Figure It Out

A lot of people are shocked when I tell them I am doing this project myself. We have a friend (a coworker of Eve’s) that gets a little shaky when she comes over and sees the state of the house. It’s no fault of hers, she just can’t fathom that home construction is not some dark art.

Maybe it’s a question of scale.

Painting a bedroom?


Gutting 50 percent of the interior space of your home?


Then there are those who just wonder how I learned to do all this “stuff.”

Sure, I grew up with a grandfather who was a general contractor. I started young. I used to tag along to job sites as a kid and load scrap into dumpsters for a little spending money. I learned the basics of framing from him up until about the time I finished high school. Then one day my brother Barry snagged me off one of my grandfather’s framing jobs to help him with a trim job.

My older brother was a real guru. He has a gift for carpentry and construction. Watching him work was where I gleaned the vast majority of my hands on knowledge. He could stand on the ground and cut siding for an entire gable end based on one measurement. Nearly every piece fit perfectly. It wasn’t a fluke. We worked like this on house after house, gable after gable.

During college, I worked with him doing trim carpentry on starter tract homes in the north Metro of Minneapolis/St. Paul. The two of us could finish an entire house, including installing kitchen and bath cabinets and wood handrails in a day. We had a system and it worked well.

When I took on the project of blowing off the roof of our home in Tennessee, he was my first call.


My brother and me framing the new roof on our house in Knoxville. I’m the one in the red hat.

Yes, I’ve learned some things from TV and magazines, but it’s more conceptual knowledge. They are places to get good ideas. When it comes to doing, nothing beats hands on.

Ultimately, building and remodeling mostly goes back to the basics of linear thinking, understanding dimensions and scale and doing what codes and standards require.

For everything else, I figure it out.

Case in point, the master bathroom. I’ve detailed in a few posts how our new master bathroom space used to be an exterior porch. (You can read about it here or here.) Basically, the wall that the vanity is going against rests against the (old) exterior face of the fireplace chimney.

Code says that you can’t have wood framing against the brick of the chimney. It needs a 2-inch air space. I didn’t want to give up those two inches, so I had to learn how to frame the offending walls with steel studs.

I grant you that this was not exactly a huge leap in knowledge. It’s still a basic stud-wall framed 16-inches on center. It’s simply a new material. But I’d never done it before and it turned out pretty much perfect. There will be another on the left side to define the space for the toilet and another on the right to create the back of the linen closet.


The hybrid wall. Partly wood framing, but steel where it contacts the brick chimney.

One of the reasons I do this is because I like to figure it out.

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