Tom Curran does not consider himself a craftsman. Yet by today's standards, when many young men's greatest skill is getting a Prestige Medal in the Call of Duty video game series, he shows us what exactly a man can do with basic skills and the confidence to make an attempt.
"The house needed new shutters," he explains. "I like the look of board and batten shutters, so I got a quote for having them custom made and installed. $3,200. At the end of this project doing it myself, I had spent a total of $575. Twenty six hundred dollar savings, that's certainly worth my time and effort."
Tom recalls a day when VoTech classes were available in every school or each district had a facility dedicated to training in the skilled trades. The evolution of vocational training in the U.S. has in fact seen priorities shift through continual change in economics, society, and politics. From the relationship between masters and apprentices in the late 1700s, to land grant colleges established in the late 1800s, to the introduction of separate vocational schools in the mid 1900s, many methods have been tried in response to the dialogue between business, citizens, and politicians. These transitions do not always go smoothly nor with unanimous accord, differing philosophies on what works and what doesn't is no new phenomenon in the U.S. In the late 1900s the shift headed more strongly toward academics for all students. Perhaps in response to the increase of America as a Service based economy as globalization saw manufacturing performed elsewhere, this shift resulted in less exposure to skilled trades for all students. The result - the workforce in the early 21st century, particularly at the low end of the wage scale, have too many burger-flippers and not enough craftsmen.
Yet this is not just an issue of jobs and economy. It also one of self-sufficiency as illustrated so well by Tom. Faced with the high-priced quote of having the job done for him, he examined his tools then went to the lumber yard. Using only a sander, drill, and circular saw, he jumped into the project at hand. He made one and considered it a failure. Still his wife said "I like this" with breathless satisfaction and he knew he was on the right track.
He called his father for feedback on the tackiness of the finish. He actually owned the basic tools needed. He wasn't afraid to try. This basic skill set and access to knowledge is what we must preserve - for all the access to data that the Internet provides, the tragedy of human knowledge lost will still occur without sharing between the generations.
"I'm not Mr. Handyman," Tom says, "most of this I learned on the fly." And the result? "An addition to my windows that fits my house and personality."
Besides the financial savings and the ability to create a custom look, doing it yourself allows you to include functions that only you know you need. Tom looked around the neighborhood and saw westward-facing shutters faded on many of the houses. "Never skimp on the polyurethane," his parting piece of advice, of which he added four layers to ensure his own board and batten shutters would not suffer the fate of fading.
An added benefit of daring to try and discovering he could become competent in a new skill : Tom endeavored on another project, finding an old door, reclaiming and refinishing to become a beautiful addition to his front entrance.