Posted by: highmountainmuse | February 25, 2009

Building projects: what do you have, and what do you need?

Here’s a simple way of looking at small building projects – what do you have, and what do you need?  As you can figure, we’re not the type to think “what do we want, and what can we go out and buy?”  We’re very practical here. We’re also very far away from stores.


In our attempts at simple living, being frugal, and being responsible for our environment we do our best to “build green.” By that I mean, we consider what can we do so that we don’t have to buy anything.  At the end of the day, that’s still the “greenest” option, isn’t it? Homesteaders and folks who live or have lived far off the beaten path are good at living this way. We learn it by necessity, and then creatively grow in our talents to make do.


Rather than run out to the Home Depot or Walmarts when we need furnishings, we enjoy seeing if we can build it ourselves.  And rather than buying materials to build with, we turn to our beloved Junk Piles: our piles of recycled materials, scraps of building materials, and materials stock piled from bargains picked up at farm auctions.  Quite amazing what we can find in those piles…


At times, the junk piles look chaotic, and our projects overwhelming.  But we manage to make order of things, and without discussing it, we tend to follow this three step program:


1.  what do we need?

2.  what do we have on hand?  Check those junk piles.  Take stock. 

3.  what can be built to satisfy our needs with what we have on hand?


Seems to work for us pretty well.  I suppose you have to throw into that mix a fourth point:  what can you do?  We are not advanced carpenters.  Our work is what you might call “rustic.”  Between Bob’s ability to sculpt quite finely with the chainsaw, and my wielding a mean hand with the electric grinder, together we can turn a pile of junk into some pretty neat things.  We also have no shop. We do our work outside in the snow, mud, wind, and sun.  We rely on saw-horses and insulated work boots.


After the basic floor plan of our cabin was completed, we found ourselves turning our attention and skills to the interior. We had been making do with a little old table that had been moved around from cabin to cabin, and kitchen cabinets that had been handed down from other guest cabin remodels.  Come to think of it, we were keeping our pots and pans and plates in wooden crates stacked sideways.  I remember doing that with plastic milk crates when I was college age. Part of our growing up and leaving our bachelor/bachelorette days behind us was to accept this as “home” and start to plan for things like furniture, shelving, cabinets, and a kitchen table. 


From building the cabin, we had gotten quite handy at chain sawing logs, grinding and shaping them, so we figured we could do that on a smaller scale and build the furnishing we needed. Between the remnants of logs left over from the cabin building, and refurbishing wood from old walls or previous uses, we had plenty of material to work with.


So, with what materials were left over from buildings, our minds did churn. 

the kitchen table

the kitchen table


First, I needed a kitchen table large enough so that there was always room for one more.  Big and thick and rustic and friendly.  I got it. The top was made from two huge slabs of pine wood (found at an old farm auction) bolted together, and mounted on four logs used for legs.  Bob and his dad put the table together, and I worked the grinder on the top and then finished it with a polyurethane (we did buy that).


Then, I needed some cabinets in the kitchen.  On the right in the below photo is my “pastry counter.”  I bake a lot, almost daily, so we mounted the old stainless steel counter top with below cabinets (this Bob had found at a hospital’s going out of business sale) at a lower height which is perfect for kneading dough.  Then we used scrap oak for the shelving, recycled tongue-and-grove wood that had been in the old walls of the remodeled cabin for the backing, and of course, more logs to bring it all together.

the pantry and the pastry counter

the pantry and the pastry counter


On the left in the photo is our pantry.  Again, it is built with scrap oak for shelving, re-used tongue and groove walls for the siding, and the logs holding it all together. The door we built with more of the tongue and groove recycled wall, and the cross braces are the same material with the tongue or groove cut off to serve as a regular one-by. Most of the hardware we use is salvaged from previous projects and uses.  Sometimes just a quick blast with the matt black spray paint makes it good as new again.


Right now, I have a new list of little projects.  For one, I would like a little bench to go in front of our sofa so that when the three of us squish into the love seat to keep warm on nights we sit by the fire to have dinner, we have a place to rest our plates and tea cups, or at least our tired feet.  However, this project will have to wait another month.  For now, most of our junk piles are still in hibernation beneath a couple of feet of snow.



  1. Oh, that is absolutely gorgeous!
    Look at how the wood glows.
    My little kitchen tressle table was made from a kit… not even close.
    Hey, when we built the chicken coop it was -10 with wind chill that whole week. I was so determined I didn’t even care.
    Mabye, I work on the duck house plans today.

  2. […] highmountainmuse placed an interesting blog post on Building projects: what do you have, and what do you need? « High …Here’s a brief overviewRight now, I have a new list of little projects. For one, I would like a little bench to go in front of our sofa so that when the three of us squish into the love seat to keep warm on nights we sit by the fire to have dinner, … […]

  3. […] week, we talked about our usual way of building up here, far away from stores and with plenty of junk piles to choose from:  the three step method […]

  4. I thought about you when I decided to paint my hall bathroom last week. I used leftover paint from my dining room. I did spend $10.00 on a few things…no, make that $8.00 because I’m returning something I didn’t use. It really felt good to use the old paint knowing it wasn’t going to waste. And it looks like I have a new bathroom now!

  5. The bathroom that was so beautiful with warm browns and tile? The dining room was very warm and rich, too, as I recal, so I bet it all looks wonderful. You, like my sister in Denver, do have a wonderful sense of color.

  6. No, I painted the one just off the hallway…it was baby blue with a lighthouse border, not my favorite at all but now it is warm like the other rooms.

  7. […] to share with you the story of the construction of the foaling shed. As usual, we built with our “three step program.”  First, we figured out what we needed (a foaling shed), then we checked out the piles and inventoried […]

  8. Well you are true folks that I admire very much. In my younger days I too was very resourceful as well. Now I am older and live in a neighborhood and can’t keep anything outside or the junk police will send me a letter I live in Lawrenceville GA its not the same anymore. I gave away 40 yrs of stuff that I collected now I have to go to home depot and buy Chinese crap. I have some nice table legs that i picked up at a store closing and would like to make a nice big farm table.I am old carpenter and taught my self to make most anything. well good luck with your future…..Ray Cich

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: