From the ground up: designing and building homes

  • tina-carpentry

Tina Martin knew a thing or two about building before she enrolled at Unitec to study carpentry. The Bachelor of Architecture graduate had worked several years as an architectural technician, so knew how to read a house plan, identify the different components involved in the construction of a house and how they should fit together.

“But it’s one thing to build on the computer — you can do anything on software — but I really wanted to learn how to do it myself. To actually build a whole house, right from putting in the jack studs to the bearers and the joists to the floorboards. The idea is that it will make me a better technician; I’ll know exactly how a house goes together because I’ll have built one myself.”

Tina had just spent the morning hammering in the sub floor foundations of the three-bedroom house she and her classmates were building as part of their coursework. As she has discovered, the best-laid plans often go awry. “The computer will tell you that you’re getting straight pieces of timber, but the reality is completely different. It isn’t going to arrive perfectly sized. It’s going to have cambers [bowing] in it, which is going to affect the loading of the house. These are things that I had no idea about.”


Even working out the slope of the site, so that the house would be built to be level and square, presented the unexpected. “The slope looks like nothing. We were all taken aback to find that what to the eye might look like a 300mm (difference between one end and another) turned out to be something like 1200mm.”

“I had never picked up a hammer before the course!” she says. She’s now comfortable using myriad tools that, a few weeks ago, she didn’t even know existed. “Like the automatic dumpy (a leveling tool) and laser levels. Then there are all the power tools. This course has been a great introduction to all that.”

Tina Working  

“If I could go back in time, I’d have done this course first and then the architecture degree, because this course gives you the foundations — to work out what a building is, how it fits together, what the different components are, how they effect each other, how the environment affects everything, such as the wind and rain. At architecture school you focus on design, but in the real world you really need that background knowledge.”

But theory is, of course, important. In fact, after enrolling to study carpentry, Tina was alerted to a part time lecturing role in construction and architectural technology. She got the job, and while she is studying she’s also lecturing in three papers; Construction Detailing, Construction Industry Environment and Environmental Impact. “Standing up in front of a lecture theatre in front of 250 students was a nerve-wracking to start with, but that has been a huge confidence boost as well. I’m loving it.”

Tina Construction  

More and more women are moving into the construction industry, although Tina was only one of three female students in her class. This hasn’t been an issue though. “There are a few limitations. I do find things heavier than the boys do. The other day we were moving the joists from one end of the house to another, and the boys were picking up stacks of eight but I had to chop it back to a stack of three. But this didn’t bother anyone. Everyone is really accommodating and helpful.”

Her advice to other women thinking of studying carpentry? “If that’s what you want to do you should do it. I get along with everyone, and haven’t had any problems. You just have to keep a positive attitude; don’t think ‘I’m the only girl I can’t do this’ because that’s just not true. And we’re not totally serious all the time here. This is a fun environment, so you’re learning and enjoying yourself, which I think is essential.”

Find out more about studying at Unitec:

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