The Trades

Research, insights and advice from craftsmen and industry experts

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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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 describe a piece of...

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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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