The Most Important Tool in the Kit

With this entry we speak to tools, or at least the simplest and most important of tools in our kit, and the one which therefore allows for the accurate and proper use of all those that follow.

String is the most important tool in any box – It is a line running though time and history and most every building that ever was or ever will ever be. It is the very beginning, and is even now like a living truth and a real world Möbius Strip, a concept ever connected to an end that never comes…

String, in all likelihood developed from a simple tool used to bind items together for storage or transport, to then be used to build snares and traps and then towards its slightly more complex use in defining strait and true, none so long after our long ago ancestors first pounded and separated natural fibers apart and then twisted them back into cohesion and a potentially unending bit of cordage. This perhaps within generations of that first great leap forward.

All this development coming about long before recorded history. How much time had or has since passed before the first human mind noticed a taut line was strait and then went on to run a string through powdered charcoal with the intent of marking a strait line on something he wished to straiten and to then affix a line to Batters is something we can never know.

It is fitting that those beginnings are yet still just that, the beginnings of most any construction – It all begins with a taut line and Batter Boards, plumbs and the snapping of lines.

My focus on it as still being primary amongst the many tools we have since developed is in part to do with my traditional approach/es to timber layout, though in truth this goes back to my first week in my first carpentry job, in being taught the proper way to string a line and my asking my then mentor who it had been who had taught him the technique he had just demonstrated. His eyes acted almost as a line that day as they belayed the thoughtful recollections and truths spinning in his mind as he thought about it a moment, then he simply said “Well hell, I don’t know, that goes back to way on before the pyramids”

THE_MERCHET

This image of a Merchet and its companion Plumb is seen here as a courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

In part this focus goes to my primary chosen system of timber layout being Plumb-Line Scribe. Though no matter the chosen layout,  (Square Rule or Scribe) I am datum-dependent. I almost without exception snap lines on every stick, more often than not I do so on all four sides. These lines physically represent two perfectly perpendicular planes of reference.

In Square Rule these snapline planes of reference are used to accurately cancel out bow and wind and to overcome any lack of squareness not achieved in the milling of the timbers, as well as lending reliable accuracy to an organic and imperfect timber in the layout and shaping of timbers to chosen mathematical constants at each of their connections. In Scribe Rule these snaplines likewise are used to cancel out bow and wind as each timber is lined out and are then used to place each timber into scribe layups aligning the two planes of reference to Plumb and Level, this often over a lofting floor on which is drawn a full sized diagram, itself described with snaplines, pinged not with a line enveloped in charcoal or chalk but one dampened with ink. Upon such placement in these layups timbers and the inconsistencies (unlike the smaller pieces of wood found in benchwork, timbers cannot reliably be milled strait and true – Timberwork requires systems of layout which therefore deal with those expected and natural inconsistencies) found in their surfaces, are scribed to each other, often with the use of a Plumb-line used to gauge those inconsistencies.

IMG_0319

Note the Level Mark adjacent to the 6″ Level – It is from that mark that the Datums are unwound – It is with both the Datums and the Level Mark that the timber is placed in the layup over the Lofting Floor – This allowing use of the Plumb Line to covey quantifiable information from each timber to the other

A snapped line, like a line on paper or a computer screen can also be used as a base line from which to develop the geometry to layout any required angles or an Arch or a desired radius or as a control line from which a trusses camber is re-conditioned in a bridge rehab/restoration or developed in a new build.

And in all forms of construction, lines then go onto be used all through the assembly and erection process as a constant reference to insure things are both strait and true and plumb and level.

Though recent advances and circumstance will sometimes demand a laser be the line of choice in the field, reels of string, be they Dry or Chalk Boxes or Ink Lines, will forever and always be, the most important of tools in our kit.

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About Will Truax

I'm a timberframer and preservation carpenter, and regularly work on Covered Bridge restoration projects. Bridgewrighting can be a tough row to hoe, for a myriad of reasons. From scheduling issues to differing opinions and philosophies on what is appropriate in methods and materials, to multiple jurisdictions still not sufficiently vetting bidders resumes - Which is to say, just because a company is on that state approved list and capable of building that seven figure overpass, this does not mean they are capable of restoring a wooden bridge... So, I have much to say about all this and more - And despite my tough row observation, I promise not to whine. View all posts by Will Truax

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