Our DIY Sawhorses: Learning to Build a Home by Starting with Small Projects

The reason we are sharing our entire journey of developing a homestead from scratch is because it’s not simply something you can wake up an do one day… it takes practice. Not only do you need to collect all the materials you need to build with, but you also need the skills to see the project through to the end. One of the ways to prepare for your journey of building a home and developing a property is by working on small projects. In this post, we’d like to share the building of our sawhorses from leftover lumber and why projects like these are so critical to our success.

Even though this is a very small project, we want to share it with you all because it’s important in our minds for a few reasons.

First, by working on smaller projects, we get to strengthen my knowledge of skills and basic building techniques.

Second, every small project we tackle gives us the opportunity to learn how to work with one another as building can be stressful and learning patience and proper communication is critical.

Third, as we’re trying to build our off-grid homestead using as little money as possible, we often look at running to Home Depot as a last resort. This means we need to learn to be creative and work with the resources available to us whether it’s using leftover scrapes from our chainsaw milling or using reclaimed building materials.

Let’s take a look at these three points in more detail, and why they are all so important to building your skills as a new (or even seasoned!) homesteader.

These are not simply sawhorses (strong ones, at that!), but they represent a much larger part of our journey which is practice.
These are not simply sawhorses (strong ones, at that!), but they represent a much larger part of our journey which is practice.

Small Projects to Learn Critical Building Skills & Techniques

If you think you’re going to go from sitting in the cubicle for 10+ years to building a house, think again! Building a home is serious business and requires a lot of knowledge, stamina and patience. Prior to moving to our land, I (Alyssa) barely had any experience building anything whatsoever. I did learn a bit in our 9-month long house rehabbing project, but I don’t have nearly enough skills to build a house yet. I’m still learning primitive techniques such as:

  • Toenailing with screws: There are many basic skills involved with construction of any kind and it’s really helpful to know them before embarking on a large project.
  • Squaring up the foundation of a building: This is also a fairly basic skill that we all have learned in one way or another through various math classes, but applying the math to real-life can be challenging, especially when you’re on the side of a hill! This is a basic skill required in most all construction projects.
  • Using tools such as a saw, table saw, skill saw, hammer, cat’s paw, reciprocating saw, and even a cordless drill: If you grew up learning these tools, then great for you, you’re miles ahead! Believe it or not, using these tools are all skills that some people like myself don’t really have! By working on smaller projects, I’m able to practice my skills so that later on when Jesse gives me instruction, I understand exactly what he’s talking about and how to do it properly.
  • The names of tools: Believe it or not, I didn’t know the names of most of these tools when we started this journey. I know lots of things, but tools are not one of them. Early on in our journey, Jesse would tell me to “grab the Sawzall” and I would have no idea what he was talking about. These small things would add a little tension to every project we worked on because Jesse had to spend A LOT of time teaching me the basics, which means jobs would get done a lot slower and I was watching more than I was helping. Jesse enjoys teaching others, but it does add some amount of stress especially when we’re on a tight timeline.
  • How to move materials without hurting yourself: This may also sound silly, but knowing how to move materials without hurting yourself is a skill! When we were building the deck for our RV, I smashed my finger immediately while stacking lumber because I didn’t have a lumber-stacking technique down. This resulted in a lot of curse words + a bruised fingernail for a while. I also learned various ways to attach heavy tools (such as our generator) to our four wheeler so that I could use leverage instead of my body to move things around. This is helpful when Jesse tells me to bring something to him quickly and can’t stop what he’s doing to get it himself.
  • Other building techniques: Some other things I didn’t know prior to this journey was simple things such as leveling a post, using a string level, using a chalk line, that 2x4s are not actually true 2x4s, and more. All of these little pieces of information are really helpful to know when going into a larger building project.
Always fun to practice with a cordless drill! It IS a skill that gets better with practice, you know!
Always fun to practice with a cordless drill! It IS a skill that gets better with practice, you know!
Jesse practicing his timber framing joinery skills on a different small project. This skill is necessary for the building of our timber frame barn.
Jesse practicing his timber framing joinery skills on a different small project. This skill is necessary for the building of our timber frame barn.

As time goes on, I’m enjoying building more and more because I understand what I’m doing and my confidence is increasing with each skill I learn. Rather than passively watching Jesse work, I’m able to contribute more and more with each project, taking some of the load of Jesse.

Small Projects to Learn to Work with One Another

The next reason why building these sawhorses is important to share is because small projects are critical to learning to work with one another. If you haven’t tried to work with your spouse or a partner, it can be a real challenge! Building can be stressful as it can often entail long days, long stretches between meals, fatigue, making a costly mistake, lifting heavy objects, injury and more.

Building stuff is not all fun and games... it's serious business and there are real risks. Although we do have our fair share of fun :-)
Building stuff is not all fun and games… it’s serious business and there are real risks. Although we do have our fair share of fun 🙂

In our first building projects, I had hurt feelings because I thought Jesse was yelling at me and getting mad due to my lack of understanding with what he was wanting done. After many projects and communication, I’m learning that during a project, it’s often necessary to communicate something important in a hurry and it can come off as yelling. Often, something needs to happen immediately to avoid injury of one person or another, so you just need to yell! Sometimes you will hurt one another on accident and it’s a natural reaction to get mad, temporarily. These are all realities when you work with someone, and when it’s your spouse, it can be an additional challenge for obvious reasons.

Building any type of relationship takes work... romantic, working, or otherwise!
Building any type of relationship takes work… romantic, working, or otherwise!

With every project we do together, we are learning to work together better and better. We are learning to understand the other’s work personality, energy levels, stress signs, and we are simply finding rhythm. Rhythm with your partner will be critical on a large, long-term building project to avoid burnout and frustration.

Learning to Work With What You Have

The last thing we want to touch on is learning to work with what you have, rather than running down to the local hardware store every time you are in need of something.

For this particular project, we actually simply needed a place to cut our lumber to dimension, and the back of our pickup truck just wasn’t going to cut it! We didn’t want to run to Home Depot to spend $40 on sawhorses. We took a look around the property to see how we could build them with what we had, and we had a lot of leftover lumber! When life gives you lemons, make lemonade!

The lumber we used for these sawhorses weren’t good enough to build much with, but the pieces were perfect for our needs. Our sawhorses are far from perfect, but they are perfect for what we will be using them for! We built them in a couple of hours and didn’t spend a dime. More importantly, none of our materials are going to waste but are being put to good use.

Here is a piece of scrap wood we had leftover that wasn't good for much, but it was great for "meh" sawhorses!
Here is a piece of scrap wood we had leftover that wasn’t good for much, but it was great for “meh” sawhorses!
We milled up all of this lumber yet had a lot of "waste" that needed a use.
We milled up all of this lumber yet had a lot of “waste” that needed a use.

Summing it Up

So again, we just wanted to share this small project because if you’re new to homesteading, and maybe you’re still living deep in the city working in a cubicle, working on small projects is something you can do today in preparation for your journey. In all honestly, it would have been a terrible idea to begin construction on our timber frame barn on day one of our journey even if we had all of the tools and materials. However, by working on various small projects such as these sawhorses, we are setting ourselves up for success when it comes time to building our barn and eventually, our home.

You aren’t born knowing how to run a marathon, but you start by learning to crawl, walk, jog, and eventually you can attempt a full marathon if you desire as you will have the foundation you need to succeed.

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I am an aspiring homesteader on a journey to become self-sustainable and free. In my past, I've worked corporate jobs to make ends meet and get ahead a little; it didn't make me happy or confident in my future. Since taking the leap to self-employment and living a more simple life, my happiness levels have increased greatly and I've never felt more alive. I finally understand what I want in life and how to get there, and that is what this blog is all about.


    • Jesse says

      Thanks Elizabeth! I can’t put it into words, but there is something deeply organic about using wood we milled that still has the bark and everything. Alyssa and I talked about how “sterile” the world is and how we are all kept from real things, real problems and real life. Thanks for being so active in our world. Even though you’re a country away we feel like we’re family!

  1. Kenny says

    You both will love and respect eachother so much more doing all these things together. The most thing not to forget and that eachother for granted. Love what you guys are doing. Keep in touch 🙂

    • says

      This is so true Kenny. While we do have tough times, we are thankful for one another daily and each give 110% day after day. The things we accomplish together strengthen our love and bond, and nothing is more satisfying than to take a step back and enjoy what we’ve built together. Thanks for stopping by our blog!

  2. Patty says

    Learned a while back that Coors used to/may still have a slogan…”Waste is a RESOURCE out of place!” Love it and it looks like you guys are living it. Great job!

  3. Nilda says

    Love following your journey, since I’m starting one of my own, I have already found tips to use from you! Thank you

  4. Carolyn West says

    I love watching your progress. We are on house number 3 in progress This one will be mortgage free I always wanted to live the “Mother Earth ” way but we are too old now my hubby has improved his building skills over this past couple years
    We made some expensive mistakes like cedar siding yikes that was him. I wanted stone but we are closing in to the end now

  5. Jessamy says

    We are living in a terrace house in uk with a tiny garden. But we are beginning to get independent. We collect rainwater for filtering in a Berkey. We have lighting in the evenings from a small solar panel. We are learning to bake bread, make pizza etc. We love the flavours of things we have made from scratch, no chemicals etc.
    I love watching your videos. They give me great ideas.
    Keep going!
    Take care xxx

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