Don Dunkley
Photo: Max Whittaker/WPN Don Dunkley

Don Dunkley's ToolHound-ness was cast in Southern California tract framing in the 1970s. Ace framers made more money than doctors, and were driven by the relentless pursuit of production based on minimum tools–and maximum skill. Not even nails were spared.

"We used to fill nail boxes with gasoline and wax," Dunkley says. "Then, in a Malatov moment–KA-BOOM!–we had our own wax-coated nails. The first thing you saw throughout the subdivision was rows and rows of fires." The preferred weapon was a 28-ounce Plumb rigging axe "with the handle textured by scraping it with broken Coke bottles," he says.

Story upon story, there's one theme: speed. But they're more than anecdotes; they're chapter and verse on framing squares, circle geometry, production cutting. Framers were a closed loop, like surfers, cultish about their culture.

"I approached a roof cutter once," Dunkley explains. "His books and framing square were out, but when he saw me, he slammed the books." Carpenters with aprons or curved-claw hammers–instead of custom leather side bags and rip claws–didn't find much work.

"Dunk" has hung up his toolbelt, but he's still got his framer's mind-set, applied these days to educating thousands of contractors a year as the construction events manager for JLC Live construction trade shows. And while he may not be "waxing" nails anymore, he's definitely driving a lot of production through his energetic leadership.

–Mark Clement