I seem to have been a stranger in a strange land all my life. Pretty sure I was put here by accident, or some sort of cosmic mischief. Maybe I’m just an anachronism, and I belong in another century. I have tried to make the best of it, through high school, the Army … did my best with college until I totally lost interest and dropped out. There wasn’t a career path that seemed to fit my interests. I hated desk jobs, and had no patience with waiting tables or kitchen work. Catching chickens seemed like a dead end. Out of necessity, I became a carpenter. Somehow, I seemed to have an aptitude for that.

The economics of building always baffled me, though. It seemed that the only way to make a living was working for people who were far wealthier than me, and whose tastes ranged from frivolous to ostentatious, generally just more layers of material crap. Eventually, I realized that they were simply caught up in “positional wealth” … no matter how much they had, they were constantly comparing themselves to someone who had more, and feeling insecure.

What I wanted to do was build for my peers, the folks who inevitably turned the mill that ground the grain. Those were the people in need of decent housing, the so-called American Dream that appeared to be moving further and further out of reach. How to bring it back?

Inspired by some of the early books about timber framing, I wandered off to New England and found a beginning there. By the time I had wrapped my head around the mechanics of joinery, acquired a few chisels, and worked journeyman jobs in half-a-dozen states … I came to the belated realization that those people were on the same merry-go-round. They were merely serving a different class of wealth. Same game, different players.

There’s also a level of absolute fakery in the building market, in which anything and everything can be (and in fact is) built with 2x4’s, sheetrock, and dimensional lumber (or western red cedar … which is prohibitively expensive, environmentally disastrous, and has negligible structural values). Architects (with few exceptions) don’t know jack-shit about structure. Engineers are unimaginative dorks who love to add oversized steel beams, damn the cost. When in doubt, add side plates. Building codes generally reflect these values.

How do we get back to real building? To begin with, start small. Keep it small. Not tiny. Plenty of small houses have been built using timbers 6"x6" or even smaller. A lot of usable wood goes to waste, ask any arborist, or find a local sawmill. Buy some tools. It doesn’t take a lot of tools to cut joinery. A good chisel or two, a sharp handsaw, an old T-augur with a good cutting edge … start there. Find your way, feel your way. You will make mistakes … learn from them. I can’t tell you what will work for you; I only know what has worked for me. When you find real, you will know.




Carpenter: woodcarver with a bent for typography, music, poetry, good design & living well in peace and harmony. Un-apologetically Southern; literate…

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michael langford

michael langford

Carpenter: woodcarver with a bent for typography, music, poetry, good design & living well in peace and harmony. Un-apologetically Southern; literate…

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