Before you take one step up the ladder, collect essential tools of the framing trade

HOME WORK

March 20, 1993|By Karol V. Menzie and Randy Johnson

At long last, it's time to frame. We've set up the saw table and delivered the first load of lumber. The house is developing that characteristic pine aroma.

We didn't keep a lot of tools there during the demolition work, because it's not a good time to have stuff underfoot or to have heavy objects that need to be moved around. But now it's time to get out the toolbox.

Here's the inventory of tools that are essential for framing (and most do-it-yourselfers probably already have them):

* Hammer. Hammers used to be simple, but lately they've proliferated like video games. There are finish hammers, framing hammers, a deck hammer, even a California framing hammer (Columbia residents take note). Which one you use is a matter of personal choice.

People who do a lot of framing usually like a heavier hammer. Randy prefers a 20-ounce hammer; some people use a 22-ounce hammer with an extra-long handle for better reach. Randy's grandfather, who was trained as a cabinetmaker, had a series of hammers -- mostly 16-ounce hammers with handles he carved himself out of hickory.

His finish hammers had holes drilled in the bottom of the handle that he packed with beeswax. Sticking a nail into the wax before driving it reduced friction on the nail. Randy says despite the small hammers, he could hit a pretty big nail -- but he was a man with powerful arms.

* Saws. A power miter saw, or chop saw, is great for making straight, consistent 90-degree-angle cuts in 2-by-4s. With the chop saw you don't have to draw a line across each piece of lumber and you can set up a "fence," or stop block, to cut any number of 2-by-4s to the same length in a short period of time. However, because of the way it works, with the blade drawn down over the lumber, you need to pay close attention to where your thumbs are.

Whether you have a power miter saw or not, you'll need a portable electric circular saw. They will cut 2-by-4s (you'll have to draw lines) and everything else. The best ones are those with a horsepower of 2 or more. "Professional" models will last longer, but they're heavier -- which can be a concern in a hand-held tool.

And speaking of hands, if your elbow is in good shape, you can cut everything by hand. Randy, his father and his grandfather once built a cabin on top of a mountain with no electricity, just muscle power.

* Levels. Framed walls have to be vertically level -- "plumb" -- from top to bottom. In general, openings such as doors or windows should be level (horizontally) and plumb. (Framing around old openings may mean making some adjustments.) We use two levels, a long one for leveling studs vertically and a shorter one for window sills and lintels and other places where the longer one won't fit. Randy uses a 4-foot masonry level with metal edges; it takes a lot of abuse, including multiple plunges from a 10-foot ladder.

* Carpenters squares. Again, it's nice to have two, a larger one for squaring corners, and a smaller combination square for marking cutting lines on 2-by-4s.

* Tape measure. It's a small device, but it's the key to making the process move along swiftly. Modern building codes generally call for framing with studs (the upright posts) 16 inches "on center," or 16 inches from the center of one stud to the center of the next. If you use a long (25-foot or more) retractable and locking tape that is already marked in 16-inch increments, it's easy to mark both top and bottom plates at the same time, so you know where each stud goes and can be sure they'll be straight when they're nailed in place.

* Chalk line, or chalk box. This device marks straight lines and can be used horizontally or vertically. It's basically a string on a reel inside a holder filled with colored chalk. The string "stews" in the chalk until you need it; then you attach it to a nail at one end, reel it out to the end of the desired space, attach it to a nail at that end and "snap" the middle to transfer the chalk to the surface -- leaving a nice straight line as long as you need.

* Nails. Common wire nails come in various lengths, usually designated by the mysterious "penny," or "d." Nails can be as short as 4d (4-penny, 1 1/2 inches) or as long as 60d (60-penny, 6 inches). They also come in various thicknesses, but the thickness of the "common" nail usually will do. (There may be exceptions in some areas where building codes require special fasteners -- such as box nails, or glue-coated nails, for extra strength.)

For framing, we use 12d nails (12-penny, 3 1/4 inches), because they work for everything, from building the framing to nailing the new wall in place.

If you're going to do a lot of framing, you can save some money by buying nails in bulk -- 25- or 50-pound boxes -- instead of the 1-pound or 5-pound boxes sold in the do-it-yourself section of the hardware store. If you don't see bigger boxes, ask for them at the service counter.

* Miscellaneous. Obviously you need a ladder that's tall enough to allow you to reach the top of the wall comfortably. A tool belt with a metal ring for the hammer is nice; it can also hold the tape and a fair amount of nails. A couple of pens or pencils are nice; you should have one to take up the ladder and one to leave with the assistant who is cutting studs. Cedar shims are cheap, and can help make the framing fit more snugly.

* Finally, you need a good, loud radio or cassette player. It takes a lot of Springsteen to frame a house.

Next: The framing process.

Mr. Johnson is construction manager for Neighborhood Housing Services of Baltimore. Ms. Menzie is a feature writer for The Sun.

If you have questions, tips or experiences to share about working on houses, write to us c/o HOME WORK, The Sun, 501 N. Calvert St. Baltimore, 21278. Questions of general interest will be answered in the column; comments, tips and experiences will be reported in occasional columns.

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