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The Lost Art of Carpentry


In today’s fast paced and ever growing knowledge basedsociety, you might ask yourself the question,  why should I learn carpentry?

The reason is because if weever have a natural or man made disaster, most people will be in big trouble ifthey don’t have the basic tools to build even the most simple ofstructures. In the not too distant past, almost every family had a carpenter inthe family or they had basic carpentry skills themselves. This is no longertrue. 

Although most people have a small assortment of basic handtools such as a measuring tape, hammer, a hand saw, pliers, and screw drivers, that is not enough to really do much at all.

Obviously, the more tools you have, the more you canaccomplish with less effort than if you have only the bare minimum of tools.

There are many books on how to build things. I suggestthat you get some idea of how to plan and design something to meetyour needs in case of such a disaster. Takea look around your home and you can start to see things that you might be ableto use to create a temporary shelter.

I’m not talking about building an elaborate home, I’mtalking about a simple structure that will hopefully keep you and your family outof the weather and relatively safe.

Obviously, you want to think about thematerials that may be available to you at the time. In a crisis, you may not beable to get anything other than scraps from existing structures. In orderto use any of these materials, you will need some tools that will make thejob of salvaging the material a lot easier.

That's what this article is all about. It is about thetools that I think you should have. I am speaking from the knowledge base ofover 35 years in construction and three generations of my family that werebuilders. I have built everything from simple play houses to Class A commercialbuildings, including furniture and cabinets. I know that having the right tools to do the job correctly is important. But more importantly, havingthe ability to use the tools safely is just as important.

I suggest that the you purchase or get copies of books that explain what the intended use of the tools are before you go outand buy any tools. I'm going to list tools below that I think the averageperson should have around their home in one location, that should be easilyaccessible in an emergency. The list of tools is the minimum that I think youshould have in your tool box. But of course, you need to decide for yourself.

Power tools are a great time saver also. But let’s say thatyou don’t have a lot of money to purchase power tools or you are in a situation where you do not have power to use these tools. That's why the tools listed below are hand tools only. Not to mention,  good hand toolsalone will cost you a lot of money. If you have the money to buy agenerator, power cords, nailing guns, gun nails, power saws, specialty saws,drills and etc.,  that’s great. Like Isaid before, the more tools you have, the easier the job is to build.

Another thing that I have to say right from the start isthat if you buy quality tools in the beginning, you will be better off thanmost people. Also, when it comes to maintaining these tools, remember that the better qualitytools will last longer ifproperly used. You don’t use a woodenhandled hammer for pulling nails because the handle isn’t really intended forpulling nails.  

What I mean by quality tools is not a tool that has alifetime warranty necessarily; I have had tools with lifetime warranties thatwere garbage in my opinion. If you have to take the tool back all the time toget a replacement, then what good is that tool? In addition, you may not be able to get areplacement tool when you need it. That would be just as bad as not having thetool at all.

I also suggest that you have at least 2 of each tool on thelist because even the best of tools wears out eventually. Also, some toolsrequire more than one to get the job done.  

Basic Hand Tools

My tool suggestions are those that I would want to have on hand and those that I feel will do the job correctly and make my it easier for me to do the work.  Some of this is based on personal preference.

An example of this would be hammers. There are many different typesof hammers for many different applications. You may make your decision based on the overall weight of the hammer, the type of handle, whether it has a curved or straight claw, all metal, hollow metal handle, fiberglasshandle, or wooden handle. Should it have a smooth head, or corrugated head? Should it weigh 16 oz. or 28 oz.

A wooden handled hammer is not going to be any good if youintend to tear apart materials all the time because the handle WILL eventually break or atleast loosen up. Also, you can't leave it out in the rain. All wooden handledhammers will loosen up eventually. So in my opinion, you should either purchasea fiberglass handled hammer or an all steel solid metal hammer.

Remember, I recommend at least 2 of each tool listed below.

1.                 Straight claw hammer- Estwing is a good brand for allaround usage and especially for tearing things apart. It does not have the bestbalance but it is good for everything all around. Also, I do NOT recommend acurve claw hammer because it limits the use of the hammer claws to pullingnails only.

2.                 Measuring tape- 25-30’ (Stanley is a good brand)

3.                 Hand saws 8 point, ten point, and 12 point (Sandvikbrand)

4.                 Crescent wrenches 6, 8 inch and 10 – 12 inch sizes aregood

5.                 12” pipe wrench (straight and offset) Rigid brand isgood (optional)

6.                 Rough wood chisels- various sizes from ¾” up to 2 +”

7.                 Levels- 28”- 4’- 6’ 6” One of each (see notes below)

8.                 Chalk box and chalk- (red and blue chalk)

9.                 Nylon dry line 100+ ft.

10.             16 – 32 oz. plumb bob (less than 16 oz, tends to blowin the wind too much)

11.             Rubber or wooden mallets

12.             3 lb. hammer- mini sledge hammer

13.             12- 16 lb. sledge hammer

14.             100’ tape- (metal type is best and lasts longest ifcared for properly)  

15.             Finish chisels- various sizes (Stanley type withplastic handles and metal ends for hammering on with metal hammers- can bepurchased in a kit from sizes 1/8”- 2” wide (best prices are usually inkit)

16.             Wood Gouges for shaping and wood working (optional)

17.             Awl for marking for drilling or scratching a line

18.             7” dividers for stepping off stairs or making circlesor shapes

19.             Scribers for marking patterns or copying shapes

20.             Pliers- slip joint- needle nose- lineman’s

21.             Dikes- (side cut pliers)

22.             End nippers- (end cut pliers)

23.             Sheet metal sheers- Also called tin snips- straight-right hand- left hand- or universal

24.             Vise grips- needle nose and regular

25.             Vise tongs for holding things where you need more than2 hands

26.             Punches- various sizes

27.             Files- round –half round- mill- bastard- rasp- rattail- saw files

28.             Flat bar

29.             Wrecking bar – at least 36” long

30.             Pry bar with nail puller end

31.             Cats paw with spoons on both ends

32.             Nail sets- different sizes

33.             Channel locks

34.             Carpenter’s pencils- medium hardness (Buy by the box)

35.             Keel- (carpenter’s crayon) black or red are good colors

36.             Speed Square (very durable and has all the pitches for common and hip/valley rafters too)

37.             Combination Square

38.             Carpenter’s framing square- (Steel or aluminum) notpainted

39.             T square- (optional)

40.             C- clamps (optional)

41.             Pipe clamps (you can by pipe in any needed lengths)

42.             Miter clamps (optional)

43.             2 Carpenter’s tool boxes

44.             Wooden screw clamps (optional)

45.             Stair Gauges (optional)

46.             Block plane- (low cut)

47.             Jack plane (optional)

48.             Joiner plane

49.             Rabbit plane (optional)

50.             Dado plane (optional)

51.             Miter box (optional) You can make your own

52.             Back saw (optional)

53.             Straight edge (optional)

54.             Sheetrock square (optional)

55.             Hack saw- buy extra blades

56.             Coping saw- buy extra blades (optional)

57.             Key hole saw- buy extra blades

58.             Draw knife (optional)

59.             Utility knife- (Sheetrock) knife and extra blades

60.             Tree saw- Buy extra blades

61.             Brace and bits for drilling holes from 1/8”- 2”diameter

62.             Hand drill and bits (optional)

63.             Yankee type screwdriver and assorted bits (optional)

64.             Push drill and assorted bits (optional)

65.             Screw drivers- all types and sizes Straight slotted andPhillips type

66.             Hex head drivers (optional)

67.             Torx head drivers (optional)

68.             SAE and metric sockets and drivers in deep and standarddepths

69.             Various trowels for working concrete or mortar or mud(optional)

70.             Shovels. Square and round nosed

71.             Hoe for mixing mud or concrete (optional)

72.             Mud box or wheel barrow (optional)

73.             Carpenters tool bags or at least an apron for holdingtools and nails

74.             Sharpening stones (course and finish)

75.             Hand axe or rigging axe

76.             Axe- (full size) (optional)

77.             Carpenter’s tool boxes (or make your own)

78.             Standard 36” tall saw horses (optional) or you canbuild your own

79.             6’ fiberglass ladder Type II can hold about 250 lbs.

80.             Safety glasses

 This is the list of tools that I suggest you have in yourtool box. You can get by with much less. If you just need to throw somethingtogether, then I suggest getting only what you think you need or can get bywith.

 Like I said before, good tools are not cheap. If you setyourself a budget of buying at least one or 2 tools a week, you can get all ofthese tools in a little over a year. Some tools are just to make the jobeasier. You decide which ones that you need most and can get by with. I havetried to help by marking some tools as optional so that you can prioritize.

Regarding levels, you can get away with using a 28” level todo everything that the larger levels do as long as you have a really straightedge to use to extend the ability to level or plumb up your work with. You can also buy a water level. It will help on jobs that are too far apart for conventional levels. and is highly accurate.

I also suggest that you go to the library or better yet, buya couple of used books on carpentry. You can usually pick up used books on thesubject for a lot cheaper than new books. I suggest Fundamentals of Carpentry Iand II. These books will teach you about the terminology, and how things shouldbe built. They cover the basics on everything from foundations to finish work. Alsotry to find books on wood joinery. These books teach you how to build withoutnails. Things like mortise and tenon joints, dovetail joints, dado joints, doweling, andrabbit joints are just a few of the old school ways that carpenters attachedthings before we had nails. Also learn how to make glue the old school way.Pine pitch glue worked for thousands of years before all the modern glues wereinvented. Although, it doesn’t hurt to have modern glues too. The same can besaid about caulking. Sealing cracks in materials can be done using Oakum. Oakumwas made from tar and hemp fibers. Old rope (hemp rope) and pine pitch tarworks just great in that it is still used to this day to make authentic replicaships.

I do recommend having at least a couple 50 lb. boxes ofnails. One of each size in 8d and 16d sizes for most basic uses in framing. Youcan get them in either vinyl coated or galvanized. Do NOT buy “box type” nailssuch as 16d box nails. They are thinner than regular 16d HD galvanized nailsand bend much easier.

Do NOT use vinyl coated nails on exterior uses unless youhave too, because they will rust away.

I also suggest an assortment of wood and metal screws andfinish nails too. Usual sizes in most common screws are a size 8 in lengths from 1-1/4" to 3" with course threads. Finishnails common sizes are 8s and 4s. About 10lb.s of each one are going to helpyou do most things that require screws or finish nails for emergencies.

Just remember to use all nails or screws sparingly so youdon’t run out of them. You can always put more screws or nails into somethingafter you have assembled it. The exception to this rule would be in the rough framing.Some places cannot have nails added after you have assembled the frame if youwant to have the maximum strength.

As far as caring for your tools, most tools will need to bewiped off to remove any dirt or rust, dried completely, and lightly oiled if used inrainy or moist climatic conditions before you put them away. Even tools thatare not used outside will rust if you don’t oil them periodically.

Tools should be kept sharp and clean at all times. Trying touse a dull chisel is more dangerous than using a sharp one in reality, and theycan damage the work or harm you if not properly sharpened.

One Power Tool

One tool that was not mentioned in the list of hand tools israther obvious. It is not a hand tool in the sense of a tool that doesn’trequire anything but "hand" power. It is the chain saw! The chain saw is avery valuable tool in that it can cut materials quickly and neatly if used properly,it can also make less work for you. I recommend a chain saw because it is one powertool that can do more than just cut trees. It can be used to demolish thingsthat need to be removed quickly and it also can be used for cutting down treeswith a lot less effort than a hand or tree saw. It can also be used to makerough dimension lumber if you make a jig for it. I highly recommend having one.You need to have extra chains too. They make rip and crosscut chains. Ripchains are specifically made for cutting with the grain of the wood whereascrosscuts are for cutting across the grain.

I prefer a chain saw with a 16” bar because in that size itcan do anything that you would usually want to use it for anyway. Plus it won’tkill you just handling it from the shear weight of the saw. A 24” or larger barsaw is in my opinion; more saw than you would need in most situations unlessyou intend to make wide planks or big timbers with it.

But remember, this is a tool that will require fuel and oil.I do not recommend an electric chain saw because it requires electricity torun. Although electric is fine if you have power. However, in an emergency, I may not have any power, so I want to choose something that is moreportable and I can use anywhere.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to rely on othersto take care of my family. That is the whole reason for writing this article.So that you can be one of the few that can actually build atemporary shelter in the event of a natural or man-made catastrophe.