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Articles by Jed Dixon

Twenty-four Tips on Stair Building

A handsome staircase is always the glory of any home interior. It is also subject to many onerous contemporary code requirements, and requires the highest level of finish carpentry in the house. Planning ahead is all important. Many carpenters and not a few architects have heard me say that the best way to design a house is to design the handrail first, then the rest of the stairs, and then the rest of the house will fall in around it. I’m joking—or at least people laugh at me! But after all, how many of us haven’t faced the miserable puzzle of squeezing a code stair into an inconvenient (or worse) space? So it’s important to design the stair before you build it.

Read the full article…

Turning Stair Balusters

Design, Tools, & Lathe Work

My wife, Helen, is a grammar school teacher—third and fourth grades. For over twenty years, every weekday evening, as soon as dinner is finished, Helen carries a pile of papers to the dinner table and sets about grading each one, with diligence and care, because in the end—regardless of the ruling political party or that year’s favorite flavor of curriculum—Helen’s responsibility is to the children, her students.

Carpenters have a similar responsibility—though assuredly not one with such monumental impact. Read the full article…

Raking Cornice: Part 3

Developing and Producing Rake Crown with a Shaper and Band Saw 

The most important part of carpentry is design. If the design isn’t right, if the drawings are mediocre or worse, no amount of joinery skills will save a project from failure. Unfortunately, executing proper drawings prior to cutting wood and creating sawdust isn’t a common component on jobsites today. Read the full article…

Get Your House Right

It’s easy to distinguish between a two-hundred-year-old colonial house and a modern imitation—and not just because McMansions are puffed-up and super-sized. There’s a mysterious quality in a well-designed home—grace, proportion, something almost ineffable about the way they look “right.” Many older homes share that mysterious quality; few modern ones do. Read the full article…

Grinding Custom Shaper Knives

Learning to make your own tools is a step up for the serious woodworking carpenter

Most of my work is at the high-end of the New England custom home market. For the jobs I do, in Boston brownstones that even today sell for several million dollars, there are no off-the-shelf parts—everything is completely custom, or an exact reproduction of work done in the 18th or 19th centuries. 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…