Woodworker's Central
Woodworker's Gazette
Gazette Archive 3/13/00

A book review: By Jim Barry

Title: Carpentry & Building Construction
A Do-It-Yourself Guide

William P. Spence

Published by: Sterling Publishing Co. Inc.
387 Park Avenue South
New York, NY 10016-8810
ISBN 0-8069-9845-8
Price Softcover: $24.95 (Canada $36.95 )
672 B/W pages


To start out, I'd like to say that Contents pages that show the title chapters don't normally interest me, but I thought it would be a very good way to convey to you, the readers of this review, the depth of knowledge contained in this book. So, if it bores you, skip over this part and go to the meat of this review.

1. Safety on the Construction Site
2. Ladders, Scaffolding & Runways
3. Building Codes, Zoning Regulations, Building Permits and Inspections
4. Architectural Drawings & Specifications

5. Using Leveling Measurements & Linear Measuring Tools
6. Locating the Building on the Site
7. Footings and Foundations
8. Concrete

9. Floor Framing
10. Wall & Partition Framing
11. Framing the Ceiling

12. Roof Types and Design
13. Constructing a Gable Roof
14. Hip Roof Construction
15. Intersecting Roofs
16. Framing Flat, Shed, Gambrel and Mansard Roofs
17. Dormers
18. Trussed Roof Construction
19. Cornice Construction

20. Post, Plank & Beam Construction
21. Heavy Timber
22. Pole Construction

23. Installing and Trimming Doors
24. Installing and Trimming Windows


25. Finishing the Exterior Walls
26. Finishing the Roof
27. Decks and Porches

28. Moldings
29. Installing Base, Crown and Other Moldings
30. Paneling and Wainscoting

31. Installing Wood Floors
32. Other Types of Flooring
33. Stairs

34. Thermal Insulation, Sound and Moisture Control
35. Installing Gypsum Drywall

36. Cabinets and Countertops

37. Cold-Formed Structural Steel Products
38. Cold-Formed Structural Steel Framing

39. Wood and Reconstituted Wood Products
40. Fasteners
41. The Carpenter's Tool Box
42. Using Power Tools
Appendices & Index

This book is an overwhelming source of information for the homeowner, amature do-it-yourself person, professional contractor and even students who are taking courses or apprenticeship training. Not overwhelming in a negative context, this book is formatted in such a way as to provide a steady flow of information which brings the reader to the next level in his contruction needs. You can open any section of the book in an area that interests you, read it, learn from it and then proceed with your task.

It isn't necessary to read the first seven chapters in order to understand the information presented in the eighth chapter. I believe this will be one of those books that you'll always find on top of the bench in your shop, with the corners of the pages well-thumbed from constant referral to the information inside. With over 2000 pictures and illustrations for referrals and examples, it far exceeds its book value of $24.95 (US$).

Section I covers all of the common sense requirements for safety on the job site, building codes and regulations, and the how-to's on reading architectural drawings. A lot of emphasis is placed on falling which seems to be a major concern. Ideas like placing hand rails in wall window openings and on gangway planks is repeated. With good intentions too because I've been to many job sites where this practice was not followed. Also depicted are some very good diagrams on how to build scaffolding on site. Bracing is a key ingredient.

All kinds of charts listing wood dimensions versus span/weight capabilities. Building codes and zoning regulations are summarized with an outline as to what a builder/owner can expect when starting the initial planning stages of building a structure. A buildable area of a site is determined first by the setback. Setbacks are the minimum distances from the perimeter of the property to which a building's exterior can be constructed.

The architectural drawings and specifications section goes into very good detail as to how to read drawings. Charts and diagrams showing methods of measurements, architectural scales and symbols, window, door and piping symbols, electrical symbols and abbreviations can greatly help even the lay person to read plans and drawings. Detailed drawings on how to read floor, frame and elevation plans can really boost the knowledge of anybody who wants to know "what is what" and "what goes where" in a building that is being constructed.

Building Codes and Regulations are touched on giving the basics but I would recommend to check with local codes first. Architectural Drawings and Specifications goes into great detail about measurements, scales and symbols. As well as how to read foundation, floor, elevation and reading plans.

Section II shows you all the how-to's for using the different types of leveling instruments found on the job site which include tapes and surveying equipment, leveling rods, laser levels and the Vernier scale. It also gives particular information necessary on how to setup and operate this equipment. The book then digs into the building location on site and foundation frame-ups. A lot of emphasis is put into explaining form work and proper procedures. With a whole chapter on concrete, it gives the details on different types and why its so important to get this step of the work done right ... the first time.

Section III talks about floor, wall and ceiling framing. It points out the types of support structures used and the importance of each. The diagrams in this section are very detailed and should leave no question unanswered.

Section IV delves into framing the roof and dormers. Again, attention to diagram detail is impressive. Information includes everything, and I mean, everything needed to build either a simple roof or a multi-pitched roof with dormers. Explanation on the rise of a roof, reading the rafter square, marking the bird's mouth, plancher lines, collar beams, sway braces, purlins and cornices. Hip roofs and intersecting roofs are spelled out in laymen's terms. A complicated process made easy with the help of detailed diagrams. It seems that pages have no less than 3-4 images with every turn of the page. I guess they realized that a picture is worth a thousand words.

Section V deals with other framing methods like Post, Plank and Beam construction, Heavy Timbers and Pole contruction. With its advantages and limitations, this section shows how to build up beams on site and how to case them in to look like one solid beam. Information abounds with charts like Table 20-1 "Examples of Column Slenderness Ratios" or Table 20-2 "Total allowable uniformly distributed roof loads for 3 inch nominal laminated wood decking." The diagrams included truly are incredible. Everything is detailed.

Section VI is an "open and shut case" on how to install Doors and Windows. And not a "pane" to read either (sorry, couldn't resist that one). It talks and shows how all types of doors are made, their construction, installation standards and weatherstripping and installing locksets. Window installation is a technique all its own and deserves full treatment with regards to explaining proper installation procedures. This book covers it.

Section VII covers the issues of finishing the exterior. You won't be left out in the cold after reading this section. Everything from nail selection for wood siding, installing horizontal and vertical wood siding (no corners cut here), installing fiber cement siding and vinyl/aluminum siding, wood shingles and shakes, stucco and others. The "Finishing the Roof" chapter covers it all - you simply have to get the book to see it. Naturally, what's a construction book without talking about decks and porches. The pictures of examples by themselves will inspire you to build or re-do one.

Section VIII draws you into the lost art of paneling and moldings. Stock, custom and polymer moldings; choosing the right wood to paint or stain and the how-to's on making your own. It details once again on how to "cope" with defects in the floors and walls. Nailing and splicing the shoes, caps and bases. It even shows how to install the more difficult installations of arches and other large radii. And who would of thought there was so much involved in the installation of paneling and wainscotting. To do it right "the first time" this book is ~the~ primary source of information.

Section IX will sweep you off your feet! If your "significant other" is around watch out! If she catches a glimpse of the hardwood floors in this book you can add another task to your "Honey Do" list! This chapter has it all. Types of flooring; laminate, planks, parquet blocks, end grain, inlaid and plastic. Then onto the installation of each type. Then there's the topics of other types, like cushion, carpet, resilient and ceramic. Of course, then there's issue of stair construction. All the bases are covered and leads you "step by step" with, once again, pictures and excellent diagrams.

Section X offers 30 pages of important information about insulation and interior wall finish. Issues of heat transfer and resistance values, R-values of construction materials, thermal insulation, vapour barriers, moisture control, when and where to insulate, how much and the how to's. Then there is the task of drywall and plaster. Compounds, finishes, preparations, installation (like installing on curved walls and arches), corners and taping techniques.

Section XI is probably the most popular topic for this website - cabinet construction. From how to read design drawings, views of many designs, kinds of cabinets, construction, to have or have not a face frame, installation the basics to installing peninsulas, island bases and of course, countertops.

Section XII is dedicated to the construction techniques of light frame steel products used in the basic construction of buildings. Tools to use, assembly methods of tying in the floor, walls and trusses to form one solid unit.

Section XIII jumps into the very wide topic of tools and materials. This chapter is assembled so it does not create an information overload to the reader. Some of the covered topics include: species and properties of different woods, log yield and how different types of board are obtained from one log, moisture content, dealing with defects, how to read classifications and stamp codes, span size values, fire-retardant-treated wood an plywood and wood preservatives. Fasteners (you name it, its explained here) is the next chapter and they "hit the nail on the head" offering all the information you need. The last two chapters deal with the carpenter's tool box, the basic tools, power tools and how to use them.

Lastly is the Appendices. Solid information about the following as well as other information.

Structural Framing & Wood Floor Nailing Requirements Floor, Ceiling and Rafter Joist Spans in feet/inches and metric, Built Up Floor Beam Spans in Metric and Feet/Inches, Board Feet for Selected Sizes of Lumber

So, after all that I can only make one recommendation. If there is one book to have in your possession, this is it.

Jim Barry

Editor's Note: Sterling Publishing has graciously donated several books for review which are passed on to our members free of charge in exchange for thoughtful, honest reviews. Thank You! And you can find this book at Barnes and Noble.

Back to the Gazette

Contact Us | Homepage
We encourage all our visitors to send us
their thoughts, suggestions and complaints.