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Walsh House Coping Saw
Marck Clement Nailing Deck


Uncover the real stories behind

Gideon's true things

The life lessons in The Carpenter’s Notebook did not happen in one day. They came to me over time, little bit by little bit as I worked hard to put the pieces of my life together so they worked at top speed. As I struggled to learn my trade, build my business, and improve my life, I thought about how they all fit together and saw many of the answers in how houses went together.

       Building can be repetitious work, even for a home improvement contractor like me who did different jobs every day or week. Even still, things kept popping up that seemed to make sense of the randomness of my life, whether I was building a fence, sanding drywall, or framing a sundeck.—Mark Clement


Better to have it and not need it, than need it and not have it. Mark lived (and still lives) by this mantra. When he was a contractor, Mark had his truck loaded to the gills with every portable power and hand tool it could carry no matter what project he had been called to perform. Even if it was supposed to be a simple job, there was some unknown condition that required unexpected resources. Sometimes it was little things: a 3-prong cord just didn’t fit the 2-prong outlets in old houses. The solution: adapters, which he kept in the glove compartment. “Better to have it and not need it” pops up in life outside the jobsite all the time. Sometimes it’s mundane like packing for a trip. Other times, it’s more important. It’s about considering the challenges in life and being prepared for them. Even the really hard ones.


Life is a team sport. Mark remembers building a set of I-beam sawhorses for a project and thinking: “Jeez I just couldn’t get along without these. Lumber would be everywhere and I couldn’t get decent cuts.” He then realized the same thing about the people in his life he couldn’t get along without either. Friends, family, loved-ones—they are all there. “Sometimes they bear the weight of my life, supporting me, helping me, carrying the load above them so the project can go on. Life cannot be lived alone. Hopefully I work as a sawhorse in their lives too. A single sawhorse does not work as well as two. We need each other.”


Do what is right, not what is easy. Mark’s friend and college roommate Dave Juliano used to train bartenders for TGI Friday’s (both in the U.S. and around the world). His sense of doing the best job possible—a reverence for his craft and how it is practiced—is unshakable. It is unshakable because he loves it and a love like that is powerful. Doing the best you possibly can is not automatic. The way to be the best is to do what’s right. That goes for tending a bar, for carpentry, for business, for love, and for raising your kids. Doing what is right requires conviction, courage, and bravery. It also requires time, attention, and work. In certain aspects of a carpentry job, close enough is not good enough.Things need to be done properly or they need to be redone. As hard as it can be to face that or figure out what the right thing is, it is a simple rule. And one that works. Every time.


Fuck It. Nail It. Sometimes you can’t babysit a piece of framing or a roof shingle into place. When you need to “persuade” a piece of 2 x 6 to fit, you don’t act tentatively or you’ll fail. You can’t go a week on any jobsite in this country without hearing two carpenters working on a problem together where they’ve worked and adjusted and sweat the details to the point of diminishing returns to get that board in there, that piece of molding up, or that kicker brace in place. That’s when you’ll hear the universally accepted version of: “We’ve taken this as far as we can. Let’s move on.” In carpentry-speak, that’s: “Fuck it. Nail it.” The next thing you’ll hear is the nail gun popping off nails.


Carpentry isn’t a job you can do well because people like you.

While Mark was cutting crown molding outside a row house in Boston, Mass., his friend Kevin asked why carpenters cope moldings. His answer: “Carpentry isn’t a job you can do well because people like you. There are no office politics to play. The molding either looks right or it doesn’t. It’s that simple.” It was in answering that question that it became clear that there were other definitive rights and wrongs—more answers to the questions in life—than he had ever before believed to exist.  
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