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No Toe-nails, Please.
A Carpenter's philosophy of Respecting Wood

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No Toe-nails, Please…

          I spend some leisure time watching those do-it yourself television programs. All too often, a person will be shown toe-nailing a vertical to a horizontal member. A toe-nail joint is where a carpenter will join two perpendicular boards by driving nails at an angle from the end of one board into the side of another. On television, it is common to see do-it-yourselfers toe-nail wall studs in place. Once, I watched in amazement while the people were shown toe-nailing load bearing decking joists to a sill-plate. Old Phil would have shaken his head said, "that won’t hold…"

          Phil was a carpenter who lived down the street from my boyhood home. To a youngster, Phil seemed to be a magician. I was positive that Phil could make anything out of wood. Between remodel jobs and building houses, Phil would relax in his garage by building a mahogany speed boat, a cedar canoe or maybe an octagon gazebo.

          Phil used only a few simply tools which he carried in a wooden box that he made. He always wore white overalls, a white cap and a pencil behind his right ear. Phil always smiled, never cussed and was quick with a joke. After school and on weekends, I would wander over to Phil’s house (which he built) to see what new project was under construction in the garage. Phil always had time teach this boy-shadow his own special code of carpentry.

          I would like to share some of Phil’s code of carpentry with you:

          "Boy, always think about what you are going to do before you do it. You can build something twenty times in your head without using a single screw. Then, when you really start, you will have the experience of having done it twenty times before!"

          "Start with the foundation and build up. You would be surprised, Son , how many folks want to start a job in the middle and work both ways! Know what part is holding the weight. Make sure what will be holding the weight can hold the weight."

          "Honor the life of the tree by doing your absolute best work every time even if you know no one else will ever see it. That is just good carpentry. Keep your tools sharp. Don’t waste wood. No tree ever lived just to be swept into a garbage can.."

          A toe-nail joint violates all of Phil’s codes.

          Nearly all toe-nail joints can be avoided if construction is done in a pre-planned sequence.

          The toe-nail is probably the weakest joint you can make. Toe-nailing tends to split the wood which weakens it. Because of the angle of the screw or nail, maximum holding strength cannot be achieved.

          Toe nail joints are simply sloppy shortcuts. They are not good carpentry. Your project is only as strong as the weakest joint. If you rely on toe-nails, you are making a very weak structure.

          Have fun with your woodworking project. Don’t just slam it together. Honor the life of the wood by making each joint one you can proudly say, "I did that"
           . . . .  Even if you are going to cover it up.


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