More Than Just a Trade: Master Craftsmen of the Building Arts


Kevin Sinceno (General Contractor/Carpenter)

My mother said I've been hitting on stuff all my life, and my daddy seemed to have a liking for building and he was a carpenter. He had it for a little while, but when you are doing construction work or carpentry the jobs sometimes are far and in between. He took on other jobs, but he always maintained his skills in carpentry and he taught them to me and I fell in love with it. He introduced me to a friend, Mr. Woodrow Baker, who was a master carpenter, a master framer. He was a dynamic carpenter that was taught by his daddy. He and his brothers would talk about their daddy. All of them was master carpenters. . . . With my father it was mostly residential but he put me under the wing of Mr. Baker 'cause he wanted me to be taught by the best. . . . I'm looking for someone [to apprentice] now that is hungry, who wants the knowledge, and love it like I love it. Because like I tell them, if you want to be good you've got to love it. You just got to love it. I can do this twenty-four hours.

My dad always told me, "I know you like [to play] ball, I know you're good, but I want to give you something to fall back on in case you hurt your knee or things just don't go out, or if you don't finish college, you can do this until you can finish." And so it happened. I loved my daddy and anything he told me I believed and I thank God to this day. For Christmas kids were getting skates and [toy] cars and bikes and my dad would buy me drills or a skill-saw. I got my first tool box that he bought me when I was 12 years old in the attic. I'll never give it up. I told my wife that when God bless me to build my house I'm going to mount it on the shelf as a trophy. That was my first tool box. He got my name made on it and I love it. Had a real hammer, real framer's square. I was so excited and Michael, who was about eight years older than me, he tell everybody, "Man, we're getting cars and bikes and this boy come running in the house happy because he got a tool box!" I was excited.

I was amazed when I was in college. That's why I was literally crying when I had to drop out. We was in architecture [class], and they were going back to when they were building the pyramids and things, and the different tools they used for leveling and cutting and measuring and when you love it like I love it, it is mind blowing. It make me feel like I'm not a carpenter. I've got all these power tools and power this and power that and everything then was hand carved. The older carpenters were the best carpenters. They had the chisel, the hand saws. I've got the cordless nail guns and the cordless drill, the cordless skill-saw.

I love those old shotgun houses. It's a challenge. If anybody love the trade like I love it, I tell anybody, "Take an old building, with old-style materials which are thicker and better lumber, with the newer stuff [on the inside] and make it work." . . . It isn't really about the money, just the challenge of taking that old house that everybody thinks is dead and bringing it back to life.

My dad and them played a trick on me when I was 16. I was always admiring these workbenches that had just come out, a Black and Decker workbench. Sears had them too, and they had this drill and I had a cousin working at Sears and she got everything I was crazy about, the power tools and the bench and they brought it to the house. I'm helping them unload it out of the car and they was telling me it was for my uncle that is a roofer, and they hid it at my daddy's house, and I'm like, "My uncle is going to be excited on Christmas!" I was 16. Then come Christmas, every one of those tools I brought into that house was for me! I couldn't believe it. I tell you I had the best start any child, any person, could want.

Kevin Sinceno was interviewed as part of the New Orleans Building Arts Project. Laura Westbrook edited More than Just A Trade: Master Craftsmen of the Building Arts in 2004 for publication online.