View Full Version : question for older carpenters

10-18-2001, 09:58 PM
is there anything you older guys would have done differently now that you have seen the accumulation of years of listening to power tools, inhaling sawdust, and getting on and off knees all day? what kind of effects are you seeing now? i enjoy doing finish carpentry in new construction and older homes. i want to ensure that i get to do that for many more years... thanks for any advice.

Mike Nathan
10-18-2001, 11:11 PM
How old is old ? The old aren't always wise.

Construction is 3D
dirty, dangerous, difficult

Sound like you know the risks, therefore take the
actions to deal with it. Although almost no one is willing to pay you to deal with the risks and to do things properly.

By the way you need a good back also.

Advice: Go to a engineering college for a masters and trim on weekends.

Mike Sloggatt
10-18-2001, 11:20 PM
Huh what did you say ?

Gary if you answer that you will be incriminating yourself......

10-19-2001, 08:31 AM
Every job has its dangers and joys. I do computer work. I'm fortunate enough to be able to sit on my ass 40 hours a week, and earn a good living. Then I do what I love, but can't earn enough to do full time, on nights and weekends. Before changing careers, I was a full-time auto mechanic. We faced many of the same dangers and hazards as are faced in construction. You learn to accept what you can't change, and change what you can:

Wear hearing protection. Saws, hammers and air tools will make you deaf. Get the foam earplugs, and learn how to use them properly. Yes, you can still hear conversation.

Learn how to lift properly, and keep your back strong. Nothing sucks as much as an injured back.

Except maybe losing a finger. Keep the guards that come with your tools. If they break, don't use that as an excuse to curse them and toss them. Learn the right way to use a tool first, not after you're already injured by it.

Wood dust is bad. Paint vapor is bad. Cement and gypsum dust is really bad. Use a respirator or dust mask. This is the hardest one for me to follow.

Don't work if you're sick or aggravated. Another tough one to follow, but many injuries occur when you're sick, tired, or just had a fight with your spouse. If your mind isn't on the job, you're a risk to yourself and anyone close enough to get hit with what you're working on. Figure out how to leave your personal life at home. If you have a fever, stay home. The guards on your tools can only do so much....

Try to avoid knee injury. Good luck. My knees went bad when I was in high school playing basketball. I'm 40 now. If you think they got any better with age, just listen to the chorus of cracks when I get up.

Bottom line: do what you love. Mike's advise is the best....get a degree. It's easier to do what you love and still stay safe when you have one.

10-19-2001, 09:30 AM
Be glad to give you my 2 cents worth of advice. I have been a carpenter/contractor for 30 years, northeast OHIO. Worked in all aspects of carpentry, from building homes, concrete form work, drywall, commercial buildings, finish work. I guess those days are gone, as specialties have taken over. Oh, and yes, I do have a 4 year degree in Finance also. Here's my advise. Your first obligation is to yourself and your family. You must decide, whether everyone else on a job may say otherwise, as to your safety. If you get no support, walk away. You are the captain of your ship! Having said that, more often you have to take care of all risk exposures yourself. Don't rely on anyone else to do this.

1. Wear eye protection. (Don't laugh, as I have had a few close calls).
2. Wear ear plugs, even if running a power saw. You will be wearing a hearing aide later on in life if you don't.
3. Wear knee pads when on knees for extended periods.
4. Use sunscreen when working outside.
5. Use respiratory at your discretion. I have many friends dead or dying from lung cancer.
6. Try not to be a hero and lift heavy objects by yourself.
7. When carrying items like plywood or drywall, use your opposite shoulder for this. If right-handed, carry these things left-handed.
8. You will adapt and adjust to your own safety conditions as time goes by.

Good-luck, as it is a great trade. You will get back out of it what you put in. Talented carpenters are hard to come by. Try to become experienced in all aspects of carpentry, as your value to a contractor will be increased.

Dave B
10-19-2001, 10:03 AM
Here's some tips

1) Elevate your skill level. Your pay scale will follow and you will be able to better pick and choose your work.
2) Protect your hearing. The foam plugs are better than nothing, but I would recomend going to an ear doctor and have custom ear plugs made for you. About $100, I got fitted at the same time they fitted me for hearing aids, I'm 43.
3) Protect your body. Make sure all your tools and practices are safe. The statistics show that a career in carpentry carries with it a 90% probability of getting bit. The severity is the only question. 20 years in this business has shown me plenty of blood, very little of my own.
4) Pay attention!!!! If your not feeling well, tired, or your mind is on other things, go home.
5) Charge enough for your work. YOU can't afford to work cheap.
6) Be organized. Organization is severly lacking out there and if you are organized its easy to go to the head of the pack.

All in all, I love the work I do, the "essence of work truck", the coffee break bs sessions, and the sense of accomplishment on a job well done that could go unchanged forever.

Thom Moore
10-19-2001, 10:50 AM
Ryan: The Master Carp who taught me (Gunney Sarge) gave me 3 years of his wisdom: here's just two of 'em.

1. "See that purty girl over there? Screw 'yer eyeballs shut real tight: that's what you'll see if 'ya don't protect the peepers." Wear eye protection. Every time and all the time.

2. "Like to hear 'yer kids laugh and play? Wear muffs and you'll still have usefull hearing when you're an old fart, instead'a like me: dialing up and down the hearing aids all stinkin day long".

Safety safety safety. Some of the men I worked for in my stupids twenty's didn't seem to give a crap for the safety of the men who worked for them. And I was dumb enough to literally risk my life just so that didn't have to rent a lift, get another man, provide fall protection, figure out another way, ectect.

I've made a very serious promise to every man who's ever worked for me: the work we do may be dangerous, but I'll never put you in danger if there's a safer way to do it... and then, I'll never risk your life & limb over a job.

Best advice I ever give: never work a job where safety is placed behind getting the job done. Do not tolerate it from others, and do not do it yourself to others.

T Moore
Active Door

10-20-2001, 12:20 AM
thanks all for the comments. i am a remodleing contractor that also does new construction finish work. i get alot of ribbing for wearing safety glasses, dust masks, and knee pads. i also get alot of responses when i pull out a block plane, but that's another topic. i have spent enough years at the university, but nothing beats the sunset i got tonight while finishing up a deck. as i have said, i do about everything i can to prevent injuries, but what about knees that have to bend down hundreds of times a day? or wrists that have to swing that hammer over and over? what toll do we pay for all the accumulative abuse on our bodies?

Danny Waite
10-20-2001, 12:27 AM
Too soon old and too late smart.
Take pride in what you do.
Make every move count.
What did you say?
Don't let these builders beat you up on price when in the next breath they are bragging about that $160,000 motorhome that they just paid cash for. Who really paid for it?
Safety guards are on your tools for a reason--leave them there!
What did you say?
Wear eye protection all the time on the job.
Learn how to lift--you don't need to be Hercules. If you need Hercules to get something done hire him.
Do the job twice--the first time in your head.
Who the hell needs ear protection?
Continue to improve your skills--read read read.
Go to a JLC Live show!

10-20-2001, 11:09 AM
Eyes, ears, lungs, backs, guards, etc. . .All good stuff worth repeating; to which I'll add: work off of safe scaffolds and platforms, keep them clean and well braced, and never leave anything on top of a ladder. Also, if you find yourself tripping thru a maze of cords, hoses, scraps and crap, it's time to stop for a few minutes and straighten it up. Last, the stupidest reason I ever heard for someone getting hurt on the job is: "I was going to say something, but I thought he knew what he was doing."

Gary Katz
10-20-2001, 11:49 AM
These are EXCELLENT tips on both protecting yourself and ensuring that your work is top notch and as anxiety-free as possible.

I hope and wish that everyone would take heed...yet on my job site, our guys still won't wear eye protection or masks (we supply them and then find almost new ones lying in the sawdust), even when they're cutting mdf. And of all the carpenters I've ever worked with, I know of only two or three who wear ear protection, as I do ALL the time! The problem with construction injuries of this type--unlike making a tired or stupid mistake and cutting yourself with a saw--is that the damage--tinitus, arthritis, knee injuries, etc., don't surface until you're in your forties and then it can be too late...


10-20-2001, 12:41 PM
are knee pads enough to protect knees, even when going up and down all day? that's what i was really thinking about when i started this post, after spending another day nailing up trim on my knees. obviously we all appreciate the safety measures we must take to keep working in this field. one thing i try to do with every job is seperate head and hand work. i turn my brain on for the amount of time i need to get numbers and do arithmetic, figure out supplies i need, and snap out any lines. then i start using my hands and just leave my focus on whatever kind of blade is spinning just inches away from me. i rely on straightedges as much as possible to guide saws, and any other jig that will help prevent me from messing up my work or me. i am proud to say the only injuries i have recieved from power tools are burnt thumbs from hot drill bits, and cracking my head on my drill press while picking something off the floor.

Gary W.
10-20-2001, 07:30 PM
I am in my fortys and the only thing that I can say is I wished I would have used ear protection.
My knees seem to be OK, my elbow hurts sometimes, but nothing to worry about. I have always kept the guards on my saws and still have all my fingers, but thats not to say I haven't had any close calls.

We have a phisical job and it has an efect on our bodies, but we all age differently. I know a carpenter who is close to 80 who can still climb latters and walk walls. He looks like he is 60 not 80, he has been framing most of his life. He's retired now, if you can call it that. He's always got a little job going. He tells me stories when he was a young man and how he could cut rafters and studs with a hand saw all day long and how many strokes it took to cut 2 x 8 rafters. He still has one of his first power saws, a worm drive circular saw that weights a ton.

I don't think I will be doing this work at 80, I don't think I will be alive at 80, but I hope I am, so I can tell the younger guys to wear ear protection:)

Gary W.

10-20-2001, 08:32 PM
I wear safety glasses as soon as I get out of my truck. I liked #1 from Thom Moores, thats what I tale others.
Iam also interested in both better knee support and protection.
Anyone tried Dulthtrading knee pads $90 or 50.?
the 50 were the best, until the new 90$ pair came out.

Mike Nathan
10-20-2001, 10:05 PM
Since so many people responded, I'll spit some more out. Devote yourelf to the education of your self concerning construction and not just carpentry. Knowledge seperates the men from the boys on jobsites. Grownup beyond the "macho" framing additude, where speed is the center of life and saftey is for the soft. Be independent in regards to your own health and educate yourself. F.H & JLC are always teaching about saftey.

I'm not that old but I have found that going to a gym before work puts me in a more fluid condition for whatever I have to do.

If your brain is telling you something is dangerous it probably is. This is a rule of thumb and I still have 10 fingers.
I like photochromatic sunglasses for working inside and out.
Construction gives one a freedom to come and go that is seldom enjoyed by office workers types. If your going to be a carpenter then set a course to be a master of your chosen trade.

10-20-2001, 11:15 PM
Little mind trick I use while ripping on the table saw, while I'm sawing I repeat to myself over and over " I love my fingers, I love my fingers". It remind me whats at stake if I lose my concentration. I absolutly refuse to cut a miter before I've checked the position of my holding hand. I try to break up the knee work. When I was younger I could run base all day, I try to limit myself to 4 hrs. max on base now plus I wear pads on concrete always and subfloor about half the time (dang things are hot!!). Something I'm starting to deeply grasp is that the most important tool I work with every day isn't made out of metal and plastic, rather, flesh and bone. Think about it....

I agree with other posters about the benefits of being "your own man". There is great pleasure and pride in being competent, prepared and proficient in your trade. Even better when other's recognize it....

10-22-2001, 09:01 AM

You get comments about using a block plane?

Regarding your main concern about knees; mostly, good or bad knees are inherited. Using kneepads helps, but it's the getting up and down that wears things out. With my bad cartilage, I've had to learn to get up in a way that minimizes the strain on my knees. Of course, this is impossible to do in all situations, but it helps.

Work smart, stay healthy. And keep that block plane sharp.

Duncan Mahoney
10-25-2001, 11:33 PM
Having reached my forties and experienced a few of the side effects of 20+ years of carpentry, I would say that all of the above is very good advice. Especially the part about learning all you can about your trade. A pro never stops learning.

The only thing I could add is that you should not skimp on the quality and comfort of your safety equipment. It is no less a part of your kit than your saw or block plane and like tools, you should get the best quality you can afford. You don't have to spend a fortune, there's some good low-cost stuff out there. but if it's not comfortable and convenient, will you really wear it all the time? It's also amazing how a little pain can make you change your priorities.

I was pretty good about wearing ear plugs most of the time when using power tools, until I experienced the first bout of tinitis (ringing in the ears) and "got religion". Custom fitted earplugs are worth the money. Even before the tinitis I was going through 3 pairs of the foam earplugs a day...taking them out to answer the phone or a question, dropping them on the floor, rolling them up with dirty fingers and then not really wanting to jam the grease and sawdust covered plug into my ear. My custom fitted plugs hang on a cord around my neck and can be put in or out in a second with no fussing or rolling. The silicone they are made of stays pretty clean and they are washable if they get dirty. I even wear them in movie theaters to protect my ears. My first pair lasted 5 years. They were paid for by year 3 in what I saved on foam earplugs.

Safety glasses are frequently made to hit a price point, or to look cool. Many also offer distorted vision, no peripheral vision, or poor coverage. When I was selecting safety glasses for the shop I was hired to head a few years ago, we tried 30+ different brands and styles and found 6 that we liked. (not that hard to do, call a few safety supply vendors and they'll send samples or salespersons to demo samples) They are not all the top of the line and come from a few different makers. My personal favorite is made by ERB but others had different opinions. What is important is that the glasses stay on the eyes and not the forehead. Buy the anti-fog cleaning stuff and replace the lenses when they are scratched.

Barwalt makes kneepads for tile-setters that I've found to be pretty comfy and not too pricy at $20 a pair. I haven't tried the new fancy kneepads because, thankfully, my knees haven't bothered me too much since I started using the Barwalt's.

One thing not mentioned yet is steel-toed boots. They won't protect your feet from everything but I've been very thankfull for mine a few times. You can get them at the discount stores but I've found that high quality boots will usually last much longer and are worth the money. If you work much on concrete get a softer sole with good support. Working on your feet is no fun when your feet hurt. Also, if you glue those "Safety Boot Savers" on the toes of your boots they may look a bit funny but your boot toes will last a lot longer.

And for those times when someone does get bit, make sure there's a good first aid kit. Again, buy quality. A fabric band-aid, for example, costs a few pennies more, but it will stay on when you sweat or have to work in the rain.

About the only thing I would have done differently, besides wearing my earplugs more, is spend a bit more time with my family, and a bit less time earning a living. Not always a choice we can afford to make...but on that note I'm turning off the computer and going home.

Work smart and safe.

10-27-2001, 01:42 PM
Knee pads - I picked up Kuny's black nylon ones, with the white plastic knee cups. I cut the cups off, they're too slippery. I then wore them till I squashed the foam inside. I then replace the foam. Grey thermorest linkrest foam works best for me. Underlay is useless. I get 'new' knee pads for every baseboard job for about $2.

My ear plugs are the stif band type. This way I don't loose them. I wear my glasses a lot. I'm 31, been finishing for a half year and so far haven't been ribbed for my safetywear.

Mike W. (Fla)
11-11-2001, 01:37 PM
I also use eye protection religiously. I don't care if it's not the height of construction zone fashion...I'd rather "look goofy" than to not be able to LOOK at all!!!

I also highly value my knee pads. In a pinch, I've been known to use a carpet remnant, towels, several layers of cardboard, or even left over carpet padding.

I always carry ear protection and dust masks. Unfortunately, I don't use them as often as I should...but it only takes a miniscule amount of MDF dust to remind me to put a mask on!

I also use a back brace, when required (the kind with the elastic and velcro fastener.

Another very important item for me are my leather gloves. I wear them as often as I can...although I wasn't wearing them when I put a 2 1/2 inch slice down the top of my thumb with a utility knife earlier this year...but, hey, they were lying in the saw dust only about a foot away, had I really needed them! (I know, DUMB...13 stitches worth of dumb!)

Aside from safety and taking care of our bodies, I agree that continuing education, professional pride, and quality workmanship all help to make us better.