Workshop roof

Sometimes circumstance is unkind to young innocent homesteaders. Luckily in our case it was not ravenous wolves nor rampaging Sioux which plagued our first year on the land, it was unheard of rainfall, and I mean truly unheard of, even by our neighbors in their 80s…who had, “never heard no tell of such a wet summer, my poor rotted taters!”

Though I can not in any way vouch for the rottenness of their “taters” I can say we lost much time this year due to rain, and an adequately dry roof seemed just the thing to dry out sopping wet spirits…and possibly our moldy long johns  as well!

I must make a small side step in some attempt at explanation of our roofing choice. Many who have followed our progress may wander at the selection of a metal roof on such a painstakingly period correct building as our workshop. To be honest I had every intention of going all the way with a proper Tudor thatch roof…until I found thatching quite hard to come by(in fact the only supplier I found gets their in from scotland at an understandably ridiculous price) which left us with either harvesting our own river cane, which does not grow much in the mountains locally, or wheat, which would be great had we grown it last year and had ready at hand…

The next obvious choice would be an oak shake roof over pole purlins. I really had every intention of going this route as well until I started hunting for the good sized straight oak logs to split. This proved both difficult and morally suspect…their not being much in the way of 100+ year old oak straight and knot free around our land, what is to be had, should it not be used in a more sustainable way? Would felling a 200 year old oak to produce shakes which may last 50 years make ecological sense? The general rule most observed and applied to sustainable forestry I have read goes, “A product made from a tree should last at least as long as that tree took to grow, preferably longer” So no shingles were out, or at least out until some horrid storm would give us the chance to salvage large logs which might be burned in someones wood stove!

So we were finally left with but few options, and the most practical and affordable seemed to be a metal roof over wood decking. As it turned out our neighbor did have a rather large Yellow Poplar fall in a summer storm, and he graciously gave us the wood to use.


Reclaimed rafters from a house built circa 1918…


with just a touch of the Jack plane…


give up their aged beauty to the light!


Bucking poplar for the roof sheathing


Sometimes rest is good for a man…


Nails reclaimed and reused from the same old house


Green poplar sheathing going up


Adding a bit of elegance


tarpaper goes on


Then some metal


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9 Responses to Workshop roof

  1. msjoy1234 says:

    It looks fantastic! a lot of hard work. . .


  2. Nathan says:

    Wonderful progress and beautiful work. Thank you for taking the time to document and share your creation with the world. It is very inspiring. I found your videos on YouTube today while doing research on timber framing. I appreciate you sticking to hand tools and traditional methods. This is what I hope to accomplish in the future as well. Build a timber frame house, by hand with hand tools…no fancy mortising machines or chainsaws. I was so excited to see you guys raising the bents with such “primitive” technology. I bet that was very satisfying. It’s as if we as people forget where we came from and that so much can be achieved without the use of electricity and giant machines. Your work is very inspiring! Thanks again for the valuable information and inspiration. I can’t wait until it’s my turn! Good luck with everything!

    Liked by 1 person

    • mrchickadee says:


      Thank you so much for your kind words! Our decision to document and share our experience was devised to serve several purposes. We hoped to show that untrained, unexperienced people could indeed build their own homes for a fraction of the cost of a modern house, and have a home that was more beautiful, ecologically friendly and sustainable than anything they could buy. The only real roadblock to this method of living and building is time and patience, which sadly are uncommon commodities in our modern world. I do stand firm in the belief than anyone can do this as we have done, if they stand by their dreams and exercise the courage to do so. I have seen many videos of hand hewing, but normally as an exercise or demonstration, we are not aware of anyone else using all traditional methods as we have done, hopefully this will change in the future.

      Mr. Chickadee


  3. Marcus says:

    I feel the same way as Nathan. He said everything I have been thinking as I’ve been reading your blog. It’s encouraging to see and hear that you believe as I do that it is possible for us to build a beautiful home for much less using these natural materials and traditional methods. I hope to do this as well. One thing I have been wondering though is how you find the time to devote to this project. Are you living and paying for all your material/food etc. from savings or do you have a job and work on it during your off time? I would be very interested to know more on this topic as I think more people myself included would be willing to tackle such a project if tgey could find the time/resources to make it happen. Thanks!


    • mrchickadee says:

      The biggest issue for many may be an attempt to combine their modern lives and conveniences with a quest for the simple life. It would be exponentially more difficult for say a working professional to homestead in their off hours. We chose to downsize our lives as much as possible before beginning our adventure. We sold everything we owned, bought cheap mountain land and moved into a tent. This may not be for everyone, but worked for us and we couldn’t be happier.


  4. Stephen Channon says:

    Thank you for explaining the reasons behind your choice of roof. And I fully agree with you😊 I regards to the green poplar sheathing did you use a pit to cut the sheathing by hand? Or was it cut at a mill?
    An amazing project you should be very proud of yourselves. Thank you so much for sharing.

    Stephen Channon Veteran

    Southampton UK


    • mrchickadee says:

      Hello from across the pond!

      Thanks for the comment, we actually have a small band sawmill which we purchased from an Amish gentleman who makes them. Pit sawing though an amazing experience would not be very practical for the two of us at this time. In our homestead journey we are transcending many trades, blacksmithing, masonry, carpentry, joinery, cabinetry, et. Each of these trades normally required a separate 7 year apprenticeship and it was unheard of for one man to master many. We have to recognize our position and the practicality of our abilities, my tiny wife would probably not fair very well swinging under the trestle of a pit saw for the duration it would require to finish our home and outbuildings, though we may do some for the fun of it at a later date. These first years on the homestead we are in quite the rush to get established and must weigh the practicality of each endeavor and make compromises as we need.



  5. Rod Wheeler says:

    Just came across your blog and video collection today, 10/23/2016. You are indeed a man of few words but that does not seem to hamper your intentions. Thanks for taking the extra effort it took to record all the work that was done. A service to all who have an interest in this interesting throwback to an earlier time. I have two frames under my belt to date: A re-construction of a 1720’s center chimney colonial and a new 2 car garage and loft frame from planed timbers. Both challenges were enjoyable. When asked how I knew what I was doing, my response was usually ” You can learn almost anything with some study and interest.” Thanks again for your effort to share this project with the masses. rw


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