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The Birth of Arrow Timber | "Trial By Fire"

Updated: 5 days ago

Arrow Timber Frame’s official story began with our first post and beam job. But our actual roots go much deeper. My love and fascination with building and creating structures started with building forts and carving projects as a youngster.

The History

When I was 16, I quit my job as a farm hand and went to work for my father, the owner of Scandia Construction, as a framing apprentice. I remember being quite concerned about how much work would be available to me if I started working as a carpenter.

I wondered if I should give up the steady income source I had for 3 years (shoveling sheep manure, digging fence holes, hauling grain and hay, etc.). In hindsight, my narrow, perspective was laughable, but that job had allowed me to purchase my first car. I had to make a decision.

My father was very much hands off in influencing my decision.

He didn’t tell me what a dead-end job I had, or that he would make sure I always had work.

When I had asked him how much work he had for me, he told me how many jobs he had in front of him, and that he couldn’t promise any more than that. He told me to think about it and that he would gladly put me to work – only it was a decision I would have to make.

Golden Opportunity: Learn How To make Judgment Calls

It was a golden opportunity to learn about the building industry from the ground up. For 6 years, I learned all the nuances of real quality framing over other “good-enough” methods.

My father’s philosophy was that mistakes, while they should be minimized, can be fixed.

And he was going to teach me how to turn out a building of fine quality without taking forever!

Some of the training was painful, but I was not going to quit! I wanted to learn, and to request taking it slower felt like quitting. I kept working on learning logistics, quality control, visualization, roof math, and all the requirements needed to make the subcontractors’ and general contractor’s lives easy.

Perhaps the single most important lesson: was that I was responsible for the functionality of the house. That includes avoiding doors hitting toilets, checking code clearance for egress, and leaving room for cabinets and refrigerators. Dad taught me always to add an extra stairway riser when possible, making the stairs so much more comfortable. I learned calculations for roof valleys, hips, and tons of framing details. The list just never quit.

But the plans said…!

Dad would not accept excuses. When there was a mistake or a problem, blaming it on the blueprint just didn’t work.

“You’ve got to think, son. The prints will never be perfect.”

That was a tough concept to get as an apprentice: making judgment calls to overrule the almighty blueprint. If there was a problem with the trusses, I was reminded that it was my job to communicate and understand just what we were getting.

All in all they were great years. The fun and challenges far outweighed the pain and stress of making judgment calls and mistakes. It also taught me how to get up and continue after big disappointments.

About the time I got married, I went to work for someone who had a pretty loose philosophy about life. He was a general contractor who did anything and everything. When asked about the direction of his business, he responded with “Whatever the flip of the phone brings.” The time spent doing foundations, trim, painting, roofing, siding, decks, flatwork, etc., was a lot of fun. That experience gave me a much stronger base of knowledge to make judgment calls and decisions.

New Start-Up Arrow Construction

Now I finally felt ready to start out on my own. I founded Arrow Construction, specializing in framing complicated, high-end homes. I really had the most fun when I had the challenge of complicated math and angles, modifications which improved the functionality and beauty of a home, and in the relationships which were established as I worked and served different people.

With my background of quality and responsibility-oriented training, my love for angles and math, plus an eye for balance and functionality, the step from conventional framing to Timber Framing was relatively easy.

Falling in love with the beauty and lore of the old world craftsmanship made it decision to pursue the art of timber framing even easier! The hours spent learning the joinery were easy. The hours spent designing and studying design were easy. It took time, but it was fun!

The tough part was proving myself. Finding jobs was tough. Investing in tools and equipment needed to provide great timber products without taking forever, including a shop, trucks, and trailer – that was tough.

I have to say that my love of the craft was the anchor. Without that passion, there is no way I could have put in the time. I had to work for so little, for so long in order to secure the right to call myself a truly qualified Timber Framer!

Growing Pains

As a challenge-oriented, creative type, I have struggled to make realistic business decisions.

Determined to do it all myself has brought many frustrations. I experienced that painful adolescent stage of business, when a talented and passionate entrepreneur becomes trapped by their own success.

I am also an incurable optimist when it comes to seeing the good in people and predicting what is possible to get done in a day. I root for the underdog and believe in redemption – nothing wrong with these ideals! But this perspective can lead to bad outcomes if there is no reality check or counterbalance. It can lead to unrealistic job quotes, expectations for people to perform way above their level of competence, or failure to get scheduled tasks done on time.

For years the fix was to simply work harder, to make sure we delivered an excellent design and build service. Which works – if you have nerves of steel and limitless energy. Wearing so many hats and being the main linchpin eventually left me frazzled and bewildered.

A Tenuous Virtuous Cycle Begins

Intuitively I understood the skillset I had developed would get us no further. The solution was to hire the right people, which began with two coaches. Arne helped with immediate expense cutting and sales communication. Don helped us implement the EOS system, which deals with getting the right people in the right place on the team, and sets protocol to communicate and stay focused as a team.

This was a big positive change, but by no means a silver bullet.

Changing my thinking and letting go proved to be difficult. Little by little, small changes begin to snowball and improvements began to show.

The feelings of incompetence during the dips became familiar and predictable. It would be nice to be entirely self-sufficient and invincible. But self-doubt and worry about the future can be such a persistent pain in the neck! I am still my own worst enemy, but am working on improving detrimental thinking and behaviors.

All this is just backstage work. For you, these improvements mean you will get the same great ideas and service. I am no longer staring burnout in the face. The backstage operations have been given to the right people and are no longer frenetic acts of endurance.

The Next Chapter:

We're excited for you to help us create our next chapter! When we earn a clients trust, we deliver solutions that have a personalized touch just for them. Getting started can be as easy as using our Style Finder. You could start with a BANG and immediately get started with your ATF guaranteed design. Or you could test the water by starting with a 30-90 minute brainstorm. An even easier way to get started right away; get the ATF Inspiration Report sent directly to your inbox four times a year – that’s one for every season!

Thank you for your interest in the beauty and craftsmanship of Post and Beam Construction.

On behalf of the ATF Team,

– Bert Sarkkinen


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