Adventures in Drywall

Recently, while comparing notes on the advantages of computer use, we started to discuss old friends. Kevin had recently stumbled upon the home page of a father of one of his childhood friends. Over the last decade, due to distance and circumstance, the two had lost touch. Not wanting to lose this opportunity to touch base with his old crony, Kevin picked up the phone and placed the call. In a futile exercise to pass himself off as the man of the world that he believes himself to be, some synaptic connection misfired between the brain and the mouth as his friend’s “Hello” was met with “Hey.”

Kevin felt that his voice must have changed since his last conversation with this friend. After all, it had been many years since the two had last conversed. The passing of time, yelling at kids and that ever-present cough from tons of inhaled drywall dust would surely add some color to this greeting.

But there was instant recognition on the other end as Eric answered, “Hey.” It was as if they had gone back in time. Old memories came flooding back, as hours were spent reminiscing over “the old days.” Kevin’s emotions were torn, as melancholy spread over his body in a wave with the realization the two of them would likely not see each other face-to-face for years, if ever. The Internet had been used to slice through time and space, permitting them to relive glory days once more. It was directly responsible for uniting two old friends, now living on opposite coasts. The effects of their shared history and the comforting thoughts of home seemed to, even if temporarily, take years off their lives. The line made famous by “The Wizard of Oz” proved to be as true as ever: “There’s no place like home.”

As a wise man once said

The existence of a friend with shared history is necessary for your mental health. George Burns made this observation when he was in his late 80s. While he had lived a long life and had riches and fame, he noted that life can be lonely when you find yourself to be the last one alive among your circle of friends. You have nothing in common with almost everyone.

This same lost feeling of isolation can creep into your business life. The feeling of being alone can be frightening. It’s good to have a place where you can find a hearing ear or a sounding board to go to while facing job-related issues. Whether you’re a contractor with a payroll larger than the operating expenses of most Third World countries, or a sub working solo out of a 1973 Vega hatchback, it’s necessary to have a support system.

While scanning the Walls & Ceilings message board recently, we were encouraged to see the wide range of topics being discussed there. There seems to be a hierarchy developing. There are the “sages” of the board. These are guys who, if they don’t know the answer to a question, will go way above and beyond the call of duty to find answers. Guys like Don C., always being willing to research any and all topics. Don also starts many threads with the issues he introduces. Some of his recent threads are mid-weight mud, priming drywall, suspended drywall, and this must-read, “The details on wood shrinkage.” We thank you for your support, Don.

A recent thread on decorative plaster was a very informative read, even for those of us that are “plaster challenged.” Kim R., Jim L. and Wayne E. unselfishly shared helpful tips and valuable links on this subject. We actually had to fight the urge to pick up a hawk and trowel.

We learned what guys really think about stilts. Along with some knee-slapping humor, we were also fascinated at the revelation by our Canadian brother-in-arms, Doug S., who informed us that the use of the aforementioned is strictly forbidden in Ontario. Kevin has no problem admitting that our neighbors to the north lead the way in the brewing of world-class amber liquids (the fact that Bill is Irish dictates strict loyalty to the Guinness family). And while we will be the first to admit that most good hockey players come from there, we question the rationale behind the omission of stilts.

We also are impressed by the willingness of forum members to share information on products, regional pricing for both labor and material and contractual issues. It’s good to see guys selflessly sharing knowledge for the greater good of their trade. These guys are genuinely dedicated to the trade itself. Recently, one of the members found himself bidding on a “Cracker-Jack” job. You know, the one that’s full of surprises. Feedback from around the country was received. Although most had different views on specifics, the message remained the same, from “We have all been there” to “We’re with you, man.” While our friend still had to face the challenges this job was going to throw at him, we’re sure the support he received from all of his “family” helped him feel not so alone.

Topics such as heating on jobs, different types of mud, priming, bidding jobs, hanging board around surround tubs and showers, vehicles and employee incompetence are discussed daily. Just for the record, no one wants to be responsible for the heating of jobs. The jury is out on what mud is best. The vehicle of choice for finishers seems to be the full-size van, while pickups with racks are what the rockers are leaning toward. USG’s First Coat is the primer of choice across the board. As far as bidding jobs goes, it is agreed that too much is still not enough. It is a generally accepted fact that few carpenters out there have a clue, or even care how to frame a tub correctly. As far as employee incompetence … better grab another beer!

Life's too short

When one member of the community shared his opinion on what the trade does to family life, the response was loud and clear: Do not let the job take over your life! Everyone starts out hoping to set the world on fire, but something has to give. In most cases, it’s the family that goes first. Sad but true. Many of us have had to learn the hard way. We hope the thoughts expressed on this particular thread helped some young guy who’s just starting out to keep his priorities straight.

Not all of the message board topics are job related. There was a recent entry asking the question, “How do you get red crayon out of a white upholstered chair?” It seems this new father was so tired after coming home from work late, he may have been a bit lax in the supervision of his toddler. Sure enough, an answer came back. We’re convinced that the respondent was the voice of experience. By the way, for anyone interested, the answer was “non-flammable dry-cleaning fluid or a mild detergent, applied after most of the crayon is scraped off.”

And last, but surely not least, the editorial staff’s February Question of the Month: “What are some of your most valuable lessons learned on the job site?” We hope they were amused (and if they weren’t, we sure were) by the responses generated. There were a lot of them, and they were ALL good. We, however, were faced with the daunting challenge of choosing for you, our readers, the top 10 list of best lessons. It was tough! After all, we don’t have a huge staff like Letterman does. We have also been wrong on many occasions regarding what we consider entertaining. We wanted to print them all but, sadly, there wasn’t enough room at the inn. So here goes:

10: If the GC shows up on the job with doughnuts, you’re screwed.

9: If your jug of spring water has a yellow tint, don’t drink it.

8: Always keep a roll of toilet paper in your work truck.

7: Before starting a mud fight, make sure you are the only one with mud in your pan (preferably 20-minute mud).

6: It’s a good idea to shower after spraying texture.

5: Make sure the boom truck knows where the septic tank is.

4: Never expect an architect to take the blame for anything.

3: You’ll never fit 10 pounds of guano into a 5-pound bag.

2: Green hair is not an indication of work ethic.

1: Never give your 2-year-old son your drywall hatchet while in Mommy’s eyesight.

You really owe it to yourselves to go right to the Walls & Ceilings Web site (, click on “the bulletin board,” and read the story behind how one reader found out how much stronger aluminum balls bats are than wood ones!

As with an award winner at the Oscars, someone will be missed in the thanking department. We at this time would like to thank our mothers, God and the drywall academy along with the entire cast of the W&C message board for sharing their thoughts with the rest of us.

It’s increasingly obvious to us that for a lot of you out there, drywall isn’t just a job … it’s your life.