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Articles About Heartwood
Built to last
Heartwood school teaches homebuilding skills to beginners
by Scott Waldman
When building or renovating a building, you can slap it together as quickly as possible. You can race through that drywall, stick up the wall frame and lay down that tile without ever getting out your level or plumb bob. You can build with Home Depot lumber instead of cutting your own trees and milling the wood yourself.
That's doing it right away.
Doing it right takes longer. It may cost more at first, but save money in the long term.
There is still a place that teaches the skills our ancestors used to build much of this area's beautiful 18th- through early-20th-century housing stock. It's where lathes still turn, a woodworker's toolbox is something that takes a week to build, not 10 minutes to buy on a Lowe's shelf. A Windsor chair emerges from a piece of wood, not the TJ Maxx clearance shelf.
At the Heartwood School, essentially a summer camp for adults who like working with wood, you can learn how to put together a house that will still be standing when your great-grandchildren are your age. The school, which is run by Will and Michele Beemer, trains students how to build a home's timber frame, convert trees to timber and construct stairs. Most courses are a full week and involve classroom time as well as time in the workshop, tools in hand.
It's a skill that has largely been lost in a world where homes are built to be sold, not to last.
"Learning how to create and build your own place has been taken away," Will Beemer said on a recent day. "There are still some people who just like to make things with their hands."
But Heartwood classes are not just for the advanced; there are weeklong carpentry courses for women, workshops on concrete countertops and building workbenches.
A few days at Heartwood will change the way you look at a home. If you're a beginner, you'll see how the bones of a house are put together. You will at least know how to have an educated conversation with your contractor and you may even get the confidence to start tearing up your kitchen or perhaps put up some shelves in your garage.
"You have to understand how a building works before you understand how to fix it,"said Aaron Bost, who took courses at Heartwood all summer and is now interviewing for a job at a high-end construction firm in Lancaster, Pa.
There is a sign on the wall of the workshop that sums up how one learns construction: "I learn and I forget; I see and I remember; I do and
For a decade of my childhood, my father built an addition on our house by building on the skills he learned working a construction job on summer vacation from college. Other than the foundation and basement walls, he did everything, learning on the way and calling in friends who understood wiring, lighting or roofing better than he did. Every so often, he'd rip up a day's work when he saw it wasn't done right, when the brick walkway was uneven, when the drywall had gaps too big to fill with tape.
That's where Heartwood helps you start if you never held a plumb bob. It puts you on the path to learning. If you want to renovate your home, learn the basic skills. After that, for the right person, you need to get a hammer and saw in your hand, and learn from your mistakes. This summer, people from New Zealand, Canada and the Capital Region signed up for Heartwood courses. Aaron Bost came from Pennsylvania.
"People don't build for longevity any more, people just build to get money," he said. "I want to get back to the time when people built for generations," said Bost.
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