Creating a Hand Built Home from Recycled Goods

George Kirkpatrick share how he hand built a home on a 100-acre property in Quebec, including diagrams, explanation, construction decisions, details and advice.

| May/June 1975

The structure you see in the photos is a second home I've built — more or less singlehanded — in the woods on my 100-acre place in Quebec. The hand built home is 28 feet by 14 feet, rises 10 feet at its highest point, and cost just a little over $200. I had a lot of fun putting it together and would like to tell you about the process.

When I first began the project early in 1974, I was partial to a dome of some kind for this hand built home. I'd built models from plastic straws and had an idea of the strength inherent in the triangles of a geodesic structure and the stress distribution of the curved form. Yet I had neither the money nor the inclination to buy the new materials such domes seem to require. What I did have was a platform left from a building I'd torn down . . . so it seemed reasonable to use that as the floor plan for whatever I was going to construct.

But what other resources did I have? Well, there was timber on the place . . . of a sort. All the larger trees had been cut as pulpwood, by a "hurry-up" logging crew that felled many just for being in the way. Other trunks had been bent and then left to grow in that position for four years. Aha! Ready-made arches!

By the time I noticed the pre-formed arches, I'd begun to pay attention to various other irregular-shaped objects lying around my property: car parts (including the rear window of a '55 Ford station wagon) . . . old snow fence wire . . . a coupla bicycle rims . . . a large metal hoop. Also bottles. Lots and lots of bottles.

OK. I decided that the form of my house would follow the shape of the materials I had to work with. There would he many a compound curve . . . and if you doubt the strength of such construction, study domes and drops of water (or just take an egg and try to crush it in the palm of your hand).

I began work in early spring, by girdling the trees I'd need for the frame. (They were sugar maples, and the sap that dripped from them was sheer ambrosia.) These were cut as needed . . . maybe 26 of them to get 18 usable trunks, since not all were curved just the way I wanted them. I used the timbers while they were green and fle xible and let them dry while the rest of the construction went on. (The threaded nails I used in framing hold well even after the wood has seasoned and shrunk away from them.)

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