Reading about the “tiny house” trend, I often think of my late brother Pat, who was ahead of his time on that score.
He built several small houses after he moved to Fairbanks in 1970 to attend college. One of them lasted far longer than any of us had expected — it was torn down this summer.
Pat’s philosophy of carpentry was best expressed by a line he had heard from his old boss back in Pennsylvania, Al Cohen, about overlooking small errors: “A man on a flying horse will never notice it.”
I’ve never seen a man on a flying horse but that always sounded like something to live by.
If measuring twice and cutting once doesn’t always produce perfection, it is a good habit that allows anyone to get better with practice.
That’s something I learned from my brother, who gave my wife and me all the encouragement we needed to build a cabin of our own, though we never expected it would take the better part of a decade, after which we moved out.
Pat, who died in 2013 at 63, liked to downplay his skills. He said I gave people the wrong idea by claiming he had built tiny houses when he was in his 20s.
“I wouldn’t call them houses,” he would say. “They were cabins…”
He built small, Pat would say decades later, for financial reasons.
“I had enough money to build the cabin that size,” he said. “That’s why it was 7-by-10.”
Building codes did not extend beyond the city limits, granting novices a degree of architectural freedom.
He said another reason to stay small was that he didn’t know what he was doing, so it lowered the risk of a catastrophic error.
He learned as he went along and he didn’t repeat many mistakes. The last of his cabins, he said, was the only one that he would call a house. It was in the wooded area outside of town, built of 8-by-12-inch timbers. It burned down later on when he wasn’t living there, through no fault of the builder.
“That last one was good,” he said.