It’s a funny thing, when it comes to things, there are always other ways of doing things.
Sometimes it’s easy to get hung up on technique, or form, or both, or if your are making something, to get hung up on materials, or the way you see things.
Sometimes doing what feels right goes against everything you have learnt. Sometimes that may be the best course of action, and sometimes the worst.
Sometimes it takes a lot of experience to have faith in doing what feels right, and sometimes the reverse, sometimes your experience can get in the way, and you inadvertently hold yourself back.
It’s a bit like that line in Joseph Heller’s book ‘Catch 22’, when captain Tapman the group chaplain is trying to explain his inability to see major Major, “You can see him, but only when he’s not there.” To which he’s rebuked by a senior officer, “are you describing some mystical experience…?” because that’s what it can sometimes boil down to, a mystical experience with whatever you are dealing with. And sometimes you can find the extraordinary in the mundane. Although this isn’t an article on mysticism, but building, they can be one and the same. It depends, on how you look at it.
It’s common knowledge that there’s a fine line between genius and madness, perhaps its a little less common to understand that often you need both, and that many times they are the same thing, like light, which can be both a wave and a particle, it depends on how you look at it.
For anyone reading this that doesn’t know who I am, and to give you a context, I am a carpenter and builder, a woodsman, a bushcrafter, a maker of things, (by the way, that’s not a picture of me, if you didn’t know, but Marty Feldman).
We moved here a couple of years ago to try and become as self-sufficient as we could, that in essence is why I am doing what I am, in the way I am.
Part of that idea included building a house that would be as efficient and ergonomic as is possible for me to manufacture. A house unlike any I had either built or was part of building before, but using all the knowledge and skill I have gained in that time. Having said it will be unlike anything I have previously built, it will of course bring some of those parts together.
I’ve built stick frame (contemporary timber frame) where you build with relatively small section timber in a modular way that’s essentially held together with metal fixings, nails, screws, ties, fastenings, brackets, straps and hangers, and I’ve always worked on the renovation and upkeep of traditional timber frame, post and beam style houses, that are essentially held together with the type and strength of housed joints and wooden pegs, but never built one. Its like the holy grail of carpentry, like building the birchbark canoe was for me in terms of bushcraft.
Those of you that know me, know that I am obsessed with old technologies, my wife calls it obsessive crafting disorder, OCD. flint knapping, firelighting, shelter building, canoe and paddle making, bow making, knife making etc etc. I want to bring the approaches of the old ways and some of the technologies and integrate them into the building of a house. Potentially, it will make it a very eccentric hand crafted home, bespoke, as opposed to mass manufactured, with low energy embodied materials. Hopefully a thing of beauty will emerge, a nest not a box.
When you speak to people who build their own home about the reasons they are doing it, it’s often because they want a chance to design the way it looks or performs, and sometimes because for them it’s a more affordable way of owning their own home, or a home they would like to own. To an extent these are things I want, but it would not be true for me to say they are what’s behind why I want to do this. I like making things, and building a house is like a giant (rick ocd) project. But, one that I hope, will have real value outside of my own interests. I like to challenge my abilities, constantly push them.
I want to make something that is essentially simple, functional, beautiful and a joy to live in. A place where you can breathe out rather than a place where you can’t breathe at all. A haven. Conversely, I am all too aware that the process of getting there is far from easy, at times unpleasant, painful physically, emotionally and spiritually. Building can destroy people and relationships and be the obverse of the very thing its trying to achieve, harmony, balance, a place to nurture and be cared for, a place to live more fully. Inevitably, by the time you complete a build you need to breathe out, in every respect.
Already, the process of doing this has taken longer than any complete build I have undertaken or been a part of. I know there are many reasons for this. Even with all the best will in the world sometimes things don’t always run how you might like them. Some days things appear to go well and other days you get deadlocked or worse, driven backwards, all I know is if you can stick it out and try and keep hold of the end picture, things have a way of evening out over time. And the maxim, ‘what do I have to do today?’ will see you through the project, and help you feel less daunted, one stone at a time, one day at a time. When you break it down into little bits, hundreds, thousands of little bits, it might surprise you what you can do, even eat an aeroplane! (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michel_Lotito)
There are ‘strange attractor’ type benefits to building yourself, for yourself, and on your own. Sometimes the delays in apparent forward progress actually work for you, as you are able to refine your ideas and the way you do things that isn’t governed by time. Some might call that indulgent, but the pressure of deadlines is always there in the back of your head.
What I intend to do is build a traditional post and beam timber frame house, with a stone face, and internal straw-bale infill with lime render. To make a building that’s as sensitive to its environment in terms of vernacular context as well as choice and use of materials, and in this way to build economically from a labour and financial point of view. To be as pragmatic as I can about what I do and how I do it. To constantly try and achieve the highest possible build quality I can, in respect of fitness of construction, elegance of design and proportion, and functionality.
Where-ever possible, to use the materials on the farm, to salvage stone from the existing buildings and any excavated during the site clearance, and to harvest timber, where I can, from the forest. Where I need to purchase materials, to source them as locally as possible.
To build in a modular way, using a combination of American and English approaches to framing, that benefit being able to achieve this singlehandedly. That means “no” to barn raising, and lifting of entire bents (a large section of frame) as I don’t have a crew of 30 or more, and “yes” to adapting the methodology of stick framing, where you essentially put up one piece at a time creating the bays as you go.
Building one storey at a time allows you to use smaller length posts, stacked, and not have to pre-assemble the entire bent. And raise it as one. The acquisition and assembly of shorter span posts and beams is more manageable, although there will be more joints to cut.
In order to get to that place I have a lot of work ahead of me. I first have to carve out two sections of the mountain, one either side of the existing main building, and then demolish the main building and any other buildings necessary, but to leave as much as possible of the existing stone work in situ.