A Rafter Tale


Cutting rafters might be my favorite part of the construction education to date, because figuring out the slope and run takes as much brain as it takes brawn. Pythagoras and all that.

You can cut all your rafters to have the same overhang before you put them up, but that can go awry if your wall sheathing is at all uneven, in which case your rafters will curve in and out along the wall profile.

A better idea is to put all the rafters up, then attach a string to the two end rafters and use a speed square to mark where the string hits each rafter. Then all you have to do is trim the rafter tales with a circular saw.

Right. Like it’s a small feat to stand on a ladder and use a Skil saw overhead. On the contrary. That’s a big deal. I mean, if you’re going to climb ladders and use saws all at the same time, why not just pour some water over a live wire?

No, thank you.

We had twelve rafters to cut and about six of us doing it, which meant two rafters per person,  give or take, so I figured no one would notice if I lurked in the background while the high-elevation rafter-sawing proceeded.

But my oh-so-helpful classmate Josh (pictured above, cutting a rafter tail like it’s a piece of cake) busted me and volunteered me for the job.

OSHA Mom wants to trim a rafter,” he said.

“No, no. OSHA Mom’s good,” I said, feet planted firmly on the ground and both hands occupied with nonviolent gadgets, such as tape measure and chalk line.

The instructor offered me the saw, but I demurred. “There’s no way in hell I’m climbing that ladder and using a saw over my head,” I said.

“What do you mean? Six months ago you said there was no way you’d use the circular saw at all, and now look at you.”

Then he took this photo of me sawing the rafter tail while on a ladder.


I have to admit it made me feel good when he said that. Then again, it made me feel even better when Josh, who mischievously volunteered me for the job in the first place, later said, “OSHA Mom, if you ever need help cutting rafter tails, you can just call me.”

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