Carpentry tips from professionals
Most carpenters are skilled in all areas of construction and specialize in one: wood framing, concrete forming, interior and exterior finishing, installing cabinets and hanging doors, building stairs and railings, or site preparation and layout.
But what makes it possible for one carpenter to finish a job on time and at a profit, while another is plagued with delays and unexpected costs? We followed two carpenters to their jobsites to get carpentry tips from professionals.
Planning is key
It was immediately clear that whatever type of carpentry project it is, an efficient project begins with careful planning.
“Before I even go to the job, I review the drawings to look for special conditions,” says Juan Guzman, carpentry foreman for Avalon Construction, a general contractor in the Chicago area. “One of the keys to doing a job as efficiently as possible is having a complete understanding of the scope of the work and the existing conditions. I also make sure all permit issues have been met and the plans are approved to build.”
Site visits are an important next step. “Before starting a job, I visit the site for a logistics check,” says Guzman. “I check for things like access to the job, availability of power, working conditions, and areas for material storage and waste disposal. Then I can plan the workflow. We try and turn all operations into a production line to work more efficiently.”
If other contractors will be working on the project, Guzman meets with them on parts of the job that require coordination. “It’s always better to know the other contractors and what they have planned, if possible,” he says.
Materials & tools
Not much can be done without the right materials – and enough of them. Don’t scrimp on material orders.
“You never want to run out of material,” says Jose Orozco, carpenter for Avalon Construction. “That type of delay wastes time and eats into profits. It’s also critical that you use the best tools and equipment for the job. Trying to ‘make do’ with tools you know aren’t right for the work can also end up costing you time and money.”
While Orozco understands carpenters have tools and materials they prefer, he recommends taking the time to learn about new ones. They may help you get the job done faster, which can increase your profits.
“Some materials are easier and faster to use than others,” he says. “For example, take wall sheeting. In the old days, all exterior walls were sheeted with ½-inch plywood. These days we use ½-inch polystyrene. It’s lighter and easier to handle, which makes it easier to install. We also like to use metal studs instead of wood, because they’re lighter.
Pre-hung and pre-machined doors can also be a real time-saver.
“We like lasers because they’re very accurate and they don’t seem to get broken as easily. It’s just too easy to throw a water level in a bucket on the site and break them. Another product we like are Tapcon concrete screws for concrete, brick or block base material. They actually cut threads into the base material — providing a great hold.”
How material is handled at the job can also make a real difference in profits. ‘We like to spread material out in the direction we’re working so it’s in reach as it’s needed,” says Guzman. “We try hard to eliminate double handling of materials whenever we can. We keep a close eye on material throughout the day, depending on the crew size and replenish it if needed. If material has to be moved or arrives as the job is proceeding, we use the least expensive labor possible, such as a laborer or apprentice, to move it. That way we use the carpenters for carpentry.”
Guzman and Orozco agree organization is essential and can influence the profitability of the project. “To be sure the work goes as smoothly as possible requires organization and a clean, neat work area,” says Orozco.
Keep the materials where you need to use them if possible, designate an area for waste and use it, and be sure the necessary tools are available.
Protect yourself by utilizing the safety features that many power tools have, such as blade guards, locks to eliminate accidental starts and double insulation that decreases the risk of shock. “Never operate a power tool that has had the safety devices removed,” says Orozco.
Keep carpentry tools sharp and clean. “Dull blades and tools filled with sawdust or dirt can also cause an accident,” says Guzman. “I try to get to the job a half hour before start time to see if any conditions have changed and make sure nothing has been stolen or vandalized. We check the equipment regularly, and repair or replace worn or damaged equipment.”
Keeping the site clean is also an important part of maintaining safe working conditions.
“We are constantly looking for unsafe conditions and correcting them as soon as possible,” says Orozco. “We also try to keep the site very clean. If possible, we clean it up at the end of every workday. A cluttered work area is much more likely to result in accidents.”
It’s a cliché, but according to Orozco, it’s a rule carpenters should live by. “Measure twice, cut once.”
“One of my best time savers – I always sharpen my carpenter’s pencil on both ends,” says Guzman.
According to Guzman, the biggest mistake he sees carpenters make is not checking their work.
“Carpenters should always be checking to be sure the work is square, plumb or level,” he says. “But they get in a hurry and stop checking their work. There never seems to be enough time to do it right the first time, but there is always time to do it over. The best way is to try and get it right the first time.”
With careful planning before the job, an organized job site, a good workflow and daily clean up, you can maximize your profits on the job and get the job done safely and on time.