Homemade overhead garage door

The light was better inside than out by the time we had finished the preliminary fitting, so I took a photo of the back of the door. The bevels face out, of course. The sharp-eyed will see some horizontal cracks in the panels. Not to worry: the walnut panels are tongue-and-grooved as well as coved on the outside to fit the frames.

As it looks I’m going to need to cut the base to fit the contour of the concrete. To the left of the photo you’ll see a piece of 1/2″ sheetrock under the bottom of the door. But the sections are still out of alignment. If I raise the bottom panel another 1/8 to 1/4″ until it’s level, though, and scribe the bottom rail, cut to the contour and then re-install the aluminum and rubber bottom fitting, it should work.

The door, btw, is ten feet wide and nine high. The ceiling is 12′ 2″ in height to accommodate the car hoist.


Over the last year Charlie, Martin and I have put up a fine workshop where the horse stable once stood.  Apart from sheetrock taping and interior trim, the only remaining task is the exterior siding.  Building inspector Anpalahan Kandasamy told me that the final approval requires permanent siding, so I couldn’t leave the fading gray fabric on the outside for another winter.

The problem was that while I like the trim appearance of vinyl from a distance, up close I hate it.  The double joints on long runs ruin a pretty good effect.  So I decided to design and build my own horizontal siding.

The tool drawer contained a good set of tongue-and-groove knives for the shaper and a convex cutter designed for raised panels.   I went to work on samples.  To fit the tooling I would have to plane each board down to just below an inch, then cut the cove on top of the tongue so that the tongue and groove would fit together normally, but with a recess on the top edge of the board to give the traditional appearance.  I hoped to be able to blind-nail the interlocked boards to the stud wall.

If this worked the project would give the old Poitras shaper and its power feeder a good workout.

Two years ago when I remarked at how well his fiberglass building dried a stack of wide ash boards he sold me, band-mill owner George Sheffield suggested that I should have my own solar kiln.

Over the winter I had ordered a couple of thousand feet of pine for spring delivery.  I decided to follow George’s advice and try kiln drying this stuff in the “plastic palace” to speed the project up.  Twenty-five hundred board feet of pine made for impressive piles in the low shed.

Even with large openings in the ends, a greenhouse-type building gets very hot in summer.  Lumber apparently likes this as a drying environment.  So do wasps.  When it came time to take out a trailer-load I discovered that the wasps had colonized the electrical boxes and the rolled-tarp door.  They didn’t leave gracefully, either.  They like the dry heat.

The first batch of 12” boards I cut up to make siding had been piled outside over the winter, and did not take kindly to ripping on a table saw.  The ends had dried a lot and the middle stayed green, so there were huge tensions in most boards.  Some actually exploded from the stress during cutting.  The 6” siding-candidates came out so crooked I re-piled them in the palace for a couple of months of further drying.

The stuff I cut up this week had gone into the palace in early May, and seemed very nice to work after three months in the “kiln”.  The terrific tensions of the outdoor boards just weren’t there.

At the planing stage a new problem cropped up.  Normally I run lumber through a trailer-load at a time, let the shavings land on the floor and then shovel them into an old spreader for mechanized unloading elsewhere.

But this dry pine planed off in light, fluffy shavings which plugged the machine.  I was forced to hook up the heavy vacuum system I had earlier installed for the sander.  That worked nicely until I had finished the third board.  Then the planer plugged again, this time because the chip barrel was full.  This would take some learning.

I gradually figured out the timing on the barrel and discovered the planer in fact works better with the chip collector installed.

The first batch of siding came out at 5” in width, and I was able to cover the front and half of one side of the 24 X 24 shop.  The next batch is almost finished, and I can’t decide whether to try to hit the 5” mark again, or leave these at 5 ½” and reduce waste.  This stock was a little wider than the previous lot.

In any case, the 1” cove siding nails onto ¼” strapping quite nicely with galvanized siding nails.  Anpalahan insisted upon the strapping to provide an air space so that the siding can adjust to humidity changes and water infiltration.  Turns out these little straps enabled me to locate the studs in advance, preventing chaos later.

Making cove siding is nice, mindless work.  If you don’t count labour, tools, and the paint yet to come, it’s cheap, too.


That’s all before the scaffold goes up.

In some ways I’m a late adapter. After fifty-five years of woodworking I have finally bought a table saw. For most of that time there wasn’t room – table saws are space hogs. And there was the Sears radial arm saw I bought with my income tax refund after second year of university. My room-mate and I needed shelves and furniture for our apartment, and Dad had a large pile of lumber at the farm.

While most woodworkers shy away from the radial arm saw for ripping, I’m used to setting the anti-kickback mechanism, and can do safe, if not very accurate work, with my old Sears saw.

But the new shop is warm, with properly-seasoned lumber already inside. The radial arm saw is set up in a dark, cold shed. Love of comfort may have been the deciding factor. The tools section of Kijiji Ontario received more and more of my Internet time.

A cabinet saw is basically a high-end table saw. The motor is mounted beneath a massive cast iron table, and a steel cabinet surrounds it. Extension tables and guides protrude out at various angles, the options limited only by the depth of pockets of its owner.

Internet research on cabinet saws kept me quite busy for a week or so. A good saw in Hawkesbury sold before I had learned enough to realize that it was a fine specimen for a great price. Three others disappeared from Kijiji hours after their ads appeared.

I haunted the Internet, looking for a 3 hp Delta Unisaw or comparable General 350. One ad had no photos. The guy didn’t answer my emails. Experience told me that this saw might not have sold due to the lax presentation. More emails. Eventually the owner got back to me. I drove up to Belleville to discover that this model requires a substantial counter attachment to its right side as part of its top. Without the 48 by 27 inch sheet of laminate the saw looked pretty odd with this long aluminum arm pointing accusingly off to the right. Though paint spatters did its appearance no good, the basic components were in solid condition, so ahead I went with the deal.

We overturned the top-heavy machine onto my trailer, tied it on, and I hauled my prize, a Delta 35-457, east on the 401 and up Hwy 15 to Seeley’s Bay without incident.

A rough road is a lot more than a slight inconvenience when you are hauling a heavy and reportedly fragile machine with a hundred-pound motor suspended in space only by a set of expensive cast-iron trunions which were not designed for road shock. I couldn’t get more than forty miles per hour on that dreadful stretch from Seeley’s Bay to Elgin for fear of gutting my new acquisition. That road has got to be fixed.

The trunions survived the final fifteen miles to Young’s Hill, and I dragged the saw off the trailer and into the shop, plugged it in, and it ran beautifully. So I shut it down and cleaned off the road grime.

O.K. I admit it. I was afraid of the thing. All these years with a radial arm saw and I was used to having anti-kickback fingers constantly touching the board when I ripped it. I had never worked without them. And this thing didn’t have any kind of guard, not even mitre gauge, just a fence for ripping. It was a commercial saw, used exclusively for cutting laminates, to judge from its blade and the dust accumulated inside.

So with great trepidation I selected a substantial board (more to hang onto) and ran it through the saw. It ripped beautifully, without any drama at all. I discovered that I could, without ever releasing my grip on it, push a board through half-way from the front, then step around the left side of the saw, reach back and grasp the board at the end of the fence and pull it on through from behind the saw. After the first few cuts, my fears evaporated.

I had glued up a number of boards into 1 by 17 inch blanks for door and drawer panels in a large bedroom cabinet. Ripping these relatively rough boards down to the width my planer needs proved laughably easy, compared to the tricks I had had to play on the radial arm saw for the same job.

Because George Sheffield sold me this white ash already dried, there has been little movement in the material as I sawed it. Nonetheless I was ready for the unguarded blade to pinch at some point. The first time it did it, though, the 3 hp motor just burned its way on through as I held the end of the board. Sometimes there’s no substitute for horsepower.

After a week in a shop now dominated by the Unisaw, I have become a believer. The machine’s no beauty, with coffee stains on the cast iron, paint oversprays and drips all over the cabinet, and my jury-rigged extension table of scraps of plywood supported by a pair of unsanded ash legs. But the thing is solid, smooth, and accurate. What’s not to love?

Putting up the trusses

September 6, 2010

Instead of a tale of foible and error, I offer this week one of sore muscles and fatigue. Putting up trusses is strenuous work for an old guy who thinks twice about a trip up the stairs, let alone an excursion across wobbling trusses at the top of a roof. But Martin and Charlie were available, and it was the best chance we would have to get the trusses installed and keep the project moving.

The last time I hauled trusses along a top plate was in the summer of 1974, and I was flat-out terrified. We were building the house on the hill now owned by Joe and Elaine Laxton, and all I can remember is that the huge trusses were on a tractor-trailer bed at one end of the house, and I had to pull one end of these thirty-foot monsters along this narrow, wobbly top plate, the full length of the house while staring down sixteen feet to rocks and concrete below. I hadn’t figured out how to backfill at the rear of the house, so things were a bit ragged down there. Falling was not an option.

The worst of it was that my dad was fearless around heights. My nephew Jonathan picked up the same gene, but it skipped a generation with me. But it wouldn’t be manly to show fear. The house wouldn’t get built, either. Better to risk a fall. So off I went, dragging this truss across the tops of the interior partitions of the house, my dad on the other side, cheerfully picking his way along. Then came the the living room/dining room with no central partition, and the top of the truss dropped into the gap. Yikes! Turned out it was easier to carry in this position, so on we went, tiptoeing down our parallel tightropes.

I was very pleased to complete that day’s work with all my limbs and some of my dignity intact.

But that was then. Today’s trusses seem a bit lighter in construction. And there are no partitions inside a garage, so we were able to bring them in through the opening for the wide door, push one end up onto the far wall, then combine our efforts to gain the other wall. Then it got tricky. The guy on the bottom, usually Charlie, hooked a 2X4 into the top of the truss and pushed while Martin and I reached down and grabbed.

It looked risky but it worked. Nobody had to walk the top plate. Martin was even able to lounge on a rolling scaffold unit. Equipment has improved since the seventies.

Unfortunately the nail gun didn’t seem all that good at driving spikes through the plates holding the ends of trusses together. The hammers came out. Charlie started a strong, steady routine with the spikes, but Martin’s taps showed great effort, reasonable accuracy, but little skill or effect. Charlie explained what his grandpa had taught him, and Martin immediately improved his swing.

My job was to crawl around in the middle with the nail gun, installing braces as needed to keep the whole thing from falling down. Hurricane Earl had sent a few tentacles northwest, and we found it wasn’t hard to tip the trusses up — just let the wind get under them — but bracing needed to be quick and sure.

Gradually we ran out of space inside the garage for the nine-foot-high trusses. This meant hauling them up over the end of the building, but that went pretty well until the final truss, #13. Have I mentioned how the number thirteen seems to have it in for me? I could hardly wait to see what was in store.

Just to play it safe I lifted the heavy end-truss onto the top plate with the tractor. No disaster, despite Charlie’s worry and Martin’s objection to the slowness of the machine. Everyone’s back was still intact. We slid it into place and tacked the ends. And then the air strike hit. A sudden downpour of water and hail pummeled us as we struggled to brace the truss, but one shot from the nail gun connected with a 2X4 in the right place and we dashed for cover. They were up.

The following day Charlie and I faced the sobering challenge of the package of “ladders” which had come with the trusses. The end units are smaller than the others by the thickness of these ladders which fit over the ends and nail to the side of the next truss in. The 16″ of the ladder which hangs over then becomes the overhang for the roof.

I had no idea how to put these things up. Charlie suggested a scaffold, so we set up three lifts at the west end of the building. Some of my climbing planks are a bit old, so I grabbed a 10 inch oak plank off a pile of new lumber in the yard. My goodness, a chunk of green oak is heavy to place up 15′ on a scaffold. On the other hand, once it’s there it doesn’t move.

By the fourth section of ladder we had the system figured out and the only question remained, “How will we get the scaffold down now that we have built the eaves of the garage over it?”


Turns out each of these is a tall order. My usual crew members have departed for B.C., one on vacation and the other to a conference, but the trusses for the garage arrived a week early. With thoughts of the pristine trusses turning to pretzels in the August sun, I made a quick call to former student Dale Edwards at Rideau Lumber and soon had materials for the walls to hold the trusses up.

Years ago when I worked in the shop at Rothwell-Perrin someone else did the layout on the panels we banged together all day. The houses seemed to assemble at a fairly quick pace. It’s another matter entirely when there’s just one old guy, a pile of new, straight 2X4’s starting to curl in the heat, and the Ranger to serve as cart and workbench.

The first task on the first panel was to fit the treated-pine 2X4 which sits on the concrete pad. The anchor bolts looked a little snaggle-toothed when I approached them with a drill. How would I get all of those angles correctly copied into the bottom of the wood?

I placed the green scantling on top of the row of bolts and gave each a firm tap with a hammer to mark the spot. Then I guessed. I drilled the holes out and the 2X4 fitted over the bolts neatly, so it was on to the layout stage.

I pressed the Massey-Ferguson into service to lift the panels with the loader. I’d left off the last foot of sheeting to create space for a chain. This worked.

But then it got tricky. Do you know how many ways there are to foul up the arrangement of two 2X4’s lying beside each other on a bench? On that third panel I think I discovered all of them. Two attempts at a very simple wall were abandoned to confusion on the first day. The following morning I laid it out again, this time with a black magic marker. I’d reached the point of no return.

The tractor lifted the panel onto the anchor bolts, two in this case. They went on fine, but one end of the panel now hung over the yard and the other was dangerously close to the centre of the garage. What?

It’s all about knowing which way is up. I had figured out how to nail up the panel without having to turn it over or reverse it, but in the process I lost track of which surface of the bottom plate had to be UP to fit over the bolts. It cost a few frenetic minutes with a hammer drill and what had been a pretty good woodworking bit to set this error right. Bet’s confidence in my abilities as a carpenter did not increase that morning.

What’s worse, I wasn’t sure the same thing wouldn’t happen on the next wall.

Then comes the second half of the woodworking prescription: the ability to read. An email from a truss manufacturer which promises delivery before September 3rd may mean the truck will arrive without warning on August 25, so it would be wise to have the space ready well in advance. I had to make the guy wait while I leveled 18 yards of gravel to make a semi-flat surface for his load.

But that’s not the only kind of reading required of a framing carpenter. My dad always put great faith in his square, but I’ve never trusted the thing. Unless you’re an expert it’s too easy to build a cumulative error into layout with one.

I remember in the mid-seventies when a group of us put up the trusses on colleague Robin Fraser’s garage. Paul Smith went down one wall with a square and I shinnied down the other. Nobody thought to check if we ended up with the same number of spaces at the end. Brimming with testosterone, the gang of young teachers on a Saturday morning had the things up and braced before anyone could look. Robin told us later that Paul and I did, in fact, end up with the same number of trusses by the end of the garage, but he had to cut every sheet of plywood they installed on that roof because of the errors accumulated over 30 feet with coarse marking crayons.

The same thing happened when I tried to transfer the marks around to the other side of 2X4’s after laying them out upside down. Factory-machined dimensional lumber has rounded edges and every line requires guesswork to transfer from one surface to the next. Things just didn’t line up right on the panels. Window frames were a little crooked. I compensated by making the openings a little larger and soldiered on. There’s always foam, and for really big gaps I can cut shims with my band saw.

What I had thought would be an easy woodworking job has turned into a real challenge because I keep losing track of which way is up. But this is the easy part. Wait until those trusses go up.