Work in Progress


Finally: It was stated at the outset, that this system would not be here, and at once, perfected. You cannot but plainly see that I have kept my word. But I now leave my cetological System standing thus unfinished, even as the great Cathedral of Cologne was left, with the crane still standing upon the top of the uncompleted tower. For small erections may be finished by their first architects; grand ones, true ones, ever leave the copestone to posterity. God keep me from ever completing anything. This whole book is but a draught—nay, but the draught of a draught. Oh, Time, Strength, Cash, and Patience!   Herman Melville, Moby Dick

Even with the best of intentions, I may never finish this house we live in.  Not for lack of trying, but life does get in the way of building sometimes.  Ten years ago borrowing money was way too easy, watching friends go down the rabbit hole of debt.  We avoided that trap, and instead managed to pay off the original mortgage and keep buying materials and building.

[I have this litany that I use to explain my roofing system.  Rafters, regardless of size and distribution, cost roughly $1/sq. ft.  The 1×6 pine car siding that I use for ceiling costs about the same, ditto for polystyrene insulation, and metal roofing.  Four dollars a square foot, materials not labor.  Estimating joinery: materials 20%, labor 80%, if you are quick and efficient.  Don’t expect that to pay for hand-planing, or finishing; certainly not overhead or profit.]

Timber framing works well that way.  One room at a time.  The principal tools are always Geometry and a sharp chisel, acquire the rest as you need.  Four posts, four beams, rafters, braces, lumber.  Get a roof on, the rest will follow.  Walls can be filled in with just about anything, doors and windows need not be expensive.  Time and Patience serve when Cash and Strength are short.

It does help to have a general plan.  The house should above all be a response to the site.  We all need shelter from the biting winds of winter, mad-dog summer sun, pounding rain.  Give yourself over to the logic of A Pattern Language, it’s all about archetypes.  Sketch, dream, draw plans and elevations, build scale models, keep a watch on dumpsters and flea markets, one man’s trash…

Somewhere in a house, you should be able to see out in all four cardinal directions at once.  Light, unobstructed, will penetrate the darkest corners of a room.  Everyone needs a fire at times.  If you can’t figure out what’s comfortable on your own, watch the cats.

The Cherokee people, I’ve been told, have a specific word for “keeping one’s house together”, nuanced to include the gestalt of familial relationships as well as general maintenance.  Curtis Rodgers told me a story back in the 80’s, about how the old Cherokee families had out of necessity built houses with whatever was available, adding on rooms as growing families required.  Along came FHA financing in the 50’s, they were encouraged to spend oil revenue money and move into newly built houses, which they didn’t have the know-how to maintain.  They could no longer “keep the house together”…


About michaellangford2012

Timber framer, boatbuilder, dreamer, writer, musician; collector of books, tools, aphorisms. "There is nothing, absolutely nothing…half so much worth doing…as simply messing about in boats."
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