The Trades

Research, insights and advice from craftsmen and industry experts

Best Drywall Anchors: 4 Types and Their Uses

construction materials Nov 09, 2020

“Use the right fasteners and the right anchors in the right situations and you’ll be much happier than just throwing a dry wall screw in for absolutely every application that you can think of.” - Jordan Smith

When you need to hang an item on an area of your wall where wall studs aren't available, a drywall anchor will do the trick. It’s tempting to use a fastener leftover from another project or whatever you have on hand (like a drywall screw), but it’s important to use the right fastener for the job. The object that you are hanging will be more secure and therefore safer, plus you will avoid damaging your walls. 

There are a variety of anchors made specifically for safely hanging objects on hollow walls, which range from lightweight jobs like hanging a small picture frame, to holding the weight of a full length mirror. Typically, the anchor package will list the maximum amount of weight that the anchor can hold, the size drill bit(s) you will...

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Concrete Fasteners: 7 Types and How to Use Them

construction materials Nov 09, 2020

Fastening in concrete may seem intimidating, but with the right tools and the right fasteners, it’s actually an easy job. All concrete fasteners require pre-drilling, so get yourself a hammer drill, a set of masonry bits, and the right protective equipment (more on that below) before you begin your project. 

3 Pro tips for fastening to concrete from professional builder Jordan Smith 

  1. Correct hole size is crucial when pre-drilling. Make sure you drill one quarter to one half of an inch further than the length of your fastener. If you don’t pre-drill deep enough, you’ll wind up with a fastener that’s not flush against the surface you’re fastening because it bottomed out into the hole. 
  2. Always vacuum the concrete dust out of your pre-drilled hole, to ensure that your anchor fits all the way into the hole, and doesn’t bottom out against debris. Some hammer drills have this function built in; if yours doesn’t, you can use a shop...
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What Is Epoxy and How Is It Used in Construction?

construction materials Nov 09, 2020

While you have likely heard of epoxy, or epoxy resins, you may not know exactly what this common adhesive is. Epoxy is a type of polymer, 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.  

This particular polymer plays an essential role in construction—as adhesives and in coatings. Epoxy resins include epoxides—highly reactive groups of molecules—that harden (or cure) through chemical reactions, which are caused either by combining it with other substances or heating it to a high temperature. This is the process through which an epoxy becomes “cross linked,” as polymer strands form into a hardened structure.

Epoxy Adhesives

Versatile, long-lasting, and with a...

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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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