ShopTalk Sunday: Measurement Essentials & Planning

With the holiday weekend ahead – and a break in summer weather across the South from hurricane Ida, due to come ashore within the day – time to line up projects and tools for the big important projects this Fall.

With this in mind, a quick overview of the first of our Four Shop Operations to build anything.

  • Measure
  • Cut
  • Join
  • Finish

Sometimes, the order will slide around (slightly) for the last two.  I’ve built furniture where the finishing was applied and then the piece final assembly followed.  But, for big projects typical of rural life, measure, cut, join, and slap a coat of something on it tends to be the workflow.

Managing Shop Time

The very first thing I measure around the shop is my time.

May seem idiotic (a lot of what I do does…), but I’ve put an entire Time Management Course together for you in two sentences.  Ready?

  1. Make a list and then do it.
  2. Live Cal Newport’s book Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World.

That’s it!

Sure, you can add the critical eye training course (“Is What’s Around Me Perfect?” [iWAMP].  No need for that, however, until everything on your list for the day is done.

Think I’m kidding about scheduling “my spontaneity?”  Here’s my Sunday:

This list – kept in the Tasks part of Microsoft Outlook.

The items in red will be done first because they are carryovers from Friday.

Because there is a long weekend coming up, a fair bit of time was devoted, during planning time, to lining up materials for Labor Day.

Unless there is something time sensitive (like writing this column) the red items (pushed back from previous day) happen and then the white ones.

Deep Work – Newport’s book – is incredibly powerful.  Because you begin to instinctively look (like a good project manager) for all the “speed bumps” that can keep your projects from being realized – especially the big ones.

Imagine the poor home handy-bastard who decides to build a deck next weekend over the three dayer:  Around here, Elaine would have come up with the design, the Chief Estimator would have ordered materials, Amazon would have the 3″ deck screws in cue, and the long-range weather would be monitored.

Which is how you avoid spending the first Project Day waiting in checkout lines at Home Despots, only to get material home, just in time for three days of non-stop downpours.

Point is, to wrap this part up:  Measurement begins with measuring yourself (efforts and schedule) and then you move on to materials in hand and “Go!” on a project.

Basic Measurement Tools

Senility being what it is, I don’t remember if I’ve ever made the idle boast that “I can build a house with less than a dozen tools.”

Two tools would be a soft 300-foot tape and the second would be a 25-foot Fat Max.

The other two “essentials” are the digital calipers.  We have several of these.  Big one shown is an 8-incher.  But you can find the equally useful 6-inchers on Amazon on sale for around $20 if you watch their “deals.”

The folding rule is useful because you can draw lines against it.  A real time saver.

The main application of the 300-footer is in laying out foundations and setting posts.  If you measure a foundation, it’s easily made square by making sure the distance between opposite corners is the same.  If they’re not, then your whole construction project will be “off-kilter” and nothing is worse than seeing something an inch out of square and trying to make tight joints.  It just doesn’t happen.

The real test of the steel tape measure is how long a span will it self-support.  It you can’t measure 8-10 feet horizontally without the tape collapsing, do yourself a favor and get a useful tape.

Measurement and Time

There are a lot of other measurement tools that are “nice” to have.  One example is a full-sized carpenter’s framing square.  Equipped with screw-blocks, you can set up easy stair cut marking, too.

A level – 36″ or 48″ (better) is great, too.  Along with a few short 4 to 8 inchers for the quickie measurements.

Tool count for a house?  Long tape, steel tape, small and large levels ought to do it.  Four tools so far.

Housing-Building Count

The second operation is cutting.  While it would be nice to have the “ideal assortment” of saws…

  • Chop (miter) saw
  • 5″ battery powered and 7-1/4″   110VAC circ saws
  • Jig Saw
  • Table Saw
  • 10-point hand crosscut saw
  • 8-point hand rip saw
  • Hacksaw…

You could get by with just a jig saw, though.  Didn’t say that would be particularly efficient – and the lines might waver a fair bit till you get dialed in on one.  But there’s a wide assortment of blades if you get a good one.  The laser guide built in is a must.


This part of building a house generally only needs a pair of tools:  A good hammer and an impact driver (with extra large batteries and a back-up).

Since I really love screwing (ahem.,..) the impact driver is my all-time favorite tool for framing.  Used with the steel right-angle brackets, it’s hard to go wrong.  Easily recycled, too!

Still, for setting walls and such, a pocketful of 16-penny nails (*16d is how they’re marked) hammers have their place.

The other consideration is the roofing.  People like us like the rigidity of metal roofing (best done with an impact driver).  But the hammer wins if you’re laying three-tab or shakes.

Of course, the 3-1/2-inch framing nail gun (and a few thousand stainless nails) is part of our disaster reconstruction kit.

What I don’t have is a roofing nail gun, but whether we get one depends on whether G2 does the new roof, or we hire it out.  Mind you, it isn’t that at 72 I can’t slap down three-tab.  Of course, I can.  But, there are a couple of spots where I’d like to have new underlayment (OSB prices are still insanely high).  Single-handing 4X8 sheets up a roof is not an adventure I’d be in a hurry to sign up for.

Inventory to this point?  Cloth and steel tapes, two levels, jig saw, impact driver and hammer.

Last Tool?

The paint brush.

When I was young (and this really ought to be a chapter in my next book (already serialized on the Peoplenomics site) “The 100-Year Toaster: Obsolescence -Our Global Addiction”

Pappy was a fanatic about keeping his paint brushes cleaned.  Mainly, they were hog bristle.  After each project, he would clean them outside in kerosene or paint thinner.  A few swings in the air after 4 or 5 dousings and working the bristles.

Then it was into the basement laundry’s big cast concrete sink for a 10-15-minute workout with a bottle of dish soap.  Pappy explained about how the kerosene emulsified the remains of the (oil based) paint and then the straight dish soap would clean the emulsion out.

But you have to be very careful to really work on the heel of the brush.  Because that’s what wrecks a brush over time.  You get a build-up in the heel, the bristles lose their flex, and the brush won’t pick up material as well, and since their shorter, the flowing of paint leaves more brush strokes…”

Those were the days, right?  Smells of oil-based paint, kerosene, dish soap, and a lecture on how it all works.  (Poof!  Nowadays we’re checking gender in school where parents park kids, lol…)

Enter monetizations via obsolescence.  Today, you can buy 3″ short-bristled “chip brushes” on Amazon for just over 50-cents each:  Pro Grade – Chip Paint Brushes – 96 Ea 3 Inch Chip Paint Brush.  What is that?  55-cents a brush?

That’s just ONE example of how life has changed in the last 60-odd years.  From diligently cleaning tools for future use to the modern world where disposable (people, things, tools, whole countries…) seems to be the order of the day.

Saw Sharpening

Don’t know whether I’ve mentioned this, but I’ve got a few saw sharpeners now.  A circular saw machine that will touch up anything from a 5-1/2 inch to a 12-inch blade.  Though the twelves are carbide tipped, so the sharpener won’t see them…

Take a gander at some of the old-time saw sharpeners found on eBay.  Do a search for “Foley Belsaw.”

Neat company to know about.  Write up on the Vintage Machinery site over here.  Before their merger in 1983, there was a Foley and there was a Belsaw.

Foley made a lot of kitchen gadgets and the combined company had some dandy courses – like how to repair small engines and how to do locksmithing.

Kind of interesting to sit back with a second cup this morning and contemplate:  If G2 does come down here (still somewhat up in the air as he’s Covid-warrioring, but he likes the look of the local college’s paramedic program…) what are the tools he would need to build a house?

Then thinking back on the days of taking care of even modest paint brushes which seems so anachronistic from the perspective of the Disposable Society’s triumph.

All things go in cycles, though.  History is abundantly clear on that.

From the mists of history comes another thought:  Since we have a tree farm here, would a modest 16-foot WoodMizer be an interesting starting point for an inexpensive home?  Cut the wood for a home and then sell-off the mill…hmm…

A handful of tools, free trees and a wood mill…could a seriously motivated person make a high-quality 1,600 SF home for $40-thousand in factory-made parts?

That one goes on the “things to think about list” – but in the age of lazy video game players, seems at first glance like sweat equity may still deliver some dandy payoffs.

Who works anymore, anyway?  (Outlook reminder just dinged me…)

Write when you get rich,

31 thoughts on “ShopTalk Sunday: Measurement Essentials & Planning”

  1. Spent many an hour behind a Foley-Belsaw reel grinder. First the manual, then the new-fangled automatic spin grinders. Some nights I swear I can still hear the sound barely over the tinnitus…

      • Got one of those, inherited from my father. American Lawn Mower Company, ca. ~1950.

        Nonfunctional and in the restoration queue (but not near the top.) It has about a 5-6hp horizontal Briggs with a lever-start and the self-propelled engagement lever is an aluminum spoke, about a half-inch in diameter.

        I never saw a rotary mower until I was nearly 10. Reel mowers DEMAND a nearly uniform, flat lawn. Through heaving and tree roots, ours became less uniform over time, and rather than cut trees and till it out, Dad parked the reels…

    • Right you are, Mason. When I mentioned ’em they were $39 – now $60.63 as of this morning.
      Only twitch is the alignment of the blade locking slot but you could build a house with that saw, too

      • Geo…Bought a Black & Decker powered handsaw for $39 based on your earlier recommendation. It’s a handy tool – thanks!

  2. I purchased an Craftsman self-propelled mower 30 years back. When I finally upgraded to a lawn tractor, I gave the Craftsman to my bro-in-law to use at his cabin. The only maintenance required to date has been routine changes of the cylindrical air filter, a new drive belt, new pull-rope, annual blade inspection/sharpening/replacement and some pop-riveted metal over the now rusting deck. Great machine – a few pumps on the rubber gas bulb and she starts right up with just one or two pulls. It also helps that my bro-in-law took a lawn mower repair and maintenance class at a local community college.

  3. George,
    More info on your saw sharpener, please. Does it also work on Sawzall and handsaw blades? Sounds like a good investment should SHTF.

  4. “nothing is worse than seeing something an inch out of square and trying to make tight joints. ”

    Boy that’s the truth… I have a small 2 foot wall… I was building our home in my spare time while. working 2 full time and one part time jobs. It was a rocky beginning where the contractor for doing the foundation took the deposit ( one third of the cost .. I did get my ten thousand dollar hammer from him) setting me back.. plumbers was a mess.. I was working my butt off and it was this time of year.. the sister and brother in law was standing there talking to the wife and made a comment.. it’s going to take him more than ten years to get this done.. it made me irritated.. as I was thinking to myself.. GD you could pick up a hammer and help.. I slapped this teo foot wall up..didn’t put a level on it.. and nailed the crap out of it.. then rushed off to work..I never noticed the issue..until the middle of october. Ihad just finished wiring the house and sheetrock was hung up..went to paint and install doors.. and there it was.. that 2 foot wall.. a half inch off at the top…and no way to fix it.. we moved in and had Thanksgiving dinner.. dome things had to be left undone because of the contractor that took the money and ran . ( a lot of big contractors did that that year)
    But that’s been a constant reminder.. measure and level and gor God’s sake don’t let someones comments get your irritation up..

  5. George

    A weather report from Slidell Louisiana as hurricane Ida approaches.
    We’re starting to have moderate rain and winds as the first bands of the hurricane arrive. We are advised by the TV weather reporters that we can expect 100 Mph winds later in the day.
    The house were in has survived many hurricanes including Katrina with no flooding. The only problem I foresee is that our roof is at the end of it’s service life and may not survive the storm.
    The internal house weather is another story. My son, his wife and four daughters are sheltering with us as his home is about 20 miles further south and might flood.
    So that’s 6 women and 2 men crammed into a 2000 Square Foot house!
    And to show you how things go when crunch time hits the clothes dryer died yesterday. And it was only 15 years old!
    We now have lots of feminine clothes on hangers air drying.
    So it’s tight living but we’re family so we endure. Thank God for iPones as it keeps the girls busy!
    So why do we live here? It’s home. It’s the area I grew up in and it’s affordable.
    It I could afford it and all the craziness in California was gone I would move back to Napa where I lived for three years. There’s no sign that’s going to happen.
    So wish all of us in South Louisiana luck and better weather!

  6. “Do a search for “Foley Belsaw.”

    I had this dream of retiring then sharpening saw blades for big cabinet shops and whomever.. I invested in a big saw sharpening machine.. could do up toast thirty inch blade..including carbide tooth installation and took up a great deal of the garage.. it never came to fruition.
    I ended up trading it to a big lumberyard..

  7. But George… Aren’t you the one who poo-pooed me about ten or fifteen years ago for suggesting a saw sharpener would be a handy bit of kit for any intrepid prepper or survivalist?

    FWIW I recently acquired an “Elmer Fudd” treadle wheel. It looks good, next to my Fordson-driven sawmill. The treadle wheel is the best tool for sharpening an axe or mattock, hoe or hand-cultivator, machete or mower blade. It puts the proper concave radius on the tool and (assuming it runs in a water trough – mine does) will run cool and put a razor edge on a tool without destroying the tool’s temper.

    Oh, and it’s EMP-proof, too. {wink}

    The trick is finding an antique that’s serviceable with a stone that’s both dressable and not cracked, or copying an antique pattern and using a new Norton 20″-24″ wheel. One will pay as much to build a new one, as the cost of a museum-quality antique. A new one won’t have the caché, but it can have a Carborundum wheel…

  8. When I saw the measuring tool picture, I immediately thought of the missing framing square! You mentioned it a few lines further on. IMHO, one(or more) framing square(s) is essential for any serious framing, along with a speed square(get extras so you’ll be able to find one). The framing square is good for pitches on a roof as well as cutting stairs. Tools are so cheap today(relatively) that there’s no loss in having extras. I don’t have an electric handsaw, but I do consider a couple of sawzall’s essential for cutting or squaring notches where a circular saw would overcut too much.

    Regarding metal roofs, I NEVER use an impact driver for screwing it! I love the impact driver for screwing most other things, but the screws on a metal roof need to be snugged down carefully and then just a bit to keep the rubber washer from squishing too much and leaking when the metal moves from thermal cycling. Too tight and they will also dent the metal and it looks bad. I screw these roofs with a regular cordless drill/driver since there’s much more fine control than the impact driver.

      • George, for the only one I’ve done, I used a hammer to punch the screw into the steel, then drove it with one of my Makita drills, set on about “6” (soft pine rafters.) I then followed up by hand, once they were all driven. Turning screws .2-2 turns each isn’t too taxing, even on carpal tunnel, and one really needs the “human touch” to feel where the “proper place” is for each screw…

  9. “From the mists of history comes another thought: Since we have a tree farm here, would a modest 16-foot WoodMizer be an interesting starting point for an inexpensive home? Cut the wood for a home and then sell-off the mill…hmm…”

    On my list, too. BTW the little Wood-Mizer has gone up $900 this year.

    I’d definitely not sell. If I needed dimensional lumber, my neighbors might, too. BTW the one I was thinking about was the LT-15 w/diesel…

    The secret to doing the “built with my own timber” house is to build a tarp “tent” (as a kiln-dryer) in which to stack, dry, and “season” or “cure” the wood, and then have the patience to do so. I would prefer lumber be seasoned for at least 6-months before use. That way, if it’s going to check, crack, warp, twist, or bend, those evil traits will have shown themselves. The times I have done this, I have the fan going all the time, and use a “salamander” to raise the temperature to between 120-130 degrees, then let it cool, and I open the tent periodically to flash off the moist air, but then close it back up. IMO it dries the lumber gently, but thoroughly, and doesn’t generate bad reactions from the boards, to being kiln-dried. That’s just me though, and I tend to overthink and overengineer things like this. Y’all can find lots of plans online for kiln dryers. I got mine from an old master carpenter, then modified them to suit my OC tendencies…

    If you watch “Homestead Rescue” you’ll notice that Marty cuts trees, then finds someone who already has lumber, and trades the fresh-cut trees for dimensional (construction) lumber. This is because the show has a 7-day time budget, and it takes longer than 7-days to dry & season the wood.

    A forced-air heater and a big fan let you “dry like the pros” but if’fn you notice, lotsa store-bought wood is checked (cracked.) Checking is predisposed by the genetics of the individual tree, and happens in the drying process. An air-dried log may check, but if it’s kiln-dried, it’ll check much worse. A kiln-dried board that’s gonna bend or twist may come out of the kiln “laser-straight,” then do its thang months later, after you frame a window or door with it — causing the window or door to lose its fit, and thenceforth never fit correctly.

    BTW, the DIYer can make his own “pressure treated” lumber, also. A little cupric arsenate, a little acid, a piece of large PVC drain pipe — you get the picture, and if not, ask LOOB to draw one for you (‘cuz I’m betting he can…)

  10. Yes, George and Hank, the Israel study you posted does indicate that vaccines lose efficacy over time (and why Israel is already offering 3rd doses).

    You will be sick at a 6x higher rate if you don’t get vaccinated (over 60+ age group more affected).

    Back to your regularly scheduled Biden Bash and how all the world’s problems are caused by socialist commies.

  11. When I plan the time required for a project, whether building or repairing, I figure in every conceivable factor, then multiply by 3. If I finish the project ahead of that timeline, I’m ahead of the game. Doesn’t happen very often.

    The sawmill might be a good investment if you plan to trade the fresh-cut lumber to a rube for kiln-dried, but otherwise don’t plan on building a house from your fresh-cut pine until it has dried for at least a year or two. Shrinkage loosens joints like you wouldn’t believe.

    I’d also include an air compressor in the tool column for building or repairing. Spray painting large projects is faster and looks better than brushing. I use an air impact wrench to remove rusted-on nuts, especially on things where the machine may want to rotate with the wrench.

  12. Hi George
    Construction has three major principals to review before fabrication. This is what I was taught late 70s.
    Elevations ( always first get the right floor on the building ), Squares & Angles ( think north/south, up and down) & orientations ( around the clock, can be lateral or Globe like.
    Some of the more modern digital angle finders and lasers are a great resource.
    Still a Lincoln supporter.

  13. Just another old tool slut here. Over years I have been dedicated to 15 amp draw tools and have many survivors of battle from long past-even have a 150H Porter Cable Router, HaHa. Dont own a 3D printer and likely never will at my age.
    One thing I seldom hear in being sustainable is the sewing machine. I have owned for many years, Sears Kenmore C877.15 black, like the old toaster is almost lifetime, Belt drive converted from treddle and could return to treddle I am sure. Handy for repairs and if you harvest wild game hides have a few leather piercing needles on hand for scabbards, sheaths, bandoliers and rudimentary/fine clothing etc, etcetera.
    Thank you George, you are my first click after Ben Davidson=SObservers.

  14. P.S. Ben Davidson delivers usually around 0500 AZ time. Young guy!
    You are right on time anytime George.

  15. “Senility being what it is, I don’t remember if I’ve ever made the idle boast that “I can build a house with less than a dozen tools.””

    Lessee, a chainsaw (a handsaw + adze will work, but that’s too much work, even for me…), 3-pound mallet, Wonderbar, big knife, string, line level or roll of vinyl tubing, chisel, — yeah, that should do it. It’d be a bitch, but it could be done… Every other tool just makes the job easier and more precise (some tools make the job a LOT easier… 8-)

  16. Allo George from Quebec, purchase latest book and the one from GA Stewart, veru good read. A steal compare to the daily subscription price (joke:) intersting times. Ragards

    • LOL! At least it has rudder pedals, and for those who have everything, it even has APU switches! I never had APU switches when I had a real plane!

      Of course, it’s “unavailable at this time”.

      • ‘Got “hair up butt” syndrome — for some reason: An inexplicable, and really strong drive hit me a couple days ago, to grab Flight Sim and learn how to “fly” Microsoft’s airplane library.

        I don’t game, and have never even looked at MSFS since about FS-3. However, it has also been my observation over the years that these “left-field” impulses, when they hit me, are to be ignored at my cost.

  17. If your son is wanting to go for Paramedic training, I say go for it! We absolutely need more competent paramedics here in Texas. Sadly too many of them are not. And many EMTs around us are completely useless. Another consideration is for him to also pick up critical care training to really up his game. Plus the extra pay for that is a nice bonus.

Comments are closed.