Tag Archives: home improvements

There Are Stories in the Wood

I’m accustomed to my wife having the grand visions for our home as far as decorating, re-decorating, renovating, re-renovating, etc. My strategy when she begins one of these projects is usually to keep my head down and stay out of the way. Of course, this is largely impossible, because her projects often involve me building something. There was the dining room table, a while back, and then the built-in bed, more recently.

Her current project has been the renovating/repurposing of our sunroom. The room has always been a bit awkward, a late 50s addition that apparently turned an external porch into a long, narrow space we never quite knew what to do with. It held a tiny desk that I used for what passed as my home workspace, as well as a piano, a couple dog kennels, and assorted randomness.

My wife’s Pinterest-inspired vision for the room was to turn it into a more functional office/study/library, and my portion of this would involve the construction of a custom desk running the length of the room. I love the idea of a mammoth desk, and the skill level didn’t seem to exceed my standard: putting large pieces of wood together in a fashion that would keep them from falling apart over extended usage.

We measured the corner where we wanted it to fit, and I got to work. I had grand ideas of getting beautiful ten-foot planks of some kind of lovely hardwood, and then I saw the prices at Lowe’s. I settled for three ten-foot pieces of regular untreated lumber, which I assume were pine but know from their labels were grown in Idaho forests.

building desk

The trick was finding three pieces that didn’t look like they had fallen off the back of the truck multiple times on the way from the sawmill. I dug through the piles until I found a few that were good on at least one side and relatively straight, and then I stared at them for ten minutes trying to figure out the math. Did I want three that were ten inches wide (which would have made the desk too wide) or three that were only eight inches wide (which would have been too narrow)?

My son, who was helping me out that day, finally sighed and said, “Dad, why don’t you just get a mix so the measurement comes out right?”

Genius. So the middle plank is an 8-inch and the outer two are 10-inchers.

stained desk

I joined them with the magic of a kreg-jig and only modest cussing (actually, it went together pretty easily) and then put 1 x 1 braces underneath and at the far lip. No fancy finishes here. This is going to be a workhorse. My wife reminded me that she wanted a hole drilled in the middle to run cords for those who don’t pen their epics in ink and blood, so I used a 2 1/4-inch hole saw inherited from my dad to make the whole thing look like a doorway for skinny giants.

My wife used witchcraft to find a stain that matched the engineered hardwood floor I installed in the room a couple weekends ago, and she filled in some of the more noticeable cracks with wood filler. On top of that went three coats of a water-based polycrylic, and then it was good to go.

finished desk

Here it is, ready for work. You can see one of the brackets that I used to mount this on the far wall lying on the floor in the middle image above. The brackets I used were probably overkill, but if you know anything about my projects you know they need to be built to withstand the hostility of four rowdy kids. There are two brackets on the far wall and one in the middle, and as you can see here the near end rests on a salvaged file cabinet that my wife painted a whimsical blue.

It’s level, it’s solid, and I have room to sprawl. I like to think that the grain of wood holds stories, maybe compounded of years of soil and sun and wind. If that’s the case, I hope some of that distills into the work I’ll be writing atop these planks.

Or at the very least that they don’t end up crushing my legs.

In Which I Build a Bed

A couple years ago I did a stupid thing. My wife asked for a dining room table for Christmas, and I built her one. She told me it would be easy. She told me she wanted a rustic farmhouse table. She told me that meant it was supposed to be kind of blocky and rough and that I didn’t have to be a great finish carpenter like my dad to make it work.

She was right.

It wasn’t incredibly easy, but it was easy enough that a guy with limited manual dexterity and some of his father’s borrowed tools could put it together over a few days in the basement and then haul it into the living room (out the back door and back in through the front because the thing was so massive) and put it together and hope to never have to move it again.

But it was a tactical error. Because now my wife seems to think I can build furniture.

I’ve held her off for quite a while. Besides some limited projects around the house, I’ve convinced her that most of what needs to be done should be done by skilled professionals or maybe doesn’t even really need to be done at all. But our youngest son had been sleeping on a mattress on the floor for over a year and it was really time to build him a bed. My wife hoped to turn the front dormer in the boys’ room into a built-in bed, and she showed me some pictures online that made me believe this might be a bit less involved than building a table.

Again, she was right.

So now I’ve built a bed. I started by measuring the dimensions of the dormer and the dimensions of the single mattress we needed to fit in there. The dormer is a bit wider than the mattress, and the mattress is a bit longer than the dormer, so the bed sticks out a bit into the room. And since we have three boys living in this room who like to jump onto and off of everything that’s higher than six inches off the floor, I knew I needed to make it sturdy. I had seen a few plans of built-in beds that were basically built on a frame of two-by-fours (or 2×4’s? how do the DIY guys type this out?) screwed into the wall. I wanted something that on the one hand was more stable than that and on the other hand was more free-standing. I wanted to be able to slide this back out of the dormer years down the road when the kids are in college and this room becomes my Don’t Go Up into That Room Because The Author is Working on His Next Great Novel room.


So I built a massive frame out of 2x8s (by convention, that’s how we’re going to assume contractor-types write these out). I used a Kreg-jig to put the boards together length-wise, mainly because it’s fun to use a Kreg-jig and to give the frame stability while I fit it together. (Note that immediately after taking this picture I had to hammer that middle cross-section out of place so I could slide the frame all the way into the dormer. The whole thing is wedged in there so tightly now I didn’t bother anchoring the frame into the wall. Don’t tell my wife.)


My wife wanted the open end of the bed to be a shelf for storage baskets, and she had very specific dimensions for the three storage baskets from Target that she wanted to be able to fit there. That determined where the second cross-support would go and the height of the bottom of the shelf. I was going to finish the bottom with trim anyway, so that gap would be covered up. Building the frame so high also meant that there were two big storage spaces under the bed for blankets and stuff in the summer.

Yeah, I probably went overboard with how solid I build the frame, but again– three boys jumping on absolutely everything.


I covered that shelf on the end with shelving boards that matched the piece of plywood in thickness. I had them cut the plywood to dimensions for me at Lowe’s, which only took three store guys, forty-five minutes, and about seventeen cuts. I put more 2x8s as support/separators between where those grey storage baskets are going to go. (Seriously, my wife loves her some storage baskets. Organization is her coping mechanism for life. And one of the reasons I adore her.)


And presto– here’s the bed looking all lived in and moderately organized. I put trim around the base of the bed to complete that built-in look the wife was after. I’m still not quite sure how we (read: she) will do the finishing touches on this end, whether we’ll want to add some additional trim and then paint the whole thing white.

The best part of this project though was how incredibly excited our five-year-old was to go from a mattress to a REAL BED. I think every person who has been to our house over the past month has been escorted upstairs by him to see this wonder of a REAL BED.

And so far, only one or two head-to-bedcorner contacts during upstairs roughhousing, and no trips to the ER so far. (Yeah, I probably should have finished those edges with styrofoam guards.)

That’s all for now because this isn’t in any way a DIY blog and I’m not in any way a DIY guy.