I’ve been helping my dad since I learned to walk (when I was nine months old, to be exact). I began work as his assistant when I was three months old: after daycare, I’d accompany him to look at jobs, sign contracts, and even pick up materials for the next day. As I got a little older (around age two), I started to actually help out on projects—I’d hold one end of the tape measure and carry his notepad on estimates.
In an effort to keep abreast of the impact that young carpenters are having in the industry, we’re publishing this article by Carter Silva. Manny Silva, Carter’s father, will be moderating all comments and discussion that follow this article.
Whenever my dad was working on our house, I would be there helping him as much as I could. I’d help clean up, do minor demo, hold things for him, and even help measure for him (that’s right—my dad taught me how to read a tape measure; I still have trouble with the sixteenths and some of the eighths, but I’m getting better as I go.).
You could say that I already have a good amount of experience under my small tool belt. That’s why I asked my dad if I could start explaining how I do my jobs to others so they can learn, too.
On this project, we decided to remove an old section of a fence in order to install new posts. The existing fence section was about 5 ft. in length with no entrance. We wanted to add an entrance to it, to have another way of getting in and out of the yard. To add an entrance, we would have to move one post inward about 12 in., which would give us a 30-in. opening.
So we began by removing the existing fence section from the posts: we unbolted the nuts and installed a temporary fence section. I dug around the square 2 x 2 steel posts that ran into the ground about two or three feet deep and pulled them out. I unscrewed the temporary fence from the house and my dad disposed of it in the dumpster.
After locating where to dig, I got started.
I needed to be 24-in. deep for my footings. I told my dad this would be a lot easier than helping him dig for the front porch footings—those required 4-ft. deep holes, and he’d have to pull out large boulders!
|I started by making a circular shape and continued digging down from there. The first foot went smoothly, and then I came across a couple of small rocks, and then some bigger ones. I dug around each rock and pulled them out.|
I started to get frustrated loosening and removing the dirt. My dad always tells me to walk away for a few minutes when you feel frustrated or mad. Then you can come back with a better attitude, which will help you get the job done.
|I decided to toss all the rocks that were laying around the hole into a wheelbarrow and dump them at another location. This gave me something to do while I was frustrated, and ongoing cleanup is always a good idea.|
By the time I was done dumping the rocks, I could go back to digging with a better mood.
|When I returned to the hole, I laid my shovel flat across, taking the measurement from the bottom of the handle.|
|“24 inches!,” I yelled. Boy, was I glad to see that.|
Mixing and Pouring Footing
Next, I had to mix concrete—one of my favorite things to do. I like to use a wheelbarrow to mix concrete. My dad dumped the bag of concrete into the wheelbarrow and I added the water.
|I moved the concrete in both directions with a hoe, adding water when needed until it was ready to be poured.|
|I wanted to push the wheelbarrow, but my dad said it was too heavy for me, so he hauled it to the hole. I used a shovel to dump the concrete into the hole.|
|I put two full shovels of concrete in and then used my shovel to get the air pockets out.|
My dad told me where to put the post in the fresh concrete, so I dropped in the post, using a level to make sure it was plumb. Once I had it in its location, I added a bunch of rocks to help it stiffen.
I then added dirt to fill the hole and used a tamper to pack it down tight.
|First I used a 2×4 to tamp close to the post, and I held a level to keep the post plumb.|
|Then I used a steel hand tamper, which was heavy, but fun to use. By adding more dirt, and packing it down tight around the post, this post would be very solid.|
|When I was done, I gave my dad the thumbs up.|
I said, “Let’s get the other one done. But this time, you dig it. I’ll set the post.” My dad said, “Sure, but you have to clean up the tools when we’re finished!”
I guess a helper’s job is never done.
Until the next job…
• • •
Carter Silva is eight years old and is in the third grade. He has two brothers (Zachary—16, and Corey—5) who he loves playing with. When he’s not helping his dad fix the house on the weekends, he is busy playing hockey, doing tricks on his bike, throwing footballs with his friends, and playing with construction trucks.
He was bitten by the carpentry bug when he started to walk, at about nine-months old. Carter is very ambitious. When his father noticed that Carter liked playing with hand tools (plastic toy tools), he began to teach Carter how they were used.
Carter started by going around his home with a small level, checking any molding detail he could reach to see if it was level or plumb. He even checked his dad’s work just to make sure it was right. Carter would also accompany his dad on estimates, after daycare, and he’d help pick up stock for the next day and do contract signings. He really enjoys the trade that his father has welcomed him into, and he’s appreciated the educational opportunities he’s attended with his father, like the JLC LIVE show and Katz Roadshows.
Carter is like an old soul that has been here before. He continues to amaze his mother and father in the passion he has for this trade.
Great Job Carter!
Never stop learning and always be a student…..You have the attitude to achieve whatever you want. Good Luck!
Thank you for your words of encouragement, I enjoy learning new things.
Way to go Carter!! Keep following your interests and you’ll continue to do great things! Thank you for sharing this article with our class. We are all so proud of you.
Thank you for your support on everything.
Go Carter! Love to see the youngin’s get into carpentry. To think our local Boy Scout troop can’t even repair the sign to their recycling booth at the DPW, and here Carter is doing it solo.
Keep at it!
Thanks for the kind words.
Way to Carter and Manny.
Looking forward to future projects.
Manny, don’t forget to tell him about how important it is to understand the business part.
Thanks Bill. I’m glad you enjoyed it. I already started a list for future projects and also my dad is always explaining to me about how things run and what things costs.
Great article, but where is the PPE when mixing concrete? It’s great to see our children take an interest in the building trades. Mine love using the tape measure to see how long or tall everything is. This year is my son’s first pinewood derby, so he will now get some hands on with some of the tools I don’t normally let him touch.
I’m glad you enjoyed it. To keep the dust down I added water and mixed slowly with a hoe. When I was younger I also measured everything I could reach. It was awesome.
Great job Carter. Beats sitting inside playing on a PS2. Keep learning how to work with your hands it will definitely bring satisfaction with more jobs well done. My father taught me how to do carpentry work nad after nearly three decades I still enjoy it. Wish now I could documented some of that when I was young.
Keep it up Carter and you too dad.
Thanks Aaron. I always like being active and doing physical activities. I’d rather be outside playing or working with my dad than being inside.
How cool are you, Carter?!?!?! Wow. Very impressive! You already know more than most adults that I know (and ALL of my clients.) I know your dad is very proud of you and is a wicked cool guy himself.
If you ever need a job, give me a call. : )
Thank you Ed. Your words are very kind and encouraging. As for the job offer I’ll call you in 8 years. :)
Now this is very cool. I think Manny is a great dad for helping Carter learn the ropes. My dad didn’t begin teaching me until I was just a little older than Carter is. I can just imagine if My dad started helping me learn when I showed my interest in carpentry as a little boy, I would know so much more.
Carter you keep it up boy and you’ll be the best there is.
Your right Eric my dad is very cool. The earlier I learn the better I will be and easier it will be also.
That’s a very professional job, Carter. Just like a pro would do it.!
Thanks. I try to do the best I can .
Why did you use the steel posts?
Most home owners would use wood.
I kept the steel posts because they were in great condition and replaced all the pickets along with the rails. Plus the steel won’t rot like wood does.
Thanks for reading,
Thank you VERY much for an extremely well written and well documented article. I look forward to your next contribution (and to seeing you again at a Roadshow!).
Thanks for giving me the opportunity and encouragement. I look forward to writing many more. See you at the Roadshow and JLC live.
I almost forgot. Thanks Tristan for all her hard work and being great at what she does.
Reading this, I feel almost as if I could install a fence post!
Thanks for reading. Give it a shot and let me know.
great job keep on learning you will be the best carpenter in your class.
Thank you, I will work towards that achievement.
As a teacher that does a little remodeling on the side, I am very pleased to see quality from the ground up!
There are fewer and fewer adults that will have your skills and knowledge as time moves forward. Education must involve the practical with a little book learnin’ to help it improve.
Congratulations on a “Real” education.
Thanks, My dad’s always reminding me to keep an open mind and do the best I can at whatever I do. Yes you are correct (as I have been told) fewer and fewer adults are doing this today.
Love it!!! When can we read Part 2, “Installing the Fence”??
Hopefully you will inspire your friends to be as active and talented as you are!
I’m glad you enjoy it. My dad and I built the last section of the fence right after we installed the last two posts. It came out great. I’m looking forward to new projects that I’m working on.
Way to go Manny and Carter !
Fantastic job from every angle. I know this is exactly how I got started.
A heads up to Manny, It wont be as much fun bringing him to work when he starts pointing out your mistakes ;)
I appreciate you taking the time to let me know. LOL, I have been pointing out to my Dad for several years now if I feel that if there is a better way of doing things.
What an amazing job you did and as many others have said, many kudos to both you and your Dad. I think that I am ready to hire you as you not only know what you are doing but as importantly you have learned the huge lesson of walking away when frustrated. I believe that more mistakes are made by people that do not understand that lesson than for about any other reason. Plus, you documented your procedures extremely well. Thank you and I too hope that you document and show us the installation of the gate.
As an aside to Kevin, I think that Manny may already know this as Carter has already been checking out all of Dad’s work from the very beginning with his small level. :o)
Thanks for reading, I’m getting better and better each day at walking away when things don’t go right. It really does work.
That was an inspiring article, Thanks!
I immediately called my four year old over to read it with him.
I gave him a tape measure to hold and he was also very inspired to start on his next project. but alas for now bedtime waits for no junior carpenter!
I’m glad I inspired you and your son. I’ve been inspired by many in this trade which keeps me motivated to do more and more.
Good luck to your son and maybe I’ll read one of his articles soon. Can’t wait.
Carter is an impressive young man, his father is providing him a great opportunity as well as the gift of his time.
As the father of three sons, all in the family business, I can tell you first hand Carter will be an asset to the business and the entire community.
Thank you so much for those kind and inspiring words. My dad is very patient and encouraging with me. He keeps telling me to do my best and don’t ever give up. I look forward to working side by side with my dad. Its going to be great. I can’t wait.
Great job Hurray for Carter!
Thank you Yannis
This was a joy to see.
Great job Carter
Because of the skills you have developed at such a young age you will look at things differently. The practical knowledge you have will enable you to approach problems in a way you can never learn from a book. After 40 years as a framing contractor I have trained many a carpenter, and the younger you start, the better your instincts and confidence develop. It has the opposite effect of teaching an athlete to throw a curve ball too soon.
Come see me for a job in a few years
Brad Moxham. Moxham Construction Inc
Thank you for the encouraging words. I’m getting more confident in what I do the more I do it. Thanks for the job offer, but I think my dad would miss me. :)
When I was your age I was just like you. I was ALWAYS helping my father with his company and in the shop. Now I have a construction company of my own. Keep up the good work!
And remember, dad always knows best.
Thanks Dylan, I’m glad to hear that there are other dads that like teaching their kids too and your right, dad always knows best as I’m told :)
Well done, Carter. Keep up the good work!
Thanks Dave, I’m glad you liked my story.
Wow!!! What a well-written and engaging article (that means it made me want to keep reading!!!) I’ve seen your fence post installation method described before and wanted to offer you an alternative that I have found to be stronger, more permanent and actually quicker than pouring concrete around the post. (I worked on an island farm for 2 1/2 years and installed dozens of posts and literally miles of fencing). After you have your hole dug, set the post where you need it and put a layer of soil back around the base. Using a heavy pipe or pole tamp the soil all around the post (I’ve actually used the shovel handle in a pinch). Add a few more inches of soil and tamp again. I take out any large stones so they don’t interfere with compacting the soil. Keep adding layers and tamping the soil. Every few layers plumb the post and just tamp more on the sides opposite from the direction that the post needs to move. Continue until you’ve filled up the hole to the top. The post should be in the hole a solid as a rock and able to withstand the weight or pulling of just about any fence you want to put in. The problem I’ve found with the concrete method is that the concrete ends up “sticking” to the post, and over time it loosens the soil around it acting like a giant upside down tootsie roll pop in a cup of sand. But my method is just just another way of doing the same job. Kudos to you for knowing your method and describing it so well in the article. This whole business needs more people like you and I look forward to your next article!!! Keep up the great work! Roe Osborn
Thanks for reading. After doing my steps I had a very solid post.
I thank you for your advice and I look forward to using it on my next post project. Hope you enjoy my next article.
Thanks again for your kind and helpful words,
Thank you for contributing such a great article to TiC!
I really enjoyed reading about your technique, but most of all, about your attitude towards the work involved. There will always be some “rocks” in your way–no matter what you’re doing. You handled it like a true professional!! I know your father must be very proud.
Now… we just need to get you drawing in SketchUp!! :) :)
I’m glad you enjoyed my techniques and my attitude towards my work. As for SketchUp, that sounds interesting.
after years of carpentry and remodeling houses i learned that every project, no matter how big, can be broken down into a lot of small, manageable steps. with that knowledge i was able to build my greatest, most fun project of all, an airplane [RV-6A], in which i’ve flown all over the US, Alaska, even the Bahamas. i hope you, too, some day can have as much fun as i have.
Thanks for reading. I’m having a blast at what I do right now and look forward to doing more interesting projects in the future.
My 3 sons (mid to late 20’s now) have been helping and continue to help me around our little farm and in my furniture shop since they were just 3 years old. They all work in the tech industry now but come over on the weekends to mess around in the shop or help build the garden structures that always continue to be needed. Nice job and good luck!
Thanks for reading. I’m glad you enjoyed it.
Great Job – I am glad that other people uphold the standards of digging a deep hole for posts :).
Thanks Nate, It’s important to dig a deep hole in order to have a solid post :).
Excellent job Carter. I hope you’ve not let your dad take advantage of you. Remember, you’ve increased the value of your family home, so you should at least be paid minimum wage. I think for a worker of your age the rate is something like one tub of ice cream per hour.
Keep up the good work!
Thanks for the info and glad you enjoyed the article. I’ll let my dad know and maybe I’ll get that bike I always wanted:).
Excellent Job! Reminds me of when I was young and helped my dad build custom homes. It can be a lot of fun…wow working fun weird huh? Anyways good luck have fun!
Thanks, I’m glad you enjoyed it.
Great work, Carter. I only wish I’d paid more attention to my own dad when I was younger and he was doing carpentry work around the house. Sadly, I now only have my dad’s tools left and I am trying hard to recall everything I saw him do. Carter, you obviously enjoy working with your dad and have a flair for it. My advice to you is this: learn all you can from your dad and don’t take him for granted. He is the only dad you’ve got. I am sure he is very proud of you and the hard work and effort you show.
Thanks Alison. Working with my dad is fun. He always tells me how proud he is of me. I really appreciate all he does for me.
Thank you for taking your son to work with you. Here in the north west we put solid wood fences 3 feet deep in concrete to keep then upright. Even with treated posts our soil is to wet and we have to much wind any thing else.
Hello Carter, I’m glad you have shared the world of how you installed the fence. The photos are wonderful, it seems like the job is very easy for you to do, you don’t show any stress. At your age, you are very skilled kid, you and your Dad make a good tandem and he must be very proud of you. So keep it up! You’ll be a great inspiration to many.
I’m glad you enjoyed the article. I really enjoy learning from my dad. He makes it fun and easy for me to learn.
Glad you enjoyed it. Thanks