Highland Woodworking Wood News Online, No. 148, December 2017Welcome to Highland Woodworking - Fine Tools & Education Learn more about Highland Woodworking View our current woodworking classes and seminars Woodworking articles and solutions Subscribe to Wood News
The Down to Earth Woodworker
By Steven D. Johnson
Racine, Wisconsin

This Month's Column:

• Not Strictly "Woodworking" Part 2
Measuring Sawdust Collection Efficiency
The Busiest of Seasons

Not Strictly "Woodworking" Part 2

Click on any picture to see a larger version.

Most of us set little challenges for ourselves at the outset of new projects. Maybe your personal challenge is to build something using only hand tools, or you want to try a new joint you have never made before. Perhaps at the beginning of a project you decide to try a new finish when the project is complete, or you try to build something entirely of scrap wood from your stack. When I decided to build a barn, I set a few personal challenges for the project.

First, I wanted to do it all myself. Perhaps enlist a bit of volunteer "lifting and toting" help here and there, but not hire any professionals for any part of the job. Second, I wanted to do the entire job without stringing out extension cords or cranking up a generator. And last, I wanted to use what I had and buy no new tools. This last item was, frankly, driven by finances.

Like all "best laid plans," though, reality and reason quickly overruled emotion, and I had to compromise. Yes, I managed to get everything ready to pour the concrete, but I hired professionals to pour the stuff and make it smooth, and I'm glad I did. I have had some volunteer help from time-to-time, and I planned the work flow carefully so that when there was an additional body available, we could do things that otherwise would have been extremely difficult or impossible to do alone. Working without electricity, either a generator or extension cords, is doable these days, and getting more and more practical with every new generation of tools. But the idealistic goal of buying no new tools was ill-advised and in my case, quite improbable and unrealistic. I love tools, and somehow when building a big project, I can always figure out a way to justify the expense of a new tool.

For example, I have a small family of 18 volt rechargeable cordless tools from a brand you would recognize. The kit includes a drill, impact screwdriver, reciprocating saw, and a 6-1/2" circular saw. I think there was a flashlight in the kit, too, but it was pretty much worthless and quite possibly lost. Anyway, the impact driver works very well, the drill is a drill and works okay, and the circular saw and reciprocating saw both do their jobs. But the two saws require a higher amp/hour-rated battery and both tools drain even that larger battery lickety-split. Three lengthwise cuts in a sheet of OSB and the circular saw is dead. About 30 or so inches of cutting with the reciprocating saw and the battery just flat-out quits. Investing in more batteries, at a hundred-and-thirty-plus bucks apiece, seemed a bit like throwing good money after bad, so I splurged and invested in a couple of new Festool cordless tools. That turned out to be not just a wise decision, but an eye-opening epiphany.

With winter fast approaching, getting a roof over my new barn is my top priority. Pre-built trusses would be quick, but building those on the ground would require a team of helpers to lift them into place. Ordering pre-built rafters would be impossible as there was simply no way to move them up a skinny trail through the woods to the barn site, so stick-building with rafters was my only practical choice.

Figure 1 - Temporary bracket to hold the end of the ridge board. You can see the ridge
board temporarily resting next to the top of the joist, ready to lift into final position

Getting the ridge board into place was a challenge to do alone. First, I built a couple of temporary brackets to hold the board at the correct height and attached those to the middle post on both ends of the barn. The ridge board had to be made of two pieces of lumber spliced together to achieve the overall 26-feet and 8-inch length I needed. I laid out the rafter locations carefully and marked the locations brightly with a permanent marker. I made sure that the splice fell evenly between two rafter locations and pre-installed rafter hangers on either side of the splice.

Figure 2 - The long 2 X 4 temporarily screwed
to the end of the ridge board allowed me to lift
it into the temporary holding bracket from
ground level

With the ridge board prepared, I climbed up the ladder with one end and placed it first onto the end joist, then lifted it into the oversized notch in my temporary bracket. Then I lifted the other end up and rested it on top of the end joist, screwed a two-by-four onto the end and used that from ground level to hoist the other end of the ridge board up and drop it into its notch. At that point I lined up the ridge board with a plumb and leveled it in the oversize notch, then temporarily screwed it into the brackets. I also added a temporary brace in the middle of the ridge board to make sure it didn't sag until the rafters were installed.

Figure 3 - To alleviate any tendency to sag before the rafters are attached, I rigged a
temporary brace in the middle of the ridge board. In this image you can also see the splice
I made in the ridge board. The location of the splice was designed to fall exactly between
two rafters

Laying out (designing) a rafter can be done a couple of different of ways. Many years ago I learned to make rafters using a framing square and what I call the "step-and-repeat" method. It was easy to learn and easy to remember because the technique is not dramatically different from laying out stair stringers and I've done more stairs than I care to (or likely could) remember. Still, when you haven't done something in a long time, it pays to be careful and perhaps check using an alternate method. So, I also used what I call the "mathematical" system and sketched a drawing of the intended rafter and laid out every angle and measurement. It turns out that both systems gave me matching rafters correctly sized and properly fit. So, with two test rafters cut and checked for proper fit, I labeled those as my templates and got to work cutting the additional 44 rafters needed.

With common dimensional lumber, care must be taken to compensate for bow, twist, and the most insidious of warpage, crook. From the enormous stack of wood, I sorted through the boards and laid aside any with twist. A bowed board is pretty easily dealt with. Minor bowing can be straightened when nailing on the sheathing, major bowing can be fixed with blocking. Almost all the boards had some degree of crook, so I turned all those so the "crown" would be facing "up" on the finished rafter. I was finally ready to start marking out from my templates.

It is, of course, important that the template board be perfectly aligned with the board to be marked or dimensions and angles can be off by an amount significant enough to make a difference. With "crooked" boards, laying a straight template board on top is usually a matter of compromise. Get one end lined up and the other end is off. Split the difference and both ends wind up with angles that are "off" just a bit and the overall length can be compromised. Line up one end, make your mark then line up the other end to make the second mark and the angles are likely okay, but the overall length can be off. As it turns out, the Festool HKC 55 EB Cordless Carpentry Saw with the FSK 420 Guide Rail was the answer to perfect rafters.

Figure 4 - With the angle set on the FSK 420 Guide Rail, two stops on the bottom of the
rail butt up to the board and the perfect cut is assured... every time.
No need for a job site miter saw!
The FSK 420 Guide Rail allows you to set angles and then do repeated cuts that are as precise as any miter saw can produce. The angles for my rafter ends were to be 22.62º and while 22.5º is clearly marked on the Guide Rail, 22.62º might seem like it would take a little trial and error. But not so… I simply positioned the saw and guide rail on one of my template boards, adjusted the angle perfectly and tightened down the locking knob. Every cut thereafter was perfect.

With a mess of boards with crowns and crooks, eliminating any variances turned out to be a breeze with the HKC 55. I simply cut one end of the board at the prescribed angle, then measured from the tip of that angle to the other end of the board, made a mark at the correct length, and positioned the Guide Rail on that mark and made the tail cut. Perfect. And fast! It was like a choreographed production… I cut all the top rafter angles first, then moved to the other end of the stack of boards, and measured and cut the rafter tails. In fact, for all these cuts I didn't even use my carefully cut templates! And, by the way, after all this cutting, the battery in the HKC 55 EB showed no signs of letting up at all.

Figure 5 - The HKC 55 really excels at making fast, perfectly square cuts. Here I am
trimming off the "funky" end of a board before cutting it to length
The other critical part of a well-fitted rafter is the precise location and consistent size of the bird's mouth notch. This, too, was pretty easy to lay out. From the long end of the rafter tail cut I measured up to where the bird's mouth cut should be and made a mark. Then with stair gauges clamped to my carpenter's square, I quickly marked out the cut lines. For the bird's mouth cuts I used the Festool PSBC 420 EB Cordless (D Handle) Jig Saw. I may never go back to a corded jig saw. Plenty of power to cut through two-by stock, and I never changed out the battery. Eight additional rafters were made without bird's mouth notches so I could make ladder-style rakes for the end eaves of the barn.

Figure 6 - Once the rafters starting going up, the thing started to look a little bit like a barn!
After all this work, I was feeling pretty good about things, so I positioned my ladder at the south end of the ridge board and climbed up to attach my first rafter. Wrestling with the two-by-six rafter while swaying about 14-feet up in the air on a ladder resting partly on concrete and partly on muddy uneven ground made me more than just a bit shaky. Falling off a ladder is not part of my barn-building plan, so the next day I put up a baker-style scaffold and got back to work.

Historically, I have used a nail gun for attaching the rafters, but for my barn I decided to use stainless steel construction screws. I also installed rafter hangers at the top of every rafter and hurricane ties around the bird's mouth of each. This is way overboard relative to code here, but hurricane ties and rafter hangers are cheap and the extra time is, I think, worth it.

Figure 7 - In this image you can see the hurricane ties on every rafter where the birds
mouth joins the joist. My scaffolding is in the background

The roof rake ladders for the ends of the barn were fabricated on the ground. For the ends and "steps" of the ladder assemblies I again used the Festool HKC 55 EB Cordless Carpentry Saw with the FSK 420 Guide Rail. If you have generally used a miter saw on the job site (as I have) you know that making repetitive equal-length cuts is as easy as marking out one piece, setting up a temporary stop block, and then cutting as many pieces as you need. With the Festool set-up, you can pretty quickly mark each cut, lay the guide rail on the mark and make your cut. I found a quicker and easier way, though. I cut a "go-by" piece 1/8-inch longer than I needed, then lined that piece up with the end of the board, set the guide rail down touching that "go-by" piece, removed the block and made the cut. The 1/8" extra length accommodates the blade width (well, pretty doggone close) and all the resultant cut pieces are identical.

The assembled ladders were quite heavy. I spent a solid two hours getting the first one in place and attached. The next day a buddy came to help and we got the other three installed in less than an hour. It helps to have help! In fact, it was only with my friend's help that I was able to get the OSB sheathing installed. The first row at the low end of each side of the roof was the toughest. Getting the pieces lined up and nailed in is definitely a two-person job. The second row is a little easier because once the sheet is on the roof and above the first row, it will slide back and stop against the first row. Also, once the first row is installed, the roof feels way less "wobbly" and you can work from the roof instead of a ladder or a scaffold.

Figure 8 - Here you can see the roof rake "ladders." These were built on the ground and
hoisted into place. Also, note that I didn't pay a lot of attention to getting the ends of the
OSB cut straight or to perfect size. After all were put in place, I snapped a chalk line and
sawed the OSB off straight using the Festool HKC 55

Cutting the OSB was a breeze with the Festool Carpentry Saw (HKC 55). No cords, light, and very maneuverable. Measure, snap a chalk line, and make the cut. And here is the unbelievable part… It wasn't until I was cutting the OSB that I finally had to change the battery in the saw for the first time. All those rafters and all the other parts of the roof framing on one battery charge! Wow.

Figure 9 - From inside the barn... just one row of OSB to go!

Last month, one of the pictures of the barn's concrete floor showed a big rectangular opening where there is no concrete. What is that rectangular hole for? Well, quite a few folks tried to guess, but no one has figured it out yet. Some of the guesses were pretty doggone funny. The funniest was the suggestion that at my age I probably need a bathroom close by and that un-concreted section would be my remote latrine. No, it's not a latrine. Frankly, the barn is located pretty deep in the woods, so I have the choice of numerous trees behind which I can recycle my coffee.

Several woodworkers, in a funny, but slightly macabre turn, suggested that I was building myself a burial crypt. Sorry, but I'm not planning that far ahead! The rectangle measures 78-inches by 32-inches, and while it would "fit" my body, it would be a bit tight, and I trend towards claustrophobia. No way! Next month I will share some more photos and stories of the barn's progress, and one of the pictures is going to be a dead giveaway. Hopefully, though, by that time, someone will figure it out!

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Steven Johnson is retired from an almost 30-year career selling medical equipment and supplies, and now enjoys improving his shop, his skills, and his designs on a full time basis (although he says home improvement projects and furniture building have been hobbies for most of his adult life). Steven can be reached directly via email at sjohnson@downtoearthwoodworking.com

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