The Trades

Research, insights and advice from craftsmen and industry experts

What Is an Architect Scale Ruler and How Do You Use One?

Architectural plans are drawn to all different scales, ranging from the simple (1 inch = 1 foot) to the complex (3/16 inch = 1 foot). Plans are often drawn at 3/4, 3/16, 1/8, and other scales (in each case the dimension in inches here corresponds to one foot). 

When you’re faced with figuring out how to convert a two-inch line drawn at a 1/4-inch scale on one drawing to another plan that uses a scale of 1/16 of an inch, the math can quickly become confusing. Fortunately, an essential tool of architects makes the process of decoding the scale of architectural and engineering drawings simple—an architect’s scale ruler (also known as an architectural scale ruler).  

What is an architect scale ruler? 

A triangular architect scale has a total of six edges, often with two different scales—say both 1 inch to 1 foot and a ½-inch to 1 foot—represented on the same edge. Some sets with multiple rules can include up to 16 scales. These...

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What Is a Shear Wall and Why Do Buildings Need Them?

Being able to identify the various types of walls on a structural plan is an essential skill, but it’s also important to know what makes each type of wall unique. Professional builder Jordan Smith explains in his Introduction to Reading Blueprints course:

“When you're reading a blueprint, you understand that all walls are not the same. You have shear walls, you have load-bearing walls, and you have architectural walls.”

What is a shear wall? 

While columns and load-bearing walls keep buildings standing up, carrying the compression load of the structure down to its foundation, the shear wall is what keeps structures from blowing over, resisting the lateral forces of wind and seismic activity.

How do shear walls work?

Understanding all the physics of shear walls may require an education in structural engineering, but a simple way to grasp how they operate is to imagine a wooden square with four edges—essentially two columns and two beams. This...

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What Is a Stem Wall Foundation and How Is It Different From a Monolithic Foundation?

Stem walls are the backbones of one of the five types of house foundations common in the United States, crawl space foundations. Here are the basics of how these short walls hold up large houses. 

What is a stem wall? 

A type of foundation common in much of the United States, stem walls are short (up to several feet, or the height of a crawl space) and are attached to a concrete footing. They are typically used in houses with crawl spaces, either vented or unvented, and are especially common in California, Texas, the Northwest, and the South. They are also a popular choice among architects designing homes in areas where earthquakes occur frequently. 

Stem walls wouldn’t be used in houses with full basements, common in much of the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast as well as the Midwest, or those raised atop piers to sit above flood levels, as with those built in some coastal areas.

What are the advantages of stem wall foundations?

There are many reasons why crawl space...

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The Trades: An Opportunity of a Lifetime

construction trades May 06, 2020

Industry Growth

Demand for trades and craftspeople has always been high.  According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of construction laborers is projected to grow 11% from 2018 to 2028, much faster than the average of all occupations (5.2%).  For specialized and experienced tradespeople, demand follows a similar pattern.  Job growth for electricians is 10%, for plumbers 14%, for weldsmen.  Demand for these workers is driven from new construction and the maintenance of existing buildings.

Shrinking Labor Force

In contrast, the supply of talented craftspeople is getting smaller and smaller.  In 2017, workers age 55 and older made up nearly a quarter of the construction and manufacturing workforce, a share that has increased by 15 percentage points in the last 25 years.  As these craftspeople retire, the “grey tsunami” will exacerbate labor shortages.  This “grey tsunami” is also worrisome since these...

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