This blog compiles all publications related to forestry, energy, affordable housing, women in trades, women in religion and women in society. This blog is filled with humor, sarcasms and reality investigations.

What kind of tools do we need to make a good carpenter?

I come from Tours, which is in the Loire Valley, France, famous for the castles and the many religious buildings. I have grown up about 20 miles away from the house of Leonardo Dal Vinci. My godmother and her husband have been working for 3 castles where I have spent most my holidays as a child. I have learned forestry with my uncle and sewing with my aunt. She attended the "Ecole Ménagère" like Coco Chanel. So did also my nanny.

This is a paradox of mine, my nanny was way richer than my parents. It was a love story between her and me. We met in a park, my mother was looking for a nanny and she offered to take me in her family. Her family has been my family until she died in 2012. She had a hotel and a restaurant that she managed with her husband. They owned several other buildings downtown the city of Tours. When they retired, they bought a country house just outside the skirt of Tours, close to the river Cher, and they hired highly skilled craftsmen to turn the house into a mansion.

I have drafted my first architectural project around age 8. It was a large bird house for my doves with the plan of an hexagon and a cupola. I have directed the work of my father and put all the ideas together, to design and build. I have also participated the building to help my father cut the metal, assemble and wire the structure. When my nanny bought the country house, she gave me the small room between the oven of the farm house (another building of the compound) and the attic. I started to compose my ideas and borrow the tools from the craftsmen while renovating my own little space.

Lunch time to build this country house was like Jesus in my mind, talking serious about the best things to do in life. The husband of my nanny happened to be a chef, so I have grown up in this atmosphere of a good table with many craftsmen all eating together in an historical countryside. This background has deeply shaped the woman I have become, strong but also delicate with a sense of friendship and family that I did not learn with my own family, but with the love I have received opening wild my eyes on the world.

I have learned art drawing as a kid. I have learned technical drawing as a kid too during my early years at school. I have built my first solar structure, 4 feet large, about age 10 when I had to draw and build a parabola with wood, plaster and then fiber glass. I have entered a school of fine arts age 15. I have learned descriptive geometry in Tours as a teenager, then I moved to Nantes, at the very end of the river Loire, to learn architecture, sociology, psychology, ethnography and architectural drawing. I have learned to draw on a drawing table. All the beginning of my career was to draw on a drawing table.

My cultural background has shaped the person I became as an adult and it shaped the person I became as a carpenter. As a little girl, I have emulated the guild carpenters of Tours, this guild of craftsmanship that built the castles and the treasures of France. As a little girl, this world of craftsmanship was forbidden to me, but I managed to go my own way. I became an architect, but a very humble architect who was willing to become more like a kind of an expert in a field of research. Carpentry has been my field.

After my first year in the school of architecture, I was about to quit. My teacher, who was also the Director of the "Ecole Speciale d'Architecture" in Paris decided to send me for four months in Italy. I stayed one month in Venezia, then three months in Vicenza. My experience in Italy taught me to become the kind of architect I wanted to be. It taught me that there is not "one architecture", but many kind of architectures and I just had to find my own way. If I could not find a way, then I had to create it. First day in the studio of Franco Stella, they sent me downtown to shop the materials to make my own drawing table. I spent half a day to figure out what to do, then came back with a rope and few pins. I made my table and with this table, I built a wooden model for an architectural concourse. My boss used to say "scolta Piccola, if you want to be an architect, you have to be an architect anywhere and learn to work with what you find, anywhere". What he meant is that I had to learn to become an architect inside me, not because of my tools or because of the studio where I was working. I had to create my own identity like a painter would create his own colors. I had to find myself.

The assistant of Franco Stella loved Verdi. I have spent three months working in silent and listening to Verdi. I started to buy Verdi for myself and I came back in France with Verdi in my own studio. I had lived in Venezia with the Sisters Canossiane and during one month, I have been a little bit part of La Giudecca. I started school later in October and as soon back in France, the school of architecture was sending us for two weeks in Czechoslovakia. To prepare our trip, the school organized a conference about the influence of Pergolesi in architecture.

I was not supposed to enter a school of architecture, I had a baccalaureate F12 about Applied Arts while every school of architecture in France where only recruiting students from the baccalaureate C and D, maths and sciences. I battled to enter the school of architecture and like any student, I passed the entry concourse. I was so good in maths and geometry that I had been dispensed of maths for one year and geometry for one year and a half, a time that I have used to develop the skills that brought me to work in Italy. Back from Italy, I took extra classes in Sociology and Psychology. I had Verdi, Pergolesi, Palladio, and this kind of maturity I had learned in Italy to design my own identity as an architect. This identity is also what made me a carpenter.

I have learned architecture with lighting candles and burning incense. I had my own apartment in Nantes that I restored with my own colors, creating my own atmosphere, having flowers on the balcony, creating a landlord association, taking care of my neighbors, being a soldiers' godmother and working as a drafter in a studio. I have been propelled into maturity very early in age and I loved taking those kind of directions in my life. Age 23, I went for my first trip all alone in Indonesia while it was still a military dictatorship. I spent four months in Sumatra and back in France, I passed all my graduations to finish school early in order to move to Paris under the direction of Denys Lombard. I became one of the lucky students to attend his courses in the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales. Because of Professor Denys Lombard, I became the person I wanted to be.

I have learned history both in the EHESS and the INALCO Langues'O in Paris. I have read the Alexander romance, Strabo and texts translated from ancient Greece. I have opened my mind to a larger world and different cultures. I passed my graduation in architecture with a book I have written about the carpentry of the Batak people of Sumatra. This book is a construction manual, but also a dictionary and an history book about the contextual background of this kind of carpentry. I have built a model with animist carpenters to whom I had to teach the notion of scale. The carpenters were working separately in 3 different villages. I had to manage their work and organize the transportation of this model to France. It traveled back to France on the military ship featured in "Golden Eye". It is now part of the collections of the Guimet Museum in Lyon which merged as a Musée des Confluences.

Someway, I was following the steps of the guild carpenters and someway, I developed my own expertise. This expertise was propelled to reality after the tsunami of December 2004. I worked with the CHF International for whom I attended the "shelters meeting" with the UN organizations. The CHF International emphasized the fact that I had a very special path and a very special way to work on the field. I had become a real expert. The French Embassy in Jakarta created a title as an "ethno-architect" to define my work on the field.

During my first year as a student of Denys Lombard, I spent one month in Leiden, The Netherlands. A highly renowned professor was expecting me over there to open access to the Library. He called me "dear colleague". I had gained maturity during my travels that shaped a way of thinking and perceiving myself not as a female, but as an expert who had a very specific knowledge of the field. I had also a very specific vision of my goals, not being limited by anything and not even myself. I have pushed my frontiers over the world, and went to Switzerland, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, to explore the rest of the world.

In my mind, I always planed to get married in the United-States. Vegas was my goal because I had an idea about Vegas that was "instantaneousity". I am the kind of person who do things when the things move on, and if not, then it's too much time lost in a life and I forget. While most people spend years to try to make their relation work, then lastly, after two or three years, they get married, then have children, then divorce, I had a very different path in my mind. I would marry first, then build the relationship, have children as a part of this relationship and as the routine comes through, make it last for ever. I have exactly the same kind of ideas about my tools and this is mostly because I am an architect. I am a decision person. Rather than hunt for the perfect tool, which I know is most likely to become very expensive, I'd rather make my tools myself. This is how I have learned to work and this is how I organize my work.

In December 2010, I won a prestigious concourse to patent my innovations. This happened instantaneously. I visited the East of France, saw a market, decided to rent an office for one day, invited few people from the chamber of commerce, local associations and decision makers. Some of them sponsored me, I passed the concourse and was the first female to ever win and to get as much money. One month later, I won two first prices with the biggest accountant association of France. With both prices, I have studied forestry, accounting, I attended start ups programs, I met accountants, bankers, investors, attorneys, politicians, and decision makers. Among the decision makers, I have met forest associations, forest owners, engineers, land management directors, sawmills, carpenters, lumber yards, transportation companies, mayors and I worked simultaneously in two very different regions of France, the East and the West.

I never won 100% of my juries, but when I won, I mostly won because I was inventive. I also won because I had a good knowledge. Very lastly, working alone and not having a team has always been a handicap. If you examine the following charts, you'll see that the reason why I won is precisely because I was a woman, I have compensated my loneliness in a men's field with being inventive and technical on a market that was not even proven. And this is the way life is when you work as a carpenter. You always have to compensate the field with innovation. The field is a challenge but if you are inventive, there is absolutely no limitation to work.

Of course, there is not only one kind of carpenter. On the Union's website, there are 5 categories to define a carpenter accordingly to the money they make by the hour. The journeyman represents 10% of the workers and his very expertise is to be versatile, to be able to adapt any situation on any field. The more difficult the field is, the more likely the carpenter will make money.

The salary will also vary accordingly to the geographical area. In Los Angeles, the hourly rate is 27% higher than a national average for a journeyman and maybe because the versatility in Los Angeles is also higher. Architects are more creative. The movie industry is demanding fast path solutions. The private sector is really exclusive with high expectations. What really matters in this environment is not really the tool, but the person behind, the part of innovation that one carpenter can bring to the management of a project.

With my background, I cannot think about working without drafting a project ahead. I use a drawing table to sketch, then I use Sketchup and the Blender applications. The hand design is also the draft of my design on the field, the way I chose a piece of wood, take marks and dimensions, then cut. On the field, the most important tools are drawing tools, and the most important steps before I even start to use those tools, is to verify that they are correct.

The second most important tools are power tools, because they will increase my productivity. In France, to build a prototype, I have invested in a very old saw that I modified with an air compression break to control the blade and a table to block the wood. The adaptation I made on this saw was meant to cut and to rip hardwood dried outdoor for 6 years. The wood had nodes and many defects that I removed with this tool.

While I was developing my innovations, the jury was expecting that I invest on industrial tools ($500,000) while those tools are just the contrary of any kind of versatility. They do one task and only one task repetitively.

With a much lower investment ($6,000), I created a tool that could manage three tasks, cutting, ripping and breaking with a compressor. I only had one employee to manage each task and a productivity as effective as any industrial tool. The profitability I created with the tool has become an asset to increase the profitability of the project. On a prototype spectrum, this is as much valuable as working with the private sector of Los Angeles.

When I arrived in Los Angeles, I have done what I have always done before. I have built my own tools. With the reclaimed wood from the seats of the Tecodrive 7000, I created a cutting table to build three commercial bars designed for a café on Wilshire boulevard.

The cutting tool was a Ryobi saw, but I created all the precision that could cut series with a precision of 1/4 of millimeter.

The tool had cost $120 in metal bars. The feet were reclaimed materials from the conversion of the Tecodrive 7000. The wood came from the Tecodrive 7000, the rulers where steel from the seats and the bolts were also from un-building the Tecodrive 7000.

With this table, I have built the interior of a café located on the Wilshire boulevard in Los Angeles.

On every project, I build my own tools and there is nothing I could ever recommend other than learning to build tools. Hand made tools that you make yourself are the only best tools to have. This is also the best way to learn carpentry because while working on a small scale project, it exercises the mind to think bigger.

You will find on my Youtube channel a selection of the best tools to make. Don't build them just to build something, that would be useless. Try to build them in order to reach a goal such making a doll house, a pet house, a bench, a table, what ever you have in mind. But make your tool on purpose for one project, because thinking of the project while you make your tool will guide you perfect the manuals.

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About E.B

Eima BLANK is a designer and a rewarded entrepreneur who started a career as an ethnographer in 1992, was graduated in architecture in 1995 and is now experiencing her passions as a carpenter and a craft woman. She has directed wood construction projects from 2010 to 2015. She is the author of several books and studies about wood construction and the economy of forestry. She has also won several concourses for her innovations on wood and fabric construction. Her drawings entered an army museum for her sarcastic humor, she has a model house in another museum and she is a member of the ADAGP and the ARS for the management of her artist and designer rights. She is also an occasional cartoonist, what she carries on her smile.
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