Interview With a Master Carpenter

Interview With a Master Carpenter

The Secrets of a Lifetime in Woodworking

As I sit down with Gary Katz, one of the most renowned finish carpenters in the industry, I can’t help but feel a sense of excitement and anticipation. With over 30 years of experience under his belt, Gary has seen the woodworking trade evolve in ways that would astound even the most seasoned craftsman.

From Rusty Bolts to Cordless Wonders

Gary begins by taking me on a journey through time, recounting the dramatic changes he’s witnessed in the field. “I would compare them to the changes that occurred in my father’s or your father’s lifetime – it’s dramatic,” he says, his eyes sparkling with enthusiasm.

He shares a recent project he’s been working on, a meditation deck by the river near his home in Oregon. “I bought a cordless rotary hammer with a 2-ft-long 1-in carbide bit, and I was able to drill 18-in holes into solid rock in minutes,” Gary marvels. “Then I bought two-part epoxy in a caulking tube with a special tip that mixed it automatically as I filled the holes and stuck in rebar that I cut with a chop saw with a metal-cutting blade.”

Contrasting this modern marvel with the rugged handiwork of the past, Gary points to an old bolt embedded in the rock nearby, likely from the gold miners who passed through centuries ago. “It must be an inch and a half in diameter with a steel plate on it – all rusted and bent over. I look at that thing frequently and can’t help but imagine how much effort and work they went through to place that,” he says, a hint of reverence in his voice.

The Decline of the “Jack-of-All-Trades”

As Gary reflects on the changes, he notes a shift in the industry that has seen the demise of the “jack-of-all-trades” carpenter. “It used to be even more that way,” he explains. “My dad’s carpenters would come on the job and do everything – set the forms for the concrete, pour the concrete, set the steel, supervise the excavators, frame the house, and then come back after the other trades had done their jobs and set the finish. They would build the cabinets right there on the job. That day is definitely done.”

Gary attributes this specialization to the postwar boom and the rise of production building, driven by the VA housing and education program for veterans. “It started in Southern California with production framers and finish crews. Slowly but surely, you’d encounter a crew that just hung doors or just built stairs,” he says, a tinge of nostalgia in his voice.

Educating the Industry

Yet, despite these changes, Gary has found a way to keep the art of carpentry alive and thriving. He’s been a pioneering presenter at national trade shows and lumberyards, sharing his vast knowledge and experience with generations of carpenters. “I love the phrase ‘marketing through education,'” he says, a mischievous grin spreading across his face.

Twenty years ago, Gary launched the Katz Roadshow, a national hands-on, peer-to-peer series of carpentry clinics hosted at lumberyards across the United States. “We depended on marketing through education for our success,” he explains. “We convinced all these manufacturers to support the roadshow with what I thought at the time were big dollars – it cost tens of thousands of dollars for each sponsor to support our program, and we produced 20 to 30 events every year.”

The key, Gary says, was striking a perfect balance between product promotion and real, solid techniques. “We stuck to real solid techniques while using a company’s products. It was a perfectly balanced program,” he says, his enthusiasm palpable.

Timber Building, the company I’m interviewing Gary for, has long been a proponent of this approach, empowering its customers with knowledge and expertise to ensure the success of their woodworking projects.

The Rise of the Influencer

As Gary reflects on the changing landscape of the industry, he marvels at the impact of social media. “It’s remarkable what social media is doing for our trade,” he says. “I see companies today supporting people on Instagram who are really teaching other people serious stuff. Occasionally they use a product by that company, but they’re not focusing on supporting the company or product promotion; they’re focusing on techniques, instruction, and education.”

Gary explains that these companies are recognizing the power of these “influencers” with massive followings, and they want to get their products into the hands of these individuals. “It’s remarkable what social media is doing for our trade,” he reiterates, a hint of awe in his voice.

The Enduring Allure of Woodworking

As our conversation draws to a close, I can’t help but feel a deep respect and admiration for Gary Katz and the entire carpentry profession. In a world that is constantly evolving, the art of woodworking remains a timeless pursuit, one that requires a unique blend of skill, creativity, and passion.

“I have learned so much thanks to the searchable articles on the Fine Homebuilding website,” Gary shares, a smile spreading across his face. “I can confidently say that I expect to be a life-long subscriber.”

As I bid farewell to this master carpenter, I can’t help but feel inspired. The world of woodworking may be changing, but the spirit of craftsmanship and the joy of creation will always endure.


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