How I Spent My Weekend

I have a tendency in life to rely very heavily on my massive intelligence rather than careful planning, education or even experience.

I used to be the epitome of masculinity in that when I brought home “some-assembly” required furniture, I would put it together without reading the instructions. They put extra pieces in the box in the event something breaks, right?

I got better and will now glance at the instructions once or twice before throwing them aside and wading into piles of bits of pieces. That one panel that is clearly on backwards or upside down–that was a choice to show my individuality in my work. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Not everything I build comes from a box, however. I have more than one set of shelves in my house constructed entirely from 2x4s. My wife think’s the ones in the kitchen are nifty, so I feel a little encouraged.

I’ve also built a display tower for my wife’s grandfather’s trains, which I blogged about a year or two ago. It’s down there in the days past somewhere with pictures.

My most recent project was turning one of those old cheap sets of self-assembled bookshelves into a drafting desk.

Last weekend I undertook my two largest projects to date and I did so simultaneously.

Actually I am doing three projects but combining two.

The first project was “simple”. The stairs that go to the second floor of our house come up in the middle of the den. They had a guard rail on each side with flimsy wooden newels holding it up. My cats liked to jump across from one rail to the other, shaking both rails wildly and scaring the bejesus out of anyone walking up the stairs under them.

I’ve been promising for years to upgrade the railings with actual walls, or at least, half walls.

I don’t know how to put in a wall. I mean the concept seems simple enough: Build a stud wall, anchor it, hang drywall, mud it up, and then paint. That’s it, right?

Right? I’m really asking.

It’s kind of too late to respond anyway, so don’t feel bad for hesitating. I built two half walls, which, though currently in need of sanding and painting, didn’t come out half-bad. They’re sturdy, which was the primary goal.

Nevermind the fact that I built one of the stud frames 3.5 inches two long and the other 4.5 inches too long. Ignore that both walls should have been the same length and werent. Some hasty power tool work and the walls were cut perfectly to size.

Hanging the drywall was another matter. Sheets of drywall are missing an important part–something to hold them by. Hanging a full sheet of drywall above your head on a flight of stairs is difficult. Let’s put it this way: For that first piece of drywall, I probably went through a cup of joint compound filling in the dents. The next three sheets went much easier.

Jason, my friend who sometimes rues the day he opted to get a pickup truck rather than a car, commented on the one gallon bucket of joint compound I bought “You won’t need that much for just two walls.”

Au Contraire. Two walls means more than two buckets of joint compound. Maybe if they were just part of a bigger wall, it would be less, but eight feet of an exposed top of the wall, means a lot of mud to flatten that gap.

If I’d used planning instead of hubris, I might have thought to pick up corner-bead when I bought the drywall and had Jason’s truck to carry it in. Like it sounds, it’s the metal stuff you line the corners of walls with. Luckily my hybrid sedan had a teensy little hole designed to allow skis to be put into the trunk and through to the passenger compartment. Yes, I put the corner bead on before I started with the mud. I’m not an idiot, usually.

The biggest lesson I learned from building the walls: Don’t randomly place the studs. Put them at carefully measured intervals. Measuring tapes work better than studfinders.

The other two things I needed to build were a bigger chicken coop-slash-run and a treehouse for my daughter.

The chicken coop is because my wife “needed” two more chickens this year, bringing our backyard eggery to five chickens, which don’t all fit in the coop we had.

The treehouse was a long-standing promise for my daughter’s birthday after kindergarten, which is next month.

Our yard has two trees. The one in the front yard, next to the street, is obviously the wrong choice. The eighty foot pin-oak is every child’s dream place to put a tree house, but I’m not a fan of heights and eighty feet is a long way to fall. Putting it lower on the trunk would almost work if the trunk weren’t eight feet around.

So treehouse became “fort” or “playset”. Me, being oh so brilliant, (no sarcasm, really), came up with the idea of building a chicken run/henhouse/playset all in one!

Don’t roll your eyes, it’s a great idea. I even drew a picture before I started cutting the wood.

However, I didn’t keep the picture with me and had to do most of my cutting from quick calculations in my head and careful measuring. When building the stud flooring, I did careful measuring and spacing so I won’t have to rely on a stud finder to screw the surfaces to the frame.

See, I can still learn. Who knew? It surprised the heck out of me.

I should note that I tend to build using minimal cutting on my part. Common dimensions are very derivative of what sizes the wood comes in. So my chicken run/henhouse/fort is 8’x 4′ at the base.

Also important to note: It works just fine to stack three pieces of 8’x 4′ plywood to cut them all into 4’x4′ pieces with one run of the circular saw. However, if you have the wood up on saw horses and cut down the middle, they will collapse into a heap when you complete the cut. Keep your feet clear.

I would say, after two days of work, the walls are 75% done and the cooprunfort is almost half done.

Pictures coming soon.


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