My Last Shop: Part 6 - Construction Framing
by Michael Smith
Mountain Park, GA
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Hello again, this is the sixth installment of my experience with building my last shop. To bring you up to speed, I am a retired California high school woodshop teacher now living in Mountain Park, GA near my two grown children and their families. Not counting the woodshop where I taught this will be my fourth and last (probably) shop.
Finally! I've started construction. The slab has been poured, the forms are off and the slab has cured for a week. I called in a lumber order to the big box store. I didn't like the $70.00 delivery charge for a $7,000.00 order but the price was competitive with the local lumber yard and I figured the wood was 'fresher'. The turn-around time for the order was three days so I called my brother-in-law, a framing contractor, to come when he was ready. As you probably know, construction is in a slump so Randy was ready. Randy usually works with a small crew so for my small job he just used one other carpenter, Justin.
Randy has been working steadily in carpentry since his early 20s. His father was a carpenter/contractor and he began working with him after school. He is a very good framer and is meticulous in his work. He is also quiet and given to business only. One of my favorite framing quotes from Randy is, "Just because it's straight don't mean it don't get braced."
Every construction crew has to have their funny guy and Justin was it. The funny guy on the crew seems to make the work go easier and faster. Justin is one of those wiry guys that talks fast, thinks fast and can go up and down a scaffold before you can go up. If you couple that with his Deep South accent and culture you have the quintessential southerner. There are two things that occupy Justin's time when he's not working; NASCAR and Budweiser Beer. If it's Monday and there was a race the weekend before all Justin will talk about are the details of the race and how much beer he and his buddies went through. He's sorta like Boomhauer on King of the Hill.
I've worked for Randy before on a couple of houses when he had a short crew. Since I don't do well up on walls and rafters I worked the saw horses as the Sawman. This means that I handle every stick and sheet that has to be cut. Usually, this also means that the crew is short enough that I get the lumber from the stack to the horses, measure, cut and then carry it to be nailed in place.
While Randy and Justin are laying out the walls on the slab and chalking lines, I break down the stack of lumber and go through each board checking for straightness. I restack each board by size and straightness. For example, I want really straight studs for corners and trimmers. The really crooked stuff will go for cripples and and other short work. It would be really nice if lumber yards just sent beautiful, straight, bark-free and knot-free lumber but as you know, they work with what they get and we just have to deal with it. It is what it is.
Framing is the fastest part of construction to me. At the end of each day you can see real progress. At the end of each day you feel it. Bending, lifting and carrying lumber, you walk across uneven ankle twisting surfaces and then pass it on to someone with a back and shoulder straining motion. I used to enjoy hard work. Arrrrgh! Now I try to work smarter. Don't drop something to the ground that has to be picked up later. Saw horses are portable, move them close to the pile of lumber or move them close to the work. Keep your work area clean.
I was able to score seven matching vinyl remodel windows from Habitat For Humanity Restore. I don't know what else to call them (retrofit?) but remodel windows are made without flanges so they can be fit into existing frames. They have to be manufactured to fit nearly exactly and if there is a measuring mistake they are practically useless. So these were mistakes that had been donated to Habitat and I was able to pick them up for $20.00 each. The cheapest big box store vinyl window was just over $100.00 so this was a good buy. If there is a Habit For Humanity Restore near you and you need building materials you should check them out. All I had to do was make sure my rough opening was 2 inches larger than the window. In the beginning I wanted all the windows I could get but I soon discovered that each window takes up wall space that could be cabinet space. I had to give up two windows.
It took a week to frame the 24 x 36 shop as we had to wait on trusses and Randy and Justin had over an hour commute to my job. They seemed to take it in stride but I wouldn't have liked it. In fact, Justin looked forward to the ride home. Each day as quitting time got closer Justin would say something like, "I think it must be gettin' close to Bud-thirty."
The trusses were delivered and we manhandled them up onto the walls. I was not looking forward to this as I was thinking scissor trusses were going to be awkward to handle. The three of us did it though and it was somewhat easier because Randy brought his roll-around scaffold in. For economic reasons I ordered trusses for 24 inch centers. In retrospect I wish I had ordered them for 16 inch centers. Lastly, one difference I've found between California and Georgia is that some vendors in Georgia do not deliver materials where they are needed. Why aren't roofing materials delivered to the rooftop? Why doesn't the truss company deliver with boom trucks? It is what it is.
Randy and Justin have done their work. The roof is covered with felt and I'm left to myself to get on with the remaining work. I don't have money to hire someone to help and if I did, I'm not sure how we would do that. You'd think that a former shop teacher could easily direct someone as to what and how something needs to be done, but I would over-manage and then it would be just as easy to do it myself. It's easier for me to do what I want in the way and order I want it done, and then hire subs for work that I can't do or don't want to do.
Be on the lookout for my next installment. The fun is just beginning. Send me an email if you have a comment or question.
Michael can be reached by email at
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