The Trades

Research, insights and advice from craftsmen and industry experts

The Best Utility Knives According to Professional Builder Jordan Smith

construction basics Oct 14, 2020


“If you're only going to buy one knife to carry on you when you are working in construction, I would recommend getting a very good box cutter.” - Jordan Smith

The words box cutter and utility knife are sometimes used interchangeably, but utility knives made for building professionals can do much more than slice through packing tape and cardboard. 

Standard box cutters are inexpensive and useful in their own right. They’re great for DIYers but aren’t tough enough to handle constant use on a construction site, or to cut though heavier materials like drywall and shingles. A pocket knife can often do the job, but a quality utility knife will do it safer and last longer.

Why Utility Knives Are an Essential Tool for Builders

“Make sure that you have a good quality [utility] knife on you because you'll be using it no matter what trade you decide to go into.” - Jordan Smith

Professional builders should have the tools they need to do their...

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Live Loads vs. Dead Loads vs. Environmental Loads

construction basics Oct 14, 2020

One crucial aspect of a building’s structural integrity is its ability to resist various kinds of loads—that is, forces that cause stresses or deformations, or accelerations. Factors such as the weight of the structure itself and the building materials used to build it, the weight of the occupants of the building and their possessions (such as furnishings), and the pressure exerted by environmental factors like wind and rain create loads on a structure. The simple idea behind loads is that they are a ratio of the theoretical strength of the structure to the maximum load they would be expected to bear. 

Building codes dictate the load size that structures—and component parts of structures—must be designed for, based on the nature of their intended use. 

The three primary categories of loads that engineers must factor into their designs are:

  1. Live loads, which are transient forces that act on a building 
  2. Dead loads, which are the static forces...
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The 3 Best Framing Hammers According to Professional Builder Jordan Smith

construction basics Oct 13, 2020


If you are getting into framing, you’re going to want to buy a dedicated framing hammer.” - Jordan Smith 

For the home builder, a classic claw style hammer is likely enough to do the job, but anyone getting into professional framing needs a framing hammer. They are more heavy duty than general construction hammers and have a few key features that make framing jobs much easier. 



What is a framing hammer? 

There are dozens of different hammer types for nearly every profession in the building trades, but a framing hammer is designed specifically to make framing jobs easier. Compared to a trim or finish carpentry hammer, a framing hammer will have a longer handle, more swing, and a heavier weight for driving nails in more easily. 

Framing hammers also feature a milled face for strong metal-to-metal grip on nail heads. Some will have magnetic nail start, or other special features like a side nail puller or tooth for board...

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The Ultimate Guide to Choosing a Hammer for Any Kind of Construction Work

construction basics Oct 13, 2020

So many hand tools have been replaced by power tools in the construction industry, but hammers have remained an essential hand tool in every builder’s toolbelt. There is a vast range of hammer types specific to different types of work like framing, masonry, finish carpentry, electrical, and demo work. 

Often, the type of materials that you will be working with will dictate what type of hammer you should buy, but everyone who works in construction should also own a classic claw hammer—simple, multipurpose, and handy for a variety of different building and demolition tasks.

“Anything in the construction industry is going to be powered, right? We just don't have time to be making saw cuts with [a hand saw]. This has definitely been replaced by power tools. However, the hammer hasn't—we still use hammers every single day. It's probably the most reached-for tool in your tool belt.” -Jordan Smith

How to Choose a Hammer

“Don't get the cheapest...

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Dimensional Lumber: Types, Sizes, History

The construction of buildings today would be significantly more challenging without standardized materials. If every pipe fitting, window pane, and HVAC system had to be custom designed, the time and labor involved in building even a modest bungalow would be prohibitively expensive. 


Standardization—the production of materials following uniform, industry-wide dimensions—has been crucial in allowing architects and builders to construct our modern cities, suburbs, and towns. Wood was among the first materials to undergo this process of standardization. Large timbers were transformed into a material used to build the structures of most American houses:  dimensional lumber.


What is dimensional lumber?

Dimensional lumber is cut and finished lumber (planed on all four sides) that comes in standardized sizes. These lumber sizes are typically described in inches in the United States and in millimeters in most other countries. The two numbers used to...

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What Is Finish Carpentry? Job Duties, Skills, Tools

construction careers Oct 09, 2020

Once a house is framed and dried in with the roof, windows and doors installed, and all the plumbing, wiring, drywall and insulation are in place, it’s time to start finishing the interior. This is when a finish carpenter comes in.  

Whereas framing carpenters, or rough carpenters, build the structures of a house and install exterior doors and windows, finish carpenters focus on the numerous wood details that complete the interior of the home. They work alongside a number of tradespeople—all with individual areas of specialization—to finish an interior space.  

Finish carpentry includes interior trim and millwork, such as baseboards, stair railings, crown molding and casing around doors and windows, as well as cabinetry, built in furniture and other wood details.  Finish carpenters make sure that the doors and windows inside a house work properly and that all the final design features are harmonious together. Here is a guide to what finish...

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What Is the World's Strongest Wood? Top 5 Strongest Woods

In order to find the right wood for each type of construction project, builders refer to the strength of a wood.  Different woods, classified into hardwoods and softwoods, are good for different types of projects. 

Wood strength is not given in a single measurement. It is expressed using a number of measures, such as its density (the weight per a given volume); its compressive strength (or how great a weight a load of wood can bear parallel to the grain before it ruptures); its bending strength (a load of wood perpendicular to the grain); and its hardness. 

The strength of wood fiber is very consistent across all tree species, and the strength of the wood is dependent on how many fibers are packed into a given area.  Because of this fact, a wood’s density correlates very closely to its strength and hardness.  In other words, if you know a wood’s comparative density, you can get a good approximation of its hardness and strength.  


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Plumb, Level, Square, and True: What They Mean and How to Measure

hand tools Sep 25, 2020

Straight lines and right angles are must-haves for any construction project, whether it’s a wall, door, window, or entire frame. But “straightness” only goes so far—you can have a line that is perfectly straight (that is, not bending or curving), but if it’s not oriented correctly, it can still result in slanted walls or a sloping floor. 

That’s where level and plumb come in—both measure straightness, but with a different relationship to the horizon. “Level” refers to straightness side to side (horizontal), whereas plumb measures straightness up and down (vertical).  

But what does all of this mean in practice? Read on to find out the definitions of level, plumb, square, and true, how they’re different, and how to measure for each.  

What does “level” mean?

“Level” is what you call a perfectly horizontal line. Horizontal means side to side. To be level with the world means...

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Wood Density Explained, Plus Wood Density Chart

For thousands of years, wood has been used for construction, and for making tools, weapons, and furniture. Most simply described, wood is the structural tissue found in the stems and roots of trees. And as you can imagine, not every wood is the same. Some types of wood are more suitable for construction than others, depending on their physical properties—which include density, texture, strength, hardness, stiffness, moisture content, potential for shrinkage, deformation, splitting, and flammability. 

There are two primary types of wood—hardwood and softwood—and both are used in different types of construction projects. The basic difference between the two classifications is not in their actual hardness. Hardwood and softwood are distinguished in terms of their reproduction: hardwood comes from deciduous trees, which produces seeds with a covering (think walnut, maple and oak); while softwood comes from gymnosperm trees, which have needles and produce cones...

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Pressure Treated Wood: Benefits, Uses, Types, Grades

Wood is a plentiful, renewable resource and one that construction crews know well. It can also, however, be difficult to maintain, especially when it is exposed to the elements.

“An option that you have with dimensional lumber is to pressure treat it,” professional builder and craftsman Jordan Smith explains. “This prevents rot and fungus and bugs and other things that can destroy your material over time.”


Benefits of pressure treated wood

Thanks to its chemical and preservative treatment, pressure treated wood is resistant to many common problems.

  • Resistance to rot. The chemical compounds used to pressure treat wood make it resistant to fungi that cause wood to rot.
  • Protection from insects. Similarly, treatments repel common insect threats like termites and carpenter ants.
  • Cost. Pressure treated wood is more expensive than untreated wood but given that it can last for decades, it often ends up being more economical in the long run.
  • Ease of Use....
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