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Build or buy?

 
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Sometimes I feel trapped by my ability to make stuff. I’ve spent the last 15 years making things, for my self and family, in architecture school and work, in my own metal and wood furniture business, in remodeling previous homes…. I just bought 10 raw acres of land to build a home and shop for my family, and am   having a really hard time prioritizing my time.

I could build an almost free, totally indestructible,    appropriately sized broad fork for myself. But it takes a half day of my time. Or… I could buy one for 250 and spend time doing something else on the long to do list. I enjoy making things, it is my huge passion in life, but where to draw the line? I make my own     bacon and eggs, why shouldn’t I also make my own cast iron pan and stovetop? I also want to dig up red sand, sift iron oxide, smelt it, refine it and forge it into a knife to butter my toast.

How do I break the cycle?!       😵‍💫



 
master gardener
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That's such a nice problem to have. Self resiliance is a wonderful thing. But I do appreciate what you mean. We only have so many hours in the day and so many years of life!
I guess a simple way of prioritising is to put a value on your time. If your wages cost more than the item to buy, then it makes more sense to buy it. That may mean that you never get to make anything though! So the other side of the coin is whether you can make it better than you can buy it - does it need to be custom made to fit your application, or will a standard item do? Also are you going to do something new, learn a new skill? That satisfaction of achievement is priceless...
I can sympathise entirely with your problem. We recently discovered our local rocks are magnetic and are researching iron smelting....

 
pollinator
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Scott Lawhead wrote:

I could build an almost free, totally indestructible,    appropriately sized broad fork for myself. But it takes a half day of my time. Or… I could buy one for 250 and spend time doing something else on the long to do list.



Well this one would be a no brainer for me, I cannot get paid anywhere near 250 for half a day, even if I wanted to work so time wise the fork is a saving. I would have to work 30+ hours for that money.
 
master gardener
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In homesteading, the eternal question is time or money.  I am afraid it is up to the individual to decide which there is more of.   I went back to work to pick up some added dollars to have a few luxuries.  
 
Nancy Reading
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John F Dean wrote:In homesteading, the eternal question is time or money.


I feel it can also be a triangle - the aspect of satisfaction of creating something oneself can be just as powerful as either of these.
 
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We each have to decide how much our time is worth, and if you have the spare money to trade for time then like you said it's a matter of priorities and getting things done. I've never heard someone say, "now that I'm building my homestead, every day I'm so bored, there's nothing to do!" More like "I cut off the work at 20 hours a day and try to get some sleep" or "every day is busy no matter how much you finished yesterday."

If crafting/building something brings more joy then I would do what gives you joy, and balance that with fulfilling your goals.
 
pollinator
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Here is a simple, straightforward answer.....  Make a list! In fact, make several lists!

When I bought my old place 11 years ago it was about to be condemned. It needed everything. But it had a huge 1 acre back yard where I could create the garden that I've always dreamed of. So I began making lists of everything I wanted to do and everything I HAD to do.

First list is top priorities, emergency type stuff.. .. make it habitable so I could live in it and rent out rooms for extra income. Actually this was 3 separate lists. The do it now because it is a real emergency, it needed heat and refrigeration and water. Once that list was done move to list # 2.... fix it before it become an emergency. The huge front porch roof was rotten and  disintegrating. Tear it down before someone gets hurt. The stairs to my 2nd floor room were also rotten and disintegrating. Keep reinforcing it until I could get it fixed. Keep tarring the roof to stop the leaks until I can hire a roofer. Start working full time to pay for these really expensive fixes. Then moved on to list # 3. All the stuff I really wanted to do to just make it pretty.

Truth be told.... each week as I busted my butt to make all these repairs I would reward myself with just a little time to start building my awesome garden. Can't forget to reward yourself for your hard work, dedication and hoots-pah! I got all the major repairs done 2 years ago and I am so proud of myself. And I am having a wonderful time working on list # 3. It is so much fun doing all the neat stuff especially when I can take a hot shower at the end of the day in a dry house with the heat on. The whole endeavor is your reward!

What does your gut tell you to do?
DSC04774.JPG
Let the fun continue!
Let the fun continue!
 
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as everyone has pointed out it is definitely a personal choice/time management thing combined with experience, energy and then THAT intersects with a sense of accomplishment..

it's complicated..

BUT as Nancy pointed out it is a nice problem to have ;-)

when i was a kid i used to enter local x country ski races - my stepdad passed on advice that resonates to this day:

"train your weaknesses, compete your strengths"

if i calculate i have time to learn, i will diy at all costs, if i already have the expertise, no problem.. but... i need a new roof, it appears easy enough, but i am mid-50s, live alone and don't own scaffolding... that will be 100% a buy despite what many tell me.." you are so handy it will be simple"... no, not gonna.. will work/save for that one

Debbie Ann said make lists - she is right... it REALLY helps, i have several too lol!! my point about the roof is you have to be prepared to ironclad about some decisions as well so you don't keep "revisiting" - that eats time and energy in and of itself - be sure to have a "gonna be solved with $$" list as well

i am a big reduce/reuse/recycle buff as well - if i can restore/repurpose - that adds another dimension that makes something worth doing myself.. making a greenhouse out of old windows has some extra challenges... but i reused those windows!! all my shelves are scraps, found in the garbage etc... i have a nice sized "boneyard".. not pretty, BUT less in the landfill and THAT makes me feel accomplished!

but then... cordless power tools? the new ones really are better, the old ones are not worth fixing.. corded tools are in many ways the opposite.. etc etc. etc.

how often do you cook bacon and eggs? do you NEED a cast iron pan..?? what about that stove form scratch??

the bottom line appears to be - you don't need to "break" the cycle, just manage it to your satisfaction - you have skills - i  do not let them atrophy nor consume you!!

cheers!!



 
Scott Lawhead
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Hey team, those were some great replies! I really try to focus on efficiency in my homestead work, so a jack of all trades master of none is a really important  phrase to remember. No need to master any task! Just get pretty good and move on! Unless of course, as everyone has mentioned, it brings you pleasure.

Nancy- that is so cool you have magnetic rocks! Where are you located? I would love to get in on some smelting.  
  Is a cool video about it from a knife maker. Some day I will do this! It’s pretty low on the list though…

Debbie- lists! That is all. Lists on lists. And always make sure to carry over some list items from the previous day to the current day, because nobody can actually get the to do list some in one day. That’s blasphemy.


When I was running my furniture business, I had this thing I would tell clients. I would say that I wish they didn’t give me the job, because they didn’t need me, because people should be making their own dining room table and shelving! Most just laughed and moved on, but I really mean it. That’s something I really enjoy about the folks on permits, we get stuff done our own!

What are some examples of some great items that you made instead of bought? Or vice versa?

I bought $1 pitch fork tines (no handle) at a garage sale. I welded a long pipe on to it, some furniture wax for the steel, and it has been such a work horse for years. Maybe a bit (read, a lot) heavier than the average, but if the zombies come for me, my burly pitch fork will put up a good defense. I still want a hay fork, which I will buy, and a broad fork which I will probably make and it will be heavy and slightly less effective than one I would buy. And that’s ok!
 
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Scott Lawhead wrote:Sometimes I feel trapped by my ability to make stuff. I’ve spent the last 15 years making things,



I resemble that remark.

As far as a $250 broadfork for half a days work, absolutely worth it to me. At least assuming you WANT a broadfork. If you won't use it there's no sense making one.

Smelting your own iron? Maybe once to get it out of your system. There's a lot of metal floating around to resort to that. Definitely lists would help you stay on track.

If you can figure out the critical path for getting your site up and running that will help you prioritize. In manufacturing critical path are the things that have to be done in sequence and if one process isn't done you can't go on to the next. Like swales should be done before planting. The roof should be fixed before remodeling the kitchen.

Hopefully this helps. It could be that you just have a long road ahead of you and you just need to go a day at a time and eventually you'll get where you want to be.
 
Nancy Reading
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Scott Lawhead wrote:

Nancy- that is so cool you have magnetic rocks! Where are you located? I would love to get in on some smelting.  



I live on the Isle of Skye off the west coast of Scotland, UK. The rocks here are basalt - strata of lava flows from a prehistoric volcano. You have to be a bit careful when navigating with a compass, since there are lots of magnetic anomalies, and the beach sand will cling to a magnet nicely. It's pretty low grade ore I believe, maybe 25-30% if we're lucky - I think they did quarry out some slightly different rock for ore at the south end of Skye - but I think there is enough here to be worth having a go. As Daniel said - maybe just to get it out of my system! At the moment it's just a twinkle in my eye; having a water tight roof is a bit higher up on the agenda...
 
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For me it comes down to whether I am going to use the tool often.  If I will continually use it ... no brainer buying it.  I bought 28 acres 11 years ago and have been building everything 1 board at a time as money allows.  Some tools are indespensable.  For the first 6 months I actually thought I would build this place without a tractor.  It nearly killed me.  I bought a 33 hp kubota tractor and it was a game changer.  Without it I simply wouldn't have been able to build this place.  Investing in tools that will make you more efficient are important.  When money is tight like it was for me ... these decisions were very difficult to make.  In retrospect I wish I would have invested in more tools early on.  Now I litterally have every tool I need and my life is so much easier and enjoyable.  Another example is a wood splitter.  All of my heat comes from firewood.  I actually hand split all of my firewood the first three years.  I then bought a killer splitter for $1000 ... what the hell was I thinking?!
 
pollinator
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Howdy!
I accidently came across this and had fun reading through it and thinking about the initial question - How do I decide what to make (time effort, possible education, supplies, etc.) and what to buy?

I have sewn for years and still find great satisfaction in making with fiber and crafts. I drew limits, though. I have no need to make Everything I wear. I can do it, I proved that to myself, so there's no need to continue to do it. EX: I can buy t-shirts. At the local thrift or a garage sale, I can get a better quality t-shirt for less than a dollar. Sometimes I might pay as much as $5 for one, if it's exceptionally well made, has a specific saying I like, or is otherwise amazing, but $1 is reasonable.
I would never be able to *make* a t-shirt for that much. Supplies alone run a good several dollars, let alone the value of my time. T-shirts are like underwear - no point in trying to make them. a better use of my time is making a better quality shirt out of better quality fabric (slow fashion), or otherwise doing something that has more value. Even with cheap materials and "paying" myself minimum wage, a homemade t-shirt would be more expensive than a thrifted one.

Because I value my time, I try to use it to good advantage. Can I buy groceries easier and cheaper than growing them? Maybe. But the value isn't in the labor, though that is amazing for my physical therapy and continued healing.
The value of growing/producing my own food is the relationship I form with the land and my surroundings. I have been taking care of my little piece of Earth for 20 years and have seen it change with the years as native species come back and then do their thing. Being able to watch Nature sort itself out has been thrilling, and the knowledge I've gained with the years is a prize. I would easily place the value of what the land gives back in hundreds, if not thousands of dollars worth of mental health therapy, gym memberships, physical therapy, confidence building exercises, and meditation/work therapy.

I'll pay a professional for plumbing, roofing, electrical work, initial construction. I will paint, decorate, and work with the plants, animals, and dirt.
If I could make a broadfork, had the supplies on-hand and had faith in my ability to do it, I probably would. It would be a "lifetime" tool and therefore worth the time and effort. Since I don't know how to weld, don't have the materials, and don't have the tools I would need to put it together (or the knowledge to work the tools to make the thing), I would buy one - pay a professional to do it.

Basically, whether I decide to do something or not depends on how comfortable I am with my knowledge of how a given thing should be done and if I feel that's the best use of my time, effort, and resources.

Can I build a broadfork?
Sure. It would take time to learn the skills necessary, time to earn the money to buy the materials and buy/rent the equipment to build it, but I could do so.
Is it the best use of my time?
Well, no. Just as I was willing to dedicate several years to learning how to do specific skills so I could do them with confidence, working metal is not one of those things At This Time (ATT is probably one of my favorite acronyms right now).
Do I want to learn? Sure! But I have a better use of my time Right Now, and I can think about learning and practicing my skills later.
 
pollinator
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Scott Lawhead wrote:
What are some examples of some great items that you made instead of bought? Or vice versa?



Shelving! I build a shelving unit into my closet and I bought some rolling shelving units to be use around the home. It came down to skills, time, materials and weather. When I build the closet unit I needed a custom set up and it did cost a little money in the end it was what I needed. With the rolling shelving units I could have made my own and had something better than what I have now. The big issue was weather and time. I do not have a dedicated shop area to work on things I have a garage. That means cleaning up after a project and making sure the car can fit into the garage are very important.  

One idea that I find helpful is to think "If I paid myself $10.00 an hour (feel free to change the number) could I make this thing better and cheaper that buying it?" Sometimes this is a yes other time no.
 
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Nancy Reading wrote:.... We recently discovered our local rocks are magnetic and are researching iron smelting....


I've enjoyed developing new skills throughout my life and have had the satisfaction that comes from creating useful things. In deciding whether to build or buy, I consider not just cost and time (and quality) but also whether building a thing would require developing new skills that would have broader or long-term value to me.

My assessment hasn't always been accurate, but I've never been tempted to learn smelting. (I do love fried smelts though 😋.)
 
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THis is what I do:

I find someone who has done the work to make say, the hand forged knife, and have them for sale. Since I am a hand crafter, I know what goes into making items, and that I am buying a piece of that person's time and life when I purchase a product, so I look at what I need, and if its a do-able project, within my resources, I will make it; if it isn't, I will purchase it.

the GREAt advantage to making items is when they break, we can usually come up with a repair for it; other  items we paid for, not so much. but it does help if the  person who made it has a warranty on the item, something I have used before to repair something that ended up being broken somehow under regular use.
 
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I have a shop with an over-arm pin router, carving machine, re-saw and scroll bandsaw, cabinet saw, etc., etc. The wood working equipment is supplemented with granite working tools, plastic forming tools, sandblaster, carbide metal cut off saw, a welder and so on. As such, I can build a lot of things. For example, I built all the cabinets for our kitchen. It took a lot of time, but saved us thousands of dollars, including for the granite work.  It was worth it.

On the other hand, there are things other people can do far more efficiently than I can, so it's the smart move to spend the money to let them, then use my time to do what I can do efficiently, or for pleasure.

Of course, there is that problem of finding people who can or will do projects. Kids seem to think they're worth $50.00 an hour these days, so I may get stuck with doing my own digging and rock stacking.
 
pollinator
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Sometimes I feel trapped by my ability to make stuff.


I can absolutely identify with this. I suspect most here can. I also see it as a mixed blessing. It kills me to pay hard earned $ for something I know I could make or do. At the same time, life is short, and free time to enjoy life gets more precious as we age. Someone mentioned splitting firewood/buying a splitter. I have split wood since childhood. I enjoy doing it. But, it is time that I could be doing more needed things. Rather than buy a hydraulic splitter, which would still require time (plus the cost and upkeep and noise) we opted to hire a teenager to split our wood (that we still harvest, cut and stack). If hiring weren’t an option, we’d probably rent a splitter for $100 and just put in a long day. No sense owning expensive equipment that sits all but 1 or 2 days a year.
We will never buy wood handles for tools. Good ones are near impossible to find. It may take 2 hours to craft a good axe or shovel handle, but it’s time well spent, knowing it will last for many years. Conversely, we will never spend time trying to make a cast iron pan, though it might be fun and interesting. Good quality (though often rusty) ones can be found at yard sales for $10.
After decades of making these decisions, I can’t really think of any set rule about how to decide what to make vs what to buy. It depends on your skill set, the urgency of the need, the quality desired, and the cost. I had been putting off making a big bookshelf, as it wasn’t a priority, and then happened to find/buy a really nice one at an estate auction for $35. The lumber alone would have cost 5 times that.
Very few of us have the ability to drill a well. But many could rent a backhoe or excavator and install a septic system far cheaper than hiring it done (assuming your area allows that). We concluded long ago there is no gain to be had from owning chickens. Fresh eggs are $5 a dozen from local free range flocks. The cost/time to house and feed hens is more, and the supply is never consistent.
So… there is no answer Scott! Ya gotta figure it out as you go, and learn and adapt and try to enjoy whatever you choose.
 
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What a wonderful thread and what wonderful replies! I think a lot of us dance around this question.

For me, as a rule I do it myself. However, in some cases I cannot because of laws. That's a big downer.

Sometimes I do buy things, especially if I need them pronto, and I just do not have time to make them.

I still buy a lot of food, in fact that's my biggest purchase because I don't have the skill set or acreage to produce enough of my own food, yet.

For other things though I definitely do a lot of mental aerobics when making this decision. My thought process looks something like this:

Do I really need this at all?
- If no, I do not build it or buy it.
- If yes, do I need it now?
- - If yes can I build it with what I have in a reasonable amount of time?
- - - If yes, I build it.
- - - If no, I buy it.
- - If no, is it something I know how to build, or am interested in learning how to build?
- - - If yes, I build it when I have time.
- - - If no, I buy it, or wait until I become interested or know how to build it.

There are a lot of things that fall into the last two categories - for example: a workshop, a workbench, a rocket mass heater, a spoon mule, a bike shed, tenon cutters, a dowel plate, a bow saw frame, Windsor kitchen chairs, a worm farm, blanket chests, a solar dehydrator, a knockdown garden living room, etc. etc.

Some of the things I have built instead of bought: a bike maintenance rack, tool handles, a pen case, a tool chest, felted board game tables, office shelving, etc, etc.

Some questions I often pose myself before I buy something is:
Is this one of those things that is going to break easily or be impossible to fix if I buy it?
Can I make this of so much higher quality and using more ethical and ecologically friendly means that buying it is really quite silly?
Is this something that if I make it it's going to break because I don't have the resources or knowledge to do it properly?

Then of course sometimes while I'm doing all this mental aerobics someone around me buys the thing anyway...
 
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Three word reply-
Follow. Your. Heart.
The longer version-
There is no linear equation, even between time and money, because time is such a rich, complex, strange and wonderful phenomenon.
You may make a simple and beautiful thing that gives you pleasure and serves for decades.
If it will serve and give you pleasure for a long, long time, then it is worth whatever effort went into making or acquiring.
And if it won't... then it is worth little in whatever currency of human experience.
It helps to know what you love. What gives you and others around you pleasure.
And then...... well, follow your heart.
hugshugs from late springtime New Zealand where the water left behind after a big storm is playing in strange ways with the swales and threatening to breed mosquitos in one waterlogged spot..... where I want less clutter in my life, and more unique, handmade, beautiful and well used tools.
 
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Scott Lawhead wrote:Sometimes I feel trapped by my ability to make stuff. I’ve spent the last 15 years making things, for my self and family, in architecture school and work, in my own metal and wood furniture business, in remodeling previous homes…. I just bought 10 raw acres of land to build a home and shop for my family, and am   having a really hard time prioritizing my time.

I could build an almost free, totally indestructible,    appropriately sized broad fork for myself. But it takes a half day of my time. Or… I could buy one for 250 and spend time doing something else on the long to do list. I enjoy making things, it is my huge passion in life, but where to draw the line? I make my own     bacon and eggs, why shouldn’t I also make my own cast iron pan and stovetop? I also want to dig up red sand, sift iron oxide, smelt it, refine it and forge it into a knife to butter my toast.

How do I break the cycle?!       😵‍💫





For me, it usually comes down to either how much cost, and/or how much time. If I could make a broadfork in 1/2 a day, I'd probably go for it, especially if a boughten one cost 250. But if it were to take a couple of days (likely, as I'm not a good machine welder), then the length of the to-do list starts to become more and more of a priority. Also, how soon do I need the whatever-it-is? Can it wait till I have time to make it? Yet another piece of the question is; how much would I enjoy the task?  If making it myself  would be fun, or having done it would bring me lots of satisfaction, then economics drops further down the list of priorities (however, the to-do list is always a primary consideration). However, if the task would be just a job, then the time/cost considerations are the primary ones. Finally, pure economics are sometimes the only consideration. If a boughten broadfork is 250, and I don't have it, or I do have it, but the tractor needs a new wheel bearing before I can get the manure moved out to the garden, then the broadfork doesn't get bought.
 
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Loads of good comments in this thread.  For me one of the deciding factors is whether I actually have the tools needed, or will I spend more on tools than on buying the “broad fork”.
Will having the tool leverage my work capacity in major ways? Then having it sooner than later may make buying worthwhile.
Will making it myself improve my skill at things that will continue to be useful? In other words, will it leverage my ability to be productive?
There may be a bit of a theme :) Which path leads to greater returns going forward?

And then, of course, there are the projects that are all about the personal satisfaction of doing the extraordinary thing, like mining and smelting the ore then forging the knife.
 
You can't have everything. Where would you put it?
Better Wood Heat: DIY Rocket Mass Heaters (8-Movie Set) by Paul Wheaton
https://permies.com/wiki/134176/Wood-Heat-DIY-Rocket-Mass
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