Taking measurements has radically changed since I started building. My everyday measuring tool used to be a 6-ft. folding ruler. Imagine the time it took to measure and cut a board to length, especially one over 6 ft. long.

First I had to unfold the ruler, section by section, then measure out the distance on the board. Then I had to fold up the ruler and put it away. It’s no wonder that steel tape measures are now much more common on job sites everywhere.

Tape measures get used a lot and so require special care. Here are some maintenance tips to ensure that your tapes continue to work smoothly for a long time.

• Don’t leave an extended tape ly­ing around on the floor. If someone steps on the tape, it will be creased and will never work properly again.

• Don’t let a tape reel in too fast.

If the hook on the end hits the case at full speed, the hook can break off. Slow the tape down with your fingers.

• Keep the tape clean, or it will be difficult to pull out and reel in. Tapes gummed with wood pitch, tar, or caulk can be cleaned with a soft rag and some mineral spirits (paint thinner).

• When working in wet conditions, wipe the tape dry with a cloth be­fore reeling it back into the case.

Подпись: A good tape measure for carpentry work will be highlighted or marked at 16-in. intervals (16 in., 32 in., 48. in., etc.), which makes it easy to lay out walls, floors, ceilings, and roofs on 16-in. centers.

A tape measure has a hook on the end of a flexible steel blade that grabs the edge of a workpiece. The blade can be locked in place so that measuring becomes a one-person job.

Many sizes are available, but the two most commonly found on a job site are 16 ft. and 25 ft. Longer tape measures (up to 100 ft. or more) made of steel or cloth are also available. They work well to lay out long distances like the founda­tion of a new house or when measuring the exact location of a building when siting it on a lot.

Most tape measures used for general construction have an extra mark at 1 б-in. intervals (see the photo at left). Because this spacing is often standard for studs in a wall, joists in a ceiling, or rafters in a roof, these marks are helpful when laying out a house frame. Some tapes have decimal equivalents and met­ric conversion charts on the back.

To snap a chalkline for a short distance, hold one end of the line with one hand and the other end with the little finger of the second hand. Pick up the taut line with the thumb and forefinger of your second hand and snap it.

Framing square

I learned to use the framing square when I was a carpenter in the Navy in the early ’50s. First introduced almost 1 50 years ago, the venerable framing square is still hard at work. Made of steel or aluminum, it has a 16-in. tongue and a 24-in. blade set at right angles to one another. Not an easy tool to carry in your toolbelt, it is neverthe­less handy for quickly checking if walls are perpendicular to each other when setting cabinets and for marking square across 2×12 joists.

I use small stair gauges with my framing square when laying out stairs (see the photo below). The gauges are simply screw clips that are fastened to the edge

Framing square

Stair gauges attach to a framing square and position it at any given angle.


Framing square

When you have a corner that’s out of square, you can check it with a T-bevel square. Place the square in the corner, adjust the handle until it fits flat against the wall, then tighten the wing nut. Transfer this angle to the material to be cut.


of the square, making it possible to mark the same angles on a stair stringer repeatedly.

Combination square

Most combination squares have a 12-in. blade marked off like a ruler with a slid­ing head. One side of the head is used to lay out a 90° angle, and the other side is used to lay out a 45° angle. [1]

T-bevel square

A T-bevel square has a blade that pivots and slides on a handle and can be locked in any position by a wing nut. I have one with an 8-in. blade, but many lengths are available.

This is an effective tool for fitting mater­ial to an odd angle. For example, you can use it to fit a shelf into a corner that is not 90° (see the photo above). First place the square in the corner with the blade against one wall. Then adjust the handle until it fits flat against the wall and tighten the wing nut. Nowyou can transfer this angle to the shelving, mark­ing a precise cut. What makes the T-bevel square especially handy is that you can bring it right over to the chop – saw and use it to help adjust the angle of the blade exactly (unplug your saw before doing this).

Подпись: Tape measures are available in a wide variety of sizes. Most carpenters use either a 16-ft. or 25-ft. tape.
Drywaller’s T-square

A drywaller’s T-square is shaped like a "T" with a 22-in. tongue and a 48-in. blade that are both marked with inch scales. While usually used to mark sheets of drywall, this square is also a good tool to use when marking other sheet goods (like plywood) or doors for cutting. Just press the tongue along a square edge and mark along the long blade.

Treat the T-square with kindness. If you drop it, you can easily knock it out of square. To check for square, lay it across a sheet of plywood and mark along the
blade side. Then turn the square over and mark again. If the blade is not on the line, the tool is not square.


Bars are solid-steel leverage tools. Depending on the size, a bar can be used for pulling nails, for prying open windows, or for demolition work. A carpenter uses several types of bars, such as the cat’s paw, the flat bar, and the wrecking bar.

After the hammer, the nail puller most often used is the cat’s paw. The cat’s paw has a nail slot between two sharp claws, which are designed to dig into the wood around a flush-driven nail.

To pull a nail with the cat’s paw, place the claws on the wood in front of the nail head. If you need to, drive the claws straight in for a couple of licks to get them below the head. Once the claws are under the head, pull back on the handle to lift out the nail (see the photo at right). The striking face of a cat’s paw is soft steel, so it’s okay to hit it with a hammer. But wear safety glasses.

The flat bar is simply a flat piece of steel with a right-angle bend at one end. It comes in various lengths, but most fit easily in a toolbucket. The one I use is

13/4 in. wide and 1 ft. long.

Подпись:Each end of a flat bar is sharpened and has a nail-pulling slot. I often use a flat bar to pry boards apart (see the photo below), to lift cabinet sections during


A flat bar can be used to pry apart two boards, but wear safety glasses when striking the bar with a hammer.


installation, and to scrape away old caulk. It is also handy for prying open windows that have been painted shut.

Don’t leave a flat bar lying around with the right-angle bend facing up.

Someone can step on it and get a hard rap on the shins.

The wrecking bar, which looks like a large cat’s paw, is the tool I reach for when I’m doing demolition work. Wrecking bars are made of hardened steel, and most types have nail slots in both the flattened end and the curved end. Wrecking bars come in various sizes and styles. In general, the longer the bar, the more leverage you gain. The one I use is 3 ft. long. I keep it in my pickup with my sledgehammer and use it to remove flooring, siding, or roof
sheathing, to pull large nails, to jack up heavy objects, and to pull apart con­crete formwork.


Most things a carpenter builds are either square or rectangular. So having a square or two around is just as impor­tant as having a hammer. The question is, which square among the many do you need? I have five types of squares that I find helpful: a small rafter square, a framing square, a combination square, a T-bevel square, and a drywaller’s square.

Small rafter square

The small rafter square is a triangular square—90° on one side, 45° on the other—used to mark both square and angled cuts. It is available in two sizes: The small one measures 7 in. along a


You can rapidly mark boards for angled cuts using a small rafter square. Simply align the degree of cut you want with the edge of a board, and scribe a line along the inch scale.


side, and the larger one measures 12 in. While I own both sizes, I prefer the smaller one because it is easy to carry in a toolbelt or toolbucket. You’ll also have a choice between metal or plastic. I pre­fer the metal small rafter square because it is almost indestructible; mine is still legi­ble and accurate even after years of use.

A small rafter square is very easy to use. On one side of the square is a scale in inches. Adjacent to this scale is a pivot point, and opposite the pivot point on the base of the square is a degree scale. To find any angle, say 20°, place the pivot point against the straight edge of a board and pivot the square until the 20° mark aligns with the edge. Then simply scribe a line along the inch-scale side, and the line will be 20° to the edge (see the photo on the facing page).


Mechanical hands are what carpenters call the many pliers, wrenches, and clamps we use on job sites. When we
can’t tighten a nut by hand, we use a wrench. What we can’t hold with our fingers, we hold with a pair of pliers. When we can’t bring together a glued-up tabletop with our hands, we use a clamp.


Most carpenters carry a wrench or two in their toolbucket. I carry three types: a crescent wrench, an Allen wrench, and a pipe wrench.

I use the crescent wrench the most. The business end has a jaw that can be adjusted to different sizes by rotating a knob near the handle. When using a crescent wrench, make sure it fits snug on the bolt head or nut. A loose-fitting


Many items in construction are held together with bolts, so a carpenter needs to carry a few wrenches in his toolbucket. Shown clockwise from left are: two pipe wrenches, four crescent wrenches, and Allen wrenches.


wrench may slip when pressure is applied. To prevent the wrench from rapping your knuckles if it slips, pull it toward you rather than pushing it away.

A б-in. crescent wrench is great for tightening circular-saw blades and doing maintenance work on power tools. A 12-in. wrench should work for most larger jobs.

A crescent wrench can be lubricated with a bit of graphite on the rotating knob. Graphite works better than oil, because oil picks up dirt that can make an adjustable wrench hard to open and close.

An Allen wrench is a hexagonal (six – sided), L-shaped steel rod used to tighten bolts and screws that have the same pattern in their heads (called hex heads). For convenience, buy a wrench
set that comes nestled in its own case. This way they are all in one place and are protected by the case.

Pipe wrenches are large tools with adjustable, serrated jaws and are often used by plumbers. There are different sizes available, but I find that a 14-in. pipe wrench is very versatile. I use it dur­ing remodeling jobs in which I have to remove plumbing pipes under a sink. Rather than lubricating the moving parts of a pipe wrench, clean them with paint thinner if they become gummed up and hard to move.


Although a carpenter won’t use them every day, pliers are handy tools to have on the job site. There are many types and sizes out there, and I’d recommend keeping a few of these in your tool-


Nippers are great for cutting wire and rope and also work for pulling and cutting nails.



bucket: a standard pair, nippers, side­cutting pliers, channel-lock pliers, and locking pliers.

Standard pliers, called slip-joint pliers, are used to hold things a bit tighter than you could with just your fingers. They can also be used to help turn a screw­driver or to hold a small nail for setting.

Nippers have sharp cutters on the end and are used to cut rope, wire, and nails (see the photo on the facing page). They also work well for pulling nails. I keep nippers in my bucket and frequently use them rather than a hammer or a bar (which can break off the head) to pull difficult nails. To pull a nail with nippers, grab the shaft of the nail with the nip­pers, rock back and forth on the handles to loosen the nail, and then pull it out.

Side-cutting pliers, also called lineman’s pliers, are useful for holding small items in the jaws, and they are great for cut­ting and pulling electrical wires (see the left photo above). Just be sure the power is off before working with any electrical wires.

Channel-lock pliers are adjustable and can be used to grip much like a wrench (see the photo above). To adjust a pair, open the jaws and move the groove on

Wide-jaw locking pliers can be used to secure wood to a bench or sawhorse.

A C-clamp can hold wood to a sawhorse while cutting with a circular saw.

one handle into a channel on the other handle. I use mine to hold a variety of things, including flat bars, square nuts, and round pipes.

I first saw locking pliers, more commonly known as Vise Grips, in 1946. Back then it was such a new invention that few people had a pair, but today they are as common as hammers. I never go to a job site without my pair.

Having a pair of locking pliers is like hav­ing a small portable vise in your hand.

By turning a knurled knob at the end of the pliers’ handle, the jaws can be opened and closed. When you squeeze the handles, the jaws lock by means of a spring-loaded clamp in the handle, hold­ing the item securely. Flipping a lever on the handle opens the jaws. Special, wide-jaw locking pliers can be used to clamp wood to a bench or sawhorse for cutting (see the left photo above).


Clamps are valuable tools that serve as extra hands to hold whatever you are working on. If you had one of every type of clamp available, you would need a large truck to haul them. Carpenters use several types of clamps that are easily transported: the C-clamp, pipe clamp, bar clamp, and spring clamp.

The venerable C-clamp is the workhorse of the trade, offering straight-on holding power. This tool is a powerful holding device that clamps material steady while sanding, waiting for glue to dry, or saw­ing (see the right photo above). There are many sizes of C-clamps, ranging



Bar clamps (bottom) and pipe clamps (top) can hold wood securely during glue-up.

Подпись: Spring clamps are quick and easy to use. Here they hold a straightedge on a sheet of plywood.

from 1 in. up to more than 1 ft. (the size of a C-clamp is determined by the size of its opening). My б-in. clamps are the ones I use most on the job site.

A pipe clamp is a great job-site clamp because it can be adjusted to hold a wide variety of materials of various sizes. For instance, it can be used to clamp
glued-up boards or be expanded to grip long sections of cabinets. Pipe clamps are available that fit on either 1/нп. or 3/4-in. steel pipe. The advantage of this clamp is that it can be extended to any length of pipe, 20 ft. or more. The sta­tionary part of the clamp is called the foot. The movable part is called the head (see the top photo on p. 25).

A bar clamp works the same way as a pipe clamp, but instead of a round pipe, the head slides on a flat bar (see the bottom photo on p. 25). Bat clamps are available in sizes ranging from 6 in. to more than 6 ft.

A spring clamp works like a large clothespin. It is easy to apply but doesn’t have great holding power. Spring clamps vary in size from small ones that you can open with two fingers to large ones that take both hands to open. They work well for light holding jobs. I find my 6-in. spring clamps perfect for securing a straightedge to a door or sheet of ply­wood so I can make a straight cut with a circular saw (see the photo at left). They also work well for clamping two small glued pieces of wood or for holding one end of a chalkline. Better models have vinyl-coated tips so they don’t mar finish wood.


Another shaping tool that comes in handy is a chisel. A chisel is often used to cut notches in wood (such as for a lockset) or to shave a bit off a joint to ensure a perfect fit.

Подпись: The Surform works well to trim a piece of drywall that doesn't quite fit. Chisels come in various sizes. Most car­penters can get by with a set of chisels ranging in size from 1A in. to 1 in.

Подпись: Chisels are used to cut notches in wood or to shave wood off a joint to make a perfect fit. A standard set can have sizes ranging from lA in. (right) to ІУ2 in. (left).

Using a chisel As with a handplane, sharpness is essential when working with a chisel. A dull blade is dangerous and makes it difficult to achieve a smooth, clean cut. To keep the chisel sharp, don’t use it as a screwdriver or as a pry bar.

A chisel has a straight side and a beveled side. When cutting, keep the beveled side facedown into the cut. Point the blade of the chisel away from your body to help prevent injury in case of a slip.

To protect the chisel handle, many car­penters use a mallet rather than a hammer to hit the chisel (see the top photo on p. 20). For best results, cut with the grain—otherwise, you’ll tear out chunks of wood.

ChiselsWhen not in use, protect the chisel’s cut­ting edge with a couple of loops of electrical tape or wrap it in a clean cloth.

Files and rasps

Files and rasps are also handy items to keep around the job site. Files come in many different sizes (from smaller than a pencil to longer than a hammer), shapes, lengths, and cutting ability (roughness). Originally designed to shape metal, files can be used to smooth and form other materials as well, includ­ing plastics (such as Formica) and wood. Their teeth are shaped to cut on the push stroke. A good beginning set should include a three-cornered file, a flat one, and a round one.


Files and rasps are handy shaping tools. The four tools at the bottom are files. The top right tool and the long one near the top are rasps. The wood-handled tool at the top left is a file card, which is used to clean both files and rasps.


Rasps have larger teeth than files do and are designed to remove a lot of wood. They, too, come in various sizes and shapes. A good rasp for a carpenter to own is the four-in-hand rasp. It has one flat side and one oval side, with four dif­ferent cutting surfaces.

The cutting teeth of a file or rasp will eventually get plugged with metal or wood. When this happens, clean the teeth with a file card, which is a tool with short, stiff bristles that can remove any gunk with a few strokes.


Подпись:Knives have their places in a carpenter’s toolkit. Most every carpenter has a utility knife, and many also carry a pocket knife. A utility knife can be used to open packages, to cut building paper, fiber­glass insulation, composition shingles, linoleum, and drywall, as well as to

Safety for cutting tools

• When using a cutting tool, don’t force it. Just like people, every tool has its own pace.

• When working with sharp tools, pay close attention; don’t allow yourself to be distracted.


sharpen pencils. The most common util­ity knife has a retractable blade, so it’s easy to carry it in a nail apron or on your toolbelt without fear of accidentally cut­ting yourself. Extra blades are stored in a compartment in the handle.

A pocket knife with a good carbon-steel blade is another tool that has many uses in carpentry work. I use mine to sharpen pencils, to cut strings, to open packages, and to trim excess caulk from around windows. Keep the blade sharp with a sharpening stone. If the knife becomes difficult to open and close, apply a little three-in-one oil on it.


One of the first hand tools I learned to use as a young man was the handplane.

I vividly recall watching a carpenter shape the edge of a door using a long, shiny jointer plane. Long curls of wood rose from the plane, covering his work area and filling my nostrils with the sweet smell of pine. Much of the shap­ing work I do these days is done with power tools, but I still find use for hand – planes, chisels, files, and rasps.


I bring a jack plane and a small block plane to all my jobs. I use a 14-in. jack plane to shave a door to fit in its open­ing or to smooth the rough edges of a board. I use the block plane to round a corner of a board or to remove a bit of wood from a piece of molding. The small block plane is very handy because it fits easily into a toolbelt or toolbucket and can be used with one hand.

When a piece of drywall doesn’t quite fit, I use a small, БУг-іп. Surform to trim it down (see the top photo on the facing page). It resembles a handplane, but instead of a cutting iron, the Surform has a plate on the bottom that looks like a food grater. It’s also handy for rough shaping other materials as well.

Using a handplane A handplane is easy to use if you follow a few simple guide­lines. For optimum performance, keep the blade sharp and clean. A sharp blade will remove wood smoothly, leaving long shavings. A dull blade will chop at the wood, leaving a rough surface. Like any tool, it works better when it is kept clean. You can clean a blade with paint thinner or steel wool. When you are fin­ished cleaning it, coat the blade lightly with three-in-one oil.

It’s also important to adjust the blade so you remove only a small amount at a time, keeping the shavings paper thin. Trying to remove too much wood will just clog the plane.

Hold the plane flat against the surface of the wood and cut with the grain. If you cut against the grain, you’ll feel it. The plane will cut into the wood fiber and will jump, resulting in torn fibers and a rough cut. When you are finished with a handplane, retract the blade so that it won’t get nicked. I wrap mine in a soft cloth for storage.


Cutting material to size, whether wood, drywall, or even metal, is a big part of what a carpenter does. Today, most big cutting jobs are done with power tools. But there are times when a few simple hand tools are more appropriate. That’s why it’s important to keep a few saws, tin snips, and knives on the job site.

Подпись: Japanese handsaws cut on the pull stroke rather than on the push stroke. For best cutting, keep the saw at a 10° angle.


The saws I keep on the job site are wood-cutting handsaws, a drywall saw, a coping saw, and a hacksaw. I seldom use a handsaw these days, but when I have only a cut or two to make, a hand­saw is faster than plugging in my power saw. My two handsaws are both cross­cut saws. One is for cutting rough wood, like 2×4 studs, and has 8 teeth per inch. My finish saw has 12 teeth per inch and cuts a piece of molding with­out a lot of tearout.

I prefer Japanese handsaws (Japan Woodworker; see Sources on p. 198) over our standard American handsaws. Japanese handsaws are razor sharp and easy to use. Unlike standard handsaws, these saws cut on the pull stroke rather than on the push stoke. This makes them safer, because they won’t buckle and bounce out of the kerf (or saw cut).

Some models even have teeth for cross­cutting on one side of the blade and teeth for ripping on the other. When cutting with a Japanese handsaw, cut at a lower angle than you would using a standard handsaw—about 10° (see the photo above).

I keep a drywall saw in my toolbucket because it’s handy for cutting relatively soft materials like drywall and foam insulation board. A drywall saw tapers to a point, making it ideal for piercing and cutting in the middle of the material rather than from the edge, and its coarse teeth make quick (though ragged) cuts (see the photo on the facing page).

The coping saw is invaluable for trim work. It has a very thin blade with fine teeth and can be rotated to any angle to make intricate or curved cuts.

Occasionally, a carpenter will need to cut through metal. For nails or pipes, you’ll need a hacksaw. It has a hardened blade designed to cut through all kinds of metal, and it’s great for cutting through plastic PVC pipe.

Saw maintenance While drywall saws are cheap and easily replaced, my hand­saws aren’t, so I take good care of them.

I keep them sharp (while it’s possible to do this yourself, I find it easier to send them out to be sharpened) and store them in a cardboard sheath to preserve their sharpness. To keep the blades free from rust or corrosion, clean them with a rag or steel wool and paint thinner, then coat them with three-in-one oil or a silicone spray lubricant. Be mindful when using paint thinner, because it’s toxic. Wear protective gloves, use a mini­mum amount, and don’t dump the excess on the ground.



I’ve tried my hand at many jobs.

I worked for several years as a farmer. I was a spiker once, laying railroad track.

I taught Spanish and carpentry at night for years, and I even worked as a coun­selor for the deaf and for wounded Vietnam veterans. But I always came back to carpentry. It must have been the smell and feel of wood.

Not all of carpentry is easy. Moving and cutting lumber all day long can be hard work. Yet I hardly remember a time when I wasn’t doing carpentry work. I was born in a farming-ranching region of western Nebraska, and carpentry – like sleeping and eating—was something everyone did.

I helped build my first house before I was out of high school. I worked with a kindly old man, a craftsman who taught me "white-overall" carpentry, the way houses were built from Civil War times until about World War II. Hand tools were used to cut the wood and build the homes because few power tools existed.

I was deeply impressed by the beauty of the tools this old carpenter had and the skill with which he used them, and I’m thankful for the knowledge he passed along to me.

When I was still a teenager, the post – WWII housing boom was beginning, and I found myself in Albuquerque trying to

ScrewdriversScrewdriversearn money to go to college by building houses with my older brother Jim. Because returning veterans were able to move into houses with nothing down and payments of $75 a month, the demand for housing was enormous. To meet that demand, we had to change the way we built. So, unlike Henry Ford, who took the automobile to the produc­tion line, we took the production line to the building site. We laid aside the white overalls and packed our pickups with tools built for speed. I set aside my handsaw and picked up a power saw that could cut wood to size in seconds, and I tossed my 16-oz. curved-claw hammer in favor of a 22-oz. straight – claw hammer that could drive a 16d nail with one lick.

In 1950, at age 19, I moved to Los Angeles to study at UCLA. I went to school three days a week and worked three days as a journeyman carpenter in the union. I got intellectual food for my mind and physical food for my body. On Sundays I rested.

By the mid-1950s, the building boom in Los Angeles was at its peak. Instead of building one house at a time, we were building 500 or even 5,000 at a time. Every person working in every trade was adapting. New tools, new procedures, and new materials were in evidence everywhere. It is a tribute to American ingenuity that we were able to build thousands of new homes without sacri­ficing quality for quantity. During these fast-paced days, I learned a lot about carpentry.

Nowadays I realize how fortunate I was to learn how to use hand tools from a traditional master builder when I was young. Today’s carpentry is different in that we have all kinds of power tools, nail guns, and hand-held computers that help us build. But carpentry still requires that some basic knowledge of hand


tools and layout skills be acquired so we can move on to become masters of our craft And this is my purpose in writing Homebuilding Basics: Carpentry. I want to share with others what I have learned from my teachers. Just as in my first book, The Very Efficient Carpenter, this second book continues the process of making information available to people about carpentry tools and the tech­niques for using them.

Homebuilding Basics: Carpentry is a step-by-step guide book to building. There is something in this book for any­one interested in carpentry or home improvement. In it, you will learn how to work safely and how to choose and use the basic hand and power tools for car­
pentry. You will learn the vocabulary of carpentry so that you can read plans and order building materials. You’ll learn the basic steps of how to put together an entire house. And you’ll see when preci­sion counts and when it doesn’t.

I no longer make my living as a full-time carpenter. Instead, among other things,

I now spend a lot of my time writing and teaching the trade. But that doesn’t mean I have stopped building. I help family and friends who need a willing hand. And my younger brother Joe and I work with Habitat for Humanity, building houses where we live in Oregon. Doing this physical work makes me feel good. It must be the smell and feel of wood.

"Take your time"

"Use the right tools for the job"

"Keep them sharp and clean"

In the end, I think,

there are really only a few simple rules.

—Phillip Rosenberg, A Few Simple Rules

When I started building houses, hand tools were the norm. Cutting wood, drilling holes, and driving nails all were done with hand tools. Even though today these tasks are often done with power tools, hand tools are still a part of every carpenter’s tool collection.

When you’re starting out as a carpenter, knowing which tools you’ll need can be difficult. I’ve been in the trades for years, and choosing a tool is still not easy for me. Each time I walk into a tool center or receive a tool catalog in the mail,

I am amazed by the dizzying array of carpentry tools offered for sale. Even buying something as basic as a hammer can be frustrating when there are 50 different models.

In this chapter I will introduce you to the basic hand tools every carpenter needs: fastening tools, cutting tools, shaping tools, gripping tools, bars, squares, tape measures, marking tools, and tools for checking level and plumb. I’ll also show you a few ways to tote your tools from job to job.


Hammers, screwdrivers, and staplers are useful to any carpenter. These are the beginning core of a hand-tool collection and can easily be kept close by—either on a toolbelt or in a toolbucket.


The first hammer I owned as a 7-year – old had curved claws with a wooden handle. It was a 16-oz. model made of iron, and it wasn’t much of a hammer. One claw was broken off, so it wasn’t good for pulling nails, but I learned to drive nails with it. I can still remember the fun I had on warm days, using my hammer to build playhouses, forts, and boxes.

I have been in the trades for more than 50 years, and over that time I have col­lected and lost a good number of hammers of varying sizes. Depending on the kind of work you will be doing,

you’ll more than likely build a collection of your own. But before you do that, take time to learn the parts of a hammer, the types of hammers, how to choose a hammer, and how to drive and pull nails with one.

Parts of a hammer The two basic parts of a hammer are the handle and the head. Most handles are made of wood, fiberglass, or steel. A wood handle absorbs some of the shock when ham­mering, but a fiberglass or steel handle
is so hard that it’s virtually unbreakable.

In most cases, I prefer wood handles, except when I do demolition work. For this job, I prefer to use a framing hammer with a fiberglass handle.

The head of a hammer includes the eye (where the handle enters the head), the cheek (the side of the head), the face (the striking end), and the claws. The face is either serrated or smooth (see the photo on p. 9). A serrated face won’t become slick and slip off the nail head

Safety is a serious issue. On the job site, safe work practices should be followed at all times. Every day construction workers get hurt. Some are temporarily disabled by these accidents. Others are permanent­ly disabled. Even worse, workers often die from job – related injuries.

Working safely is more than just protecting yourself physically with devices such as safety glasses. It’s more than using tools correctly and making sure that blades are sharp. Humans simply cannot be plugged in like power saws and run all day long. Be­sides a body, you have a heart and a mind that also need protection. The first and most important safety rule I can mention is that you must have your mind on your work, especially when using power tools.

Most of my on-the-job injuries have occurred when I went to work with a battered heart. It can happen to any of us. A death in the family, a divorce, a car acci­dent, or a sick child can make anyone lose concen­tration on what he is doing, resulting in a mistake. Unfortunately, a mistake on the building site can get someone hurt.

In the ’50s, I built roofs with a partner. He was going through rough times at home with his family. Every morning his body was on the job at 7 a. m., but his mind didn’t get there until around 1 0 a. m. During this three-hour period, he was basically unsafe at any speed. Twice he dropped a 2x rafter on my foot and injured me. One day he cut a huge gash in his forearm with a circular saw. This was before 9-1-1 existed, so I had to stop the bleeding, get him off the roof, take him to the hospital, and find another partner.

So, how can you keep your mind in focus even when times are hard? One thing that has worked well for me is to set aside a time every day for a period of meditation. I use this quiet time to bring my body and mind together. It helps me understand how I feel. Meditation takes some effort and practice, but after 50 years of pounding nails and running saws, I am here with all my body parts intact.

It is also important to admit when you are not men­tally right. If you are having trouble focusing on your work, don’t try to tough it out by yourself. It’s okay to confide in the crew leader or a coworker and tell him you are having problems. It’s okay to ask for help to get through the day.

Aside from staying mentally focused, what else can you do to be sure you are working safely? Through­out this book I have included specific safety guide­lines for certain jobs and for using certain tools.

during hammering. The drawback of a serrated face is that it leaves a distinct checkerboard pattern on the wood after a missed blow. A smooth face, on the other hand, won’t leave a checkerboard pattern when you miss. Unfortunately, a smooth face makes it easier for the face to slip off the nail head. To help a smooth face "catch" a nail head, you can rough it up a bit by using sandpaper or by rubbing it on concrete a few times. In general, a serrated face is used for rough framing, and a smooth face is used for finish work.

Most hammers, except for mallets, sledgehammers, and drywall hammers, have straight or curved claws that are used to pull nails. I prefer straight claws because they can also be used to move lumber around or to pry boards apart.

Types of hammers f knew a couple of brothers years ago who were framers around Palm Springs. They each had a 40-oz. hammer with a face about the size of a silver dollar. When framing 2×4 walls, they could roll out two 16d nails between thumb and forefinger, start both with one tap, and drive both home with one lick. My framing hammer is


smaller, with a 21-oz. head, an 18-in. oval-shape handle, straight claws, and a serrated face. I like the oval shape of the handle because it fits well in my hand and gives me more control when nailing together rough framing lumber. Other framing hammers have 20-oz. to 28-oz. heads and shorter handles.

A finish hammer is used to nail on items like door trim, siding, and windowsills. I have two finish hammers—16 oz. and 20 oz. Both have straight claws and smooth faces, but the 16-oz. hammer has a 1 б-in. handle that works well for driving small nails. My 20-oz. hammer has an 18-in. handle, and I use it to drive larger nails through siding or exterior trim. My favorite finish hammer is made by Dalluge (see Sources on p. 198). It has a milled face like 120-grit sandpaper, is well balanced, and drives a finish nail without slipping off.

You don’t need a power screwdriver to attach drywall to ceilings and walls. You can still get the job done with drywall nails and a drywall hammer. My drywall hammer weighs 16 oz., has a 15-in. wood handle, a rounded (convex) face, and a blade like a hatchet. The rounded face leaves a slight dimple (which is later filled with joint compound to hide the nail) in the drywall, and the hatchet blade is handy for prying or lifting sheets of drywall.

A mallet is a soft-faced hammer made of plastic, rawhide, rubber, or wood. It is often used to tap a wood chisel because it won’t damage the chisel handle. Mallets come in different weights, rang­ing from 1Vi oz. to 2 lb., with different handle lengths. The one I use weighs 10 oz. and has a 14-in. handle.

When driving stakes into very hard ground or doing heavy demolition work, you may need a 12-lb. sledgehammer with a 36-in. handle. This tool is also

used to nudge framed walls into posi­tion. Sledgehammers come in various weights, ranging from 4 lb. to 12 lb., with different handle lengths. I carry a 6-lb. sledgehammer with a 20-in. handle in my pickup.

Nailing with a hammer


Choosing a hammer A carpenter uses his hammer every day, so it’s important to pick the right one for the job. A ham­mer will become an extension of your arm, so buy one that feels good to you.

Regardless of which type of hammer you need, whether it’s for framing, finishing, drywalling, or demolition, always buy quality. A cheap hammer made of iron rather than hardened steel will most likely chip or break, like the one I had as a child.

Another consideration is the weight and length of the hammer. The best advice I can give regarding these two considera­tions is to buy a hammer that feels

comfortable in your hands. Take a swing or two and see how it feels. If it’s too heavy, try a lighter one. If it’s top-heavy, try a shorter or longer handle. It’s all a matter of fitting the hammer to your physical strength and comfort.

Driving nails Driving nails with a ham­mer has more to do with rhythm and coordination than it does with power and force. A long swing using shoulder, elbow, and forearm movement, with a decisive snap of the wrist at the end, is important for driving large nails (see the drawing above). Small nails can be driven mainly with simple wrist action. The key to nailing is to hit the nail head flat with the face of the hammer.

Otherwise, the nail will bend or pop out or the hammer will slide off and leave a mark on the wood.

Becoming a good nailer, like becoming a good typist, takes practice. I have heard old-time carpenters tell apprentices to sharpen their nailing skills and to stop leaving "Charlie Olsens" (the C – and 0- shaped indentations left in the wood by the hammer face after missed hammer blows). To practice nailing, I suggest you get a box of 8d or 16d framing nails, find a hunk of wood or scrap 2x, and start hammering nails (see the photo above). Your grip on the handle is criti­cal. There’s no need for a tiring,
white-knuckle hold. Rather, grab the handle near the end with an easy, firm grip and make sure your thumb is wrapped around the handle. Hold the nail on the wood with one hand, start it with a tap, remove your hand from the nail, and drive the nail home. Keep dri­ving until you develop a good rhythm. When driving nails through hard wood, try using softer, direct blows to keep the nail from bending.

There are times when you need to set (or start) a nail in a hard-to-reach or high-up place. Practice setting this nail with one hand. Wrap your hand around the hammer head, hold the nail with

Like most carpenters, I can tell tales of steel and nails sent flying from a hammer blow. Unfortunately, many of these tales don’t have happy endings. Be­cause the hammer is a striking tool, it can be dan­gerous, so protect yourself by following a couple of simple safety rules.

First, don’t strike hard steel against hard steel, ham­mer face against hammer face, for whatever reason. Doing so can break off small pieces of steel (I call it job shrapnel), sending them flying—sometimes into unsuspecting bodies. I have carried a small piece of hammer steel lodged near the knuckle of my right index finger for 40 years.

Second, always wear safety glasses when you’re hammering—no exceptions. Flying steel and nails can be crippling if they hit you in the eye. I know. It happened to me.

In the early ’50s, I was framing walls on a very hot afternoon. Rather than stopping work to wipe the sweat off my glasses, I laid them aside.

I set a nail in a top plate and hit it with my hammer. Unfortunately, the blow barely caught the edge of the nail head, and the nail flew up and struck me in the right eye. It hurt some, but the pain was not in­tolerable. It felt like someone had poked me in the eye with their finger.

It took a few minutes before I realized that my vision was getting blurry.

The job site was near a hospital, so I drove my car to the emergency room. It took the doctor about 30 seconds to call for an eye specialist. The news was not great. The nail had hit me point-first and had punctured my eyeball, causing the fluid in my eye to leak out.

I was rolled into an operating room and was given a local anesthetic, so I got to watch as they stitched up my eyeball. I could sort of see a curved needle coming down to my eye as the doctor plugged the hole. I was sure wishing I had taken time to wipe the sweat off my glasses. After surgery, I was wheeled to a hospital bed with my head wrapped like a mummy.

After 10 days of wondering, waiting to find out if I would see again out of my right eye, the doctor took off the bandages. Good news. I still had to keep my eyes wrapped for another three weeks, but my vision was going to be more or less okay.

The effects of the accident still linger. Since then, I have had to wear dark glasses in bright sunlight be­cause the eye is very sensitive to light, and stop lights look like amoebas. But I do consider myself lucky. I can see. Learn from my mistake and don’t take chances with your eyes.

your thumb and forefinger flat against the head, and set the nail (see the left photo on the facing page). Some ham­mers are designed with a magnetic slot to hold a nail for setting in tight spots (Ted Hammers; see Sources on p. 198).

Once you have mastered the art of dri­ving framing nails, practice with finish nails. The two methods differ. When driving finish nails, you need to be more accurate, because a missed hammer blow could destroy an expensive piece of molding or other piece of finish work To get more control, hold the hammer closer to the head. Practice the same way with finish nails as you did with the framing nails. Hold the nail, set it, and drive it.

Pulling nails Pulling nails with a ham­mer is easy. If you have one with a fiberglass or steel handle, simply hook the nail head with the claws and pull on

Подпись: To set a nail with one hand, wrap your hand around the hammer head, hold the nail with your thumb and forefinger flat against the head, and stick it into the wood.

the handle. To protect the wood from being marred and to gain better lever­age, put a block of wood under the hammer (see the right photo above).

If you have a hammer with a wood handle, you have to be extra careful when pulling a nail to avoid breaking the handle. Slip the long part of the nail (called the shank) between the claws. Hook the shank by the inside ridge of the claws and push the hammer over to
one side (see the top photo on p. 14). Release, hook the nail again, and push the hammer to the opposite side. This should remove the nail or loosen it suffi­ciently for you to pull it out.

It’s not always practical to grab a power drill to drive screws, especially if you only have one or two to set. So a couple of screwdrivers are still commonly found in a carpenter’s toolbucket. There are two


When pulling nails using a hammer with a wood handle, hook the nail and push the hammer to one side. Then release and repeat on the other side until the nail is loose.


A T-shaped screwdriver with interchangeable bits is compact and holds several bits in the handle, so it’s easy to carry. Its design also allows you to apply a lot of force to driving a screw.


common types of screwdrivers: standard and Phillips. The standard screwdriver has a flat tip shaped to fit a slotted screw. The Phillips has a tip shaped like a cross to fit a screw with a cross-shaped hole. Other types of screwdrivers include square and star-shaped tips.

All screwdrivers come in different lengths with different size tips and blade thicknesses. It’s a good idea to buy a set of screwdrivers with a variety of tip types and sizes. Another option is to buy a screwdriver with interchangeable heads. This type will take up less room in your toolbelt or toolbox. I own a compact, T-shaped screwdriver (Judson Enterprises; see Sources on p. 198) that I carry in my toolbucket (see the bottom photo on the facing page). It’s small but powerful, has a reversible ratchet, and the handle holds the extra bits. In general, I prefer to use Phillips-head screws and screw­drivers because the screwdriver is less likely to slip out of the slot in the screw.


A stapler is a handy tool to keep around. Two types are commonly found on the job site: the hammer tacker and the staple gun. Most carpenters prefer the hammer tacker because it’s fast and easy to use. The hammer tacker is about 1 ft. long and can be loaded with strips of staples. It got its name because you swing it like a hammer (see the photo above). When the tool hits a solid sur­face, it drives a staple. A hammer tacker usually accepts staples from! Л in. to Vi in. long. It’s most commonly used to tack down building paper, housewrap, plastic vapor barriers, the kraft-paper flanges on fiberglass insulation, and car­pet underlayment. On remodeling jobs,

I use a hammer tacker to staple plastic over doors so that dust won’t drift into other rooms.

A staple gun allows you to place staples more accurately. Most models drive staples from ]A in. to 9/i6 in. long. I use a staple gun for installing acoustical tile or for tacking down phone wires. The problem with a staple gun is that squeezing the trigger handle repeatedly can be tiring on the hand and wrist. If you have lots of staples to drive, you may want to buy a small electric stapler.