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I've been watching people do framing on residential homes for a while; both in person and on videos. The framing is very "sloppy" compared to watching a craftsman build a cabinet, for example. The cuts are choppy, edges don't always butt tight, wood splintered from nail guns is ignored, etc...

I assume builders don't worry about all of the minor details because they're moving quickly, working with lower quality materials, and because most framing is hidden behind drywall, roofing materials, etc...

What I'm trying to understand if this is, in fact, an okay thing to do? Are there any advantages to building a house like a master carpenter would build a quality piece of furniture? Are there any disadvantages or problems that creep up from this quality of construction?

  • I'd like to make this not an opinionated question/answer so please provide facts/case-studies and if anyone can help edit my question accordingly, I would really appreciate it. Thanks! – Kurtis Nov 26 '14 at 23:19
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    Like anything else functional, It's just gotta not suck™ – Mazura Nov 26 '14 at 23:59
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    Half the key to any craft, art, or science is learning when good enough is good enough. – keshlam Nov 27 '14 at 1:47
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Ten years ago I would have said getting any fussier than what you see average framing crews doing would be a waste of time. But in 2009(10?) I was involved in a project that had the framing done by a local Amish community. Hand planes, old timey plum bobs, brace and bits, the works. They didn't spend the time that we, the cabinet and trim guys, spend on our fit and finish (it would take a century to build a house to that level of exactitude), but they were much more conscientious about compensating for the defects found in modern building materials than what we were used to seeing.

The difference it made when it came time to set our cabinets, hang trim, etc. etc. etc. was unbelievable. You could have gone around that house with a fine tooth comb and not found anything out of plum, level, bulged, sagging, crooked or otherwise wanged up by more than an 1/8 of an inch, and that is no exaggeration. To put this in perspective, well let's put it this way: we usually have to add 1/2" scribes to all of our end panels and so forth just in case the framers were having a particularly bad day.

It might have taken them longer to do their part, but the labor saved down the road was well worth it. The trick is knowing where to spend your extra time/effort up front so that it pays dividends down the road.

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    It works for Amishes because one community does everything. If you look at specialized work, work saved for the flooring guy is a work framing guy can never get back. – Agent_L Nov 28 '14 at 16:43
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Framing is structural, not cosmetic. So wood splinters and rough cuts are not an issue as long as they are carrying the load above and provide a good nailing surface at the correct locations.

The part of the home you see, drywall (particularly the mudding), cabinets, flooring, etc, is where you make sure it looks good for appearance, but those looks don't make a difference in the structural support of the house.

Edit: I will agree with others that there are key points that framers need to focus on. That includes all of the walls being perfectly plumb and floors being level, particularly near doors and windows. It also means that the crowns on studs should all face the same direction to avoid wavy walls. And you want your straightest studs in the corners, near doors and windows, and around cabinets or other built-in parts of the home where it counts. Getting this right may not be obvious to the naked eye during the framing, but these mistakes are difficult to correct later in the construction process.

To me, the difference between a good builder and an amateur is knowing what details count and which will get covered over in drywall and trim. Some people will spend 15 minutes rasping the edge of a drywall cut to get the fit within 1/8" only to cover over the gap with a 2" piece of trim. And I've also seen them forget to get nailers up at every corner, only to give the drywall installers a headache when they discover there's nothing to attach one side to.

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In the UK, house construction is divided into separate stages "first fix" and "second fix"

first-fix includes carpentry that the eventual occupier of the house won't see. For example the woodwork inside stud-walls. It is expected and normal that this isn't finished to the standard you would expect of a second-fix carpenter and not to the standard you would expect of a joiner or cabinet-maker.

Some saw-makers sell "first-fix saws" and "second-fix saws". First-fix saws have fewer teeth per inch and cut faster but leave a rougher cut edge.

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This distinction between visible and hidden work is probably similar where you live, though terminology will differ.

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    That's cool, I have never heard those terms (1st fix, 2nd fix) before, thank you for sharing. Our (U.S.) version would probably be "rough carpentry" and "finish carpentry". – Jimmy Fix-it Nov 28 '14 at 13:55
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There is okay sloppy, and there is bad sloppy. Bad sloppy has an impact on the finish of the house.

For example, if you don't crown your joists correctly, your floor will be a bit wavy. If you don't choose good studs for your kitchen, it will be harder to hang cabinets and they won't look as good. Neither of these violate building code, but you can notice them if you pay attention.

Taking a bit of extra care in rough carpentry makes the finish work go a lot nicer. But unfortunately, most workers are paid by how much they get done, not by how well they do it. Pros can't generally do rough carpentry with cabinet-level quality as it is not economical to do so. This is a significant advantage of doing it yourself.

  • "advantage of doing it yourself" ... assuming you can afford the time investment which the extra precision will cost. – keshlam Nov 27 '14 at 1:46

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