How I Got Into Building

I just ran across this blog post from 7 years ago and decided to repost it.

I started building almost 50 years ago, and have lived in a self-built home ever since. If I’d been able to buy a wonderful old good-feeling house, I might have never started building. But it was always cheaper to build than to buy, and by building myself, I could design what I wanted and use materials I wanted to live with.

I set off to learn the art of building in 1960. I liked the whole process immensely. Hammering nails, framing—delineating space. The smell in lumber yards. Nailing down the sub-floor, the roof decking. It’s a thrill when you first step on the floor you’ve just created.

Ideally I’d have worked with a master carpenter long enough to learn the basics, but there was never time. I learned from friends and books and by blundering my way into a process that required a certain amount of competence. My perspective was that of a novice, a homeowner — rather than a pro. As I learned, I felt that I could tell others how to build, or at least get them started on the path to creating their own homes.

Through the years I’ve personally gone from post and beam to geodesic domes to stud frame construction. It’s been a constant learning process, and this has led me into investigating many methods of construction — I’m interested in them all. For five years, the late ’60s to early ’70s, I built geodesic domes. I got into being a publisher by producing Domebook One in 1970 and Domebook 2 in 1971.

I then gave up on domes (as homes) and published our namesake Shelter in 1973. We’ve published books on a variety of subjects over the years, and returned to our roots with Home Work: Handbuilt Shelter in 2004, The Barefoot Architect in 2008, Builders of the Pacific Coast in 2008, Tiny Homes: Simple Shelter in 2012 and now Tiny Homes On the Move: Wheels & Water.

I often ask architects if they know the definition of architecture: the art and science of building.

Building is my favorite subject. Even in this day and age, building a house with your own hands can save you a ton of money (I’ve never had a mortgage) and — if you follow it through — you can get what you want in a home.

Pic is when I was building a big timber house at Rancho Rico in Big Sur in 1966.

About Lloyd Kahn

Lloyd Kahn started building his own home in the early '60s and went on to publish books showing homeowners how they could build their own homes with their own hands. He got his start in publishing by working as the shelter editor of the Whole Earth Catalog with Stewart Brand in the late '60s. He has since authored six highly-graphic books on homemade building, all of which are interrelated. The books, "The Shelter Library Of Building Books," include Shelter, Shelter II (1978), Home Work (2004), Builders of the Pacific Coast (2008), Tiny Homes (2012), and Tiny Homes on the Move (2014). Lloyd operates from Northern California studio built of recycled lumber, set in the midst of a vegetable garden, and hooked into the world via five Mac computers. You can check out videos (one with over 450,000 views) on Lloyd by doing a search on YouTube:

20 Responses to How I Got Into Building

  1. Happy birthday!

    I and my kids, with a couple of friends, built our own home from scratch (felling the logs for the uprights) in the late 1970s. 20 years later, we built a cabin for me, now an empty-nester. This time, we used mainly recycled wood from an old barn and a shed.

    Times have changed. I'm in standard housing now; sheetrock walls, mass-produced carpets, every apartment identical, automatic heating and hot water . . . I miss the "real thing".

  2. Happy Birthday LLoyd!!!!! Remembering you turned us onto Captain Billy back in the 70's.Such a gift to have met him.We're still getting good information from you and can't wait to see what you do next Keep on blogging and we'll be checking in.Rob and Cindi

  3. great re-read. interesting comment re: “… I’d have worked with a master carpenter long enough to learn the basics, but there was never time. ”

    and yet you managed to let the trade consume 50+ years. i see a bit of contradiction, as if there is a beginning and an end to learning!

    somewhere i read “building is a craft, not a science, and yet there is a science of building”

    carry on.

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