Tommy and his brothers own a carpentry workshop near the District Council building. They work together every day to honor their father’s legacy. Tommy remembers him with fondness as a great man who did amazing work. The brothers honor his memory by training their sons in carpentry, just as Tommy’s father did for him. Tommy talks about his workshop, apprenticeships, the carpentry union, and the future of the trade.

Tommy's Story

Our workshop does okay. On a good day I work on about four projects at the same time. On slow days there might be none so I buy my materials accordingly. Prices drop during the dry season so that’s the best time to buy. I pay Le 30,000 (USD ~4) for one board that is fourteen feet by twelve feet by two inches. The price goes up to Le 45,000 (USD ~6) during the rainy season. I can buy from six to twenty boards at a time, and it takes about five boards to make a four foot by six foot bed frame with three drawers. Our workshop also handles large orders. A school might ask us to make between one hundred to four hundred desks. All the carpenters would come together to finish the job as quickly as possible. We are a hard-working team of six men and we are more than capable of doing the work.

Carpentry is a man’s trade and I don’t ever want to see a woman become a carpenter. It’s too difficult and requires too much energy and strength to cut, plane, and assemble projects. The others in the workshop agree with me. If a carpenter has no sons, only daughters, then he should find a boy to take over his work. If his daughters want to learn a trade, then masonry would be an acceptable option.

My own son Henry enjoys the trade and he works in the workshop after school. He’s twelve years old and the eldest of my three sons. Julius is nine years old in primary class six and Josephus is seven years old in primary class four. A father shouldn’t force his child to work in the same trade. If a carpenter’s son wants to follow another path then that is okay. Maybe he wants to become a mason or a driver. If my youngest son wants to do masonry, then I would ask a master mason to take him on. In turn, I would gladly accept someone’s son if they expressed interest in carpentry.

Before fully accepting any apprentice, I will test and observe his willingness to learn. I’m looking for effort and commitment. First things first, I will give him a broom and tell him to keep the workshop clean. After that I will ask him to take measurements for projects. After measurements, he will cut boards with a handsaw for many projects. I will continuously check the work. An apprentice will begin to fully assist on projects only after proving his skill at measurement and cutting. After that, they will learn to make chairs, tables, bed frames, and other projects. A master carpenter can make a four foot by six foot bed frame with three drawers in two days. A talented apprentice might finish in four days. A slow apprentice could take up to one week. 

My town has a Carpentry Workers’ Organization. We meet to decide on consistent prices for our projects. We want to avoid talking price with customers so we agreed to post a fixed price list in our workshops. We also have meetings to encourage unity and offer help and advice to each other.

It’s a world of technology now and everything is so advanced. I don’t want our youth to forget about trades. I’d like to visit schools and show students the practical aspects of carpentry such as taking measurements, planning projects, and using tools. I would even welcome them into my workshop to observe the process.

People buy plastic chairs all the time and I don’t like that. Ordinary people and the government could help support carpentry simply by purchasing wooden chairs instead of plastic ones. Let us not forget the importance of carpentry and other trades to the future of Sierra Leone. Let those in the trades continue to take on apprentices. Let our skills stay alive.