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Feature Articles

A Home For Haiti

There is a 99% chance that if you live in Los Angeles, your wood frame home survived the 1994 Northridge earthquake. It was a magnitude 6.7 event, caused $20 billion in damage, and seventy-two deaths. The damage to homes was primarily stucco cracks at door and window openings, and un-reinforced masonry chimney failures. There was a surge in demand for foundation bolting and bracing after the earthquake, but even before building codes accounted for seismic events, our wood frame homes were both strong and flexible; two characteristics that are essential to surviving a temblor. Read the full article…

Shop Kitchen

About twenty years ago, I got some rough cherry boards from Grandpa’s garage attic. He had cut down a cherry tree in his yard back in the 1930s, sawed it into boards, and put it up in the attic to dry. It sat in my barn for more than 10 years before I could figure out what to do with it.

A few years ago, I decided that it was time to renovate the Collins Tool Company shop kitchen—make a nice place where we could fix lunches, and also demonstrate our tools. I didn’t have enough of the cherry to build boxes, and I didn’t want to buy a bunch of expensive plywood, so I decided to use it for the kitchen project. Read the full article…

Miter Saw Tune-Up

If your miters aren’t as tight as they used to be, here’s how to get your saw singing on pitch again!

Every carpenter should know that when you buy a new chisel or hand plane it’s not razor sharp out of the box — you have to sharpen it before using it. Well, the same is true for miter saws. They don’t come from the factory in perfect tune.

Besides, after you’ve dragged your saw in and out of the truck a few dozen times, or jammed heavy stock against the fence, or maybe even had it flip off the back of a saw stand — or a tailgate — all those precise adjustments can get seriously out of whack. If you’ve noticed joints not quite closing up for you lately, it’s probably time to tune up your saw. Here are a few tricks to get that big investment dialed in just right. Read the full article…

Carpenters of Steel

Earthquake Defense mechanical connections require a lot of planning.

With the 2007 CBC codes addressing Earthquake Defense more progressively, we’re feeling more like Carpenters of Steel than carpenters of wood! The amount of steel in new buildings in California for seismic structural engineering is changing the way carpenters frame. For production framing here in California, we used to use the words “blow and go” a lot. But those days are over. Now all anyone talks about is “mechanical connections.” Read the full article…

Building a Chinese Chippendale Balustrade

Once you figure out the math, the rest is just glue and sawdust.

“You want what?” You’re kidding!”

That’s what I thought when some very good clients asked me to build a railing for a second floor deck above a living space. I hesitated — I normally do interior finish work, not decks.

But when they said they were thinking of a Chinese Chippendale balustrade, they got my attention. In general terms I knew what Chinese Chippendale design was — I’d just never built anything with the geometric fretwork patterns that mark that style. It’s beautiful stuff. Read the full article…

Building Inspections in Haiti

Erica Fischer reports on construction challenges facing post-earthquake Haiti

The earthquake that hit Haiti on January 12th was described as a “middle-class disaster.” I was not sure what that meant until I arrived in Port-au-Prince on March 20th and began doing building assessments with the ATC-20 guidelines. Those who could afford proper building materials, a structural engineer to design their house, and a skilled mason to build the house, had homes which were in pristine condition. These people are considered the upper class.

Those who could not afford proper building materials, and either built the house themselves, or had a mason who did not know proper construction methods, were left with collapses and damages beyond repair. This group was the middle class. Read the full article…

Solving Porch Problems

Start with the Finish and Work Back to the Rough

A lot of carpenters scratch their heads every time they finish framing a porch and start on the stairs. There are so many ways to frame stairs on a porch that it’s hard to make a logical choice, let alone use the same technique twice. That’s why, to work on this story, we gathered together a group of carpenters, all JLC authors: Mike Sloggatt, Frank Caputo, Jed Dixon, Carl Hagstrom, Tom Brewer, and Greg DiBernardo all contributed to this article. Together we worked out a simple system for installing stringers, so you won’t have to scratch your head the next time you start on the stairs. Read the full article…

Exterior Porch Details for Traditional Materials

Drive through a new subdivision today and you’re greeted by homes covered with large swathes of vinyl and plastic. Step onto a porch and meet more plastic—floors, railings, columns…the list goes on and on.

In many homes, plastic has replaced wood and permeated almost every exterior building product. Not surprisingly, builders have become fluent at installing plastic, while wood skills have begun to disappear. Just when we need them most. Read the full article…

Making Money on Built-ins

Selling yourself: Like it or not, marketing matters.

I started my Handyman business in Los Angeles, CA back in 1999 after leaving a 23-year sales career. I made a good living in sales, but it wasn’t satisfying. I’ve always been interested in fixing things, and even more interested in working with wood.

Over the years, I’ve learned a lot — there’s a huge difference between the work I do today and the funky 1×10 knotty-pine nailed-together bookcase I built for my bedroom as a kid. Today, the jobs I enjoy most, and the ones I make the most money on, involve fine finish work, including custom cabinets, bookcases, and built-ins of every type. Read the full article…

Not So Big

A not-so-big carpenter gears up: Shopping for equipment to fit size small in an industry that caters to XXL.

I’ve been a woman in the construction trades for over twenty years now. I’ve learned to frame, finish and fix along with the other guys. I can trade job-site humor with the best of them, and I can even deal with patronizing salesmen, with their soft pink hands and spotless work boots. But for me the hardest part of all has been finding professional clothing and equipment that fits a not-so-big carpenter. Read the full article…

Story Poles for Stairs

A simple tool takes the guess work — and a lot of the brain work — out of making safe comfortable stairs.

Every time I’m asked to bid or to build a set of stairs, I unroll the plans, look at the details, and shake my head. Architects rarely include and often they don’t even have the basic information I need, the few specifications that allow me to build a staircase that will meet the stringent requirements of building code in my area. Read the full article…

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