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


Wood Crafting

On Wood Crafting:

I was in the band at St. Francis. This one church [Trinity Episcopal Church] in Morgan City that I restored—I can recall being in band, marching for parades down Second Street, and I would just admire this one church with all wooden shingles, bell skirting bottom, and a steeple and all done with shingling, a beautiful green Episcopal Church. I always admired it, not knowing that in 1988 I would be requested to refurbish the entire exterior of this church! All the bell skirting, the shingles was bad. I told them, "At any phase, if you aren't satisfied, you can tell me to shut it down." That was one of the first times I ever had to meet with a board of people and speak in front of them, and I told them, "If you would like me to do this project, I would take great pride in it." The only request that I had was that if I tore into something and I found something rough underneath it that wasn't expected, that I would be allowed to fix it, and fix it properly to go back because I don't have the heart [to do a partial job]. . . . I've done numerous projects for them since then, even on the interior of the church, the rectory for the pastor, and his home. Even last week I went and did a project for them. They had a chimney that was falling, so they took it down and they had a hole in the wall on the interior, which was cypress. I went and measured and got it exact, I got a piece from it and came to my shop and made the exact shape siding boards and I went and I stained and finished them to match, and it came out near-perfect. I installed them and you can't even tell anything was touched. They were very pleased with that.

--Dwayne Broussard, Finish Woodworker

Columns and porches take a tremendous beating. They're exposed to the weather. A lot of times some unscrupulous or just ignorant carpenter or painter will block up the weep holes. The bottom, the plinth, the turn-bases, they're sacrificial parts. The really expensive part is the column shaft itself. They don't know any better. So somebody's column base rots out, "Oh, we just replaced that 5 years ago!" Oh, we'll fix that. We'll put a concrete pad there; you'll never have to worry about that rotting again. What happens is, the column shaft goes. And people freak out, because all of a sudden, what was a $300 repair is now a $1800, $2000 repair or replacement. Of all the things that keeps me busy, it's wood rot and water management. It's more than termites. I get so little termite infestations; it's almost always mismanagement of water. There are no weep-holes in the columns themselves. There's no air circulating through the column to keep it dry. You can seal it up, I don't care how much, it's going to build a hundred percent moisture, eventually, inside.

--John Hartsock, Architectural Lathe and Millworker

My father worked exclusively in mahogany. Otis had a lumber company mill on the foot of Napoleon Avenue or Louisiana, and they liked him. My dad would go there and he would buy a couple hundred feet of mahogany, which was nothing much for them. They'd be selling by carload lots. And he would make them go through the whole stack of mahogany. And he'd pick out two or three boards, four boards and whatnot. And they put up with him, you know. He was very particular. Matter of fact, if he found a good piece he would save that. "Lumber man," he said, "that's a dining room table top." And that would be set aside for a dining room table, and that would be it.

--Frank Bruno, Cabinetmaker

Wood crafters 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.