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Garden Structures #2- The Basics - Footings

Woodwork for the Garden
by Lawrence Winterburn
January 1, 2000

When learning about woodwork as an apprentice, you learn many subtleties. These are the basics, and as you learn them they modify your thinking. Rather than glossing over details, you will begin to look at everything just a little differently. You will begin to notice imperfections, how things go together, subtle cracks, grain etc.

First of all, no piece of lumber is perfect. The imperfections are not always evident. Likely your work will not be perfect either. Often, it is not how many mistakes you make, (that is how you learn), it is how you go about correcting them, (creativity is important), that matters. There is not one way to do every task in woodwork, there is normally many. It is up to you to decide which method suits your abilities and style.

An effective craftsman spends a reasonable amount of time planning his activities. If you can save steps, you can decrease the amount of time doing the job, and spend more time cutting accurately. Consider repetitive activities. For instance, milling on the table saw, cutting to length, sanding. Rather than milling and cutting and sanding each piece individually, batch each activity. Mill them all, then cut them to length, and finally sand all of them.

If you are smart about your activities, your speed will improve. Creating jigs to improve accuracy and safety can also improve your speed. These are advanced techniques, we will start with the basics for now. Hopefully these principals will compel you to think about everything you do, and you can spend more time fishing…or woodworking. I would choose fishing, I do enough woodworking!








Every piece of lumber has a slight curvature when viewed from the end. When all the pieces are assembled in a structure in the same direction it will appear uniform. Furthermore, if they are installed crown up (as in illustration), it will actually look, and in fact be, structurally superior.

  • Beams, joists and fence rails should be installed Crown Up.
  • Joists are crucial. If joists are not all crown up the deck or floor will appear uneven.

Keeping Plumb and Level

Is your level accurate?






As in the illustration, place it on a relatively level surface. Make a light mark so that you’ll be able to locate the exact position. Align the level with the edge of the table or whatever you’re using.

  • Visually inspect your level for straight. Look down the edge.
  • Look at your level indicator and memorize its position between the marks.
  • Roll the level 180 degrees, and make sure you’re in the exact location of the first reading. Is the reading the same?
  • Now flip the level end to end and compare the reading.
  • Roll the level 180 degrees again and compare.
You’ve now checked for accuracy, now check vertical function on a doorway. Follow the same steps.

You’ll probably be quite surprised to learn the level you’ve used for years isn’t accurate. I’ve actually gone through entire assortments of levels in search of an accurate one. You’ll also be surprised to learn that just because a level sells for $80.00 doesn’t necessarily guarantee accuracy. Many are damaged during shipping and many aren’t actually accurate to begin with.

Elmvale, Ontario, Canada Lawrence Winterburn is president of the Winterburn Group Woodwork design and installations. The company supplies and installs "One of a Kind" and traditional garden structures in Ontario, Canada. His One of a kind plans and structures are sold worldwide through

Address: RR#3 Site A Box 11
Elmvale, Ontario, Canada

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