The Cabin Philosophy

I’ve learned to tolerate other people for the most part, but not myself. Something I’m still working on is patience with my own mistakes and learning new skills. I’m a fairly decent programmer, an OK web designer, unofficial amateur therapist for my colleagues and a damn good consultant, but these things aren’t holding my interest like they used to and I’ve started to give up on a lot of them… except for the therapist part.

After deciding to branch off to other areas of learning after having a premature midlife crisis, I’m looking into work that involves more of my own two hands and a lot of elbow grease, but not as a job. I have to be honest with myself; anything I build probably won’t be of professional quality at least at first, but I want to build something nonetheless. I’ve been having more and more interest in tiny houses, small homes, cabins and generally minimal living and I think that’s where I should start. Aside from the obvious gains in sustainability, I think I would be happier and more productive with less and more comfortable with my surroundings if it were of my own design.

Aside from that, I would have made something real.

I can’t explain to a small child what I currently do for a living, because at the end of the day, the work is abstract and the product is intangible. Its only value is in its ability to gain consumers and entice said consumers to spend money on the product. But if I build something with my hands, I could go :

“Look, kid! It’s a thing. An Object. An honest-to-God tangible piece of our reality!”

Then I can move on to the easy part; explaining the definition of “tangible”.

To that end, I’ve started building a reading list that will help me go from the planning and design phase to the construction of a little cabin. These are far removed from the usual manuals and how-tos I’m used to as a programmer so I’m still in the midst of reading and understanding them. I’ll add more to the list as I come across them. Obviously, I’m going to be supplementing all this with lots of talks with people who have actually done this and many more resources on the web.

Pocket Ref

The little black book that everyone should have.

By far, the most useful reference manual I’ve ever seen and probably will ever use. The book literally has everything.

From measuring conventions, temperatures, standard sizes, imperial-metric conversions, materials, formulas; it covers pretty much everything the average person will come across in a lifetime by a large margin. It will resolve any standards questions or other code issues you will have (provided you’ve checked accurately). Best of all, it’s dirt-cheap

Despite the name, the only down-side to this book is that it won’t actually fit in your pocket. Well, at least not mine. But that hasn’t prevented me from taking it practically everywhere I have something to make.

It was even featured on a special episode of Mythbusters that showed how and where the build teams obtain material and that’s about the best word-of-mouth advertising a product covering technical fields could have.

How to Build a House

The Starter How-to guide for those getting their feet wet in construction.

Written by Larry Haun and contributed to by many others (updated by Habitat for Humanity), this is a general construction manual and common sense guide to building a small home for yourself. It doesn’t go into many of the details of plumbing and electrical etc… but you will end up with a contained building envelope which you can then install and expand with all of that later.

Larry Haun was a master carpenter who had been in the business for more than 50 years and had, sadly, succumbed to cancer on October 24, 2011. The man’s accomplishments and the effect on those around him were so profound, the NY Times published a memorial profile two days later.

He was a great guy with a practical sense for all things construction and above all else, the man was humble to the end.

Compact Cabins

Simple Living in 1000 Square Feet or Less

After doing web design work, I can tell you the hardest part is actually finding space where there’s little to none. It really does come down to layout optimization and I can certainly use some help visualising all the aspects of floor design.

This book was recommended to me by a friend and it does have some designs that I really, really like and seem oh-so-livable. Of course it all comes down to the planning, but I’m very happy that there’s a book out there that covers this many designs that I may even be able to mix and match in terms of exterior and interior layout.

Black & Decker The Complete Guide to Wiring

5th Edition, with DVD: Current with 2011-2013 Electrical Codes

Every single electrician and handyman I’ve spoken to has made it abundantly clear that even if you mess up your plumbing, the worst that can happen is you ruin your house and belongings. Mess up your electrical on the other hand and you could die. With those very stern warnings, most of them do seem to point to this guide. It’s been around for a few years now and they do say that it’s targeted for someone like me who has never actually done any serious electrical work before.

I do know a little about electrical wiring and a few basics (I.E. don’t mix copper and aluminum or no-ox, two-way switches etc… ) and I’ve dabbled in electronics as a hobby, but I’ve never wired an entire house. All of the electricians still recommended I have one inspect my work before having the power turned on and a couple of them volunteered their services for free, for which I’m very grateful.

Black & Decker The Complete Guide to Plumbing

Expanded 4th Edition - Modern Materials and Current Codes - All New Guide to Working with Gas Pipe

Ah, plumbing. The great mysterious skill, for those who are competent, perpetually hidden behind the buttcrack of a select few. Even more than the electrical, this is the one thing that I really needed help on because the information is so elusive and often more complicated and convoluted than any wiring job. Well, at least to me.

This was recommended to me by the few handymen I spoke to and they seem to all agree that even with this guide, I should take things slowly and quadruple-check every line, seal, seam and bend before having any liquids run through the house. Sounds like good advice to me.

And more of them now recommend moving away from copper plumbing and into PEX for potable water and sticking to PVC for waste. I haven’t really looked into PEX at all, but it seems to be the material of choice for all new plumbing work.

Homegrown and Handmade

A Practical Guide to More Self-Reliant Living

This is currently on my “to-buy” list so I don’t know the content quality, but from the reviews, it definitely seems like something down my alley.

Homesteading does seem to be a lost tradition in a variety of ways. If we don’t have the one extreme of survivalist nut-jobs, we have the other extreme of hippie “everything will come to you if you ask” culture. Sometimes, it’s just nice to have a happy medium of not going overboard with paranoia and becoming self-sufficient while at the same time, toning down what we “need” by distilling what we actually “need” from the list.

Deborah Niemann is well-known in homesteading circles and, while I can’t say if I’m going to be raising my own farm animals at any point, her book was recommended to me by numerous people.

Obviously, this is all for after my cabin is built.

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6 thoughts on “The Cabin Philosophy

    • Glad you liked it.

      Right now I’m at the design stage, which turned out to be a bit more complicated that I thought. Apparently there are little details like “Gravity” and “Weight” to take into account when considering structural support ;)

      I’m hoping to continue living some place in New York, but not too far away from any major towns or cities. I want to be close to emergency services (Hospital, Fire, Police etc…), but I don’t want to be smothered by too many people around so that search is still going on.

    • Thank you! I love that site! Yeah, the name is unfortunate, but it’s actually one of the first places I was looking for inspiration.

      I’ve been to sustainablelife.org a bunch of times as well since that’s another area I’m interested in. I’m a fairly decent carpenter; I still have all my fingers… for now. ;) But I’ve been going to through some old books/catalogs looking for new ways to apply old techniques.

      It’s amazing how clever experienced carpenters can be.

      Thanks for dropping by! :)

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