Steve Chappell's interest in building started early. With a father who was both a builder and cabinetmaker, Chappell began working on houses at the age of 10. In the 1970s, as a young production framer learning his trade, Chappell found himself smitten by roof framing, complex roof framing in particular. He picked up every trick he could from the older carpenters he worked with, and in time developed his own system for laying out complex roof shapes.
Chappell worked his way around the West, building houses in California, Colorado, South Dakota and Wyoming, and when his interests turned to timber-framing he moved to Maine where timber-framed buildings were common. He started a timber-framing school in Brownfield, Maine, in 1983 and began teaching his students the roof framing system he had devised over the years.
But the meager tables stamped on a conventional framing square weren't of much help. He needed something else.
"I kept threatening for many years to put it all on a framing square," he said, "and so one day when I had finished a rather challenging compound framing class, I decided to do it." Chappell says he locked himself in his office and two weeks later had worked out the details for the Chappell Universal Square.
With a Chappell square in hand, a carpenter can lay out just about any kind of roof, in either stick-frame or timber-frame construction: all of its backing angles, bevel angles, purlin and jack rafter angles, the spacing on any jack rafters, plywood cut angles, hexagonal roof systems, octagonal roof systems, roofs with unequal pitches.
Just as important, the square is, well, dead square, guaranteed accurate to within 3-thousandths of an inch. Made with U.S. stainless steel, the squares are fabricated mostly in Maine to the dimensions common into the 19th century: one 24-inch leg and one 18-inch leg.
Chappell wouldn't urge any carpenter to chuck his Construction Master calculator, but he believes a framing square offers a much more direct approach, and ultimately inspires more creativity and more confidence in building complex forms. "There's a soul to this square," he says.