“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
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.
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.
“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...
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.
The three primary categories of loads that engineers must factor into their designs are:
If you are getting into framing, you’re going to want to buy a dedicated framing hammer.” - 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.
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...
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
“Don't get the cheapest...
You may notice that home builders sometimes use “drywall” and “Sheetrock” interchangeably, or even as verbs—as in, “I’m going to Sheetrock this room”. In fact, Sheetrock® is a brand of drywall that is a registered trademark of the U.S. Gypsum Company, but there are no functional differences between drywall and Sheetrock®.
Since its invention over a hundred years ago, drywall has eased the process of building a house and embarking on home improvement projects. Before the advent of drywall, builders had to apply plaster in layers on supporting wooden strips called laths. Each coat necessitated ample drying time, and the plaster needed time to harden at the end of the process. Needless to say, lath and plaster was inefficient.
The prototype for drywall—a layer of plaster between four layers of wool felt—was first made in the late 19th century and was called Sackett Board, for its inventor, Augustine Sackett. The...
Light frame construction (known simply as “framing” in residential construction) is the technique of creating a structure based on vertical components, known as studs, which provide a stable frame for interior and exterior wall coverings. Horizontal elements, called joists, run the length of the floor, or between walls or beams. The joists support ceilings and floors.
Today, platform framing—in which each story is framed on top of the previous one—is the method of choice among most builders. Using one floor as the platform for the construction of the next floor creates a stable work surface. It also allows builders to use widely-available pieces of dimensioned lumber, versus the longer or more natural cuts of wood used in older methods.
Timber framing, which involves fitting together large posts and beams and connecting them with wooden pegs, was popular in the 18th and 19th centuries. In timber...
An architectural plan, or set of blueprints, is created by architects, engineers, and designers to lay out all the construction specifications of a house, such as dimensions, building materials, installation methods, techniques, and even the order in which these things must be accomplished.
The number of details that must be included in a complete set of blueprints is so large that architects reduce the information on the drawings to a set of standardized symbols and abbreviations in order to make the drawing easier to read and less cluttered.
For reference, every set of architectural drawings includes a symbol legend. If you aren’t familiar with a symbol, you will be able to find it in the legend. Floor plan notes give additional context for the building. For instance, the notes can clarify exactly to what point on a wall dimensions should be measured.
Most plans include symbols that are a combination of:
One of the most important decisions you’ll make when building a house is determining the kind of foundation it will rest on. After all, the foundation serves the essential functions of keeping your home in place even as the ground beneath it might shift, insulating it, keeping the moisture out, and keeping it level—even if your house is built on a hill with a 45-degree angle. Builders choose foundations based on the home’s location and climate, soil conditions and area humidity, and of course, the budget.
There are five main foundation types and a handful of important variations.
A full basement foundation begins with a hole of at least eight feet deep to accommodate an underground living space whose floor space matches most or all of the home’s ground level. You’ll place structural foundation walls on concrete footings that run the perimeter of the basement. Those footings need to be...
Building architects and designers are responsible for communicating countless things about a building’s construction: where it should be located on the lot, how it should be built, what materials should be used, what it should look like, and where the MEP systems that make it function go. To save space on blueprints and simplify information sharing, designers use a set of abbreviations and acronyms.
Most of these abbreviations are standard across the trades. But some architects might use their own abbreviations that aren’t standard or well known. So the title page of the architectural package includes an abbreviations block to help you decode these custom...
A floorplan is the building plan that is most familiar to most people: a bird’s-eye view of a building with all the elements laid out on a horizontal plane. A section, however, gives a vertical view—which is equally essential.
Professional builder Jordan Smith likens sectional views to taking a laser and slicing it through a part of the construction, so that you can see how elements of a building fit together vertically. In his Introduction to Reading Blueprints class, he explains:
“On a floor plan, we take a laser and we cut the house in half horizontally. We set the roof off to the side, we look down from the top, and we see our walls and our floor without the roof getting in our way. Sections are very similar to a floor plan, but instead of looking from the top down, we're looking across at the vertical section of a house. We're looking at the exterior of a house, and then we take our laser and we cut a slice off the...