Metalheads

A framing system that's a do-it-yourselfer's dream.

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Metalfit is as easy to use as it looks, fans say.

What happens when six unskilled white-collar workers try to frame a three-bedroom house?

Recently, Carlton, Minnesota, landscape architect David Chmielewski and his wife, Jennifer, grabbed four helpers and gave it a try. In less than two days, armed only with hammers, they finished what Chmielewski calls "the squarest, straightest house I've ever been in."

There's a secret, of course: The Chmielewskis used Metalfit, developed in Japan. The framing system consists of prefabricated, engineered lumber posts and beams fastened together with patented metal clips. It's not just for do-it-yourselfers, says James Brew of LHB Architects and Engineers in Duluth, Minnesota, which represents Metalfit. He's marketing it to builders, many of whom face a shrinking pool of skilled labor. Brew claims Metalfit is actually stronger than a conventionally framed house.

That claim was quickly tested. "The first night we spent in the home, there was a fierce windstorm," says Chmielewski. Most wood-framed homes will at least creak a bit in such conditions, but Chmielewski says he "heard and felt nothing."