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By Chris | September 30, 2010 - 8:46 am - Posted in How To, Plans

CT school of wood working

CT Valley School even teaches boatbuilding

Most (ok, nearly all) of discusses larger projects but the more detailed wood working arts like furniture making and wood turning are interesting, too. The scope of wood working is immense so I thought an introduction to wood working schools would be the best way to show some of the variety – stuff you’ve surely seen but might not think much about.

So, we put together a list of relevant wood working schools in America…

Homestead Woodworking Institution

Homestead offers an impressive variety of courses for beginners to advanced students. From turning bowls to making furniture, Homestead Woodworking Institution has a well rounded set of classes to teach you everything you need to know. Located in Newmarket, NH, Homestead’s classes are affordable and you can even sign up online.

Lohr School For Woodworking

This popular wood working school is situated in Schwenksville, PA. The Lohr School for Woodworking is filled with exceptionally trained teachers that offer a comprehensive course level in wood working. You can learn all types of wood working techniques here but, most notably, Lohr teaches live edge free form wood working. Wood technology and joinery methods are covered in this school. This might be the school for the more artistic of you.

Connecticut Valley School

This wood working institution offers you a comprehensive learning program in every course level. Located in Manchester, CT, the Connecticut Valley School teaches traditional wood working skills such as wood turning and finishing but also offers course in such unique and [painstaking] skills as relief carving and boat building. The breadth of wood working techniques taught here is kind of amazing.

So, these are some of the wood working schools in United States that struck me as ones where you could get some great – and maybe unique – lessons.

I was going to make this a really big and comprehensive list and then I found this list of wood working schools and decided to stop writing more.

Happy Wood Working

By Chris | February 8, 2009 - 10:11 pm - Posted in Big Timbers, Plans, Structural Components

MERIDIAN, ID–(Marketwire – January 27, 2009)

In October 2008, Mountain Architects launched a new line of log cabin plans referred to as the Rustic Luxury™ series. With each passing month, people worldwide have watched the team at Mountain Architects transform simple, low-end cabin designs that log home enthusiasts know all too well, to distinctive cabin designs blending rustic elements with high end finishes and inspiring design attributes, at attractive turnkey costs.

With the close of the first month in 2009 just around the corner, Mountain Architects releases its final design in the Rustic Luxury™ Log Cabins & Plans series. The Truckee log cabin plan is a unique log post and beam design with stone integrated throughout. This single-level log cabin home, with just over 1,500 square feet of livable space, brings together rustic tradition with a touch of elegance. Its layout is simple yet offers the perfect blend of warmth combined with attractive natural materials.

Work one-on-one with Mountain Architects to design your own Rustic Luxury™ Log Cabin home. Or, let Mountain Architects modify the Truckee to fit your own lifestyle and architectural taste:

— Change its layout or size to accommodate your lifestyle.
— Choose between handcrafted log, milled log, and timber frame, in combination with other materials that will make your home stand out.
— Make your own architectural statement by varying roof ridge lines, roof pitches, corners, etc.

Learn more about how you can customize a log home plan with Mountain Architects.

A look over the past three months reveals an eclectic and moving collection of cabin plans designed for discriminating homeowners who seek the best in mountain style living, but in a smaller, more intimate home. The Rustic Luxury™ series kicked off in October 2008 with the introduction of the Telluride, a milled log cabin home featuring a unique combination of stone, bark siding, beautifully crafted character logs, glass and milled log walls. In November, the team at Mountain Architects released the Trian, a cozy timber frame cabin home complete with barreled tile roofing and stone commonly seen in the French countryside. And, more recently, Mountain Architects showcased its December plan, the Targhee — a three-level cabin design with a master suite on each level. View the entire Rustic Luxury™ Log Cabin collection at

What’s next for the team at Mountain Architects? As a sponsor of the 2009 GREEN LOG Homes & Lifestyle Awards (an awards program created to shine the spotlight on those companies that are working to provide green alternatives in the building industry), Mountain Architects now turns their attention to highlighting green design techniques. Stay tuned for an exciting kick off to a 3 month long endeavor focused on designing and building green, including examples of green homes designed and built over the last couple of years.

Together, Mountain Architects and PrecisionCraft offer a proven team approach. From initial design through completed construction, your Mountain Architects and PrecisionCraft team is there every step of the way. Visit PrecisionCraft’s Log Homes & Timber Frame Design Center at to learn more about creating your dream home!

By Chris | October 21, 2008 - 7:51 am - Posted in Big Timbers, Plans, Structural Components, Treated Wood

Wood bridges offer ways of crossing natural settings with structures that fit the surroundings.? Although wood bridges are not practical for every application they are perfect for many – affordable, simple, durable, and beautiful.

Affordable:? Depending on the design, wood bridges can be built for as little as 1/3 the cost of steel and concrete bridges and have lower maintenance costs as well. Building wood bridges over crossings might be a great way for landowners and small municipalities to save money as well as add aesthetic value to their byways.

Simple:? Many practical wood bridge designs require less skilled labor (no welders or concrete workers and smaller equipment) to assemble and less time than steel and concrete bridges.? Simplicity equates to a savings of time and money.

Durable:? Effectively designed and constructed wood bridges should easily last 50 years and there are many that have been in services for much longer than that. Wood treatments and coatings available today should protect the foundational structure of a bridge so it will last virtually forever.

Materials for Wood Bridges

Like any project, wood bridges will last longer when built with three major components in mind.

  • Quality Design
  • Quality Materials
  • Quality Construction

We will focus on quality materials for wood bridges here.? You can buy bridge plans or have yours custom engineered and you can hire a bridge building company, local contractor, or build the bridge yourself with the proper design and instructions.

Use properly treated wood for your bridge components, especially for the pilings and other foundation materials.? .60 pcf treated wood should be sufficient for most locations but if you are building around saltwater, you should probably use a stronger treatment for the foundation components – especially if the bridge will actually be in contact with saltwater.

To add longevity to your bridge use poly coated wood like the stuff from American Pole And Timber (they also have a full line of bridge timbers and bridge decking) for all of the ground contact components.? It is sprayed onto treated wood before installation and provides an extra layer of protection that should easily add another 25 years to the wood (at least). It actually bonds to the wood but you can still cut, nail, or drill into it.? It is really good stuff – initially designed for use on saltwater marine pilings (where is has a 25 year warranty).

Your wood bridge’s hardware should all be stainless steel, galvanized, or zinc coated.? There are other special hardware coatings out there but stainless, galvanized, and zinc are proven and affordable.

Plans for Wood Bridges

Buy Wood Bridge Plans Online:? There are numerous places to buy wood bridge plans online – so many, that I will not even link to them here.

Bridge Plans from Competition:? Here are some great bridge designs and plans I found recently. It is a wood bridge building competition for University-level engineering students. “The? National Timber Bridge Design Competition? is open to student chapters of American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) and Forest Products Society (FPS) in the United States and Canada. Joint or cooperative entries (ASCE and FPS working together) are eligible and even encouraged. A chapter may also submit multiple entries.”

The young folks in this competition come up with some creative, effective, and practical designs for wood bridges.? You might be able to apply a few of them to your wood bridges. Note:? That is not a suggestion to copy the designs or use them directly as reliable and tested plans but there are some great ideas there.

Book about How to Build Wood Bridges:? This is a really nice book that has some designs and plans for building wood bridges as well as plans for building other wood projects.

Wood bridges can certainly be built as a diy project. Please make sure you have your bridge professionally designed, though, or at least hire a professional contractor to help you. Using the right materials will not only improve the safety of your structure but will ensure that your bridge will be long-lasting as well. Wood bridges should be built to last – they should stand as legacies to be used for generations to come. That might sound nostalgic or something but, well, I guess it is.

By Chris | June 9, 2008 - 12:58 pm - Posted in Decks & Fences, How To, Plans

Need to build your privacy fence on a slope? It’s not hard as long as you plan and build carefully. You have four options. You get to decide which is best for you. Here they are:

Level Rails, Level Pickets: As my amazing drawing below shows, this method gives the top of the fence line a stair-step look. The tops of the pickets will be more stable and supported than the bottoms of the pickets. You could strengthen the bottom of the fence with a rot board running parallel to the ground. Using level rails means you either have to put your rails closer together or use fewer rails.

Level Rails, Sloped Pickets: The top of the fence line is parallel to the ground but the tops and the bottoms of the pickets are left unsupported. You can strengthen the fence pickets at the top with a top rail, which also makes the fence look nice, and you can strengthen the bottom with a rot board.

Sloped Rails, Sloped Pickets: I like this one the best but you have to decide how level you want the top of the fence. Do you want to trim the tops off the fence pickets or do you want to leave them untrimmed with a small rise from picket to picket? It’s up to you and it barely matters. This is my favorite method because it easily allows for three rails AND the pickets are well-supported from top to bottom along the length of the fence.

Sloped Rails, Level Pickets: This is my second favorite method because it allows for three rails but the drawback is that you still end up with pickets that are unsupported at their tops. If you want the stair-step look in your fence, this is probably the way to go.

build a fence on a slope

IMPORTANT (REALLY): If you are building a gate on the slope portion of your fence, put the hinges on the DOWNHILL side so it will open towards the downhill side instead of swinging into the hill.

Level Rails versus Sloped Rails:? Unless you are building your fence on unusually rough or unlevel terrain, I would suggest always sticking with sloped rails and sloped pickets. Levels rails are easier to build if you are building in an area where you have to move a lot of rocks or something. Some people might just prefer the straighter lines of the level pickets.

Whichever method you choose to build your fence on a slope, you can use a rot board at the bottom to strengthen the fence and protect the bottoms of the pickets and a top rail will improve the looks of your fence and provided additional strength up there as well. Screws are better than nails and always use properly treated wood.

Here are more tips on how to build a fence that lasts.

By Chris | March 5, 2008 - 2:11 pm - Posted in Decks & Fences, How To, Plans, Treated Wood

How to Build a Fence that Lasts

Building a wooden fence can be backbreaking work but, conceptually speaking, it is very simple. You choose your layout, mark your corners, stretch a string to keep your lines straight, set your fence posts, add rails, add a gate, add pickets, and you are done. Again, at its core…

Here’s some help if you are building your fence on a slope.

How to Build a Fence (the basic version)

  1. Choose Your Fence Layout
  2. Mark the Fence Corners
  3. Stretch a String Between Corners
  4. Set Your Fence Posts
  5. Add Fence Rails
  6. Add Gate
  7. Add Fence Pickets

How to Build a Fence that Will LAST

The main point of this article is about how to build a fence that will last. There are a few things you can do to build a fence that will outlast the other fences in the fence line. Your neighbors will be replacing old worn out fence materials while you sit atop your fence saluting their hard work and poor construction methods.

Building a long-lasting fence can also be broken down into a short list similar to the one above but with a few additional details…

Steps to Build a Fence that will Last

  1. Choose Your Fence Layout (same)
  2. Mark the Fence Corners (same)
  3. Stretch a String Between Corners (same)
  4. Set Your Heavily Treated or Coated Fence Posts
  5. Add 3 Fence Rails (not two) Using Screws
  6. Add a “Rot Board”
  7. Add Gate
  8. Add Fence Pickets Using Screws

fancy wood fence


The builder of this fence went for longevity using .60 CCA treated 6×6 posts and a “rot board.” The fence also looks beautiful because of the trim boards at the top and the fact that the rails and pickets are set inside and between the posts. This can be done using 4×4 posts but it looks funny because the posts are so small (relatively).

There are three main components of any project. In no particular order of importance, they are:

  1. Design
  2. Materials
  3. Construction

Each of these three components must be respected for any project to produce a strong and long lasting result. Building a fence is no different. Taking these components into account, here’s a brief overview of what you can do to build a fence that will outlast your expectations. It is easiest to analyze proper fence construction at the components level.

Think Longevity by the Piece

Design your fence with longevity in mind. A fence is only composed of four basic components:

  1. Posts
  2. Rails
  3. Pickets
  4. Fasteners

Build your fence so that each component supports, and is supported by, the components around it. Think about how you want the fence to look five years from now as you design it, buy your fence materials, and build it.

Fence Posts – A Strong Foundation

Posts rot at the ground line so protect against that. Use posts that are well treated and come from a reputable location. For the absolute best results, use posts coated with a polymer coating such as the ones produced by the folks at American Pole and Timber. They coat the bottom three feet of treated posts with a polymer coating that is guaranteed for 25 years. 4×4-8′ posts cost about $17 each instead of $8 but you will probably be able to use the posts again for your next fence – saving you time and headaches down the road.

Other long lasting fence post tips include:

  • Plant deeply – about 1/3 the height of the fence.
  • Tamp the bottom of each post hole to minimize settling over time.
  • Encourage drainage with a thin layer of gravel (a few inches is fine) at the base of the posts.
  • Level carefully to ensure the posts well aligned and straight.
  • Pack the dirt tightly around the posts after they are installed.
  • Cap, slant, or round the top of each fence post so water cannot accumulate.

Whether or not you want to set your posts in concrete is up to you. While concrete makes a post seem permanent I am not convinced it actually makes the fence last much longer and it definitely makes removal a real bear.

Along the same vein, you can also consider using larger fence posts such as 6×6’s. The look cool, are really strong, and are usually treated more heavily that 4×4’s. They also require larger holes and are very heavy so you will probably need help putting each fence post in place. Are they necessary? Probably not but they will provide an excellent foundation.

Fence Rails – Use Three

Rails sag over time and there two are primary ways you can combat this – build with your rails on their “edges” so you will have a stronger “depth-of-section” and use three rails so each rail supports less weight. A third option is to set the fence posts closer together. Always use treated wood. #2 grade treated lumber is great for a fence – cost effective and strong.

If you get nothing else out of this how to article, take this away – use three rails. Pickets have a weakness that shows up over time but is seldom considered when the fence is being built. Pickets have a tendency to warp. Using three rails dramatically improves the chances that your fence’s pickets will remain straight.

how to build a 3 rail picket fence

Use 3 Rails when Building Your Fence

Toenail your fence rails to your posts. Not only does it look better than butted rails but it leaves no spaces between pickets and rails where grass can grown and critters can hide. Birds and other nesting animals often build homes in the spaces between posts and pickets, especially in “neighbor friendly” fences with alternating panels.

fence rail types


I prefer to “toenail” fence rails because this method creates straighter lines and does not leave a space for grass, weeds, and critters to creep between the posts and the pickets.

Fence Pickets – Lift & Support

Most pickets come in 5/8″ thick but use 3/4″ thick pickets if you can find them. That would be the same as using 1″ nominal dimension lumber. Call around the local lumber yards. Yes, the will cost a little bit more but will last longer, warp less, and look better.

Make sure you use treated pickets. A good treated picket will last 10 years if maintained with the occasional stain. An untreated picket will last only a few years. This should not be a big concern because you usually won’t even find UNtreated pickets – there’s no point in making them. You can also consider cedar, redwood, or any other variety of “naturally resistant” wood species.

The best two things you can do to extend the life of fence pickets are to use a rot board and a three rail system. Again, if you take nothing else away from this article…use three rails. The rot board lifts the fence pickets off the ground where they are in contact with pests and moisture and keeps them aways from regular beatings by a weed eater. A three rail systems supports fence pickets more effectively to minimize warping.

Fasteners – Use Screws

Use screws for everything. Good deck screws such as Primeguard Plus coated deck screws do not rust and will not pull out like nails. Building your fence with screws minimizes warping and helps keep your fence solid and tight. When building your fence gate, use excellent hardware – not the cheapest kit you find. Use galvanized or zinc coated hinges and hardware to minimize rust.

Fence Maintenance

Now that we have gone over the basics of how to build a fence that will last, let’s look quickly at fence maintenance. There’s not a lot to do, really. Just spray the fence with a great high quality deck and fence sealer every few years and you should be great. A few of the best brands are Cabot and Wolman, according to a Consumer’s Report article as well as my experience.

Examine the fence occasionally for broken boards or sagging rails. If one rail is sagging, it is not properly supporting the components around it. Replace broken boards. Not only do they look bad but when they flop back and forth, they put unwelcome stress on the rails.

A long-lasting fence will cost a few dollars more up front but you will save money in the long-run because it will last longer and you might even get to re-use your fence posts. Most fences are still in service looooong after their aesthetic life died a slow miserable death. Another benefit of a well-built fence is that it will always look good.