Most contractors and carpenters are familiar with ‘once in a lifetime jobs.’ For some of us, a once-in-a-lifetime job is simply having a client that appreciates your work, and when the job is finished, doesn’t complain about your final invoice (with all the extras!). Instead, they just write you a check and say thank you, from the heart.
But this article isn’t about one of those once-in-a-lifetime jobs. This is about one of those jobs where you have to stretch your skills, learn techniques you never imagined using, and make something that’s truly memorable. That was the experience I’ve had working with Gary Katz, especially building his new patio cover—a faux timber-frame challenge of design, layout, and joinery.
Most of the challenging framing was simplified by Todd Murdock’s detailed plans, and especially by the full-size templates, which we printed at the local builder’s print store.
And, the unsung hero of this build was Gary’s shop! Having that much space and the right kind of tools available made the work that much more enjoyable.
(Note: Click any image to enlarge)
We shot a lot of photos during this build, and wanted to show as many of them as possible, which is why this article reads a bit like a comic book—most of you will just look at the pictures and get it.
With full-size templates, all of the decorative details (from the king posts to the cloud lift beams) were easy to cut.
A 3/4-in. carbide band saw blade was just the right size for ripping straight cuts, and for cutting large radius profiles, too.
Most of the details were on the plans, but I’ve never met a designer or architect who catches everything. Todd had no way of measuring the exact slope of the old patio cover roof, which years before had been turned into living space. Rather than get technical about it and pull out a digital angle finder, I just measured the slope with my bevel finder.
Then I used that angle to rip the 4×6 for that wall—which allowed us to raise the bottom of the roof so that we’d have enough room to install casing above the entry door—otherwise, that last rafter, which attached directly to the house, would have clipped the door casing.
We ordered all the close-grain Douglas fir beams from a custom supplier five hours away, in Portland, Oregon. Unfortunately, some of the pieces weren’t planed square, which made joinery a little challenging.
Before making any cuts with the 10-in. circular saw, I made sure the table was perfectly square to the blade.
We didn’t order extra material, so I used templates to guide the saw for each cut. The back set from the blade to the edge of the fence on my saw is exactly 2 in.
I wasn’t going to take a chance on making an imperfect cut, and besides, the out-of-square beams gave me enough headaches.
To make sure the joints closed up tight, I hollowed out the cuts, first using a circular saw.
I removed even more material with my grinder, to be sure nothing would interfere with the joinery. I can get a lot closer to the edges of the cut with the grinder.
Another challenging area of the framing design was where the hip and valley rafters landed. Todd and Gary wanted to eliminate a post needed to carry the last common rafter that tucked under the existing carport. In order to do that, we cantilevered the header using a site-welded steel gusset. Gary had some square tube laying around, and fortunately, we had an award-winning welder working on the job—Gary’s full-time carpenter/camera man/mechanic, Devin, who cut and welded the 1/4-in. x 2-in. steel supports, and sprayed two coats of primer on them, too.
To cut the mortises, I used a plunge router with a 3/4-in. cutter and a router fence.
We attached the steel gussets with 4-in. Simpson SDWS structural screws.
Once the steel was fastened, we drew the joint together with 10-in. torx-head timber framing bolts, first pre-drilling so we could install 1-in. dowel plugs over every bolt.
We used a steel gusset to join the headers on the valley side, as well, even though it wasn’t necessary. But, having that connection pre-assembled sure made the installation a lot easier. I started with inline temporary posts, set outside the footprint of the actual post locations. Once we had the headers in place, I used shims to make everything perfectly level, then I checked to be sure the headers were parallel, from the house to the hip/valley and the short turn toward the carport, too.
The first truss went up against the stone chimney, which required some grinding, a chisel, a single-jack, and some cussing, but we got the truss plumb and as tight as possible to the chimney.
The remainder of the commons went up 1-2-3, just like that. It’s really sweet when skillful planning works out and a job comes together easily.
Where the bottom chords landed over the steel gussets, we drilled through the trusses, marked holes in each gusset, then drove in 10-in. timber framing screws, securing the trusses to the beams.
Because Todd provided us with excellent drawings and numbers to use to build the hip/valley truss, it went up just like a common. Nice and easy. As with all of the trusses, we just had to make sure that they all were fastened off in alignment.
But all that prep work paid off—not only were the backing angles for the sheathing right on, but the plumb cuts for the rain gutters were perfect, too.
On the back side of the roof, we had two hip jacks. We installed those short rafters without bottom chords, which kept the area beneath the roof more open and simple.
Because of the strange design—the combination of the old patio cover and the gable, we couldn’t extend the low-slope roof far enough to cover Gary’s barbecue (which, as you all know, is a huge priority in any design!), so we changed the rafter direction and added a section wide enough to keep the cooker dry.
Turns out, this “pop out” added some visual interest and created a natural walkway to the fire pit.
The sheathing went pretty fast! 1 1/2-in. T&G usually does, except for the pieces that abutted the stone chimney.
I like using a Collins Coping Foot for most scribing, because you can back cut and clear away any obstructions. And by holding the jigsaw beneath the workpiece, you can guide the blade to the scribe line with deadly precision and avoid a lot of tear-out.
I’m so used to seeing Gary at his miter saw that, between you and me, I have to look at this photo twice to make sure that it’s Gary using the chainsaw! When we started remodeling the carport, that chainsaw sure came in handy for rough cutting beams down to a manageable size.
Once again, for the carport, Todd created full-size templates for the cloud lifts, each requiring two stacked pieces of 6x.
To use the templates, we had them printed to scale, glued them to a piece of 1/4-in. plywood, and then cut them out.
I carefully positioned a pair of 10 x 100 mm. Dominoes on each side.
Then used the Domino XL to cut tight mortises.
We glued up the 4×12 blanks with Titebond III—lots of it.
And temporarily fastened clamping cauls using self-drilling fasteners in areas of what would later be waste wood.
Without the cauls, the clamps would have slipped right off.
The sun ray details didn’t require a glue-up, so using a template, I laid out several of them across the length of a 4×12, careful to keep the grain parallel with the long dimension of each ray.
Gary usually keeps a 1-in. carbide re-saw blade in his bandsaw, but for this work, we used a 3/4-in. blade, which made it possible to follow the radius along the cloud lifts.
Sometimes synchronicity is funny. A few days before we started work on these beams with curved cuts, Jed Dixon sent Gary a Radius Plane.
I’d never seen one before, but boy did that thing come in handy! At first I thought it was some antique relic, but for cleaning up the radius cuts, it was a workhorse. I adjusted the plane until the sole sat comfortably on the radius, and in minutes I removed all the bandsaw marks.
Working with Douglas fir isn’t always fun. The tiny splinters suck—you know, the ones you have to perform deep surgery to remove. And big splinters happen, too, like this tear out. We chopped out the split and squared up the mortise.
Then cut a Dutchman, trimming the mortise a little more so the fix was nearly invisible.
When assembly time came, once again, having a huge shop space—with twin worktables at the same elevation—was a real pleasure.
You’ll notice we hogged out the end of that decorative flat truss so it would slip over the electrical conduit running up the post of the carport. I secured the cloud lifts using timber screws, too, counter boring so we could plug each hole with a Douglas fir dowel, which Gary later turned on the lathe.
We counter bored all the fasteners that penetrated the bottom chord, too, then routed out a mortise so we could later install a false decorative tenon.
After everything was pre-finished, we jumped up on the scaffolding. The cloud-lift trusses had to be installed in pieces—they were too heavy to lift fully assembled.
First we installed the top chord, then the end water-fall brackets, and then the 6×12 cloud lifts.
Once again, everything was fastened with timber screws—nearly all of them hidden beneath other pieces. And, because we had pre-assembled all of the components in the shop, the assembly on the scaffolding was easy because the timber screws already had holes to fall into.
Before hanging the bottom chords, we temporarily fastened blocks on the posts, then shimmed off of those blocks to get a super tight fit.
All the joints were ‘emphasized’—in other words, eased every edge before assembly, which made the joinery much more forgiving, but still, the pieces had to butt tight.
The sun-ray trusses were much smaller and lighter, making them easy to install in one piece.
Still, I blocked them up temporarily, then raised them that last little bit with shims.
This photo might make it look like we’re finished, but only because all the material was prefinished!
We still had to install decorative posts and horizontal braces! I know, I know—it’s just a carport!!! But, it’s Gary Katz’s carport!!!
Since the decorative posts weren’t structural—they weren’t bearing on a real foundation, just six or eight inches of concrete, we used the horizontal braces to secure the posts—drilling through the braces so we could run long fasteners through the structural posts. Yes, out came the door tools—a lock boring jig is an awesome tool for drilling deep holes!
Before installing that false tenon, I ran a long bolt through the raw decorative post, through the horizontal brace, and into the structural post.
Wait! Don’t leave, I’m almost done!
We built the tapered columns in the shop, assembling three sides and pre-finishing everything, including the top capitals. I cut a scribe block the exact thickness of those caps, and scribed a line around each column.
I cut the tops of the columns with a cordless saw. You can see that we made the columns from 5/4 and 3/4 WindsorONE—rabbeting the 5/4 to accept the 3/4.
With the columns back on the stone pedestals, I slid the caps into place, gluing up the Domino joints.
The last step was securing the face of each column, which Gary wanted removable so that it would be easy to reach the electrical and the drip irrigation tubing for hanging pots.
This project was a one-of-a-kind for me, and all in all, a total success.
I know I had a great time, even throughout the head scratching moments, and don’t think for even a second that Gary wasn’t having himself a great time, also!!!
And if all the photos in this story weren’t enough for you…here’s a video!