The winter of '13-'14 has been a brutal, an observation I can make from the comfortable confines of my heated office. It got cold quickly in November—I had to turn off the outdoor shower a month early (I usually keep it going into December). We've had a bunch of snow storms, and the polar vortices have brought the coldest weather I've seen since moving to the Cape—single digits, but thankfully above zero. 

Every week I practice with a band whose drummer is a carpenter who works outside most of the year. He comes to rehearsal straight from the jobsite wearing multiple hooded sweatshirts covered in sawdust. Under that he wears a flannel shirt and thermal undershirt. His thick, woolen, red-plaid pants have been patched and stitched together over the years. We razz him about wearing pajamas, but he says that the layers keep him warm same way they've done for more than thirty years. He plays the drums in his stocking feet and I'm amazed that with all these layers, he swears by a single pair of cotton socks and good water-proof boots. To keep his hands warm he wears vinyl surgical gloves under his regular gloves, a strategy I've never heard of. He's the picture of low-budget winter survival in the trades.

It ain't pretty, but dressing layers can help fend off the cold when you need to work in it to make a living.

It ain't pretty, but dressing layers can help fend off the cold when you need to work in it to make a living.

Credit: Roe Osborn

In my fifteen years as a carpenter, I know that I struggled to keep myself warm working outside in the cold weather. My fingers always seemed to be cold and numb, and my feet would get frozen. My armor of choice was a pair of insulated coveralls that I would wear right over my long johns, per the manufacturer's instructions. But the coveralls were very restricting and claustrophobic, so I only wore them on the worst of days. I wore a hat over my bald head, but sometimes just ear warmers were actually more comfortable. I never could make up my mind between gloves and mittens. I worked with one guy, George, who used to stick his bare hands in the snow when they got cold.  He swore that it warmed them right up.

I remember a particularly nasty February day in the early '90s after a major snow storm had hit southern Rhode Island. Our crew was putting white cedars on a house near the windy shore. The sun came out and started melting the snow on the roof above us. There was a constant shower of ice water to go along with the freezing cold temps and icy wind—shear misery!

So how do you stay warm when you have to work outside? Do you wear gloves or mittens? Do you go for the high-tech Olympic winter weather wear, or keep warm the old-fashioned way a la my buddy, the drummer? Let us know your strategy for coping with winter where ever you are…

Stay warm and work safely, my friends!