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Learn By Doing

About The Author

I wrote Build Your Own Earth Oven while trying to find a way to make a living as a sculptor. Then I met Ianto Evans who, I’d been told, “lived on $3,000 a year in a house he’d built himself for $500.” I wasn’t interested in wealth and a big house, but building my own and living cheap? That got my attention. When he told me he was teaching workshops on building houses out of mud, I signed up. I spent a muddy week with a bunch of wonderful folk, building on a little cob cottage.


Outside the front door, we also built a simple wood-fired, earthen oven. I had nowhere to build a house right then, so I built ovens, a simple kind of sculpture that also made wonderful bread. People saw pictures and wanted their own. I taught a few workshops, wrote up notes, added pictures and drawings, made a pamphlet, sold 1,000, revised and expanded it, borrowed $5K from my brother, sent the files to the printer — boom! Hand Print Press. (I did build my own mud house, too — see photo — where my wife and I raised a big garden and two boys (the one in the photo is now full grown!)

Growing up with mom, I learned how to do what she did: drawing, painting, sculpture, bread, clothes…and dinner, of course…. She had learned not only from her own mom (and granddad), but also from a teacher named “Miss Doing” (really!), at New York City’s famous “little red schoolhouse.” As part of a long career that took her around the world, Mom helped develop a hands-on learning program for the Boston Childrens’ Museum visitors’ center. I helped her teach paper-making, weaving, rope-winding, etc. When she turned her hand-drawn project sheets into a book, I corrected her spelling and did the index. Making Things, A Handbook of Creative Discovery sold well for 30 years before Little, Brown let it go out of print. So I re-published it for my kids’ generation. It turned my two-book operation into a real (very small) publishing concern.


Other books that grew out of the mud include Max and Eva Edleson’s Build Your Own Barrel Oven, and a few more of mine: Dig Your Hands in the Dirt, Make a Simple Sundial, Make a Ray Jacobs Rocky Mountain Dulcimer, and A Work of Art. Most recently, I published my mom’s final (14th!) book: Satisfy the Image: The Wisdom of Your Dreams and Guided Imagery for Self-Balancing.

I also teach, make utilitarian wooden-wares (bowls, spoons, boxes, coffins, etc.) and continue to write. 


Fundamentally, economy is the art of making and tending home (“home,” in Greek, is “oikos”). To manage a home, we balance our own needs with the needs of family, community, and the earth that gives us life. “The living eat the dead;” and the living learn humility when they put their loved ones back in the ground, to feed new life. Dollars don’t change that, tho they do make it harder to truly appreciate. So what I’d like you to know is that the price you pay for a book goes to pay for home maintenance, paper, printing, website, and the many folks who help us keep it all together and alive. 

The knowledge, however — how to build an oven, how to work together to do something bigger than any one individual — is not just common property, but our common cultural heritage. Share it! Feed new life. But if you buy the pdf, please consider that posting it on a public website may make it available to a few folks for free, but gives nothing back to the work of keeping it visible and available in all its formats — not to mention answering questions — all of which is what you support when you buy it here. 

Full disclosure: I purposely live below the official poverty level. This (partially) frees me from wage slavery, a war economy, and petty politics. It also means I can give more freely and more fully of my time and, when I have it, extra money. 

Chelsea Green Books, that distributes some of the Hand Print Press titles, is now owned primarily by its employees. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the web itself was owned and managed by us, the users? 

– Kiko

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