Essential Tools for the Framing Site

Safety Harnesses. Our ropes and harnesses stay in the shop until we need them. I like the Werner LiteFit H3110 harness because it is very low profile and easy to put on and adjust. For ropes our favorite is the Super Anchor Deluxe Lifeline. Instead of a mechanical grab this life line uses a prussic knot. Mechanical grabs can get clogged with the rain we get here, but we haven’t had the problem with the prussic knot. We use 30’ long ropes, anything longer and we switch tie off points.

Anchor Point. The best way we’ve found to tie safety lines off when setting trusses is to use the Super Anchor Safety Bar. It is very easy to use and can provide fall protection for 2 workers. We used it on a remodel project last year where we had to remove the failing hand-built trusses from a car port. We just worked back from the gable setting the Safety Bar a few trusses in and moving it as we went.

Forklift. In 2005 we bought a used Ingersoll Rand VR 1056 all-terrain forklift for $85,000—and it drastically changed how we frame. We use it to move material and stand walls. With its 56’ reach and 10,000 pound lift capacity we’re able to install soffits and siding with the wall flat on the deck and build larger walls than can safely be lifted by hand or with wall jacks. The forklift also allows us to frame walls where there is space on the deck and then move them to where they need to go. It lives on the jobsite; our excavator charges $230 to transport it.

Rigging Straps. We keep 10’, 20’, and 30’ rigging straps on hand to stand walls and lift beams. Load ratings are listed on the straps. We get rid of them when they start to fray. We get our straps from the local Whitecap Supply.

Gas-Powered Blower. For a good 10 years we’ve used a Stihl backpack blower to blow sawdust off floor decks. We also use it to blow dust off walls before taping seams or lifting.

Cordless Blower. This last winter we bought a Milwaukee M18 cordless blower to keep the truck clean and to blow off the tops of foundations before we snap lines. We use it instead of the gas blower because it’s quick and easy to use (no fuel or starting; just a battery) and does not kick up such a large cloud of dust. The blower could have been any brand; we got Milwaukee because that’s what more of our cordless tools are.

Sawhorses. On any given jobsite there will be 3-5 sets of horses. We build them scrap; it takes maybe 15 minutes per pair. The horizontals are 4’ pieces of 2x6; the legs are 2x4 and angle out at 15 degrees. We nail ply on the ends to keep them from spreading. The horses last a long time but eventually succumb to age or being crushed by a load or the forklift.

Temporary Lighting. We use Wobble Lights for all our temporary indoor lighting. Over the years we’ve managed to collect three, two 175-watt models and one 400 watt model. Ours are metal halide but you can also get them with LED or fluorescent bulbs. On most jobs we’ll daisy chain the three of them together and that will provide sufficient light during dark winter months.

Wall Jacks. Whenever possible we stand walls with the forklift. When that’s not possible (usually because there isn’t access for the machine) we use wall jacks. Ours are from Qualcraft and they’re so easy to use we only lift really small walls by hand because it’s not worth getting hurt to save 5 minutes of setup time. Our local lumberyard stocks them; you can buy them online for about $110.

Buck Boost Transformer. We don’t plug tools into the main power cord; we plug them into a buck boost transformer that is connected to the main power cord. The transformer makes small (5-20%) voltage adjustments down (buck) or up (boost) to the incoming power and insures our tools receive the correct voltage. This makes them last longer.

Power Cords. When I started framing I was taught it’s worth spending extra for high-quality cords. At that time we had Yellow Jacket cords, which stay flexible in the cold and were the first I had seen with a lighted receptacle end (important when the power trips in wet weather and we need to know if it’s the cord or tool that’s tripping the power). We use 12/3 100’ power cords; they’re heavier than a homeowner’s cord but last a long time. Currently, some of our 12/3 power cords are Yellow Jacket and some are Ridgid from Home Depot. They’re equally good and if I was buying today I’d go with whichever cost less.

Planks. We own several 14” x 24” aluminum staging planks. The newest of them are from Alum-a-pole and were purchased used on Craigslist a few years back. We like them better than our old ones because they are stiffer. One of our aluminum planks is 20” wide; we like working off it but not lifting it. A framer from another company once teased us about the 20” plank, calling it a 6-pack plank, one so wide you could walk on it after drinking a 6-pack and not fall off.

Staging. The only staging we use are two pairs of ReechCraft Broncos, adjustable height “sawhorse” supports for staging planks. Each Bronco has three legs, which can be independently adjusted to level the units on uneven ground. Our older ones are from the late 1990s (see previous slide); we recently purchased a brand new set. Using all four of the units and a couple of 24’ planks we can quickly stage and side a long wall—up to about 12’ above grade. The tripods can carry 300 pounds per pair and adjust to a maximum height of 5’. Price: about $300 per pair.

Extension Ladders. We often use extension ladders to hang sheathing on the 2nd floor, to set windows, and on occasion to set rafters to a ridge. In 2005 we got rid of our old ladders and replaced them with Green Bull 28’ aluminum ladders. We chose this brand because that is what our supplier had at the time. Werner extension ladders are good too; we’ve used them doing work on other builders’ jobsites.

Prybars. In the early 2000’s we bought a Burke Bar Jr for stripping foundations. We liked how it worked and began to use it for framing tasks too. The bar is a long metal tube with a curved tapered end. With its 47” handle it provides plenty of leverage; I use it to pry up walls up to get a wall jack under them. If foundation bolts go in out-of-plumb we can put the hollow end over them and bend them straight without damaging the threads. We’ve tried a similar pry bar from Marshalltown but the end doesn’t curve as much and the metal fatigues faster than the Burke Bar JR.

High Pressure Air Compressor. For the last 7 years we’ve been using Max high pressure coil guns and the discontinued AKHL1230E compressor—which can power both high and standard pressure tools. High pressure guns are lighter than standard models and require special high pressure hose. We have four 100-footers; we haven’t had to replace any but we have had to make repairs when wear causes a hose to blow out (usually from fatigue near a coupling).

Standard Pressure Hoses. Even though we have high pressure guns we still use standard models for driving the hot-dipped galvanized stick nails used to fasten exterior trim (HDG stick nails are cheaper and easier to find than HDG coil nails). We’ve been using the same Senco hoses since the late 90’s. They were ¼”x100’ hoses when we bought them, but have grown shorter as we’ve had to make repairs. They’re light and have been very durable, though if I were to buy again now I’d go with Flexzilla hoses because I’ve heard very good things about them.

When we have a lot of nailing to do and we have to wear a harness, we grab the Max X Line from the shop and use it as a lifeline and air hose for the nail gun. The Max X Line eliminates one trip hazard by combining the hose and lifeline.

Cordless Fan. A couple of months ago I bought a Milwaukee cordless fan ($79). We mostly use it when siding, to provide a bit of cooling and to blow away the fine dust produced while cutting LP siding. I would prefer it be a little larger but I’m sure battery life is a constraint. When it’s too hot to do any good at the cut station we’ll set I up in the shade next to a bucket of water, dunk out head in the bucket, and then stand next to the fan to cool down for a few minutes. Ours is a Milwaukee but you can also get cordless fans from Makita, Ryobi, and Ridgid.

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