book review : build it better yourself

We are often found at random library book sales throughout our area. I tend toward the largest books I can carry and if they are about craft or making by hand they, more often than not, were published around the time I was born. Why? I am not entirely sure. Perhaps it’s because that’s the time-frame of most of the books I grew up with. Perhaps it’s because these books expect you to figure out a few details on your own and just assume you know your way around the tools required to make the project. I’m not knocking modern books in the least — I find them quite valuable, I love me some clear colour photographs! There’s just something about these books that make them my comfort food.

Last summer I picked up a hefty tome, Build It Better Yourself by the editors of Organic Gardening and Farming. E was skeptical because he didn’t quite see how it would be useful for us. I flipped through it and liked the gardening ideas in the first few parts and had a giggle at the title of part four, Around the Homestead. I figured at worst this would be a reference while writing. I know the basics of various construction methods and different types of buildings and containers (root cellar anyone?) but I am in no means an expert. There were photos and drawings that would help me out in trying to describe things I might not otherwise come across.

But what really caused me to not let go of this one dollar volume was that tucked inside many of the pages were blueprints! After 35 years! A hand-lettered blueprint can cause me to be weak in the knees.

After we brought our boxes of books home, this title sat for months. I pulled it out a few weeks ago in order to see if there were any ideas to help me through this seed planting season.

Yes! On page 8 is a super simple peat pot tray. I grabbed some scrap wood, drilled a few holes and in about fifteen minutes I had a nice reusable and portable seed tray. It’s easier for me to use than that cumbersome plastic thing I’ve used in the past (that’s now waiting for recycling day). Now to the important question of will anything grow? Time will tell.

Is this something I could have come up with on my own? Yes. Why did I need this book? I didn’t really, it was just nice to see someone had a similar idea and to use it as a starting point. Did I follow the plans exactly? Of course not, I’m not good at doing that. I had a 12″ square piece of plywood and just cut some smaller pieces down to match. I drilled holes that fit my screws, twine, and rope.

This volume does not only appeal to me, E picked it up the other day after I wouldn’t stop talking about all the project inspiration I found. We need to fix our garden gate and keep going back and forth on various ideas for how to make that entire part of our space nicer. We’re thinking a small arbor might be a nice focal point and the drawings were useful to show different types of construction. We also need to re-do our composting area and it was nice to point at a photo and say, that is what I want to build.

Within the 942 pages of this book you will find projects that are still of use for the modern suburban homeowner. From gardening ideas to beautiful decorative planters there are many ideas and instructions. I’m not sure how many of us will need to build a goat manger, but beehives and step stools are easy to build and useful. There are also plans for chicken coops, while I dream of eggs that fresh, that is a bit beyond me at this time. While I feel that this book is for someone who is familiar and comfortable around tools and techniques, there is a chapter A Build-It-Yourself’s Encyclopedia of Terms, Tools, and Techniques. That said, I think if you’ve never held a hammer you may feel overwhelmed with many of the larger projects. The smaller projects, boxes of various sizes and for different needs, would probably be more approachable and great projects to work on with a child.

If you can find a copy, I recommend you give it a chance.

Build It Better Yourself ...Build It Better Yourself
by the editors of Organic Gardening and Farming
Rodale Press
© 1977
ISBN 0-87857-133-7