Monthly Archives: April 2013

Rafters. Now I got’em.

Some day I hope I get too old to have the energy for perpetual apoplexy. I might someday learn to use logic or yoga to calm myself, but for now it’s easier to get amped up on just enough drugs to kick start my motor and hope that time and age will erode my tendency to freak out like a teased cat.

I cut new rafters. I bought another 80-dollar load of wood and made sure not to screw up again. My method of modeling the rafters in Sketchup did not yield traditionally measured results. Then when I used a traditional method of cutting the rafters, it didn’t work out so well. Failing to test the first two rafters on the actual house was the final nail in the coffin. It amazes me how much work and effort I put in right before finally getting lazy at the final step – the only part that could actually cost me money. You know what they say about hindsight. It can make you feel like an idiot.

I learned how to model rafters in Sketchup in a way that transfers neatly to traditional real-world methods of using a carpenter’s square to lay out the cuts. I can do it correctly now. I can, I did, and my world is back in balance.

I took my mistake with the first batch of rafters and turned it into an opportunity. Buying all-new 2×6 boards allowed me to re-design the rafters to be just a bit longer – giving me the ability to make the roof just a bit steeper. At the last minute, I tweaked the roof plan to add a little more headroom. The roof now has a 15/12 pitch. It’s pretty darn steep, and it looks pretty darn good. The house will be skinny with a steep roof – like a tiny little chapel. I like it.

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This is Daisy. She’s not huge. That is my accurate-to-scale tiny billiards table from the Franklin Mint. When I was about 20, I had an office job and I splurged on excellent miniatures.

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I’m in the picture here for actual dog-size scale.

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This is my brother-in-law, Karl, letting my know that the roof will not cave in. He assures me I’m doing fine.

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I cut the “birds mouth” with a circular saw. Here, I’m just cleaning up the cut.

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Not too bad when you stand back about 100ft!

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I attached braces to the ridge board before lifting it into place. One less thing to measure while trying to hover up in the air.

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Rafters: cut one and stab my face with it.

I’m great at making things hard on myself. I’m equally good at using a form of logic to convince myself that it’s for the greater good. My experience with learning how to cut rafters is as good an example as ever. There’s nothing quite like psychoanalyzing yourself while also trying to learn a new skill. A microscope is a great tool for getting a closer look, but you can zoom in too far and then you’re focused on nothing.

There are several ways to cut a rafter. The old school way is to use the “step off method,” which requires a carpenter’s square and a lot of thinking. Another method is to simply (enough) calculate the hypothetical length of the rafter and take a measurement from the ridge board intersection to the top of the “heel cut” which is in plane with the outside wall. I could have made all of this even easier by simply taking measurements from my Sketchup model, marking the boards and just cutting the fucking rafter.

I opted for a combination of these methods. I reasoned that I wanted to truly understand how the measurements are taken rather than just getting the result. In my mind the end did not justify the means.

Fair enough. So I spent all day yesterday over-thinking the process, watching tutorial videos on YouTube, reading various textbooks and generally just looking way too close at the matter. Finally, I was ready to plug in a saw and get to work. Instead of cutting two rafters and checking them for fit on the actual house, I opted to lay them on the ground and take some janky measurements. Good work, I thought, and I cut out every single rafter.

Mother-of-hell-shit. I got the ridge board in place and the rafters did not fit. I’m real proud of myself for deciding to build a house and everything, but it would probably be easier to jump off a building that already exists.

Everybody makes mistakes. A big setback is predictable. It still blows.

Eventually, I calmed down and was able to shut the fuck up long enough to breathe again. Zen. Calm. Who cares? I’m going to build something else later, and I can use these rafters then. Sure I can.

It has come to my attention that I’m not exactly impressed with myself for having the fortitude to take on a project like this one. What I am impressed with is that I will take on the project in spite of the fact that I know going into it that the learning process will bring my head dangerously close to explosion many many times. I am a hero for forging on against myself.

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Bought the final window.

While continuing to edit my Sketchup model for the house – no, I’m not finished with that – I noticed that there isn’t enough space in the rear gable end for the window that I was planning to use. Oops. I didn’t factor in the height of the ceiling joists. I could make it fit, but it would be tight. It would take some fancy fitting and I don’t want to make anything more difficult than it needs to be.

I’ve been doing a great job of buying windows. I didn’t feel at all burdened to cast another line out into the Craigslist waters.

I scanned through the local building materials and it didn’t take long until I felt a tug on the line. Someone in Schwenksville, PA had a brand new awning window for $40. I’d rather pay less and drive a shorter distance, but let’s face it: forty bucks ain’t bad and I want to keep moving.

Kristin and I drove up to retrieve the window today. The weather was beautiful and there was flea-market-ish antiquing close at hand. The window will be a great fit for the loft. It’ll be right next to our heads while we’re sleeping, so the fact that it cranks out from the bottom – as awning windows do – is a bonus. We can have the window open during a rain shower and not have water splashing in.

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How to toenail ceiling joists without feeling stupid.

“Toenailing” simply means to drive a nail diagonally through a board, as opposed to “face nailing” which means to drive it straight through. You toenail something when the distance you would need to drive the nail to “face” nail it is longer than the nail itself. I’ve driven some screws diagonally for this project, but for the roof I’m switching to nails. There will be some heavier “shear” forces on these fasteners, and nails are much stronger in such a case. Also, there is a big old box of 10d framing nails in my parents’ garage and I am actually so cheap that this sways my decision more than one might expect. To the ends of the Earth to save a dollar…

Today’s mission was to nail some ceiling joists across the 8 foot span, on top of the double top plates. The joists are 5 1/2 inches deep, so toenailing them is the way. I set to work, and promptly split the crap out of both ends of the first joist. And the joist slid around all over the place as I tried to hammer a nail in diagonally while holding it in place. I couldn’t keep it on the mark at all. My work looked like shit, so I stopped. I cussed for awhile and retreated to the big house feeling frustrated and defeated.

Toenailing isn’t exactly the kind of action that is ever discussed in detail in books. It’s a basic operation, and it’s taken for granted that everyone can do it. Further explanation of toenailing would be like a detailed description of how to put your pants on in the morning. What’s to say? Just put on your fucking pants.

After several carefully targeted keyword searches, I found an article that made me feel like less of a moron. It wasn’t an easy article to find. The author outlined several helpful suggestions to keep D.I.Y. carpenters from killing themselves. The most important suggestion was to drill pilot holes. I’d actually tried this, and it didn’t help. The article specified wider pilot holes: using an 1/8th inch bit and drilling all the way through the first piece of lumber. The author then suggested clamping a piece of scrap wood behind the joist to keep it from moving as you drive the first nail. Experienced carpenters would probably have a painful eye-roll over this, but I’ll take all the help I can get. Maybe in 25 years I can spit nails into place like Popeye, too.

The next morning, I calmly returned to the building site. I followed the suggestions I had read, and before too long I had all of the ceiling joists installed perfectly. I did not split one more piece of wood and each joist fell squarely on its mark. I will live to cuss at something else tomorrow, but the morning air today was awash in accolades.

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Doubt creeps in; anxiety begins to bubble.

I attached more sheathing yesterday, and had a relaxing sit-down up in the loft area. The spring weather has finally made a confident showing, while my level of sureness has waned. This house is tall. As I sat, I looked down through my structure and tried to imagine all of the weight and forces on each of the components. Gravity is the easiest to picture. Forces of gravity and wind can exert themselves on weak components and cause the parts to unravel. A heavy load of snow can crush a roof. Heavy winds can rip one completely off with an unexpected upward force. A heavy roof exerts a downward force on the lower framing members – but the rafters also have an outward force on the walls.

An outward force on walls. I looked at the screws holding the upper wall framing to the lower walls. Would these screws be enough to counteract the force of the rafters pushing out on the walls? I thought that yes, they probably would. But my level of confidence was far from high enough to put me at ease. This was the first time it had occurred to me to consider these outward forces in my planning, and I’ll tell you: it unsettled me.

A typical roof construction using rafters (as opposed to pre-built trusses) requires that the rafters be attached and triangulated in a way that counteracts the outward forces. The rafters have a tendency to push outward and spread apart under the weight of the roof. There are a couple ways to counteract this force: attached ceiling joists or rafter ties.

IRC (international residential code) requires that roofs incorporating rafters (not trusses) also have ceiling joists attached to the ends of the rafters where the rafters meet the top plates of the walls. In this setup, the rafters are attached to the ridge board and also tied together at the bottom by the ceiling joists. This forms a triangle, which will keep the walls from spreading apart. If there are no ceiling joists, then IRC requires the use of “rafter ties.” Rafter ties are horizontal members which span the rafters and attach in the lower third of the triangle formed by the rafters. Rafter ties counteract the outward forces in much the same way as ceiling joists would. Code requires one or the other.

I didn’t know any of this. I uploaded some screenshots of my Sketchup model to the design forums at small-cabin.com and let the wolves pick them apart. I got plenty of helpful suggestions and advice. I was torn about what to do, but I made a difficult informed decision.

I’m not building to code. I haven’t gotten any permits, and I’m not going to see any inspectors. I get to make my own decisions here. The rules outlined in the IRC exist to give residential homes a minimum level of strength and safety. The dogmatic requirements are probably a good idea for typical large houses, but when a structure is only 8 feet wide, the weight and forces are much smaller. Also, a house that’s only 12 feet long has the top plates at either end preventing the rafters from drifting apart. This is probably more than enough in my case.

So – I think my design was fine. But I’m changing it anyway. Let’s just call it a “change of heart” and move on. Tomorrow, I will remove the upper wall framing and begin the process of moving toward a stronger design and a smaller-still house. I will use ceiling joists across the double top plates, and the ceiling joists will be the floor joists for the loft. I will lose some headroom in the loft. The lumber comprising the upper walls will be reassigned to future tiny house projects. I will be left with a simple and strong tiny house. Everything will seem just a hair easier and more manageable. I won’t have a tall-skinny house supported on orange buckets of buried concrete. I trust my foundation, but I don’t want to push it. The taller they are, the harder they fall. I don’t know what an incredibly strong wind would do to the tall house – but the forces exerted on it would be much greater than the design that I am ultimately switching to.

I wanted small and simple. This decision puts me at ease.

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Screwing OSB to the outside of the house.

You gotta cover these houses in sheathing. These days, that means screwing or nailing sheets of plywood or OSB over all of the studs. You put screws every 6″ around the perimeter and every 12″ along the studs. Pretty straightforward.

Whenever something seems pretty straightforward, my brain translates that to “quick” and/or “easy.” I bet there are carpenters who could have gotten this job done in a couple hours. Maybe quicker. That’s not a realistic goal for me. What I need to focus on is staying sane and not ramming a screw through my eyeballs with an impact driver.

Today was a success because I made progress. Let’s not talk about how much progress, but rather reflect on the fact that I’m a reasonably sane man with vision in both eyes.

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Moving sheets around like a cowboy.

After the wall framing is up, the next step is to screw or nail plywood to the outside. There have been many points – and there will be many more – when I wished I had some goddamn extra help. Yesterday, for example, I bought sixteen sheets of 7/16″ OSB. They come in 4’x8′. Getting that into the van was a hoot. Fortunately, an employee at the store helped me load. But today I was on my own.

It takes kind of a long time to pull heavy sheets of plywood out of an old van one at a time. It takes more time to ease them onto a hand truck and move them a couple sheets at a time across uneven ground while they flop around and threaten to maim and escape. The whole ordeal makes you want to sip iced tea pretty bad.

 

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