The company I work for, Baud Builders, builds custom homes in the coastal areas of Rhode Island. The homes are architect-designed and typically have plenty of interior and exterior millwork. I spend most of my time in the shop, prefabricating many of these components, to make time on site as efficient as possible. One recent project featured a glazed cupola, which lent itself to a unique approach: Rather than messing around on the rooftop, we decided it would be much easier to build the cupola in the shop, then truck it to the site and crane-lift it into place. The plans specified the general look of the cupola and the window units to be used (Eagle awning windows), but provided little else in the way of guidance or design. Our strategy was to have the framers create a square opening through the roof and build a mounting hub — like a stubby, wood-framed chimney through the ridge — based on rough dimensions provided by the building plans. The hub, framed with 2x4s and sheathed with 3/4-inch AdvanTech, measured 541/2 inches square on the outside. We took the hub's as-built dimensions and designed the cupola to fit. The beauty of doing things this way is that it leaves no doubt about the rough dimensions suiting the finished unit, or vice versa.

We started with the windows. First, we needed a logical way to join them into a square, common unit. I began by cutting a base plate and a ceiling panel to matching outside dimensions, using cabinet-grade 5-foot-by-5-foot 1/2-inch Baltic birch plywood. I then cut out the base plate to match the top plates of the framed hub. Around the perimeter...

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