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



On Roofing:

After I do a roof, I have a person get up on the roof, walk the whole roof, inspect the whole roof and make sure my workers did it right. If they didn't, they're gonna take it off. That's how I run my company. When you pick up the shingles, you make sure they all have four nails in it. You look at the flashing, you make sure that they did it. So when you get on somebody else's job, you're basically doing the same thing. You're gonna be, one, checking and making sure they used felt paper. Two, did they use four nails in the shingle? 'Cause a lot of guys-and especially people that are coming in from out of town-they're fast, they want to do it quick and get out and get paid. So they'll just put two nails in the shingle. And that happens plenty. You know, you can do three nails, and a lot of them are done for years and the roof lasts forever. The right way is four nails. So you look for the nails, and then you look for the pattern. How they ran the shingle, that the joints aren't too close, which will create a problem and cause a leak. You know, a shingle roof is pretty basic. That's why you can teach a man roofing in a matter of a couple of weeks. Now slate work; no. That takes years of experience. Metal work takes years of experience.

--Louis "Ted" Schwander, Sheet Metal Worker and Roofer

My trade is contractor roofing and sheet metal. They usually kind of coincide, roofing and sheet metal trades, because usually when you're involved in doing a roof job it's going to encompass doing some sheet metal work too. That's commercial and residential too, because if you install a roof on someone's house, at the same time they're going to turn around and need flashing which is sheet metal, or they are going to decide that they want rain gutters installed, so that comes under sheet metal also.

--Allan Burkhart, Roofer

You're never going to learn it by the books. You have to get out there; someone has to show you and, really, it's the old tricks. You have to learn it from an older roofer, because these new guys coming out now, they don't know all the tricks to the trade.

--Gary Bennett, Roofer

I have a "necessity" type of business. I don't have a luxury type of business. I have something that people can't cut out like at Christmastime, "Well I can't buy this gift, its two hundred dollars, I can only spend fifty." Well, when you're leaking, you don't have much of a choice, you gotta get it fixed! Now, my prices may have to come down, and justify the times where dollars are [short]. But I'm a necessity like a plumber's a necessity, an electrician is a necessity.

--Louis "Ted" Schwander, Sheet Metal Worker and Roofer

Roofers were 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.