Building Our Home With Mill Ends

One family uses mill end lumber to construct their own home at a minimum of cost.

| July/August 1974

It finally happened! After more than twenty years of hearing how we ought to be living — on paid-for land, in a handwrought house, eating home-grown food — here we are! Still in the beginning stages, to be sure, but learning all the time ... spending less and enjoying more. The fact that it took so long seems amazing but somehow irrelevant. Perhaps, for us, life truly did begin at forty.

A year ago it all seemed so remote. We had found our twenty acres by then, in northeastern Washington State, and had been paying on the land for almost a year. But we were still in the clutches of the 8-to-5 life in our Colorado mountain town: both of us working to buy beans for our ample family and fixing up an old house to resell at a modest profit for our stake ... eventually.

And that's the rub! When is "eventually"? There's always something more to do on a house. What was worse, we both found our jobs interesting ... and we still had five of our nine kids to raise.

For us, "eventually" was the summer of 1973, when my husband just up and quit his job. August found him already in Washington, with an 8-by-10-foot' Foxfire-type log cabin to his credit, and the problem of additional housing very much on his mind.

By fall, George had decided that being in Washington while the kids and I carried on in Colorado was no way for a family to live. On the other hand, seven of us spending the winter in an 8-by-10-foot space might be a little too much togetherness. What to do?

Experience had taught my husband that building a permanent log home for a bunch our size would be a very time-consuming job (and even then might give us a somewhat crude end result). A rock house, perhaps? Ideal on this windswept hill, but — again — nothing we could whip out just like that. Of course, either a log or a rock dwelling could be scaled down and added to later (that is, if we didn't mind a sort of Tinkertoy look about the additions). No, what we really needed was a method that would provide shelter within weeks, not months — for a minimum of dollars — and yet be right for us too.

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