A friend suggested I shared my journey from knowing nothing about wood floors to where I am today – making a comfortable living doing what I love.
Make no mistakes; I did not get to where I am today without help. We all have a circle of friends, family, and colleagues who help us along the way. Life brings a set of opportunities, experiences, and people to us and it is up to us what to do with all that. This blog post has one point – we are all defined by the people around us. When I look at my last 17 years, I see people and stories, some happy, some funny, and some sad. I hope that by the end of this read you’ll understand how to become a part of my NWFA family and how to use your trade resources to be more profitable and happier.
My beginning in the U.S. started when I took a short break from counter terrorist work in Israel, then came to California on a tourist visa to relax for a few months. I ended up extending my visa and meeting my wife in Berkeley in 2000. I soon found a job working for a local company doing wood floors. I worked there for a year learning some wood floor basics. I remember the guys speed walking with the big machine, there was no dust containment at all, and everything was always in a rush. After so many years in the military system, I realized I missed the protocols and rules. Looking for just that, I discovered the NWFA through a technical publication that I found in the office.
I ended up getting my California license and opening my business in 2002. An older contractor friend, I kid you not, insisted on loaning me $30,000 to buy a van and the tools I needed. After a year of arguing with that guy that there was no way I could repay him, I took the money. It took me five years to pay him back both in labor and hard earned money, but I did it. We have been friends to this day.
I bought all my machines brand-new. I remember sitting on my $30 couch in my studio apartment reading all the manuals (while smoking Winston cigarettes, yes I used to smoke and yes I had long hair).
I went to my first NWFA school in South San Francisco. Steve Seabaugh led the school with many great others including Wayne Lee and Mike Osborn. There were 100 students in that school, and we built some panels with borders and medallions. I had never seen anyone install a floor using center layout and then using a track saw to cut the field. I had never seen a plunge router and medallion install. I had never seen a lot of things. The amount of knowledge in that school blew me away; I realized how much there was to learn and got excited about wood floors. It felt like I found a good place, which later turned into a family for me. I owe, much like many others, so much to Steve Seabaugh who is by far the best instructor I’ve seen; talented, humble, and arrogant at the same time, funny and a natural-born teacher. No ego, no “I’m better than you,” just plain passion for this trade.
During another school, I met one crazy funny, talented instructor from Glendale, California: Donnie Bouchard of Perfection Home Flooring. By then I was good enough to instruct and was doing more custom work. Donnie and I shared teasing each other throughout the school, talking shop, and admiring each other’s work. Later that year I flew to L.A. to see him for a few days. Donnie was talking a lot about custom work he was doing and medallions he had built. I wanted to learn more, that’s why I flew to see him. Donnie, much like me, works in regular homes doing simple floors every day. That is our bread and butter. While running his jobs and dealing with his clients, he took the time to drive me around Hollywood showing me the homes he worked in. Donnie talked about floors all day every day, nothing but floors. He also took the time to dig out the table saw sleds and tools to set them up for me to learn how to make medallions. Earl, his dad, walked me step-by-step through how to do your basic medallion using jigs and sleds. That was another turning point. It was awesome because it was just three guys with simple homemade jigs, in the driveway cutting wood. Nothing fancy, nothing interesting to anyone but us, but that was the beginning for me. I went back home to make medallions, adding my twist on some and installing them for clients just shortly after that weekend.
Anaheim California – Advanced school Steve Marley, John Namba led the class. Dave Marzalek was there teaching his techniques of making medallions using a scroll saw and a stationary belt sander. I learned how to install a starburst the right way, radius work, design of floors and execution. It was fine-tuning basic techniques and developing new skills. That was one school which is a perfect example of how to learn from some other people’s mistakes. One panel was doing a basket weave and totally messed it up. Guess what? Yep, little things that happen at the schools don’t cost us money. They save us money as we go back to our clients without repeating those mistakes. I remember admiring, absolutely admiring this star burst that one panel did. Dave took one look at it and said: “Why aren’t the pieces lined up?” He wanted to see symmetry, and he wanted all the lines to meet and flow a certain way. I didn’t see it until he mentioned it. Well, for once I was blind now I could see.
Since then, the NWFA had a training facility in Henderson, Nevada, (Vegas) which closed not too long ago. I spent more time teaching there because it was close to home and I didn’t have to be away from my family for too long. I spent days in and out with floor guys from all over the world; people would show up from Europe, Canada, and Asia. I met sales reps and NWFA staff members, guys, girls, young, old, students, and instructors. They all gave me so much. I became obsessed with knowing anything about wood floors that could be learned.
Throughout the years I volunteered on many committees and that work gave me a good perspective about the association. All of a sudden I realized how many people like me were working to make this trade better. I had the honor of serving on the board of directors for three years, and that opened up my view of the trade. One good reason for anyone to support the NWFA is making sure we have a job tomorrow. I’ll explain: we flew into D.C. one year for a board meeting to also participate in lobbying for the wood industry. It was then that I realized how many anti-wood forces work in the capital to make the use of wood minimal. Well, if it weren’t for the NWFA supporting so many organizations like the Hardwood Federation we all would be out of a job because wood would be illegal (or close to) to use.
I also took the time to get NWFA certified in install, sand and finish, and inspection. I am a member and pay my dues every year to support the association. I got certified as an inspector after serving on the installation guidelines committee and realizing how many things were required of me as an installer.
I could go on and on about how many conversations I’ve had with floor guys at conventions and schools that helped me at my job, helped me make money, and become a better craftsman. Of course, nothing could also happen for me unless I moved my bottom to volunteer, participate, give back to others, and help. I believe that you get what you give, and it doesn’t have to be money all the time. Certain things are more precious than money, in fact, most things are.
I now watch younger generations come to the schools to learn, and leave better craftsmen and craftswomen. It’s fun to watch someone learning how to do medallions or herringbone and then all they do when they get back home is just that.
I came a long way from buffing between coats with 120 screens to being able to create any floor you can throw at me. All this with the help and presence of many people.
The mistakes I’ve made during the schools and the mistakes I’ve seen other make saved me tens of thousands of dollars and made me even more. The relationships I have allow me to share my love for the trade and call anyone of you for immediate advice. We may have come to this world alone, and we will leave alone, but it doesn’t mean we have to live this life alone. The NWFA family and the flooring community is best experienced in person, during a class, a convention or having dinner after hours. No YouTube video or social media interaction can ever replicate the human connection.