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How to Nail Rafters

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Framing with rafters involves building a roof piece by piece, as opposed to using factory-made trusses. Building with trusses usually saves a lot of money in labor, but ordering them from a manufacturer isn't always practical. In that case, rafters are the better choice. Rafters also offer the advantage of providing more storage space in the attic. The biggest concern when nailing rafters is to provide good support while maintaining the integrity of the lumber. In other words, avoid splitting the lumber with too many nails.

Start a toe nail on either side of the rafter at the end that attaches to the ridge board, which is the board set on edge that extends from end to end of the roof's peak. A toe nail is a nail driven at an angle such that it exits the wood through a surface perpendicular to the surface it entered. In this case, the toe nails will enter the side of the rafter and exit through the end that butts up to the ridge board. Handling rafters can be awkward, so having the toe nails started ahead of time is best. If you're using a nail gun, this step isn't necessary.

Line the top of the plumb cut with the top of the ridge board and line the side of the rafter with your layout mark. The plumb cut is the angled cut at the end of the rafter, so named because when the rafter is installed, the cut will be plumb. Drive the toe nails into the ridge board and add two more toe nails on each side of the rafter. Opposing rafters support each other, so these nails aren't intended to be structural. Refer to building codes and engineering specifications for any structural considerations.

Adjust the wall in or out as needed so the top plate is well seated in the birdsmouth cut. A birdsmouth is a triangular notch in the rafter that allows the rafter to mount squarely on the top plate, which is the board that extends along the top of a framed wall. Drive a toe nail on each side of the rafter just above the birdsmouth into the top plate. Adding more nails than that may split the lumber and weaken the birdsmouth.

Add hurricane ties to the connections at the ridge board and top plate. Hurricane ties are metal clips used to reinforce construction joints. Use the number of ties and nails as specified by the blueprints or local building codes.


Have someone help you install the rafters with one person at the ridge board and the other at the top plate.

Instead of six toe nails, sinking four face nails into the rafter from the opposite side of the ridge board may be easier.


Mike Gamble started writing professionally in 2011 for Demand Media Studios. Having worked as a line mechanic, landscaper, custodian, carpenter, web developer and disk jockey, he hopes to bring fresh insight into the topics he writes about from a variety of experiences.

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Mark Hunt/DisabilityImages/GettyImages