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Building Matters

Honoring Andy Engel

Join us in celebrating the life of carpenter, editor, and writer Andy Engel

In Memoriam: Andy Engel, 1961-2022

Contributing editor Andy Engel died suddenly on March 23 while mountain biking with friends near his home in Connecticut. The cause of death was a heart attack. Andy was 60 years old.

Andy first joined the staff of Fine Homebuilding in late 1996, walking straight off a job site and into our offices, trailing mud and sawdust. In his first few weeks, he looked so lost and out of place that the smart money had him gone by spring. The smart money was wrong . . . by every measure.

Andy worked at Fine Homebuilding off and on for the rest of his life. He left multiple times, working variously as a carpenter, a contractor, the editor of Professional Deck Builder, and even briefly as the construction events manager for JLC Live. He also wrote two books, Building Stairs and Carpentry Complete, both published by The Taunton Press. He demonstrated carpentry techniques at trade shows and wrote articles for This Old House, The Journal of Light Construction, and Tools of the Trade.

But Andy always returned to Fine Homebuilding. It was the heart of, and his entrée into, a community of people who love building and who see it as an honorable pursuit. Andy cherished that community and devoted his entire professional life to its nurture. And despite being an old-fashioned sort, he was an early advocate of online forums because they allowed him to connect with even more people. As a result, Andy had a lot of friends whom he had never met.

Andy’s professional accomplishments, however, are not the measure of the man. Despite living in a world that seems crazier every day, Andy lived a sensible life and did so with great joy. He rose early, worked hard, loved his family, and tended his friendships like a garden he depended on. Quick to laugh, he was also quick to lend a hand or loan a tool. Although he died way too soon, those of us who knew him are happy that he died exactly the way he would have wanted, out with his friends, doing something he loved.

—Kevin Ireton


Share your memories

You can read more about what people had to say about Andy and share your own comments in this GBA forum conversation and this FHB forum post (or comment below). Folks are also sharing remembrances on social media, including these Instagram posts by Ben Bogie and Ian Schwandt.


Andy’s work

Although Andy has written countless articles for Fine Homebuilding, below are a few timeless favorites. Browse all of Andy’s articles on his author profile page.

cover of Building Stairs by Andy Engel
Carpentry Complete book by Andy Engel
Stair building combines precision carpentry with tricky math, so even experienced builders find it challenging. But as this extensively illustrated book demonstrates, any builder who can measure the distance between two floors can plan and build a stunning set of stairs. By clearly laying out the geometry, planning, and construction involved, author Andy Engel takes the reader from a simple structure built of framing lumber to a set of stairs fit for a king. From building and installing railings to using off-the-shelf stair parts, Building Stairs lays out the process clearly and completely. The nuts and bolts of carpentry, all in one handy volume. Carpenter and author Andy Engel provides homeowners with a comprehensive and easy-to-use reference for covering all home carpentry projects from the most basic to the most advanced. Full of authoritative and reliable information, Carpentry Complete is designed to help any homeowner or DIYer tackle projects with confidence. Well organized so that information can be found quickly (including advice on how to deal with the inevitable things that can go wrong), this highly visual book makes it easy for readers to find the step-by-step advice they’re looking for.

The full obituary

Andy Engel, a college dropout and the son of a New Jersey mechanic, who became a respected editor of building trade magazines, and who built his own home in a Connecticut town famous for such residents as Arthur Miller, William Styron, and Dustin Hoffman, died suddenly on March 23, 2022. He was mountain biking with friends in the Upper Paugussett State Forest in Newtown, Conn. The cause of death was a heart attack. He was 60 years old.

Born Sept. 11, 1961, in Easton, Penn., to Sheila MacArthur Engel and Charles “Ink” Engel, Andy grew up in Belvidere, N.J., where his mother taught him to love books and his father taught him to love working with his hands. In the seventh grade, he met Patricia Steed, the woman he would one day marry, and who thought him at the time “a very strange boy.” They married years later, once they were certain that doing so would not diminish a friendship both had come to rely on.

Andy attended Rutgers University for a year, then dropped out and took up carpentry. He loved the work and was good at it, eventually becoming a stair builder, the pinnacle of the trade, before starting his own company building spec homes.

In 1996, he knocked the mud off his boots and interviewed for a job as an editor with Fine Homebuilding magazine in Newtown, Conn. Hired on the strength of his construction knowledge and his love of language, he worked at the magazine on and off for the rest of his life. He also served as the editor of Professional Deck Builder for five years, managed events for a time at JLC Live, performed carpentry demonstrations at trade shows, and wrote articles for This Old House, The Journal of Light Construction, and Fine Homebuilding. In addition, he wrote two books, Building Stairs and Carpentry Complete, both published by the Taunton Press.

But Andy never stopped building. First, while working full time at Fine Homebuilding, he built a home in Roxbury, Conn., for his family, and then, during his many breaks from magazine work, he built and renovated homes for others. Andy lived and breathed carpentry. His entire professional life was devoted to learning the craft, teaching it to others, and celebrating those who practice it well and with passion, who get up in the dark to unroll the cords and hoses and who come home exhausted with sawdust in their hair, having done work they view as their legacy.

The words “neighbor” and “citizen” were important to Andy, and they carried responsibilities that he took seriously. Over the years, Andy was a Boy Scout leader, a member of the Region 12 school board, chairman of the Roxbury Recreation Committee, chairman of the Roxbury Board of Finance, and vice chairman of the Roxbury Inland Wetlands Commission. He also spent time maintaining the bike trails he used.

Garrulous and exuberant, Andy had a lot of passions. He loved his wife and sons above all else, but his three Australian shepherds were not far behind. Andy loved bad puns, good bourbon, and cycling, especially mountain biking. He loved arcane facts, the writing of John McPhee, and the music of John Prine. He loved ideas, irony, and craft beer, not necessarily in that order. He loved good food, conversation, laughter, and friends, of which he had hundreds.

He is survived by his wife, Patricia Steed, his sons, Duncan Engel and Kevin Engel, his sister-in-law, Sharon Keen, and her husband, Victor Keen, along with nieces and nephews Corey Miller, Stephanie Miller, Mark Miller, and their families.

Andy was somehow more alive than most people. Those who knew him will feel his loss for a long time, lamenting that he died too soon, but all would agree that he died exactly the way he would have chosen; out with his friends, doing what he loved.

The family hopes you might consider donating to the Housatonic Valley Chapter of the New England Mountain Bike Association, which works to preserve open space and to maintain the trails that Andy enjoyed: HVNEMBA, Memorial Donation, P.O. Box 2221, Acton, MA 01720.

 

8 Comments

  1. Expert Member
    Malcolm Taylor | | #1

    Thanks for this Kiley.

  2. PBP1 | | #2

    A touching quote in the video:

    “It is not what a carpenter builds that allows us to live on past our time, it is the people onto whom we pass our skills and our knowledge who carry us on into the future”
    Ian Schwandt on Andy Engel

    1. GBA Editor
      Kiley Jacques | | #4

      I'm glad that quote resonated for you too. Ian shared it with me in a personal email, and I shared it with my team because it is so poignant. Ian and I are both happy it found its way into the tribute.

      1. PBP1 | | #5

        Thanks so much for sharing Kiley, had special meaning as my father was a carpenter who read Fine Homebuilding religiously. Sorry for your team's loss.

  3. GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #3

    I am very sorry to hear of Andy's passing. Thanks for this well-earned tribute.

  4. GBA Editor
    Chris Casey | | #6

    I still can't believe it. He will be missed.

  5. Patrick OSullivan | | #7

    I can't count how many times I've heard FHB podcast contributors extol Andy's virtues. That's enough for me to be sad about this news.

    Though not directly relevant, the mention of Andy being a John Prine fan makes me want to share this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZrSK-0-MQ8s

    I like to think that music can always help.

    1. GBA Editor
      Kiley Jacques | | #8

      This is so great and spot-on, Patrick. Thanks for posting.

      I agree, music always helps.

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