Finding that experience by Phil Ladson


I started my carpentry and joinery apprenticeship in 1978, with a company that built staircases. From there the following 18 years I worked building houses and supervising all sorts of projects.

As the carpenter / builder of the house you did everything, we would set the house out on a vacant block of land using timber hurdles supervised the digging and pouring of the concrete footings ready for the brick layer to brick up the base / footings. The next part would be to work out the size and quantities of timber required to construct the frame work, subfloor, wall frames, ceiling and roof members. You were also responsible for working out all the other required components of the house, from bricks, eave linings internal doors, arch’s and skirts etc.

The late 70’s and early 80’s houses were built out of green hardwood, wet heavy and hand staining timber. Concrete floor slabs were as rare as timber subfloors are today, on site stick built homes were just the norm.

So, let’s go back to the working out the size and quantities of timber required to construct the frame work, subfloor, wall frames, ceiling and roof framing members. How did we know what size and grade of timber to use, how did we know how much of it we would need?

We were taught it at trade school as part of our apprenticeship, we learnt it from our employers on site. Firstly, we were taught how to read the plans, floor, elevations, sections and other specific details including engineering. There were span tables in a book to tell us the size and grade of the timber required, you had the choice of green hardwood or Oregon (wow that was nice light and clean stuff to use). As for the quantities, well it was back to mathematics my most favourite subject at school (not), but it’s amazing when you are doing maths on something you like it takes a whole new dimension (no pun intended) to it.

Hence that saying “Enjoy your job and you will never work another day in your life”.

So, after 18 years I covered a lot, I lent my hand to other trades including, bricklaying, plastering, pluming, roof tiling, floor and wall tiling etc. What that taught me was that each trade relies so much on the previous trade to make their job right, so when you are detailing a house for prefabrication you need to be considering so many other people that will rely on your design being correct.

As life would have it things happen, I had a knee reconstruction after a sports injury this made it very difficult to climb around walls frames and roofs. Then twice in 12 months my car with all my tools got stolen, the message was loud and clear find a new method of employment.

And there it was, the “Timber Prefabrication Industry” that light weight pine stuff that was never going to catch on was becoming an industry changer. It was a natural progression for me I knew how to build a house, all I had to do was use a software design program to do what I used to do on site.

Let’s move another 20 years down the track, there are very few apprentices taken on today in any of the trades required to build a house. The skills required to be a carpenter / builder are no longer required as the prefabrication industry does it all for them, and most house building supervisors don’t have a trade back ground.

Having that experience that means I can pick up a set of plans and know how it is going to go together, or not go together so the issues can be sorted before anyone wastes their time on it. Having that experience to be able to converse with the builder, architect, engineer building surveyor about a project.

So where are those with the experience of above, where are the next lot coming from?

There are still a few old tradies around, that are probably happy to share their knowledge and possibly work for you. But don’t delay as they are finishing soon, the last 20 years is seeing the end of an era in the building industry and the next 20 will go just as quick and it will be all over just like Pyramid building in Egypt and old church buildings in our capital cities.

The next lot of experienced people are coming from the “Timber Prefabrication Industry”, as being a part of this industry, we need to develop these people and give them the experience of the past with the future being preserved to continue building the houses for Australians in an efficient experienced way.

You can obtain this experience for your people, from FTMA Australia who are currently putting a program together getting back to the basics, giving the experience of 18 years of building and 22 in the prefabrication industry a total of 40 years knowlege. The saying goes you can’t put an old head on new shoulders, but we need to start teaching the new head the knowledge of the old.