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The framing square is one of the most useful and versatile tools in carpentry. It can be used to layout and cut common rafters, hip rafters, staircase stringers, these few items are only the tip of the iceberg. Many books have been written about the uses of the steel square. On this web page I will discuss the most efficient ways to layout and cut common rafters. Most roof cutters consider their square one of the more important tools they own, calling it a fine tuned instrument. The square I use is a Stanley stainless steel model, which I have been using for over 15 years, cost 30 some dollars and worth every penny.

I will discuss three different methods of laying out common rafters with a square. I know that there are many more ways of accomplishing this task, I have probably used most of them at one time or another. You can ask five different carpenters how to figure and cut rafters and get that many different answers.

Whatever works best for you is the method to be used. I like to keep an open mind about carpentry because someone will come along with a better idea. Just to keep it simple I will use the same building dimension in all three examples. The first method is the way I learned nearly thirty years ago called stepping it off, time consuming and tedious but still useful for a small dormer or shed roof.


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You pull up to the job site at 6: There is only one minor problem, your Construction Master calculator is missing. It's not on the dash, in the glove box , or in your pocket. Where could you have misplaced that darn thing? Worse yet maybe someone decided they needed it worse than you, no time to worry about it now, people will be waiting. You can still get the job done, maybe not as fast as with your Construction Master , however all will be well in the end. Determine the span of the common rafters.

Carpentry Tools: Framing Square

Measure the overall width of the building, for this example it shall be 24 feet. Find the run of the common rafter.


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  • Framing Square Basics!

For a simple gable roof this is half the overall width of the building. Determine pitch of roof. This pitch means there will be 6 inches of rise for every 12 inches of run. All actions performed with the framing square should be along the top edge of rafter so place material accordingly. Begin by placing the square at the top edge of rafter with the tongue skinny part on 6" and the body fat part on 12", draw your plumb cut where rafter rests against the ridge board also mark where body section intersects the material.

Now move the framing square down the common rafter and line up tongue with previous body mark. Since the run of the rafter is 12' this action will be repeated 12 times. After you have verified repeating this step 12 times mark out another plumb cut line on the 12th body mark. This line represents the outside edge of the building and plumb cut of the birdsmouth. Next, I like to add the tail or overhang of the building. Now mark out your seat or level cut of the birdsmouth. The last step is to take off half the thicknessof the the ridge board, by returning to the top plumb cut and shortening it.

Determine span, determine run, determine pitch, layout rafter,cut, and test. This method of laying out common rafters is much faster, more accurate, and easier than stepping them off with a framing square. This is the method I used for many years, until the Construction Master calculator came along.

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The basic steps for laying out the rafter are still the same only you do not have to step off the square a dozen times. Determine span of common rafters. Determine run of common rafters. Determine length of common rafters per foot run. This can be found on the left side body of the framing square.

What you are looking for is a table on the square similar to the one below. This is an abbreviated version of what is actually on the square due to space restrictions on this web page. Determine length of rafter.

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This step is accomplished by taking the span times the length per foot run. In this example the formula is 12 x Convert decimal point to fraction of an inch. In this case the. In the real world you will seldom get this lucky so I will give you an example of how to convert decimal points to fractions of an inch. If you have a decimal point of.

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If you multiply by 16 the answer would be in 16's of an inch. As before begin by placing framing square on top of rafter, tongue on 6", body on 12", and mark your top plumb cut. From the top edge of this mark measure along the top edge of rafter inches 13' 5" and make another pencil mark. Place the framing square on this mark as before and draw another plumb cut line.

The corner of the framing square is called the heel. On the face side, the tongue reads the eight square scale. The blade reads the rafter tables. Flip the framing square. This is the back. On the back side, the tongue reads brace measurements. The blade reads essex board measurements.

Steel Square - Use of the Scales, Roof Framing, Illustrative Problems and Other Uses - nifaquniky.cf

Generally, the framing square is broken down into fractions of an inch on top, and in centimeters on the bottom. Place one arm parallel against the edge of a piece of material that you wish to cut at a right angle. Mark a line along the edge of the other arm and mark out a cut line. The arm used for marking is generally determined by how long of a mark you need — use the Blade for a longer mark and vice versa.

Cut along the mark. Back to top How to Cut Stair Stringers with a Framing Square Measure the rise vertical distance and run horizontal distance of the area your stairs will occupy. Divide those measurements by the number of stairs you want to have.


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This should produce two numbers—one for rise, one for run. Measure a second time. Assume 30 feet, for this example. Find the run of the rafter.

Framing Square Basics - How to use one

Place the framing square at the top edge of the rafter. Make a mark along the tongue. Place a dot where the blade meets the rafter board.