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Preparing to build my first cabin

 
pollinator
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I’m still searching for land, but I want to be prepared to build a small cabin(small enough to avoid residential code) which I will live in while building a house to code. This will be the first structure I’ve ever built, so I want to keep it as simple as possible. I really like this cabin bushradical (Dave Whipple) built. And by the way, he lives roughly in the same region of Michigan I’m looking for land.

There are 4 parts to this series. He really shows you how to do just about everything, every step of the way. There are a few modifications I’d like to make, and I’m hoping some of you can help me out here:

1) This cabin is 10x12. Why do I see so many small structures in 10x12? Wouldn’t it be easier to go with 12x12? If there is no reason not to, I’d prefer to go with 12x12.

2) He uses rough cut lumber from the Amish, true to size. As long I use all conventional dimensional lumber, everything should fit together just the same, right?

3) He uses some camp stove. I think I’d like a better wood stove. So any recommendations would be appreciated.

I had considered getting a liberator and then transferring it to the house when completed to meet code easier, but from what little I understand about rocket stoves I believe the liberator might be overkill in this tiny cabin. I would not add mass anyway. Also, I believe there would need to be additional safety measures due to the high temperatures which would then add weight to the cabin as well…no?

4) This one isn’t really a question, just some info I think I should add. I’d like to add a little deck to it. If the cabin is 12x12(or 10x12), then I could have a 4ft deck and still be under 200 sq ft.

And for anyone who is thinking “just make the whole indoor space 12x16, you’ll need the space”, I hear you. I plan on building a 12x16 shed after the cabin is done. I just really, really like the idea of having a deck. I figure this house is going to take a very long time. So I want my “temporary shelter”, as the regulations call it, to be the kind of place I can enjoy living in and looking at for years.

5) another bit of info: I plan on several upgrades that will make the place more livable, and also accomplish some PEP BB’s. Like a sink that drains to a mulch pit. An indoor willow feeder as well. I’m hoping to knock out a ton of BB’s with this.

6) I wondered if the roof might be an issue with snow piling up, but he says it’s not. It’s a metal roof, small structure.

Edit: I tried embedding all 4 YouTube videos, but it didn’t work. Oh well, I’m not sure if it’s even necessary to watch any of these videos to answer the questions.

 
master steward
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I built a small cabin in MN many years ago.   I would suggest the design include plans for expansion.  I took into account expected snows and build the cabin a little higher off the ground to account for a heavier snows.
 
Rocket Scientist
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I suspect the 10 x 12 may have been to stay below the minimum code applicable size. If you have researched your area and know that 12 x 12 will be safe, do that. Here in upstate New York the maximum unpermitted size is 100 square feet, so I built an 8 x 12 shed to start with, sitting right next to the door of my little travel trailer.

If you have a deck attached to your cabin, that might count as square footage depending on your local code and inspector. How hilly is the region you are looking at, and how likely is it that you could have a deck partially at ground level by your door?
 
Kevin David
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John F Dean wrote:I built a small cabin in MN many years ago.   I would suggest the design include plans for expansion.  I took into account expected snows and build the cabin a little higher off the ground to account for a heavier snows.


I was just watching him dig out of snow at another one of his cabins. How high did you go off the ground?

I suspect the 10 x 12 may have been to stay below the minimum code applicable size. If you have researched your area and know that 12 x 12 will be safe, do that. Here in upstate New York the maximum unpermitted size is 100 square feet, so I built an 8 x 12 shed to start with, sitting right next to the door of my little travel trailer.

If you have a deck attached to your cabin, that might count as square footage depending on your local code and inspector. How hilly is the region you are looking at, and how likely is it that you could have a deck partially at ground level by your door?


He says it’s 200 sq ft., which is true for most of the areas I’ve looked into in Michigan’s very rural areas.. Yes, the deck counts. I was factoring that into my calculations above. That’s why I was talking about compromising cabin space for a deck.

 
Glenn Herbert
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If a deck counts as square footage, I would suggest just making a (raised) level area of dirt with gravel or stone paving, and save the legal square footage for shelter. This would be easier if you have a slope and can set the cabin floor close to raised grade at the doorway. A tiny cabin probably can be designed without reference to a particular site since everything has to fit and there is no room for "nice" easing of spaces. I would think there would be just a few site requirements that you would want in your land search, like some southish slope for solar gain (if land in the area has any slopes).
 
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Kevin David wrote:I’m still searching for land, but I want to be prepared to build a small cabin(small enough to avoid residential code) which I will live in while building a house to code. This will be the first structure I’ve ever built, so I want to keep it as simple as possible. I really like this cabin bushradical (Dave Whipple) built. And by the way, he lives roughly in the same region of Michigan I’m looking for land.

There are 4 parts to this series. He really shows you how to do just about everything, every step of the way. There are a few modifications I’d like to make, and I’m hoping some of you can help me out here:

1) This cabin is 10x12. Why do I see so many small structures in 10x12? Wouldn’t it be easier to go with 12x12? If there is no reason not to, I’d prefer to go with 12x12.

2) He uses rough cut lumber from the Amish, true to size. As long I use all conventional dimensional lumber, everything should fit together just the same, right?

3) He uses some camp stove. I think I’d like a better wood stove. So any recommendations would be appreciated.

I had considered getting a liberator and then transferring it to the house when completed to meet code easier, but from what little I understand about rocket stoves I believe the liberator might be overkill in this tiny cabin. I would not add mass anyway. Also, I believe there would need to be additional safety measures due to the high temperatures which would then add weight to the cabin as well…no?

4) This one isn’t really a question, just some info I think I should add. I’d like to add a little deck to it. If the cabin is 12x12(or 10x12), then I could have a 4ft deck and still be under 200 sq ft.

And for anyone who is thinking “just make the whole indoor space 12x16, you’ll need the space”, I hear you. I plan on building a 12x16 shed after the cabin is done. I just really, really like the idea of having a deck. I figure this house is going to take a very long time. So I want my “temporary shelter”, as the regulations call it, to be the kind of place I can enjoy living in and looking at for years.

5) another bit of info: I plan on several upgrades that will make the place more livable, and also accomplish some PEP BB’s. Like a sink that drains to a mulch pit. An indoor willow feeder as well. I’m hoping to knock out a ton of BB’s with this.

6) I wondered if the roof might be an issue with snow piling up, but he says it’s not. It’s a metal roof, small structure.

Edit: I tried embedding all 4 YouTube videos, but it didn’t work. Oh well, I’m not sure if it’s even necessary to watch any of these videos to answer the questions.






Im not sure about the codes, but this guy built his "10x10" with a second floor loft, at some point he mentioned the loft space wasnt technically against the 10x10 code.
Im guessing the code is the first floor sq footage?
worth looking into if thats the case, because its a lot of extra room
 
John F Dean
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Hi Kevin,

I decided to combine two goals as long as I was making the effort.  Besides allowing for the snow, I decided to build the floor high enough off the ground so that I could sit in an upright sitting position when working under the cabin.   So, I measured my height in a sitting position, added a few inches, and that was the height of the lowest point under the cabin.  This a 40 years ago, but I think the lowest point was around 3 feet.
 
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On of my biggest complaints about small places ( and in fact my current home) is that there isn't a decently covered area over the entrance door. A spot to shake your coat off before bringing the snow inside as an example. So I  like the idea of a deck - be it raised and wood, or on the ground using rocks or pavers, but having at least 6' wide by the 4 feet covered and maybe with a trellis and vine on the windiest side depending on the orientation, I think you would find quite helpful.

A house I owned years ago (30+), my dad and I used 18" square coloured pavers to make a patio. Everyone was building wooden decks because that was an "in" thing, but I worked during the day, so in the spring and fall when it was cool in the evening, the pavers held and reflected that bit of heat that made it lovely to sit out there and read a book or whatever. Way cheaper and faster to build also!
 
Kevin David
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Aurora, I’m not 100% sure, but I believe two floors would require a permit here. Regardless, I want to keep it very simple since I’m new to this. Really, really simple.

John, you have some clever and funny ideas….ideas I seriously consider.

Jay, Bushradical has another cabin design I may incorporate into this cabin. First and foremost, the deck with a roof. I’m with you on the importance of a covered deck for snowy and rainy days.

Here’s the other cabin with a deck. Very similar. Different “foundations”, different dimensions, one has a deck. The thing about the video in my initial post is that he designed that cabin(and the video series) for absolute newbies. There’s way more detail since it’s a 4 part series. I’ll use the deck instructions in this one, since the roofing is the same design on both I don’t think it will be an issue.
 
pollinator
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I am very content to challenge rules that have no sence.
I love the idea of the comfortable sitting area under the floor as a guise for allowing for snow depth.
CONUNDRUM
If you built the 10 x 10 cabin then shifted soul and rocks to create a landing out the front would you have blown the regulations?
If not, then why cannot you create a landing by means of dimentional timber or steel ?
 
Kevin David
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I’m not sure about the regulations and this rock deck idea, but I don’t want to do it anyway. I want a nice conventional wood deck. Like I said, I’m going to build a shed for storage. So I’m fine with compromising a little on the size of the cabin in order to have a deck.

I’m thinking maybe make the deck 6 x 8 instead of 12 x 4. 4 feet sounds a bit cramped.
 
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Kevin David wrote:1) This cabin is 10x12. Why do I see so many small structures in 10x12? Wouldn’t it be easier to go with 12x12? If there is no reason not to, I’d prefer to go with 12x12.


I think Dave went with a 10 foot width because off the shelf metal roof panels typically come in 8 ft and 12 ft lengths and he was building a monoslope roof and wanted a little overhang. If you want to go wider you can lap the panels(not preferred, get longer panels fabricated, or build a gable roof. A gable roofs is not much more complicated than monoslope roof.
 

Kevin David wrote:2) He uses rough cut lumber from the Amish, true to size. As long I use all conventional dimensional lumber, everything should fit together just the same, right?


Yes, I would consult a joist and rafter span table for whatever lumber you use. We have a lot of southern pine down here so I use this one.

Kevin David wrote:3) He uses some camp stove. I think I’d like a better wood stove. So any recommendations would be appreciated.


I watched a lot of Dave's videos and they all kind of run together but the Camp Chef Alpine Heavy Duty Cylinder Stove seemed like a pretty good option.

Kevin David wrote:4) This one isn’t really a question, just some info I think I should add. I’d like to add a little deck to it. If the cabin is 12x12(or 10x12), then I could have a 4ft deck and still be under 200 sq ft.
And for anyone who is thinking “just make the whole indoor space 12x16, you’ll need the space”, I hear you. I plan on building a 12x16 shed after the cabin is done. I just really, really like the idea of having a deck. I figure this house is going to take a very long time. So I want my “temporary shelter”, as the regulations call it, to be the kind of place I can enjoy living in and looking at for years.


In my area decks count as square foot since they are not conditioned space.

Kevin David wrote:5) another bit of info: I plan on several upgrades that will make the place more livable, and also accomplish some PEP BB’s. Like a sink that drains to a mulch pit. An indoor willow feeder as well. I’m hoping to knock out a ton of BB’s with this.


In this case I think I would favor building a 12 x16 cabin to have some room for future projects. It's a lot easier to do your foundation and roof in one go versus add on to it later.  


 
John F Dean
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I can see that if the deck is attached to the building where it might be counted as part of the structure.  What if the deck is freestanding and not attached?  It would seem to be a separate structure,
 
Jay Angler
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John F Dean wrote:I can see that if the deck is attached to the building where it might be counted as part of the structure.  What if the deck is freestanding and not attached?  It would seem to be a separate structure,

It all depends on the precise wording of the codes. Where I am they specify 100 square feet (actually, the metric equivalent) and then say something about "covered area between structures will be included". In other words, if you build two completely legal 10x10 ft sheds, and then do anything "covered" that joins them, they can legally make you remove the lot.

So much depends on the nature of the local department and their employees. I've seen some really stupid things done in Canada where perfectly safe housing was torn down due to a technicality, then technically correct housing left that collapsed when a known environmental risk came through. It's why I always encourage people here on permies to research their land and natural risks and climate trends and build better than code. We need all the permies we can get - I don't want anyone dead because they skimped on their "temporary" housing and it collapsed under an unexpected snow load!  
 
Kevin David
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Jay Angler wrote:

John F Dean wrote:I can see that if the deck is attached to the building where it might be counted as part of the structure.  What if the deck is freestanding and not attached?  It would seem to be a separate structure,

It all depends on the precise wording of the codes. Where I am they specify 100 square feet (actually, the metric equivalent) and then say something about "covered area between structures will be included". In other words, if you build two completely legal 10x10 ft sheds, and then do anything "covered" that joins them, they can legally make you remove the lot.



Yes, I believe what Jay said is true here. I also believe that separate structures need to be a certain distance apart. I think putting even a fence along the path might violate the 200 sq ft rule. I’m not sure about that one, but I’m not going to look it up because I’m set on having a deck with a roof for the convenience of rain and snow as Jay mentioned. I also just really like a deck connected to the cabin to relax and unwind. It’s such a cozy feeling.

I think Dave went with a 10 foot width because off the shelf metal roof panels typically come in 8 ft and 12 ft lengths and he was building a monoslope roof and wanted a little overhang. If you want to go wider you can lap the panels(not preferred, get longer panels fabricated, or build a gable roof. A gable roofs is not much more complicated than monoslope roof.  

that makes sense. Thanks for all those answers to my questions.

In regards to going 12 x16 so I don’t have to upgrade, I plan on building a shed that will be of a fairly good quality. It will be a storage space while working on the house. When the house is finished, the shed can house a snowmobile and a workbench.

I like the idea of a gabled roof more for several reasons. If it truly isn’t that much harder, maybe I’ll do it. I’m reading up on how to do this stuff. I got Larry Haun’s book and have started his 3 part series on building a house. I have another book with lots of those tables you mentioned referencing as well. I had previously been reading up on cordwood house construction since that’s how I plan to build the house. This stick framing stuff is different.

There is another thread I started quite a while ago on the entire holistic strategy of living in a temporary shelter for a long time.. In that thread we discussed every aspect of the lifestyle and what challenges may come up. The 2 shed strategy was recommended more than once, and the more I think about it, the more it seems absolutely necessary. Somebody mentioned putting in a drain on the work shed and having some sort of bathing system set up. The shed would have a wood stove too. Hey, those rocket hot tub plans should be delivered by then!

The second video shows a cabin which is over 200 sq ft. I do believe there are some places where the max is 240. I think if I made the deck a foot shorter it would be 200. I did the math a few days ago and don’t remember the numbers now. Or, the deck could simply not go across the entire length of the cabin.

PS, I just realized I got pie for my initial post. Thank you!
 
John C Daley
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That is a wonderfull film, with just the right amount of comentrary.
Nice little place also.
 
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Kevin David wrote:I’m still searching for land, but I want to be prepared to build a small cabin(small enough to avoid residential code) which I will live in while building a house to code. "

Many areas allow a dry cabin not hooked to water or power under 100 sqft. I designed this studio cabin several years ago for people that need a simple shelter to be used as an off grid cabin, accessory dwelling unit or rental.

Full color step by step plans in ebook or printed form are available.

BushRadical just took my plans and added 2 feet and claims it is off grid but he lives in a big grid home... just sayin'.



Studio-Plans.png
[Thumbnail for Studio-Plans.png]
 
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The link you posted does not seem to be what you intended? Helpful thread overall, thank you!

There is another thread I started quite a while ago on the entire holistic strategy of living in a temporary shelter for a long time..

 
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Sandra Duggan wrote:The link you posted does not seem to be what you intended? Helpful thread overall, thank you!


The links in his post weren't made by him, the permies.com software will occasionally create automatic links to key words in people's posts, it appears "thread" and "holistic" are examples of those...
 
Kevin David
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Coydon Wallham wrote:

Sandra Duggan wrote:The link you posted does not seem to be what you intended? Helpful thread overall, thank you!


The links in his post weren't made by him, the permies.com software will occasionally create automatic links to key words in people's posts, it appears "thread" and "holistic" are examples of those...



Here is the link, if you are interested: https://permies.com/t/178548/Temporary-living-strategies-building
 
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More good stuff, thanks for the info, Kevin and Coydon!
 
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Do you actually KNOW that code compliance is an important issue in your immediate area?

For my own situation in California, I drafted carefully drawn plans that I took with me to the Kern County code office, with the intent of applying for a building permit.

Once I displayed my plans, and identified my location, their attitude was "Why are you bothering us with this?"!

A contractor standing in back of me pulled me aside and told me unless I was building a commercial structure, or something that was going to be rented, I basically could do whatever I wanted.

I said "OOOOKKKKK", and walked out.  Haven't bothered going back and since then I've built structures as large as 40X20'.
 
Kevin David
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Michael Qulek wrote:Do you actually KNOW that code compliance is an important issue in your immediate area?

For my own situation in California, I drafted carefully drawn plans that I took with me to the Kern County code office, with the intent of applying for a building permit.

Once I displayed my plans, and identified my location, their attitude was "Why are you bothering us with this?"!

A contractor standing in back of me pulled me aside and told me unless I was building a commercial structure, or something that was going to be rented, I basically could do whatever I wanted.

I said "OOOOKKKKK", and walked out.  Haven't bothered going back and since then I've built structures as large as 40X20'.



Yeah, I hear a story like that from time to time. I think we touched on this in the thread I linked to above.
 
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If you are using conventional lumber and play wood make sure your dimensions are on the 4 ft. Plywood is 4x8, lumber can be bought on the 2ft but why waste material. I would recommend for later expansion you design 2x12 headers on the south wall and possibly which ever side you may want to expand later. It is a lot easier to remove non load bearing studs than it is to add a header later on. Im a big fan of clear story for letting heat out and light in. Im also a big fan of porches. 3 side porches are my preference then you have an option for a screened in sleeping porch and a summer kitchen. There are also options for making removable panels to make the porches enclosed for use in the winter. Me and other carpenters spent alot of time talking over and designing small cabins in the Ozarks. Mostly relying on the tried and true vernacular architecture of the area. Many times a design that works in one region do not work in another area. Look into the vernacular architecture of your area. People in the oast knew how to build for the region better than any fancy architect now days. Experience of heating and cooling without electricity is a far better education than 5 years of college
 
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I have a 200 sq house with a foyer. Iam really satisfied with that. You do not enter directly into your living room with your muddy or snowy paws. The foyer stays cool during colder months and works as a fridge. Has tons of shelving.

20220827_084746.jpg
foyer
foyer
20221124_131432.jpg
foyer as a pantry
foyer as a pantry
20230401_191533.jpg
foyer for seed potatoes 😄
foyer for seed potatoes 😄
 
Kevin David
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Sean Brown wrote:If you are using conventional lumber and play wood make sure your dimensions are on the 4 ft. Plywood is 4x8, lumber can be bought on the 2ft but why waste material. I would recommend for later expansion you design 2x12 headers on the south wall and possibly which ever side you may want to expand later. It is a lot easier to remove non load bearing studs than it is to add a header later on. Im a big fan of clear story for letting heat out and light in. Im also a big fan of porches. 3 side porches are my preference then you have an option for a screened in sleeping porch and a summer kitchen. There are also options for making removable panels to make the porches enclosed for use in the winter. Me and other carpenters spent alot of time talking over and designing small cabins in the Ozarks. Mostly relying on the tried and true vernacular architecture of the area. Many times a design that works in one region do not work in another area. Look into the vernacular architecture of your area. People in the oast knew how to build for the region better than any fancy architect now days. Experience of heating and cooling without electricity is a far better education than 5 years of college



Wow, lots of comments I appreciate in that paragraph. Thank you for reviving this thread too. I had considered the three side porch, and removable panels. I do think that is something I’d rather plan to expand on, rather than expect to do it up front. Any building considerations I should keep in mind so that I could add that on later?

Kaarina, thank you for the photos. How long have you lived in that place? Are you there all year?
 
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I have learned that is always best to design a build with what it will end up as  in the initial design. Example, if you Want a large bank of windows in the future but can only afford one or two now build in the header you Will need and the infill the framing. Same goes for expansion. Always take your roofline in to consideration also. If you want porches or ad on rooms later make sure your initial build allows for shed roofs or additional gable pitched roofs to be added later. Nothing like trying to figure out how to add a roof when there is no way to allow proper pitch or the wanted size of the new roof. We also found it is less expensive to build up than out also. One last thing, with building there is never really a last thing , is plan on aging out in your build. Unfortunately we have  had friends who had beautiful cabins with wonderful lofts who could no longer climb the ladder into the loft. Also injury can be an issue. You may be strong and healthy now but one bad twist or one freak accident may make it difficult to climb a  ladder . Good luck. I know i surely miss the joy of a good cabin build.
 
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Aging, injury, and illness are definitely things I think about in my plans due to current health issues which are significantly slowling down my land search…ok, grinding it to a hault….including my reading progress. I thought by now I would have read the books I got on building.

I feel like I have a decent idea how to plan for aging and injury, but I’m not sure how to plan for these additions you mention. I’m hoping I’ll have a better idea after finishing books like Larry Haun’s ‘The Very Efficient Carpenter’ and ‘The Visual Handbook of Building and Remodeling’.

If you have any resources you think would benefit me, I’d appreciate it.
 
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By aging i mean planning one story and 36" wide openings. For additions , lets say you are going to build a 12x16 cabin to start. You would like at some point to open it up on one of the sides and add on another space later if it was me i would build a header all the way across that wall from corner to corner. That would give you option of making a grand space or allowing you to add a door where ever you want. Lets say you plan later to have a doorway out to a future porch. Right now you just want to put windows in. Say you have 3- 3/0 windows to put in. If it was me i would frame the rough opening for the windows to allow for a door to be put in later. I hope that makes sense. Sometimes my thought doesnt necessarily translate well. Haun was a master. His books on all aspects of the craft are awesome. Its funny looking back at older books and seeing how much has changed. Tools to lumber. I love the craft of the housewright. I miss it alot. Im stuck building the godless commercial buildings now days and it strips the soul i think.
 
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This will probably all make sense to me once I learn a bit more. I mean, I know what a header is, for example. How to make one, plan for one, no. I’m not too worried about it though. As long as I make myself a decent shelter I’ll be pleased with my first build.

I’ve never heard the term housewright until now. I can see that being a lot more satisfying than working on a commercial project. Modern houses may have a lot of junk in them, but at least you get a stick frame, probably use simpler tools I imagine, and you know you’re making a dwelling for people. Something necessary. That’s what come to my mind at least.

Thanks for these tips Sean.

 
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I think it is really important to plan ahead.  And so does Tim Barker.  There is a new YT clip on Paul's channel from the talk Tim Barker gives at the 2017 Appropriate Technologies course all about project planning.  Check it out: https://youtu.be/-TMONVWAHME
 
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