The boy and grandad

Just do it (yourself)

If I post a pic on Instagram of one of my DIY projects , I often get nice comments along the lines of “I’ll have one of those please” or “can I borrow you for a job?”.

It’s pretty cool to think other people like one of my woodwork projects, or something I’ve up-cycled into  something that’s both useful and (hopefully) not too hideous.

Usually, I’m making something for around the house – it’s cheaper than finding a decent version of the kind of thing you want, and has the added bonus of being bespoke to fit wherever it’s going.

The boy and grandadAs is probably obvious, I’m learning how to do this as I go along. I’m of the generation where practical DIY skills weren’t taught at school.

Thankfully, when I was younger I was lucky enough to have people around me who encouraged me to make sure I got my hands dirty.

As well as my dad being handy at DIY, my godfather was trained as a carpenter, and as well as making the bunk bed I spent countless nights in, he gave me a tool set when I was a kid. Not a plastic, useless set like you’d get in a toy shop. This was an actual small version of real tools – saw, hammer, screwdriver etc – in a box I’m pretty sure he made himself.

School holidays were spent at grandparents, and my grandma had a thing about making us do jobs. From mowing the lawn, to changing plugs, painting walls to cutting hedges, she’d make sure we didn’t just sit around getting bored. This never seemed like a chore, it was a way of channeling the natural curiosity I had about how things work and are made.

Now I’m older (I can’t say ‘grown up’) I get to get my hands dirty on things I fancy doing myself.

Out of necessity, I’ve done a few simple refurb things with old furniture – stripping an old dresser and repainting etc – but I’ve always had a slight trepidation about more ‘involved’ woodwork projects.

Bath boardLack of ability and equipment always felt like it limited my options, but I’d still try some things I thought of as within my skill range or the limitations of cheap/battered tools.

We needed a bath board due to lack of a surface to perch a brew if you wanted to have a good soak. One salvaged floorboard, a bit of sawing, a lot of sanding and some oiling later – we had one!

A turn in the stairs to the loft room needed some shelving to make better use of dead space (and get my books out of the boxes they’d been in since we moved!). Three old scaffold planks and some brackets got the job done.

The kitchen needed a bit of character. Off came one of the wall units, some decent chunks of wood were picked up from timber merchant (didn’t have source of scaffold boards then!), and some nice brackets found, et voila!

These seemed to me to be relatively simple jobs. Basically, you’re just cutting wood to length, and prepping it for use. But it was slightly trickier than it could have been as I’ve only got basic-ish tools (circular saw would have been easier than jigsaw!), but I’m learning new tips and tricks to get more out of them.

Kitchen shelfThe real eye-opener for me to get on and try more complicated jobs came after I’d stumbled upon the YouTube account of Laura Kampf – a video of her making a projector box got shared loads on Twitter.

Not only is she a brilliant maker of beautiful things, but her videos are just gorgeous. As if that isn’t enough, they also show you more about how to make something or use tools than any of those “guy-stood-in-front-of-a-bench-talking-at-you” videos that I’ve seen.

After devouring pretty much all her films, I found others like her (Get Hands Dirty is another fave) and my head is now filled with ideas of what I could make – I’ve even got a notebook to sketch ideas and designs that lives in my bag so it’s always to hand.

The first fruits of this new level of inspiration were back in the bathroom.

There’s a lack of space in there so storage is at a premium. The previous owners put up a weird chrome thing you’re supposed to put folded towels onto/into, but it was a bit… pants.

So, empowered by videos a a German woman who does amazing things with her hands, I concocted a plan to make a shelf unit out of my dwindling stash of salvaged floorboards.

I also decide not to use screws to put it together to give it a more rustic look (inevitable as the boards are warped and battered, but thankfully we like character in our furnishings!).

After excessive doodling and measuring of bottles, I came up with a basic design I thought would look ok, and be within my capabilities given my tools and skill level.

After cutting by hand, sanding, using dowel joints and wood glue the result is much better than I ever expected.

Bathroom shelf unitI didn’t have the ideal clamps to make sure the it was tight while the glue set, but a set square and some straps I use on the car’s roof box worked a treat.

I did over-engineer a solution to how to secure it to the wall using the existing drilled holes, but corrected myself before it got too weird.

Frankly, I’m still a bit amazed I put together something that both looks alright, and is still up!

It matches the bath board, and makes the room seem much more homely, and in the grand scheme of things it didn’t take long.

I’m sure I could have bought something to do the job just as well, but then I wouldn’t be able to feel a bit chuffed every time I get a shower and see it still there.

Without seeing that YouTube vid, I suppose I might have got round to making something eventually. I’m pretty sure it would have been a lot less interesting, not as well made and I’d be constantly looking at it thinking I wasted my time and shouldn’t bother.

So, freshly inspired – and having just exposed and patched the wooden floorboard in The Girl’s room – I’m currently working on an old battered desk. We picked it up a while ago for £20, but I’ve never quite got around to sorting out. It’s more of an organic project as we haven’t decided for sure what the final finish will be, but I’m getting a better idea as I’ve been tinkering along with it.

If it doesn’t go to plan, at least I’ve tried, and hopefully learned something for next time. Not a bad outlook to have on life generally, let alone DIY.

I think if we spend less time and energy worrying about what we can’t do, and a bit more but thinking about how we can apply what we can do, we’ll surprise ourselves.

If you need something doing, don’t look for the easy option – pre-made, or getting someone in to do a relatively simple job. Have a think and try to work out what could work.

Then, just do it, yourself!

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