Recycling old cottages

Demolishing an old building typically involves smashing it with a backhoe and scooping the debris onto a dump truck.

But back in the 1980s, at my parents Amogla camp, we dismantled the old cottages by hand. Not only did this avoid having to pay somebody to take it away, but we were able to reclaim a lot of building materials to reuse them for building new cottages

We'd start by stripping the interior down to the bare studs. Most of the cottages had drywall on the inside, but it was pre-finished drywall attached with finishing nails, so it came out relatively easily.

The next activity was to strip the shingles off the roof. An ordinary shovel was pretty good for this. In the early 1980s, we'd burn the asphalt shingles. But burning them was a bit scary. They burned very intensely and hot. In later years we took the shingles to the dump.

Next was stripping off the roof boards. A long pole worked best for doing that work with, as it resulted in the least amount of splintering of the roof boards.

None of the old cottages used roof trusses, so the rafters were pretty easy to remove and reuse for lumber.

I always liked to use a big car trailer hooked to the garden tractor to move the lumber around with. It was low to the ground, had little to damage, and was easy to maneuver close to a building.

Next we'd knock the walls apart at the corners, and then knock the whole walls down onto the ground.

It was fun to take a running leap at the walls to knock them down!

At some point, I had discovered that it was much more effective to pry the studs off the boards than it was to pry the boards off the studs.

I'd lay down a piece of 2x6 next to the stud and then use a long crowbar to lift the studs off the boards. This involved a lot of force because I was effectively pulling ten nails at once. But the advantages were that it was quicker, and, more importantly, didn't splinter the boards as they came off. Splintered boards were just messy garbage to be burned, but whole boards could be reused.

Next came pulling the floorboards off. Most of these cottages had painted hardwood flooring. What a shame, really. But back in the 1950s and 1960s, that was probably the cheapest option available. This cottage had the hardwood flooring straight on the joists. Most of the other cottages at least had subfloor.

A pick style axe was the most useful tool for prying apart nailed together floor joists and other larger pieces of wood. It was actually one of the tools of choice.

But the most used tool during demolition were the really long Estwing claw hammers with the straight claws. Because the claws were straight, you could just whack the hammer between two boards, and then move the handle side to side to separate them. If it was hard to get it in, you could just use another hammer to pound the first hammer in. The head and handle were forged out of a single piece of steel, and with all the abuse we gave those hammers, we never broke one.

We also had this long crowbar with a very wide nail pulling end. The wide end made it useful for levering stuff apart by moving it side to side.

A sledgehammer also came in handy. And on rare occasions, we'd use a chainsaw. But using a chainsaw was hardly worth it. You'd always have to be so careful about not hitting nails, and knocking things apart with a sledgehammer was usually quicker. So most of the cottages were dismantled entirely by hand. I guess nowadays doing stuff with hand tools is fashionable again, but that sort of work is hardly what comes to mind for today's hand tool enthusiasts.

After the cottage was leveled came the slower task of pulling all the nails out of the lumber. Most of the lumber would get recycled in building new cottages

In the early 1980s, we'd recycle all the old nails. As we kids got older and got a little bit more say, we'd throw out a small fraction of the nails - those that were just too bent out of shape and couldn't quickly be straightened with a hammer and anvil.


We didn't always recycle the outhouse. This outhouse, we just tipped onto a trailer and drove it to the spot where we burned a lot of scraps.

Kind of fun watching an outhouse burn!

See also:

Building a cottage

Another demolition

More home improvement projects on my website.