I’ve long held some secret beliefs about the nature of space and time, and of our reality, and all of them stem from working with dimensional lumber.
This was recently brought, once again, to the forefront of my mind when Mrs. 10Chickens suggested I build a desk for our oldest to have a dedicated space for remote schooling (more on that later), and to solve our issue of easy-access firewood storage.
We had a large, unused wall directly off the kitchen that we’d been staring at for the better part of a year, trying to divine some purpose:
I should point out here that I’m the world’s worst woodworker. In fact, I hesitate to even use that phrase. I watch home improvement shows and internet videos of people who actually know what they’re doing in the same way those crowds of people watch street magicians. It may as well be sorcery.
But, what I lack in skill I make up for in unfounded ambition, a direct product of my childhood.
You see, I grew up in rural Maine in a farmhouse that was built in the early 1900’s. Not only that, my parents bought the property from the original owners and builders. While this may sound quaint (and it did get there eventually), the reality was a bit less idyllic.
This was a structure built by hand, in a time before indoor plumbing, electricity, or standard building codes. The well was hand-dug, and the foundation was mismatched field stones. To call it a “fixer-upper” doesn’t quite paint the picture. It was more “work constantly to avoid catastrophe.”
As a result, there were usually at least two major projects underway (be it rerouting a kitchen drain that has inexplicably collapsed into a wall, or jacking up floor joists after a corner of the living room has undertaken a concerning sag) along with a smattering of smaller tasks (the bedroom window casing seems to have fallen into the yard).
At the heart of all of it was the understanding that: (1) professionals cost money that we didn’t have; and (2) it may take five time as long for an amateur, but you can probably figure it out eventually.
And so, with this begrudging hubris, I roughed out a quick design (that was immediately modified to immeasurable benefit by Mrs. 10Chickens), donned my mask, and headed to the hardware store.
Because of my aforementioned dearth of any discernible talent or skill in this arena, I also don’t have any fancy tools. A circular saw, power drill (corded, more on that later), tape measure, square, sandpaper, and paint brushes are the sum total of the equipment for this project.
And here is where we come to the nature of all things.
If you believe in the immutable nature of reality, that physical existence is concrete and finite, working with dimensional lumber with drive you to Lovecraftian madness.
I have measured an interior space multiple times, with witnesses, only to find (after cutting boards) it has expanded or contracted by several inches.
I have walked past a sealed-package dimmer switch every day for six months, only to find when I need it, that it has transmogified into a grounded outlet (which I have never bought because I’ve never wired an outlet).
I’ve put screws into wood only to have the joint later disintegrate with no hardware to be found.
All of this had led me to a few ground rules for these kinds of projects.
First, there is no such thing a “square” or “level” in a house. It doesn’t exist. Your goal, then, is to fit the lumber to the space and try not to think too much about it.
These are the two consoles that would eventually frame the desk. Though the look identical, in fact, one of them is BADLY out of square. BUT, it fits the corner of my house perfectly. Go figure.
As you can see, we taped off an area and threw up some chalkboard paint, and dry fit the consoles to get an idea about our desk length. Satisfied, we sanded them down and hit them with some stain and paint:
Here is where things get tricky, and it brings me to my second ground rule: the Gods of Home Renovation demand your anguish as sacrifice, but may be slaked by the liberal and boisterous bellowing of profanity. After the fifteenth stripped screwhead, a truly disgusting tirade is the only way to make sure the sixteenth will finally find the mark.
Anyway, after a lot of the above ritual, we managed to fit the desk:
And then the desktop:
Some paint, stain, and lacquer later, we were mostly there:
From here, we were able to fit in the bookcase and frame the left side of the chalkboard, thereby hiding any odd angles from the paint:
And, like that, conjured from the ether, we have manifested a custom desk, wood storage, bookcase, and blackboard.
You may also notice the wall on the right has changed color, which leads me to my last rule: projects multiply when you’re not looking.
This desk has set off a cascade of things including, but not limited to: painting the kitchen; painting the kitchen cabinets (which involves removing and replacing all the doors); rotating at least three light fixtures into new rooms; installing two dimmer switches; and painting a completely unrelated bathroom. To believe otherwise is like throwing a rock into calm water and expecting no ripples.
Even now, I find myself wandering room to room, hand on chin, and muttering that we’re really not making the most of this space. And I know it’s only a matter of time until my next commune with interdimensional lumber.