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Woodworking from House Building

My journey to woodworking came via the experience of house building.

R S Diagonal Wall bracing

The sixties’ zeitgeist of creativity, a college course in organic gardening, reading “Living the Good Life” by Helen and Scott Nearing, and the  owner/builder movement in the late 1970s coalesced into my taking the initiative to buy country land near Saratoga Springs and construct a shelter for my fiancée, me, and future (vaguely imagined) family members.

R S E, H, and C

What will be discussed in this and following episodes is coming in touch, physically and intellectually, with the world of tools. Without venturing too far into New Agism, I do wish to put in a good word for the greatest tool of all, namely, the Unconscious, the Muse, Intuition, and similar ideas. It didn’t protect me from making every stupid male choice (no planning for closets, stairs, size of living and dining areas, etc.) but it did some amazing work guiding an ignorant “kid” in finding a piece of land and a spot for long term shelter.

The overriding concerns for me were that a country or rural home should be removed from the constant sound of automobiles, have good solar orientation, and enjoy a view. The latter two conditions were not very difficult to meet as I traversed the countryside on my own and in the company of Judy, a jovial real estate agent, but when you factored in the first, the pickings were slim.

Luck prevailed, though, as one late November afternoon she mentioned a lot up for sale by an owner who had farmed until recently and then moved to Tennessee. This piece of property, a rectangular shaped piece, had short frontage along Homestead Road (how aptly named) and long frontage along a dead end unpaved road.

R S FSA Picture of property
She drove slowly westward down the dirt lane with the property on the right. We had gone maybe a fifth of a mile when the “Twilight Zone” moment happened and I asked her to stop the car. The view from the road toward the interior of the property had been obscured by vegetation, but something was pulling me, pulling me. I negotiated my way over an old fence and through a wild hedgerow and jogged over the remnants of corn stalks, cockleburs and dry weeds toward a small rise…

R S View looking west over driveway

The land form I was seeing was characteristic of the bottom of Lake Albany, a proglacial lake that existed between 15,000 and 12,600 years ago . After it drained into the Hudson River (a few miles to the east of our house) it left a mix of silt and clay over shale bedrock. Eventually silt particles blown by the prevailing west winds (“blow sand” in local vernacular) collected and developed parallel North/South ridges.

The historical territory for humans was an ancient hunting and fishing area for the Mohawks, called by them Sa-ragh-to-ga.As early as 1684, this hill-side country of the Hudson, the ancient Indian Se-rach-ta-gue, was sold by the chiefs of the Mohawks to Peter Philip Schuyler and six other eminent citizens of Albany, and the Indian grant confirmed by the English government. This old hunting-ground then became known in history as the Saratoga patent. This was the Saratoga of the olden time. It is called on some old maps So-roe-to-gos land.”

The above mentioned land transfer was the  Kayaderosseras Patent by Queen Anne, in 1701, to thirteen subjects.

The surveyors divided the patent into twenty five allotments, and each allotment was subdivided into thirteen lots of approximately equal size. They are referenced in our Deed :

R S Abstract of Title

The Town of Northumberland was formed March 16, 1798. The settler James Brisbin, a native of Scotland, may have influenced the town’s name.

From what I’ve been able to learn, this and the surrounding properties, had been in farming since the early eighteen hundreds. As of the 1920s it was owned and managed by the Colebrook Dairy. Here is one of a case of old bottles from that period I found covered over in a slough:

R S Colebrook Dairy bottle

There are the remains of an ice pond dam built by them along the small Cold Brook that meanders through the western woodlands to the open fields.

Of course, I had no inking of such history at the time, but felt very strongly that this was the place. When Courtney came out a few days later, she stood on the hillside, felt the openness and sunshine and expansiveness, and agreed. We promptly moved on the land transaction, taking out a 25 year mortgage, an inconceivable amount of time. But time was running out in terms of weather. Late November in Zone 5 leaves a very small opening for work to be done before the snow flies.

With the assistance of this great book:

Build It Better Yourself

and my first tape measure

R S My first measuring tape

I was able to experiment with laying out corner boards for the proposed house site:

R S Corner Boards


R S Courtney, Tico, Jessie, and Alphonso

Oh yeah, to cut the boards I used my first saw:

R S Sandvik Saw

Our luck held and we were able to begin work on a driveway. Bill Morris was the first contractor I ever hired. He was a
good choice.

R S Driveway excavation





4 comments to Woodworking from House Building

  • George Walker


    Thanks for sharing. Hopes and dreams are fuel that drives us, and looking back, a good fullfilled dream can continue to add warmth to life.


  • Great story, and I’m looking forward to further posts. And I hadn’t seen that book before, I’ll have to check it out. There is something to be said for putting down roots and watching the world change around you. It’s fascinating to read about how Peter Follansbee and his ancestors haven’t moved but a few miles of the same place in hundreds of years. Personally I’ve moved around too much – Northern Kentucky, Central Kentucky, Arizona, Oregon – to really call any one place “home”. I realize that I’m missing something by not having that experience. But who knows, maybe Oregon will be the place.


  • Jeff

    I have an old copy of “Build It Better Yourself” and still use it quite often. Some of those early Rodale books were the best….before they became corporatized.

  • Tico–can’t wait to read more! I really want to build a barn on my property in Austerlitz and I would like to build as much as possible myself. It would eventually house my shop. Looking forward to following this–thanks! Chris

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