A Carpenter's Life as Told by Houses

A Carpenter's Life as Told by Houses


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“… Larry Haun is as much a historian and philosopher as he is a 60-year veteran carpenter. Larry’s memoir would be equally at home on the bookshelves of home building and architecture enthusiasts as anyone on a spiritual journey.”
- Brian Pontolilo, Editor, Fine Homebuilding Magazine

The unforgettable memoir of a legendary builder. You don’t have to be a carpenter to appreciate this fascinating book that Publishers Weekly calls, “a first person timeline of 20th century American residential architecture… combining …two literary styles: the memoir and the how-to book.”

A moving story of that place we call home. An early advocate for building lean and green and an avid blogger, Larry Haun tells his unique story in terms of twelve homes – built over the last 100 years. These are homes he knows intimately, drawing the reader in with detailed descriptions and thoughtful observations.

“Just like any good carpenter, Haun brings his own artistic flourishes to the job of storytelling…. But where Haun’s true personality comes across is when he describes the construction process for the many houses he has lived in and built—from his parent’s 1,000-sq. ft. wood-frame house and the adobe and cob structures of the Southwest to the mid-century pre-fabricated and tract houses, and the more recent Habitat for Humanity homes he has donated his time to help erect.”
Publishers Weekly
, 6/13/2011

A delight to read. A great gift. This engaging memoir will appeal to anyone who appreciates a well-told story. A Carpenter’s Life As Told in Houses explores our love of home – feelings so deeply rooted that they go far beyond wood and plaster and shingles. Share the author’s deep connection to the natural world, his yearning for simplicity, and respect for humanity – and see why he believes that less is more.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781600854026
Publisher: Taunton Press, Incorporated
Publication date: 09/13/2011
Pages: 272
Sales rank: 641,428
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.60(h) x 1.20(d)

About the Author

Larry Haun began his building career on the Nebraska prairie, where at 17 he helped to build his first house. In 1950, he began framing in Albuquerque, N.M., and in 1951, he joined his older brother in a Los Angeles building boom that brought about rapid change in tools, materials, and building methods. Later, seeing a need for passing on production-framing techniques, Haun began teaching two nights a week at a community college—and stayed there for 20 years. He retired to Coos Bay, Ore., where he built houses for Habitat for Humanity, wheelchair ramps for poor people, and backpacked in the High Sierras, the Rockies, and the Andes. He is the author of "Habitat For Humanity: How to Build a House, Homebuilding Basics: Carpentry, The Very Efficient Carpenter, " and three companion videos on how to frame a house. Larry also kept a blog, A Carpenter's View: http: //www.finehomebuilding.com/blog/a-carpenters-view, where he wrote until a couple of weeks before his death at age 80 in October, 2011.

Read an Excerpt


The first time I saw Larry Haun swing a hammer, I knew that I wasn’t nearly as good a carpenter as I had thought.

It was 1987, and I had only recently walked off of a job site and into a job at Fine Homebuilding magazine. The Taunton Press was starting to make how-to videos, and one day the video producer invited me to watch an instructional tape from the United Brotherhood of Carpenters. The star was a tall, thin man in his 50’s. Over and over, he drove sixteen penny spikes with two licks—one to set and one to sink. The nails disappeared so fast I wondered if some magician’s trick were secretly pulling them into the wood ahead of the hammer blows. I never saw Joe DiMaggio play baseball, but those who did describe his movements as seamless and fluid, as having no beginning and no end. One observer quipped, “He made the rest of them look like plumbers.” That’s how I felt watching Larry Haun drive nails. Not long after I saw that video, Larry wrote his first article for Fine Homebuilding. He went on to write countless more, along with several books, mostly about the production framing techniques he helped pioneer on the frenzied tract developments of Southern California. His amazing skills were due, at least in part, to the fact that he kept at it long after most carpenters move on to jobs that are easier on their bodies. It’s telling that when Larry finally did retire and stopped building houses for a living, he joined Habitat for Humanity and started building them for free. I would like to have been there the first time Larry Haun showed up on a Habitat project. At the peak of his powers, Larry and his two brothers could frame an entire house in a day. I imagine the Habitat foreman asking Larry if he had any experience and him replying, “Some.” On the surface of it then, this book is the story of Larry’s life as seen through the houses he has known, lived in and built. This experience ranges from the sod houses of the great plains (his mother grew up in one), to the kit houses sold in the Sears catalog, to the little boxes of the post-World War II housing boom, to the McMansions of today. And given that we now take plywood, nail guns and the overflowing shelves at The Home Depot for granted, it is fascinating to read about a time when carpenters made their own framing hammers and soaked nails in paraffin so they’d be easier to drive. But it would be a mistake to think of this book simply as a carpenter’s memoir, or as a history of houses. As prodigious as Larry’s carpentry skills are, and as fascinating as the span of his career has been, neither is what makes him remarkable or this book so worthy. Larry is indeed a great carpenter, but he is hardly typical. Despite a lifetime spent on raucous job sites brimming with testosterone, Larry is a quiet, unpretentious man who has long been more interested in Buddha than Budweiser. Larry didn’t write this book to impress anybody. He’s looking for deeper truths. When he reflects on the houses in his life, it is not so much to marvel at how far we’ve come, but to see what we’ve lost, and most important, to see what we can learn. For him it is a small step from where we live to how we live. Gently and humbly, he raises questions about the decisions we’ve made as a society, about how we treat each other, and how we treat this planet that we live on. In this entire volume, otherwise filled with charming tales and timeless wisdom, only one assertion rings false. Having grown up on the high plains of western Nebraska, in an uninsulated farmhouse with no central heating, Larry says he was always cold, even in the summer. He claims that cold has dogged him to this day, which leads him to conclude “that all my efforts, all my struggles, the reason for my existence, has been to do whatever was necessary to keep myself warm.” Hardly. Anyone who has ever known Larry will attest, and readers of this book will soon discover, the reason for his existence has been to warm others with his remarkable spirit. Kevin Ireton

Table of Contents


1. The Soddy
2. The Straw Bale
3. The Old Frame House
4. The Dugout
5. The Pre-Cut House
6. The Adobe
7. The Manufactured House
8. The Quonset Hut
9. The Tract House
10. The Habitat House
11. Small Houses, Small Spaces
12. The Greenhouse



Coos Bay, Oregon

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Carpenter's Life as Told by Houses 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
MartyAllen on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Sustainable practices, history, and memoir all combine in this lovely story. Haun mixes genres to complete a full-bodied book. Chapters are titled after housing types, from sod houses to green houses. The chapters then tell the stories behind specific and general houses. The sod house chapter, for example, both tells of the author's mother's home and the time period she lived, as well as details on how to build a sound house of this type. Also included are the author's thoughts on the topics, such as his belief about the necessity to reconnect to the earth and help others. Such a full book allows for a true connection with the author and the topic.
TimBazzett on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I learned of Larry Haun's A CARPENTER'S LIFE from a piece about it in the Grand Rapids Press. While I would not normally read a book written by a contractor/carpenter, I was completely captivated by Larry's memoir of growing up poor on the cold plains of western Nebraska, his early efforts at making things, and then by his long and illustrious career out west building tract homes and raising a family. He turns it into a kind of history of home building from the 1940s forward, interspersed with tantalizing glimpses into his life, chosen profession and his personal brand of philosophy and environmentalism. I was especially interested in the too-short section about his time in the SeaBees and his tours in Newfoundland and Greenland in the Korean War era. A pacifist at heart, Larry nevertheless enjoyed his noncombatant years with the Navy and being able to use his skills as a carpenter during that time.At the heart of this memoir, however, is Haun's gently introspective musings about how we've despoiled our planet and equally gentle urging that we do better. Here's an example -"We are human beings and we know that we deserve more than we can ever get at a big box store, no matter if we go thee with a super-size shopping cart. They just don't sell what we really need. Happiness can't be bought. It is, as they say, 'an inside job'."Haun is also apologetic for all he didn't know about how he may have contributed to messing up nature, telling of all the toxically treated building materials he quite unknowingly used during his long career as a builder. Indeed, he reckons that hisyears of handling lumber treated with arsenic and copper preservatives contributed to the cancer he first contracted several years ago.Sadly, that cancer finally took Haun's life right around the time this book was published. And the frequent feelings of wonder and regret that he expresses here in such everyday and humble language suggests that he knew he was nearing the end of his life. Whether he did or not, A CARPENTER'S LIFE serves as a simple and eloquent eulogy to a creative and constructive life lived fully and well. I'm passing this book along to a builder friend of mine who shares many of the same qualities of humility, thoughtfulness and generosity that Larry Haun exhibited, right down to donating countless hours to Habitat for Humanity. This is a fine book. I will recommend it highly.
Marvinlee More than 1 year ago
Mr. Haun has written authentically of his long life associated with houses and house building. As a former carpenter, and builder of our own house, I can speak to the value of the construction tips he tells about. This is not a how-to-it book, far from it. Yet, there is sound advice here on how to build, how to live, and how to do both without excessive cost. His emphasis on human relations over house size and extravagance rings especially true in the aftermath of the housing bubble. Books about the lives of carpenters are uncommon. This book is uncommonly pleasurable to read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Really interesting but easy to get bogged down while reading.