Meet Mari Kaschalk

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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 Mari Kaschalk. Mari, aka @themuddygirl, is a proud American drywaller, hanger, and finisher. Based in Pennsylvania, Mari left her career as a computer engineer to learn the trade from her husband 5 years ago and joined his business as a partner. Together, the drywalling duo behind TK Drywall provides high-quality services in both the commercial and residential spaces. From renovations and remodels to drywall repairs, Mari loves taking on new projects and especially enjoys working on custom homes.

Photo Credit: Mari Kaschalk

What led you to pursue a career in the trades, and specifically your chosen industry?

I used to be a computer network engineer, but I didn’t feel like it was a good fit for me. I wasn’t happy working for someone else, and I really wanted to be home with my daughter. So I became a stay at home mom, as well as handled all of the office aspects of my husband’s drywall business. I learned all about the process of drywall but never laid my hands on it. Once all my kids were old enough to go to school, I jumped into the field with my husband so we could grow the business. I learned everything from him. With his 26 years experience and extensive attention to detail, I quickly learned how to become a drywaller. I learned how to be both a finisher and a hanger. I’ve been in the field for 5 years now, and I continue to do it because I love having a family-owned business. I take great pride in it and the work we produce, and hopefully one day we can pass it on to our children.

What is your favorite part about your trade?

My work is a form of art. To do it well takes great skill, and not everyone is capable of doing it.

Every trade has its own subculture. What would you say is unique to your specific trade?

We’re stilt walkers. We gotta have our stilts! Sometimes we can minimize their use, but mostly they are an integral part of the job.

Photo Credit: Mari Kaschalk

What does it take to be successful at what you do?

Many things: strength, endurance, years of experience, good hand-finishing skills, attention to detail, knowledge of proper techniques, and care for your work. Also, good planning strategies, like laying out sheetrock for hanging so that joints fall in the right place, or making sure you avoid breaking them on a crowned stud. Quality over speed is very important. You want to be fast, but only to a certain point. Only work as fast as your quality allows.

What do the trades mean to you, and what important lessons have you learned while working in the trades?

I value my independence. I get to run my own business, I set my own schedule, and I earn a good living without the expense of student loans. What I learned is that you can start from nothing, but with hard work and determination, you can be highly successful. If you put 100% into your work everyday, people take notice. That’s where success starts.

What is the biggest misconception about your work?

That anyone can do it. It’s actually very difficult to completely hide joints and repairs, especially if it’s not getting textured or a level 5 finish. Not to mention, both hanging and finishing is extremely hard on the body. Not everyone is cut out for it.

Photo Credit: Mari Kaschalk

What are your thoughts on the state of the trades right now industry-wise?

I think we are lacking in true masters of the trade. Masters are needed to pass on real skills and techniques. Too many people are going out on their own before they are ready to do the work.

Any advice for those thinking about taking up an industrial trade?

Find someone who is a master of the trade and who is willing to teach you in real life. I would say to not learn off of the internet, because many of those people are still actually learning themselves. Plus, they could just be doing things for the “gram” or because they are ambassadors. It’s okay to check out tips and tricks, but don’t learn the skill online.

Last but not least: what’s your favorite way to spend your free time?

Camping with my kids and husband. Anything out in nature. I love getting back to the basics!

Our thanks to Mari for making time to share her story and industry insights with us.

You can follow Mari on Instagram at @themuddygirl and @tkdrywall and on TikTok @themuddygirl.

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