Affordable building materials come at a price

The labor-cost effect
Published on Mar 13, 2009

Some years ago I was walking through an old Victorian house that was being renovated. In one room where the original wall framing was exposed, I found a curious bit of workmanship. One of the two-by-four studs had been carefully notched about halfway up, and a small hardwood wedge had been driven in. After a moment's study, the reason became clear: The two-by-four had been badly bowed, and rather than cutting it up for some lesser purpose, the Victorian carpenter had used an age-old but effective trick to make it straight again. Then he'd installed the mended stud in the wall along with the rest. Why all this effort to save a single stick of lumber? The answer demands some historical context. In Victorian times, labor was cheap, but building materials were not. Hence, a carpenter would think twice before tossing out a crooked two-by-four if a few minutes' work could make it useable. The carpenter's time, after all, was a trifling expense compared to the cost of that two-by-...