Skip to main content

The way we used to build

I was reading an article recently about one of the new home construction technologies. Lots of parts pre-cut on CNC machines and assembled onsite. That got me thinking about how much house construction along with the many associated trades have changed over the last 20 or 30 years.

Roof framing is one area that has changed radically. Roofs used to be stick framed and there was always at least one guy on every crew who understood how to use a framing square to layout all of the hip and valley rafters. If it was not an art, it was at least a science and the guy who knew how to do this was well respected. Now, more often than not, the roof arrives on the back of a flatbed truck in the form of pre-fabricated trusses. Hips and valleys are "California-ed" with the rafters simply laid down on the sheathing of the intersecting roof. Even the blocking between the rafters is pre-cut.

A book could be written on this. I still remember the first time we installed a fiberglass "uni-tub". Five-year warranty and installed in a manner that totally precluded replacing it without cutting a hole in the wall (or roof). How long is that house supposed to last? More than five years? Ya think?

Later, I was doing work in multi-million dollar “mansions.” All of those huge looking corbels and crowns that were supposed to make it look like a European castle? Cement coated Styrofoam!?!? Be careful with that stick … don't want to punch a hole in that porch column! What a joke!

Next to my shop was an outfit that did doors and interior trim for development houses that sold for three to five hundred thou. Truckloads of trim packages went out of there every day. All cheezy primed particleboard.

We used to use hammers. Big hammers. And we laughed at the guys that were framing with guns. Sixteen penny cement coated sinkers set with a 28-ounce waffle-faced framing hammer. That was how it was done. The frames they built were loose and sloppy. Ours were tight and neat. And we had the muscles to show for it.

I have often been accused of being old school and maybe I am. At the same time, I am also very open to using technology and I appreciate the many ways in which our lives have benefited from it. But when it comes to the quality (or lack thereof) of new home construction, I cannot think of a better example of the idea that new does not always equate with better.


Related Articles

The last thing we need

I’m a bit concerned about how tariffs imposed on imports might affect woodworking businesses.

How do we deal with this?

The coronavirus is causing things to go off the rails. We're being told stay home and avoid other people. But we have to make a living. It’s not like we can just stop going to work.