How many of us can say this about our work?

‘Craftsmanship names an enduring, basic human impulse,” the sociologist Richard Sennett has observed, “the desire to do a job well for its own sake.” That human impulse reverberates like a hammer bang throughout Ole Thorstensen’s “Making Things Right,” a swift and understated examination of a life spent working with one’s hands.

Mr. Thorstensen, a savvy and matter-of-fact master carpenter from Norway, tells the story of a loft renovation in an Oslo home built in 1890, from the initial bid to the final job-site tidy. Chapters start with hellos to the family on Monday morning and end with the straightening and organizing before quitting time on Friday, bringing us along as the work moves from architectural drawings through demolition, framing, boarding, venting, window installation, fire-stopping, tiling, plumbing, painting and finish work, from the fast and brutal to the painstaking and meticulous.

“There is nothing mysterious about skilled manual labor,” Mr. Thorstensen writes. And he does well to demystify the trades. The work is not magic—a matter of tools and time, patience, practice and desire…The book is, at its core, about relationships—between carpenter and co-workers, architects, engineers; between carpenter and client; and ultimately between worker and work. Mr. Thorstensen writes beautifully of the simple pleasure of carrying a load with someone: “To hold one end of something heavy and be aware of another’s movements, feel them transmitted through the object, is an experience all its own . . . it is a good way to get to know one another.” …

Mr. Thorstensen shares the timeworn concern that people these days are divorced from material reality and have little interest in how their pants were sewn, chickens slaughtered, shelves built. “I sometimes wonder if it has affected our idea of time.” … He makes a case for the pleasure in starting with nothing and ending with something, for a life spent accumulating experience, and he’s attentive to details large and small, like the way music sounds better on the radio once a room is insulated. “I would like to be reborn a tradesman many times in a row with my experience intact,” he writes, wishing only for a new back each time. How many of us can say this about our work?

~ Nina MacLaughlin, Making Things Right’ Review: How to Build a Life (WSJ, May 3, 2018). A book review of a Norwegian carpenter’s step-by-step account of home renovation, alongside a paean to craftsmanship and working with one’s hands.



  1. ‘Craftsmanship names an enduring, basic human impulse,”….. this is so nice, you know dear David how much I love craft world…. and how much I appreciate what they make… Thank you for bringing this man and his book to your post, to us, I really loved this man and his book. Love, nia

    Liked by 2 people

  2. what a wonderful philosophy about work and life

    Liked by 1 person

  3. This made my heart beat at high speed. This, or the core of this, is my mantra since ‘forever’. I had a father who was a man with a high intelligence, combined with richly blessed hands and a sound mind. He could do nearly anything. As a learned carpenter and roofer, there was no job too small or too lowly, he did everything with his full attention and love, after carefully thinking about How to do it best. This post made me cry – with thankfulness for the wonderful example of both my father and this blessed craftspeople, the willpower of doing things right ‘the first time’, etc etc. Thank you dear friend – THIS.IS.IT!

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  4. …. although, even in retrospective, I’m still ‘mad’ at him for giving away all the wooden toys and puppet houses, rocking horse, and more – and when I asked for some of them years later – they were ‘gone to kids who had nothing’ and ‘we didn’t have space in the attic’….. RIP dear Vati 🙂

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  5. Beautifully said by Mr. Thorstensen: “I would like to be reborn a tradesman many times in a row with my experience intact.” Yes, I feel this way about being a writer, also. That’s another type of craftsperson, but it counts. And sometimes I wonder if we CAN and DO bring back our skills as we return in another life….

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    • Yes, so true. Reminds me of Patricia Hampl’s passages:

      Montaigne called what he was doing “meddling with writing,” as if it were impossible simply to latch onto a subject, write it for God’s sake, and be done with it. He discovered that the act of writing gets all tangled up in what is supposed to be “the subject.” Writing becomes the subject, or becomes part of the subject. Meddling. Maybe a vexed word for describing, for going round and round the “subject” until it becomes the writing. Or the other way around—the writing becomes the subject.

      ~ Patricia Hampl, The Art of the Wasted Day (Penguin Publishing Group. April 17, 2018)

      Alone in a room with words—that’s how I’ve thought of Montaigne in his tower. How I’ve always thought of writing—anyone writing. Solitude is not only “at the heart” of writing. It is the heart. These days, months, staring at the screen, notebooks with their crabbed lines—this meddling with writing. A person needs to be alone to do this thing.

      ~ Patricia Hampl, The Art of the Wasted Day (Penguin Publishing Group. April 17, 2018)

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thank you for this! Hampl (and you) are describing me to a T = hunched over my computer in my loft(y) writing space, birds chirping through the window near by, my writing words meandering, wandering as I meddle. I find that if I let go of the “subject,” the writing releases to delightful surprises.

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  6. I worry about how we are losing the old trade skills. No one seems to know how to build, create, or fix anything anymore.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Sawsan says:

    Yes, a new back everyday!

    Love how sociologists define it as an Impulse. That which is most natural. “‘Craftsmanship names an enduring, basic human impulse,” the sociologist Richard Sennett has observed, “the desire to do a job well for its own sake.”

    Liked by 1 person

  8. What a wonderful share, David.
    My husband was that type of craftsman. His attention to detail, his love of producing..
    Broke my heart when I had to start selling some of his stuff. I cannot just keep them for the sake of keeping them but let me tell you, if I could have, I would have stored them away for any future potential grandkids… All I can tell myself is that the new homes they now reside in, are blessed with them.
    I shall have to add this book. Dammit.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Yup. This is my husband. A craftsman.

    Liked by 1 person

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