This section is from the book "Cyclopedia Of Architecture, Carpentry, And Building", by James C. et al. Also available from Amazon: Cyclopedia Of Architecture, Carpentry And Building.
It should be the object of every specification writer to have the words as exact in the expression of requirements relative to materials as are the drawings in showing their forms; and no more words should be used than are absolutely necessary to indicate the full meaning. Frequently, after completing the specification, it is gone over to make additions. It is far better to go over it to see how much can be cut out - which operation will often astonish the writer by showing how many useless words and duplicate requirements have been inserted in the original.
Generally speaking, adjectives and adverbs and all general description should be dispensed with. A requirement that work shall be finished "in the best manner" means very little. A reasonable interpretation of "best" work for a house costing $1,500.00, would be entirely unsuitable for a house costing $15,000.00; and as all through the scale the meaning varies, it will be evident that the contractor influenced by his intent to make a profit, and the owner influenced by his desire to get his money's worth, will have very widely separated views relative to what the "best" is; and the architect is apt to get the ill-will of both in attempting to decide the question.
The fact is that the term "best" is open to a great variety of interpretations. If an oak moulded panel is to be finished in the "best" manner, we think of it as constructed with perfect symmetry of outline, thoroughly smoothed, with all machine marks removed, and filled so as to change the texture of the surface, coated and polished with four or five coats of varnish. If, on the other hand, a carved panel is described as finished in the best manner, we conceive something quite the reverse. Although it is of oak and intended for the same room, it must lack the machine symmetry, and must have a freedom in the carving in which each member shows independence of form; the tool marks should remain; and under no circumstances should the work be smoothed off with sandpaper or have a rubbed finish. These differences of meaning in the same word or term are not understood generally; and the workmen, contractors, and owners get hopelessly at odds.
In mentioning materials, they should be treated in classes, with no attempt to designate where each should be used (this designation is the province of the drawings). If an attempt is made to designate where materials are to go, and for any reason every single point is not covered in making such designations in the specifications, such omission is taken as an excuse by the contractor for an extra.
It is sometimes held that the specification should be considered as a sort of index of all the labor and materials required in the structure, and that any items not mentioned in this index cannot be required. This feature, however, is the province of the "Bill of Quantities," which in this country is always prepared by the contractor for his own use, and not by the architect. The contractor makes up the bill of quantities from the drawings and specifications which latter, together show the shape, size, and quality, but which should never attempt to state the quantity in detail.
There are certain items that cannot be shown on the drawings or required by the specification, which must be covered in a general way - such as nails and screws; but when something more than the ordinary practice is needed, this should be mentioned. Thus, floor lining should be secured by 10d nails not over 3 inches apart over each joist. Matched sheathing should have two 8d nails to each board, over each stud. Window stops should be secured by round-headed blued screws set not over 10 inches apart. While for such items as the finished floor, casings, etc., there is no necessity for specifying the number or size of nails, it should be stated that they are to be so placed that the heads will be invisible in natural finished work, and puttied in painted work.
However many general clauses may be inserted requiring contractors to do and provide work and materials necessary for unforeseen exigencies; it may be stated as a general and almost universal rule, that, when the work and materials are not clearly set forth, the owner has to pay the bill.
Where work is to be divided so that a contract is let for the masonry, carpentry, plumbing, and heating to separate contractors, the lines in which they are to co-operate must be most clearly drawn, and the special provinces of each defined.
If contract is to be awarded to one person who is to furnish the structure complete, then the matter of what work is to be done by this or that sub-contractor should be omitted entirely. The general contractor must be held responsible for results, and there should be no dictation as to which of his sub-contractors should do certain parts; nor is it the business of the architect or the owner to dictate how the different sub-contractors shall co-operate. If results are unsatisfactory from any reason, the contractor will always urge the plausible excuse that his affairs in the management of the work were so interfered with that he was unable to do the work as he wished or agreed.