on dudes with tools
building unconventional lives
My favourite words in the building code capture more than a type of structure. They tend to encapsulate who I am and how I’ve lived. Over time here in Canadia, the code has evolved with the hopes of making structures more accessible and efficient. This is a noble goal. Like oh so many noble goals before, it has a shadow.
I’m guessing you’ll figure it out, but I’ma gunna save it till closer to the end. Read on and delight in a story of the evolution of boyish ambition.
My granddad built his own home. He used wood from trees he felled and milled himself. Permits were simple and engineered wood products didn’t exist. My dad? He built our home. He built a few. All were built with dimensional lumber. All included energy efficient additions - like 6mil vapour barrier. Nothing better than a tight, efficient house right?
Well… they hadn’t yet realized that buildings needed to breathe. At least not around here. Air exchangers were not in use or required by the code. The results were not so lovely. But what’s wrong with acessability?
The required three foot doors have led to hallways being four feet wide. Pantries and walk in closets even need those sizes as openings. I get it. Buildings ideally last longer than the people who either built it or live in it. Having tested, engineered materials have made it such that people who entered my Dad’s line of work encounter fewer ‘crispy critters’. What’s the beef then?
The building code is dense and constantly changing. It’s difficult to understand almost seemingly created that way to squeeze the common man out of the process of building a home for himself and his family. What’s more, the approval process and levels of bureaucratic bullshit that permits need to be push through has grown faster than the population of most cities. The entire thing is becoming inaccessible to someone like my dad or granddad and completely inefficient.
The first house my dad built took three months. We bought the lot in September and were into it by the beginning of January. This wasn’t a mere box on a slab. It was a split level house with four distinct floors in all. There were roof pitches and stairs everywhere. I can’t even imagine beginning such a beast today.
When I was a kid, I wanted to build. Growing up as I did, both building and hunting were things that I needed to know how to do. I still remember my first build. I had a sandbox. My granddad built it for me from two by tens painted red. By the time I was five, I figured that I’d outgrown my sandbox. I needed a fort.
With scraps of lumber I found around the neighbourhood I began my project. My idea was to put wood over the top and be able to hide underneath. At five, I knew the importance of shelter and of having a fort. It would be a good place to hide and kill Soviets from should they invade. There was an issue though. I ran out of nails
At the time, I neither knew, nor was told that you don’t need to ‘sew with nails’. By that time, I was both destroying and repairing my stuffed animals. Anyone with fishermen in their families knew that men had to be able to knit, crochet and repair their nets. As a five year old, I pounded one nail in after another, each nail about an eighth of an inch apart. I figured that I needed to ‘sew’ the lumber together. My dad? He let me.
Though all I managed to put in place were two flappy tabs of plywood, I was hooked. By seven years old we were in the forest, felling trees with claw hammers. We used logs and large saplings as posts or beams. We lashed stuff together with whatever we could find - usually nasty, barbed degraded yellow nylon rope that ripped our flesh and never held.
We built brush camps and lean - to’s. We stole tarps, plastic and plywood from jobsites that we used to build bridges and even more intricate structures. By eleven, we started to dig. Our new camps were low, moist and subterranean. They caved in and became rivers during the rain. We got really gritty.
Over time, I built more things. I renovated homes without permits. I built a 20 x 24 bunkie next to my folks place as our summer home away from home. Lately, I’ve been loving buildings like my cabin. Non conforming structures.
The beauty of a non conforming structure is how they suit me and my life. I’m essentially a walking talking shed - an accessory building, irregular, creative and mobile in a land of increasing regulations.
My new office is incredible. It’s my shed. Originally a carpentry project from the local community college, this was student built with professional supervision. It’s overbuilt and solid. Like any building or person I look to connect with, it’s got ‘good bones’.
The inside is even better. Finished with scraps of wood, every surface is odd, irregular and mixed. There are pieces of plywood from the bunkie, siding from a gazebo, spruce planks milled from Dorian and Fiona’s devastation. When in doubt? I found strips of strapping to cover holes. Layer upon layer, I’ve filled in the walls supporting the insulation that keeps me comfortable.
The place looks like a club house. It’s the office of my dreams - an old fort, a non conforming treehouse with layers of wood all supporting each other. This is the clubhouse and home of the Remarkable Fools Society. It’s how I envision us men working together and with each other. Non conforming. Irregular. Scrappy. Creative. Beautiful. And fucking strong.
She says that it looks like I made a quilt out of wood. It’s a patchwork interior. I’m sewing with cedar, spruce and fir. Screws and galvanized nails act as thread. The stitches? They are much more wide and yet it’s still holding together with it’s 30 inch door, uneven, ‘dangerous’ walkway and inefficient insulation.
I couldn’t be happier.
The next thing I’m building?
It’s an annotated bibliography to support some of my centist ideas that we dudes can use to counter the arguments of the well intentioned but harmful ones that pervade our culture.
I’ve got links and notes to writings and podcasts from people like Richard Reeves, Scott Galloway, Sam Harris and others.
Articles from the NY Times, Globe and Mail, Guardian, Atlantic and New Republic - all are here to support you in supporting yourself.
Let’s feel great about ourselves my brothers.
Let’s take steps to eliminate the name calling that seeks to diminish our role in society.
The world needs powerful men.
We can build ourselves and that world together.
As the Doctor once so famously said: