Puzzle Pieces ? and ?

November 24, 2020

By: Lee LeFever

I write books and run a company called Common Craft. I recently moved from Seattle to a rural island. Here, I write about online business, book publishing, modern home construction, and occasionally, dumb jokes.

The post below was sent as an issue of my newsletter, Ready for Rain.

On the ferries we take to the mainland, there are often puzzles on tables for anyone who wants to pass the time. What most short-term puzzlers on the boat don’t know is that some of the puzzles have missing pieces and can never truly be completed. But it doesn’t matter, they are called back to their cars before they can feel the frustration.

That’s the thing about puzzles. It’s rewarding to finish a puzzle and behold the completed image, but it’s also rewarding to spend time thinking through the process and appreciating the craft. Anyone who has done a puzzle knows the satisfaction that comes with a piece snapping into place. There is no middle ground; it’s the right piece or it’s not. Even if pieces are missing, the process has its own rewards.

As the house is coming together more quickly, I’m starting to see the finishing pieces fall into place. This idea first occurred to me when work started on our in-floor radiant heating. Our main source of heat will come from warm water that travels through a network of tubes under the floor. This kind of “hydronic” heat is efficient, low maintenance, and feels amazing under your feet.

Puzzle Pieces

The tubes live in specifically designed boards that have pre-cut channels that remind me of toy race tracks. But really, they are puzzle pieces. The entire floor must be pieced together so the water can flow in closed loops across multiple zones. The product we used is called Quik Trak and the puzzle has now been solved. The house has heat. ?

Quik Trak and the puzzle

The more I look around, the more puzzles I see and the more I appreciate the craftsmanship that goes into getting the right piece to fit perfectly. Our siding, which is made from cypress that has been charred, is “shiplap” siding. Here, the boards connect with one another with an overlap that helps prevent water from flowing behind it.

Shiplap Siding
Shiplap Siding

Over weeks, we watched the puzzle come together as the siding went from pieces to complete walls. The precise work of the carpenters, along with the precision of the boards themselves, seemed to snap whole walls into place. The puzzle fit together, with no missing pieces. We’re so excited with how it turned out.

puzzle fit together

If there is anything you want to exist as a whole instead of pieces, it’s the roof. Our roof is made of metal panels, some of them 60 feet long. Like the shiplap siding, the panels have vertical seams that overlap one another. In order for the puzzle of the roof to become a single waterproof surface, the seams need to be securely connected, which means crimping them together. This can be done laboriously by hand, but our roofer, Myles, used this little guy: a roof seamer.


Today, the house is fully roofed and waterproof.

fully roofed and waterproof

As I’ve written before, we are helping to paint the interior and that includes staining close to 3000 square feet of western red cedar, which is native and grows on our property. 

We’re using it for about half of the interior ceilings and soffits all the way around the house. I now have more experience with cedar than any other wood and have become so impressed by its beauty and consistency.

interior ceilings and soffits

The boards fit so well together it almost seems that there is some kind of magnetism at work that draws tongues and grooves together. When the stain is wet, we have to be diligent in preventing them from connecting and becoming one. 

The cedar puzzle is coming together and it’s glorious to see the pieces we stained fit so perfectly and create a beautiful whole.

Tongue and Groove

It’s always exciting when the work is done and the puzzle becomes one. Maybe you’ve tried to move it, or even pick it up vertically. It’s fragile, but still has integrity, thanks to how precisely the pieces fit together. It doesn’t require tape or glue, just the pieces.

A house is not a puzzle. It requires fasteners of all types to hold it together. But that doesn’t mean the fasteners have to be visible. Over time, I’ve come to appreciate the attention our carpenters pay to hiding the fasteners so that wood window trim, for example, appears to snap together. 

wood window trim

Maybe that’s a goal of carpentry: the appearance that building materials are precisely designed to fit together. Like the cedar, they want to be together and when they are, they become stronger. 

We have more puzzles to solve before we’re done, but the most obvious ones are now complete on the exterior and it’s so satisfying to see the final product. We both feel it looks even better than the image on the box. 

I Can Recommend…

A few years ago, we started experimenting with pizza crust. Since moving into the guesthouse we switched to using a cast iron skillet instead of a pizza stone because it’s too big for our small oven. This opened a whole new world of pizza to us.

Instead of the hip neapolitan-style pizza that is so common in Seattle, we’ve been making pan pizza. Specifically crispy, cheesy pan pizza. This recipe from King Arthur Baking is the best we’ve found and it was their recipe of the year for 2020.

If you’re looking for a fun, decadent, and delicious experiment, give this recipe a try.

Crispy Cheesy Pan Pizza


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On most Tuesdays, I share a story from my life on Orcas Island and a recommendation for something I love. I'm interested in how to design work and home for lifestyle, livability, and fluffy dogs. Learn more.

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