Good work is often invisible. Elements you want to highlight, such as a front door, bullseye medallions incorporated in window trim, or a farmhouse apron sink, shine on purpose. Things that next catch your eye are irregularities. That crooked switch plate cover. A cabinet door that stands proud of the ones next to it. In this way an older house can be more forgiving than a new one. The expectation is different. Part of what makes an old house lovely and infuses it with life are its quirks. A new house with sloping floors and crooked trim says something else.

Wanting certain elements to disappear is why I put effort into making visible nailing patterns straight. When clapboarding, the first course will get fully nailed off. From that point on, just enough nails are used to hold the board in its proper position. The top board will get fully nailed as well. At that point you can hold a straightedge between the upper and lower nails and make a tick mark where you want to nail. You can do this with a chalk string line as well. Trim gets a marking gauge, a scrap of the same stock cut square and marked with the nailing pattern. If it’s gable trim, cut and mark along the perpendicular.

Frequently, when decking, I don’t want to use chalk to snap nail lines. Chalk can be tenacious and I’d rather my layout lines don’t remain. Instead I’ll install the decking in a manner similar to putting up clapboards. The first and last courses fully nailed. Intermediary boards nailed only enough to keep them in place. I don’t fully drive the nails in the first and last board but keep them a half inch above the surface. Once all the deck material is placed you’re ready to nail. Tie a loop on the end of a length of nylon string. Drop that loop over a nail head at one of the far ends of the deck. Now run the line in the direction of the joists to its partner nail. Pull it taut, wrap it once around the nail. Continue the string nail to nail over the entire deck. This gives you straight nailing guides with no chalk residue. When I’m crawling around nailing off a deck I find it easier to put my nails in an open box rather than pulling from a toolbelt pocket. Start a nail using the line as a guide, pull the line to the side as you drive the nail home.