Masterpiece Woodworking

April 21, 2012

Last fall (2011) our expertl woodworking and finish man, Tyler McCallick, moved his family and business to northern California. However, he continues to work for us long distance, traveling back and forth from his new location with extraordinarily finished consignments.

Since 2003, Tyler has been an integral part of New Millennium Builders, producing excellent cabinets, doors,  bookcases, countertops, and storage windowseats for our clients. He has also been commissioned by several of them to build specialty items using exotic woods such as teak, birdseye maple, ebony, zebra, and purpleheart. His inlay work is superb, his latest marvel being crushed turquoise to fill the crevases of mesquite slabs.

Besides being our ace fine-woodworker, the owner of Masterpiece Woodworking has crafted one-of-a-kind pieces of furniture, from a four-poster kingsize bed with drawers to small inlaid boxes with secret compartments, all using dove-tailing and as little metal as possible.

I have needed him on every job since he left Texas and am sorry that he is not readily available any longer. We certainly became used to Tyler McCallick augmenting and accentuating our additions and remodels with his masterful craftsmanship. Although his California website is not up yet, please explore his many projects here: .  If you have a unique design in mind for your home and cannot find it in any store, give him a call at 530-391-2513.


No More Cold for Me

December 13, 2011

Frigid winds blew down snowcapped Mt. Rainier and swirled around the buildings of Puyallup, Washington, where my friend, Kurt Allen, and I were constructing a KinderCare day care facility. Although it wasn’t the furthest north I had ever built, it seemed like we were in Alaska or Siberia.

We began framing in late summer and by early fall had just finished siding the KinderCare structure when an artic front slammed down upon the windbreakless valley floor. For several shivering days, we each carried around a metal bucket full of coal embers to keep our faces and hands warm while we sawed and nailed the exterior trim at the windows and doors. It seemed to take forever, since we had to stop often and seek out the warming buckets that helped us survive in near-zero temperatures. There was no shelter from the relentless wind that penetrated every cubbyhole, sleeve, and crevice. The only thing that would have made it worse would have been any kind of precipitation – rain, snow, sleet, or ice. (I could go on, but you probably get that I DON’T LIKE THE COLD.)

I thought building in Puyallup, WA was a harrowing experience, but Kurt seemed to thrive on the harsh conditions and dreamt of being a mountain man, like Jeremiah Johnson. For me, I felt like one of Charles Dickens’ orphans abandoned in the cold of winter. My dreams were of southern climes; hence, my moves to Hawaii, southern California, and Texas.

Since that time, I have concentrated on building where, as the poet Fred Neil says, “weather suits my clothes” – shorts and t-shirts. The mostly temperate weather of central Texas – New Braunfels, San Marcos, Spring Branch, Bulverde, Wimberley, Seguin, and Canyon Lake – is just right.


January 15, 2011

Stairways come in all shapes and sizes. Outdoor stairs can be simple or complicated but have to be weatherproofed.

Indoor stairs can be tricky. A day of work might end with a gap in the landing or the second story may not have even a basic safety railing installed…

Several years ago, my stepson was working with me and another carpenter on the interior transformation of a two-story house. The owners had only had the exterior shell of the house completed previously, but they were now ready to retire and wanted the house completed. This entailed everything:  walls, doorways, kitchen cabinets/appliances/lighting, bathrooms, laundry room, baseboards, flooring, second story rooms/flooring, closets, electricial, plumbing, and stairs. While the downstairs was walled into rooms, the upstairs was constructed and accessed by using a ladder and scaffolding. Once the bedrooms, bathroom, linen closet, and loft were framed and sheetrocked, the L-shaped stairway was begun.

When the basic framework and treads were nearly complete, only a gap in the landing, eight feet above the first story, remained. Everyone going up and down the stairs to tape/texture, paint, tile, trim windows/doors, etc. was very careful to avoid this hole. However, one morning a terrible accident occurred. The other carpenter had carelessly covered the hole with just plastic sheeting instead of the requested plywood, and James inadvertently stepped precisely on the plastic over the opening and fell through, hitting his head hard on the stairs and the floor.

After calling 911, I called my wife/James’ mother, who rushed over in time to get into the ambulance with him. His eyes were not equal and he could only remember his name, both indicators of a concussion. James’ wife met us at the emergency room and we spent hours in the hallway with James on a gurney in a neck and back brace, waiting until he was seen to. After x-rays and MRI determined a concussion but no cracks or fractures, he was released without having to spend the night. He had to stay home and rest for nearly a week, but he had a full recovery.

James was very lucky, but that scary incident reminded me that not every person I hired had a good sense of  responsibility and awareness. Despite his apologies, the stairway carpenter could not get over the suffering his mistake had caused. He became overly nervous and quit before the job was finished.

Crawl Space

January 12, 2011

One of the least pleasant tasks of remodelling is having to scope out the underpinnings, posts/beams, water lines, and electrical cables beneath a building. It’s not too bad if the space is adequate, but sometimes there is too little space for claustrophobic me. It is also a place where spiders and other critters reside, where broken bottles or rusted metal don’t get swept away.  

However, going aground is part of my free estimating process, if there are foundation, faulty electrical or plumbing issues to be addressed. In New Braunfels, San Marcos, Spring Branch, Canyon Lake, and other parts of the Hill County, scrabbling around under a pier and beam home always gives me a touch of apprehension. There’s no telling what might be seeking relief from the heat and humidity. Being surprised by a scorpion or two will get me scrambling backwards pretty fast.

Copper pipes

October 22, 2010

Remodeling a bathroom usually involves the plumbing. Older homes have copper pipes, which can sometimes present a problem…

A couple days ago, after removing a bathroom’s vinyl flooring, I needed to reroute a copper pipe. This was a challenge, since the pipe was inside the concrete slab. I chipped the concrete above and around the pipe, approximately 2-1/2 inches in diameter. I did not want to make too big of a hole. However, as I began soldering, I saw that the solder was dripping off. The concrete was still too close to the pipe and was keeping the pipe too cold for the solder to stick. So, I chipped away a little more concrete and tried again. Nope.  I continued chipping away more concrete from the copper in small increments until the solder stuck beautifully. As a result, I had a bigger hole to repair, but the copper pipe was soldered and rerouted properly…Luckily, I made it home in time for my birthday dinner.

Sometimes It Pays To Be in the Way

January 9, 2010

When I was an apprentice, partnering with my corrosive, but brilliant, brother-in-law, we were doing piece work at a large tract of houses. [Piece work is being paid for a set price per square foot for certain phases of house framing, such as rolling joists, framing walls, and cutting/stacking the rafters to form the roof. My brother-in-law and I were in the elite phase, that of the roofing. We would make more per sq.ft. because of the difficulty of the work. Being paid for piece work depends on knowledge, skill level, and speed.] Dennis was a hardworking, money grubbing builder. So, you can imagine the consternation he felt when we observed a bunch of semi-trucks and a film crew driving into the tract. For some reason, they chose our building in this big tract on which we were stacking a roof.

But, that wasn’t the worst part. The director of the crew came right up to Dennis and told him he had to quit working because they wanted to film a McDonald’s commercial in our building. The ranting and raving that came from Dennis scared the wits out of the director and everyone around him. However, the commercial film crew began setting up after Dennis became hoarse.

While the filming began, Dennis negotiated with the director to be paid double what we would have made for the day. So we stopped to watch as the “construction worker” actor came into the garage of the house. He was dressed more like a lumberjack than any carpenter I ever saw:  Red-plaid shirt, 3-day-old beard, big boots, and a hard hat, which is usually worn on large commercial building sites. When someone yelled, “Action!” he sat down on the stack of lumber and opened his phony lunch box. Then he grimaced down at his supposedly yucky lunch. “Cut!” was called out and they did the scene over and over and over again, about twenty or thirty more times.

Dennis and I went to the New Braunfels McDonald’s and had lunch, went back to the tract, picked up our double pay, and took off for the rest of the day, tooling around Canyon Lake, Spring Branch, and Wimberley, ending up at Cabella’s between Kyle and Buda. The next day we started work bright and early, eager to get back to the task at hand.

A Tale of Two Metatarsals

December 21, 2009

Three days into my apprenticeship as a journeyman carpenter I had an unfortunate incident. For the lack of one nail in the scaffolding I fell from a three-story building, along with my friend. Not only was it the third day of my apprenticeship, it was also the third day of marital bliss. After driving 75 miles to bring me my lunch, my wife pulled up and watched me hit the ground. I landed on a sandhill left by the masons. When I looked up, I was surrounded by my wife and a bunch of strangers, who turned out to be from the neighborhood. They had come running from as far as three blocks away after hearing me scream on my way down to the ground.

My friend Jim bounced off the garage roof on his way down and landed near me, seemingly unhurt. However, my wife drove us both to the hospital for x-rays. I had discomfort in my right foot, while Jim thought he might have had a broken thumb afterall.

After our x-rays, we waited painfully for over an hour before hearing the results. Finally, a doctor came out and said that Jim had a broken thumb but I could go home. As I was getting up to hobble out with my wife’s support, another doctor asked where I thought I was going with two broken metarsals. He told Jim he could go home because he had no broken bones in his hand. The first doctor had gotten it all backwards.

That incident brought my apprenticement to a halt for six weeks with my leg in a cast up to my knee. I spent the summer on disability and fishing, but I couldn’t wait to get back to my job. That painful lesson has kept me safe while remodeling and building additions, decks, and garages in New Braunfels, San Marcos, Wimberley, Kyle, Buda, Spring Branch, and Canyon Lake.

It was a dark and dreary night

December 2, 2009

Today the stormy weather has traversed Spring Branch, Canyon Lake, New Braunfels, Wimberley, San Marcos, Kyle, Buda, and beyond. The state is taking a soaking, but it does not compare to the pounding one of my custom homes received years ago.

We were building atop a hill overlooking the neighborhood, much like the hilltop remodeled homes and additions in our fabulous hill country. The day started out so bright and sunny and we commenced construction of the 40′ walls. As the day progressed, we began to lift and install the walls of the two-story house.  We noticed the clouds forming, until the sky over the construction site looked quite ominous.

This was before the internet, so I called the fire department to find out what kind of strength the storm was supposed to have. The fire chief was well-informed, as is our great New Braunfels fire department chief, and I was told it was going to be a doozie of a storm. We raised the fourth wall and began bracing them all with double studs 6′ apart at a 45 degree angle. When we were finished, we surveyed the braces and felt confident the walls would be able to withstand all but a tornado that we occasionally see in Kyle and Buda.

The owners called me at 3am that night. They had stopped by after a New Year’s Eve party to see how the framing had weathered the storm and found their walls were down the hill, scattered over three neighboring homes. I rushed to see for myself and met them in their drenched tuxedo and evening gown. All the second story walls and double-studded braces were shredded into toothpicks. Thank goodness for my insurance company and understanding clients.

I couldn’t believe it, folks, that was one granddaddy of a storm – worse than a hurricane that often affects us here in New Braunfels and the hill country.

Unexpected perk

November 20, 2009

Before I began specializing in additions and remodelling, I framed small housing tracts (5 to 10 homes), as an apprentice carpenter in southern California. We cranked them out as fast as we could, until one day work came to a standstill. 

The five-home tract we were working on was next door to an established neighborhood. There was a pool with a nice deck at the nearest house. We were working away, when one by one the guys on the scaffolding turned around to stare. Two nude females had come out and settled down to sunbathe.

Well, for two hours no work got done. All the guys, sitting on or hanging from the scaffolding, were talking to the girls. Finally, a near-naked guy came out and yelled at the girls to come inside. Of course, for the rest of the day work was interspersed with talk about that unexpected perk of the job. There were some sore thumbs from hammers going awry, but smiles abounded.

In the Beginning

November 19, 2009

Here in New Braunfels, I wake up every morning with a smile, ready to start the day. I love being a contractor! It doesn’t matter if the job site is in Canyon Lake, Spring Branch, Wimberley, San Marcos, Buda, or a few blocks away. I just enjoy the heck out of building and working with the nice people who become my customers.

I have been at this profession since 1976. Before that I apprenticed with my then brother-in-law, who taught me two things:  1)all I need to know about building, and 2)how not to deal with people. He was brash, rude, and impatient. He had one voice tone – yelling. But, he was still the best carpenter I have ever known.