Workshop Rafters

I’ve spent the last two weekends working on my workshop. The focus has largely been the roof rafters, but I did put up some wall sheathing to help keep the structure stable.

After having worked on the rafters, I’m very glad that our house will not have standard rafters with a bird’s mouth. I spent several hours looking at how my workshop book described the rafters and how to build them, trying to figure out the dimensions they provided and how I was supposed to cut them. This wasn’t all on-site, some time was before I got there.

I drew pictures. I dredged up my geometry lessons. I recalled, sine, cosine, and tangent to calculate angles. I relied on Pythagoras. I added angles to 180.

It all just didn’t seem to come out right on paper. The most confident number I arrived at seemed to indicate that I’d only have about 1/4 inch of my rafter bearing on my wall, and the rest of the bird’s mouth would be hanging out in space.

I figured maybe I was missing something in 2d that would become apparent in 3d and just took my best shot at cutting the rafters.

I cut them. I stood them up with a spare 2×6 to simulate the ridge board. It wasn’t right. My calculations on paper were correct and the rafter was only bearing on my wall by about a 1/4 inch on each side.

I looked back over my notes and calculations and scratched my head.

Then, I called my Uncle who lives in the area and went over to their house to see if they could help me figure out what was going wrong and how to fix it.

He took my diagram/dimensions and re-drew the rafter in his CAD software (literally, his CAD software as he helped write it). We discovered that the dimension that the book provided for the distance from the ridge board to the top of the bird’s mouth, was really the distance to the bottom of the bird’s mouth.

Fortified with proper dimensions, I returned to my campsite (since it was dark) and went to sleep.

The next day, I used my new measurements to cut another pair of rafters. With high hopes, I fitted them together…

Huh? Too far apart? My first pair were to close together (bird’s mouths were too far down the rafter). This pair was too far apart (bird’s mouths were not far enough down the rafter). What’s going on here?! Then I realized, the distance I had from my Uncle for the top of the bird’s mouth was after I’d mitered the rafter to butt against the ridge board – but I just measured that distance before I did any mitering, so I need to add 2 3/4 inches (the length of the short leg of the triangle I needed to miter off). Argh.

On my third try, I got the rafters cut correctly.

Testing rafter fit

This was the weekend of 7/7, 7/8 and I didn’t do much more on the workshop other than make cradles for my ridge board and start to get them set.

Last weekend (7/14, 7/15) I was able to work more effectively on the rafters since I had correct dimensions.

Nailing on rafters

Closer shot of rafters and workshop

Putting up walls

I was up again over the weekend, continuing construction on my workshop. This installment was walls.

The Lumber
This is the lumber that’s left from my drop after I got the floor built. I stacked it on the deck and covered it with a tarp before I left last time.

Cutting studs to length
I calculated that I needed 47 studs for my four walls. When I got finished, I had used 44 of them due to some estimation of how my door and window arrangement would go.

More cutting studs
The pile grows – I’m very glad that I won’t be stick framing our house.

Marking the plates for the long walls
After I got all my studs (and my plates) cut to length, I marked the plates for the long walls. My bottom plates are 16′ (the length of the shed) and my top plates are 19′ (so that the roof overhangs the shed). I marked plates for both walls at the same time because it seemed easier and I had the space for it. I used clamps to hold the lumber together while I worked.

First wall framed
My first wall is framed and awaiting help to stand it up! It took longer than I expected to put it together (I sense a recurring theme here) and I had to figure out how to hold the wall in place while I nailed it. I ended up nailing blocks to both sides of my deck, sticking up above the deck. They provided the resistance necessary for the nails to enter the wood and not just push the wood away.

Standing the wall
My cousin Jonathan (in the white shirt, helping me push the wall up), Uncle John (standing ready with the level), Jonathan’s fiance (11 days and it’ll be wife!) Jenn (taking pictures) and my Aunt Sandy (watching from a seat by the car) came to help me put up the wall.

Uncle John with the level
Once we had the wall up, Uncle John made sure it was plumb before we nailed in braces.

Me hammering a brace.
I had the braces (8′ long 2x4s) prepped with a nail just through on each side so we could just hold them against the wall and nail it down.

First wall up
The first wall is up! You can see the braces I nailed in (scrap joist material) as well as some little blocks of 2×4 scattered along the edge. Before the crew arrived, I used my pry bar to lever up the wall and slip some blocks underneath it so that it would be easier to lift.

Lumber for second long wall
Trimmers, cripples, headers, rough sill, jack studs and king studs all go into making a wall with a door and a window – in addition to the usual studs and plates. Everything is cut to length and ready to be assembled.

Font wall assembled
Here it is, assembled and ready to be raised. If you’ll look closely, I had to build it with the top plate inside the triangle formed by the wall that’s already up, it’s braces and the floor. There was no reasonable way to put this wall together on the deck without that. To raise it, we just took the braces off the back wall, made sure it wouldn’t fall down (the bottom plate was nailed down so that helped) then put the braces back up after the front wall was up.

Front wall block
Since I had to hang the front wall off the deck in order to have enough room to assemble it, I built some braces that I could nail against. That’s the part you can see. What you can’t see in the picture is that I also nailed a length of 2×4 to the other side of the “arm” to act as a “rail” for the wall to slide along as we lifted it up into place. This prevented it from dropping to the ground when we lifted and it worked quite well.

Front wall up
The front wall is up! We didn’t have any pictures taken during this process because it was more complicated (even with the help of my cousin Christopher) and everyone was focused on making sure that walls didn’t fall, braces were out of the way, walls were steadied, plumbed and re-braced. As you can see, I’ll have a large door on the left and a short, long window on the right. Figuring out how big those opening should be took some doing. I’m happy to say that the window fits admirably and I’m hoping that I left the correct amount of space for the door when it gets here in August.

Assembling an end wall
One of my end walls nailed together and ready to be raised.

All walls up!
All of my walls are now up! I was able to raise the short ones by myself and just clamp them to the long walls while I got them plumb.

View from the front
Another shot, from the front of the workshop and standing up on a stump to get a better shot.

What did I learn? Keep an eye on the angle that you’re holding the nail gun at when you nail your top plate on. It sucks to nail your wall to the floor and have to use a pry bar to get it up. I’ll have to deal with this (and a few more like it) when I’ve got a ladder up there and am working on the roof rafters.

Building a workshop

I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned this before, but I have no experience building a structure bigger than a small cabinet. Given this lack of experience, it may seem foolhardy to build your own house but I’m taking it in steps.

One of these steps is to build a small workshop. In addition to giving me some building experience, I am creating a structure that I can use for tool storage and some work during construction. The plans are directly from Ortho’s All About Backyard Structures and I started building over the weekend.

The Lumber
The lumber delivery I met on Friday. This is all the lumber I need for floor, walls rafters and roof sheathing. I will need to get some additional wall sheathing.

The Building Site
The building site on Friday afternoon before I started building.

First Skid Built Up
My skids are built up from three pressure treated 2x8s. They came 20′ long and I cut them down to 18′ then nailed them with galvanized 16d short nails. You can see the trench dug for the uphill skid (nearer) and the start of a trench for the downhill skid. My nail gun is also visible in the shot and I’m very glad I had it as I never would have gotten as far as I did if I were nailing everything by hand.

Rocking up the downhill trench
My downhill trench was too deep for the skid. My first attempt to bring the downhill skid to the level of the uphill skid was to put some rocks on each end. This however seemed a bit too unstable for me and I was worried about only supporting the weight at the corners.

Cinderblocks, not rocks
I decided that I really ought to do it right so I drove back into town and picked up some cinderblocks to raise the skid up.

All leveled out
Ah, that’s much better. All leveled out and both skids in place.

The level rock
Ok, so my cinder blocks aren’t quite level…but with the help of this rock, my skids are!

Floor Joist Box
Rim and end joists are squared and nailed. My rim joists are supposed to be 16′ long. I measured the 16′ boards I received at around 16′ 1/2″ and figure that it was close enough…this is a learning experience. The end and interior joists are 93″ long.

Laying the interior joists
The interior floor joists are laid in and nailed. I knew that they were supposed to be 16″ apart and figured that 16″ on center was the same as 16″ from one side to another. I learned my lesson when I nailed down my first 4×8 sheet of 3/4″ plywood and realized that one corner wasn’t supported. The plywood ended right where the joist began. Now I have a much better understanding of how to layout a floor so that the decking that’s supposed to go on top of it gets placed correctly. I was able to mitigate the situation by adding a couple blocks cut from the 2′ cutoffs I had, but it was a bit of a pain working underneath a nailed down sheet of plywood.

The finished floor
And here it is, in all its glory. Two days of hard work and I have a good, level space built entirely by myself on a slightly sloping hillside.

What have I learned?

  • When a piece of wood is supposed to be X feet long, cut it so that it’s X feet long. Don’t just go with it as you received it because it’ll come back to bite you.
  • Make sure of your joist layout and decking coverage before you nail down your decking. Working underneath the decking is not easy.
  • When you’re trying to level something, dig much deeper than you need to and buy lots of gravel. I was trying to save both money and trips into town by making the most of my limited gravel supply and just trying to level the ground with a shovel, but it would have been much easier to just dig deep and use more gravel.
  • Reading about something is not a substitute for actually doing it. I felt like I had a pretty good grounding in what I had to do based on what I’d read, but there’s still a lot to learn by doing.
  • Nail guns are just like many hands.
  • Measure twice, cut once – Whoa, this doesn’t fit at all! Oh, the opening is 14 1/2 inches, not 14 inches…wow…how’d I make that mistake?
  • It takes longer than you expect.