I’ve been using construction calculators for quite some time. They are an indispensable tool for all kinds of layout work; from squaring up foundations, calculating materials, rafter layout, right on through to finish work. When I start any wainscoting job, I reach for a calculator before I even think about cutting any wood. A few minutes crunching numbers saves time and helps me avoid costly mistakes with expensive material.
Recently, I downloaded the BuildCalc app for my iPhone. I thought it would be a good compliment to the Construction Master app I’ve been using. While getting acquainted with the BuildCalc app, I took a look at the Baluster Layout function. I noticed the baluster function is arranged so you can set all the parameters and see all of the results on one screen. Then I thought: maybe I can use this function to lay out frame and panels. After all, balusters and spaces are really the same as frames and panels, right? So, I experimented, and sure enough, the baluster tool works exceptionally well for laying out frame and panel work.
Here’s how I do it:
Simple Shadow Box Layout
Once the app is open, follow these steps to enter the Baluster Function:
With the Baluster Function launched, select the “Evenly Space” Analysis Type (see image below) and enter your desired parameters:
Next, scroll down to view the calculated results:
Rail and Stile Frames
When laying out wainscoting that is constructed with an applied frame of rails and stiles, the layout is a little more complicated. Inside corners normally require a wider stile on one frame assembly to compensate for the overlap in the corner. A great system, which I learned from Gary Katz’s wainscoting DVD set, is to make my frame assemblies 1/4 in. shorter than the required span, and the buried inside corner stile 1/2 in. wider than the field stiles (assuming you are using 1x stock). The result creates an equal exposure on both corner stiles.
Since BuildCalc doesn’t currently allow you to vary the ‘starting’ or ‘ending’ member widths (I did hear this feature will be available in a future release, though!), there is a little math to do before launching the Baluster Function. Thankfully, these calculations can be done in the calculator beforehand, and they will be automatically entered into the Baluster Function. Here are the steps:
1. Enter your wall length and subtract 1/4 in: 96 1/4 in. – 1/4 in. (in this example)
2. Next, subtract out the wider corner stile: – 4 in. (in this example)
3. Press the = key and then the RUN key to store your ‘run’ length
4. Press the CONV key followed by the Balstr key to enter the advanced Baluster Function
When the Baluster Function is launched, your new calculated ‘run’ length should automatically appear in the Run box at the top of the screen. Enter all of your parameters as in the previous example, with these exceptions: “Members at ends?”, “Number of Members”, and “Layout marks”. Since the wider end stile has already been accounted for, select only “at Start” for your end members, and reduce your “Number of Members” by one. Choose your layout marks at “leading edge” to easily locate the stiles.
To see the layout for a different number of panels (and different panel sizing), just change the “Number of Members” until you get what you want.
The calculator allows you to work in feet and inches or just inches. Also, if you close out of the Baluster Function window, all your numbers are saved, so you can return to the same calculations until you’ve finished that wall. Amazing!
(SketchUp drawings by Wm. Todd Murdock)
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I was on my way to college and a major in biology, when a furniture-making course in high school changed all that.
I learned to sharpen and use hand tools, cut dovetails…I was hooked.
I went on to one year of trade school, and have been in the trades ever since.
I have worked in production house framing, architectural millwork (miles of plastic laminate), a couple of years with a construction company doing urban renovations, and finally went out on my own in 1985 as H Raufman Woodworking.
My first job was renovating a 200-year-old house. I learned firsthand the meaning of “wattle & daub”!
I opened my first shop a few years later. At one time I thought about making furniture full-time, but being a starving artist was not for me.
Over the years, I have taken on projects with other solo contractors, and worked on several high-end millwork projects. The mainstays of my work have been renovations, additions, kitchens, lots of built-ins, and the occasional furniture commission.
I have had a lifelong interest in architecture, design, and furniture.
When I’m not working, I enjoy dancing, hiking, and getting out on the water in my homemade canoe (yes, it actually floats!).