Next Stop: Stainless Steel Pool!

It’s been an interesting week or so…

Work finished up on the Chester Smokehouse a fortnight ago and I’ve been grateful to get back into the calm, serenity of my workshop.

After a busy two weeks spent in the company of some wonderfully talented tradesmen, its almost a little strange to be back inside working by myself once more. Where once there was a tinny radio blasting whatever pop song was gaining traction at the time, now all I have is silence. After so much time spent working with other people, I’ve started to feel a little lonely, with no one here to talk to.

When I first established my firm, I had the initial plan of expanding my business so that I wouldn’t spend the entirety of my working life alone. However, once I’d got myself into my relatively cosy workshop, I found that the amount of work coming in was more than enough for me to handle by myself. Over my formative years as a business owner, I’d developed all the requisite skills needed to keep my finances in order. Writing up invoices, billing clients, doing my taxes – all of these things seemed like impossible tasks when I first started out – now these come as second-nature to me.

As much as I’d rather not have to bury myself in paperwork each night after work, it would seem like an unnecessary luxury to start paying someone else to fill out my forms for me.

After finishing two big jobs recently, the Chester Smokehouse and a young couple’s flat the week before, I’m happy to say that I’ve just about finished getting through my stack of work. When you work for yourself everything must be accounted for. That includes any money you spend on fuel, the materials that you use in the space of the project as well a detailed time she accounting for the tasks that you undertake whilst you’re onsite.

Just as soon as I finished, the phone was ringing again and it looked like I was back in business.

The next project puts me a little out of my comfort zone. I usually work inside: joinery, stairs, work counters, however my name had been put forward to assist with an ambitious outside pool construction. Swimming pools could not be further outside of my knowledge base. Still, I’m not the kind of person to back down from a challenge and, luckily, I’ll have some help on hand thanks to an experienced fitting company who have decided to use Paramount Pools Stainless Steel Pools.

The plan for the construction is deceptively simple.

The client is looking for a heated pool, utilising the steel from Paramount, in addition to locally sourced wood from myself. The idea is to seamlessly integrate the wooden decking of a small changing hut, already built, with a path leading to the poolside. The wood blocks, which must be fully proofed and smoothed before being laid down, will penetrate deep into the ground, providing the sides of the stainless steel pool with more support, as well as lending the whole build a more natural feel.

It looks like I’m going to be inundated with paperwork again pretty soon – wish me luck!

Refurbishment Well Underway!

Work has finally begun on Richard and Sienna’s little terraced home.

For the last week I’ve been driving a 30-mile (!) commute out to Llangollen where a young couple are in the midst of transforming their run-down terrace property, their first ever purchase, into their very own little slice of heaven.

In addition to getting some help from my long time friends at Allerton Windows, I’ve now also been joined by a whole host of other tradespeople.

There’s a great deal of work to be done across the property and now that our deadlines are quickly approaching, its all getting a little tense and sweary in here. I usually spend most of my time in the workshop, so it was initially a bit of a culture shock to be surrounded by so many new people – all jostling for space. I’m not sure if Sienna is planning any lavish dinner parties any time soon, but she might want to consider cutting down the amount of people she wants to invite – there’s not too much space in here.

Progress on my side is at least plodding along at a good pace.

Thankfully, I had a good fortnight before I could get into the property to start the work, that gave me plenty of time to have a close look at their specifications and get to grips with the space that was being afforded to me. Their kitchen was one of the rooms that needed the most attention. Before I got in to construct and fine-detail their bespoke breakfast bar, the floor had to be completely re-tiled and the walls also needed plastering.

When I first walked through the house, after the young couple had just got the keys, they were most apprehensive about the kitchen. A rather cramped affair, it was afforded the illusion of space thanks to sliding doors leading through to the modest back garden and an open plan. The room had great potential, however there had been a small fire, made by the previous owners, that had ravaged the walls and ceiling. No structural damage had been done, but the plaster had been burned away, exposing the brick underneath. Although the young couple were briefly tempted to pull off the rest of the plaster to reveal the rest of the brickwork, they considered the work involved and decided against it.

I barely recognised the room when I walked in on Monday.

The plasterers had done a fantastic job of smoothing over the walls and the whole space, which had once felt cramped and dirty, now held a comfortable, clean ambience. The construction of the breakfast bar didn’t take too long. Before the tilers came in, I’d had the chance to etch out the space that was required by the bar, so it was simply a job of slotting in the pieces and finishing the construction.

Today, I spent most of my time working on some fine detailing. The couple were keen for the bar to feel a part of the kitchen, not some alien object that had just been dropped in to the space. As such, I’ve been carving some elaborate mandala patterns into the bar and continuing them onto the skirting boards and cupboards adjacent to it – seamlessly integrating the bar with the rest of the kitchen.

It won’t be long before Richard and Sienna will be able to move in and I wish them the best of luck!

21st Century Barbecue Food: Industrial Fans Needed!

On To The Next Job!

My work is now completed at Richard and Sienna’s terraced house, they were overjoyed with the work on the kitchen and I’ll be seeing to their stairs once they’ve settled in.

There truly is no rest for the wicked however as I’ve been rushed into a second job outside of the workshop. If I keep this up, I’ll never get any time to pursue my own projects! In all seriousness though, its great to finally be in demand as a jobbing carpenter and designer. The worry for many independent workmen, such as myself, is that when we go out on our own we may well be stuck for work.

The most recent big job to drag me out of the comfort of my lovely workshop?

A huge fitting of an American-style Barbecue place in Chester. Although American food is not exactly new to our shores, authentic Barbecue food is the latest sub-division of the cuisine to be receiving a boost in popularity. Much like the countless Gourmet Burger joints that have cropped up in the last 5 years or so, ‘real’ Barbecue food is now very much in vogue.

My new clients are hoping to make the most of this by renovating an old hardware store into a brand new restaurant with a shop worn feel. The store’s not ready for customers, but enough of the kitchen equipment has been installed to cook up a sample of what’s to come. Half way through the working day we were all treated to a feast of smoked meats and burgers. The food was fantastic but there is one downside to smoking meat in a half-completed restaurant: ventilation!

Within a few minutes of the grills firing up, smoke was filling up the kitchen and pouring into the open restaurant area.

Luckily, we could open the windows. I’ve put my clients in touch with Beatson, who specialise in Industrial Fans, so hopefully future barbecue experiments won’t end up smoking the diners along with the food. I’ve certainly come along way since my early days as a self-employed carpenter.

Nearly 14 years ago, I set out to start my own firm. I’d built up some viable experience and gained my qualifications with some good companies, however I felt ultimately restricted in regards to the style and execution of my work. I’d initially entered into the carpentry game because it activated a creative part of my mind that I was unaware I had. During my years in training I was content with sticking to the rule book, but after so many years adhering rigidly to the orders given to me, I needed to step out on my own.

There’s nothing more frightening than handing your notice into a job with no work in the pipeline.

That first year I worked out of my own back yard – no doubt waking the neighbours up every morning with the sound of power tools and sawing wood. When I finally got together enough work to afford a small workshop, almost miraculously, my neighbours started talking to me again and I was welcome round for tea once more! Still, it’s not until this year that I’ve really started to fill up my schedule with bigger on-site jobs that have allowed me to plan for the future.

I should be holed up in this place for the next fortnight or so – the race is now on for opening night!

Finishing Up Work On The Smokehouse

We’re reaching the final few days of work here in Chester…

After being thoroughly smoked out in the restaurant last week – we’ve all been working hard to ensure that Chester’s brand new premier Barbecue house will open in time.

I’ve been putting in more hours over the last couple of weeks and helping out the other teams of workers on-site. Its not often that I’ve experienced such a sense of unity on a building site. Usually, when you’re dealing with other people in the trade, you often find that toes are trodden on which inevitably leads to tempers flaring and arguments breaking out.

Ours is a trade that requires both speed and technical skill, however manners are not necessary in order for our tasks to be performed.

There is a reason why the tradesmen of the UK are branded with the, almost derogatory, term of ‘white van man’. The term has almost become interchangeable with the other infamous classification of ‘cowboy builder’, which found its roots in the 1980s British sitcom Cowboy – a show about an inept builder’s firm. Since then, the term has grown in popularity, made even more iconic thanks to the Channel 5 show Cowboy Builderwhich exposes negligent tradesmen.  Thanks to these cultural touchstones, many British tradespeople have now been tarred with the same brush, leading to one of two eventualities for the individual.

Either the tradesmen decides to shirk these stereotypes and works twice as hard, in a bid to improve his business, or he admits defeat and begins to let his standards slide, subconsciously acceding to his self-fulfilling prophecy.

I’ve worked with men and women who have taken both routes. The tradespeople, who resent the initial impression that the customer has formed of them, tend to be rather difficult to work with. From the moment they leave the front door, they are hoping and praying for the end of the working day to come. On the drive to the site, they are wishing for an accident to have occurred or a site manager absent, so that they can take the day off – like a truculent child. When they do finally get to work on site, they’ll moan and complain when they can’t access what they need to and will simultaneously block others from working.

These kind of tradesmen come part and parcel with a building site. In every place of work, you’re likely to find an individual who isn’t happy in their line of work, however, these people are usually part of the minority rather than the majority. When you find yourself working on a site with many of these difficult characters, that’s when you can start coming up against some problems and a toxic work environment starts to form. Luckily for me, the Chester work-site has proved to be quite the opposite of this. The workmen on site are not only wonderfully cooperative, but they also share a passion for their occupations which lends each task an air of enthusiasm.

Thanks to a positive work environment, that has emphasised team work over individual success, we should be finishing our project with plenty of time to spare.

Complete House Renovation with Allerton Windows

The first big project of the year is here and it’s so sizeable that I’ve had to call in help!

It’s not often that I get to work alongside other people, in fact it’s not often that I get to leave the security of my workshop.

My day-to-day work mostly consists of flitting between bespoke design work and tinkering around in the workshop. In the comfort of my little space, sandwiched between a glass blowers and potter’s studio, I’m nicely insulated from the outside world, allowing me to get on with my work with little interference. Working hours that suit me, around 8-5 most days of the week, I often get completely lost in my own little routines and habits – forgetting to even feed myself at times.

However, all this changes when I’m forced out of the workshop and into the glaring sunlight of the outside world.

Now that I’ve pitched myself online, I’m getting a great deal more enquiries than I used to. This is obviously good news, it feels good to be in demand and I’m happy that the time I spent over the Christmas break setting up the site is finally paying off.

One of the jobs that came through, just a few days into the New Year, caught my eye and jumped to the top of my agenda. A young couple with plenty of capital at their disposal had recently bought their first home together. Like many young professionals, they’d grafted hard to scrape together the money for their home, but still had to make compromises in terms of the state of the property. They had a vision of what the house could become, but in order for this to become a reality they needed some professional help.

House renovations always intrigue me.

The notion of taking something old, battered and relatively useless and turning it into a personal, bespoke home is absolutely tantalising. I’m forever picking up bits of junk from car boot sales or tips and storing them in the workshop with the intention of ‘upcycling‘ them at my leisure. That’s why, when I received the email, I jumped at the opportunity to join the project.

Richard and Sienna are a young couple who are very much in love with their property.

An ugly duckling of a property, they find charm and beauty in the smallest corners of their 2-bed terraced home. Needless to say, the wishlist that they have compiled for the property is huge. Thankfully, only a small portion of it pertains to my skills as a carpenter. The partially gutted kitchen is a perfect opportunity for building a new breakfast bar. The battered staircase is just aching to be re-varnished and decorated. When they found damp in the walls, it was just a ‘sign’ that they needed to knock through it. And when they discovered that all the window frames were rotted through – they simply asked me to replace them.

Unfortunately, I don’t do windows. Thankfully I know a local firm who specialise in such things.

Allerton Windows (Visit website) are a window fitting firm that has managed to branch out into several different niches over the years. I first stumbled across their work online, an old customer had recently had an orangery built by them and I was impressed with the results. After working with them on a couple of design jobs, they’re now my go-to window guys and I couldn’t be happier to be working with them once more.

The house is a 30-mile drive away, so it looks like I’ll be needing to be set my alarm clock a little earlier than usual.

Let’s hope my old car’s up for it!

New Year – New Website!

It’s taken me along enough – but I’m finally online!

Us carpenters are an old fashioned bunch.

Talk to most of us about advertising and we’ll point to the stack of phone directories piled up next to the front door. Our workshops are usually tucked far away from prying eyes, allowing us to get to work in piece without the interruptions of pesky customers! Of course, there comes a time when all old dogs must learn some new tricks. The 21st Century might have many answers to the problems of the past and mechanisation may be threatening thousands of jobs in the future – but people will always be in need for a man handy with a chisel and hammer.

Of course, sometimes people just need reminding that we exist. Large-scale manufacturers like Ikea have made low-budget, mass produced furniture that not only appeals to a large swathe of tastes but is also extremely affordable. The synergy between their individual product lines allows customers to spend a couple of hours in a store and leave with an entire room’s worth of furniture and bric-a-brac. The popularity of these outlets cannot be understated, for many people it is the only option when considering furniture or wood design options.

However, there is a growing resurgence in carpentry thanks to members of our fraternity taking to social media platforms.

One of the benefits of working in an industry such as ours is that good, inventive wood work is something that can be appreciated by anyone. A chair, carefully made and ornately carved is a thing of beauty that any person can appreciate. The only barrier between more people appreciating the outstanding work of the World’s carpentry community is the individual carpenter’s internet literacy.

I went to school at a point in time when computers were still considered a vaguely mysterious and powerful tool. We were all aware that they would probably facilitate future technologies with the tools needed to do great things, we just didn’t really understand how they worked. I’m the kind of geezer who adamantly fears change. When clients or family friends asked me if I had a website I would answer abruptly: ‘No – why would I? I’m a carpenter, if you want some work done then give me a call!’ Of course my gruff response would always be put in place to hide my blind ignorance of anything related to technology or the internet.

For a decade I’d prided myself on being a practical man, the antidote to the preening modern man, whose smart phone is as precious as his strong hand.

Now, however, it was time to join them, or at least attempt to. I bought my first computer as a Christmas present to myself at the end of last year and spent the break learning how to use it.

This website is the first step in the right direction for myself, a carpenter with a self-professed internet-based phobia. Now my virtual shop window is setup, I’ll be able to update it with pictures of my jobs and work in progress.

Most importantly, I’ll be able to connect with thousands of potential clients who definitely wouldn’t have found me in the Yellow Pages.