The Trades

Research, insights and advice from craftsmen and industry experts

11 Essential Hand Tools Every Builder Needs

The tools that do-it-yourself enthusiasts use at home and the tools that professional builders use on construction sites are the same essential tools, but each version is made with a different user in mind.  

In general, tools designed for pros are going to be designed for constant use, precision, and mobility. Because they are designed to last longer, pro tools are often more expensive than tools for the DIYer—but they will likely outlast and outperform the cheaper versions. Professional grade tools are also usually more portable, with cordless features, clips, and other mechanisms that allow you to keep your tool at the ready.

11 Essential Tools Every Builder Needs

Professional builders should have the tools needed for specialty work as well as a lean toolkit of multipurpose hand tools that can work through a variety of jobs in a pinch. Professional builder Jordan Smith’s top ten essential hand tools are tools every builder should have from day one on the...

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70 Essential Construction Terms Every Aspiring General Contractor Should Know

construction basics Dec 28, 2020

Like any industry, the construction industry comes with its own set of lingo and terminology unique to the field. A working understanding of this builder’s glossary (although by no means exhaustive) will help you begin to understand and communicate construction concepts on the job site and across teams.

Construction design terms

On job sites, terms like “architectural drawings” and “blueprints” are ones you’ll hear often, especially if you are in construction management. Understanding their basic parts will help engineers, contractors, designers, and builders to execute the construction accurately.

1. Architectural drawing: The technical rendering of a house or other structure that is both an illustration of what the final home will look like.

2. Blueprints: Technical drawings created by architects, engineers, and designers that illustrate all the construction specifics of a house from below ground level, to the tallest ceiling.

3....

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What Is Cyanoacrylate (Super Glue) and How Does It Work?

construction materials Dec 28, 2020

Cyanoacrylate is a group of adhesives that form long and strong polymeric chains in the presence of water. If that term isn’t familiar, you may recognize the brand names of the most popular types of cyanoacrylate adhesives—Super Glue and Krazy Glue. 

This type of glue is, in fact, super, crazy strong, with tensile strengths reaching up to 4,000 psi (depending on the material it is bonding) and without any of the mess of a two-part epoxy system. 

Given its strength and the relative ease of use, you might wonder why its use is limited to small repairs. Cyanoacrylate has proven revolutionary in the areas of industrial, medical, and technological production and yet it doesn’t play a large part in erecting buildings, because it’s not a great structural adhesive.

How Does Cyanoacrylate Work?

Cyanoacrylate’s acryl groups form polymers in the presence of moisture. “Because moisture is so abundant in our atmosphere,” professional builder...

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5 Common Types of Adhesives For Every Building Project

Uncategorized Dec 27, 2020

The first adhesives were made by boiling animal hides, hooves, and horns to extract collagen, which was the basis of hide glue. The sticky substance was used in furniture making, book binding, and repairs to pottery and other objects. 

Today, most glues are made from polymers, a group of chemical compounds that consist of large molecules with repeating subunits. The molecular structure of polymers give them their toughness and elasticity, making polymers (both natural and manmade ones) ubiquitous in daily life. Wool, rubber, Styrofoam, and epoxy are just a few of the polymers that you likely already know. 

Read on to learn about four common types of polymer-based glue. 

1. Cyanoacrylate, AKA superglue


Cyanoacrylate is a group of adhesives that form long and strong polymeric chains in the presence of water. If that term isn’t familiar, you may recognize the brand names of the most popular types of cyanoacrylate adhesives—Super Glue and Krazy Glue.

This...

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What Is Compression Force?

construction basics Dec 27, 2020

A fundamental concept engineers, architects, and builders need to thoroughly understand before undertaking work on any structure—from single-family homes to massive bridges and skyscrapers—is the idea of compression vs. tension. A tension force is one that pulls materials apart, while a compression force squeezes elements together. Every material has the capacity to hold up to a certain amount of compression and a certain amount of tension. 

To show the difference between compression and tension, engineering instructors often demonstrate with a material like rope, which can support a large amount of tension, or pulling before it fails, but has virtually no compression strength, since if you push on it from opposite sides, it will simply bend.

What is compression force?

The compression strength of a material is its ability to withstand external forces that push on it. When a column supports a load from above, it is under compressive stress. On a molecular level, the...

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A Guide to the 5 Types of Building Construction

construction basics Dec 24, 2020

Construction projects can be classified according to a number of criteria. Buildings may be categorized, to pick a few examples, according to their owners (say, public versus private), the materials used to build them, or their uses. The last in that list are also known as occupancy classifications and they are the basis of chapter 3 of the International Building Code (IBC) which divides structures into categories including assembly (both churches and restaurants), residential, institutional, and storage. (The IBC is a code that serves as the basis for local and state codes and helps assure that there are consistent standards within the United States.) 

The five building types discussed here, however, describe the necessary level of fire resistance that a building should have—which is determined largely by the size of the building and its intended use or occupancy. A 30-story apartment or office building (Type I) has more stringent fire resistance standards than a...

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5 Best Caulk Guns According to Professional Builder Jordan Smith

hand tools Dec 24, 2020

Adhesives are becoming more and more common on construction jobs, and the tool you need to work with them is a caulking gun. 

Caulking guns come in a range of sizes from smaller 10-ounce models good for home improvement, to battery powered sausage guns for pros who work with adhesives all day. Using a caulking gun requires a lot of repeated motion, so make sure that if you’re using one often you spend a little more to get a gun that is comfortable in your hand with easy triggering.

Why a Caulk Gun Is an Essential Tool for Builders

“The number one cause for residential construction litigation is water infiltration, so we have got to keep water outside of our buildings. There's a lot of different strategies for that, but one of the detail strategies that we use is caulking.” - Jordan Smith 

Silicone caulking and other types of caulks and adhesives prevent water infiltration which is absolutely essential in construction. Just like any builder needs a...

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Wrenches 101: Uses and Types of Wrenches

hand tools Dec 23, 2020

Wrench sets aren’t a tool bag necessity if you’re primarily working with wood, but every builder should have a few multipurpose wrenches on hand to drive lag screws, level equipment, and make adjustments to fixtures and appliances. Professional builder and craftsman Jordan Smith recommends keeping a few adjustable wrenches on hand along with any specialty wrenches you need for your trade.

“As far as wrenches go in construction, you're mostly working with wood and you're not doing a whole lot of metal and bolts, but you do want a few good wrenches in your tool bag.” - Jordan Smith

What is a wrench?

The job of a standard wrench is to tighten or loosen nuts and bolts to fasten a joint. The head of the wrench fits over the nut providing leverage to tighten or loosen it. 

When you think of the classic home improvement wrench, you’re most likely picturing a crescent wrench. It’s a one-sided wrench with a curved head with an opening to slide...

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How to Use a Chalk Line

hand tools Dec 23, 2020

When you hear the term “chalk line,” it can refer to either the tool or the line that the tool creates. A chalk line tool is made of a body (also called a chalk box) that contains colored, powdered chalk and a long reel of string. You pull the string out, snap it against a surface to mark a line, and wind it back up. 

A chalk line is a handy tool to mark a straight line when you do not have a ruler handy and for marking a line over a long distance of 30 to 40 feet and beyond. It’s not going to give you a perfectly straight line so it is not a substitute for a straight edge when you need an exact measurement, but it’s great for when almost-straight will do.

How to use a chalk line

A key point to remember when using a chalk line is that the person who walks is the person who pops. That means if you are the one walking the tool to the other end of the distance you are measuring, you are the one who pops the line over the surface. Your helper on the other...

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How to Use a Speed Square

“There's so much math that this takes care of for you, where you don't have to figure it out with a calculator. Look at all of the features that a speed square has to offer, and then learn how to use them—that's the biggest thing that I can recommend. -Jordan Smith

A speed square is a simple, inexpensive, and lightweight hand tool essential for doing construction math. Beyond math, it has a multitude of uses on any job site. You can use it to determine a roof pitch, mark angles, guide saw cuts, scribe straight lines, and check if something is square. It’s also made of a singular piece of metal or plastic so that if it hits the ground while you’re working, it will still remain true.

What is a speed square?

Despite the word “square” in the name, a speed square is actually a right triangle with a perfectly 90 degree (square) edge and two 45 degree corners. It can also be referred to as a rafter square, triangle square, steel square, carpenter...

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