We asked professional carpenters to pass along some of the tricks and tips they've learned after years of pounding thousands of nails into just about anything made of wood. Read the following tips to benefit from their hardworking carpentry experiences.
By the DIY experts of The Family Handyman Magazine:June 2008
Fine-tuning a miter for a perfect fit
is often a trial-and-error process.
Practice on smaller test pieces until
you get your miter saw set to
exactly the right angle, then cut the
You see it in print and on TV everywhere—some stake and board contraption set up
to hold strings to help position postholes, or lay out footings or building footprints.
But most of the time, there's a much better way. Tack together the construction lumber
to outline the structure, square it up and use it as a giant template to do all your marking.
Set it aside to do your digging and replace it to set the posts.
You don’t need a math degree to estimate framing materials for walls. Here’s a
formula that works every time, no matter how many doors, windows or corners
your walls have:
Whether you’re working in your garage, out in the backyard building a shed or
up at the in-laws’ cabin building a deck, take a few minutes and cobble together a
miter saw bench, With a little creativity, you can use just about any materials you
have on hand. The only custom work you’ll need to do is to rip some spacer
boards to make the outfeed support the same height as the saw table. It sure beats
kneeling on the grass or perching the miter saw on horses. And the bench does
double duty as a super-convenient work surface too.
I haven’t hand-nailed a piece of
interior trim in 25 years. Why?
Because air-powered trim guns make
the results so much faster, better and
neater. No splits, no predrilling, no
knocking the piece out of place as
you hammer, and only itty-bitty
holes to fill. The gun I paid $300 for
back then can now be had for $125—
and it’s better than the old one! If
you’re going to buy just one size, the
most versatile choice is one that
shoots 5/8- to 2-inch 18-gauge
Stick masking tape to your tape measure for
jotting down shapes and numbers. That way
you won't forget the length on the way to the
On my first job as a framing carpenter, I
was beating on a stud to try to coax it into
position. The stud just bounced back. A
veteran framing carpenter walked over
and drove a big nail at an angle through
the edge of the stud. The last two hammer
blows moved the stud into position, where
it stayed. Now I use the toenail trick whenever
I need to adjust stubborn lumber.
Early on in my carpentry career, I mismeasured an expensive baseboard and
cut it too short. Instead of shouting, ‘You’re fired,’ my boss just said, ‘Don’t use
your tape measure unless you have to.’ He was right. Holding trim in place
and marking it is always more accurate than measuring, often faster and it
eliminates mistakes. This is good advice for other types of carpentry work
too, like siding, laying shingles and sometimes even framing.
Keep a pair of 'nippers' in your
pouch whenever you're doing
trim carpentry. When you pull
trim from the wall, use them for
pulling the nails through the back
of the trim.
doing rough construction
finish work, the
hammer is a
ounce with a
straight claw. I use
the claw to drive it
under walls for
lifting, to embed
it in framing
and even to do
chiseling. But best
of all, it's a better
shape for pulling
nails than the
curved claw style.
Have the necessary tools for this DIY project lined up before you start—you’ll save time and frustration.
Avoid last-minute shopping trips by having all your materials ready ahead of time. Here's a list.
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