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"Many hands make work light."

comments (2) October 19th, 2012 in Blogs
Olitch Mike Litchfield, Blogger, book author, one of the first FHB editors

Newly released by Taunton Press, Renovation 4th Edition contains the collective wisdom of builders across North America.
Mike Litchfield has been haunting job sites for more than four decades and hasnt worn out his welcome yet.
Chip Harlely, a veteran contractor in Berkeley, California, is R4s technical editor
Michael McAlister, a master electrician in San Francisco, helped extensively revise R4s electrical chapter--along with FHB mainstay, Clifford Popejoy.
Renovation 4th Edition includes extensively reworked chapters on planning; doors, windows and skylights; electrical wiring; and energy conservation. Here, skylight specialist Gary Schroeder frames out a sklight with four tapering sides.
A home renovator strikes a Rosie the Riveter pose. More than half of all renovation projects are intiated by the woman of a household.
Newly released by Taunton Press, Renovation 4th Edition contains the collective wisdom of builders across North America.Click To Enlarge

Newly released by Taunton Press, Renovation 4th Edition contains the collective wisdom of builders across North America.

Photo: Taunton Press


In the course of writing twelve books on building and having the privilege of launching Fine Homebuilding magazine, I've visited hundreds and hundreds of job sites around North America. And on every site I've learned something interesting or met people who, though busy, were willing to take time to explain what they were doing, answer my questions and allow me to photograph them at work.

Granted, I waited till the saws stopping whining or the torches were shut off. And I bought lunch a few times. But good timing and turkey sandwiches don't begin to explain my good luck. A more likely explanation is that good builders are generous souls who take pride in what they do. I've found that to be true since renovating my first house, more than 40 years ago, when a local builder and master of all trades took me under his wing.

John de Keaney could build or repair anything, which was a useful skill in rural Concord Corners, Vermont, where it got 30 degrees below zero with some regularity, nobody had much money and both John and I had old post-and-beam houses that needed a lot of work. The son of Boston tradespeople, John showed me how splice wire, slope outdoor spigots so they didn't freeze, jack an errant wall back into plumb and, more than once, lent his back when something particularly heavy needed muscling into place.

The publication this month of my opus magnus, Renovation 4th Edition, has got me thinking of my mentor John, the hundreds of builders who've helped me, and the many thousands more who read Fine Homebuilding or its blogs.

So here's my chance to thank a few of you.

Tell me about your first building mentor--write as little or as much as you like--and I will throw your name into a hat. In two or three weeks I will draw two names and send each a copy of Renovation 4th Edition (autographed, if you don't mind someone writing in your new book). If you do send a note about your mentor, please check back to this blog now and then to see if you've won--because I will need to get the winners' mailing addresses.

(If you don't win a copy of R4, you might want to buy one. Seventy pages longer than the third edition (614 pages in all). Extensively revised, with beefed up chapters on planning; doors, windows and skylights; electrical wiring; and energy conservation. Roughly 1,000 photos, 250 illustrations, and lifetimes of useful information.)

Thanks in advance for sending a story about your mentor; all of us will enjoy it and be thankful for the help we've gotten along the way. As the old saw goes, "Many hands make work light."


All the best, Mike

© Michael Litchfield 2012

posted in: Blogs, remodeling, renovation, retrofit

Comments (2)

zimmerdale zimmerdale writes: I worked through high school for a local Amish carpenter named Orie Lehman. During the school year I drove Orie and a varied crew of 2-3 men to the job site before school and picked them up after school to take them home. My tax returns from that era list my occupation as "Amish Taxi Driver."

I worked with Orie during the summers on a variety of jobs. He was just as comfortable building a buggy shed for a neighbor as he was adding an octagonal sun room to a historic 1860s Underground Railroad home in southern Michigan. He was one of the few men left who did post and beam construction, and one winter he laid out and cut the entire frame for a large home that we set up the next summer.

Orie was just as comfortable with his trusty hand tools as he was with his newer air and electric powered tools.

I learned from Orie that I had a knack for seeing. He gave me confidence in trusting my "eye" when I thought something looked off. He quickly put me in charge of leveling out areas before we poured concrete slabs, because I could see low and high spots very clearly.

Orie stressed the importance of doing things correctly, and of always keeping things straight, level, plumb, and square. My clearest memory of this was one day when we were installing some backing two by fours on a shed that was to be covered with tin. After installing a line of blocking, Orie went to the end sighted down the blocks to pick out the ones that weren't quite lined up. When someone suggested that it wasn't really important, since it was all getting covered anyway, Orie strongly disagreed. He believed that paying attention to the small details would pay off down the road in fewer hassles, and he wanted to be sure that the work he did looked good.

I learned a lot during those summers with Lehman Carpentry.

Jason Miller
Zimmerdale Carpentry & Design
Posted: 9:27 am on November 1st

TheTimberTailor TheTimberTailor writes: Mike,

"If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants."
Isaac Newton (1642 - 1727), Letter to Robert Hooke, February 5, 1675

Its great to give tribute to the mentors in our lives! None of the ones I learned from had any type of degree or diploma to adorn their "atta-boy" walls. Come to think of it, none of them had any real wall to adorn in the first place. Their credentials were the "been there, done that" type which were mainly displayed verbally with jobsite banter. This makes me a firm believer in the hands-on approach to learning; "see one, do one, teach one" is hard to beat.

The most memorable building mentor on my resume would have to be Pat Morrisroe. Pat, a stocky, energetic Irishman ran his framing crew with a homespun motivation. He showed by example how to work hard and efficiently, teaching us that to do so required "getting a system" for each of the various tasks involved in framing custom residential homes in the early '80's. One guy on the crew who knew Pat for years used to say "I've never seen a guy who is so consistently right" when talking about Pat's performance as job foreman. I'd have to agree.
Applying many of the methods and lessons learned in the 4 years I worked for Morrisroe Construction made a positive impact my carpentry career, especially once I set my own course in the high-end residential remodeling field. It feels as if I've benefitted from standing on the shoulders of a giant, although Pat might argue the point.

Matt Jackson
The Timber Tailor
Posted: 10:39 pm on October 31st

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