HP Construction
roof framing

"Roofs are the most complicated and dangerous part of house framing. Geometry makes them complicated and height makes them dangerous. But roof framing is also pretty exciting."    - Kevin Ireton, Editor-in-Chief Fine Homebuilding Magazine

Cut & Stack Roof

Roof cutting has always been considered a bit of an esoteric craft.  But now it has been relegated to the status of a lost art, with the advent of the computer-designed factory-built truss roof system that has largely supplanted it on most modern jobsites.  We are proud to have hand-cut and stacked some of the most complex roofs in Bakersfield, before the truss roofs took over the market.  This is a photo record from our archives, documented in photographs taken for a magazine article that never made it to print.

This is an example of a roof that was pre-cut in its entirety.  The layout chalk lines for the house’s walls were snapped on the slab, then measurements were taken for cutting the roof.  While the rest of the crew framed the house, I cut the roof, piece by piece.  It was essential for the wall crew to stick to the snapped lines, and keep the walls plumb-and-lined neatly. 

The hips were divided into “quadrants”, which is my term for the set of jack rafters up one side of the hip.  Layout was pulled in from each corner, so the jack rafters always followed a tidy (and identical) layout at the hip, and any layout adjustments needed were made somewhere in the middle of the common rafters.  Placement of the rafters and  joists was critical, so layout was marked carefully on the top plate according to the roof diagram.

The entire roof was mapped out on a piece of graph paper, which was my reference to cut the whole package.  In a sense, this is similar to what a truss manufacturer does – he gets the blueprints, and builds the roof parts using those dimensions.  Each jack rafter had starter nails at the top, which were used to hang them from the plate, and made nailing quick and easy.   The quadrants were stacked neatly, and marked for identification.

The hips valleys and ridges went up first, with a few common rafters as needed to hold the ridge in place.  Once the framework of hips valleys and ridges was up, and checked to make sure it all planed in properly, the “fill” began, with jack rafters and common rafters.

The actual "stack" portion of the cut-and-stack went very quickly, probably similar to a truss roof.  A good sized house, (this one was 2300 sq. ft. not including the patio and the garage) will go very quickly, if all the pieces are correct.  The photos here are from an older project (note: no gray hair yet on yours truly in the red suspenders) – but were recently digitized, which makes their appearance here possible.

The roof pitch on this particular house was 5:12, with a 24” overhang, square-cut fascia, and 24” o.c. layout.  The pictures shown here were taken in about a 3-4 hour span.  This roof would probably have been pretty well stacked out in one day’s worth of photos, but the photographer got held up, and didn’t show up until mid-day.

Since we had planned this day for a photo-shoot, we spent the morning doing pickup framing, and waiting for the picture-taker.  When he finally showed, he took some pictures of the stacks of rafters, and we began spreading them, then we put the hips valleys and ridges up, and filled in a good portion of the jack and common rafters. 

This roof job was fairly unconventional in that few carpenters will cut an entire roof before fitting the pieces.  But it made it worthwhile to see the bulk of the roof go up in a day, and it really minimized the stand-around time that sometimes occurs while the roof-cutter scratches his head and tries to figure the tricky cuts as the roof is put together.

photos and description of this job produced the following comments, when posted on the internet

Cool thread. - omnimax

Very nice series of pictures.  How long did it take you to cut the roof? - Stilletto

as I was looking at your pictures..I was thinking I wish this was a slideshow  And then you provided one. This is good stuff  Talk about getting your ducks in a row!  - homedesign

Great thread and pics.  How many houses did you do like this?  I dont think I could sleep the night before assembly day ( to worried I messed something up).  - m2akita

I remember those days that was fun stuff. - fishdog

Great series Huck... just awesome...I pre-cut as much as possible whenever possible too.  I never seem to be able to get far enough ahead of my crew to do a whole roof though.  So they're usually grabbing piles off the ground and installing while I'm on the ground cutting like a madman.... sweating, covered in sawdust, crunching numbers, and spending a lot of time talking to myself.  So yeah.... I can sympathize with you.  I usually manage to get just enough of a headstart with the cutting that I stay just ahead of the crew... but I work my butt off to stay there.  - dieselpig

Nice photo essay. I like to get everything cut before anything is spotted. Sometimes I'll have 3 guys cutting at the same time. We can precut a 3400 footer in a day, and stack it in another day. I don't precut the valley jacks, instead once we spot all the ridges and hips and valleys, we'll measure the first one in and while the guys fill in the hips and commons, I'll cut the valley jacks.

I know it's nit picking, but in one of those pictures it showed the studs, joists, and rafters with different layouts. I always start with the king commons on the hips, and lay out from there. When everything lines up it really simplifies things.

Of course, back in the days of those pics, you were so far ahead of the curve it really didn't matter.  Thanks for sharing.  - kpatrix

Great Post!!!  Very Nice work there.  Looked like the crew was having fun , and making it seem effortless ... - dovetail97128

   rather do it yourself?  click here

What is it?

A hip roof, with a square-cut fascia, contains a lot of tricky angles that can easily trip-up even the most experienced carpenter.  Especially if there are multiple complex roof planes - like the roof pictured in the photo essay above.   We devised this mockup, made from a scrap of 4x4, to contain all the angles needed to cut a hip roof with a square-cut fascia. 

Here's how it works:  Angle A represents the pitch of the roof. 
Line 2 is drawn at 90 degrees to line 1, from the corner.  It represents the run of the roof.  And the green side of line 1 represents the rise of the roof.

Line 3 is drawn at the same length as line 2.  Lines 4 and 5 are drawn once the length of line 3 is determined.  Line 5 represents the hip rafter, as line 6 represents the common rafter. 

If you cut away the dark brown portion, the piece remaining contains all the pertinent angles, in 3D, including the fascia compound miter angles, the roof sheathing compound miter angles, and the backing angles for hip and valley rafters.

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