Ode to Carpentry

Ah, carpentry. It’s ever so satisfying. The physical exercise of carrying lumber, the mental gymnastics of making measurements. The zenlike simplicity of task repetition. The smell of fresh sawdust. The gratification when all the pieces fit together as they should… and when you raise an entire stud wall in a matter of hours.

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The owner and the author, proud of their first wall.

Plenty of tasks preceded the great wall-raising today. First we disassembled the braces and the formwork, revealing the complete slab in all its glory. Pulling anchors took some work, but the forms dropped right off as we unscrewed them. Upon remeasuring we found the short edge of the slab to be about 3/16 inch too wide. No worries; we chamfered the edges with a hammer down to the desired 30-foot width. Terry cut 2×6 sill plates and drilled holes for the anchor bolts to pass through, and we slid them into place with a foam barrier underneath. Colin grabbed his trusty sawzall and lopped off the bolt ends, making it easy later to countersink the wall frame so it would fit neatly over the anchor nuts. Then we moved the sawhorse to the middle of the slab and the real fun began.

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The master carpenter plies his craft.

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Colin trims the anchor bolts.

While we unskilled laborers sighted 10-foot studs for warping and brought the straight ones into the work zone, master carpenter Terry made quick work of building the layout. Armed with a nailgun, he framed up the entire first wall in about an hour, including rough openings for a door and window. He also built a workbench for the chop saw and gave Colin and me a list of lengths to cut. It was not uncommon to toss around measurements like “15 plus a fat quarter” or “22 minus a BCH” (which means, for the purpose of this family-friendly blog, the thickness of a Black Curly Hair). I enjoyed the optimization puzzle of trying to cut pieces efficiently from 10-foot and 12-foot lumber, minimizing waste. Compared to the multivariable mathematics I used to perform daily on bridge-design staff, this felt like a massage for the brain. And there’s plenty more to come.

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The first stud wall laid out, and the chop saw setup.

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Closeup of the handiwork.

By far the most exciting moment of the day was raising the first frame. Working late to take advantage of perfect weather, we actually finished building the SECOND frame today, or nearly so, but around 5pm we took a break from sawing and fit-up to get hands on the first. This raise required the full commitment of all three of us. We slid the “bottom” frame to the inside edge of the sill plate, then all together lifted the “top” vertical. Colin and I held opposite ends steady while Terry erected temporary braces and nailed the frame to the sill plate. We also installed cleats on the outside of the sill plate to keep the wall from sliding out, but those are more psychological than functional, like the safety bar on a ski lift. Seems perfectly stable to me.

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Erecting the temporary bracing.

Tomorrow I expect we’ll raise the remaining walls, but for tonight the Barn consists of a solitary slice through the air, a hand waving, “Here I am!” A testament to the thrill and beauty of carpentry.

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