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Garden Structures #2 - The Basics
by Lawrence Winterburn
January 1, 2000

The principals of woodworking are based in a way of thinking. Looking at what you do, and how and questioning why. Looking for improvement in all you do will help you learn and perfect your skills. The most respected craftsmen use methods of their choosing. They have thought it through, and made a conscious decision. "This is the method I prefer…because…and until I think up or see a way that works better", is the typical response a tradesman will give if questioned. As I have mentioned before there are numerous methods for many tasks, however these are exceptions.

Measuring and Cutting with Accuracy;

It matters not whether you choose to work in metric or imperial measurements. Many materials suppliers will help you using both. Tape measures are available in both standards. Symbols of measurements are indicated in the list below:

"= Inches,

‘ = Feet

so, 2’-8 ½" = two feet eight and a half inches.

(The dash denotes a change in measurement scale)


m= meters


2m-61.8cm = two meters, sixty one point eight centimeters

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    Every carpenter has short cuts…here is one of ours. To measure to an accuracy of 1/16 we will often use an arrow. A hand drawn ­ to indicate +1/16, and a ¯ to indicate -1/16" This way we are able to measure and mark without thinking in 16 ths when it is not necessary. I.e. 17 ­ 5/8" or 17 ¯ ¾" which both mean 17 11/16".



    Make your mark up to the line that indicates the measurement you want, but not beyond. (As in the drawing left) Add a line to indicate which side to cut on. If you cut on this side of the line, your cut is accurate. If you cut on the wrong side…your piece will be exactly 1/8" short.

    Extend the line across the board with a square. Cut the piece of wood with your saw leaving the line to guide you. If you take away the line the board will be too short. The saw *kerf made by most power saw blades is about 1/8". If you were previously taking the line away when you cut you were possibly 1/8" away from accurate. Once you get used to this technique the quality of your work will improve drastically.

    *Kerf - is the width of the cut-or the amount of lumber that turns to sawdust expressed as a width on the upper face of the lumber.



Finding Square

In woodwork, "plumb, level and square", is the general rule. Plumb means everything should be level on a vertical axis. Level refers to the horizontal axis. Square is explained above.

Fig. A

Pythagorean Theorem:

If you have a right-angled triangle with sides A, B and C and C is the hypotenuse, then A^2+B^2=C^2.

For our purposes in garden structures we will use this theorem to find square using 3, 4, 5.or 6,8,10.

To check for square when building a wall or deck measure the diagonals and compare the measurements.

If the deck is square the measurements will be identical as in fig. B

By finding A perpendicular line from the house you can check an irregular shaped deck for square and make any necessary adjustments.

    You can check your framing square for accuracy by measuring the hypotenuse of 6’ and 8’. It should measure exactly 10’.

    You are now familiar with most of the basic rules. Learning to use the hand and power tools in a safe way are your next step. You should consult your owner’s manuals and a good basic book for more tips on these tools. I would recommend "carpentry", by Larry Haun.



    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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