October 25, 1999
Skip Ellsworth lives with his son Chip in the log house he built near Duvall.
Staff photo by Lisa Allen.
by Lisa Allen, Valley View editor
DUVALL--Skip Ellsworth may retire soon ... and then again, maybe he won't. He isn't sure yet.
After decades of teaching log house building, Skip keeps threatening to call it a day. He retired some time back for six years, only to recently resume the classes.
He says he missed teaching, and it's a way, he says, of giving others the opportunity to free themselves from what he calls the "bondage of the 30-year mortgage." He says that is his lifetime goal.
"I want to help people achieve the greatest degree of socio-economic freedom possible in their lives," he says. "My goal is to help people own homes without the necessity of a 30-year mortgage."
And for the most part, he has succeeded. Mention Skip's name to anyone locally and they, if they haven't themselves, probably know someone who has attended one of his log house building seminars and gone on to build their own home.
Over the last 30 years or so, the seminars, which attract students worldwide, have been available through the University of Washington's Experimental College and community colleges. The classes are currently offered via the Continuing Education Department of Bellevue Community College and are taught at Skip's 7,000-square-foot log home near Duvall. The house was used for interior shots for the television series Northern Exposure.
"Most people have the knowledge it takes to build a house," he says. "They know how to drill a hole and drive a nail ... I just show them how it relates to log house building. People learn how inexpensive it is and how quickly they can be built."
Skip learned the craft early in life--from his father, a Minnesota log house builder. But it wasn't until he was 16 and working in Alaska that he discovered he knew something that even most Alaskans didn't know.
It all began when he countered a statement from a man in a bar who claimed that no one knew how to build log houses anymore. Skip challenged that statement and ended up attracting a crowd of eager listeners.
"That was actually my first class," he said. "I knew I was on to something then. I recognized that there is a great interest in log houses and discovered that I could help people by sharing this information."
After Alaska, he earned a degree in English from the University of Washington and studied martial arts. He was a member of Bruce Lee's first Kung Fu class in 1960.
Reflecting his varied interests and background, his current three-story log house looks much like a mix between a medieval castle and a pioneer log cabin. The interior, filled with antiques Skip has gathered from his travels around the world, is reminiscent of Ye Olde Curiosity Shop. It makes for an interesting place to hold classes.
Students sit around an extra long table--set with wine glasses and placemats. There is room for 20 to 26 students in each class, which lasts 11 hours a day for two weekend days. The days are long but fruitful, and students leave the seminar knowing that even if they don't build their own house, they have just spent an unforgettable weekend.
Skip says most of his students do go on to build a log house, some of them building even more than one house, but it does take time. "Sometimes it takes four to five years to accumulate the tools and materials it takes to build a house," he said. "The longer the lead time someone has, the better off they are. It takes a certain amount of time to acquire those materials in the least expensive way. By buying through garage or estate sales, people can cut their building costs in half."
Skip teaches students how to build log houses from scratch, from site selection to when to cut the logs, to building without the use of heavy machinery. He demonstrates several construction methods including Scandinavian chinkless, saddle-notch, and butt-and-pass, and shows students how to work with building codes.
The price for the seminar is $195. Skip encourages both men and women to attend, even if they have no prior building experience. He also holds free meetings once a month to anyone who has ever attended one of his classes.
He has previously served as president and CEO of the Log Home Builders Association, which offers free information at their website (www.loghomebuilders.org). Skip's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
His next class, scheduled for November 6 and 7, is listed in the Bellevue Community College catalog.