"We want our carpenters to love their craft and not get bogged down in administration,” says David Amundson, owner of TreHus Builders. Instead of a lead carpenter system, this Minneapolis design/build firm has used a “master carpenter system” for the past 15 years.

Amundson developed the system as a result of his own experiences as a carpenter. “I was less effective when my mind was overloaded because of appointments,” he says. “It's difficult to find folks who are really good carpenters, craftsmen, and good managers.”

TreHus carpenters progress from carpenter-in-training to carpenter, master carpenter-in-training, master carpenter, then senior master carpenter. There is a job description for each level. Although he doesn't yet have a formal training program (he's working on one), Amundson does have master carpenters working with less experienced employees.

“If you want to be really good,” he says, “you have to work alongside a really good carpenter” to learn “tacit knowledge.” Sometimes a master carpenter “can't explain why they do what they do. But working alongside them, you can pick up those qualities.” The master carpenters also give the younger ones progressively more responsibilities. “They put them in charge and stand back,” Amundson says.

TreHus carpenters go to a job with a schedule, materials, and checklists, “thinking primarily about how to build it and keeping an eye on the subs' quality.” Carpenters work closely with a project manager, who creates schedules, manages subcontractors, and talks with architects and homeowners.

Amundson's carpenters like the status of master carpenter, he says, and it's something emphasized on the sales side. “We tell clients these are highly skilled people we're sending over; they're craftsmen who take great pride in their work.”