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A Carpenters Life Book Review


I think if he was here he might clarify. Say That's great but I'm really talking about these massive beautiful eight hundred year old trees and and I think in a couple of cases his point was. I could not put my chainsaw into that. You said I couldn't dip the bar into the door. Nutri not disagree Sara Lee with that I welcome to another episode of the essential craftsman podcast. I'm Nate I've got my dad's got here. Who's the essential craftsman? We have a what will be our first installment of our Book Review Discussion Book Club podcast. Yeah that's fair and the idea is we both want to read more and we have read more in the past. But for the recent history. Not so much. You probably never stopped reading. I have for the past five or six years. It just kind of came to a stop but for a long time. I didn't stop. Yeah I haven't read. I haven't read much over the last few years a couple book. Maybe one book per year and we want to do better. And we're starting now and we've got a book to discuss today and we're going to tell you our next two books in the installment so in case you want to also remind with us you can and we're GONNA be talking about the book by Larry Haunt carpenters life as told by houses. You WanNa give a little background about Larry. Hahn before we can start it just in case. You don't know I I feel he comes up. Every single pied comes up a lot and I don't know if that's a plus or minus we'll get away from it eventually. Yeah he has been really intriguing because he sort of. He sort of broke the ground in the twentieth century as far as bringing production framing into a if not a mainstream platform at least making production framing techniques as developed in southern California from nineteen forty eight through the sixties with he and his brothers right at the right on the cutting edge of that and so he had presence of mind or capacity or time or success enough to sit on a write about these framing techniques. And so it's kind of interesting comparing his book. The very efficient carpenter basic cramming for residential construction. Which is where he kind of made his entrance. I think into the world of writing a little bit and then he was a contributing editor for fine home building for a longtime he wrote it a tutorial articles and in this must be his last his last thing probably a carpenter's life as told by houses. So is he the most well known then for the very efficient carpenter book? I would say so. I've got a good friend although our paths diverged for the past thirty years Mark Clayton taught in the Union apprenticeship program down in the bay area and mark told me about this. You know thirty eight years ago when we were both new carpenters and he was kind of going the union route and I started out the nonunion route and he said man. There's this book in this guy. This guy really knows his stuff and sure enough he did. Yeah this book which is not what we're going to be discussing is very textbook like there's diagrams. There's pictures explanations photographs and it's very much textbook how to oriented how to. Yeah completely different than this book. The book that we both read is his memoir that he wrote at towards the end of his life and he kind of talks about his life as told through houses is how he laid it out. I I didn't know much about Larry. Hahn in fact all I really knew was what I made up about him while I was watching videos of him working with his brother. So in other words nothing But he kind of walks. He starts at the beginning with his mom who grew up in a sod house in Nebraska. And and then Kinda goes through all the different types of homes that he built and lived in and was aware of and that he had neighbors who lived in. Yeah I mean. He contrasts sod houses. Which are houses built out of curves of saw cut out of the prairie and stacked up with dugouts which are caves dug down into the prairie on the on the leeward side of a rise. Dig It in roof it with whatever. Buchanan hunker down to try to survive the winter. Yeah and he any had a lot to say about that and some nonconventional building techniques and habitat for humanity which it sounds like kind of dominated his last his last years you know on the earth. He immersed himself in that I think he donated a lot of time and effort and energy and expertise to to building and charitable work and for him habitat for humanity was the at least one of the places so he in other words he built homes whole career and then he built for free in his retirement. Yeah about the In terms of the house styles that stood out the one. That was really interesting to me was about Straw houses. Did you know anything about that? Or you have to add from all just articles. I've read on Straw houses in the mother Earth News over the years he spoke about Straw houses. Were Somehow Code compliant. Put on some sort of a foundation with a whole down system and deadman's sort of bolted lumber that was attached to the straw secret. Attach a roof system. I have always had problems with my eyes rolling back in my head when you talk about. Straw houses right. That has not made any sense to me but I mean there it is. You're creating habitat for bug. Certainly there's something to be said for that. I don't know I had the opposite thought to me. It made a ton of sense. This this natural material that is super insulating. Anybody can build with an. I can't even remember if this is how he described those buildings. But if you think about a timber frame you build a structure and then fill it up. Something Straw am I remembering correctly that he did discuss those homes that are being built nowadays? Yeah I think he got involved with building one of those in on the North West when he came up here or something but he he had some hands-on as with a COB house now. I had never heard of a COB house explain. Explain that for the viewer. As I as I got up from Larry's sort of description you mix mud in vats much like you'd be mixing mortar and place it in sort of light duty forms that follow the construction of the walls on up. You can't go too high because it takes a long time for it to dry and until it dries it'll slump under the increasing weight of the wall which you can kind of free form it in and out and put your plumbing and your wiring and your electrical in the mud walls as you come on up and cast some dead man. I think like a plate at the top with some pieces of all threat or something down into the mud to hold it for a fascinating your roof system to. I'd never heard of it but I I can see that. I mean from a certain perspective if you keep that dry that makes more sense to me than Straw. Which is so biodegradable right. Yeah what parts of the book surprised you or what? What did you not expect in reading this? I didn't expect the grittiness of his upbringing on the Nebraska high plains. But he was. He's He's older than my dad. He's a full generation. Almost two in front of me and so he came through the Great Depression and just talking about the hard scrabble. That was one of his words. existence that they lived and how contented they were with very little but how tired he got of always being cold. Yeah you know talking about that. Bathing was a big thing because water was not readily available in heat was not available until the heat water and and so just talking about the reality of life without windows life without real doors where running and walking where his only means of transportation didn't have a bicycle as a kid and yet how. He looked back. On his childhood with fondness. His mom's baked bread made a huge impact and he remained a sucker for homemade bread. His whole life was interesting. I was like anytime you Rita. An historical account of someone living in a more difficult setting. It's really I opening and he talked about in Nebraska the cold and how common kind kind of was you know people died yelled to get locked out if you get lost. If at one of those whiteout blizzards come people and children livestock die. Yeah and man that is just so removed from my life and yet for him. It was standard standard. Remember that story about somebody that frozen white out and they had to build fires to throw the ground to get down through the floor throat frozen soil enough to to bury the people. That's hard times man and another story that I almost can't bring myself to repeat but a big lizard happened in the middle of the day. Half of the school kids decided to try to walk home either. Elementary School kids and of course never made it didn't make and so half. The town lost children. Yeah in this blizzard and it was known as the children's Blizzard Children's blizzard of whatever year it went. Just think of that. And it's just it's it's it's unfathomable Awash it's not that losses unfathomable but for something like cold or snow in where we live in how we live man. That would be the last thing you would think of. As a threat you know on the High Plains and earlier times was a dire threat. Really Amazing Okay couple other things that were interesting. Larry described gas and wax. You want to let the viewers know what that is. Because that's a term that might be used occasionally. And why don't you kind of yelling? So so first of all. I've got all the respect in the world for Larry. Hahn you know for Learning Hanis iconic and I love what he said about that production techniques do not necessarily mean a reduction in quality in fact usually they mean that quality becomes more predictable and more dependable and it means that the products become more affordable more affordable and and the quality goes up within with you know in the context of building codes and inspections and competition but he was clear that he didn't see any downside to gas and waxing nails because nails are almost always contributing strength because of sheer and not resistance to drought so the criticism. I've always heard about gassing waxing. Explain that for a minute. You know nails used to be more valuable. They're kind of not a big deal. Okay what was gas in wax. And what does that mean okay? So he was talking about nails common nails in box nails and the different types of nails it would be included in building house especially when the cuts were made with a hand saw and all the nails were put in by hand. Usually just a light. Sixteen that's hammer in an earlier. Carpentry sort of method and so coming out of that they began to be frustrated with having to put in box nails at how it was just hard to put him in with tap set tap set or tap set. You know TAP DR. Set and so standard practice became to dissolve some wax and paraffin. I forget what he said. The amount was I've heard of it being like a couple pounds of wax in a couple of gallons of gas and then you would dump a keg of nails sixteen penny nail to get the wax would dissolve into the gas yet. You would dissolve it in the gas. He mentioned the gas. It worked better if the gas was a little warm warm. The gas up a little bit however you do that. Dissolve the paraffin in there. Put drop a keg of nails into a metal bucket and poor this gas holding the wax over Saturate float. If you want the nails in this paraffin carrying wax. And then he didn't speak to this. I think he just reported off later and let the nails dry but some guys would burn off the gas. Yeah so now. You had soot and wax coating the nails at the end of the day you're covered with black but the apocryphal wisdom. Was You could push those nails in with your thumb. Because they were so lubricated by term he used a single blow or single wackadoo describe a one one hit I lick. I think he just say one. Lick Lick One and they go. That was the the metric used for. Forget someone's good. You could get the nail and with one Li. Yep Now I that was not one lick. That was a tap to set it and elected drive it in. You know. It's really hard to hit that nail hard enough to drive it in without starting. It never been able to do that but but they were making money right. If you had gas and wax your nails they would go in the past. You can put them in the more money you made. He talked about other contrivances a cart. You could on and we'll yourself around with the nails on the carts you could sit on this little cart and nail off sub floor by hand all of this is before nail guns obviously. Yeah so anyways He had an inspector who criticized him for gas and wax in his nails and he stuck up for himself and said Hey. It's not a big deal. Because the strength of these nails comes in sheer yet in other words the nails are not going to shear off asking wax so chill out. Yeah that's right and I mean there's there's truth to that when the nails embedded and getting strength because it won't be pushed or pulled sideways that's sheer strength but shear strength is diminished if it would if it if the resistance to draw out as diminished also if you can grab with pair pliers and just pull it out. It's and that's an exaggeration. You can even if it's guests in wax. But I mean good for Larry. He was smart and articulate and was a hired gun you know and he could probably hold his own arguing with it an inspector. We do some testing on that and see how much easier it is because now nails come with the little coating of glue which does the same thing and helps them go in. But I'm vinyl coated. Schenker's is what the fault and it does same thing and it allows them to slip in and it kind of acts like a glue and they stand a little better. Yeah another story I was. I I enjoyed was when the Union boss cut off his hammer for being too long and He said that there was a lot of. He talked about some of the pressure from unions from other carpenters. These younger production guys showed up and started just really special. I E that's what he described. He described how in his era in California. People started specializing and once that happened. Boom things started just like really moving quickly and the union was invested in Jobs and so if you get as productivity goes up. The number of workers is perceived to go down and so he was in a sort of a face to face with the Union representative saying hey. Your Hammer violates union rules. It's too long. You're moving too fast. And he would cut to handle end of his handle off to get it down to the specified length. And that night Larry would go home and put the extra long handle on air so he could set him with a single lick. Yeah but he also made the point that it didn't take him and his brothers long to realize there was a certain what he say ninety bucks to frame house or something. Yeah and that with the old school methods were being used. It would take a few guys a week or something. But he and his brother started pioneering techniques to are pretty soon they were doing one day so think of the incentive for those guys to be race horses and think of the hard feelings it would be engendered by the people who didn't have their methods. I really got the feeling Reading the book that this was written by a guy who was at the end of his life or an older man an old man I I don't if he was eighty when he wrote I think he was but he really seemed content and pleased and at peace and and it didn't mean he he was kind of questioning you know why the consumerism of the day is the way. It is but altogether. I was kind of moved by well. Like the title says a carpenter's life and as it turns out a carpenter can live just a beautiful wife and make a huge impact and and at the end of his life he describes his kids and grandkids and the satisfaction he gets from his gardening. And so I understand that. Mindfulness as I understand it is a term. That sort of is perhaps connected to an eastern. Maybe a Buddhist philosophy. I don't know but it makes a lot of sense to me. I mean taking a moment to take a deep breath and enjoy the moment that we have being the only one and he talked quite a bit about that. I think it seems to me that he was an appreciator of sort of eastern philosophy. Perhaps maybe as he got older but think he was kind of in tune moment by moment and and kind of trying to enjoy enjoy the moments of his life. Yeah I I think so. I wish the other thing. I thought of several times as I read. The book was how much. I wished he had also written as a younger man because he was very Sentimental and reflective in this and you know like a lot of older men kind of question why is the world the way it isn't right now this is not at all the way it wasn't. I was younger. Not that he was saying that he wasn't he wasn't writing like when I was younger. It was better. He was just kind of questioning the consumerism. The the need for huge houses and I wondered how much that would match some of his Energy as a younger man it. Yeah we're to write about you know may like you said. They built houses in a day. Nine hundred ninety about a lot of money probably ten times. What had hairs were making. Yeah K. and so I I wonder what he probably wasn't thinking those thoughts in. Yeah so here's the other thing. He came from the Mid West California with everything that California culture was sort of developing. Then I wonder if he would have had those same sort of concerns or topics on his mind if he would've stayed in the mid west and worked his life out back their farming or ranching or not seeing that western United States culture developed. I don't know I think he was talking specifically about as an eight year old seeing people on facebook and twitter and ipads and he he I think he saw firsthand the world. We're living in. It was kind of speaking to that people walking as he described walking out of Walmart with a shopping cart driving to their storage unit next door and putting the stuff in the storage unit and he's scratching his head saying Maybe we don't actually need all this stuff and he's not wrong as not wrong and then he was completing a loop and then some time later. The storage unit empties out into the landfill. Yeah and why did we need all that stuff that came out of the box store anyway? Yeah can't argue with that too much right. Indeed and I certainly impressed and liked his discussion on habitat discussion. But like I said Larry Gave Back. He helped build these homes for habitat for humanity. And I really got a chuckle out of imagining and there were some pope photos. So you don't have to imagine but it's a lot of probably schoolteachers and I Dunno bartenders help. And do this. And that's great and and he probably kind of looked like some other volunteer but yeah holy smokes what happened. It would have been neat when he walked onto the job and Kinda like Bing Bang just a little bomb went off and the house was built you know. And here's this old tall skinny eight year old man up walking the plates. And they're saying wait wait. You can't fall protection and poof. The roof was on. Yeah I read another article. His on net was fine home building that he wrote Yahweh for them a lot. He just got a lot of right about the inside of insight of building codes not always benefiting the community or the individuals because it drives the cost up and that people do need affordable places. He talked about mobile homes here or may measured homes. He did any wasn't critical. Snooty the way you might expect a carpenter. He was acknowledging. Hey people gotta live. These are affordable they can be built in a factory much quicker than on the site in fact he described installing for his parents up in Montana. So here's where Larry and I parted company a little bit and it's not with his the sensitivity that you can hear in his voice about. Wow there's gotta be a better way to live than a rat race and consumption and hugh you know mcmansions and I i. I can't diverge with him there but he came to the Pacific northwest and he was hugely critical of our logging culture and he staked out that he just staked it up firmly that the big trees were all gone and that and that the forest were now monoculture which means it all were planning is the harvestable trees. The commercially viable stock primarily Douglas Fir and he rightly pointed out the the profoundly diminished salmon. Runs I mean he's right? He is clearly right about that and that can be attributed to Earlier and irresponsible logging practices and overfishing and the Sea Lions which have been unreasonably protected by by Federal law and they just wipe out huge portions of the salmon run and so it's a very complex sort of set of dynamics and he because I coming from California and loving the trees and having cut so much of it up into into blocked nailed it into place. I don't think Larry. Spend enough time out driving around the hills in Josephine and Koos and and Douglas in In the counties and seeing how the forest grow and how would this country does no matter what we do is grow timber at an amazing rate. And you know growing up here hunting here spending a lot of time in the hills. There are portions of the forest the natural forests that are mono culture because that is the type of tree that flourishes on north aspect not entirely wet. It'll be douglas for all the way. And you get around to south aspect and the Douglas Fir Peters out and Ponderosa Pine is what you have and you get down in the lower lands in the Savannah and then the Madryn and the look that he talks about Is Part of the mix and so you know maybe Larry came with more wisdom than I have but I feel like having grown up here and being involved in that industry that I wish I could have given him a couple of tours and show him that my dad and I and our logging on a couple of jobs were making the third set of stumps the third set now. The first set that was still there. Were big big big big and the second set. Were not that big. But the set that we were making were larger in diameter than the second set of stumps and so that is not as Catastrophic in its there's not an armageddon. That's been going on with the lumber economy on the west coast. But rather it's it's the crop that we grow here or it was before marijuana was legalized in Oregon. It was the crop. Yeah there's that turns out there's two plants there's two plants now Yeah that's right and I think if he was here he might clarify and say that's great but I'm really talking about these massive and beautiful eight hundred year old trees and I think in a couple of cases his point was. I could not put my chainsaw into that. You said I couldn't the bar. My saw into Dorner tree probably would not disagree necessarily with that. That's you know. That's that's almost different thing than than the truth. That timber around here is a renewable resource. It grows its it's harvested responsibly. Planted you know we ought to have someone on here who can and will. Who's in this industry? We will even on the Just the planning side because I have a feeling. There's it's like you said it's not Armageddon and it could even be that the industry and the number of trees in the state is better than ever. That's a fact that is a quantifiable empirical piece of data. That's true there's more trees growing right now in Oregon and there was as near as we can tell when the pioneers got here based on their descriptions of the open spaces and Moorland Valley and interesting but the biggest trees have been cut. Yeah that's wrong A lot most of the big trees have been turned into a product that we need needed have used and there are trees growing so fast there are trees who that are as old as I am. That are the diameter of this table. Canon that doesn't mean it's a remarkably high quality would but there are beautiful tree with old growth characteristics. There are trees as old as you. Are that assist that. Are this diameter right here. And they're growing like crazy and so the the the earth is doing his job. Yeah Yeah like George. Carlin says the Earth's going to be fine we. We're the ones who are screwed right. And that's Larry Point all right well Hopefully we didn't spoil this book and it's kind of an easy read. It's like an easy pleasant read. You'll you'll get through in a in a couple of days and it will make you enjoy his videos more getting to know a more about the man. We're we continue to be huge fans and I can promise you we will take a break. Actually no I was going to say we'll take a break from talking about Larry. Hahn but we're going to interview one of his family members and then we'll take a break from awhile and And give you guys some new topics. Yeah so here's the thing I've I have. I wish I would have known him. I wish I could have learned from him and I wish I could have taught him a few things. Maybe in a blacksmith shop maybe with the still oh forty four. You know putting some of the wood on the ground. That's going to be turned into houses for people who need their habitat also. But he's just an uncommon guy. He was a guy that epitomized continuing a lifetime learner and reconsidering his positions and adjusting his positions as it became clear to him so way to go there and that's not unique to him. I mean very few people have seen a logging landing or forest replanted. That's just and it's like all things you have to kind of. Maybe look a little deeper than just the surface level grade book a carpenter's life as told by houses and his other books are great to very efficient carpenter. This is in fact the textbook if you want to be a very efficient. Yeah yeah that that probably is just the gold standard can never really the? It'll never be improved on. Yeah Yeah it's it's the one. Oh one I'll thanks for tuning in everybody and we will catch you next time thanks.

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