Frustrating Carpentry work

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Forum topic by richgreer posted 08-29-2011 06:30 PM 1915 views 0 times favorited 21 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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4541 posts in 4085 days

08-29-2011 06:30 PM

For the last 2 weeks I have been more of a carpenter than a woodworker. I’m building an audio control booth for my church. I swear, this 70+ year old building does not have a floor that is level, a wall that is perfectly vertical or a corner that is square. I am constantly trying to compensate for problems with the existing building and finding creative ways to cover up joints that are not flush. I’m about to make a closet door that needs to be 26” wide at the top and 25.125” wide at the bottom.

I yearn to be back to building boxes, miscellaneous items or furniture where I am in total control of all the dimensions.

I am, first and foremost, a woodworker and I enjoy precision cutting and joinery. In the world of carpentry you have to accept something being 1/4” off over an 8’ run and then you try to find ways to hide the imperfections.

I find this very frustrating.

-- Rich, Cedar Rapids, IA - I'm a woodworker. I don't create beauty, I reveal it.

21 replies so far

View nailbanger2's profile


1041 posts in 4154 days

#1 posted 08-29-2011 06:42 PM

Welcome to my world, Rich. I choose to think it makes you a better all around woodworker. I do hear what you are saying, though.

-- Wish I were Norm's Nephew

View Dan's profile


3653 posts in 3891 days

#2 posted 08-29-2011 06:43 PM

Rich, I couldn’t agree more. I am currently building some built in book shelves for my sister at her house and I am running into the same problems. I spent more time so far trying to figure out how to hide gaps with trim then I have spent building the shelves.

Its hard to forget what you know and do things your normally wouldn’t do but sometimes its what you have to do. How contractors build homes with warped and twisted 2×4s is a mystery.

-- Dan - "Collector of Hand Planes"

View jerkylips's profile


495 posts in 3581 days

#3 posted 08-29-2011 06:53 PM

Here’s the problem as I see it. When doing carpentry/framing/etc/projects and something isn’t quite as precise as it should be, I’ve been known to utter the phrase, “I ain’t buildin’ a church!”. Unfortunately for you… are…. ;)

View Gene Howe's profile

Gene Howe

12303 posts in 4439 days

#4 posted 08-29-2011 08:06 PM

I feel your pain.
My solution is to do the best I can to “make it work” and still be safe, then move on to the next part of the project.

-- Gene 'The true soldier fights not because he hates what is in front of him, but because he loves what is behind him.' G. K. Chesterton

View richgreer's profile


4541 posts in 4085 days

#5 posted 08-29-2011 08:14 PM

I think part of the issue is the quality of the construction lumber that is used. I purchased 2×4s for studs and 2×6s for joists for this project. I spent a long time combing through what was available at Lowes and rejected at least 2 of every 3 I looked at. Even then, I did not have perfectly straight boards. I’m sure someone else will eventually buy the boards I rejected. I’ve been a volunteer at Habitat for Humanity building projects and some of the boards they had were absolutely terrible – - but they used them.

-- Rich, Cedar Rapids, IA - I'm a woodworker. I don't create beauty, I reveal it.

View TopamaxSurvivor's profile


20263 posts in 4686 days

#6 posted 08-29-2011 08:39 PM

It doesn’t really mater if it was built square and plumb, building are dynamic so they don’t stay that was very long.

-- Bob in WW ~ "some old things are lovely, warm still with life ... of the forgotten men who made them." - D.H. Lawrence

View Dallas's profile


3599 posts in 3498 days

#7 posted 08-29-2011 09:07 PM

Hee Hee Hee…. I’m working on an Avion camp trailer right now and there is no single place that it is square, plumb or true. Even the bathtub is built like an hour glass sideways.

Don’t worry so much about doing as you would when you are building cabinets, build the framing part as if you were a framer, then do the trim part as if you were a trim carpenter. By the time you get to the fancy stuff, like cabinetry, you’ll be able to cut and nip and stuff until it all works.

In the 80’s I was the layout guy for a large remodeling contractor in Atlanta. I could lay out a pad, have it within 1/16” and by the time the framers got to the top plate it would be out by up to an inch. The concrete guys wouldn’t lay the pad right, leave too much area for the J-bolts, etc. The framers would see the J-bolts, and center the walls on those. The walls would bend and warp with changes in humidity and temp, besides being really crappy low end lumber, and by the time they got to the roof peak, it was all just fine.
Framing doesn’t need perfect joints. Shims hide a lot of problems with trim work, once the dry wall is up, no one will see it and you build the cabinets to fit the space.

Spin forward to 1992….. I worked as a supervisor on a crew for Jim Walters Homes. 3 weeks, start to finish for a 3200 sq ft 2 storey house. This means ‘move in ready’. What a load of crap. I watched some of the worst building practices I’ve ever seen. Everything from studs with one nail so they would swivel to top plates with gaps 6” wide. Roof trusses that weren’t nailed into the top plate, sub floor that was held down with nothing more than glue. Concrete that was too wet/dry to support the structure. 4” footers.

I love working on old buildings! I once worked on the Pike Place Market building in Seattle. 9 floors from top to ground, the top floor east is three blocks of the bottom floor entrance west. I was responcible for the flooring replacement of 4 floors. If you go in there to this day, you will not be able to tell where I replaced a piece, a whole board, or a 10’X10’ section, and none of it was square.

Good luck, Keep your stick on the ice!


-- Improvise.... Adapt...... Overcome!

View teejk's profile


1215 posts in 3695 days

#8 posted 08-29-2011 09:12 PM

so now you know why we need casing/baseboard/quarter round etc.!

and even if perfect now, give those 2x’s a few months and it won’t be.

and probably a good bet that you (and only you) will notice any flaws.

View Woodwrecker's profile


4240 posts in 4586 days

#9 posted 08-29-2011 09:19 PM

You are earning some extra blessings my friend.
Keep up the good work.

View rance's profile


4277 posts in 4171 days

#10 posted 08-29-2011 09:51 PM

Another place for that 2° putty it seems.

-- Backer boards, stop blocks, build oversized, and never buy a hand plane--

View Cozmo35's profile


2200 posts in 4046 days

#11 posted 08-29-2011 09:54 PM

Rich, I LIVE in a place like that. I swear, if I find the guy who built my house, I am going to beat him with a carpenters square! I feel your pain!

-- If you don't work, you don't eat!.....Garland, TX

View patron's profile


13716 posts in 4351 days

#12 posted 08-29-2011 10:05 PM

make your door 26” parralel
then trim one or both sides to fit

saves un-square fitting
of the build

-- david - only thru kindness can this world be whole . If we don't succeed we run the risk of failure. Dan Quayle

View Jim Bertelson's profile

Jim Bertelson

4275 posts in 4175 days

#13 posted 08-29-2011 10:14 PM

Let’s see, a few comments…....

On the last remodel, the middle one third, one third still to go, the contractor gave up on one wall in put in steel studs, he couldn’t find any wood ones that were usable….......

Mind you, the purchaser of his services technically is my wife and I, but really, it is my wife Sherie. When we were looking at houses in La Conner, Washington, (and we bought one), Sherie would walk into the house and within 30 seconds point out sanding marks on a wood floor over in some corner the the realtor and I would never notice forever, or not for a few months. The realtor had worked a lot of construction in his time, and saw most everything. He couldn’t believe The Hawk (Sherie).

Just be happy Sherie isn’t judging the results. We have a great contractor, and he only works cost plus, so nothing is spared… he used metal studs. He understands Sherie well.

My Multi-Function Bench…....

I culled a bunch of studs at the BORG, knowing I was going to put a bunch of extra wood into this thing for weight and rigidity. Also used a bunch of Chinese plywood for the same reason. Between the studs and the plywood, the cheap materials probably added 20 hours to the project….....not worth it.

So I took the carefull culled studs home, and then culled them again. One out of three were accepted, that’s after culling them at the BORG. Hmmmmm. So I am being more select than you, Rich, because I am using them for an even more exacting project.

There are a few steps that lead to such bad materials I suspect, and I bet there is more than one person in our ranks that can comment on it.

My guess:

Fast growing coarse grained trees.
Inadequate drying and handling processes.
Milling procedures and machines that conserve wood rather than emphasizing quality.

I suspect it will get worse before it gets better…......

-- Jim, Anchorage Alaska

View wchips's profile


314 posts in 4098 days

#14 posted 08-30-2011 04:20 AM

I have hung cabinets in new houses that are not plumb or square.

-- wchips

View greg48's profile


630 posts in 3768 days

#15 posted 08-30-2011 04:43 AM

Speaking of poor materials, I am reminded of the time I used to work for a large timber company who produced redwood and doug-fir construction grade lumber. When I commented on the amount of “wane” on the lumber, the gen’l. mgr. said “Yep, sell ‘em what ain’t there. The company has since passed on from this state.

-- Greg, No. Cal. - "Gaudete in Domino Semper"

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