Tuesday, May 3, 2011

What are you building?

Here is a small insight, just a tiny one, you might find useful.

One of our every-spring projects is our gradual cabin. Last spring we learned how to set up and stabilize a foundation, so last year it was just a tent platform with a big tarp over it. This spring we are learning how to frame walls, and the cabin will soon be a screen house (with a big tarp over it). Next year, finances and spare time willing, we will learn how to build roof trusses, and it will be a screen house with a good solid roof. Eventually it will get walls and windows and insulation and become a cozy little cabin with all the amenities. That's the plan anyway.

A few weeks ago we built the two through walls, eight feet long, with common studs placed 16 inches on center. (Note the rank amateur's snobbish parading of knowledge.) Then we built the first butt wall, eight feet minus two wall widths long, with common studs placed 16 inches on center.

So there we were, about to start building the last wall: last because it had the complicated door opening in it. (We avoided window openings by saying we'll have ... thin windows that fit between 16 inch studs. Yeah, thin windows, that's the ticket. What can I say? Gradual buildings look gradual even when they are done.) So I'm sitting in the living room looking up door framing one more time, and I come across this paragraph in The Black and Decker Complete Outdoor Builder:
If the wall is a butt wall, mark the plate at 1 1/2", then move the tape so the 3 1/2" tape mark is aligned with the end of the plate. Keeping the tape at that position, mark at 15 1/4" (for 16" spacing) or 23 1/4" (for 24" spacing) then mark every 16" (or 24") from there. The 3 1/2" that are "buried" account for the width of the through wall.
On seeing this I do what I usually do when skimming: see a lot of numbers, think "ugh, numbers, complicated" and skip it. But this time something holds me back. I go back and stare at the paragraph again. It seems to mean something. I read it several more times and meaning begins to emerge.

Here, I will graciously translate it into non-expert-carpenter-speak for you. It says:
The butt wall is shorter than the through wall, because it doesn't go through. It butts up against the wall that does go through. That's why we call it that. The edge of the butt wall is not the edge of the building. It's not even the edge of the wall, once you put the walls together.
So if you want your standing-up boards to be correctly placed, so that when you nail your pieces of plywood onto them you are not nailing into nothing, you had better not put them 16 inches from the end of the butt wall, but 16 inches from the end of the building. That includes the end of the through wall.
So ... if you already did put the studs in the wrong place, take the wall apart and move them. Now.
As I took apart the wall and moved the studs I pondered this revelation. (Luckily I always use screws so I can take things apart after I ... provide illustrative examples of things not to do. You know, teaching a child, you have to make these sacrifices.) I had made a conceptual blunder: I thought I was building a wall. But I was not building a wall, I was building a house. If I had not happened upon that paragraph before I put the walls together I would have added the double plates on top, put on the screening, and found out only years from now that I had nothing to nail the wall sheathing onto. 

I find I like this visual image a lot: the wall itself, the wall in place, the studs where they seem to belong, the studs where they do belong. I find I can use it in many domains. Say you are building a story, a data set, a report, a solution, an initiative, a software product, a career, relationship, a life. Are you building a wall? Are you sure? Is that the only thing you are building? Is building a wall getting in the way of building a house? Where might you try to fasten something on, years from now, and find only thin air where there should be support?

Useful questions?


Unknown said...

Cynthia, you say a lot more here than I'll refer to in this comment, but I can only say this: a few years ago I bought a storm door that I installed in front of our entry door.

Being that the door was from Home Depot, the instructions were voluminous. Despite a close reading and a valiant attempt to mount the door properly, I found that I had made one significant mistake. I had installed the door UPSIDE DOWN. Once I unscrewed all those screws and put the door right side up, it didn't take all that long to get it done properly.

But it seems that this approach is pretty commonplace; especially with a task that's new to you, do your best to do it right the first time, but be prepared to back out the screws and try another approach.

regards, John

Cynthia Kurtz said...

John, thanks for the comment! In the case of your door, maybe you were building Pippi Longstocking's house - wasn't it upside down? Or no, whose house was that? Somebody lived in an upside-down house. Now I will have to figure that out.