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Chapter 2: My Foray into Carpentry


In the Spring of 2008, my mission to retire was rudely interrupted by reality. I was left penniless, at the crossroads of returning to software, or trying something new. At about that time, I had an auspicious encounter with an old man (now a dear friend) that gave me new and exciting vision of my future.


I met Old Man John at the Hills Garlic Festival in the Kootenays, an event he started 30 years ago. He was a magical looking character with long hair and a wispy white beard, like that of a benevolent wizard from Lord of the Rings. He was a quintessential hippie, not like one of the neo-pop-hippies of today, but a true maverick who had managed to squeeze through the golden years without frying every last brain cell.


Old man John was living the life that I had subconsciously been pining after, in my mission to retire. He was a self-taught carpenter who had spent the majority of time running around his property, building a small paradise of gardens, funky outbuildings, and little shacks for their assortment of animals. It’s not that I needed his exact lifestyle or location, but I admired his vitality and his curious lens on life. And I wanted his ability to construct whatever creative idea came to mind.


This is when I realized that I’d rather be looking through the window of a cool building, than the window of an LCD laptop. The Kootenays, where Old Man John lived was a little too sleepy for an infant carpenter to pick up work, so I moved to Whistler which was happily trucking along in it’s own little development bubble.


It was spring and the weather was pleasant, so I began living out of my car instead of looking for a rental. I started asking around about how a guy like me starts off in carpentry. From what I picked up, it wasn’t as easy as walking onto a job site with a set of shiny tools, price tags dangling. People wanted experience and that generally came from trade school or a couple years as a laborer. I didn’t have that much time on my hands so I decided to give myself a one week intensive course in carpentry; I told my parents I’d build a shed on their property that matched their house if they paid for materials.


Off I went on a seven hour drive to my parents home. One week later, with much cursing and head scratching, I had pulled off a perfect mini-box replica of their house. Unfortunately, four years on a keyboard hadn’t prepared my hands for the physical abuse that carpentry served up. I had been working 12 hour days, and the final few had given me severe carpel tunnel and tendonitis.


It took over a year for my hands to heal. But on the upside I took my new portfolio piece, presented myself as a competent carpenter, and got a job the next week on a multi million dollar home, overlooking Alta Lake in Whistler. By the time they saw my new shiny tools and my dubious living situation, it was too late. I was hired and working as hard as I could to prove my ability. I was deemed worthy and they kept me. But they did, however, tell me that next time I should drag my tools behind my car for a couple kilometers on the way into town so as not to look so obvious.


Chapter 3: The Idea: An Egg in a Tree


  • Tom and Ann McLean says:

    Hi Joel & Heidi

    Wow! What a great story.

    Are you ever going to come visit us in Victoria?

    Tom & Ann

  • Haley Bazley says:

    I too, have longed to become a Carpenter. Something so magical about creating a home, from your bare-hands. It’s Art, afterall.

  • GK says:

    Good lad! Wonderful start!

  • joanne schlund says:

    VERY inspiring…please never never never quit. Even if you end up having to remove the ‘Egg’, you could sell plans, or build other ‘Eggs’ for those who love them. I’m personally glad you chose to share your creative work of art with us all, thereby sharing yourself!

  • Simer says:

    So inspirational! By sharing your creativity, now I really want a tree house that I never had growing up. Follow your heart. Follow your dreams!

    • Joh Sarter says:

      Hey there… Inspirational, dude! I’ve been a carpenter / designer / builder basically all my life. I think you have true creative and design/build talent that will prove to be quite marketable if this is the path you continue on! I’d like to talk with you more about application and marketing of your design and your awesome little loft in other areas of the world. I’m in the SF bay area… Can you imagine a larger version of the Hemloft in a giant Redwood? 🙂 Drop me a line if you’d like to chat, and… GREAT JOB!


  • Dagmar says:

    Ah man, so good to see this. I live in Hills and John is my neighbor. (Some of us do have high speed and can have this paradise and also work online and communicate with the outside world). But I just wanted to say that John and Bay are two of my favorite people in this world and anytime I find myself meandering to their place, I know it’s going to be a good day.

    ps. see you at the next Garlic festival!

    • Margaret says:

      Such a small world. I have recently learned that John & Baye bought my childhood home from my father on moving to Hills. Along with the house they got all my childhood memories as the package, everything that represented my past. Not through any wrongdoing on their part…but more a short sightedness of my Father who sold it as a package. And then it was lost in “the great fire” and gone forever. It is a beautiful area and one settled by originally inter-related families of Russian descent. Everyone knew each other as I am sure today is the same.

  • Renato Beigel says:

    Would you like to come to Brazil and build me one little house on my property? it has some trees, not as strong as the ones you built yours, but no doubt it´s possible. lodging won~t be a problem, we can look for materials together. and the location is superb, let me know if you want to come! we´ll discuss the price later.

  • Ginger Eden says:

    you have AMAZING talent! To pick up a hammer and come up with that is incredible. my dreams always been to own my own home… at 27 i still cant afford one and many times ive thought of building it or haveing someone build it for me- but it seems so involved and complicated that i get discouraged. Googling info for building a small home is what lead me to the hemloft *lol* it is so impressive!

  • Richard Carlson says:

    What an interesting life!! Joel, have been a carpenter and cabinet maker for more than 25 years now. This is the most important advice any one can give you: along with protecting your eyes and hands, protect your hearing. All the work we do involves noise, and the years of noise can take their toll if you are not prepared. It is not just a matter of preventing hearing loss, but preventing tinnitus, that is constant ringing in the ears. Many of us have it, don’t like it, and all we can do is try to prevent it in others following in our foot steps. Have two or three levels of hearing protection on the job, light, easy on and off for framing, and full NRF 28 ear muffs for noisy machining. Any way, have fun and stay safe.

  • You are AWESOME man!!!! I Absolutely LOVE IT!!!! I!ve been wanting a tree house studio to paint in at my camp for years!!!! This is Absolutely perfect!!!!!! : ) Imreally admire you!!!!

  • THE HEMLOFT says:

    […] wake of a botched retirement campaign at the ripe age of 26, it was a by-chance encounter with a true wilderness man that compelled Joel to set out on his own, living out of his car while seeking out adventure at […]

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