The Trades

Research, insights and advice from craftsmen and industry experts

Types of Plywood, Grades, and Sizes

wood Oct 21, 2020

While it was invented in England, plywood was enthusiastically embraced in the United States beginning in the 19th century. To this day it remains a primary material in construction and home improvement projects—by one estimate, more than 680 million cubic feet of plywood are produced each year. 

With many houses, plywood forms the walls and floors. It is what keeps a house standing and the elements outside. After a frame is constructed, it’s necessary to fill in the spaces between those supports with weather resistant material.

“You also have to wrap this skeleton in a skin that keeps it from blowing down to take care of shear,” explains professional builder and craftsman Jordan Smith. “We could put braces up that keep that sideways force from toppling the building over, but we still have to worry about stuff like air and moisture infiltration. It doesn't do us any good to build a bunch of walls with a framed skeleton and not have any way of...

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Wood Foundations: PWF Pros, Cons, and Considerations

wood Oct 21, 2020

One of the five types of foundations common in the U.S., wood foundations have been built for hundreds of years. In the middle of the 20th century, however, a new type of wood foundation emerged—the permanent wood foundation, or PWF. It uses pressure treated wood to create foundations that are resistant to both rot and damage from insects. PWFs can, however, lead to surprisingly heated discussions among architects and builders who have strong opinions about when or even if wood foundations are a good choice. 

What Is a Permanent Wood Foundation?

Though its name might lead you to believe that the entire foundation is of wood, in fact only the below-grade foundation walls of a PWF that are made of wood. The base is typically a concrete slab atop a bed of crushed rock or gravel. The wood used in PWFs is pressure treated with chromated copper arsenate (CCA). The copper part of the chemical treatment provides resistance to mold, fungus, and rot while the arsenate repels ants...

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Types of Wood for Building Projects

Wood was one of the first materials ever used and it is certainly one of the longest standing. There’s evidence that homes built more than 10,000 years ago used wood as their primary construction material. But for such a well-known umbrella term, it has hundreds of varieties, classifications, and grades that make some woods better than others for certain projects. 

Understanding the types of wood, their properties, and their applications is crucial for builders. And once you understand the main types of woods, learning how they are graded will help you select the right one for your project (and fight overwhelm at the lumberyard).

Finally, understanding the components of wood strength, such as hardness, density, compression strength, bending strength (or Modulus of Rupture), and specific gravity will help you choose among the many options you might encounter for a project.

What are the three main types of wood?

Builders refer to hardwood, softwood, and engineered wood for...

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Complete Guide to Lumber Grades

The idea of lumber should be simple: it is a log that has been sawn or cut to be used for building or woodworking projects. But the specifications of lumber are myriad—it’s sold in multiple sizes, cuts, and types. Furthermore, different types of wood have different characteristics, such as density, hardness, and compression strength, which make some types of lumber better for some projects than others.

If you know the basic characteristics of lumber, choosing the right pieces for the job can be much easier—and will help you avoid the potential pitfalls of using the wrong piece of wood for the job.

4 Characteristics of Lumber

Here are four important characteristics of lumber, all key as you choose which type of to use for certain projects:

  1. Density. One physical property of wood that builders must consider in their projects is density, or the actual wood material in a unit volume of wood. Expressed in units of mass divided by volume, the higher the number the...
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How to Square a Foundation Using Simple Construction Math

 A solid house begins with a properly constructed foundation, and common to almost all of them is that they have right angles at their corners. (Note: If you are building a fun house or an avant-garde building, some common rules may not apply.) If the corners of your foundation stray too far from right angles, then beams, joists, and other structural supports will fit together only loosely—or not at all. A corner with a right angle is known as perfectly “square.” 

The first step to laying out most larger foundations is to set up batter’s boards (these are, simply, stakes with horizontal crosspieces) in the corners just beyond where the foundation will sit. You’ll then use the batter’s boards as guides to where you will string lines along what will be the edges of the foundation. 

These guidelines will help you determine the exact locations where you’ll want to construct forms for the foundation.

How to Guarantee Your Corners...

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Pier and Beam Foundations: Pros, Cons, and Considerations

If you’ve seen a house on stilts, you are familiar with the basic concept of a pier-and-beam foundation, one of the five types of house foundations common in the United States. While the image that may come to mind is a house on ten-foot high stilts above wetlands in South Carolina or Louisiana, many houses in, say, the suburban Dallas Fort Worth area, follow the same basic model. With them, however, the stilt—or pile or post—is only a few feet tall and is not visible from the street, either hidden by the house’s siding or soil and plants. 

A typical pier-and-beam foundation includes three main elements: concrete piers, which anchor the house foundation to the ground; posts or piles, which run between the piers and horizontal beams; and wooden beams, which support the weight of the house. The different components of the foundation help explain why this type of foundation goes by a variety of different names: Pier and beam, pier and post, pier and pile,...

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The Best Utility Knives According to Professional Builder 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. 

“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

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. 

3 Types of Loads

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...
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The 3 Best Framing Hammers According to Professional Builder 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. 

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


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 straightening. These...

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

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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