When it comes to carpentry I’m definitely an amateur. Maybe a Pro-Am. I’ve done enough paying work that I maybe could sneak into the union, but I know there are years of tools and tricks I’ve never heard of or seen. Watching my friend Brian work humbles me. He can eyeball up a cabinet or a floor or a section of wall and have it measured out correctly in minutes, and know exactly how to tuck something too big into a place too small with ease. He’s got tools I’ve never seen before rolling around in the back of his truck, and he knows how to use them the way God and the engineers at Craftsman intended. I learn tons of stuff just by watching what he’s doing.

I can mill and frame wood with the best of them. I’ve built mantles and cabinets and toolbenches and all sorts of smaller objects, and most of them have come out square and clean and sturdy. I’ve milled and installed all the moulding in five rooms of this house. If there’s anything I’m professional at, it’s cobbling together some kind of jig out of scrap wood and hose clamps to get the saw or the drill or the router to do what I need it to do; the mantle I mentioned earlier was put together with nothing more than a miter saw, a circular saw, and a shit-ton of backwoods engineering. I bought, disassembled, and jury-rigged a crappy old router stand to mill a 15˚ angle on the thresholds for the bathroom upstairs, and then, having pretty much ruined it for any other purpose, threw the whole thing in the garbage.

Frankly, I’m kind of sick of that shit. I would love nothing more than to have a barn with a dedicated woodworking space, where there’s a large flat clean table to do joinery on, an area with a full-size table saw, miter saw, sanding equipment, and proper lighting. All of my carpentry is done in the basement, tucked behind shelving and assembled on plywood sheets atop an old table. I have to open the basement door to ventilate the dust out of there, and Jen gets pissed when the laundry comes upstairs covered in sawdust (I don’t blame her). The lighting sucks. I’m always tripping over cords or piles of wood or boxes waiting to be reshelved. The truth is, I don’t do carpentry enough every day to warrant this kind of space—but I’d love to pursue that hobby.

This weekend I decided I’d put together a frame for the mirror that’s going in the upstairs bathroom. We don’t want to just glue a mirror to the wall, so I’m constructing a frame with wood slightly narrower than the door moulding and beveling the inner edge to accept the mirror. Normally I’d rig up a jig on my table saw and make two cuts per board, but this time I thought I’d use the router and a square removal bit to accomplish the same task. For anyone with a router stand this would be a 10-minute job, but as mentioned I threw out the last stand, so I mounted a fence to the router and did it all by hand, generating a pile of sawdust higher than my knees. And because it was handheld, the results were less than optimal—the inside edge of the bevel was a bit wavy because the fucking bit began to come loose—and I’m a careful guy. But I thought maybe I could salvage what I had, so I kept going.

I also thought I’d use this project as a reason to buy a Kreg jig, which is basically an inexpensive joining tool, and use that to bolt the parts together. The jig is nice but not made for 45˚ angled cuts, so the test runs I did all came out too short or too long and I couldn’t replicate success with any precision. So I started drilling and countersinking screws, but on the first corner the grain of the wood carried the bit downwards and I busted through the front of the frame with the screw. That ended Saturday’s attempt.

On Sunday I bought more wood with Hazel and started on Version 2. In ten minutes I cobbled together a clean jig on the table saw and had three boards down neatly—exactly what I should have done in the first place. Then I set up a jig on some plywood, clamped the frame ends down, and pre-drilled countersink holes on the top and bottoms, where nobody will see them. With a carpenter’s angle and a screw gun I had the whole thing assembled in about an hour. It needs some filler and a little sanding, but it’s clean and ready for a mirror. I’m all about learning new skills and trying new things, but sometimes it’s cheaper and faster to go with what you know.

* * *

Sunday’s Advent activity was a Bad Santa Challenge: we each picked a name out of a hat and had to buy the tackiest gift we could for our chosen person. We decided we’d pick out but not buy anything so that we didn’t drag tacky crap we’d never use home with us. Jen and I figured the best place for this was the thrift store: where else to find the most tacky in the smallest space?

In Laurel we hit the Second Avenue and each had 20 minutes to find our treasures, with an imaginary cash limit of $20. I had Jen, so I immediately went to the tchotchke area and started looking; a woman was putting a 16″ porcelain statue of a nude couple embracing in her cart just as I was walking towards it. Dammit. I looked through that area, then went over to the women’s clothing thinking I could find something super-trashy like I used to in the Saks North Avenue days. But these stores turn over much quicker than Back In The Day and my tack-o-meter isn’t finely tuned; some of the stuff I saw could have been tacky or could have been high fashion. I did a circuit of the store, beginning to panic, and went back to the tchotchke area to discover a huge carved wooden sign saying LIVE LAUGH LOVE over some banal decoration; this is as diametrically opposed to my wife’s tastes as anything I’ve ever seen. I figured I’d hit it big but I was still a couple of dollars under my limit, so I picked out a battered golf driver from the racks of sad sporting goods and hurried over to meet them.

Finn had picked out a hideous birdhouse, a random crime novel, a strange army belt and a moldy 50’s pop music record for me. Jen presented Finn with a strange and frightening porcelain hobo statue, which (when powered by batteries) played “When the Saints Go Marching In.” After laughing over our presents, we returned them to the shelves and looked around the store for real. I found a Pelican knock-off case originally created to hold hideous overpriced watches and scored it for $5; the compartments are sized perfectly for camera lenses:

Five minutes with a knife made a comfortable waterproof house for my Fuji rig with the big lens, and the rest of the kit fit neatly inside. Now I just have to spray-paint over the stupid watch logo on the top.

Date posted: December 6, 2021 | Filed under family, house | Leave a Comment »

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