The 57 acres that comprise Cedar Ridge Farm are located in the beautiful rolling hills of South Central Kentucky. My wife, our four children, and I are on a homesteading adventure as we work toward increased self-sufficiency. We grow much of our own food and enjoy being in touch with the agrarian roots of our lives.

One of the major projects we have undertaken is the building of our own home. The house we're building has three major distinguishing features: 1. we're building it without incurring any debt; 2. it is a timber frame structure; and 3. the exterior walls will be plastered straw bales. We live debt and mortgage free, and building our house with that approach makes perfect sense. Large timbers in a home possess a beauty and project a sense of strength, stability, and warmth that we want in our home. Straw bale walls provide insulation and make ecological sense. This blog is a record of our home-building project.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Tools for Framing

Tools to do the job are important. After making the decision to build a timber frame house in which I would be doing all of the framing, I knew I would need some tools. One of the first things I could think of that was needed was a chisel. Well, actually, more than one chisel. I would need at least two: a 2" framing chisel and a 1.5" framing chisel. I also thought it would be nice to have a corner chisel. If you are unaware of the prices for good framing chisels, you ought to look sometime. These aren't your hardware or building supply store chisels. They not only have a much wider edge than regular wood chisels, they are much longer overall. They are also built heavier. They are made to do a big job.

My desire for good tools had to be tempered with the amount of money I was spending. There is no loan or credit card money fueling any of this project. I wanted good tools, and I wanted to keep it affordable (a loosely defined term associated with my aversion to spending money). So, I did what anyone familiar with the internet would do: I searched for chisels on Ebay! And, I found what I was looking for.

I bought three chisels: a 2", a 1.5", and a 1" corner chisel. There were a lot offered on Ebay, and I chose these three for a variety of reasons, all of which I don't remember now. The 2" chisel was listed as a slick. It's a Robert Sorby non-beveled edge chisel. It's the one I use the most. It has a nice length and nice weight to it. It's very well built, as far as I'm concerned. I use it with a mallet (like the one in the photo) or as a slick without the mallet. I have no idea about the maker of the corner chisel. It is nice for cleaning up the corners of a mortise. The 1.5" chisel is a Keen Cutter, about 13 inches long. Or, rather, it was about 13 inches long until Wednesday of this week. It suffered a major catastrophe, as the picture to the left shows. I don't know the age of this chisel or what its life experiences have been, but other than a little pitting in a few places, it seemed to be in good shape. It snapped cleanly about two inches from the cutting edge while I was using it to clean out a mortise. It didn't seem to be under any great stress, but it's broken now, nonetheless. I've already purchased another 1.5" chisel off of Ebay that ought to arrive next week sometime.

All of my chisels needed sharpened when I received them. They also occasionally need the edge touched up as I use them. I bought a sharpening jig into which the chisel can be locked that allows it to be held at the appropriate angle when sharpening it. I suppose I could sharpen them freehand, but it is a lot more consistent with the jig holding them at the correct angle. I sharpen them on wet/dry automotive sandpaper on a flat surface. I start with 180 grit, move to 300 grit, then 600, then 1200, and finish on 2500 grit. This sharpening applies to the flat chisels, not the corner chisel. I sharpened it once after I received it, taking out the angle on the edge to which it had been honed. I used a bastard mill file to sharpen it. It's much more of a challenge getting the two bevels on it clear into the corner.

In order to cut the beams accurately, I needed a dependable saw. I have an old circular saw that I've used for cutting wood, metal, and masonry materials during the last 16 years, but it has enough wobble in the blade that I didn't want to use it for the framing work I had to do. I wanted something accurate. Sure, a Beam Boss or another circular saw that could cut deeper than a regular 7-1/4" one would be nice, but money was a deterrent once again. So, I ended up buying a new Makita Hypoid saw. It has 15 amps and has done everything I've asked it to do. I just don't expect to cut all the way through an 8x8 or 6x8 or 4x6 in one cut.

Pictured with the saw is a high torque right angle drill. This is a Harbor Freight knock-off of the Milwaukee Hole Hawg. I didn't buy it from Harbor Freight -- I saved money by buying it from a place that sells Harbor Freight returns. It has one thing wrong with it -- the high speed doesn't work. That doesn't matter to me, because I bought it to use it's low speed, high torque setting. I use it for boring 2" and 1.5" holes with the Dewalt self-feed bits I purchased. These bits have been great because they remove a lot of material, but they put a lot of strain on the drill being used, especially the 2" bit. Before I bought the high-torque drill, I used a 9 amp Hitachi. It had a difficult time, and I had to keep giving it time to cool off between uses. I did end up burning out the brake on it. The drill I use for boring now powers on through knots and dry oak as long as the bits are sharp.

Here is an example of how I use the 2" bit to bore out material for a dovetail mortise. It removes a lot of wood. I then clean out the mortise with a chisel.

Since my hypoid saw is unable to cut all the way through one of the timbers, I have to finish cuts with a hand saw. If it's an end that needs squared up, I cut on all four sides with the Makita and then finish it with a crosscut saw I bought for $5 at a yard sale a few years ago. It's kerf is wider than the carbide-tipped blade in the circular saw, so I have to cut twice so that the crosscut saw won't get caught in the thinner kerf.

The smaller saw in this picture is a rip saw that belonged to my grandfather. I use it occasionally, but I've found ripping to be terribly slow. I think the crosscut saw rips faster than the rip saw.

When I started the joinery on the first timber in March of 2005, I attempted to plane it to furniture smoothness. That took a lot of planing. I bought a small 3.25" planer to help in this regard, but it has to move a lot of material to get rid of all the saw marks from when the timbers were milled. My wife and I decided that having the saw marks in the timbers doesn't detract from their looks. I still plane to smooth the timbers and take out a good bit of the saw marks. I've done a lot of the planing just with the two hand planes pictured here.

The other tools that I am using for this project are a 25' tape measure, a combination square, and a framing square. I've also made templates for some of the joints that are cut more than a couple of times. Pictured are templates for the scarf joints on the tie beams, templates for the rafter angles (8:12 and 3:12 -- the smallest one is 3:12), and the template for the dovetail joints. One other tool I use is a pencil. I've been using colored pencils that I've had in a zip lock bag for years and haven't used for anything else. The darker colors work best.

You can buy and use many different expensive tools for timber framing. You don't have to. You don't even have to use the tools I'm using. How many frames have been completed over the years without any power tools whatsoever? More than have been completed with the help of power tools, I bet. A chain mortiser or a Beam Boss or some other 'expensive' (this is a relative term, of course) tools would be nice, but I can't justify the expense of them for this project. One of the objects, afterall, is to pay for everything without going into debt.


Anonymous said...

Where can you get Harbor Freight returns?

dp said...

There are several sellers on Ebay that sell Harbor Freight returns, and returns from Sears and other stores. There is a seller located less than 2 hours from me that I bought things through. His Ebay store is "Tadd Wholesale Supply".