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  • Writer's pictureJim Martin

A Throwback--and A Shoutout

Updated: Oct 22, 2020

In which I talk about the other house we built, lofts that are actually rafter ties, and a Plummer who is actually a carpenter.


At this point in the process, I need to give a shout out to my friend Brian Plummer. Despite his name, Brian is actually a carpenter--an excellent one. Brian and I have been friends since the late 1900's. So today being Thursday, I thought a bit of a historical digression that loops back to the present might be in order--a sort of throwback boomerang, if you will.


I know, right?!?

The summer Jenna and I got married I spent a couple of months working on a building crew with Brian. It was my first and only stint working as a carpenter. Brian and I had been acquaintances for a while, but I'd never worked with him before and didn't know him all that well. He quickly stood out as someone who had a real love for what he was doing. He was one of those people who was a real student of the trade. To be sure, I was an easily-impressed noob. But Brian's thoughtful approach and his kind way of narrating everything we were doing ended up being where I learned most of what I know about all this.


After we were married, Jenna and I moved to California for a couple of years (The Math and Science Teacher Years--see my Pythagoras post), then returned to Massachusetts. Within a couple of years of returning, a set of circumstances arose leading to an opportunity for us to build a house. I thought to myself, "How hard could this be? I have almost two full months of carpentry experience under my (tool) belt. We should do this!"

Here is Jenna checking the carrying beam for level. She's full-on 9 months pregnant. I'm taking a coffee break.
This is our good friend Tom Rice. A big part of the village.

We designed the house ourselves and because we were on an extraordinarily tight budget, we only hired contractors for the foundation, plumbing, and electrical. We intended to work our butts off and do everything else ourselves--meaning we would rope as many friends into helping as possible. You know the saying, it takes a village.


The real truth, though, is that without Brian's help on that project, it would have crashed and burned (quite possibly literally). Brian consulted whenever I needed it (which was often), he showed up to help at key points along the way (usually on weekends after having already worked a full week). He talked me through challenging steps, loaned me tools, he was indispensable.

Here is Brian towering over everything the day we started putting rafters up.

With Brian's help we persevered over the course of about 2.5 years and built a freakin' house.

So, fast forward to the present and who starts pinging me on Facebook but my friend Brian Plummer the carpenter! He's excited about the tiny house project. He's asking timely questions about structure and design. Making great suggestions (like make sure you install an entry door that swings out).


When he saw rafter photos starting to appear he messaged me with questions like:

  1. Is that a single top plate? (Normally top plates are doubled.)

  2. What about rafter ties? Collar ties? (Technical note: Collar ties hold the rafters together at the top and keep the roof from blowing open in a hurricane. The metal straps over the tops of the rafters satisfy that need. Rafter ties are horizontal pieces of lumber connecting pairs of rafters somewhere in the bottom third of the rafter. Their function is to keep the walls from spreading over time. Brian was commenting that he didn't see either in the photos.)

As far as collar ties go, no problem. As I mentioned the metal straps over the top of each pair of rafters satisfy that need. The rafter ties were another story. It turns out this subject is something on which most of the Tiny House literature is silent. This is partly because tiny houses on wheels are considered temporary and therefore not subject to building codes and permitting. Everyone, therefore, interprets "best practices" differently.


Brian and I had a long and somewhat technical (on his part... there were charts involved) exchange around the need for rafter ties. Like most tiny house builders I'm reluctant to include rafter ties because they would invade the cathedral ceiling space over the kitchen and be super inconvenient in the sleeping loft.


Eventually I sent Brain a picture of framing for the sleeping loft asking if he felt that the way that loft connected the tops of the two walls might serve the same purpose. I also explained that there would be another (storage) loft over the kitchen and that only a few feet of wall would not be tied together in this way. He seemed relieved. So was I. So there may be one or two rafter ties in our future. But for the most part we'll rely on the framing of the lofts to serve that function.


All that to say, I am so grateful for the village that makes these kinds of projects possible--and safe. These days that village includes YouTube people like the Perkins Builder Brothers, and it still includes friends like Tom Rice, and now it includes our kids, Clara, Charlotte, and Aidan--and some of their friends as well. But the mayor presiding over my building village (running unopposed for a second term) is Brian Plummer, the carpenter.

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