As a framer, I have found it difficult to keep up with all the
changes that happen in the building code. One of the more
confusing areas of the code has to do with the proper
construction of shear walls. I can't tell you how many fellow
carpenters I've talked to who think building a shear wall is
simply a matter of adding more nails to the sheathing.
It's hard to find information about shear walls that is concise
and easy to understand. The only place I know to get it is in
Thor Matteson's book, Wood-Framed Shear Wall Construction
— An Illustrated Guide.
Importance of Shear Walls
Shear walls are an extremely important part of the frame.
Building them properly is every bit as important as correctly
sizing the structural members. The book clears up common
misconceptions, such as the belief held by many older
carpenters that since shear walls didn't used to be required,
why make such a big deal out of them now? Matteson's book has
about as many pages as the magazine you're reading right now.
It's filled with pictures and tables to illustrate the points
the author is trying to make.
In my experience the biggest impediment to the proper
construction of shear walls is the lack of understanding on the
part of the carpenters, superintendents, and foremen who are in
charge of building them. Matteson's book provides the necessary
background so that those of us in the field can understand how
shear walls work and the role they play in the performance and
longevity of a wood-framed home. The pictures and diagrams make
it much easier to understand the principles involved.
A chapter on basic construction requirements covers common
field errors and points out differences between what the code
might say and what materials are actually available in the
field. I especially like the photos that show what to do and
what not to do when you're building a shear wall. They look
like they could be from my job or the job down the road. For
example, there's a picture of a J-bolt that was not set high
enough so, of course, the carpenters notched the sill plate
around it. We've all seen this kind of thing, and Matteson
makes it clear why it's not acceptable in a shear wall.
Another chapter covers the manufactured shear walls that have
become so common in recent years. It also introduces the reader
to collectors; how they work and mistakes to avoid when
building them. The last part of the book discusses advanced
topics such as how to deal with shear walls that have windows
in them and what do when the top of the wall is sloped (rake
walls) or when the building has stepped footings.
The author's past experience as a carpenter proves invaluable
because he understands that it's one thing to design something
on a piece of paper and another to actually build it on site.
One of my pet peeves is that I sometimes have to deal with
engineers and inspectors who have no real-world experience with
building things. It's as if carpenters, inspectors, and
engineers are all speaking different languages. The best thing
about Matteson's book is that it's written in language that can
be understood by anyone.
I have read this book a couple of times and keep a copy in my
truck. In my opinion, it should be required reading for
superintendents, inspectors, and anyone who leads a framing
Tim Uhleris lead framer for Pioneer Builders Inc.
in Port Orchard, Wash.