Rough Framing Carpentry

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If you'd like to make good money working outdoors as a framer, this is the book for you. You'll find shortcuts to laying out studs; speed cutting blocks, trimmers and plates by eye; quickly building and blocking rake walls; installing ceiling backing, ceiling joists, and truss joists; cutting and assembling hip trusses and California fills; arches and drop ceilings – all with production line procedures that save you time and help you make more money.

Weight 1.5600
ISBN 0-934041-86-5
Page Count 304
Author Mark Currie
Publisher Craftsman Book Company
Dimensions 8-1/2 x 11

If you'd like to make good money working outdoors as a framer, this is the book for you.

Here you'll find shortcuts to laying out studs; speed cutting blocks, trimmers and plates by eye; quickly building and blocking rake walls; installing ceiling backing, ceiling joists, and truss joists; cutting and assembling hip trusses and California fills; arches and drop ceilings – all with production line procedures that save you time and help you make more money.

Over 100 on-the-job photos of how to do it right and what can go wrong.

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Rough Framing Carpentry

by Mark Currie

Custom Homes, Tracts or Commercial Work? 5
Custom Homes, 6
Tract Projects, 7
Commercial Work, 9

The Tools You'll Need, 13
The Basic Hand Tools, 13
The Power Tools, 15
The Nice-to-Have Tools, 16

Hardware and Materials, 19
Identifying the Hardware, 19
An Overview of the Wood, 24

Snap, Plate and Detail, 29
Snapping, 30
Plating, 36
Detailing Studs and Posts, 43
Detailing a Curved Wall, 47
The Pay, 49

Building the Wall, 51
The Planning, 51
The Building, 52
Raising the Walls, 59
Building Rake Walls, 61
Building Radius Walls, 66
Can You Make Money Doing, 66

Plumb and Line, 67
Plumb and Line on a Standard Wall, 68
Plumb and Line on a Balloon Wall, 76
What Does It Pay? 77

Rolling the Joists, 79
Planning the Joist Layout, 80
Spreading the Joists, 86
Placing the Ceiling Backing, 91
Ceiling Joists, 92
Truss Joists, 93
Joists on Concrete Stem Walls, 95
Exposed Beams, 95
And What Does It Pay? 98

Subfloor Sheathing, 99
Sheathing Materials, 99
Sheathing Techniques, 100
The Pay, 106

Cutting Stairs, 107
Stair Safety, 108
Stair Terms, 109
Stair Layout, 111
Landing and Stair Construction, 116
Building Winders, 125
Building the Handrail Walls, 126
Circular Stairs, 128
Let's Talk Money, 132

Shear Walls, 133
Preparing to Hang Shear Panel, 134
Hanging the Shear, 135
Nailing the Shear, 139
What's the Pay? 140

Stacking a Truss Roof, 141
Spreading and Stacking Trusses, 142
Rolling the Trusses, 146
Rolling Hip Trusses, 149
Filling, Understacking and Backing, 150
Your Pay for Stacking Trusses, 159

Cutting Conventional Roofs, 161
Roof Terminology, 162
Make Friends with Your Calculator, 166
Using the Framing Square, 167
Calculating the Roof Package, 173
Cutting the Roof Package, 176
The Pay, 188

Stacking Conventional Hoofs, 189
Calculating the Ridge Height, 190
Setting the Ridge by Height, 195
Setting the Ridge with Commons, 197
Checking and Filling in the Skeleton, 205
The Pay, 212

Fascia Board, False Tails, and Stuccoed Eaves, 215
Fascia Board, 215
False Tails, 231
Stuccoed Eaves, 232
The Pay, 234

Roof Sheathing, 235
Starter Board, 236
Sheathing the Roof, 238
The Pay, 242

Exterior Elevations, 243
Laying Out Arches, 244
The Pay, 255

Drop Ceilings, 257
Building Basic Drops, 258
Building Custom Drops, 261
The Pay, 273

Pick-Up Work, 275
Two Types of Pick-Up, 276
Straightening Studs, 279
The Pay, 281


INDEX, 293

Rough Framing Carpentry

by Mark Currie

Chapter One

Custom Homes, Tracts, or Commercial Work

So you want to be a rough carpenter. Framers make good money doing healthy outdoor work. It's a great trade. Right?

That's right - with a few qualifications, of course. There is good money to be made, and the work is certainly done outdoors. But there's framing and then there's framing. Deciding that you want to be a framer isn't enough. There's another decision to make. What type of tough carpentry framing do you want to handle?

There are three basic types of rough carpentry:

  1. custom work

  2. tract work

  3. commercial work

Each requires unique skills and offers unique rewards. Since you'll probably want to specialize in one type of work or another, let's take a look at each of the three categories. As we do, keep in mind your skills and what you like and don't like. With a little help, you should have no trouble finding the niche where you belong in this trade, the place where you can work most happily and most productively.

While banging nails is the heart of all carpentry, the three types of rough carpentry work are very different. For example, on a commercial project there's almost certainly a rigid chain of command with lots of rules, plenty of supervision and very specific job requirements. Work on custom home jobs is seldom as carefully controlled. Tract jobs are different still. The hours you keep at a tract project might get you fired from a commercial or custom home building job. There are exceptions, but these generalizations about the three types of rough carpentry will apply on most jobs and nearly everywhere in the U.S.

Let's take a closer look at each type of rough carpentry work and see what generalizations will apply. I'll start with custom home work.

Custom Homes

Custom homes are usually built for an owner who plans to live in the home when it's completed. Working on a custom crew is the best way for a beginner to get into framing. And it's usually a rewarding experience. Now don't get me wrong, I'm not saying there are no slave drivers out there running custom crews. But as a rule, if you get to work on time and carry your part of the load, it's one of the least stressful framing jobs.

Skilled custom framers can expect 40 hours of work a week. Take-home pay tends to be much more predictable. That's an advantage, especially if you have a family to feed and a mortgage payment to make. Steady work on custom home jobs keeps many rough carpenters happy. Few would drop their position on a good steady custom crew be- cause of rumors of "three hundred bucks a day" at a tract down the street. A lot of people need the security of 40 hours of work a week. There's nothing wrong with that. If that's what you want, custom framing is probably for you.

Another advantage of custom framing is the variety of work you'll do. In a single day you may handle several dozen different tasks - from snap- ping to studs to sheeting. After a few years of custom work, you're bound to be a very well-rounded carpenter. Someone who spent those same years on a tract might be faster at specific parts of the job, but they won't have your understanding of how a complex building frame is assembled.

Figure 1-1 shows an elaborate custom house in the framing stages. With 14 - to 20 - foot 2 x 8 walls, this is the top end of the custom home market. At this point, the roof is being stacked, sheathing is going up on the outside walls, and arches are being constructed for the window openings. This house kept seven framers busy for about six weeks, at an average pay of around $15 per hour.

Custom home builders are notorious for requiring countless changes after construction has begun. That's usually due either to the owner's inexperience and lack of foresight, or a general contractor who didn't spell out exactly how much (or how little) house he was proposing to build. After all, it takes years of experience to visualize a finished home simply by examining the plans. Once the house begins to take shape, it's common for an owner to request alterations to make the house more livable. Few owners can appreciate the physical difficulty - and the added cost - of deviating from the plans. I've rarely built a custom home where changes weren't a problem. Dickering over changes and the cost of changes usually continues until the framing contractor receives his last payment from his final billing.

Spec Homes

There's a sub-category of custom home building that needs mention. Speculative (or spec) homes are built to be sold by the owner, not for occupancy by the owner. The developer is betting that the finished home can be sold for more than the cost of construction (plus the land). Compared to custom homes, spec houses are usually easier and less stressful work for the framer. This is because a spec often has fewer changes than a custom home. Investors build spec houses to make money, not to satisfy their own vision of a dream home. There's less romance involved. That's why changes aren't so common in a spec home project. The everyday decisions are usually made in a more logical (perhaps even a more sane) atmosphere.

If you're considering a career in rough carpentry, starting out on a custom home framing crew is a wise move. Sure, you'll spend the first few weeks just humping lumber from the lumber pile to the carpenters. We all did. But before long, you'll get an opportunity to show what you know, or at least how well you can listen. The more you learn, the more confident you become. Make yourself indispensable and the boss will begin assigning you more demanding work and rewarding you with heavier paychecks.

It's common to see framers on custom home jobs making $15 an hour after only a year in the business. Be a fast learner, a good listener, show some dexterity with tools and you'll do as well. In 1993, apprentice carpenters in my area were starting at $6 to $8 an hour. Tradesmen who supplied their own tools made more, of course. Top wage for a lead carpenter ranged from $18 to $30 an hour. Lead men are almost always required to supply tools.

Tract Projects

The design and construction of a housing tract is completely different from a custom home job. On most custom home jobs the goal is to put as much house as the owner can afford on as much land as the owner has. But when a developer designs a tract, it's a whole different ball game. The homes are usually intended to squeeze into a certain price bracket and to fit on the smallest lot the zoning ordinance will allow! Granted, some tracts offer true luxury homes at stratospheric prices, but most tract builders are very cost-conscious.

The whole thrust of tract design is to keep construction time and cost as low as possible. That's why most tracts have three or four basic designs, or models. All the models follow a consistent theme (Spanish-Mediterranean, French, contemporary, or ranch, for example). The architect makes small changes in the floor plan and exterior elevations so the fact that they're all pretty much the same isn't obvious. By adding a second story here, a window there, an arch somewhere else, and creating mirror images of each basic floor plan, the designer creates the illusion of 30 or more different plans. Look closer and you'll see there are only three or four basic plans.

There are advantages to framing the same home again and again. For one, practice makes perfect. The crew should get better and better as work progresses. Second, it allows specialization. That also increases productivity. The framing contractor may have ten or more separate carpentry crews, each crew of two or three carpenters handling a specific part of the framing process. It's almost like assembly-line production. As a crew finishes their part of the job, they move on to the next house and repeat that step again. One crew may frame all the walls; another may plumb and line the house. Then the joisting crew may take over, and on and on, until the house is complete. After doing a few houses, each crew may be so familiar with their particular task that they could do it in their sleep. They can certainly do it faster, and thus, more cheaply.

The wood frame itself may be very similar on custom and tract homes. The difference is in the process. On a custom job, one crew does all the steps. On a tract project, there may be a different crew for each step. A tract builder needs specialists, not generalists.

Figure 1-2 is a typical tract in various stages of framing. The units in the foreground have just been plumbed and lined. Notice all the diagonal braces throughout the house. They are now ready for joisting of the second floor. The units in the right back- ground have been joisted and the second story walls (or tops) have been framed. The single story units in the background to the left have had their roof trusses tolled and are in the final stages of being sheeted. By studying the different degrees of completion in the tract units, you can tell which direction the crews are working and what step they're on (and might need help with). If I were looking for a job on this tract, I'd check with the floor joisting or roof stacking crews.

To minimize costs on tract work and to make the finished cost more predictable, the builder probably hires carpenters on a piecework basis. This arrangement gives the individual carpenters a direct incentive for high productivity. The more work they complete, the larger their paycheck is. Even if the tradesmen don't see a foreman all day long, they're sure to keep working hard.

Under a piece framing contract, you agree to do certain work at a set price. This price is usually based on the square footage of the house and the materials you're working with. For example, assume the contract price to build the walls in a 2000 square foot house is 30 cents a square foot. You'll get $600 for framing walls in each house, no matter how long the framing takes.

I've suggested that you'll become a more well-rounded carpenter on a custom framing crew. But on a tract job you'll learn more time-saving tricks in one week than you can in months on a custom home job. You have to - or you'll have the crew that follows yours breathing down your neck.

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to see why shortcuts and tricks are essential under piece framing contracts. If you can finish in six hours what once took eight, you just found two extra hours in a world short on time.

Of course, there are drawbacks. Piecers are renowned for leaving behind shoddy or unfinished work, hoping that the guy behind them will cover up their mess before the foreman finds it. There's a good chance the problems will come to light later and will have to be fixed. A large tract will have a whole crew dedicated to doing nothing but pick-up, or fixing unfinished or shoddy work before the house is inspected. But it's just as likely that most problems will escape detection (at least for a few years) when they're covered with stucco or drywall.

Every carpenter has had the experience of walking through a finished tract house and snickering at the bends and bulges in the drywall from the shoddy framing underneath. Tracts go up so fast that some of these problems are just to be expected. Defects that would interfere with the sale of a custom house are accepted as normal fare for most tract houses.

I've emphasized the differences between custom and tract framing. Which is right for you? Mostly it's a matter of attitude. I know framers who can handle both and actually prefer to alternate between the two types of work. If you're tired of having to build something, over and over in what you consider an inferior way simply because your boss on custom home jobs grew up doing it that way, spend a few months on tract jobs doing it any way you want. Is the monotony of the tract driving you nutty? Jump to a custom crew for a while.

In the long run, you'll average about the same wages from either situation. While you might make more per hour from tract work, this is usually offset by the time waiting for more slabs to cure so you can begin work.

Commercial Work

Most commercial work is done on larger projects like shopping centers, malls, banks, schools, military housing, and multi-unit apartment, office or retail buildings. See Figure 1-3. Some of these projects use very little lumber. On others, several acres may be needed just to store the stacks of lumber delivered from the mill.

A lot of commercial work is done by framing contractors who have union contracts and use only union carpenters. If you want to work on those jobs, you'll have to join the local union. Only you can decide if that's best for you. It might be a good idea if union shops have most of the work in your area, especially when the construction industry is slow.

Probably the biggest difference between commercial carpentry and carpentry on custom or tract jobs is the size of the carpentry contracting company Most commercial framing companies are huge. For every person who considers this an advantage, there's another who would reckon it a curse.

Working for a company with two hundred carpenters on the payroll is very different from working for a company with ten or twelve. Yet some carpenters prefer to work for larger companies. Usually supervision is much more intense. Is that an advantage or a disadvantage? There are people with years of experience who prefer to have constant supervision. Some people will get absolutely nothing done if they're not supervised throughout the day. The world truly is divided into those who lead and those who follow. It's been my experience that commercial work, on the average, employs more followers than leaders.

A commercial job will usually have a crew for each step of the framing process. A foreman directs each crew and a lead foreman coordinates the work of all crews. Each crew has a few laborers who just move wood, get nails, help lift walls, and clean up. This is the ideal setup. When it's working well, the work gets done quickly and competently. Yet too many times things stray far from this ideal. A burnt-out foreman with a bad disposition (and there are many) can infect a whole crew with the same attitude. That breeds substandard performance.

When problems occur, no one is anxious to accept the blame. Bad feeling usually results. Also, conflicts between the trades are common on commercial jobs. When you have a dozen trades working in one area, you're going to have problems almost every day. That's rare on a custom home building site.

Most of the large commercial building sites I've worked on could be best described as chaotic. Doing piecework framing on a job like this can be a real test of patience.

Yet when the job's run right, commercial piece framing can be a gold mine. When a big job is running like clockwork, being part of it can be a treat.

Along with the disadvantages go some important advantages. Most large carpentry contracting companies offer good fringe benefits. It's common to see carpentry foremen on larger jobs driving late-model company-owned trucks with insurance and gas paid by the company. Even journeyman carpenters may receive pay for driving time and a gas allowance. These carpenters are probably enrolled in company-paid medical and dental plans and get paid holidays and vacations. Performance bonuses at the end of each job are common.

If you like the security of guaranteed work at one location for a long time, and need the benefits that small contractors can't supply, then commercial work might be for you. A major commercial project can keep you busy for months. For example, Figure 1-4 shows three buildings in a large condominium complex. These three stages will be repeated many times before the job is complete and may keep carpentry crews busy for an entire season.

Obviously there's a lot more to the rough framing business than I've covered in this chapter. But what I've explained so far should help you reach an important decision on an essential question. What type of rough carpentry is best for you?

Once you understand the categories of work, it's time to begin thinking about the tools you'll need. And that's the subject of the next chapter.

Rough Framing Carpentry

by Mark Currie

Framing can be a high-productivity, high-profit business ... for the lucky few who've mastered framing skills. And that's exactly what the author of this book describes: quick, efficient ways to frame residential and commercial buildings. Snapping layout on the slab or floor (including split levels). How to save time and eliminate errors when detailing lumber to be assembled. How to mark, cut, and drill plates efficiently. How to speed-cut blocks, trimmers, and plates by eye. How to spot information missing on the plans. And to help you win more jobs (and make more money on the jobs you win), the author suggests typical piecework prices you can quote for most framing work.

Walls: How to lay out your studs for super quick assembly on exterior walls, shear walls, and interior walls. How to cut a radius plate for a curved wall with a circular saw without destroying your blade. How to plumb and align walls once they're up.

Joists: Planning the joist layout in advance. Double joists and head-outs to avoid plumbing fixtures. Spreading, blocking, and nailing the joists. Installing ceiling backing, ceiling joists, truss joists, joists on concrete stem walls, and joists on exposed beams.

Sheathing: Tricks of subfloor sheathing: planning, marking, fitting and gluing tongue and groove subfloor (including site-constructed tools that help you increase productivity), notching for utilities, and nailing subfloor sheathing. Time-saving techniques for cutting sheathing.

Stairs: How to lay out stairs, determine riser height and tread depth, several ways to head out the upper floor. How to find the height of landings and lay out the horses with a framing square and stair gauges to detect problems early on, and how to frame winding and circular stairs.

Truss Roofs: Stacking trusses for quick spreading, the fastest way to raise and block trusses, shortcuts when rolling and nailing the gable and hip trusses, framing in a California fill, the how-to's of installing understacking, ceiling backing, clips, and catwalks.

This manual is written by a skilled master framer, who learned it all the hard way so you don't have to. If saving time on the job, doing top-quality work and making better money by building smarter appeal to you, glance through the pages of this book. It comes with a guarantee: Rough Framing Carpentry will help you save time and make more money on framing jobs, or your money back.

The Author: For nearly twenty years Mark Currie has worked as a framer on custom homes, commercial buildings and residential tracts. During this time he perfected timesaving methods so he can do top-quality work in minimum time (and at maximum profit). His construction company specializes in custom homes and residential tracts.

Mr. Currie is also a photographer and took most of the photographs for this book.