Tales of the Trades shares just some of the millions of stories in the skilled industrial trades, shining a bright light on the hard-working tradesmen and women who build, operate and maintain the world we live in. We also focus on the individuals and organizations working hard to advance industrial sectors and ensure their success over the coming decades.
Meet Josh Ferguson. Josh is a 33-year-old renewable industry veteran by day and aspiring woodworker by night. He has always loved woodworking and building in general, but homeownership really fueled the fire behind taking woodworking to another level for him and his business. Josh resides in Northwestern Connecticut with his two boys and wife, and he documents his life, skills, and the behind-the-scenes of his Ferguson Woodcraft projects on his Instagram.
What led you to pursue a career in the trades, and specifically your chosen industry?
I’ve always had a knack for woodworking. It’s always been something that I’ve been drawn to. I’ve always enjoyed doing it, even from a really young age. I think what really kind of rekindled the love for it was when we bought our first house, so I had a garage space that I was afforded the ability to utilize as a space of my own, and the house just needed a lot of work. It started by getting a couple tools needed for a few of the jobs around the house, and then the garage slowly turned into a shop space. It’s been something that I’ve always enjoyed doing, always enjoyed building. Buying a house and needing to renovate ignited that fire, so that’s really what kind of got me back into it.
What is your favorite or most rewarding part about your trade?
I just love the process. The way that my mind works is, a lot of the times when I’m building things, it’s just more of a mental fabrication prior to actually materializing. That’s fun for me, so there’s some self fulfillment there. Bringing something to life and seeing the reaction with something that I’ve created is always rewarding. Also, growing up, I always wanted a space to create. Now that we’ve got two boys, I look at this as an opportunity to give them a space to just have a creative outlet if they choose to go down that path. That’s rewarding for me, knowing that they can grow up to have a place where they can build.
What about the most challenging aspect?
One of the artist’s challenges that you’re continuously going through, at least with woodworking, (and I’m sure it follows suit with all different types of trades) is the ability and skill set versus the machinery and equipment. I think I can achieve x if I just have y. It’s like this constant of trying to upgrade what you have, because you think that it’s going to make things a little bit easier. And oftentimes, it does – but I think the challenge is trying to understand that it’s not all about the tools. A lot of times, you can make do with a lot less. I see that with a lot of up-and-coming woodworkers, as they just tried to overextend themselves and get everything that they think that they need. Sometimes less is more. You don’t necessarily need all the fancy gadgets and gizmos. I would hope that a lot of people can take a step back and understand that that’s the case when it comes to this. I think that that translates to all trades.
What does it take to be successful at what you do?
Balance is always tough. You tend to sacrifice sleep or other events. When it comes to smaller projects, I can afford the time to handle it, but when it comes down to certain client deadlines, that gets a little tough, because ultimately you have to get your schedule around them. I don’t really love that side of the business. Luckily, I’m in a position where woodworking is a side hustle. It’s a creative outlet. But the stresses that come along with it, like build deadlines and the nuances of working with wood in general, because it’s a material that’s susceptible to shifts and changes based on climate, availability, etc. Some days, I’m just not in the mood to go out in the shop, and I have to force myself to do it. Other days, I’m excited to do it. It’s difficult for me to focus on what I need to do. It’s a mental and emotional roller coaster, for sure.
What do the trades mean to you, and what important lessons have you learned while working in the trades?
What I’m trying to do now with woodworking is to be a little bit more selective about the types of projects and endeavors I take on. Early on, I needed to start establishing myself to get my name in the game, to build a portfolio, to figure out my niche, to figure out what I enjoyed doing, so I took on a lot that I didn’t love, and a lot that barely made any money. You kind of have to pay for the experience to a certain degree. You don’t really know what a good price is. You learn those lessons.
It’s tough early on, especially with so many family requests for builds, because you want to make money on it, and you also want to learn. You see them often, so they’re gonna critique you, both good and bad. It feels weird charging family for certain things, so it was a nice breakthrough for me when I started getting non-family paid clients. There’s no easy way through it. If you’re trying to do it on your own, you kind of need to endure the hardships and go through the rainy days to enjoy the sunshine, so to speak. Take on the crap that you don’t want to do, figure out what you want to do, and then only do what you want to do if you’re in a position in which you can do so. Now I try to only take on builds that I think are going to be fun for me.
What is the biggest misconception about your work?
I think that everybody gets used to big box store pricing, so one of the biggest misconceptions is the thinking that “I could do that” and “I could do it for less.” Well, you’re not going to get the same quality, it’s not going to be as customized. There are a lot of different things that make really being any sort of trade difficult. If you have a trade and a craft, you should never be broke or be poor as long as you have the motivation and skills to accommodate that.
Trades work is definitely not as easy as it looks. I think a lot of people are misguided by Instagram and Facebook, and what the end product looks like. You see a minute-long timelapse of a project build,but you don’t see what it took to get the material or the time it took to get it to that point where it’s actually presentable. There’s a lot that goes on behind the scenes that a lot of people don’t see. There are three things: time, cost, and quality. You can’t have all three. if you want it to be inexpensive, you’re gonna have to sacrifice quality or time. If you want it to be timely, you’re gonna have to pay more or sacrifice quality.
One of the slogans that I have on my business card is “handcrafted in a mass-manufactured world.” People expect things to be quick. Amazon is great, but it also does such a huge disservice to everybody. The issue is the thinking of “I can get that in two days,” but realistically, your project is gonna be 12 weeks.
What are your thoughts on the state of the trades right now industry-wise?
For my day job, I have worked in the renewable industry for a solar developer for 20 years. Just in that field, I’ve seen a substantial amount of growth and opportunities for new people for people to get into it.
As negative as social media can be, it’s been pretty positive. I feel like it’s been impactful to give people an opportunity to take a peek into the life of somebody who has a trade or a skill or a craft and say, “Hey, maybe I can do that.” There’s plenty of people that I engage with on a regular basis that are just starting out and they just want to do it because it’s fun. Maybe that’s all because of social media, or maybe it’s because they’ve always had something in them. I think that this is probably one of the few instances where social media has been helpful and influential in a positive manner for people. It’s fun to see people build, and it makes me want to build stuff. Seeing people cook doesn’t make me want to cook, and seeing people paint doesn’t make me want to paint, but seeing people build stuff makes me want to build stuff.
From an educational perspective, unfortunately, for a good period of time, people were kind of veering away from tech schools. Trade schools haven’t really been the focus. I’m hoping that the reintroduction of the trades in social media will maybe get people to start thinking about learning a skill or being able to have that creative outlet.
Any advice for those thinking about taking up an industrial trade?
It’s easy to get defeated. It’s easy to get deflated. I remember when I was younger, my grandma asked me what I want to do when I get older, and I was like, “I want to be a carpenter.” She told me there’s no money in that. She probably doesn’t remember she said it, but it’s semi impactful, because I still think about it. Maybe had she not said that, maybe I would have gone down a different path. I mean, we’re here where we are for whatever reasons. But if there’s something that you want to do, you really have no reason why you can’t do it.
Everybody has to support themselves and their families, so if you have to get a “normal” job you don’t really want to do to afford you the ability to venture down a path that you ultimately want to do, you’ve got to do it. I enjoy woodworking, but I don’t want it to be a full time job. A lot of people want to do it full time, so I’m all for that. I definitely recommend people to just try to figure out how much they want to do and just try to stick with that. Don’t overextend yourself on that, because then it’s no longer fun.
There’s really no reason that you can’t hop on YouTube and try to learn something. There are so many different avenues now that so many past generations didn’t have, and they still figured out a way to do it. We really don’t have an excuse as to why we shouldn’t be attacking every opportunity that we can, or trying to learn everything that we want to learn. There’s a ridiculous amount of information out there that’s at our fingertips. So don’t allow anybody to put down your dreams, because a lot of times the people that are speaking the loudest are ones that have those dreams that were never fulfilled, or never accomplished, or they’re a little too scared to try to execute them. So it’s worth just trying to figure out your niche, figure out what you’re good at, and figure out what you enjoy, and just try to pursue it as much as you can.
Not everything is easy. I’ve kind of created a little motto that I try to live by: “Challenges are merely opportunities to create solutions.” So you find yourself in a position where something’s difficult, you have an opportunity to be like, “Okay, I’m done with it, I don’t want to do it.” Or you can just try to figure out a way to get shit done.
Last but not least: what’s your favorite way to spend your free time?
We try to spend time outside with our boys as much as we can. My wife and I go to breweries and just try to get out there, especially with how things have been on such lockdown and our lives have been just so adjusted and altered… we’re trying to get back into somewhat of a normal routine. When I feel like I need a creative outlet, I’ll do some woodworking or I’ll go skateboarding.
Our thanks to Josh for making time to share his story and industry insights with us.