Tag Archives: Building

Digging out the tools

Doing some deck repairs at the lake with Dad and little Mike, circa 1999.
Doing some deck repairs at the lake with Dad and little Mike, circa 1999.

My table saw is under a pile of laundry.

It’s been at least five years since I’ve engaged in one of my true loves, woodworking and carpentry. One thing or another has taken precedence, and aside from a few weeks last summer when I was busy getting my family’s lakeside camp ready to be sold, I’ve been far more connected to my laptop than to my tools.

But this past weekend, my wife and I finally agreed that it was time to get started on at least one of the projects on the growing to-do list for our 25-year-old home.

We decided to tackle the den. The project scope isn’t exotic; I just need to replace the original contractor-grade woodwork — door and window casings, crown moulding, baseboards — with something a little nicer, and then paint.  Still, it’s a start, and I’m excited to finally dig my tools out of the piles of crap in the basement and put them to use.

Truth is, in those years I’ve been away, I’ve discovered that it’s just as much of a creative rush to make something out of bits and bytes —  a Photoshop project, an InDesign page, or a website — as out of a pile of lumber.

Now, I’m nowhere near as good at coding as I am at carpentry, but that’s a matter of practice. I’ve been working in the digital arts in one form or another for probably 20 years, but I’ve been building stuff since I was a kid.

My dad was an “avid do-it-yourselfer,” we said in his obituary. In part, he became that because he found himself responsible for keeping up the ramshackle, rambling former rooming house we called home. (Until then, his mother used to say, “he couldn’t tie the dog to the fence.”)  But he also loved building the 1970s-style woodworking projects he’d find in Popular Mechanics, Family Handyman or some of the Reader’s Digest DIY books. Then there was the lakeside deck that just kept growing; I think every time he went out in the car he came back with another load of lumber for that one.

I would always help, sometimes actually contributing something useful, sometimes just getting in the way, but always learning something by watching or doing. As time went on and Dad got older and my skills improved, I started taking over the lead role, and he became more of the helper.

Then I became a homeowner. I always tell people “You don’t buy a house, you buy a hobby.” Our little hunk of the American dream was an “expansion” Cape, which we bought with three rooms and a bath downstairs and an unfinished upstairs. In planning the upstairs space, we decided we needed more windows, so I designed three dormers for the front of the house.

Within a year of moving in, I was cutting three huge holes in our roof for the dormers. That was probably the biggest job I have ever tackled; certainly, it was the most traumatic for my wife. But it went off without a hitch, thanks to the experience I had gained working with Dad (and watching all the pre-HGTV shows like “Hometime” and “This Old House”).

After that, I finished the upstairs, built a deck, converted it into a porch, remodeled the kitchen, replaced a bathroom, built a shed, and assorted other less significant projects.

Then I stopped. I got a laptop. And my table saw got buried by laundry.

Now it’s time to get back to work.

It took starting up again to realize how much I missed it.

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