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Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Ben Franklin, Lumber Sheds, and the Case for Working With Your Hands: Rationalizing Frugality

By Mr. FS

In his Autobiography, Ben Franklin recounts his fall from a vegetarian diet, justifies this lapse, and then notes that “So convenient a thing it is to be a reasonable Creature, since it enables one to find or make a Reason for every thing one has a mind to do.” I was reminded of Franklin recently when I decided I needed to rebuild our garage.

The garage really does need to be rebuilt. But to do that I need some place to store everything that currently calls the garage home. I had the brilliant idea of converting the lumber shed attached to our back house to an enclosed work/storage room which could hold my tools and, temporarily, the contents of the garage. I do need a work space/storage as well. But to do that I had to find a place for the lumber.

I found the perfect solution to that problem too. My compost heaps were next to the lumber shed; I’d move them, and use the three four-by-four posts as the starting point for a new lumber shed. Reuse and recycle!

All perfectly reasonable. So I built a nice, solid, tin-roofed 8 foot by 16 foot lumber shed. It wasn’t until I began moving the contents of the old lumber shed to their new home that I began to question whether this new construction was even necessary. For one thing, I had apparently saved any piece of lumber longer than 12 inches, and even the “good” stuff didn’t amount to all that much in the grand scheme of things: I probably could have replaced it all for a couple of hundred dollars.

Finally it struck me: what normal, suburban, non-professional-carpenter-type person needs an 8 by 16 food lumber shed? It’s crazy! I realized that I’d spent several hundred dollars in materials (though I used some that was on hand) and several days of hard labor to house lumber that probably cost less than that--lumber I probably shouldn’t have bought in the first place, which I might not use for years, and which I could have stowed under a tarp someplace with a lot less trouble and expense.

On the other hand . . . .

I like my new shed; I like to look at it, and I like to think of how happy all those lumber scraps are in their new home. And as Frugal Son pointed out, I could always convert it into a magnificent rabbit hutch or chicken coop, or both: a duplex! Most importantly, however, I enjoyed building it. So I was particularly happy to run across the recent New York Times article by Matthew Crawford titled “The Case for Working With Your Hands.” Crawford has a PhD in philosophy from the University of Chicago, but operates a small motorcycle repair shop, and he points out that those of us with desk jobs of one sort or another often find it difficult to see any tangible results of our efforts at the end of the day, and so “the experience of individual agency is elusive.” His argument is much more complex than this, as befits his philosophy background, but mine is simple: working with your hands is not only fun, but makes the abstract world tangible and opens new channels of thought and reflection. So if I add the difficult-to-quantify value of all this to my shed, it turns out to be a real bargain. And besides, how else would I have easy access to the scraps from which I assembled the “scarecrow” figure that now wears Frugal Daughter’s graduation outfit?

So thank you Ben Franklin: it is indeed convenient to be a reasonable creature when one can find a reason for whatever one has a mind to do.

So Readers: Do you have any similar stories? Share, please.


Duchesse said...

If one day you have visiting grandchildren (or other small guests) you have a splendid playhouse, too. I can even see it turning into a one-person writer's den or ???

Looks like a satisfying structure to build and have. You could also store a canoe (or something similar)for a friend.

Over the Cubicle Wall said...

I enjoy the process of changing my oil in my truck. I am not sure it saves any money, but it is just satisfying to do.

Funny about Money said...

How neat! It's an excellent shed and well worth the money and effort. Do you have a fireplace? it would make a good place to store firewood.

Around here, wood is very expensive--your pile would be worth more than a couple hundred bucks in these parts.

Frugal Scholar said...

@Duchesse. That's the wonderful thing about such a basic structure: it's almost infinitely adaptable, and can change functions over the years. In fact, the current lumber shed is becoming a work/storage room, so no doubt in ten years this new one will be a playhouse, or writer's den, or . . . . who knows.

Frugal Scholar said...

@Over the Cubicle Wall. I like changing the oil in our car, and I think it does indeed save money, if one uses my kind of creative accounting methods. I'll have to post on that topic. --Mr. FS.

Frugal Scholar said...

@Funny About Money. A lot of what you see is scraps and lumber salvaged from previous remodeling/construction jobs, but there's probably more there than I estimated. The cost of lumber here does seem to have gone down, however, at least for some items. I just bought some pressure-treated 8 foot 2 x 6 joists (pretty substantial pieces of lumber) and the price was about $3.50 each. Seems impossibly low! Dimensional untreated pine studs (92") are about $1.50. Hmm . . . maybe now is the time to build.

Myteeproducts said...
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Myteeproducts said...

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