Welcome to the site; I hope you find it informative. I'll discuss a wide variety of trades-related topics that reflect my own path in the trades, and issues relevant to what is happening with the new "College of Trades" here in the province of Ontario. Be sure to check older posts, and I'd welcome your comments


Sunday, December 6, 2009

Apprenticeship Ratios Update

I've been on a learning curve about these ratios. The link below is to a Connecticut based research article that seems to indicate fair uniformity for electrical, plumbing and HVAC trades. They typically start out 1:1 for a self employed tradesman, 2:2, 3:5 etc. For greater numbers, the ratio becomes 3:1.

End result? Big contractors need to hire more journeymen as they grow. The panic has started recently as journeymen get older. What hasn't happened, is wages increasing very much. 

Friday, December 4, 2009


Here's a site worth checking out; designed for professional electricians, it has job listings and items of interest to tradespeople. Take a look!


Monday, November 23, 2009

Apprenticeship Ratio's & The College of Trades

I've posted a couple times about the new Ontario College of Trades recently instituted by the McGinty government. One of the first issues to be tackled is the 3:1 ratio of journeymen to apprentices. In my day the ratio was 1:1, and with all the concern about boomers like myself retiring, there is no way to graduate new journeymen, considering the attrition rate between sign-up and completion, without dealing with the ratio. I don't know the history on why it was changed, and would be very interested in any assistance in finding out.

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

Electrical Advice Orillia

ElectricalAdvice Orillia is a new blog I've started, with a dual purpose; to pass on some of my experience to people living in the area of Orillia, Ontario who are thinking about electrical installations and upgrades in their homes. It won't be a "how-to" for the do-it-yourselfer, but about assisting in making wise decisions. It's also about promoting my electrical contracting business.

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

College of Trades

As I was working today on a medium sized commercial construction site, a $15m project with about 30 union and non-union workers installing steel studs and drywall, exterior stone work and electrical, I thought about what I had been reading and about what the guys on the job thought of it. I might ask the site super tomorrow if he knows anything about it, but apart from him I doubt any have heard of it.

The second question is, how much will the college of trades impact them. The answer should be, quite a lot, but I'm not so sure of that either. Apprentices perhaps, employers want more acceptable apprenticeship ratios. The average journeyman won't earn more, get better benefits or working conditions because of it.

Last comment; while recent immigrants should have a fairly easy path to getting to full employment, I really disagree with the idea that overseas recruitment is the answer to getting around worker shortage except perhaps in a few specific trades. It is much preferable to getting our own young people into the trades. Glutting the market, as has happened in the past, keeps wages down; they haven't increased around this area for years.

This is a topic we'll be watching for a long time.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Ontario's College of Trades

Legislation has just been passed in the Province of Ontario that sets up a new body to govern and promote skilled trades. This new organisation parallels existing self governing bodies for lawyers, doctors and teachers, and is supposed to better trades conditions and regulate apprenticeship ratios and who may be certified to work in both restricted and non-restricted trades.

As a tradesman who promotes skilled trades, I find this announcement both surprising and interesting, but I also feel that there are many unanswered questions. I don't see a need for more McGinty interference in small business. Since he's been Premier, WSIB has begun a scramble to fill their empty coffers, and Department of Labour over-enforcement, in my view, is already causing enough havoc.

Certainly, the trades are overdue for an increase in status, but my personal research into the realities of such efforts, usually for professionalisation, find that one of the main results is increasing fees to fund an oversized, over staffed head office; and I'm not alone in that concern. Such efforts never result in a pure gain, but rather a tradeoff whereby professional status is gained at a cost of independence. Also, a point that has been raised elsewhere, is that there must be an appropriate balance between union and non-union agendas. Just because non-union trades aren't organised as a group does not mean that their perspective and needs are any less valid.

I'm not anti-union; but I am concerned that it will be difficult for non-union voices to be heard over the well organized and funded union lobby who have already had time to prepare their case.

It does seem to be the intent that jouneymen, apprentices, and employers will have the lion's share of voice in trades affairs, and if that is actually the case, I see benefit. More to come on this issue, and hopefully from a positive angle. I'm all for promoting the trades!

Here's a link from a fellow blogger that comments, and includes leads to the government postings. Very timely reading.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Memories of "Old Woodworking Machines"


2612 Old Woodworking Machines
Beautiful belt-driven nineteenth century machines still make window sashes in this New York shop.

I'm 60, not 160, but tonight I feel like it; transported back to my childhood. I wrote earlier about growing up in a small Ontario town next to a blacksmith shop, and riding a horse drawn milk wagon home from after school. Well, at about the age of 8, I remember Dad taking me to a lumber yard that had an old sash factory, with mortice machines and long overhead shafts, long belts looping and twisting to each of many machines. This was about 1957, when the plant was already long obsolete, but it was intact. Not so long after, I'm sure, the machinery would have been dismantled and scrapped.

The above video illustrates just such equipment, much of it dating back to the 1860's when such mechanization would, as I understand it, have just begun to replace hand work, and others more automated from the 1920's. During these times, sash and furniture factories would have been scattered across towns and cities and would have employed many and used local lumber. I hope you don't mind my reminicing, and regretting not having paid more attention, in the 1950's and more recently, when "The Woodwright Shop" was broadcast in our area and I wasn't astute enough recognize the significance. As an afterthought, the shop would never be allowed to operate today; it was far too dangerous!

How I Experience Craft

These photos are of the main electrical room of a large country home, where I was asked to clean up the work of a previous contractor. 400 amp main service, seven panels throughout the house and several control system panels, and a lot of buried wiring. The first task took over 40 hours in 4 days, to tear apart the entire existing service as shown in the bottom picture, "during" in the middle picture (over 70 panel feeds) and finished in the top picture. The results certainly impressed the second general contractor who brought us in on the job.

Must-See Workmanship, Peter Follansbee


I'll let Peter comment. Speaks well for craft work today to know artisan's like him work so arduously at meticulous restoration of "lost arts". All with hand tools only.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Journeyman’s Way

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.

A Case for Atavism

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

Craft Knowledge: Undercurrents

The results of craftwork have been admired since antiquity; but not always the doing. The ancient Greeks openly disdained hand work. A Chinese Emperor from around the Eleventh Century made a point of trying to learn some of the trade secrets of the artisans within his realm, whose work attracted his admiration and fascination; to little avail. Visitors to pioneer villages, where demonstrations are given of various pioneer crafts that once were common to farm communities, also draw curiosity; but perhaps not to the degree that would lead to genuine appreciation.

Nicholai A. Bernstein, the Russian neurophysiologist whose work I've discussed before, put it right when he said that watching a master at work fools us into feeling that we could easily replicate what we are seeing. However, without having the advantage of schooling or self-learning, and 10,000 hours of meaningful practice, we would make as big fools of ourselves as we would by going into a tournament foursome which included Tiger Woods with the media following behind (as one Toronto executive learned the hard way some years ago).

It's not likely that a casual chat with a guest craftworker would make you any wiser than the emperor of a millenia ago, and for a very good reason. The craftworker's wisdom, like an iceberg, lies predominently below the surface. What the intelligentia know is largely 'an open book', and someone with enough time (as did Karl Marx and others)could spend a decade in good libraries and emerge well educated, as long as we were reasonably selective and productive. And we could I would assume be able to articulate what we had learned and write about it. But craft knowledge is in contrast predominantly tacit knowledge, meaning that even craftworkers don't always know what they know, unless they are exceptionally self-aware, self-monitoring, about their skills and the reasons for their selections and methods.

As a brain function, intellectual activity centers in the area behind the forehead, the frontal lobes. That is where conscious, deliberate thought takes place. If I intend to do something, my frontal lobes are active, making decisions and choices; but when I awake in the morning, get ready for work, mercifully getting out of bed and performing morning rituals does not require my deciding what to do. (Age helps too!) I'll have checked the clock a few times, then find myself doing one of the several things needful to be ready to go out the door.

Few craftworkers or artisans write about the experience of "watching themselves working"; thereby seeing what others watching them see. I've had other tradesmen say to me, "That's not the first time you've done that!", meaning, the work I (like any experienced worker) was doing flowed, without undue hesitation, whereas they themselves wouldn't have known even what material to buy for the job, without planning. Therefore, planning a small electrical installation would have been taxing on the frontal cortex ("That gave me a headache!") whereas 35 years experience means it presents no challenge. Occasionally bosses, even highly educated ones, can't ask you to do something they can plan themselves. Sometimes, humourous, sometimes frustrating.

(in progress)

Saturday, September 5, 2009

History: Craft Knowledge First in Print

I've just been given the link to a very interesting site, and i'd like to pass it on. (Thanks Kari)


This site, dedicated to old books and literature, features reprints of a very old book by Joseph Moxon on trades methods. It is considered by the site host to be the first printed book on trades skills, something we now take for granted. In 1703 there would be no benches in home Depot where one might have trade knowledge passed on for free. and that would be for a very good reason. Prior to the Great Fire of London, 1666, which wiped out a great deal of the city of London, skilled trades and their knowledge were strictly controlled by individual guilds, now known as unions.

For centuries before, all through Europe novices would be sworn to secrecy, because what a tradesman knows is his livelihood, how he makes his living. An early mason would make his own tools (read "Pillars of the Earth" by Ken Follett) but his knowledge was his bread and butter. I believe that this was also true many centuries before, because the use of craft terms in the Bible alluded to "craftiness, sleight of hand, hidden knowledge" suggesting that one's knowledge wasn't shared with others.

In this way, guilds kept tight control, and if a job needed to be done or a building constructed, the guild supplied the master builders, labourers, carpenters and masons to get the job done and contend for fair wages for the tradespeople.

The great fire of London, however, changed that forever, as there were not enough trained workers available, and once the doors were opened, they were not shut again, as the newly trained cohorts went back into the countryside after the rebuilding had been done. Joseph Moxon was a very interesting character; as the free portion of the reprint of his book tells, a prolific author and the first tradesman allowed into the Royal Scientific Society". I hope I've piqued your interest! It's good to remember what life was like. Dave

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Self-Awareness of Mastery

I don't know how wide spread self-awareness is, of individuals being aware of what they are doing; but I do feel acheiving mastery is very much universally experienced to some degree.

One of the things that separates craftworkers from others, apart from seeing visible results at the end of the day, is owning one's own skills, ability and competence. A factory or office worker, and also a great number of professional people toe the line every day to someone else's beck and call and are very conscious of other's expectations. This is true regardless of how good they are at what they do.

The experience of mastery came vividly to me one Saturday morning when I was doing maintenance at a Burger King restaurant. I did all building maintenance and repairs for a group of four family-owned restaurants on a part time basis for several years. On this particular morning, I'd gone to this store and been given the list of things needing fixing. The biggest concern was a broken section of wall behind a large kitchen sink, where the drywall had rotted, and there were a number of loose tile. To do repairs like this I'd learned to find methods to get the job done in one shot. I removed loose tile beyond the damaged area, cut back the drywall to a nearby stud and replace with 1/2" plywood, clean up the tile and glue them back in place with PL premium and grout and clean up. The job was 1 hr. 20 min. from home, so multiple trips was out of the question.

This was the first time I'd taken this approach, and once I'd gotten going on the task, getting ready to install the plywood oon the cutaway area, I had a jolting realization of wondering how i could "know" what to do. I do electrical work every day, had though I'd only seen the task an hour before I had arrived at a workable solution.

Being a novice is a mix of small victories, and uphill efforts to do what others around can do easily. You often have the feeling of working extremely hard; may think on some tasks you are the hardest working individual in the organisation. You may, though, be confusing effort with results. All part of the process; leading to the point at which most of the hard struggles to accomplish complex goals are behind you.

I would imagine Paul prefers to have work ahead of him, so that he usually has time to think about work, at least I do. You can start a job, unseen on Monday morning, but if I have a couple days, when I do come to take tools out of the truck I'm right ready to get at the work and it goes easier. And by 10:00 A.M. the work is going well, the customer expresses suprise at how much has been done, and you don't even feel like stopping for coffee. That's bliss.

Friday, August 21, 2009

The Studley Toolbox

I thought I'd share a post I just did on RC Forum, great set of discussions right now on the historical aspect of carpentry.

When I was a lad, my dad had a tool chest of 1/2' G1S fir plywood, as I recall, built as a box about 8" wide, maybe 18" high, by about 28" outside, cut after building, piano hinge installed so that side folded down, with storage for handsaw, chisels, etc. My dad also had a lumber yard, and when things weren't busy we could make projects out of scrap. So I remember trying to build a toolchest like dads, maybe 14 yrs old. I measured the inside, 26 1/2" long. Why the half inch, I wondered? I knew when my chest was done and my Stanley handsaw wouldn't fit inside. I wish i could say that was the last lesson I learned the hard way. http://www.phoenixmasonry.org/masonicmuseum/studley_1993_tool_chest_article.htm Like it says, a greatly detailed article on the Studley toolchest.

"The Printer"

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


At my last place of employment, I was fortunate to get to know a motorcycle mechanic who taught at a community college in the Canadian mid-west, and also travels all summer to teach Harley-Davidson mechanics in Ontario and Quebec. He also had an extensive collection of antique motorcycles.

As I usually do when I meet any experienced tradesman, I sounded him out to see if he had done any thinking about craft issues. I expected a little bit of discussion, but was supprised to have him say the one word "experience" as if that closed the subject. Needless to ssay, the discussion ended and there was no point going further. Actually Paul at the Remodel Crazy forum is the only active trademan I have met who thinks about trades issues with any depth. That is, wanting an answer to the question, "What is it to be a skilled worker?".

What my biker friend demonstrated, as I've come to learn, was the tendency of skilled trades workers to be comfortable and self-sufficient in their own zone of knowledge and experience, and not feel any need to alter it or be open to external influences. That self-sufficiency grows with competence in the core area of his or her scope of work. It's obvious that the more renovations a small contractor does, his projects improve in workmanship, he's better able to deal with the unexpected, be ready for customer problems, anticipate how long a job will take, until finally, if he or she is good enough, can be selective about the jobs taken on.

"Comfort zone" is usually taken negatively, but I'm using it here as a positive. In studying and writing some time ago on nursing and professionalization, asking if nurses paid too high a price by giving up craft to gain professional status, I learned that those most motivated by the status issue had become frustrated by nurses who simply didn't care about getting a degree and "moving up". To this "scorned" group, nursing as they experienced it gave them exactly the direct connection with patients that they had been called to when they entered training. That caring, ministering practice was what they wanted to focus on, and degrees and higher status in vocational pecking orders served only as a distraction.

Offering that illustration had a purpose, since the role of craft in nursing has been well studied in contrast to trades, where most research is done by the trades unions and focuses on conflicts rather than analyzing what make tradespeople do what they do.

Correcting that deficiency will be the object of future (and past) posts on this blog.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Papa's Pride and Joy! C'C"

This little girls is Papa's pride and joy. Cassis loves water, boats, and showing off to Gramma. Which is only fair, since Papa loves showing her off too. Sometimes her mother is just a tad envious of the attention we give her; she has asked us if we only come to see Cassis. Don't tell her; but she is only partly right.

A Concord Carpenter Comments


I was directed to this blog by a friend at MikeRoweWorks, Whiterose, and I'm glad I was. I'll let him tell his story;

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!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Interesting Thread on RC Forum

The pictures below were posted on RC Forum under "General discussion, Main Forum".
I asked for lessons learned from older construction, and the "Loneframer", a widely respected master framer from the NYC area, submitted them and contributed to a discussion on some rather unique framing methods. The framing method was almost like an early version of a roof truss. Here's some of the discussion.

"One thing that surprised me recently was some trusses that were in a 103 year old building that I'm doing some work in".

Q. Any idea why bracing only in one direction, and how recently (threaded rod) might have been added. I often catch myself being surprised by engineering at that time, which is ridiculous, when engineering principles are centuries and millennia old.

A. "Unless the building was damaged by fire, it's original as far as I can tell. The entire job is fastened together with cut nails and there is no evidence that would lead me to believe the trusses are not original. The rods are actually square headed bolts that appear to be about 1" in diameter".

Q. Those pics open a lot of questions. How much snow load, any? Fairly low pitch, no sign of rotting for that age. Will structure stay exposed? Wonder if uniformity today excludes some of the unique solutions you see there. Are the cross pieces morticed into the top chords of the trusses?

Be interesting to have an engineer comment on the direction of bracing.. now there's a thought I never expected to have. Wonder if an architectural historian would be able to trace the design back to a technical school in NY.

A. "These trusses freespan 40' and when sighted from end to end, they have a slight crown up on the bottom chord. The top chord is jointed into the bottom chord at the plateline. The fit of all the joints is remarkable.
As for snow load, In the 70s we had over two feet of snow in one storm. I realize that may not be much by some standards, but for here it is a huge amount of snow".
Here's the links to the pictures;

The Way of the Blacksmith

I'd like to share a post I entered on mrWorks recently in which I reminiced on my childhood and a
study that relates to a link posted on that forum, http://www.dfoggknives.com/wayof.htm take a look at what this chap has written.

I'm not normally a links guy, but for me personally you've struck gold on this one. First with a childhood memory, second with an important text book I bought in a bookstore for $5.00 with a broken spline (value over $125) on a Russian neurophysiologist, and lastly, on its discussion of craft. Do you mind if I pick a few segments when I have time and comment on them? It's very meaty and demands several rereadings?

When I was 6 my dad had just come to a small town, to a tiny church with cramped living quarters behind. I could play on the wide steps at the front of the church, and watch as teams of workhorses with hay wagon's were brought to a halt in front of the church, lined up to have the massive (to a 6 year old!) belgians and clydes unharnessed and led unside the blacksmith shop right next door! I can't imagine how dangerous it was for a child to be so close to those horses, would never happen today. I was less than 10 feet away.

Peering into the dark recesses of the blacksmith shop, I could hear the farmers and the blacksmith getting the horses under control so their hooves could be prepared, new shoes take from a wide selection on the wall, then heated and shaped in the coal forge and on the anvil..

It was 50 years before that book came into my hands due to a major consolidation of book chains in Ontario, which precipitated a massive clearance of hundreds of thousands of books. The book was a major treatment by two fellow countrymen to Nicolai Alexandrovich Bernstein, a brilliant scientist who grew up watching his highly intelligent mother dextrously performing needlework, then went on to a premium Soviet education, and was assigned to watch a blacksmith work and teach him how to work more efficiently, but fortunately for us but not him, Nicolai, a small man with striking features and almost tsar like bearing, was not about to teach anyone anything.


As Nicolai watched the hammer being swung by the smithy, swarthy arm raising high over his head and striking the hot metal repeatedly, other hand moving the beaten metal ever so slightly, something happened that caused changed his life forever.

What Nicolai observed was that the hammer never struck the iron in the same place twice; the implications of that led Nicolai to extensive study on skilled work that led to publication on dexterity, quoting western research at a time when the Russians were fiercely proud of the fame of their star boy, comrade Pavlov, of salivating dog fame. The short story is that Nicolai's offices were smashed, he descended into obscurity more or less, and his written work would have disappeared had not the two authors interrupted a descendent cleaning out his apartment while she was readying to trash piles which included his manuscript, which became the core of the book.

Only the very latest books on motor theory are beginning to correct the foolery of comrade Pavlov, whose stupidity regarding motivation and learning pervade all literature today. Books on motion study are exactly like what Bernstein was hired to do; tell a skilled person how to grasp a hammer. There is simply too much invested in Pavlovianist theories to change.

I wouldn't go on so long, but the implications for skilled work and respect are enormoous. how can one respect what one equates to salivating dogs. Bernstein was a brilliant man, but his respect for skilled work was profound. I recommend reading with the utmost care "the mower scene" from Anna Karenina by Tolstoy, which was quoted and commented on by Bernstein. it will give you a taste of his thinking. Thank you again for that contribution. It bought back a lot of thinking, that I didn't expect to ever bring to light.

This is the link http://www.dfoggknives.com/wayof.htm

Monday, August 3, 2009

Lindeman on Emerson

There's a bit of a story behind the quote in the header; it's from Eduard Lindeman, considered to be the father of adult education in the U.S. His writing still has a place in any good library collection on the subject. He was also a great admirer of writings and quotations of Ralph Waldo Emerson, whose essays and addresses to graduating students are rightly considered classics. As a self-educated person, I've stuck to a comment of Emerson's from one of those addresses to students, expressing the thought that education should teach a person how to teach themselves. But, if you can teach yourself, then why do you.. more later.

What's true of Lindeman is true of any contributor of the past; always look for both the timely (current) and timeless (legacy) in any field. .This holds true from neurology to sociology

New or Used?

Here's a question; I have a single volume of an ICS course from a century ago when study texts were well bound volumes; well worn, smudged and marked up with pencil. Also, I have three volumes (explain how to make a steam locomotive!) in pristine condition, look lovely on any bookshelf. Which are more valuable?

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Used Books: Craft in Fiction

I've seen a rare few excellent examples of craft principles portrayed accurately in fiction. One was recommended by a colleague, "Pillars of the Earth" by Ken Follett, a life-long enthusiast in Medieval cathedral building. There's also a short section in "Anna Karenina" by Tolstoy on the mower, full of observations on community and also automaticity inthe graceful, rythmic sweep of the mowers' scythes. British novelist Nevil Shute wrote a facinating work, "Trustee in the Toolroom" about a hobbyist who gained world renown for his craft knowledge. Finally, the final chapters of "The Prodigy" by Herman Hesse details what life was like for a metal working apprentices at a time when parts were fashioned with a file, not a CNC lathe.

It's my desire to do a post on each book, but these books are all old: has anyone seen a more recent example of fiction that highlights a realistic portrayal of skilled work in fiction? Let me know.

Why does it matter? Just for the same reason the "egghead" issues portrayed here matter; because almost everything done in sociology and philosphy of work is either focused on labour issues or portaying workers as victims in a variety of forms. That is no more desireable than recent hero-ization of tradesmen. Simple respect, and deeper understanding of their wisdom and contribution.

The above books are on Amazon or Chapters.ca

mrW Tradesman, Reworked Site

Keep a watch on the Toolroom section of the newly revamped site, it's featuring mrW Tradesmen, (including me) who will answer questions related to trades work, rather than "How To" as the Remodel Crazy" site does. Also, fans of the "Dirty jobs" show, persons interested in how to effectively promote skilled trades and trades people can meet and share experienced- or just hang out at the "Water Cooler".

For my part, I won't be telling anyone how to do electrical work on either site. It is far too dangerous to be done casually by homeowners. It ain't a hobby. I can help prospective apprentices learn about what the trades are about.

Check it out!

Remodel Crazy Forum

I urge you to check out the latest forum on the web, Remodel Crazy Forum, created by a couple renovation contractors to bring skilled contractors together with homeowners seeking advice on their home projects. As may be guessed from the title, the site is not overly serious, but wants to remain accessible to someone with a "dumb question" or unsure if they are being treated fairly by the contractor they've hired, or even whether to shop for price, or how to find good service.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Site Goals for New Visitors

If you are dropping by for the first time, things are a little different here from the average work-related site. Rather than the usual group hug and talk, the goal here to unravel the issues that surround skilled work; such as, how an idea comes together in a craft worker's mind to become a comprehensive plan that can be acted on, so as to produce a finished product both functional or useful, and pleasing in execution and esthetics. Or simply, a product that does the job, and looks good to the maker and user.

We'll also look at various aspects of the relationship between the worker and his tools, material and methods; as we are currently examining why a craft worker might hold onto methods while others have moved on to more "efficient" ways of achieving similar results.

Therefore we'll spend more time analyzing ideas than supplying work-rekated information, in order to get craft people and interested parties thinking about why skilled work happens the way it does.

If you're brave enough to take a look at my publications, you'll see they're a lot like a tough steak; require a little chewing. They deal with how community colleges (in Ontario) are handling (or ignoring in some cases) trade and craft issues. My passion at the bottom of it, is arguing for recognition of native intelligence in craft work, involving every bit as much as intellectual work such as university studies.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Bernice Vasey, Artist and Craftworker

I'm happy to be able to feature the work of a very talented and creative person. I've known Bernice for a long time, watched her work and talked about issues of woodworking. Her workmanship and creativity are astounding. Her only fault is extreme modesty, and the more you admire her work, the more she'll explain how some aspect didn't turn out as she'd planned, but pay absolutely no attention to her; her work is superlative.

You can contact Bernice at bvasey@georgianc.on.ca

Bernice Vasey Master Craftsperson

Luddites: Is Change Necessary? Pt.3b

I've just talked about the example of a violininst, and how being conservative in selection of woods and methods was not just preferable but essential. Tradition in his case was not a nasty word, does not denote recalcitrance but rather a steady and focused effort to retain the necessary outcome! the customer isn't looking for a suprise, but an instrument that will take its place in an orchestra with the goal of complementing a time proven sound.

We might think that a complex task like beginning with a block of wood and ending with the curved back of the violin body with uniform thickness could be done much easier than with chisels , shaved and shaved by hand! If Orange County Choppers can place an aluminum billet in a CNC machine and produce a perfectly sculpted motorcycle wheel, why can't we do the same with a block of wood? We could, but the result wouldn't be the same..

Now consider with me a carpenter using a hand plane to true up a door; at one time he'd have a long plane in his truck just for this purpose, now he'd have a power plane. However, if you or i wewre to take several passes of the plane down the length of the door, and then checked it, we'd find that the edge was getting off square, we'd see daylight under the try square, and that we'd taken off more in areas where we'd pressed harder. A true carpenter knows how to set the door firmly, and how to hold the plane firmly and press down as the plane moves away from his body. He'll retest as we would, but his eye would tell him a great deal about how uniform the passes were. He'd also watch the thickness of the curls coming off the plane, adjusting each pass to correct any distortions caused by the last pass.

The apprentice violin maker has a much more difficult task; shaping the curved back of the instrument with a variety of gouging and scraping tools, measuring constantly to ensure the thinkness ends up uniform throughout, reading the wood for direction of grain, etc

Work in Progress

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Luddites: Is Change Necessary? Pt.3

In 1970, I bought a brand new British motorcycle, showing rust right out of the crate, leaked oil, needed constant maintenance. It handled, rode and sounded great, but was an antique when I bought it. British manufacturing technology was in the dark ages at that time, since nothing was ever modified without overwhelmingly good reason for doing and even then only 10-20 years later than it should have been. Oil leaks were common and a point of camaraderie among BSA owners as were unreliable Lucas electrical systems that made one modern bike collector quip, "Lucas, prince of darkness". A whole mittful of British motorcycle manufacturers folded, as Japanese builders produced smooth, powerful and reliable (often ugly) and affordable substitutes.

I've done some teaching and have been around educational systems for over 30 years, and if anything teaching is more trendy than ever. New teachers who are not yet set in their methods may not mind. However, craft principles are widely recognized by experienced teachers, who in fact respond far more readily than tradespeople to discussions about the idea of craft. Those same teachers who have invested considerable time and energy in learning what works and what doesn't are forced to jump on the trend bandwagon each and every year. I'm not talking about the teachers who put no effort into their teaching, haven't changes their methods in thirty years and hate what they do, but those who care about real learning and know that teaching can be done effectively many different ways by very different individuals. Being told each summer to re-invent the wheel before September is an insult to their craft.

A very interesting television program aired a few years back featured a seventh generation violin maker in the American Midwest who carried on the tradition and methods. His only son went for teaching high school athletics, so the insturments he'd inherited from his European ancestors were destined for a university music department's museum.

I used to think that plumbers of all the trades were the most resistant to change, because if you had a product give service problems you'd stop buying it very quickly. But to my surprise, plumbers I've dealt with recently had embraced the new plastic piping for residential applications.

Finally, a female writer wrote in an article some time ago that no man over the age of 45 ever changes his mind about anything; my life's mission is to prove her wrong, starting with myself!

The above examples indicate that change is appropriate at times and not at others. Change for its own sake is novelty; just because some elementary teacher in Kansas finds that a teaching tactic works for her doesn't mean that every teacher needs to adopt the same method.

One of the most special moments in the piece on the violinmaker came when a musician came to pick up new instrument crafted especially for him. The two men greeted each other like old, dear friends, then the visitor picked up the new violin with anticipation and respect, the maker looking on with delight. Ever been at a home for supper, commented on the steaming plate as the hostess brought it to the table, and have her disclaim that she was trying a new recipe, not sure how it would turn out? Would that work here?

Obviously not. The craftsmen in this case has very good reasons for being conservative, in the sense of maintaining all of his methods, materials, etc. As the musician placed his order for the new violin, the old craftsman knew exactly how to adjust to the age, posture, reach and preferences of his friend to produce an instrument of perfection. To the collection of instruments from more than a hundred years of family instrument making, would someday be added those he had made. Years from now, on a quiet afternoon, a master violininist would remove instruments one at a time to play for a class of students and explain the subtlety nuances of variation between his instruments that the students might not perceive. Try that with a "flavour of the month" approach. Here, conservatism is essential. Just obtaining the right elements for woods, adhesives and fininshes was challenging enough.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Honouring a true craftsman: David Pye

Here's a couple links directing to appreciations for a tremendous fabricator and teacher, whose thin book has earned deep respect , even years after his passing and the book being out of print. If you are looking for the essence of true craft work by someone who has thought hard and carefully, metacognition or thinking about thinking at its finest.

Here's one not about a book, but a bowl, giving another example of the essence of the craftworker.

Jeremy Petch on Being a Luddite

Just came across this excellent article on Luddism from the point of view of philosophy of technology, will comment on it in upcoming posts. Written by Jeremy Petch, a graduate student currently studying at York University.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

What about the Luddites? Pt. 2

I'm sure that none of your fellow workers have smashed machinery simply because they felt that their sphere of work was threatened. Worker sobotage isn't unheard of, but rare. but it is likely that at some time you have worked with someone who was reluctant to change methods of working, causing others frustration including you. Why? We're going to look at some possible reasons.

Some workers are simply technophobes. Office workers who were used to typewriters were intimidated by computers; set up a mental block toward any new technology. Stubborness toward new technology can be due to resentment toward mangement, a conscious effort to derail any effort of management to change their way of working. Union or non-union, workers may be suspicious of new efforts as a way to get more out of employees without paying for it, or to eliminate work, reduce staff, etc.

Let'a take a specific example. John has been operating a press in a small plant for 15 years. But it's much older than that. John continuously complains about the old press, but fellow employees and his supervisor also know that he takes great pride in knowing his machine inside and out. Even if outside help needs to be called in for repairs, John will already know what needs to be done, and can get more production out of the machine than anyone else. Finally, a new updated machine is brought in and John is told he won't have to deal with the old clunker any more. How will John react?

He may not react positively; because his area of mastery has been either taken away, or he may be disturbed or unsettled at the very least. His pride of work has been based on a personal of accomplishment, and management reaction to his reluctance is in every way both well intentioned and paternalistic. That paternalism will disipate his self esteem, once again dealing with a problem as a worker deficiency.

Bill is an older worker is a specialty wood working shop. New tools, machines and adhesives were picked up by the younger guys as soon as they came on the market, but Bill drew scorn for sticking to some of his hand tools. The management didn't really mind, because there were certain jobs that were consistent given to Bill because of his ability and experience and sometimes customer preference.

A master doesn't necessarily feel the necessity of changing proven methods for its own sake. He's putting his own name on the job. This is the essence of a master and his methods; why mess with what works? Even his understanding of which woods work best, how to make inferior woods look better than choice selections.

According to one account, Steven Speilberg preferred splicing film to editing digitally, because he liked the feel of the film and the time delay in the process allowed time for thoughtfulness, so that his methodology went hand in hand with his philosophy of film making. Bill could be like that; taking pride in producing a particular piece of furniture is inextricably linked to the tools he selects from a large collection, and the methods he has picked up over the years from books and others and modified to make them his own; and they work for him. And the sound and feel of a sharp chisel or hand plane bitting into wood with just the right rythym and pressure, gives him satisfaction.

Added reading: Google: David Pye craftsmanship

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Dirty Jobs as Green

Interesting article in U.S. News, interviewing Mike Rowe about the show "Dirty jobs" and his goals for MRW web site.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

What about the Luddites? Pt. 1

The Luddites, as explained in an excellent Wikipedia item http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Luddite , were weavers who reacted against mechanization, therefore efforts to increase production, by destroying their looms. Luddism has therefore become a blanket term used to describe any effort to resist change in the workplace, as a deficiency to be remedied. In fact, while in Wikipedia, look up Neo-Luddism, an organized effort to promote technology as bad; and as a movement which has had its own promoters, such as the late Jacques Ellul.

My point is to challenge whether efforts to preserve methods and work should always be seen in a negative light. I have a reason for asking; I promote craft, and craft is passed on through apprenticeships, which was the way skills were developed within plants not so many years ago. One of the arguments against craftwork, beside keeping the knowledge within groups of workers, i.e. machinists, so that the front office could not control it, was that it is and was inefficient as a method of passing on skills. It is also, just as we saw with Luddism, seen as resistant to change. The reasons given for this are that efforts to alter production and speed up production are viewed individually and collectively with suspicion, for greater control of workers and reduce staff. These suspicions are not without reason.

I would like to suggest another approach to craft's arousing suspicion regarding resistance to change, that craft may be conservative, in the sense of conserving "a way of working" including methods, tools, etc. This I would like to further discuss including possible reasons. Also, I would like to continue by asking if craft is necessarily conservative; that is, does craft have to be resistant to change.

Blue Collar and Proud of it! by Joe Lamacchia

Here's a new book that's getting a lot of attention, one that puts in print ideas similar to those I've been working on, and in a format that the general public can bite into.

Joe runs a landscaping business as well as promoting his new book, and has a website to develop ideas. http://www.bluecollarandproudofit.com/
His site also lists some of the press coverage his book has garnered; anyone working to put an end to the prejudice against getting one's hands dirty has my support.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Been away for a while! Over at Mike Rowe's site, lots of interesting discussion at times, including this link about a book about trades' work as compared to the college path. I'm passing it on from the MRW site.

I'm glad Matthew B. Crawford's book is getting attention, it's another step towards respect for trades. Not that tradespeople merit adulation, just respect.

I'll try to keep up to date~

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Mike Rowe (Dirty Jobs) Website for Trades

Hi Folks!

Give Mike Rowe's new site a try, focuses on discussion groups for people in or interested in trades.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Physician turned Tradesman!

Here's an interesting article on a highly trained doctor who fulfilled a life long dream by retiring early and teaching welding at a local high school! The article emphasizes the satisfaction derived from seeing visible results from work, the feeling of accomplishment.


Monday, March 30, 2009

The Craftsman by Richard Sennett

It may seem odd to strongly recommend a book before having a chance to buy or read it, but this one promises to be a worthy exception. I have used two of his previous books to great benefit, Respect in a World of Inequality, and Corrosion of Character, and am certain that this rare treatment of what it is to be a craftsperson will be a welcome treatment on this important topic.  Sennett has demonstrated profound and timely sociological insight throughout his prolific writing career.

Here's a comment from one reviewer, as found in the following link;

"As Richard Sennett makes clear in this lucid and compelling book, craftsmanship once connected people to their work by conferring pride and meaning. The loss of craftsmanship-and of a society that values it-has impoverished us in ways we have long forgotten but Sennett helps us understand."-Robert B. Reich, Professor of Public Policy, University of California at Berkeley, and author of Supercapitalism: The Transformation of Business, Democracy, and Everyday Life (Robert B. Reich 20080523)


I'll discuss further when I've had the opportunity to get a copy and read it- all 330+ pages!

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Shoe Craft

Here's a link to a blog for very expensive shoes that illustrates how diverse craft issues are:
http://stylecrave.com/2009-03-27/most-expensive-mens-shoes/ . Speaks well to high regard of craft accomplishments.

New Visitor?

Thanks for dropping by my new blog!  A lot of ideas will be shared here, mostly centering on learning skills and on promoting craft-related issues. Reading one of the published articles in the sidebar would also be helpful since although they talk about issues related to Ontario's community colleges and the place of vocational training, they also are concerned with what craft is and why it is important.

Several years ago, when I starting researching and writing about craft, a major concern was lack of respect for trades work. Since then I've changed my view, as there has been considerable moving away from emphasis on degrees toward skilled training and apprenticeships.  Also, I have been very suprised to learn three trends in skilled trades work; the high numbers of older tradesmen still enjoying working in the trades (I'm 60 and intending to stay in for ten years), the number of people who have been lisenced tradesworkers before moving into another field (attrition rate- another subject), and the numbers of new apprentices having university degrees (more than half in the shop where I work). This serves to illustrate both diversity and sometimes contradictions that arise when attempting to generalize when discussing trades work.

Please let me know if you find any of these craft issues of interest.  It's my hope that other craft workers are interested in what makes them tick and can share expereiences. As a matter of fact, does anyone know what a surgeon or nurse have in common with craft workers, in the area of mastery?


Technorati Profile

Sunday, March 22, 2009

What Skills Shortage?

What skills shortage?
Now where are the calls of desperation about shortages of tradespeople in Fort McMurray?

When oil was $150 a barrel, exploration and development was booming in the oil sands projects and the worker sprung from annonimity to be the critical link in project success; since money certainly wasn't. It like a shop keeper glancing up at a dusty shelf and realizing the can goods were suddenly selling more quickly, and ordering several cases without concern about demand falling off and being unable to sell the product. Unlikely, but that was the mood, of the shelf being empty, forgeting that skilled workers are not items on a retail shelf but individuals with families. Some of those who relocated west in search of the big money may have found themselves in difficult straits as the price of oil fell to $40 a barrel and development and exploration projects were curtailed.

So skilled craft workers are individuals with varied abilities, families, hopes and obligations; not toy soldiers on a hobby shop shelf.  while this site will stress commonalities, they vary widely in learning styles, ability to lead or follow, replicate or inovate. They do take great pride in their ability to self direct, focus, and problem solve.

And they will be the subject, with all that makes them tick, of this blog.


Saturday, March 21, 2009

Automaticity: The boon and bane of the Skilled Tradesman

Ever been driving and had the sudden awareness that you have no recollection of having driven the past several miles?
We all have. It's the commonest experience of automaticity and yet one rarely discussed; to the best of my understanding few tradesmen talk about it.  I have worked along beside workmen for fifty years and never heard of it until research illuminated my own work experience of having worked away for a period of time while my awareness or consciousness was elsewhere.

Now the rub. It is fundamental to our success as human beings, since morning routines of brushing teeth and tying shoe laces would be insurmountably complex if they could not be routinized and done with relative ease. The degree of success that we commonly enjoy is illustrated by the fact that incidents of confusing toothpaste and shaving cream, putting salt in place of sugar in our morning coffee or wearing mismatched socks is rare. Yet discussing automaticity properly would take at least one book if not more on issues far from fully researched.  Like dealing with a tangled rope, I will unravel the topic over time in digestible segments that the average reader can deal with, aided by illustrations like the one to follow.

If you watch an experienced person at work, the task seems deceptively easy. Drywalling for example; there is nothing to it until you try it for yourself. Your respect for the professional increases a hundred fold. There is no substitute for experience, we all agree, but how we get from beginner's luck on the golf course, for example, past long periods of frustration and bent clubs to being sufficiently competent to accept an invitation from a colleague to play a first rate course?

Leaving the clubs in the trunk of your car will allow you to avoid the frustrations of gaining proficiency at golf, but a novice or apprentice can't avoid the wrath of the journeyman he works under for costly mistakes or struggling with simple tasks that he sees other doing easily.  The fact that ten thousand hours of practice are required to master (perform with ease at a high level of complexity) a wide range of skills such as playing a piano or violin or chess or becoming a journeyman plumber emphasizes the human capability aspect of automaticity.

The reader can see to momumental range of scope of covering the topic from the point of view of the master worker.  Suffice for this time to have whet the reader's curiosity and end by suggesting about why automaticity is the journeyman's best friend and worst enemy. First, enjoyment of performing music well results in a "flow-like" state, and being "good at what you do" is very rewarding, with similar results when at its best. However, for that to happen, the pianist must persevere arduously to master intricate chord arrangements, and the sheet metal fabricator must be able to conceptualize, layout, fabricate and assemble duct fittings to install air conditioning systems in large building that perform. The lay person in each case can only see the results; pleasing music and the right amount of tempered air in each office area. 

Thus by being able to "scaffold" on difficult but relatively less complex tasks, the expert gains the ability to tower over the average person in versatility and resourcefulness, and stay aware of broader but critical issues rather than narrow in on specific tasks. The pianist can both master and consistently replicate those difficult segments into a smooth performance and add expression, feeling, and subtle nuances that make an otherwise sterile mechanistic performance into an interpretation of what the performer believes is the composer's intention.  The same neurological mechanisms are at play in refining complex skills and allow the performer confidence that the results will be pleasing.

A while ago I was quizing my doctor about this subject during a routine visit. His only comment was that he didn't mind me studying the topic as long as I didn't show up in his office needing my arm sewn back on!  Some time ago I heard that the most dangerous time for an electrician is not as a novice when he is terrified of electrical shock, but between 35 and 55 years of age when he is too comfortable around live power.  The worker depends on the routinized subtasks but must still remain attentive on the larger task; both for his own safety and that of others. 

Much more to come on this topic. Stay tuned.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Welcome Visitors

Welcome to a brand new blog designed to communicate with others interested in what makes skilled workers able to perform with relative ease the complex tasks they are capable of.  It should provide valuable information to other skilled workers who left behind the overwhelmingly discouragements of the novice stage and went on to earn respect from peers (and wondered how they got there); and also to students of sociology of work who are coming up empty as I did when researching craft and skilled work. I'd love to hear from all of you!

As a Master Electrician and past educator I feel well qualified to speak on this subject. I've spent almost forty years in the skilled trades and taught building maintenance over a fifteen year period. I'll write more specifically about the long path of self-education that began with curiosity about mind functions and frustration with learning theories as they exist. I've read many of them and come up pretty much empty handed to find any relevance to my personal continuing path. I have looked- both in the several thousand books in my own library and in college and universities. The best I'll share with you in the coming months.

As a result of that research I've developed numerous areas of original insight.  From contacts within the academic comunity where I've been able to share my writing projects, there has been strong encouragement to get my ideas into print.  However, due to the constraints of full time work and part time electrical contracting I haven't been able to pursue publication as quickly as I'd like; to say nothing of the intellectual challenges of meeting the rigors of academic publication as a self educated person!

As you can see, there will be plenty to check back on!