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Old 11-22-2013, 09:22 AM   #1
mayday0017
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Default Skilled Craftsman a thing of the past

Skilled craftsmen are a dying breed....

Here in Houston it has gotten really bad and I am sure the same problem is occurring all over the nation. For us we have TONS of Mexicans doing labor for very low prices. Because of this there are very few Americans doing the work of any set trade that involves labor and doesn't require a degree or license.

It has gotten to the point I never expect to find someone who grew up in the area and got into a skill because their family has always done it for many generations. I have honestly become desensitized to how bad it has gotten and just accept it as the norm.

The cheap labor is great when you want something done and expect the quality to be a 6 or 8 out of 10. But for any kind of finish carpentry or cabinets the work is garbage. I will say to the average person who doesn't know any better the work looks good. But for someone who knows cuts should be coped, joints should be tight, and calk should be minimal (to non-existent) the work looks like garbage.

I have been in many million dollar+ homes that look like the same garbage you can buy from any of the builders it is just bigger. It has more of the same particle board cabinets but not true custom built hardwood cabinets. It is very disappointing to see this everywhere I look, but once again I am starting to become more and more use to this.

I do 95% of my own work, I do hire a hand from time to time to help make things go faster or be easier. There are times when these guys do a good enough job at such a fast rate and low cost it would be foolish to do it yourself. I am a jack of all trades master of none kind of guy but have gotten really good at finished carpentry from reading, YouTube, and trial and error but there are still things you have to leave up to a "pro".

This week I had a guy come by and talk cabinets with me. A friend knew him from a cigar forum and they meet up and have a cigar from time to time when my friend is in town. So that is how I found out about this guy and figured I would have him come out talk with me and run a bid past me. If nothing else knowing what pocket my money is going into means a great deal to me. I don't like paying a company who has someone on staff to do the work, I like paying direct.

So the guy shows up, full blooded American who grew up doing trim work helping his grandfather at 8 years old. His great grandfather was a cabinet maker and so was his great great grandfather. It reminded me of growing up and this being the norm. He was so honest and open as he did business; he never assumed what would make me happy or wanted to cut corners. He was more than willing to do the work any way that I wanted and expressed concern based on experience when needed but never tried to force anything. He really made me feel like my experience was number 1 before putting money in his pocket. I really hope that people like this can make a turn around and not go extent on us. Here in Texas you don't need a license to do 90% of skilled trades hopefully at some point there becomes a requirement to help protect these guys.

Anyways I had a great experience and look very forward to having him build cabinets in the current house and the one currently in the design stages. I just wanted to share my experience and remind others these people are still out there you just have to find them. If you invest the effort to find these individuals you will help keep them alive for the rest of us and maybe, just maybe, the houses we build today will look great 100 years from now like the ones built 100 years ago look today.

Last edited by mayday0017; 11-22-2013 at 09:30 AM.
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Old 11-22-2013, 09:23 AM   #2
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Default Re: Skilled Craftsman a thing of the past

I think you mean skilled craftsmen. Men is the plural form of man.
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Old 11-22-2013, 09:31 AM   #3
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Default Re: Skilled Craftsman a thing of the past

Well thank you so much for the useful post
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Old 11-22-2013, 09:37 AM   #4
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Default Re: Skilled Craftsman a thing of the past

As you found they are still out there, just harder to find and you'll often times pay top dollar for it. Some see the value and gladly pay it, some want it now, cheap, and plenty of it.

Look no further than the furniture trade. Ikea table and chairs for $300 or a handmade quartersawn oak or hickory table and chairs for $4000. Some people want something to sit their pizza on, others want something to hand down to their grand kids. It takes all kinds
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Old 11-22-2013, 09:43 AM   #5
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Default Re: Skilled Craftsman a thing of the past

I thought he was talking about Skill and Craftsman.

Yeah, real craftsmen are getting harder to find. No reason to bash any nationality though as I see some fantastically talented foreign-born workers in various trades. If people will pay the price they can get quality. It doesn't matter where the workers were born. But low pay and low skill go together like peaches and cream.

So where's the problem really? Having been a contractor for 43 years I blame the paying customer. For the most part, I have promoted a less expensive product installed well and on time. That has greatly helped me capture sales because people are greedy and cheap. But I'm not so I didn't send poorly paid workers to do the work.

I guess that's the other side of the coin. So you can go ahead and blame contractors, I don't care. Because you might be right.
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Old 11-22-2013, 09:49 AM   #6
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Default Re: Skilled Craftsman a thing of the past

I like quality and I'm willing to pay.. But yes I agree, the older folk are dying and the youngins aren't filling in their place (properly).
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Old 11-22-2013, 09:51 AM   #7
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Default Re: Skilled Craftsman a thing of the past

Quote:
Originally Posted by Zeke View Post
I thought he was talking about Skill and Craftsman.

Yeah, real craftsmen are getting harder to find. No reason to bash any nationality though as I see some fantastically talented foreign-born workers in various trades. If people will pay the price they can get quality. It doesn't matter where the workers were born. But low pay and low skill go together like peaches and cream.

So where's the problem really? Having been a contractor for 43 years I blame the paying customer. For the most part, I have promoted a less expensive product installed well and on time. That has greatly helped me capture sales because people are greedy and cheap. But I'm not so I didn't send poorly paid workers to do the work.

I guess that's the other side of the coin. So you can go ahead and blame contractors, I don't care. Because you might be right.
^^^While I agree 100% with Zeke on this one and can attest to foreign craftsmanship as well, let me remind folks that many, even on this board, seem to believe that NOBODY would want to do this work otherwise. Not the unemployed, not the starving, not the kid fresh outta college who cant find a "business" or other job using his degree....
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Old 11-22-2013, 09:58 AM   #8
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Default Re: Skilled Craftsman a thing of the past

Quote:
Originally Posted by Zeke View Post
I thought he was talking about Skill and Craftsman.

Yeah, real craftsmen are getting harder to find. No reason to bash any nationality though as I see some fantastically talented foreign-born workers in various trades. If people will pay the price they can get quality. It doesn't matter where the workers were born. But low pay and low skill go together like peaches and cream.

So where's the problem really? Having been a contractor for 43 years I blame the paying customer. For the most part, I have promoted a less expensive product installed well and on time. That has greatly helped me capture sales because people are greedy and cheap. But I'm not so I didn't send poorly paid workers to do the work.

I guess that's the other side of the coin. So you can go ahead and blame contractors, I don't care. Because you might be right.
I don't follow...

I didn't say "because they are Mexican they can't do good work" so it's not because of nationality but thanks for trying to make it that way.

I am pretty sure I didn't blame the contractor, I said they are still out there you just have to find them. I also encouraged people to use them to help keep them alive. People going with the cheapest guy on the block did create this problem and that was my point except I left "cost" out of my post. This was done because everyone knows you get what you pay for.

The real point here was if you never look for the skilled guy and hire him there won't be any left.

Anyways thanks for sharing......
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Old 11-22-2013, 10:04 AM   #9
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Default Re: Skilled Craftsman a thing of the past

Quote:
Originally Posted by mayday0017 View Post
...
The real point here was if you never look for the skilled guy and hire him there won't be any left.

Anyways thanks for sharing......
Seem a little testy in your replies this morning...

There will always be skilled guys and premium products out there as there will always be a high-end market. That's like saying I better buy a $3,000 stereo receiver or there won't be any $3,000 stereos available for anyone.

The fact of the matter is there are options now for lower end products and people take them. Back in the 'good old days' of old world craftsmen very few people could afford their products or services so they did without. The same is true now, few people can afford their products or services, except now they go with a low cost alternative instead of doing without. It's simple economics

Last edited by Terra Nova; 11-22-2013 at 12:15 PM.
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Old 11-22-2013, 11:29 AM   #10
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Default Re: Skilled Craftsman a thing of the past

I can relate to the OP since he's in Houston. We lived there 4+ years and the typical quality of work is poor, without regard to nationality. Tile laid at weird angles, bricks in the fireplace not straight, etc. We bought a model home and they replaced the carpet as part of the deal - I had to put the layers on hold so I could get a scraper and knock the drywall mud off the concrete so we'd have a smooth floor. The carpet people didn't give a hoot. This was in a $120K house in 1992 money.

As a contrast, we had repairs done to our house up in Lake Worth. 1200 sq/ft, 60K house - nice, nothing fancy. The house was built by a contracting pair of guy and dad. We lived there 4 years and if I called the builder to ask about something, it was like the next day someone showed up to fix it. Without really asking. We had a little problem with the tile in the master - next day this lady shows up, speaks minimal English but proceeds to rectify all issues with the tile, clean up and leave the place spotless. No further issues with tile. We had a little gap open up in one corner of the vault in the living room. Nothing major, settlement issue after about a year in the house, just a bitty thing about 3" long. I called for a suggestion on what kind of caulk would be best to hide the crack. "Don't do anything, we'll come look at it." Next day a guy shows up, tapes off the entire house with plastic, brings in the gun and shoots the crack (like 10 seconds of work), cleans it all up, leaves business card, says call if there are any other issues ever. Really - said "ever". So there's a builder with quality subs.

So these people are still out there, they are just getting hard to find.
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Old 11-22-2013, 11:39 AM   #11
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Default Re: Skilled Craftsman a thing of the past

One part of the problem as I see it, has been a drastic fall in wages over the last several decades. Working construction used to be a lucrative trade for many people, but the onset of ever cheaper labor, and ever cheaper products lead us into a downward spiral of cheapness. Many true craftsmen have been pushed to the side or priced out of existence.
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Old 11-22-2013, 11:47 AM   #12
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Default Re: Skilled Craftsman a thing of the past

Blame it on my "throw it away" generation....

Edit: Things are made so cheaply and priced cheap its not worth fixing. This is why im looking for older tools... drill presses welders etc.
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Old 11-22-2013, 11:52 AM   #13
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Default Re: Skilled Craftsman a thing of the past

I own some old houses. There have always been hacks and I have the evidence to prove it.
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Old 11-22-2013, 11:56 AM   #14
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Default Re: Skilled Craftsman a thing of the past

Quote:
Originally Posted by mayday0017 View Post
For us we have TONS of Mexicans doing labor for very low prices. ...

...The cheap labor is great when you want something done and expect the quality to be a 6 or 8 out of 10. But for any kind of finish carpentry or cabinets the work is garbage.
When you re-read your own words I think you'll see how others could have interpreted what you wrote to be a slam against one nationality of people.

If you didn't mean to degrade any particular nationality, you shouldn't have mentioned it.

Now instead of your post being about skilled craftsmanship being a dying art, the post is diluted by the discussion of nationality.
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Old 11-22-2013, 11:58 AM   #15
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Default Re: Skilled Craftsman a thing of the past

Craftsmen are not a thing of the past but I agree they are harder to find today.

Three of my favorite subs are 2nd and 3rd generation in their respective trades, and yes they are a pleasure to work with.

I think the fact that there are fewer Craftsmen is a function of demand. There is a much higher demand for quantity over quality. In addition it is my opinion that fewer people today understand what quality really means.

Last year (just for fun) I went to five homes on the "luxury home tour" in my area. One of the things that really stood out to me was that in/on all these houses that ranged in price $1.2 million to $2.9 million - not one had real stone... That's right all cultured stone. I'm not saying cultured stone is a bad product, but if I was spending $2-3 million on a house, I would want my fireplace made from real stone, others obviously disagree.
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Old 11-22-2013, 12:04 PM   #16
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Default Re: Skilled Craftsman a thing of the past

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Originally Posted by mayday0017 View Post
Here in Houston it has gotten really bad and I am sure the same problem is occurring all over the nation. For us we have TONS of Mexicans doing labor for very low prices. Because of this there are very few Americans doing the work of any set trade that involves labor and doesn't require a degree or license.

So the guy shows up, full blooded American who grew up doing trim work helping his grandfather at 8 years old. His great grandfather was a cabinet maker and so was his great great grandfather. It reminded me of growing up and this being the norm.
I hate to say it, but you framed this little anecdote all wrong. It can't not be based on the assumption that immigrants torpedoed Norman Rockwell's wholesome America (the one of your youth, which never actually existed).
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Old 11-22-2013, 12:12 PM   #17
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Default Re: Skilled Craftsman a thing of the past

Don't you all worry because Obamacare will take care of this

or not, but I do have to say that there is lot of skilled people out here who can do really nice work but they not always want to do it in costs of some other country skilled people.

Advice is to find good person in your area who just starting the business and they normally make really good work in hoping to get more business for them self
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Old 11-22-2013, 12:20 PM   #18
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Default Re: Skilled Craftsman a thing of the past

Word of mouth is still the best way to find a good contractor ! (Too bad for the electrician I hired !)

I sure wish there was a supply of inexpensive day labor up here. I have some landscape jobs that I really don't want to tackle myself. I wore myself out this past spring, unloading 50 garden wall blocks and simply dry setting them as a second course and that only took about 4 hours, including picking them up !

Getting old beats the alternative !
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Old 11-22-2013, 01:33 PM   #19
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Default Re: Skilled Craftsman a thing of the past

Quote:
Originally Posted by Zeke View Post
I blame the paying customer....
That has greatly helped me capture sales because people are greedy and cheap. But I'm not so I didn't send poorly paid workers to do the work.
Thanks Zeke for getting to the heart of the matter.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Tucko View Post
One part of the problem as I see it, has been a drastic fall in wages over the last several decades. Working construction used to be a lucrative trade for many people, but the onset of ever cheaper labor, and ever cheaper products lead us into a downward spiral of cheapness. Many true craftsmen have been pushed to the side or priced out of existence.
+1

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I own some old houses. There have always been hacks and I have the evidence to prove it.
This truth is huge. I have seen old house built well with poor renovations and old housed built like crap with great renovations.

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Don't you all worry because Obamacare will take care of this
How about we keep our political views to ourselves and stay on topic.
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Old 11-22-2013, 01:45 PM   #20
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Default Re: Skilled Craftsman a thing of the past

I don't think the OP ragged on Mexicans or contractors,
I thought he was just lamenting the ever decreasing number of skilled craftsmen, craftsmenship in general, and the appreciation of their work and skills.

And I would have to agree with all of that.
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