A Great Trick Learned from a Master

When I was a younger apprentice and journeyman carpenter, I always tried to work for the finest craftsmen I could, even when it meant leaving money on the table. I’m fortunate to have had 3 years of learning from one of the best carpenters I’ve seen, Brian Leavitt. This simple trick is straight from him.

Repairing cedar shakes can be a little tricky and time consuming. They are woven and overlapped and it can be a real chore to dissect them in a manner so as to be able to weave new ones back in properly. I’m not going to get into all of the particulars for cedar shake repairs, just offer a tip.

Once upon a time I was working under the tutelage of Brian and weaving cedar shakes back together on a wall right at eye level on a deck that’s used for lots of entertaining. Brian said, “Do you know how to slip a new shake in under an existing one and nail it so you don’t see nails on the face of it?”

“No, I don’t.” And as a matter of fact, I thought he was messing with me (I am super gullable). How could this be? Sliding a new shake in underneath the course directly above it and no face nails? No way.

Photo #1- This is the new shake to be installed. I have access to nail the left side of the shake at this point, but can still illustrate the trick for hiding nails with the left side of this shake.

Photo #2

Yes way. As in Photo #2, you’ll start by holding the new shake about a quarter of an inch lower than the rest of the same course of shakes you are trying to continue. Next, use some small tool like the mini pry-bar I used to hold out the existing shake that sits over the face of the new one to be nailed. Then, start your stainless siding nail up at a slight angle and as far up under the existing shake as you can. Drive the nail flush with the face of the shake. Use a nail set to help if needed.

When you finish the steps illustrated in photo #2, you’ll have what looks like photo #3. From here, all you have to do is hold a block of wood to the bottom edge of the new shake and tap it up with your hammer until the shake sits in line with the rest of the course as in photo #4.

Photo #3

Photo #4

 

 

 

 

 

 

You are now ready to abandon the old method of face nailing repaired cedar shakes, at least in high visibility spots. There are a couple of other things to take note of, though. First, this repair will be 100% complete when the cedar shakes are pressure washed to all match and hide the fact that any work was ever done. Second, the understanding of how to look at a cedar shake and determine which is the face and which face to nail to the wall is a dying, yet simple art that you should know.

Photo #5- Left face should be facing out.

In photo #5 the camera is looking down the butt edge of a shake. As seen here, the cup faces to the right. That means that the two edges of the piece of wood already curl to the right side forming a “cup”. We always install shakes so that the cup faces the wall. So from this view, the face on the right will face the wall. This is in anticipation of future wood movement. When wood gets wet and dries out, it cups to the side that it dries to. That means that a cedar shake’s 2 edges will turn away from the wall and cup toward the sun. If the shake was installed so that the cup was already facing that way, then this new movement will have such an impact on the shake that it will very likely split and cause the shake above it to pull away and move and just start it’s decline. This is very easy to avoid with just a fraction of a second of extra effort to look at the shake before installing it. You may now proceed well armed for battle, thanks to Brian.

 

By John Bradshaw

 

What’s the Science Behind Vinyl Siding?

There are lots of pros and cons of vinyl siding. Weighing heavily in the pros list are: It’s very affordable, it installs quickly, it’s virtually maintenance free, it can come re-inforced with foam insulation backer, and there are plenty of colors and styles to choose from. Weighing heavily in the cons column: There is a void of science involved.

Now let’s just get the record straight, I’m no primadonna. I don’t need to build or even repair a home as if it were a baby grand. I don’t utterly refuse to work with some materials out of sheer carpentry snobbery, and I’m equally grateful to be working on a modest single story ranch as I am on an elegant Queen Anne Victorian.

There are, however, plenty of times when I need to lobby for the implementation of fundamental building principles. The cardinal rule of building has always been Water Management. It starts with the selection of a buildable site, is adhered to when determining the elevation of the building, and so on until the end of time.  With regards to this cardinal rule, vinyl siding offers virtually nothing. Does that mean that vinyl siding shouldn’t be used? I don’t feel that way at all. It just means that it’s critical to have a bulletproof “drain plane” behind the vinyl siding. What’s a proper drain plane? It is the proper overlapping of weather resistant building materials (such as tar paper or Tyvek housewrap) to continually carry water out over the face of the home. This technique used to be common knowledge in the trade. Used to be.

Without making this a doctoral dissertation, do I like vinyl siding? Sure. It’s on my first home now. It won’t be the selection for my dream home. But it will be the selection for my final home. Ahh, the circle of life….

 

By John Bradshaw