A Wager, Not a Warranty


It’s a gamble, anywhere, building a house. A game of chance. As we mark the second year of raising a two-story log octagon here at the northeast tip of McLeod Bay, 210 miles up the coast from Yellowknife (lumber yard, hardware store, saw-chain shop, beer supply), it strikes me that while some of the stakes seem higher out here, others, thankfully, are a lot lower.  That is to say, no blueprints, no building code or inspectors, no underwriters or premiums, and no mortgage.

Common sense (that rare bird nowadays), talented helpers, and the funds we have set aside for this will together carry the day. By the time the snow flies, we hope, the roof will be on and work inside can proceed over winter. The perspective I try to hold in mind is that it’s a game of both skill and chance like most good games. There is a set of rules, and a start, and a finish.  And this, too:  if it’s not fun, why play?


The game goes on for months.  Every day we walk up to the site poker-faced.  Get out the steel measuring tape, bubble level, and framing square. Find the hammers, sledges, chisels, saws, and fat sharp auger bits.  

We shuffle and deal. Off to one side, morning after morning, sit those two old card sharks, Entropy and Decay.  Gravity takes his usual seat, down low, almost out of sight. Someone yanks on the generator, and someone calls down a measurement.  A circle-saw starts turning gasoline into sawdust and noise. 

Just before morning coffee, somebody floats a question. “Hey, depending of course on the roof being sound, will you old curmudgeons give us a hundred and fifty years here, if we support these upper joists with a full-length timber, then brace, notch, and pin them, and slather the tenons with linseed oil and turpentine?”

“You do all that and we’ll see your one -fifty and raise you fifty,” comes the answer from down near the first-floor posts.  Both twenty-four-foot girders nod.

“But you people do remember“ – it’s a joist, chiming in – “that what we’re making here is just a wager, not a warranty.  That this is all coming down, one way or another, someday.  You’re keeping that all in mind?”

“Yeah.  We know.  We are.”

Okay then, we’ll see your raise.  We’ll bet the whole two hundred, what the hell.  Brush on the oil and whack those four down.   

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