• jrwickman

Building On Bedrock

How To DIY

This post will only be a little bit about environmentalism and sustainability. And that's mostly just about reusing items that might otherwise end up in the landfill.

Growing up, my Step-Father taught me a lot about basic carpentry. How to safely handle a variety of tools, from a hammer to a circular saw. I helped him construct a lot of small structures including a very luxurious dog house. Then I used those skills with a friend to build a three-story tree house. I’m sure when you read ‘three-story’ tree house you’re no doubt envisioning a Victorian or Craftsman structure build into the branches of a mighty Oak Tree. This wasn’t the case with mine. It was built entirely from scrap lumber and hardware, and it was built using four Alder Trees that formed a rough square.

It wasn’t pretty, but it was structurally sound. My friends and I would toss our sleeping bags on the second floor, or hang a hammock on the third. We’d spend the night out there looking up through the windowless skylight and solving the world’s problems as only 13 year old boys can. Which is to say, not at all.

During college, I worked in the theatre department Scene Shop. I brought with me all the skills learned with my Step-Dad, and gained a host of new skills. For four years I built and tore down 3-4 sets a year. It was great fun. I made a great many friends, and learned from carpenters and painters far better than I. Our Technical Theatre Professor, Larry, was an incredible Set Designer who designed plenty of sets for our productions, as well as professionally at various companies around Portland. While working in the Scene Shop, we often blasted Classic Rock. One memorable day, Tom Petty was blaring out from the speakers, singing about being free, or about his girl, or where someone belongs, or what it’s like to be royalty. Working with us that day was none other than our design whiz, Larry. Who speaks in a voice concentrated through his nasal cavity. We’re all working away, building flats, or painting, or building platforms, when Larry said “I don’t like Tom Petty, he’s too nasal.” And everyone lost it. It was absolutely one of the most ironic things I’ve ever heard anyone say.

This anecdote has nothing to do with DIY projects, it’s just a funny story that I hope you enjoyed.

Flash forward to living in quarantine during a Pandemic. How do you occupy your time? I mean there are probably a limited number of times in my life that I can rewatch TNG, or BSG, or SG-1. So, moving away from T.V. shows that are often referred to as acronyms, I started revisiting my carpentry skills.

I recently got engaged (thank you), and decided I wanted to make things for my fiancé. So, I found an old pallet, ripped it apart, sanded it down, stained it, and fashioned it into a handsome bookcase that fits neatly into our narrow hallway.

We had an old 10 inch pan that had worn out its usefulness. So, instead of sending it on a one-way trip to the nearest landfill, I made it into a clock. I ordered a very inexpensive clock kit ($8), drilled a hole in the back, painted it, and attached the clock parts. Now, it’s a very kitschy Southwest-inspired part of our kitchen.

I used a few 1X4 pieces leftover to create a wall shelf in our bathroom. This was oh-so-simple. I sanded them, coated them with a clear sealant, and put them together in the configuration I wanted. Then, I purchased two baskets to hang on them.

Another simple item I built was a mail organizer. There were some angle cuts involved in this one, that would’ve been simpler with a compound mitre saw (chop saw), but I made do with just a handsaw.

There have been a great number of things during 2020 that I have not enjoyed, but revisiting carpentry has been one highlight. Most of these items were made at little to no cost. I invested in some tools that are going to benefit me for years to come. I purchased some hardware and wood stains. But, the cost of a new bookshelf of a similar size as the one pictured above could be anywhere from $75-$200. Not only did I not spend that, but now I have a unique shelf that I have the pride of having built by hand.

Even if you don’t have a background in carpentry, many DIY projects are very simple and don’t require an extensive knowledge or tool kit. But, the end result is one that you and your family can enjoy for years to come.

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