Bold New Ventures

Hey there! Check out my latest off-season project — a sort of double-decker birdwatching platform/playfort thingee, tucked in the far corner of my backyard. According to the various building plans I have consulted, a project like this should be do-able in a weekend! Ha-ha! (They should list alternate time estimates for the out-of-shape and/or clueless). This is where I am so far, after about 10 hours worth of work (with one 6-yr-old helper):

fort1

Sure, it doesn’t look like much NOW, but imagine it with both upper and lower decks completed, ladder leading up to trapdoor in the second level, painted in colorful yet tasteful hues, perhaps lightly festooned with an assortment of kid-friendly accoutrements like pulleys and periscopes. I designed this structure by consulting various building websites, flipping through carpentry books at the library, and squinting really hard at images of playforts online.

As a person who, two weeks ago, had zero carpentry experience, I have gained a new appreciation for people who can build things well. Just laying out a 6 x 6 square (on a slight slope, mind you) was an exercise in frustration. I got lucky digging the post holes, because I did it after a warm, wet spell (those puppies are like, 30″ deep). But then trying to “level” and “square” just those four outer boards (deck builders would call them rim-joists, in case you’re wondering) took hours.

Then, there was my doe-eyed excursion into the Lowe’s lumber aisles to seek out the proper boards. “Can I help you ma’am?” asked a guy in a blue Lowe’s apron, who must have noticed me looking terrified.

“Um, yes please, I need some nice boards. What do you recommend?”

He was very nice, and helped me load four gigantic 4 x 4 posts into my cart. (This is how lumber is sold, by the way, in short, average, and gigantic lengths.)

So the posts went in, and then it was time to pull out my husband’s scary cirucular saw from the basement. After watching a Youtube video called How to Use a Circular Saw, and getting a little tutorial/warning from my husband (“don’t cut your fingers off!”) I started cutting the boards. I told my son to stand at the edge of the patio while I used the saw, and with the adorable confidence of a little boy in his mother, he ran clear across to the other side of the yard.

corner

If you squint just right these boards might appear “flush” “tight” “square” and “level”

It’s still in the early stages of this project, but so far cutting the boards has been the easiest part. Much easier than leveling and squaring things. But then again, I am a proud alumna of TEI (The Eyeball It) Academy, so that only stands to reason.

I will try to post more pictures as I move through the building process. If no pictures are forthcoming, it is probably safe to assume that the project went awry and I converted the structure into four huge, oddly-spaced birdhouses.

Comments

  1. Bravo, Mary! (giggle giggle)

  2. If it doesn’t work out, I was seeing a sort of London bridge effect with heads on spikes. Good for warning off would-be garden predators. Except maybe the caterpillars wouldn’t look that intimidating. But of course you will get it built! Measure twice, cut once, and if all else fails, read the instructions. And if it looks a bit wonky, as we say in our household “Timber is a natural product”. And, as it turns out, so is concrete, metal, paving……..

    • Thanks for the tips, Catherine. I was Googling “fence post caps and finals” yesterday but alas, there were no decapitated heads on offer. Or at least not any that would match my planned color scheme. Get on it, Plow & Hearth!

  3. Having carpentry skills that would have to be measured in negative numbers, I appreciate the complexity of the task before you. Good luck.

    • Thank you, James. I do think I probably should have practiced my woodworking skills on a smaller project first, but what can I say, I always get carried away.

  4. Betty Friedan would be proud.

  5. Linda Greasamar says:

    Congratulations on your new project! It takes a brave soul to wield a circular saw having never done it before. I too read, learn and jump in! The thing to remember is it is a learning process and it doesn’t have to be perfect. The satisfaction in just doing it is perfect. Good Job!!!!

    • Thank you, Linda, for your encouragement. You are so right about the learning process. The older I get the less concerned I am that things be perfect. Little failures don’t bother me nearly as much as they did when I was younger. At this rate, when I am old, my life might be a walking calamity and I will be completely unfazed.

  6. As someone who just rebuilt the fence around my backyard and dealt with plenty of 4×4 posts and cuts with a circular saw (very few inflicted on my person, I’m glad to say), I wish you well! Your post and corner boards look plumb, level and perpendicular where they should be! Keep up the good work, Mary! Another skill to add to your set!

    • Everything is level and vertical. The only thing that bothers me is that my 6 x 6 square isn’t actually a square at all, but rather some sort of irregular quadrilateral. I made an “A” in Geometry, but it’s not so easy in 3D….

      • If you’re trying to build a square something, make the diagonals equal. Easier said than done, especially outside and on irregular terrain. My yard ain’t exactly flat.

        • I had read about measuring the diagonals, and then later when I went out in the yard to actually start the project, I forgot all about that technique.

          I am such a pro.

  7. I am really impressed. Your son will have a great time with this. Oh, and if a birdhouse it becomes, you can call it a dovecote — very classy garden fixture.

  8. Becca Mudge says:

    I’m a big fan of “decorating” swing sets/bird settling arenas with deer netting with clematis planted at their base. Many of my hanging plants that prefer less afternoon sun now stay there during the warm weather….of course this works best when your sons are now “too old” for swing sets, and you’re too wistful to remove it….

    • Great ideas, Becca. I can tell you that, after doing all this work, this sucker is NOT coming down in my lifetime. So yes, trellis, plant hanger, squirrel cafeteria…it will be SOMETHING else even after Charlie grows up.

  9. OK. AWESOME, Mary! As a fellow gardener who is also buildey and makey, I am a wild fan of your taking up power tools and making your vision come to life. Don’t let inexperience breed doubt! Here are some simple tips: 1) Remember the wise words of my former neighbor and outdoor construction mentor: “We’re not building a grand piano here.” 2) The Japanese principle of wabi sabi (the Maker’s Hand). You are expressing yourself, so any imperfection is merely a part of that expression. More wabi sabi or less, it doesn’t matter. You are doing your thing. 3) Art is only art if an artist says it is, so when you are finished, no matter how it turns out or what your level of satisfaction, YOU are the artist; therefore it is supposed to be like that. Don’t question yourself, and don’t point out the things you perceive as shortcoming. Be proud!

    I am super excited for you. I can’t wait to see how it turns out!

    • Aw, thanks so much for your encouragement. I know you are quite the craftsman, so it means a lot coming from you. I really like this principle of “wabi-sabi”….does it apply to things like burned grilled cheese sandwiches, too? Could I just tell my family that we are having wabi-sabi for dinner? :-)

  10. You are a better woman than I!! Hilarious post.

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