I don’t mind a bit of hard, physical work. I don’t mind getting my hands dirty and I love the feeling of building something with my own hands.
In theory, I like the idea of woodwork. But the reality is… I’m not very good.
A Brief History of Woodwork
My experience working with wood goes back many years. It starts in a suburban Sydney high school. My memories of the time are dim, but they mainly consist of frustrated teachers, blunt saws, failed projects and a general lack of interest.
One task I remember actually trying really hard on was the make-a-box assignment. I tried because I thought it was the one thing that I could surely get right.
I still remember presenting my (not so perfect) wooden box to my Year 7 teacher, with an optimistic smile on my face. He picked it up to examine it. My precious work was closely inspected from all angles, then a gentle pressure was applied to stress-test it.
The generous and kind teacher must have seen my optimistic smile crumble at the same time my box did – my hopes of woodworking glory shattered, my box in pieces. The very next day he presented me with my box, fully repaired, faults removed. He must have felt very sorry for me.
The Sum Total of My Woodwork Knowledge
That kind man may have fixed my box for me, but really I had only learnt one thing from the entire experience – I absolutely suck at woodwork.
As far as I was concerned, it was the only lesson I needed. I accepted that woodworking was not for me and went on to other academic pursuits (some of which I had even more spectacular failures in).
I never even contemplated working with wood again… Until now.
The Learning Tower
Hannah is now at an age where she wants to be involved in everything. When we are in the kitchen making dinner or washing up, she wants to be in the kitchen too. She loves tasks like unpacking the dishwasher, but she gets frustrated at times by being unable to see over the tops of benches and inside the cutlery drawer.
Emma purchased a footstall for Hannah to use in the kitchen, but we were a little concerned about Hannah’s safety while using it. She is very cautious (for a two year old) and able to climb up and down fairly easy, but all it takes is for a momentary lapse in concentration while distracted by a running tap for a serious accident.
The solution was to turn the footstall into a learning tower. This is basically a footstall with an added frame that helps a small child climb up and down, and with a bar to stop them falling out. It is exactly what Hannah needs to be able to confidently help in the kitchen.
Spend Lots or DIY
At this point we had two options. Buy a pre-made one for several hundred dollars, or spend $60 odd dollars on materials and get down and dusty with a little DIY. Being a cheap bastard, I chose the DIY option.
I probably should have thought back to my high school days. I probably should have remembered how many hours it took me to construct a simple box that then disintegrated with the slightest pressure applied to the wrong point. With this project, there would be no teacher at hand to correct my mistakes and present me with a passable finished product at the end.
I don’t actually understand what a Pinterest is or how it works, all I know is that when I try to search the internet for detailed instructions with metric measurements of a craft project, the first 50 billion results all link to Pinterest. As I don’t have an account, and don’t wish to have an account, this constantly proves to be a problem.
Every time I saw a likely helpful post, it seemed to be locked away behind the impenetrable walls of Fortress Pinterest. If I tried to click through to look at the damned thing, all I got was messages telling me that I had to sign up.
After a few minutes I was completely out of patience. I gave up on trying to find some guiding measurements and decided to go it alone. How hard could it be…?
…Very Bloody Hard
It turns out that my woodwork skills have not improved since high school. There’s a greater chance of the Wests Tigers taking home the premiership this year than there is of me cutting a straight edge with a handsaw.
I tried! God knows I tried to accurately measure. I took great care marking what I believed to be a straight line, then even more care slowly running the teeth of the saw along that line.
The results, however, were inevitable…
Doing some woodwork today! Basically it involves taking several good bits of wood an turning them into many not-good bits of wood.
— dad (@blogofdad) December 22, 2017
What I ended up making was lots mismatched, lopsided pieces of wood. No two pieces were the same, which is not ideal in the realm of furniture construction. I’m not going to lie, there was plenty of swearing and at least three pledges to give up and never go near a piece of wood again.
When Emma came down to the garage to check on my progress, she put on a brave face. She tried to reassure me that it was “okay” and “could possibly work out, maybe”, but there was no hiding her true belief that I had taken a perfectly good piece of furniture and made it worse.
I didn’t blame Emma for having those thoughts – I felt exactly the same way. I felt as if I should have just stuck to the things I do best (whatever they may be) and paid the experts to build a safe and functional learning tower. But then I remembered the physical and emotional pain that is inflicted by forking out large amounts of cash for something that I could build much cheaper, and the second wind kicked in.
The Second Wind
After much sanding, swearing, planing, swearing, drilling, swearing, swearing, screwing, swearing, breaking stuff, swearing, swearing, swearing, swearing and a little more sanding, I had finally mashed together something that passed for a learning tower.
I wasn’t perfect, not by a long shot. But it was still a minor miracle. There, in my garage, was a piece of furniture that I had somehow conjured into existence!
I approached the completed learning tower carefully. Flashbacks to Year 7 woodwork class filled my mind and I knew what I had to do – I had to apply some pressure and hope against hope that the contraption wouldn’t crumble to pieces.
I gently placed a finger on it. Nothing fell off.
I gave it a little prod. Again, no catastrophic failure.
I grabbed it with one hand and gave it a good shake. Still, the learning tower stayed in one piece.
I had done it! I had actually built something useful out of wood, all by myself! No kind woodwork teachers to correct my mistakes, it was all me!
One Final Hurdle
I had built the learning tower, and it was good. It was not, however, great. My incompetence with a handsaw was glaringly obvious in the gaps between pieces of wood. The scars of my attempted use of the electric plane to even things out were there for all to see. I decided that filling the gaps then painting the contraption was the best way to cover up my woodworking sins.
Filling the gaps was a breeze (okay, I made a massive mess, but I cleaned it up reasonably well), but then came the paint…
I had made the mistake of buying the absolute cheapest can of spray paint that I could find. It’s as if I don’t even read my own blog, as I’m forever banging on about true value being found in quality products. I failed to follow my own rule and I suffered the consequences.
After following all of the instructions on the can, I set about spray-painting the learning tower a glorious white. After about 30 seconds I realised something was wrong. Ice-cold paint was dripping down my wrist and onto the drop-sheet below, while paint the consistency of skim-milk feebly attempted to hide the wood grain. Large globs of white paint then spat from the can, all over the step of the footstall.
Eventually the can spluttered to a halt. Out of breath, out of paint and completely failing in every regard to complete the simple task to which it was assigned.
By that time I’d had enough. I was over the whole project and this paint failure was the last thing I needed. Cutting the wood all wonky was completely my fault, but dodgy paint sure as hell wasn’t. I jumped in my car and drove to the hardware store, ready to give someone a serve and demand a refund.
Fortunately I was sent to speak to the most helpful hardware store employee ever. She not only agreed to give me a refund, she talked me through the options and recommended a far superior product.
That paint went on like a dream, and in no time I had a glorious white learning tower, ready for a toddler to use in the kitchen.
Excuse me for tooting my own horn, but I think it looks pretty good! As for Hannah… she thinks it’s the greatest thing in the world!