Sunday, December 6, 2009
Friday, December 4, 2009
Monday, November 23, 2009
It's astonishing considering all the media coverage of "skilled worker shortages" that we're dealing with this at this time. The suggestion has been made that we should import tradesmen to fill the gap. No, let's get Ontario young people into apprenticeships!
This is definitely an issue the public needs to be aware of.
By the way, here's a link to a utube video clip of an evaluation of the new College of Trades that I feel makes several good points. It features the Conservative critic speaking prior to the bill's passing. I'm also waiting to talk to anyone in the trades who cares in the least, never mind be willing to part with $100. a year to fund it.
Sunday, November 15, 2009
That said, I'm sure it will have a broader appeal to those living in other areas as well. Please take a look, and your comments as well are welcome!
Wednesday, November 4, 2009
Sunday, November 1, 2009
Sunday, September 20, 2009
Beautiful belt-driven nineteenth century machines still make window sashes in this New York shop.
Tuesday, September 15, 2009
I thought it might be interesting to put myself back in the place of a new apprentice for a moment. It doesn’t hurt, once in a while, to remember what it’s like on the first day. I well remember mine.
There was more serendipity involved than careful career choice for me. My father was a carpenter as well as a minister, had been an air force mechanic; and I spent six years filling shelves in grocery stores and desperately wanted a more challenging career, but although I knew carpentry I questioned the job security of a non-restricted trade. A friend of a friend knew a contractor who needed a new electrical apprentice, and I hired on at a substantial pay cut. Mid July, 1974, I showed up for work with next to no tools and found I needed more than just a hammer. Over the next few weeks I bought a new pair of steel-toed boots, hacksaw, brace and bit, assorted screwdrivers and pliers, and set about learning some new-to-me tricks of the trade.
Although I wasn’t a stranger to tools, as most young people are today, it seemed as though I’d stumbled upon a completely new subculture. Even the laughter and anecdotes shared around a sandwich at lunchtime was laced with a lingo I’d never heard before. Romex? (wire used in houses); banjo (round mouthed shovel; red driver (screwdriver for #8 screws) 14/2, panel box, fuse block. So many terms, tools, material. Every trade has its’ own conventions. For example, “back on black” is used when running a “switch line” from a light where there is power. You use a two conductor cable, the white wire connects to the power in the ceiling, down to the switch and “back on black” to the light. By following conventions like this, another electrician following immediately knows what to expect when removing a fixture and checking out the wiring.
All of these conventions are important. Some are enforced by code; since almost all jurisdictions enforce electrical safety inspections. Others are good practice. For instance, in our area it’s approved to join two or three solid wires together just by holding the wires with the ends even and twisting a wire nut onto them securely. However, a joint is more secure if the wires are twisted first with a pair of pliers and trimmed before twisting on the wirenut, and also they will stay together if the wirenut is removed for testing. In some cases, this is a significant point when troubleshooting. Commonly, wires come apart while moving them in the box after removing the cover. It’s also always been true that good practice exceeds code requirements. Codes are a minimum.
The new apprentice learns to do these tasks a certain way, because the journeyman he works with wants him to work well within limits of safety. Safety issues are emphasized; neatness and workmanship are drilled in, as is language and demeanour and courtesy when working in a customer’s home or office. He learns what parts are called, where they are in the truck, and to sort out tools and stock at the end of the day. He learns how to set a ladder firmly on soil or a floor, and sharpen a drill bit after it has cut off a few nails. Once he’s learned what common parts are for, he’ll be sent for parts and coffee on a regular basis. And he’ll be the butt of some shop humour for his mistakes and blunders. And some anger and frustration as the journeyman tires of correcting, answering the same questions again, or checking on progress and finding none, because the apprentice didn’t want to admit he didn’t understand what was requested.
So the first month feels a lot like a bad dream; one in which you find yourself attending someone else’s family reunion. Everyone knows each other, but you; you’d really like to know what’s going on, but struggle as you may, the frustration is continuing. After a few weeks, you, the journeyman and the boss will want to know if you “are working out”. Not everyone is cut out to be a tradesman, and even if you are, you and the journeyman may not be as good fit. All trades are highly demanding, mentally and physically, and place high levels of responsibility on the shoulders of workers. Before long you’ll be expected to work with a minimum of supervision and often little in the way of briefing about what a particular job may entail. Other times, such as when you are working on a large building project, you will need to follow direction from a variety of people, adjust your work to not conflict with others, and be conscious of the safety of others at all times while working.
In time, the struggles and hard work will ease, and productivity and quality of output will improve. Fellow worker’s, and other trades will make positive comments, and once in a while you’ll get as good felling of everything working together and making sense. The mistakes won’t end, but there will be fewer, and you will be able to find ways of dealing with unexpected errors on your part and others.
The journeyman’s way, one that is not visible to the novice setting out the first week, is a long one, and one that by no means ends with “getting one’s ticket”, “C of Q” as the certificate of qualification is called that is granted when an apprentice has completed all three stages of trade school and the required 4 to 5 years, and then finally passed a state or province wide test. While formal schooling is over and the journeyperson is able to work independently and with live power, proficiency will continue to improve and work will become easier, over the next 10, 15, and 20 years. And that’s how a master is made. Well on in the journey; when the worker doesn’t do, as much as being, a trademan.
An atavist is a term sometimes used to refer to someone who endeavours to reintroduce methods and ideas as they were used in the past. One individual who illustrates atavism in a very interesting and positive way is PeterFollansbe (http://pfollansbee.wordpress.com/ ). Since picking up the interest during in the 1970's, Peter has focused on researching, practicing and teaching how to work with wood strictly with hand tools, using methods as were in common use during the 1600's.
Peter and others like him have put to rest the old saw about "skills lost forever"; and have demonstrated that makers of the past were not only very productive, efficient, but predated many of the routines of standardization and preassembly that are widely used in shops today. (Read some of the comments on his site about speed and productivity in carving).
Though it may seem odd that I would be finding so much in common with Peter when he exclusively works with his hands, rejecting any power tool shortcuts, when I "can't work" without the latest cordless tools, I find much of interest in how he approaches and connects with wood, making, and tools. Like all tradespeople, I depend on my hands for the work I do. Like Peter we rely on complex routines and subroutines deep in the subconscious combine to enable smooth action as work is being performed.
Several things come to mind while considering Peter's work. First, similar to a farmer close to the earth while ploughing his field with horses, his choice of methods affords him a connectedness; with tools and with material. Peter begins a project with a solid block of wood, using a wide bladed "hatchet" to split and plane the wood to produce a board (instead of simply cutting one readily available to length.
From the moment he makes his first cut into the wooden block based on the direction of grain he maintains full control of how the surface of the wood will appear when finished. For example, while he could have begun by simply ordering quarter-sawn lumber, with the first slice of the block with the razor-sharp axe edge, he has deftly guided the process with an intimacy of mind, hands, material and tools. This happened in a way that would appear to an observer to be effortless, but is actually a symphony that can summed up by what we call craft. Another term that is ideally illustrated here is "intelligent making", a term I've borrowed and used often. Further, true craft mastery doesn't consist of continuously reducing and eliminating tasks. As an example, I could begin making a pine table by purchasing a pre-laminated block of pine.
Peter's choice of the seventeenth century is significant because that period preceded the effects of technological advancement on tools and methods. One Bible commentator suggested the image of Jesus of Nazareth heading out to the countryside to select a wood source from which to hew a yoke he was fashioning for a customer. As recent as the early part of the last century, one could travel the Middle East and find farming and other professions being done exactly as centuries before.
Mastery does involve continuous regard for tradition and content with a focus on right and appropriate methods and devices. One should if possible exceed the efforts of previous masters. In Peter's case, perfection involves more perfect replication of old methods, not replacement of them as we might today.
Again, should we all become atavists? Certainly not. I don't want my mechanic hand-filing from blocks of metal the parts he needs to repair my truck. But there is, however, much in Peter's work to illustrate what we all experience to a lesser degree; the connectedness of hand, mind and tools, regardless of whether they are powered by battery or human effort.
Monday, September 7, 2009
Saturday, September 5, 2009
Saturday, August 29, 2009
Friday, August 21, 2009
I'd like to share and comment on a post I made on a forum this morning.
Some years ago, as an electrician, I as called in to a service all in downtown Toronto, to a small but very busy print shop which was beginning to change to automated print machines, but still had a few that were manually fed. One of several run by one particular operator/ master printer had been set up to print engraved wedding invitations. The printer came in late, had the aura of owning the place; knowing that "these machines are mine" since he kept them running.
I've since thought long and hard, of the sight of him standing at his machine, manually feeding blank cards into the press and removing the finished product. If you were to stand at the kitchen counter, palms down flat, then move them about a foot to the right simultaeously and then left, back and forth in a rythmic motion you would be doing what he did for a living.
I can still to this day picture him standing there, tall, dark hair and glasses, around 50, would have apprenticed as a lat during the fifties. He was single, likely played cards late at night with his buddies, had some kind of interesting sidelines (intelligent fellow), but what he took pride in was being able to hand-feed a press faster than an automated press of the time, with a cleaner, crisper product. His pride was unmistakable.
What he felt was something that Marx and time study efficiency "experts" have never understood; that even operating simple machines repetitively may be excruciating to some but is the source of subtle but real mastery for others. Certainly he would have been made obsolete since then. I'm personally of a very different makeup; I'm the kind to be always looking for better ways of doing things.
Farming is a prime example of an area of skill where methods and machines underwent extremely slow transitions, like 400 years at least before steam engine refinements inthe early 1800's made possible new inventions. In both the U.S. and Canada, from 1830 on numerous inventors and manufacturers brought new products on the market with amazing rapidity.
Strange? Not to me. what is strange though, is the thought of all the men who followed a horse or ox down a field day after day, and never tried to figure a better design for a plow. It's even more interesting and equally pertinent to our discussion, to go to a rural plowing match, and watch how engrossed a farmer can get in lining up and accomplishing a perfect furrow. Skills perfected while following the horse down the field for many years, turned into an art form.
Thursday, August 20, 2009
Friday, August 14, 2009
Cop and Carpenter ~ started both at same time and liked them both enough to continue them as parallel occupations. I write about what I know... I'm a cop and carpenter, a husband, a father and a blogger. My blogging combines the other four, ranging from the teenage trend known as "sexting” to notoriously loose handrails.
Robert E. Robillard
His site combines interests in the trades and their promotion, his dual careers, and by the looks of it, family values. I only see one problem; anyone with a trailer this organized.... just jealous!