Will's books

Will's books


Wednesday, February 16, 2022

Watch this great film to relive the beginning of production framing during WW2.



Friday, June 19, 2020


Will Holladay giving a roof framing demo at the 1996 JLC Live

(NOTE: click on orange for links)

Will began his career in construction as a job-site laborer with a shovel in his hands.  Blessed with the knack to drive nails he found a good fit in rough carpentry.  While working in the Los Angeles housing tracts during the mid 1970s Will had the opportunity to learn production roof cutting and stacking.  Ever since those early days, roofs have been his forte.  Lacking the technical side of his profession he made time to attend the Construction program at Orange Coast College graduating with an AA degree.  When roof trusses gained prominence in the late-1970s he left the Los Angeles area and moved north into the custom home market along the California central coast. There with his crew he spent the next 14 yrs specializing in framing custom homes with complicated roofs.   During that time he wrote his first book entitled A Roof Cutter’s Secrets to Framing the Custom Home (1989) and earned a BA thru night school.

In 1992 after some 20 years in the industry, Will began working as a freelance framing consultant and “traveling roof cutter”.  He did this primarily so he could divide his time between his other interests of bush flying (he is a commercial pilot and aircraft mechanic), whitewater river guiding and humanitarian aid projects.  In his new capacity he participated in the building of many interesting projects up and down the West Coast.  From 1992 – 2002 he had the unique experience to be able to teach roof framing seminars/workshops at “JLC Live” and other building conferences.  The video of his 1997 roof framing presentation at the JLC Live East conference was edited into a commercial video and made available thru JLC to the public as a resource.

In 1996 Will developed “The HeadCutter” and was granted patent #6038775 for it in 2000.  He invented this devise to replace the venerable sidewinder blade that he used for many decades when cutting roofs.  “The HeadCutter” is an adjustable saw foot that clamps to the bar of a chainsaw converting it into a vertical milling machine.  It is terrific to gang cut the head-cuts and tail-cuts on common rafters packages, square-cut TJI packages and quite popular with manufacturers and installers of insulated roof panels. BigFoot Saw manufactures and sells “The HeadCutter”.  Will used this tool along with other custom saws to help set up a production roof cutting division at National Lumber (Boston) in 2001.  Watch the video Gang cutting rafters to see the "HeadCutter" in action.

In 2002 after four years in the works, Will in conjunction with Hanley Wood republished an updated modern version of A Roof Cutter's Secrets. 

In 2009, Will completed The Complicated Roof - a cut and stack workbook, as a companion guide to his mainstay.  In this workbook, encompassing the calculating, cutting, and stacking of two real life complicated roofs, he shares how he approaches difficult projects and applies the methods shown in A Roof Cutter's Secrets.
In 2012 while teaching tradesmen in Central America rough framing, Will developed the "Seat-Cut Guide Tool" and was granted patent #9120241 B2 for it in 2015 (see the roof cutting tool blog farther along).  It was designed to aid carpenters who were either forced by lack of specialty roof-cutting tools ($) or simply due to personal choice, hand-cut their rafters with a regular Skil 77.  The "Seat-Cut Guide Tool" knocked off about 30% of the time normally required to accomplish this task.  Unfortunately Will could not find a production partner so it has yet to make it the market as the "HeadCutter" did. 

In 2013 Roof Framing for the Professional was produced as a two part video series. It was gleamed from a two week long roof framing clinic Will presented in 2012 and condensed down to some 11 hrs. on (6) DVDs.  Viewers have said it is by far the most comprehensive study of roof framing available on film.  For more than 20 yrs. Will had desired to make available his teaching in a visual format.
After four years in the writing, From the Top Plates Up - A Production Roof Framer's Journey along with The Carpenter Patriot - How Leftism Seeks to Kill the Workingman and Erase Common Sense were published in 2018.  From the Top Plates Up harbors a kaleidoscope of fun and informative topics along with the practical lessons Will had learned over his 40+ year career as a roof framer. 

Most recently in 2020 we saw Will's Handy Formulas for Stick Framing Roofs hit the market.  This book was designed as a job-site carry mini-book, the size of your smart phone.  It contains the most commonly used figures from his classic roof framing manual A Roof Cutter’s Secrets.

Over the years, Will has written a variety of articles detailing roof and stair building topics that were published in The Journal of Light Construction, Tools of the Trade and This is Carpentry magazines (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9).

Alongside both his availability as a roof design/framing consultant and his availability as a production roof cutter, Will has recently branched out to include the design and building of tree houses/tree platforms in his repertoire of skills.

While Will enjoys the physical aspect of building things he also desires to share what he has learned over his lifetime with others and to that end participates in various humanitarian aid projects overseas.   

Thursday, June 18, 2020

BOOKS & VIDEOS by Will Holladay

CLICK on the orange titles for book/video details and to order your copies.

Readers comments:

RCS is definitely the best book I have come across for roof framing.

If it weren’t for your book, DVD and your personal help, I would not have been able to do it. I am not a carpenter so this is my first roof, but I have read and watched a lot of your materials. I have a stack of roof framing books and courses. Yours is the only useful information. Thanks for a good product!

I’ve read tons and tons of books on framing and construction, and A Roof Cutters Secrets was definitely one of the most helpful.


 A Roof Cutter's Secrets to framing the custom home 
(2014)    Review


 From the Top Plates Up - A Production Roof Framer's Journey (2018)    Review   Review   Review


The Complicated Roof - A Cut and Stack Workbook (2009)

 The Carpenter Patriot (2018)

  Videos by Will Holladay:

A Roof Cutter's Secrets DVD (JLC Live)

Additional info on the Roof Framing for the Professional DVD sets including links to sample material, can also be found in a follow-up blog. 

Roof Framing for the Professional - Part 1: The Essentials (3 disk series)    Review

Roof Framing for the Professional- Part 2: Advanced Topics (3 disk series)    Review

Rafting the "BIG DROPS" of the Grand Canyon

Contact Will Holladay at whframingconsultant@gmail.com

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

New pocket sized book incorporating all the formulas a carpenter needs to build normal roofs

Have you always wanted a pocket-sized book illustrating all the roof framing formulas that you use on a daily basis? Well, wait no longer – Handy formulas for Stick Framing Roofs is exactly that. Will Holladay pulled the most commonly used figures from his classic roof framing manual A Roof Cutter’s Secrets and placed them in a mini-book about the size of your smart phone (4 inch x 6 inch). Absolutely perfect for the job-site. Now you can leave the 350 page version of A Roof Cutter’s Secrets at home or in your pickup. The figures are laid out horizontally over two pages so they can be read easily. Each figure is an exact duplicate from what is found in A Roof Cutter’s Secrets. Therefore, in addition to the graphic and caption it contains the “method” and “example” segments if a math solution is required. If relevant, the methodology for applying the Construction Master® Pro calculator can be found on an adjoining page. Stick Framing Roofs also includes the eight mainstay charts found in A Roof Cutter’s Secrets including: RR and LL ratios; Hip/Valley backing angles; Side- and Bevel-Cuts on the Hip/Valley rafter tail with square-hung fascia; and, Regular California Valley sleeper head/tail cuts. Everything you need for standard roof framing situations. Slip Stick Framing Roofs in your pocket and together with your calculator or smart phone and you are good to go.
PLEASE NOTE: This book is for experienced rough carpenters only – specifically those who are familiar with and possess a copy of A Roof Cutter’s Secrets since in this mini-book there are no textual explanations other than the figure caption and method blurb.
Reader's comments 
Will, I absolutely love the book. Just placed an order so all our journeyman carpenters will have a copy.  
Hi Will.  I just picked up a copy of  "Handy Formulas..." and am enjoying flipping through it. What a great idea to make a pocket reference for carpenters, 

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Available NOW at bookstores and Amazon (CLICK on title)

 by: Will Holladay

Four years to write - A lifetime to gain the experience

A journey is a person in itself, no two are alike. We find after years of struggle that we do not take a trip, a trip takes us.” - J Steinback
In From the Top Plates Up, production roof cutter Will Holladay, author of the classic roof framing manual A Roof Cutter's Secrets (1988, 2002, 2014) and the challenging workbook The Complicated Roof (2009) shares a bucket load of stories as he reflects back over his 42-year career as a hard swinging roof framer. The book goes back to the early 1970s when the author was a jobsite laborer working for a custom builder and carries all the way through to 2014 when injuries finally got the best of him. It is the love story of a man and a job. The story of a relentless roof-framing junkie who was never happy unless he was up in the air. Interwoven in the book are intriguing stories of lessons learned – many the hard way – aimed specifically at helping the reader avoid the same pitfalls that tripped him up. The book harbors a kaleidoscope of fun and informative topics including: his favorite tools; swinging a hammer; avoiding jobsite injuries; dealing with simple or crippling medical events; forging a top-notch framing crew; setting up your work truck; the history and tools of production roof cutting; applying the cool new rafter cutting inventions; the development of modern day roof framing lingo; and, staying in physical shape for maximum jobsite performance. In one stirring chapter Will tells of his conversion to Christianity while stacking roofs in the Los Angeles housing tracts and how that decision eventually lead him to a part-time ministry in Central America where he helps out as a relief pilot and teaches locals rough carpentry skills. The book is truly a collection of the best pearls of wisdom from one of the industry’s most beloved roof framers. It is written in a manner that will cause the reader to stop and think, all the while challenging him/her to reach for the stars.

Table of Contents 

1. One Swing, One Nail – the art of the hammer
2. My Two Best Friends – a Skil 77 and a Homelite chainsaw
3. The Minimalist – “simple” and “speed” both start with an “S” (the tools I use)
4. A Man and his Truck
5. The Making of a Framing Crew
6. Roof Cutters – a flash in time (the history of production roof cutting)
7. Smiles and Frowns – successes and failures (jobs)
8. Where was Adam when we needed him – names matter (roof framing terms)
9. Filling Needs – the Headcutter and the Seat-cut guide stories (inventions)
10. Framing Is a Street Fight – treating and avoiding jobsite injuries
11. The Domino Principle and the Downhill Slide (a story of injuries)
12. Teaming up with the Perfect Carpenter
13. Train to Survive the Battle (physical training ideas for a framer)

Reader's comments

Hi Will. Your new book provides a magnificent picture of production framing at a truly professional level.

Will, I just wanted to let you know I finished “From the top plates up” last week and it was a joy to read. As someone who has become very interested in the days of tract homes and the production framing techniques that were developed during the time period, your book had great insight. Again loved the book and it has a new spot on my bookshelf, top shelf right beside my dog eared, underlined ,highlighted and well worn copy of RCS!

This book managed to capture a look into the world of framing through an amazingly talented carpenter. The journey reveals tricks and tips that will add knowledge to anyone who has a desire for advanced skills in framing. Along with the hard work of framing comes wear and tear on your body. I was pleased to read that maintaining fitness to perform this hard trade was addressed. I would recommend this book to anyone who wants to learn about a dedicated tradesmen and a wonderful life story.

I have purchased and really enjoyed and benefited from two of your books: A Roof Cutter’s Secrets to Framing the Custom Home, and From the Top Plates Up.  I am a carpenter (of course), and found a lot of times where what you wrote expressed how I’ve felt but never even realized.  It was great to have it put into words; I even got a good laugh because of it a few times.

Hi Will,
"From the Top Plates up" took me back in time. I became a rough carpenter in 1969 at 18. Did layout, stood walls, P&L, joist. Unlike you, I never gravitated to stacking or fascia. I was a little afraid of heights. I admire your expertise in that area. One of my first jobs as an apprentice was working with a roof cutter in the San Fernando Valley. I moved to San Diego in ’73 and continued my rough framer career until 1984. I made the jump into residential supervision, then VP of Operations, you know…corporate bullshit. I am now retired but my fondest memories are being a young framer. Thanks for getting me back in touch with some great memories.

Monday, June 15, 2020

History behind the Headcutter and Seat-cut Guide

The following short blurbs are condescended from the chapter
 “Filling Needs – the Headcutter and Seat-cut guide stories” in
 From the Top Plate Up – A Production Roof Framer’s Journey

Get your copy of FTPU  HERE.

The Headcutter

Best gang-cutting tool available

By doing roof framing demonstrations in the mid-1990s incorporating the production gang-cutting methodology at JLC Live conferences, I became acutely aware of the problems everyday carpenters faced in applying these techniques on the job-site. Few possessed or could even purchase the trick roof cutting tools that I had from the track framing days of the 1970s (dado saws, sidewinder blades, etc). While the swing-table saw base was readily available to help make the seat-cuts, making the head-cuts even with the Linear Link or Prazi Saws was extremely inefficient due to their lack of power. To remedy this, I decided to undertake a project to mount a regular gas-powered chainsaw with some real horsepower on an adjustable saw-table.

Original prototype

Working on it in my spare time, I had a prototype ready within a few weeks, but it would take a year or more before I could get it out to the public. What was of great importance to me was that the saw-foot be able to mount quickly on the chainsaw’s chainbar without the need to drill mounting holes. A chainsaw accessory more or less. I also wanted the saw-table to be able to bevel well past 45°, so it could not only be used to gang-cut ridge-cuts, but also be used to gang-cut seat-cuts. Yep, a genuine “one tool does it all” solution to the age-old problem of gang-cutting rafters. I originally began by using a pair of large set screws for the chainbar fastening method, but later this was upgraded to a more beefy clamping mechanism when it went into production at Big Foot Tools, and a legitimate machine shop was fabricating the saw-table, not some guy on the tailgate of his pickup truck. My design utilized the top edge of the chainsaw bar to make the cut so wood chips were thrown away from the operator and the cut-line area stayed clean. While I had employed the “top edge of chainbar” cutting technique in other framing situations all my life, using it for the vertical milling of raked rafters was nothing short of a perfect fit.  After much deliberation I settled on the name “Headcutter” for the saw-foot. Looking back now I probably should have named it the “RafterCutter” or “Gangcutter” so the name would better incorporate all its cutting capacity, but hindsight is always 20/20.

 Headcutter can be used to make seat-cuts as well as head-cuts 

Everyone liked the “Headcutter.” Not only did it get used to gang-cut rafter ridge-cuts and seat-cuts, but it found a home precision cutting bundled TJIs and structural insulated panels (SIPs) as well. I was jazzed that carpenters finally had an adequate tool solution to the age-old problem of gang-cutting rafters.

Sunday, June 14, 2020



ROOF  FRAMING for the PROFESSIONAL video series


Part 1 – The Essentials  (3 disk DVD set) 6 hrs.  $50

This set covers those roof situations where a framer can expect to spend over 90% of his career.  Click  HERE to view "The Essentials" video trailer.  Purchase it NOW (click on NOW)


Part 2 – Advanced Topics  (3 disc DVD set) 4.6 hrs.  $50

This set covers those tough roof situations that require a good amount of practice and patience to master.  Click HERE  to view the "Advanced Topics" video trailer.  Purchase it NOW (click on NOW)


If you are looking for slick, high quality, professionally produced roof framing videos, these DVDs are not for you.  If you are a "dyed in the wool" steel square guy, these DVDs are not for you.  If you are looking for some magical method that will convert you into an expert roof framer overnight without any hard work or concentration, these DVDs are not for you.  But, if you ever wanted to sit down and learn from one of the industries most respected roof framing specialists, here is your chance. 

   In 2012, while Will Holladay taught a 2 week long roof framing clinic, we used a small video camera to record his classroom sessions and the “hands on” mockup demonstrations.  Afterwards, his presentations were condensed down to 11 hrs. of instruction and fitted into two separate DVD sets so that anyone interested could benefit from the same material.  The sound may not be the best and some may not like the fish eye lens but the material is terrific.  If you overlook these two small items you will be more than pleased.

   If any college ever wanted to offer a semester long professional roof framing course, Will’s presentation would make a great curriculum.  It is an in-depth training program of theory, application, and assembly that sequentially progresses in difficulty.   Each DVD builds on the previous.   The first DVD starts out gentle so you will have a chance to get used to his terminology and methodology but after 15 minutes he really starts pressing on the accelerator and it never slows down.  Click on the following links to see various samples from "The Essentials"

Why don't my rafters fit?  Common roof framing errors
Stacking a Gable roof 

Should rafters always line up across a ridge, hip, or valley  
Stacking a Regular Hip roof

Why don't my Hip rafters fit?  What did I do wrong?
Stacking a Dutch Hip roof

   Will does use the Construction Master Pro calculator throughout (click name for link), so it is highly recommended that you have one of these handy to be able to follow the calculations.  The videos are fast paced so keep your computer mouse or DVD player control in hand to rewind as required.

   European/other viewers:  These videos are formatted in NTSC which is standard for USA DVD players.  This format will work on PAL (non-USA) formatted DVD players as well.  These videos can also be viewed on any computer.

   Special thanks to Dave Eister, Ron McKee, Chuck Cline and Calculated Industries for their help in production. 

Customer comments:

Hey Will, I just received both Part 1 and Part 2 of your  Roof Framing for the Professional DVD series.  I had them forwarded to me overseas in Norway.  I  wanted to say that while I haven't been able to watch all of them yet,  I am more that satisfied.  I think you did a excellent job on everything.  They are much better than how you described them.  I would give them a 10 on a scale of 1-10.

Anyway, thanks again for making them. 
Ray Scholz

Just a quick note to say I’m working my way through Part 1 and am getting a lot out of it.  Thanks again for taking the time to put the videos together—great seeing "A Roof Cutter's Secrets" in action.

Rob Petito 
Greenwright Inc.
Philadelphia, PA 

Friday, June 20, 2014


Roof Design - Framing Consulting
Architects: I may be able to help resolve some design issues you are struggling with by offering a second opinion or presenting some new options. I can also give my opinion on the degree of difficulty a builder may have with a particular design and how it might be simplified.
Builders: I can calculate a job's tall wall and rake wall heights, develop a roof rafter cut list and/or design a stacking system progression. If needed, I can come on site to help direct your crew with a difficult project including helping cut the roof rafters, guiding the stacking process or building tricky stairways.  I speak Spanish if required.
Anybody: I am available to teach workshops/classes, give seminars or tutor privately on roof framing.

Roof framing seminars or private tutoring
I am available to teach workshops/classes, give seminars or tutor privately on roof framing.

Production Roof Rafter Cutting Service
If you will be building a "cut & stack" housing tract (as opposed to installing roof trusses) and are looking for a roof cutter - contact us. We have the tools and techniques to help you save time and money.

Tree House Design & Construction
If you have the dream to build a place up in the trees for the kids, a deck amongst the branches to enjoy a special view and observe wildlife or a simple hideaway where one can escape the hustle bustle to meditate in silence.
Contact us, we would enjoy working with you to fulfill that dream. Click HERE for a fun video of  a sample job.

 Contact Will Holladay at whframingconsultant@gmail.com

Satisfied customer                                                 

Hello Will,

The pool pavilion interior finishes are on hold pending spring weather.  I'll tell you more later with pictures.  We absolutely could not have done the complicated roof framing without your direction and detailed information.

I'll be sending you drawings for a substantial project in the future.  I hope you'll
be interested in working out the roof framing details.

Thank you.
Best Regards,
Norristown, PA

Thursday, March 13, 2014


To help carpenters and builders cut their roof rafters quicker and more accurate we are striving to make available through this website: 1 cutting guide tool and 2 saw base kits.


*** We need a fabricating partner for the various kits.  If you are interested please contact us.


An order link should be set up as soon as we have a consistent supply available.


CONTACT ME FOR MORE INFO whframingconsultant@gmail.com



 The Roof Cutter's Birdsmouth Cutting Guide Tool  This hand held guide allows folks who hand cut their 2x common rafters with a regular wormdrive circular saw, to make the birdsmouth's seat-cut quickly without the need to mark or follow a cut-line.   This guide tool also automatically accomplishes the difficult task of transferring the common rafter heel-stand correctly to the hip/valley rafter.  The unit is fully adjustable between 4/12 - 12/12 roof pitch for both common and hip/valley rafters.  It can be used with 2x8, 2x10, and 2x12 material.

Cutting demo video click HERE. 

Guide setup instruction video click HERE.






 The Roof Cutter's Swing Table saw base kit   This kit installs on a standard Skil model 77 or 5860 wormdrive circular saw.  It allows these saws to swing well past the standard 45 degree limit and make the very shallow angled seat-cut pass during the production gang-style cutting of common and hip jack rafter birdsmouths.  For a video on how to assemble and install the kit on your Skilsaw click HERE.

kit assembled


kit installed









NOW AVAILABLE from Nick Ridge. 


Click HERE for more info and to purchase. 



 The Roof Cutter's Ridge/Seat chainsaw saw base kit  This kit allows installation of either a large powerful chainsaw for the gang-style cutting of common rafter ridge cuts or a smaller tree limbing chainsaw for the gang-style cutting of common and hip jack rafter birdsmouth seat-cuts.

 small chainsaw mounted for seat cut application
kit assembled


















Monday, March 10, 2014

Secret places above - building in the trees

"Knowledge is wonderful but imagination is even better."
— Albert Einstein

A home in the trees for 4 young brothers

Nearly every rough carpenter I know built a tree fort when they were kids. It's just in the blood. I remember well the one my brother Joel and I built when we were 11 and 12 yrs. old. Even at that young age we already had a fair amount of carpentry experience. It fell upon us “men” of the family to upkeep the small farm where we grew up. Between the two of us we built horse corrals, sheds, chicken/rabbit/pheasant coops, and any other structure that may have been required. We also made time to invent secret places. One such place was our tree fort that was totally invisible to the outside world. From there we could defend our ranch with great effectiveness against the raiding marauders of Lomita CA just down the hill (or escape from our sisters). Other than just farm boy ingenuity, I have no idea how we came up with the tree fort design. 50 yrs ago there was no Internet of course so our “go to” resource was the infamous Encyclopedia Britannica. It was heavily relied on for homework assignments so it could well have been that we copped an idea from there or maybe our incentive came from a Tom Sawyer novel. In any case, without building department approval (not even sure if that gov. welfare job had been invented yet) and under the cover of darkness we constructed our masterpiece. We could not risk drawing enemy attention to our project. Not only was this long before the Internet but thankfully this was also long before spy satellites. Otherwise, we would have had to coordinate our building efforts for when these devices were over the horizon and blind. As it was, in those days we only had to worry about a stray U2 that may have confused Los Angeles with Moscow. That was an acceptable risk knowing the U2 was based out of England and would run out of fuel a long ways before reaching Southern CA. (Photo 1)

Photo 1 - U2

In our personal Sherlock forest we found two straight trees that were situated about 12 feet apart having a trunk size of about 8”-10” diameter. I can’t remember the tree species but they were green. At 8’ above the ground and spanning from tree to tree we attached a 2x8 to each side of the trunk using lag bolts. In effect we had sandwiched the two trees. The two 2x8s were run level from side-to-side and from end-to-end. On top of these we framed a 4’x 12’ floor using 2x4 joists at +/-24” OC and sheathed it with scrap pieces of plywood. At each end of the floor section we ran a pair of knee braces down to the tree trunk at 45 degrees to keep the deck from rocking. (Fig. 1) We didn’t fret much about a handrail as we shaped and wove the tree branches to create a perimeter. To get up to the fort you either scaled one of the support trees or climbed a rope that was hung appropriately. We didn’t want to make it too easy for the enemy to invade.

Fast-forward some 50 yrs to the year 2009, and we once again catch up with one of those 2 young brothers. He now limps around a bit, being an old, well abused rough framer who is many decades past his prime. But for some strange reason this brother never outgrew dreams of building tree houses. On the highest shelf of his sparse little “office” there are half a dozen dusty books on the subject that get pulled down now and then to be looked over on a rainy day. If you haven't already figured it out - that poor soul is I.

Times certainly have changed since those early days. There is now a myriad of spy satellites in the sky so advanced that they can read the words off a newspaper just about anywhere in the populated world. Be hard to build a tree house undiscovered nowadays.  Even your communications are at risk since the feds have drones that fly around and suck data off your cell phone. Yep cell phones - you heard me right. No more land lines - and that wonderful sounding ching-ching-ching of the rotary dial telephone. Hard to believe what has happened in that young man's lifetime. Man has been to the moon and he even keeps an “outer space house” where he can escape from the wife for a break if needed. That is why it is up there isn’t it?   (Photo 2)
Photo 2 - space station

I have been blessed to be a part of many extravagant building projects during my career but I can never seem to dash the longing to design and build a Swiss Family Robinson style tree house. I have so many cool ideas to try out (they are secrets).  I hope I get the opportunity before I hit the grave. I have seen many articles/videos/etc on tree houses (ie: Treehouse Masters, etc) but I would have to say that many do not meet my definition of a real “tree house”, which states “that the structure must be totally supported by the tree itself - no posts or braces to the ground”. (Photo 3) To use the ground as support is definitely cheating and bad ju -ju. Only a set of stairs to access the tree house is allowed to touch the ground. And that is only as a concession for old disabled folks like me who can no longer shimmy up a climbing rope or rope ladder. Building a house on stilts in amongst the trees so their branches appear as porch plants does not constitute a tree house. 

Photo 3 - a REAL tree house

Needless to say, I was utterly delighted when the wife of a dear friend called to ask if I would build a tree house for their 4 young boys. Having seen my design work and construction on various other specialty projects she gave me free range to do as I pleased within a set budget. So without another word, I jumped in my old truck and went snooping around their property to find a tree that I could use. Unfortunately, I discovered that all the available trees were relatively young Eucalyptus (10” diameter). These certainly couldn't support a tree house of any real size so I came up with the idea to build two smaller tree mounted structures and connect them using a cable car. Something fun for the boys to do. One structure would be an enclosed tree house (ETH) with 4 beds for overnight stays while the other would be an open viewing platform with bench seats (VP). Both would have incredible views of the nearby volcano. A stairway would provide access to the ETH while the VP could either be accessed by the cable car or a climbing rope. After getting approval for this plan from the owner, I began formulating a strategy of how best to accomplish the construction. Since it was a small job and I would be inventing on the fly, I decided to build the project solo.
Tree house construction has no real standard methodology. One must invent a special support system to fit each tree’s unique form in light of the local weather conditions. The home site where I would build these two tree structures faces 6 months of monsoon rains followed by 3 months of strong winds each year so I would need to use very durable materials and keep the tree house’s wind profile small. A tree house may seem innocent enough but in strong winds it acts like a giant sail that can easily overload the root system’s ability to resist the flexing load and down goes the tree. Give it a few years and the tree should upgrade its root system somewhat to help counterbalance the new added load. The structural design in this case would also need to allow for plenty of tree trunk movement otherwise the constant wind generated movement would just jiggle everything apart in no time.

I chose to put the ETH into a Eucalyptus tree that divided into 2 separate trucks about 5 feet above the ground while the VP would be installed in a fairly straight Eucalyptus tree about 100’ away. I determined to set the ETH floor about 12’ above the ground. This was as high as I could place the structure so that its roof was just below where the trunks flowered out into a myriad of fingers. The VP’s height would match the ETH at a position exactly horizontally level. This would facilitate travel by cable car between the 2 tree structures.

One consideration a tree house builder must have when building a tree house is to make effort to protect the tree’s health. The fewer penetrations into the trunk the less likely it is to hurt the tree. The last thing you want is for the tree to die and all your hard work be for neigh. After some brainstorming, I devised a method where I would attach the ETH to the tree itself using only 3 “through-the-tree” fasteners while the viewing platform I would attach to the tree with (4)- 4” long lag bolts at two different levels. Every penetration into the trunk would be well sealed using spray car undercoating. This would go a long way to protect the tree from bug and disease infiltration.

My first problem was to devise a good way to work up high in the tree with ease. My experience as a roof stacker had prepared me well for this challenge since I was always inventing ways to get up high and frame various parts of complicated roofs. I detest working from ladders therefore I quickly devised a simple platform type scaffold built around the tree itself. Upon it I would assemble the complete floor joist system and connect it to the tree. This scaffold method would work well for both tree structures even though they had different systems of support. (Fig. 2) To start, I framed two moment frame units laid flat on the ground using (2) 2x4 verticals and a 2x6 horizontal for each of the two trees where the tree structures were to be built. I set the height of the horizontal member so the top surface of the scaffold planks when in place would match the bottom of the platform's floor joists (FJ). I also adjusted the leg lengths to conform to the unevenness of the terrain so that when the moment frames were stood they would create a level working plane. The moment frames were X-braced while laid flat and then stood on opposing sides of the tree. Foot long flat 2x6 blocks were placed under each leg to keep them from sinking into the ground when it rained. After these moment frames were braced plumb using some temporary angle braces to the ground, I connected the two units at the scaffold level on each end using a pair of 2x4 horizontal cross ties that spanned between the vertical legs and then X-braced the assembly on these two connecting sides. I also drove a stake into the ground at each leg and connected it to the 2x4 vertical leg. I next fastened 2x4 horizontal corner ties at the scaffold level on two opposing corners for extra rigidity (Roof Cutter's Secrets pg. 37). Finally, I tossed up some long 2x12s planks that spanned between the two cross ties and on top of them I tossed up 2 more planks that went the opposite direction. The scaffold platform looked somewhat like the number (#) symbol when viewed from above. I made the moment frame support structure wide enough so that I could easily slide the planks out to use outside the building structure when it came time to install the exterior siding. I feel confident that one could easily use this system of construction up to a height of 20'-22’ above ground level. Above that I have another trick idea that I will save to share some other day.

Fig. 2

With the scaffolds up I began work on the floor structures. Up on the ETH scaffold I mocked up a trial floor system using some 2x4s to see what kind of joist layout would work around the two tree trunks. Since the ETH was to be a 7’x12’ structure (that including a 3.5’ front porch facing a spectacular mountain view), I positioned (2) 2x4s - 12’ (laid flat) on top of the scaffolding simulating the building’s long sides. Perpendicular to and on top of these long boards, I set various 8’ long 2x4s to simulate FJs and moved them around until I achieved a decent layout that would work considering the two tree trunks. I had already determined that the vertical rear tree trunk would pass centered through the enclosed tree house space while the angled front tree truck would pass through the front wall and out the porch. I decided to use two of the joists as “king” members from which the whole tree house structure would get its support. One of these “king joists” (KJ) would be solidly attached to the vertical trunk using a single piece of ¾” all-thread while the other KJ would hang from a the front trunk using two equal length pieces of 3/8” wire cable (imagine using two nylon slings to set a ridge beam with a crane). Since both trunks would move independently, this system allowed that to happen without torquing the structure. I would use Guayacan for all the wood components in the building process except the siding, which would be Spanish cedar. Guayacan is so strong and dense that it actually sinks in water. It is impervious to bugs and weather of any type. I am told you can bury a piece of this wood in the ground and come back some 50 yrs later and find it in the same untouched condition. (link to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lignum_vitae). The two KJs along with the outside rims on the ETH would be 2x8s with all intermediate joists 2x4s (full dimensional sized lumber). The decking would be 1x4s.


Photo 4
Photo 5
Photo 6
For both structures and throughout the building process I prebuilt as much as I could in sections on the ground near the tree. Sections that were too big to move up in one piece were partially disassembled and reassembled on top of the scaffold. For example: to construct the ETH floor, I bolted all the joists together using ½”machine bolts and brackets fabricated from angle iron (Photo 4 - no Home Depots around here), numbered everything, disassembled it, threw the pieces up on the scaffold, and reassembled it in place. I could have set a winch block up high in the tree and incorporated my trucks winch to lift things but that wasn't necessary.

With the floor structure set solidly on the scaffold, I only had to attach it to the tree trunk. As described previously I through-bolted one of the KJs to the vertical trunk using 3/4” all -thread. About 5' down and directly below this KJ connection I installed a 1.25” diameter 4130 steel pin through the rear trunk to use as the anchor point for the lower ends of two separate diagonal braces made of angle iron. (Photo 5) They reached upward like a “V” and bolted to the KJ, stabilizing it from side-to-side in the level position.

Up on the front trunk I installed a second steel pin of the same size through the trunk about 5' above the KJ. I hung the front KJ from the outside end of this pin while planning to use the inside end of the pin as my anchor for the cable car’s support cable. (Photo 6) To help dampen any side-to-side swinging movement of the front KJ, I ran a wire cable down and back from one end of the front KJ to the lower steel pin at the rear tree trunk. In combination with the staircase coming up from the ground on the opposite end of the KJ it did a good job of stabilizing the hung end of the tree house. (Photos 7, 18)
Photo 7

Photo 8
I prepared the decking on the ground by aligning them flat, side-by-side on stickers. Then I gang-cut them to length, routered a ¼ round on the top edges and predrilled/countersunk for all the decking screws. Once I had the decking laid out on top of the joists, I worked from one end to the other screwing them in place.  Since Guayacan is so hard I had to predrill the joists for the screws as well. Using one electric hand drill set up with a drill bit and a second electric hand drill set up with a screw driver bit I finished the floor deck installation in short order. I used 3/16” x 2.5” Tapcon concrete screws (with a little wax rubbed on the threads) to secure the decking to the joists. I left a 2” spacing between the decking and the tree trunk to allow for movement and future growth. (Photo 8)

Fig. 3

The VP floor system incorporated four major support 2x4s (full dimensional lumber) horizontal arms (HA) each having a 45-degree 2x4 knee brace set below that kicked back into the trunk from about 2/3 the distance out. (Fig. 3) These arms were positioned at 0, 90, 180, and 270 degrees around the tree trunk. The HA length was calculated using trigonometry to find the diagonals of the 8' square viewing platform less the diameter of the tree trunk at their attach level and then the result was divided in half. I used the tree's circumference at the HA attach level to come up with the tree's diameter. Next I took a piece of flat cardboard and cut a hole a taste larger than the tree's diameter to form a pattern. I placed it around the tree at the HA level to confirm if indeed the trunk was uniformly round or if I would need to adjust the HA's lengths to compensate for fluctuations. This cardboard pattern also served as a guide to position the interior ends of the HAs at each 90 deg. cardinal position. (Fig. 4)

Fig. 4

Fig. 5

Photo 9
Photo 10

Photo 11
The knee brace (KB) lengths were calculated individually taking into account variations in the width or tilt of the tree trunk at their lower end attach point in relation to the HA attach point above. These variations were found by plumbing down to the KB attach level from the cardinal positions of the HAs on cardboard pattern and noting the actual isosceles triangle's leg length for each KB. (Fig. 5) With that measurement, the KB lengths and hanger positions could be calculated using trigonometry. Obviously, a KB having a longer length would have its hanger positioned lower to accommodate the increased length while a KB having a shorter length would have its hanger positioned higher.. The KBs were notched into the underside of the HAs and the two were connected with plate straps installed along the sides. (Photo 9)

These 4 units had to be killer strong as they were the foundation for the entire VP. Both the horizontal arm and knee brace sat in specially fabricated 1/4” thick hangers that attached to the tree using a single 5/8”x 4” galvanized lag bolt. Short ½” through-bolts kept the interior ends securely fixed in the hanger pockets. (Photo 10) Since there would be an outward pulling tension force at the interior end of the HAs as a result of weight on the cantilevered part of the joists, I ran a piece of 3/8” wire cable around the trunk through each of the 4 support joists about 8” away from their ends. This made it impossible for the support arms to pull away from the tree. (Photo 11)

Since the bottom ends of the knee braces would have a compression force against the tree trunk as a result of the VP's weight, separation would not be a problem so I only blocked this end to add rigidity. (Photo 12)

Photo 12

Next I installed some a ring of temporary 2x4s connecting the outer ends of the support arms to lock them into their correct 90 deg. positions while I installed 2x4 girders around the perimeter of the viewing platform. These girders were hung below the four support arms using carriage bolts and would carry the loose end of the intermediate finger joists. (Photo 13)

Photo 13

The floor decking for the VP was cut on the ground and installed in the same fashion as was done with the ETH but while the floor for the ETH was a simple straight run having all the decking boards cut to the same length, the floor for the VP was a constantly decreasing four sided square where each ring of boards was 8” shorter than the previous ring. It was more work but sure looked nice. 
(Photo 12)

Photo 14
Fig. 6
I decided to frame the living structure situated on the ETH floor platform using an unconventional method. Not only is it impossible to use nails in Guayacan without predrilling but my gut told me that with the strong winds and tree movement, the standard wall to roof framing connection methods would eventually loosen. Therefore, I chose to inseparably connect the vertical framing members of the wall (studs) directly to the horizontal members of the roof (shed roof rafters) to create a solitaire “n” shaped truss unit similar to the rib of a boat hull. This connection between the stud and rafter was made with a single ½”x 8” machine-bolt sent down from top edge of the rafter straight into the vertical shank of the stud directly below. I used the “perpendicular intersecting hole” technique (Roof Cutter's Secrets pg. 260)
to position a nut and fabricated square washer inside the stud to catch the bolt from above. I also applied some wood epoxy on the two fitted surfaces. (Photo 14) I assembled five of these “n” shaped wall/roof truss units to be spaced at 24” OC starting from the back of the 7'x12' platform going forward. One side of the “n” shaped units had a stud length of 6' above the floor surface while the opposing wall had a stud length of 7' above the floor surface. The height difference between the two walls created a 12” shed roof drop across the 7' wide floor. Once these units were stood in place, the lower end of each stud was attached to the outside face of the two long rim joists using two ½”x 6” carriage bolts. A 1”x 8” notch was made at the very bottom inside edge of each stud to facilitate placement while providing a solid bearing surface that supplemented the shear value of the two ½” bolts. (Fig. 6) After the skeleton of the ETH structure was in place and plumbed, I stick framed the front and back end walls, together with the window and door openings using the same “intersecting hole” machine-bolt installation technique.

Photo 15
Photo 16
Photo 17
On top of, and perpendicular to the shed roof rafters, I installed flat 1x6s at 24”OC to carry the metal sheet roofing (actually it was a fiberglass version of the same). These 1x6s ran long on the front and back of the building to create a 12” overhang where a 2x4 barge fascia board was installed from below to finish off the eave detail. (Photo 15)
The roofing was installed, the building was sided (Honduran pine ship-lap), the windows and doors were installed, and everything was trimmed out. On top of the roofing I screwed down pieces of ½” PVC pipe around the perimeter to keep the wind from grabbing the outside edges of the roofing sheets and ripping them up. (Photo 16) Where the tree passed through the roofing material I installed strips of 4” wide aluminum coated roof seal tape to close off the opening. This tape would need to be redone yearly if one wanted to keep rain from entering around the trunk. I had the idea to install an aircraft tire inner tube around the tree trunk at the roofing level to close the gap and make it water tight but never got a hold of one of these tubes so it goes untested. One would need to cut the tube open so it could fit around the trunk then glue it back together. Once inflated I believe it would provide a good water seal while accommodating the tree's movement

 I finished off the interior with the installation a few shelves and 4 trick “hide away” beds that folded into the wall framing when not in use. (Photo 17)

Photo 18
Photo 19
The stairway to the ETH was fabricated using 4” galvanized steel “carriolas” (thin gauge metal C-joists). I chose to use a 11” rise and 6” run for the stairway pitch (+/-60 deg.). This pitch, although steep for standard stairs in a normal house, seemed to have the correct feel for a real tree house. Because the tread was open and there was a good handrail it was no sweat even for an old guy like me to motor up/down. (Photos 18, 19)

Photo 20
Photo 21
Since kids would be undoubtedly be leaning over and hanging on the handrails some 15' up in the air, I wanted the handrails for both the ETH and VP to be bullet proof strong so I decided to use the same “intersecting hole” machine-bolt connection to attach the handrail to the balusters. (Photo 20) The lower end of the balusters themselves where attached to the 2x8 rim joists on the ETH using two ½” carriage bolts in shear (Photo 6) , while on the VP (which was built using smaller sized 2x4 joists), angled metal straps installed at the intermediate balusters provided the required rigidity. (Photo 13)  

To avoid hand rail separation at the VP's 90 deg. outside corners, small 1/8” steel plates spanning from bolt-to-bolt just under the wood hand rail were installed. (Photo 21) One would need a tractor to take these tree houses down.

Photo 22
Photo 23
Photo 24
The last project was the cable car. I strung a 100' long strand of 3/8” wire cable from the eucalyptus tree located on the far edge of the VP to the ETH's porch situated trunk and tensioned it into place using a come-along style hand winch. I placed drilled 2x4 spacer blocks around the trunks to keep the cable from strangling the tree. On the VP end of the cable, I circled the trunk twice and tied it back to itself. (Photo 22)

On the ETH end of the cable, I circled the trunk twice and tied it off at the inside end of the KJ's supporting 1.25” steel pin. (Photo 23)

I originally fabricated a 2 person cable car (passengers facing each other) but found it was too heavy for the situation so I chopped it in half to create a single seat version. (Photo 24) With an overhead pulley assembly one could easily whisk back and fort between the two platforms. (Photo 23) Lots of fun even for older kids like me.

Check out this video which gives a tour of the completed ETH and VP including using the cable car to travel back and forth.

NOTE: Unfortunately, not being a great computer person I lost the digital file containing the photos which documented the construction process. I returned to the job site in 2014 (5 yrs later) and took all the photos that are included in this article except Photos 6 and 12. Notice how the years of tropical weather has greyed out the beautiful natural Guayacan color.  Its brilliance could have been maintained easily with an occasional coat of varnish. Now it will take a little sanding to bring that color back out.

Copyright 2015 by Will Holladay