Carpentry for Life

Today I’d like share a piece I came across, author unknown:

An elderly carpenter was ready to retire. He told his employer-contractor of his plans to leave the house building business and live a more leisurely life with his wife enjoying his extended family. He would miss the paycheck, but he needed to retire. They could get by.

The contractor was sorry to see his good worker go and asked if he could build just one more house as a personal favor. The carpenter said yes, but in time it was easy to see that his heart was not in his work. He resorted to shoddy workmanship and used inferior materials. It was an unfortunate way to end his career.

When the carpenter finished his work and the builder came to inspect the house, the contractor handed the front-door key to the carpenter. “This is your house,” he said, “my gift to you.”

What a shock! What a shame! If he had only known he was building his own house, he would have done it all so differently. Now he had to live in a home he had built none too well.

So it is with us. We build our lives in a distracted way, reacting rather than acting, willing to put up less than the best. An important point we do not give the job our best effort. Then with a shock we look at the situation we have created and find that we are now living in the house we have built. If we had realized, we would have done it differently.

Think of yourself as the carpenter. Think about your ‘house’. Each day you hammer a nail, place a board, or erect a wall, build wisely. It is the only life you will ever build. Even if you live it for only one day more, that day deserves to be lived graciously and with dignity.”

14 Replies to “Carpentry for Life”

  1. Life is a bigger thing, but one reason why carpenters or other woodworkers do shoddy work, is that their businesses became so successful, that taking care of the increased demands meant less and less time was spent at the bench, or in other ways keeping their skill level and concentration up. Some great talent has been tossed away in this manner. Once gone, it seems hard to get back. Not to glorify struggle.

  2. grazie Chris, è vero, ogni tanto dovremmo voltarci indietro per capire se quello che stiamo “costruendo” corrisponde veramente alle nostre aspettative di vita



  3. Michael, Harlan,

    thanks for your comment.


    true, however I have noticed that shoddy work is done also by those whose businesses are not particularly successful, or who have not been spending their time in the office instead of in the shop. Shoddy work is so commonplace that it is almost becoming not worth commenting upon any further.


    thanks for your comment,

    which I popped into a translation software to get:

    “Thanks Chris, it's true, sometimes we should look behind to see if what we are “building” really corresponds to our expectations of life”



  4. Chris:

    Thank you for sharing this. Seems to me this gift of life has so many options we choose every day it gets hard to remember it's not how good you are it's how good you want to be we should continue to strive for.

  5. After the quake and tsunami, business totally disappeared for a period, the whole country very much in despair and guarded. Craftsmen/artisans are always some of the first to experience the woes of financial restraint during such periods of uncertainty, and for my shop, what was scheduled was cancelled, along with the story of exactly where the client was when the tremor started, “Stuck on a no longer moving local train and then a two hour walk to get to their destination”. Fought the blues myself and kept working towards an exhibition that turned out ok, quite a ways from the epicenter of the disaster. Fortunate to have some additional work as well come in since then. Currently using some hard Japanese Enju wood, very different material from the previous build in the much more resilient local Chestnut. Lots of contrasts in working woods, as with in the movement of life in general.

    Thanks for asking, Chris.

  6. Pfelps,

    I agree that the key sometimes is stepping back and having some perspective to realize that there is more to strive for and learn.


    thanks for letting me know about your scene. I had thought that the quake would put a damper in business and I'm glad to know that things are picking up for you again. I believe that the English name for Enju is 'Pagoda Wood' (?). It's the same wood commonly bent for use as adze handles, yes? I didn't realize it grew large enough for making other things. I have the impression that it is a bit similar to Black Locust.

    The Enju tree has an interesting place in Chinese folklore – the kanji for Enju is '槐',combining tree, '木', with demon, '鬼'. 

    In Chinese folklore, it is said that a cowherd once built a home out of this species of tree, and within a month his entire family was suddenly found dead, with no signs of foul play. It was therefore believed that demons are drawn to this tree and it is therefore not appropriate to use its wood to build homes.

    Also, the last Ming Emperor hung himself from a pagoda tree.

    I hope you have better luck with making furniture out of it!


  7. Chris,
    Some interesting facts about the Enju, and the demon cautionary, thanks. Hammer at the ready! In this case the material being used for a small jewelry box for the still quite young daughter of the person ordering, to be kept until she is old enough to use it. Hate to think about an undesirable presence. so I might ask the local priest to do a wave over it. Find him in a bar, and likely cost me fifty bucks or so…..

    The wood is a legume related to the Black Acacia, as you mention. The grain appearance and hardness is very similar, but of an unusual brown color, and alike as not an easier wood to work with, which I suspect is where the demon rumor might have started. Not so sharp planer knives and it can disappear on you. I haven't much seen it used for interior items beyond the tokonoma-bashira, as you know the carefully selected post for that special location in a Japanese home. Probably the size limitation is a big factor, and perhaps a not so abundant tree as well.

    The tree is a rather slow grower in shady locations, unlike that Acacia that pops up like weeds along the rivers. The largest Enju I have encountered grew within a shrine and had a diameter of about twenty inches, yet over two hundred years old. I know it's age because I was hired to remove it after the top died out, in exchange for the wood. Pretty amazing tightly packed growth rings, you would think that it might be closer to an Ebony than an Acacia. That particular tree is still drying in the cant at my place, and I imagine it to be a very valuable commodity, being the more prized species and still appearing without flaws, and also from a shrine. Aas the shipping difficulties or I would send you some.

  8. Dennis,

    Sounds like you have some very nice material on your hands there. I'd be interested to see some pictures of the wood when you have some planed up – will you post pictures on your blog?


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