The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

The Master Carpenter

By John C. Ewing © 1992

Issue: April, 1992

I was helping the carpenters one summer morning at Maybeury, West Virginia. They were making some repairs to the weather-beaten wooden panels beneath the big plate glass windows at the front of the company store. One of the men had just joined the carpenters that morning and the carpenter's foreman was directing him to remove the old moldings around the panels then replace them with fresh, new molding strips. It looked like an easy assignment. But the foreman stepped back and spoke quietly to the rest of us; "That new fellow claims he's a master carpenter, but I've got some doubts about that. I'll tell you in a few minutes, when I see how he goes about fitting that molding inside the frame."

So now we were all alerted to the test the new man was being put through, although we couldn't imagine how this simple task would really prove anything.

The new man, who was about 40 or so, started his little job confidently enough, carefully prying off the old weather-beaten strips, then cutting their duplicates out of fresh stock. He was careful to check the measurements and to miter the corners precisely as he prepared the new quarter-round sticks. One by one, he slipped them into place, nailed them in tight, and countersunk the nails so the holes could be filled with putty, as the painters would be following to paint them.

The first three of the strips of the molding slipped into place, their corners fitting perfectly, and all seemed to be going well. But the last piece of molding just wouldn't fit into the frame as it should. I guess all of us but the foreman were surprised that this apparently knowledgeable carpenter was having such a struggle setting the fourth strip into place. He checked the length and the miter and they were exactly right, but still the fourth piece just wouldn't fit into the space where it should go.

By now, all of us were standing around watching, curious to see if the fellow would succeed or if the foreman would have to come to his rescue. At last, the foreman moved in and said very meaningfully, "Here, let me show you how a master carpenter fits molding." He took out his sharp pocket knife and with a quick little stroke he trimmed away just the little sharp edge under one of the stick's mitered corners, then slipped the piece neatly into its space for a perfect fit.

The new man was a bit humbled but he took it good-naturedly and chuckled with the rest of us. But now there was no more doubt - everyone knew where the man fitted into the work force, and no more nonsense about who was or was not a master carpenter.