Hammerstone School Guest Blog

tiny house

I started my tiny house search by visiting a tiny house listed for sale on craigslist. The house was 60 square feet, had a fold-down bed that took up about 50 of those square feet, and a tiny woodstove tucked into the remaining strip of floor, with a scant few inches of clearance on either side. The house was sheathed in plywood and otherwise unfinished. It could be lifted by tractor onto a snowmobile trailer; I own neither a tractor nor a snowmobile trailer. Uninspired, I went to the library and checked out Lloyd Kahn’s “Tiny Homes: Simple Shelter” yet again, put myself on the waiting list for a tiny house introductory weekend course in Boston, and returned to the drawing board.

tiny house

A few months later, still on that waiting list, I bumped into an acquaintance and local builder, Maria Klemperer-Johnson. As she picked out her vegetables at the winter CSA where I was working, I casually asked her about tiny houses. “I think I want to build one, but I’ve never built anything before.” I said. “Is it possible? Do you know of a good school where I can learn my basic carpentry skills?” Thus Hammerstone School was born.

For the past 12 years, working in a cabinetry shop, building straw bale and timber frame sustainable structures, refurbishing high-end homes with a local company, and running her own carpentry business, Maria was almost always the only woman at each job site. Feeling that half of our country’s design and building potential is missing, simply because women are not encouraged in or taught the building trades, Maria began planning her carpentry school for women. When we started talking about my tiny house, she was ready. “I’ve been waiting for this opportunity for years! Let’s team up,” was her response. “You provide the materials. I’ll teach a class. We’ll build your house, and you and the other students will learn the skills you need as we go.” Flyers were made. Designs were drawn and discussed and drawn again. Local green lumber was purchased and stacked to dry. Students signed up. I found and bought a rusty, broken down Shasta pull-behind camper, demolished it, and had the chassy sandblasted and repainted. On the first day of class, students arrived with new tool belts. Maria handed us crisp design plans, and my trailer was our backdrop in the shop, complete with a new license plate and ready to be transformed into my home.

interior 1

On our first day of class, all eight of us students talked about our past experiences building. Aside from a chicken coop here and a refinished bookshelf there, most of us were beginners. A couple of women had already set up a small workshop and were feeling their ways through home improvements. All of us were wowed by our first lesson on accurate measuring with a tape, a skill with nuances we had never before considered. This simultaneously humbling and empowering start to the class set the stage for the build. Ready and eager, we jumped into every aspect of the course. Whether we were learning to hold a circular saw, adjust for the saw kerf, or countersink a screw, or we were taking copious notes on advanced framing techniques and wood grain orientation, we were sponges, soaking in all that we could learn, and aware of our inherent capacity to put it into practice.

Personally, as the owner of our project, I got the most opportunity to practice what we learned, and I was not always certain of my capacity for success. There were moments when I mis-set a nail so many times, scrunched in my loft with frozen toes, that I called Maria in tears and wanted to sell my house and give in to a life of renting mediocre apartments. There were moments when I just didn’t care what color my trim paint would be, or where my kitchen sink was set into the counter top. But each week, with the return of my fellow classmates, excitement and hope returned. This house would be completed, it would be beautiful, and it would be built by us: the women of Hammerstone School.

interior 2

We hoped this process would take a summer. It took a year. I imagined my home as a glorified cabin with a nail to hang my jacket and a rough plank along the ceiling holding my books. Instead I have a fully trimmed and painted, insulated and weatherized HOME, complete with timber framed brackets, cedar closets, and a stainless steel kitchen. Though tiny and humble, my house is the most beautiful place I’ve ever lived.

building the house

Now that it’s said and done, and I’m living in my home, I’m grateful for every piece of the process. At a Hammerstone open house last week, many students came to see the finished product from our 2013 classes. I heard them walking through my house with their families, saying, “yes, we built these bookshelves together in one day! And that’s the window I trimmed with my partner. The beadboard? We blind nailed each piece individually – that’s why you can’t see the nails!” I thought: yes, I feel proud of this house after so much of my own time went into it. But there is much more value in this home because of the community of women who feel ownership of this tiny house, and who tackle carpentry projects in their lives with new confidence because of the skills they learned through this build. These women, with the help of Hammerstone School, lent me their love, their willingness to learn, and their labor to make that scrappy old camper-trailer my true and lovely home.

Liz Coakley
Hammerstone School
3285 Jacksonville Rd
Trumansburg, NY 14886

the crew

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Marsha Cowan - May 29, 2014 Reply

Wow! That is one if the coolest stories that I have read so far! I want to go there and see the school. Better, I know a lady in that area who contacted me about helping her build a tiny house, but now I can send this to her and maybe she can get her house built through this school! Cool! Maybe I would still go just to be a part of such a wonderful endeavor. Thanks for sharing this story! You and all these ladies are an inspiration to all us ladies who love to build something with our own hands.

Em - May 29, 2014 Reply

Beautiful! I really like the lightness inside – the natural looking wood – just beautiful. Are there ongoing classes for women building tiny houses ? tnx

Barbara J - May 29, 2014 Reply

Wow! Great story and what a beautiful work of art … congratulations!

Devon - May 29, 2014 Reply

It’s a beautiful home! A true testament to what people working with each other in a spirit of humility can create.

David Swinson - May 29, 2014 Reply

Liz, That is one of the best looking Tiny Homes I have seen for a long time. Lovely.

Paula - May 29, 2014 Reply

Ow please! More pics! Thats looks awesome

Sue - May 29, 2014 Reply

Would LOVE to see this as a ‘traveling school,’ which would travel here to Illinois! 😉
GREAT job, ladies!!!

Debra - May 29, 2014 Reply

I’d love to find a school like yours in the Nashville, TN area. I’m fair in building things, bookcases, headboard to a bed, shelves, even a small table but never a house, and I’d love to be able to learn how. I love your home and project. Being in my 60’s I am sure I have some limits but I’d sure like to give it a try.

JoAnn - May 29, 2014 Reply

Wow! Very inspiring!

DianeW - May 29, 2014 Reply

Wow, what a great and inspiring story!

Carey - May 29, 2014 Reply

Love this story! Beautiful! I’m in the process of demolition on a camper to use the trailer as my base and already, the extended hand of family has been an outpouring of love!

Penny Freeman - May 29, 2014 Reply

Wonderful article. A delight to see woman so empowered…now please, please more inside pictures! House looks adorable.

Matthew - May 29, 2014 Reply

You give hope to many of us tiny house dreamers! Beautiful home you have there, you should
be extremely proud!!!!

Wendy - May 29, 2014 Reply

I love it. 🙂

Sharon B. - May 29, 2014 Reply

I love what happens in life when you ” get over yourself” and tell someone your dream. This is a great story. I would love to find a similar gang in my area.

KAREN LINCOLN - May 29, 2014 Reply

this is the airyist nicest tiny house I have seen in awhile. did you have plans or just build as you go? could we see more pics and info, solar, water, etc. Very well done.

    Liz Coakley - June 5, 2014 Reply

    Thanks Sharon! My house was actually designed by Maria, the owner of Hammerstone School. We started with complete plans, but made some changes as we worked. I’m still working on getting a solar system in place. We’re also on the way to posting a gallery on our website. I don’t know how to post more photos here, but thanks to everyone who’s asked!

Trish - May 29, 2014 Reply

Great story and lovely house. Is there anything similar on the West Coast? I live in Northern California and this would no doubt be well attended here. My dream of a tiny house would be much more attainable by learning and doing.

    Maria Klemperer-Johnson - May 31, 2014 Reply

    Trish,
    There are some excellent woodworking schools in CA (most notably, the College of the Redwoods woodworking program), but I don’t know of any oriented specifically towards women.

Ted - May 29, 2014 Reply

We are considering starting up a business that would provide
the Chassis and all the material to build a tiny home.
We have all the plans and would provide step by step instructions
to build your own home.
I would like to know if there is an interest in this.
We are located in North West Washington
If you would like more information I can send pictures

Denise - May 29, 2014 Reply

Excellent story and beautiful home, Im inspired to build my own tiny home, do you know or any one out there know of similar builders in Australia/ New Zealand?

    Mary J - May 30, 2014 Reply

    hi Denise, I live in Brisbane and would love to do a course in building a tiny house….we’d have to find a builder who would be prepared to teach the whole process. There must be someone out there who has the skills to do teach a group of people how to build a tiny house.

Em - May 29, 2014 Reply

Ted, I’d love a business like that – but somewhere in New England 😉

    Liz Coakley - June 5, 2014 Reply

    Come see us at Hammerstone! We’re not so far from New England! In fact I’m often surprised how many Ithaca residents believe that we’re part of New England….

Joy Gray - May 29, 2014 Reply

I would love to find a school like this in my area as well. What a great story this is. The idea took on a life of its own and friends were made in the process. Not to mention the stunning results. Congratulations and much more success.

Tom - May 29, 2014 Reply

You go girl ! I love your story and your new home, your a great inspiration.

Shell - May 29, 2014 Reply

Very cool story. I love it. Now to have something like this in Portland, Oregon. That would be great!

    phred anderson - May 30, 2014 Reply

    there is similar in pdx. called PAD. thing is they want you to pay to help them build something that goes to someone else. i’d rather trade labor. i help them build a few then say after 3-5 done 1 is mines.

Graham - May 29, 2014 Reply

I’ve recently built a tiny tiny house. I am not a builder or carpenter, but I do have an engineering background. I love it, works for me. And it’s something of a hobby, I am planning renovations, and other tiny improvements. G 🙂

Jane - May 29, 2014 Reply

This is my favorite story I’ve ever read on this blog, and many others, come to think of it. Woman power. This is it at its best. Going where we’ve not been welcome and getting a great job done, at the same time as bonding friendships and learning skills to pass on. Wow. Good on ya.’

David Remus - May 30, 2014 Reply

Beautiful home built in the best way for all of us. Now if those that built her home all help each other build theirs, working for each other’s benefit rather than simply seeking to make a profit, we could have a real revolution in affordable, efficient housing.

Bingo.

Pendergast - May 30, 2014 Reply

There are dental schools where patients can get care at about half the price.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if there were carpentry schools where people can get houses built at about half price, while giving students valuable, hands-on experience?

Janet Lynn Rutherford - May 31, 2014 Reply

I have been following this wonderful blog for about 3 years, but this hammerstone school and all the women who have learned there and made their own homes is definitely the most compelling of all the amazing tiny house stories I have encountered on the blog….

Please put me on your mailing list, and if you have any specific information about how to connect with the school, and some information about the learning programs that have been established there!!!!!

I live on the Sechelt Peninsula in British Columbia, Canada, and I am capable of traveling long distances in order to learn as much as I can about tiny houses.

I have built two small cabins on my property, (one of them is complete, and the other is still a work in progress. As soon as they are both finished, I can send some photos!!

Please send me the best addresses to correspond with….

Yours truly,

Janet Lynn Rutherford, aka SKY

Meg - May 31, 2014 Reply

Awesome! What a great project, and such a great story to share. Looks terrific and must be a huge feeling of pride for so many involved- very cool!

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