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Feature Articles

Designing and Installing an Eyebrow Dormer

This past summer, I had the opportunity to create a detail that is now rare in construction. The trade seems to have lost its flair for creative, interesting, and alluring details. All too often we have been transformed into simple assemblers. One of the reasons why I love remodeling is that no job is the same. While some parts of a job are unavoidably familiar, new challenges arise on every project. And some projects push us more than others. Read the full article…

Custom Bracket Built Onsite

Not long ago, I got a phone call from the company my mother works for. Apparently, a plow truck hit one of the brackets on a covered entry on the side of their building during a snowstorm. The maintenance crew looked at it and realized it was not the type of project they were willing to take on. The owner of the company, whom I have done work for in the past, said, “Call Ray. He’ll fix it.” Read the full article…

New Wooden Gate

In early 2008, an elderly woman drove her car through our back yard and took out a chain link gate. Her vehicle raced across the lawn, just missing a beautiful 30-year-old tangelo tree and a water fountain, eventually crashing into a fence where the corners of four properties met. Her insurance company paid us fairly to cover the total cost of damages, and so began my Great Gate Project. Read the full article…

Traditional Tangent Handrail

Today, ‘tangent handrail’ is certainly an obscure topic. Until recently, when I taught a seminar on the subject in Seattle, I didn’t think anyone would be interested. I was wrong. At that seminar, hosted by Keith Mathewson of Seattle Fine Woodworking, we had a full house of dedicated craftsmen who came together from all parts of the country for one reason only—to learn something new. Read the full article…

Closet Shelving Layout & Design

When I started out in the building business, interest rates were low, money was easy to borrow, and custom homes were the way to go. But six years later, in the early 1980s, that all changed. Interest rates went over 15%. No one could afford, let alone qualify, for a loan. Economics and demand dragged us into multi-family housing—we started installing finish work on apartment complexes, condominiums, and townhouses. The work was hard, the prices competitive, but the profits were good if you had your act together, if you were fast and didn’t make mistakes. Read the full article…

Trestle Tables, Videos, and the Moisture Monster

I spent the first 15 years of my working life as a cameraman for—and then producer of—television commercials. In that career, your “film reel” was more important than your resume. It was a collection of a dozen or so of your best TV spots. By the same logic, when I finally switched over to woodworking, and started my own cabinet shop, I found that I would land more jobs when I could show a potential client photographs of our work. Over time, I carried an increasingly larger photo album in my attaché. Read the full article…

Raising Gable Walls

Gables are the hardest part of a house to stage. So work on them when you can walk on them, instead of having to climb.

I spent many years framing custom homes with a big crew of expensive carpenters, and the pressures of keeping things moving and making payroll taught me to be efficient. Now, I’ve downsized, and my wife and I are enjoying framing houses with no outside help. Getting things done with just two of us working—and saving our aging backs—makes good use of the lessons I’ve learned about fast, efficient framing techniques. Read the full article…

Building Custom Gates

Between 1980 and 1994 I moved ten times—one fixer after the other, and a few rentals, too (fixers aren’t always profitable, even for a carpenter). When I moved into my current home, I promised myself I’d stay a while, and one of the first projects I wanted to tackle was replacing the gates. I accomplished the first goal, but it took a while before I got to the gates. Read the full article…

Making a Decorative Sunburst

I was working on a remodel—a high-end home near the Hamptons—when the homeowner came out the front door with a magazine in her hand. “Look!” she said. “This is exactly what I want on top of my front door!” She tilted the picture toward me: a handsome Greek Revival portico decorated with an elliptical sunburst. “It’s going to cost you,” I told her. “How much?” she asked. “About $1,200,” I said. She smiled and said, “Do it.” Read the full article…

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