Port Townsend School of Woodworking
Preserving the Tradition


Gypsy Wagons, Tiny Homes...Projects to Contemplate While Dodging the Rain


Some things go without saying…for instance, if you chose to live in the northwest corner of Washington State be prepared to get wet.  

For a great deal of November, December, January and February. Somewhere around March, things begin to dry out—note the word “begin.”  All of which provides a perfect opportunity to think about larger projects that might require a bit of planning before lifting a hammer or saw.

I just happen to be involved on one of those very experiments as we speak.

Always on the lookout for a chance to learn and try new woodworking challenges, I started volunteering time at the Community Boat Project last September.  Located just above the Northwest School of Wooden Boatbuilding, the Community Boat Project is a non-profit that—not surprisingly—spends a lot of time on all things nautical, but also ventures out into other realms.

For instance?  You ask.

For the last four months we have been working on construction of a Gypsy Wagon, or “Tiny House”—you pick the title, “Tiny House” just happens to be very hip at the moment.

Forget semantic debates, on with the carpentry.  For simplicity sake, I will refer to our experiment as a gypsy wagon, as it is sitting on an old trailer frame and indeed has a pair of wheels.  In theory we should be able to roll the finished product out come late spring.  But for the moment, we are working in a relatively dry space provided by a “wonder arch” boat shelter.  

I use the term “dry” very loosely here—the arch has a dirt floor and the plastic roofing inevitably drips right where you want to concentrate for a couple of hours.  No one said all carpentry was done in the heated, well-lighted comfort of the Port Townsend School of Woodworking or your own garage.

On occasion some sacrifice has to be made to the size of your chosen task.  Ship-builders work in the rain and shine—same is true of gypsy trailer craftpersons.  So we get wet and learn new tricks to constructing a mobile housing unit without plans in a constrained space.

On the latter subject, I am understating our problem.  The gypsy trailer is now at the stage where the roof is pressed against the shelter beams and certainly will get no broader than its current seven feet.  (We are already debating how much air will have to be let out of the trailer tires so as to expose this handiwork to daylight—watch this blog for an update sometime around April.)  At any rate, this means we know all the dimensions and proceed apace.

By now some of you are probably wondering what any of this has to do with woodworking.  


The entire gypsy wagon, save the steel trailer frame, is constructed of wood. Volunteers at the Community Boat Project have cut bowed frames for the walls, laminated ribbing (rafters) to support a roof, and managed to construct a wainscoting ceiling.  All with hand tools or band and table saw. This is woodworking and construction 101 for anyone interested in applying some manual labor and more than a little intellectual ingenuity.

Funny the things you pick up in this process.  For instance, how to measure when the exterior of your curved plywood roofing is a half inch longer than the interior dimension.  

There is a neat trick to this—cut an eight-foot long by two-inch wide piece of door veneer, then glue a couple of tabs on one side to mimic the thickness of your plywood.  Take the manufactured tool to top of trailer and bend it over the arches.   All you need now is a tape measurer to pull off appropriate cut lengths.  A tried and true means of determining where the saw needs to be run along a sheet of plywood.   

And this is just one of many lessons learned.  

So I have found a way to stay out of the rain and continue testing my amateur woodworking skills.  The gypsy wagon is a lot of fun, but I suspect the neighbors would be upset if one started to appear in my backyard, so I am sticking to furniture (the office desk is still calling) and another small boat—two items that can be done under cover, with the stereo on and little concern for what the great “Northwet” will send our way.

Eric Anderson is a retired Air Force officer who can be found puttering in his shop when not scribbling on the keyboard.  A new resident of Port Townsend, he is an avid sailor, struggling carpenter, and would-be writer.

Amy SleeperComment