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Photo: Thijs van der Weide / Pexels
This article first appeared in the August 2019 issue of Pro Builder.

Some of my fondest early memories, which still endure today, involve going to the hardware store with my dad.

For whatever reason (probably several), I was instantly fascinated; the vastness of the place and all of the stuff within it, from racks and stacks of lumber to bins and boxes of fasteners, rolls of fencing, spools of wire and rope, and an array of tools beyond a child’s imagination. Even the smell—a mix of sawdust, machine oil, garden fertilizer, and sweat—was attractive.

I don’t even remember what Dad bought on those trips (probably chicken wire to repair a hole in the back fence to keep out the deer or stakes for our vegetable garden), but it never really mattered. All I know is that I was a kid in my own version of a candy store.

That fascination was heightened when we added a family room and den onto the back of our ranch house when I was about 8 or 9 years old. I was especially drawn to the framing stage; the smell of cut lumber, the sounds of the tools. After the workmen left for the day, I would walk the site and pick up loose 16d sinkers that had fallen by the wayside (learning later, as a summer laborer on a remodeling crew, that you never reuse a nail that’s escaped your grip or been bent; just grab another one from your nail bag). I almost wish they’d left it in that unfinished state.

Those summers home from college, remodeling homes in the hills along the eastern edge of Oakland, Calif., hauling materials up and down three stories of scaffolding or, once used, to the dump or our small warehouse, only furthered my curiosity about construction.

Working alongside truly talented carpenters and watching other tradespeople not only impressed on me their skill and smarts, but convinced me I had neither at the level required to make a living at it. So instead I chose to write about it.

Since then, I’ve walked hundreds of jobsites and watched thousands of construction professionals at work. It never gets old. My last walk, though, was a chance encounter that allowed me to see my childhood home during the framing stage of a significant remodel. I had mixed feelings, of course; my family’s history in that house was being all but wiped away to make room for a larger kitchen, a modern master suite, and a walk-out basement in place of our musty cellar—all smart moves I envied. I was proud of the old house for inspiring and enabling its next iteration, and I picked up a loose 16d sinker just for old times’ sake.

Access a PDF of this article in Professional Builder's August 2019 digital edition