Highland Woodworking Wood News Online, No. 149, January 2018Welcome 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 3
Are You A Journeyman? Journeywoman? Journeyperson?

Not Strictly "Woodworking" Part 3

The barn roof is now complete. I am not even going to bother telling you about underlayment, shingles, and ridge cap because it is boring. Suffice to say, even without walls, I now have a reasonably dry place to work, and when the winter weather gets really bad, a place to park my tractor. There are a couple of "roofing" notes, however, worth relaying.

Figure 1 - It might look like I am smiling, but I'm really gritting my teeth against the cold.
First, I am no longer a big fan of heights. When a younger man I was either too stupid or too daring to care much, but now the thought of falling petrifies me. At my age, broken bones take forever to heal, and I can't afford the time. So, I used a fall-protection harness while on the roof. The whole harness and rope kit cost $99, and I consider it to be the best c-note I ever spent. If you ever have a need, or desire, to work on a roof, get one of these kits, learn to use it, and use it!

Second, if you are contemplating roof work, you really, really, need a helper. It doesn't have to be anyone experienced, talented, or even knowledgeable… even the most hapless of helpers is a tremendous help. When you are up on the roof someone who can bring you shingles, toss you a roll of nails, or just be there for moral support is a blessing. If you happen to get a helper who can read a tape measure and handle a knife, all the better. He or she can cut shingles for you!

Third, and this applies to all you fellow northerners who get cold weather like we do, warm the shingles. Stack them in a sunny spot or aim a propane heater at them. Cold shingles are significantly less flexible and harder to work with.

Last, go to the bathroom before you get on the roof. There is nothing quite like getting strapped into your fall protection harness, getting all your tools, shingles, and self onto the roof, only to then realize that large cup of morning coffee needs a place to go.

With the roof on, my attention could once again turn to carpentry work, which is a whole lot closer to woodworking than roofing… and a lot more fun. My mental plan for the barn is for an enclosed "lock-up" area in one corner. Call it a "mini shop space" if you will. That area will allow me to store small but valuable things like a chain saw, leaf blower, a portable air compressor, nail guns, and the like… stuff that doesn't belong in my woodworking shop but that I need and use seasonally or semi-frequently. I also want a small bench in that "lock-up" area where I can do small engine maintenance and repair work. When the weed whacker needs a carburetor overhaul, this will be the place. I don't want oil, gasoline, and other gunk in my woodworking shop!

Figure 2 - The smoke stack is the give-a-way... It is directly above the rectangular area with
no concrete and will be used to vent the smoke away when large animals are being roasted.
In addition to the "mini-shop" room, the barn will have a wall spanning the back and one side, a large opening through which I can drive my tractor, and an open area around that big open un-concreted spot, perhaps with some decorative railing. What is that open rectangular area? Well, no one guessed it, so I might as well go ahead and tell you. That area is for roasting pigs, lamb, and other animals. It is a long story, but my family has a tradition of roasting a pig and/or a lamb at Christmas, Easter, and about ten other religious holidays per year… and a few secular holidays as well. I, of course, will not be entrusted to do the roasting, but I did agree to provide a place for members of my extended family to roast their meat.

Figure 3 - This wall is ready to stand-up. Note that the cripples both over the window
header and under the window rough sill are not installed yet... makes it a little lighter and
easier to handle alone.
Like 99.99% of real carpenters, I build walls flat on the ground and lift them into place. Each wall starts with a pressure treated 2 X 6 bolted to the concrete, buttressed with a liberal dose of construction adhesive. Then the walls are built to fit precisely between the pressure treated sill plate and the rafter joist above. Without plans, laying out a wall is simply a matter of having the rough opening dimensions of any windows and doors for that section of wall, a general idea of where you want those components, then doing some careful measuring and cutting.

To measure the length of studs needed, I use two blocks (scraps) of the same lumber stacked on top of the sill plate to represent the thickness of the top and bottom plate of the wall. I then measure up to the rafter joist. That measurement is the length to make the studs so that the finished wall fits perfectly.

Figure 4 - Just getting started on this wall. Note in the bottom right of the photo are the two
scrap blocks I used to determine the stud length needed.
Side to side I measure at the bottom, at the top, and at the middle. Never presume the measurement will be the same! Of course, if your building is perfect at this point the measurements will be the same, but it is always better to be sure. Use the smallest of the dimensions if they are different.

Cut the top and bottom plates of the wall, then cut the studs needed to lay out the basic wall structure. If there is to be a window or door in the wall, it is a good time to cut cripples, jack studs (trimmers), king studs, sills, headers, blocking, and any other necessary parts. For windows and doors, I always cut a scrap the size of the rough opening width to use as a "go by."

Figure 5 - This was the heaviest wall I had to lift. Once the window header was put in, this
thing was hard to lift! If you look real hard you can see my Festool Sysrock in the
background behind the wall. It was my constant companion throughout the barn-build.
On a "real" job site, time is of the essence, and the factory end of a 2 X 6 is "square enough" to work from, so studs are simply cut to length, often several at a time. Since this is my barn, and I just can't shake off the woodworker's penchant for accuracy, I make a squaring cut on every stud first, removing any splitting, cracking, or other ugliness on the end of the lumber, then mark and cut the piece to length. It takes a bit more time, but with perfectly square and sound ends on every board, laying out a square wall is much easier. Fact is, with the Festool HKC 55 EB and FSK 420 Guide Rail, making a squaring cut on one end of the stud doesn't add much time at all.

Figure 6 - Note the carpenter's square and the temporary braces I used to keep this large
opening square during and after the assembly of this wall.
For the walls of my barn I chose to use construction screws rather than nails. It is a little slower, but it is code-approved, and screws have tremendous "pull out" resistance. I am using stainless steel screws through the bottom plate into the studs and through the bottom plate into the pressure treated plate attached to the concrete. Everywhere else I am using "outdoor" construction screws. Not sure what "outdoor" means, except they might be resistant to rust. I just know that the "outdoor" screws are considerably less expensive than stainless steel, but both are more expensive than nails. Nails are fine… I may simply be a bit of a non-conformist. But I also like the ability to bend, twist, and force not-perfectly-straight lumber into conformance and screw it together firmly and make an assembly perfectly square. The sheer speed and "bounce" inherent with a nail gun often makes it hard to hold two pieces together in exactly the right position and join them. Screws also "pull" pieces together tightly.

It is also worthy to note that on a job like this, especially when working by yourself, there are times when a temporary brace, bracket, or helper board is needed. Screwing a temporary piece in place makes it super easy to remove later when it is no longer needed. A perfect example is when framing for large openings like a door. Use a carpenter's square to get the opening perfect, lay a couple of temporary diagonal braces across the corners and screw them into place… the opening will stay square until the wall is stood up and anchored in place. Then simply unscrew the braces to remove them. No prying and pulling of nails!

Figure 7 - You will note that I cut and added the temporary bracing in such a way that
allowed me to leave it on after the wall was lifted and installed in position.

These days it is common practice to not only build a wall flat and raise it into place, but also to sheath that wall while it is on the ground. That is a wonderful way to work, and if I had a couple of strong folks to help me raise the walls, it would have been my preferred way to do things. However, a few of the wall sections, even without sheathing, taxed my physical capabilities to the max. For example, one wall, with both a window and a door opening, had two headers that made it very heavy. I used a crow bar to get the wall off the ground just enough to get a block of wood underneath to make room for my hands to grab it. Then I lifted it about two feet and kicked a bucket underneath to hold it while I rested a minute. Then I raised it another couple of feet and put a 2 X 6 brace underneath. With the top of the wall then raised about four feet, I mustered all the strength I had, got under it, used my legs, and pushed it upright.

It wasn't until the fifth wall section that I figured out to install the header components after the wall was up, keeping that weight out of the assembly… duh! And yes, I am using boxed headers. I am fully aware that this will cause arguments among real carpenters. A boxed header is easier to build, requires less materials, takes less time, and is plenty strong for walls that are essentially not load-bearing. The biggest (and most convincing) argument against boxed headers is that they create an un-insulated airspace. True enough, and for that reason I would never use a boxed header on a house or other heated space. But my barn will have no heat.

Figure 8 - You may find this totally unnecessary (if you are an experienced carpenter) or mildly helpful (if you
are a novice wall-builder). It is always good to use the correct terminology!

You will also likely notice that in all the walls, I did not install cripples above the headers, and in some instances below the sills, until after the wall was stood up and in place. This was also to reduce the overall weight. The cripples above the headers are not critical since the weight of the roof is evenly distributed across the rafter joists attached to the poles of the barn, but I did add cripples later anyway, more as nailing surfaces for the sheathing than anything else. I'm not a big fan of "toe-nailing" and I am not very good at it, but attaching cripples after the fact was easy and accurate with screws. For some reason, driving a "toe-nail" screw is a lot easier than driving a well-placed "toe-nail" nail. Just make sure you are wearing good gloves and hold the screw right where you want it, at the angle you want, and drive it in. Also helpful is my "stud-spacer" (see it in the top left corner of Figure 4), an 18-inch long 2 X 4 scrap and another 14-1/2-inch long piece attached to it. Position this "stud spacer" between studs, cripples, etc. and the on-center 16-inch dimension is assured, plus the "stud spacer" helps hold the pieces in place while screwing them in without the usual "creep" or "walking" that occurs when toe-nailing (or toe-screwing in this case).

Figure 9 - These leather-palm gloves quickly
became my favorites. They are warm enough
for cold weather, and flexible enough to pick
up a dropped screw or nail. These are due for
replacement, but our frugal "Sticks In The Mud"
woodworker says I can still get plenty of hours
of use from these.
I built a total of ten wall sections to complete the framing. With a fat permanent marker I then inspected each wall section carefully, marking places where I wanted to install additional blocking and/or fasteners. I also made cheater marks on the concrete below and on the rafter joist above to indicate stud locations. This will make it easier when it comes time to nail on the sheathing. Next month I will show you my quick and easy way to make sure I never miss a stud when nailing.

With every passing day it seems the weather gets a bit colder and a bit nastier, so it is a relief to have the roof complete and the vast majority of the framing done. This personal challenge of building a barn essentially by myself with little outside help, has proven that almost anything can be done with a little forethought and the right tools and equipment. Of course, the fall protection harness and rope is essential to working up high, even more so when working alone. Good ladders and even scaffolding help a lot. Taking a few minutes to build helper brackets and add temporary bracing has made the work easier. But perhaps most of all, the new Festool battery-powered construction saw (HKC 55 EB) and Guide Rail (FSK 420) are proving to be true job-site game-changers. With battery power that lasts seemingly forever, easy accurate angle-cutting and dead-on square cuts, and a toughness and build quality that can hold up to tough outdoor work, this dynamic tool pairing will, I believe, soon become the standard for construction.

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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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