||On a warm Maryland morning during the summer of 1966, I followed my older brother up a ladder to the bare plywood deck of a roof. I was 16, eager to learn, and totally inexperienced in roofing and most other things. My brother talked me through our first task, which was rolling out, cutting, and nailing down roofing felt. After an hour or two of hard work, we had all of the bare wood covered.
Then my brother unfolded his carpenter's ruler, held it flat on the roof deck and scratched V-shaped marks in the felt with a roofing nail. He explained the measurements as he worked, and as I watched and listened, I was impressed by the simplicity and logic of it. After marking off the roof, he told me to hold one end of a string, and as he unwound it from a scrap of wood, he rubbed a half-round chunk of red chalk on it. The blue chalk favored by carpenters, he explained, would fade in the sun. Holding the chalked string on the marks, we struck horizontal lines every 10 in., stopping after every fourth line to rechalk the string. To keep the grooves of the shingles straight, we snapped two vertical 'bond' lines 6 in. apart on each section of the roof. Over the next two days, we nailed off an asphalt shingle roof by following those lines.
By now, those shingles have worn away and been replaced. The lessons I learned from working on that roof, however, have stayed with me through three decades of building. The most important lesson I learned is that careful measuring and marking are vital parts of craftsmanship and that those who do things 'by eye' invariably produce inferior-quality work. Another lesson I learned is that careful measuring and marking don't take that much more time. Like other building skills, measuring and marking techniques can be improved and made more efficient through practice.
Unfortunately, many builders never develop good measuring and marking skills because they believe that careful layout isn't as important as production. If they're not moving forward, they feel like they're wasting time. But whoever asked, 'Why is there never enough time to do the job right--but always enough time to do it twice?' was watching one of these frantic builders at work.
In this book, my main goal is to show how to do the job right--the first time. My experience as a builder has taught me that good habits of measuring and marking not only ensure high quality, but they also save materials and, in the long run, increase productivity. Taking the time to make good, accurate layouts is almost always time well spent. Yet, it is still time spent, and time is an ever-present concern for builders. Another goal of this book, then, will be to show how to measure and mark efficiently. To do this, builders must not only work fast, but they also must impose realistic standards on themselves. In many instances, I will offer what I consider to be practical tolerances to work to when laying out different materials.
Many builders like devices that beep and blink and have digital readouts. While some of these can be very useful, they are, by and large, wholly unnecessary. Builders don't have to invest a fortune in space-age gadgetry to make accurate measurements, nor do they need to have advanced training in math to build complex houses. The grand houses of the past were built by masons and carpenters who didn't have calculators or computers and who often didn't possess much in the way of a formal education. But these builders were able to reduce problems to simple terms and graphic models.
Roof pitches are a classic example of this. What could be easier and more descriptive than designating a roof pitch as 9-in-12? The carpenter doesn't need to know geometry to measure over 12 in. and up 9 in. This approach is so simple, elegant, and foolproof that it has remained the standard way to designate pitch to this day. Throughout the book I will provide dozens of other beautifully simple techniques bequeathed to us by our predecessors. And yet, I don't advocate a return to the 19th century, either. I wouldn't dream of building a house without my arsenal of power tools. By the same token, I wouldn't attempt to lay out many projects without my calculator.
There are often several different ways to measure and mark the same project, and rarely is there one single, right way. Individual differences in mathematical training, ability to visualize and draw, past experience, tools, temperament, and taste are all factors in deciding which approach is best for a given individual. In this book, I will be presenting my own approaches, of course, but I will also offer alternate approaches for many of the problems discussed.
Finally, in writing this book, I would like to make a simple, philosophical point: The primary reward for careful workmanship is the work itself. It is simply more enjoyable to install crisp, straight courses than it is to install wavy, crooked ones. It is far more rewarding to end up with clean, professional-looking work than with sloppy or ragged work. I first felt the deep satisfaction that comes with doing a job well 30 summers ago. It's a feeling that never wears away.