviewing him too! You’re gonna be seeing how he treats you when you go up to him and say “hey, I’m looking for a job”. And the best way to do it is to do just that. “I’m looking for a job” and be really honest with him about what you know and really honest about what you DON’T know! Don’t give anybody any false hints of expectation or something – and tell them to try you out for a week or two just to see if you fit.

Luber: So if I don’t know anything, I’m brand new, I really don’t know anything, I just think it looks really cool – I want to do it – I just tell them that and just say “just try me”?

Gary Katz: Yup. Tell them you’ll start at the very bottom and promise you’ll show up to work every single day on time and you’ll work hard and if they’re not happy with you, “fire me within a week” or “fire me tomorrow” or “fire me on the first day or in a week but I promise you’ll be happy with what I’ll do – I really want to learn how to do this – I love doing it”. If you’ve done it before, make sure you explain that. You may not get a chance sometimes to talk directly to a contractor. You may not find those kinds of job sites so easily. So the second choice I would say, and not even a second choice but part of the process in finding a good employer is going to lumber yards – material suppliers. If you’re a finish guy, go to a company that sells doors and windows and trim, moldings, and ask them for their advice. Who are some of the better builders they work with? What contractors do they work with? And then you’ll be getting some really good leads because they’ll be judging the better builders and better customers by who’s buying the most from them and who’s paying their bills on time! That will also give you a really good insight into the kind of people you want to work for because you definitely want to work for somebody that pays their bills because they’ll be in the business longer and they’ll be paying you too! So that’s a good kind of way to find a good contractor as well.

Luber: And what is the entry level? What does that mean?

Gary Katz: It could be any number of things. You can start out as just a plain helper who knows nothing. And the first tool that you’ll be using is a broom and a shovel and cleaning up and sweeping and stuff and digging ditches and that sort of thing. I started there myself. I did for a long time. Eventually you work up to wearing a nail apron, a tool bag, a tool belt and you carry a hammer and learn how to use a nail gun and how to install baseboard probably if you’re pursuing a career in finish work. Usually the guys start out learning how to install baseboard and you won’t even be allowed to touch a miter saw for months maybe. You’ll just be learning how to actually nail the material and really install it. And then a guy will start teaching you how to miter – how to miter moldings and things. And baseboard is usually again the place you start so you really don’t have to know a lot. Some contractors prefer their new hires not to know a thing, but other contractors especially serious and high-end finish contractors, will want to hire somebody that has some know-how, some experience.

Luber: So you’ve just gotta find that team that’s willing to let you in and give you a break?

Gary Katz: That’s it.

Luber: And then when you’re getting that break and you’re the clean-up guy, you’re the low-level guy, is it minimum wage? What is someone making there as far as pay?

Gary Katz: It’s funny because minimum wage doesn’t really have a lot to do with pay scale in construction. These days minimum wage in construction is
probably $10 or $15 an hour, depending on the region of the country you work in, whereas minimum wage in the restaurant business is what, $3 or $4 or $5 or something? I don’t even know.

Luber: Yeah, it’s low.

Gary Katz: Construction salaries are higher – you always make more money working construction because you always work a lot harder, at least in most cases. And there’s a lot more demands on you in construction.

Luber: And when you’re part of a crew, you just grow as you build more skills and add more skills to your toolkit you grow to a higher level on that crew? Is that how that works?

Gary Katz: Exactly. And it’s almost an evolutionary process that can’t be stopped, it can be helped with your own eagerness and your own interests and enthusiasm, it can be slowed down if you’re not enthusiastic and you’re not eager, but most jobs – and this is another thing – if the guys you’re working with aren’t willing to share techniques or teach you, that’s another sign that you might want to move on – because if you’re eager to move up, you always want to be working with people who are willing to share things with you. I remember when I used to play tennis in school, somebody said to me once, “always play with people who are BETTER than you”. And this applies definitely to construction.

Luber: Y up.

Gary Katz: So the career track really is in some ways you can kind of define it by saying step 1 is learning how to be a good trim guy: installing casing and moldings. And then to be a really good trim guy, like the top of the heap or something, you’d be a really good crown man too: installing crown moldings and stuff because that’s one of the most challenging types of trims to install. And then another career move would be learning how to hang doors: how to install doors and how to hang them from scratch. That’s a huge challenge. That’s a really big career move to perfect that talent and to perfect that technique.

Luber: And then as you add those things to your skills and you have those things you’re saying, are you now called instead of the low-level guy, the entry-level guy, are you now the “Number 2 guy”? What are you called? Are there titles in this field?

Gary Katz: In some ways. In the beginning you’d be called a “good trim carpenter”. “Here’s my trim guy – he runs all the trim.” “Here’s my door hanger”. The door hanger is often the guy who’s running the job – he’s actually the guy who might be organizing the whole job and telling everybody what to do because he’s usually the most experienced on the job – unless there’s a job superintendent or a job foreman or lead carpenter on the job. Often times the lead carpenter IS the door hanger, the guy who’s setting the doors, because that’s one of the most challenging jobs in the business – but it could also be the stair builder. The stair builder might be the lead carpenter, so it just depends. Those are kind of the steps from a trim guy to a door hanger to a lead carpenter who can organize and run a crew. That’s a big step.

Luber: Because that’s people skills.

Gary Katz: Yes. Be able to work yourself and to keep 2 or 3 guys going at the same time – that is a huge step. And now you’re becoming very valuable.

Luber: That makes perfect sense. What about this? What about things that people should study to make themselves better candidates or just better carpenters period? What would you say people should study?

Gary Katz: I’m a big believer in architectural history and understanding architectural styles and terminology. I don’t believe that anybody can succeed well in my business as a finish carpenter without some background understanding of how to design things and some understanding and awareness of different architectural styles: the types of moldings and what kinds of designs are applicable for different architectural styles and the ability to actually use the terminology to express yourself both as a carpenter and in words with a customer so that you can better explain what you can do or what they can do and you know – that’s all about terminology – it’s all about language. So the more language you understand, the more terminology you have, the more power you’ll have. And then of course, you know, there’s all of the techniques you need to learn. And I’m a firm believer in using the internet to pick up new skills, to research techniques and methods of work so that you can improve your actual carpentry skills just by learning from other people. There’s a lot in our business that you can learn from reading books, which has always been there, but today watching videos and DVDs because now you’re actually seeing somebody do it – and if you’re really into it, there are classes you can take – not a whole lot in the construction business – but the kinds of things like I teach, I’m seeing more and more people developing those kinds of opportunities and they’re rare to actually work with a finish guy or watch a finish guy hang a door. It’s different watching a DVD or watching a video when it’s actually seeing a guy do it.

Luber: Yeah, that makes sense for sure. What about school? Would you be saying people should be going to college? Or a community college or vocational school? What’s your take on the educational needs for this?

Gary Katz: Absolutely. I’m 100% behind it. I support them myself. I provide my DVD programs and books frequently around the country to schools and vocational programs and stuff. Even if you have a job, even if you have an entry-level job, going to school is another way of jumping up faster, you know? Improving yourself faster, getting on the fast track, not wasting time kind of leaning back. Lean forward and try to improve yourself more quickly – you’ll make more money and have a lot more fun – and you’ll kind of move up the ladder faster too.

Luber: Now if someone’s sitting in high school watching this video thinking “I want to do what Gary does”, do they – and maybe they’re not a great student, would you say that they really do have to go on to school – to college – or if they feel college is not for them, can they get out there and do like you were saying as far as networking to find that position and just get working?

Gary Katz: Absolutely. The only qualifier I’d say is the more you know, the more experience you have, whether it’s through an educational institution or whether it’s through job site experience, the more attractive you’re gonna be to a potential employer. But at the same time, I’ve gotta say we’ve hired a lot of guys, a lot of kids, straight out of high school who weren’t happy in high school and were FABULOUS carpenters. Just FABULOUS carpenters and surprised themselves how quickly they picked up things that were challenging in school that were much easier to understand on the job site.

[CAREERS IN THE TRADES starts at 22:22]
Luber: OK. I want to talk about this – we had a really interesting discussion the other day on the phone about the concept that the trades are not really respected in America for some reason. And everyone wants to see people who have the white collar job and the college degree and not that there’s anything wrong with a white collar job or a college degree, but for some reason, I get the take, I get the feeling, that we look down on people in the trades. I was actually watching CNN right before we turned on this interview and they were discussing this topic again – that the trades in America – 30% of families – there was a study done – only 30% of families would ever want their kids to go into the trades in America. At the same time, the college tuitions are skyrocketing. What is your take on this and as someone who has worked in the trades AND actually also gone on and graduated college AND has a grad degree, what is your take because you can see both sides? Fill us in on your perspective.

Gary Katz: This is a HUGE subject. There’s so much meat in this to contemplate. Our culture doesn’t respect people that work with their hands. And they haven’t historically ever really since colonial days maybe. Ironically, it was always immigrants – it always has been – still is – immigrants that come into the country that end up doing most of the skilled labor and trade craft in the country, which is a real shame. It’s not that way in other countries at all! Something somehow or other our train got off the tracks, you know, and we started – our country started appreciating and valuing a different kind of lifestyle, which is I think coming home to roost now! We are short of skilled trades people because we don’t respect them. And the shortage is gonna have an impact – over the next few years we’re gonna start seeing it as more and more people my age retire from the business and there’s nobody to fill their boots, ya know? And the guys who are coming up aren’t good enough – if people are complaining about the quality of construction today, just wait!

Luber: Ha! And you were saying too that you could even see it as a professional when on a job – when you’re in someone’s home – that even the level of respect given to you by the homeowner could be way sub-par.

Gary Katz: That is something that if you want to go in to construction, you REALLY need to understand and accept. And that’s part of the whole idea of – I said that it’s one of the requirements – that a guy or woman has to have who wants to go on to this business is PATIENCE. You have to have the confidence in yourself and the patience to understand that when somebody mistreats you, it has no reflection on who you are – you just have to be able to live with that – and concentrate more on who you are and what you’re doing than on the way people are sometimes treating you, because often in this industry, you will be mistreated. There’s no doubt about it. And that’s a reflection of our culture. It’s not a reflection of you as an individual – and it’s a shame but it’s….

Luber: People are bringing this very special skill to the table that obviously the homeowner doesn’t have! You know! I don’t have it! So I HAVE to respect it in someone else. I don’t understand why people look down on that. It’s odd. It’s just something that’s out there and people should be aware of it.

Gary Katz: Yes. It’s just a fact of life and I kind of believe that we’re having a small impact on changing that. We’re having a small influence on changing that as our industry – as the guys in our industry spend more time studying the craft, becoming even more professional, I think continuing education courses in construction are gonna have an impact on that too because really any serious profession has a continuing education requirement or program and construction is going in that direction in the U.S. today too. It’s only a matter of time before continuing education is mandated across the country. Right now it’s very spotty from state to state but it’s going that way. It has to because the construction trade is becoming very very complicated. It’s extremely complicated compared to what it used to be: we’re working with materials and tools that are – that require education – that require serious classes and instruction on how to use properly.

Luber: Another thing that I really love that you brought up that I think should make this path sound exciting to people who are watching and considering it: you were saying that because you have this trade skill, as long as you’ve got your skill and your tools, you can go anywhere! There’s pure freedom by having this craft, right? Tell us about that.

Gary Katz: I have always felt that one of the reasons I wanted to be a carpenter was because I always enjoyed the idea of being a cowboy, you know? Cowboys work – they ride the trail and they work outdoors and they have leather aprons – they wear holsters with guns – and a carpenter wears a tool bag, a tool apron, and he’s got his hammer – and you actually have a nail gun and a screw driver today you know? And I was always attracted to that – but there’s also that sense when you’re a carpenter and you’re very good at your trade – you’re very good at your craft – that you can live anywhere. You can live almost anywhere you want where there’s any degree of construction – any kind of construction going on: a small, small town or a large city or a medium-sized town and support yourself and your family very well. Very comfortably. You’re not gonna get rich, but there are different kinds of rich, you know?

Luber: Right. Money is not everything.

Gary Katz: Right. But once you have the skill, you can go anywhere with it. Once you have the skill and especially once you own your own tools – you’ve invested in both – you know – you and your truck with your tools in it, you’re a very valuable commodity.

Luber: So investing in tools is an important thing that everyone should keep in mind that they’ll want to do once they get started.

Gary Katz: Absolutely. In this trade you’ll be investing in several different things simultaneously. One will be skills and one will be knowledge – book knowledge – academic knowledge – and one will definitely be the money that you put in to your tools – and always with an eye toward investing in each tool like any one would want to invest in a good stock or a good home or a piece of commercial property. Something that pays off well as dividends long term. And that’s what the better tools are that we actually invest in as trades people.

Luber: Yup. Makes sense. Rewarding. The most rewarding part of being a carpenter. What would you say that is?

Gary Katz: You know, you get to make stuff! And every single day at the end of the day you might be exhausted from working hard but you roll up your tools, you turn around and you look at what you built. You judge yourself – you say “oh look – it’s right – it’s what I imagined it to be before I started – I did a good job”. OR you say “oh look – I screwed that up – next time though I won’t because I learned from that mistake”. So every day you not only see your own work but you see your own growth as a carpenter which is extraordinary. And when that job is done, that mantelpiece you’d been working on for 2 weeks or that coffered ceiling or that library or whatever it is, when that’s complete, you have a sense of fulfillment that’s unparalleled. Very few people have that degree of fulfillment. I can’t think of any other word to describe it. And also everybody’s judging you along the way. Everybody – your co-workers, your customers, your clients, everybody is looking at your work. It’s not like you can hide it underneath a pile of paper or in the back of somebody’s email folder or something. Everybody is looking at it and judging you so it’s – I’m telling you – that’s part of the reward too – sometimes you’ll get their criticism but sometimes you’ll get the affirmation from your colleagues or your co-workers or your customers and that’s immense. It’s tremendous.

Luber: And would you say that the most challenging part – or the thing that would weed people out – the thing where if you can’t handle this, get out – don’t do it – don’t do this path…Would you say it’s what you mentioned before? Just dealing with the people as they turn their noses up at you and not respect you?

Gary Katz: Yes. And I’d say criticism is good word to go into that on. If you’re not comfortable with people criticizing you or mistreating you or people telling you to do something over again because they don’t like it – or people treating you like you’re not very important to them – like “move your truck” 3 or 4 times, or “you can’t park this close to the job – you have to park half a mile away” – then don’t go into this business.

Luber: Right.

Gary Katz: In that sense it’s a very challenging career.

Luber: What about keys to success? Wrap us up with some keys to success where if I break in today, what can you tell me – you have all these years of experience – I’m brand new, I don’t – save me some time – give me some keys to success so I can kick butt in this field.

Gary Katz: I would say some of the things I’ve already mentioned. Learn as fast as you can. Improve as quickly as you can. And that means always be pushing the envelope. Always be going out on a limb to do better work, do nicer work, learn how to work faster and more efficiently, and be learning all the time academically as well. When I say “academically” I mean on the computer or taking classes or watching videos or buying DVDs, buying books, learning more about architecture as well as joinery as well as construction techniques – and pushing the envelope all the time. And also pushing the envelope personally – your people skills, you know? Be challenging yourself when it comes to developing more patience and more understanding of the people you’re working with, and the people you’re working for and you’ll go a long ways – I’m confident of it.

Luber: That’s great advice! Great advice. I hope this is helpful to all you guys. Please leave feedback, questions and comments in the comments section below the video on Careers Out There dot com. Gary, thanks so much for taking your time today.

Gary Katz: You’re welcome! It was a pleasure being here. Thank you Marc.

Luber: Excellent. You guys, you can find Gary in lots of places all over the web – I’m gonna point you to his main site, GaryMKatz dot com. You can find episodes of Careers Out There on iTunes, YouTube, BlipTV and of course at Careers Out There dot com. Thanks again for watching everybody. I’m Marc Luber and look forward to seeing you again soon. Take care.

©2011 Careers Out There


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