Scruffy guy engrossed in morning news Mr. Andrew David Chamberlain, a capital fellow (pun intended) whom I have come to appreciate, asked me awhile back if I ever write about building. Of course, I don’t, usually. I’ve thought that maybe I should wait until I’m an old man with some authority on the subject. Well, I’ve decided that as long as I’ve chucked my computer career out the window and waded out into construction, I may as well get some material out of it.

The Short Version

For awhile, I worked in downtown Minneapolis. I wore slacks and sat at a desk. It was one of those jobs that qualify you for a free subscription to InfoWorld or eWeek. I was pretty sure computers would be my bread and butter; I had been programming for fun since I was twelve. All my aptitudes lay along that line. You can imagine what a difference it was to find myself outside in the wind & the rain, holding a hammer and attempting to read a blueprint.

No more emails, no more spreadsheets. Suddenly the results of your work are painfully and gloriously tangible. When you finally learn to think ahead and remember every step, you save a lot of time. Miss a detail, and you’ll strain your body to fix it.

In the building trades, your use of motion is at least as important as your knowledge of the process. The best, most efficient carpenters spend sixty percent of their time simply walking from one place to another. You have to make all that walking useful for something, and that means thinking ahead all the time. Until you hit a rhythm and get a system down, your productivity suffers like a roll of toilet paper in a rainstorm…whatever that may mean to you. But when the rhythm does come, it makes the monumental into the casual. “Build a house? No problem. Hand me that piano.”

Sometimes I wish I were still in that office building downtown. But at lunchtime on a nice day, I sit down on the grass and eat my sandwich and think, no: this is good. At the end of the day, you drive away and leave behind the form of a house. A building. For some reason it always looks great no matter how big or small it is.


“Vulnerant omnia, ultima necat.”
Every [hour] injures, the last one kills.
—Inscription on a Roman sundial