Woodworking for the Gender Impaired

Outhouse workbench

Outhouse Workbench

As we pause for a brief word from our sponsors (or lack thereof) on the kitchen project, I’ll segue (ok the proper word here is digress, but I’ll be brief.  Then it’s back to the kitchen to face the heat.  Or electricity.  Or something.) into the other projects that occupy my time when I’m not obsessing about the bookstore – including building what I now lovingly call the Outhouse Workbench (more on that later).
Our story begins thirty years ago.  I’m 9 years old and have salvaged every scrap of wood and discarded tool from which my dad walked away on his side of the basement.  There were easy pickin’s such as the 2×8 slabs of timber left over from some project or another, and when a saw broke, it was mine.  “Mine” is a very fluid thing when you’re nine.  Undoubtedly “my” tool pile was Dad’s “not thrown away yet” pile and Mom’s “for the love of god do you have to keep everything/I’m going to throw that away when you’re not looking” pile.  I had to stake my claim, so I asked Dad if I could have a tool box, thinking if I put the tools in something that was mine the tools would become less “mine” and more MINE.

Dad said he could “probably think of something,” which I knew to mean he would make one for me at work.  Work was Merz Sheet Metal, where Dad fabricated and installed heating and air conditioning and then came home and washed his hands with Lava soap.  He could build the Sistine Chapel if it were made of sheet metal.  This is the same man who, when he was laid off and bored (and in retrospect horribly depressed), built a two story furnished carpeted, painted and wallpapered Barbie house for my sister and me completely out of a cardboard box, scraps, and old washrags pinned around foam.  It. Was. Awesome.  Plus, Dad always did what he said he was going to do.  I had complete faith.

A couple of days later he walked in the back door with a stack of pieces of sheet metal cut out and bent, for what I couldn’t tell.  He grinned and handed the stack to me.  “Here it is!”

Yep. There it was.  And here we are.  I was too embarrassed to ask him how it went together because obviously People Who Have Tools know how to put things together, and my excitement curdled into despair.  This habit of mine – to mumble, nod my head and smile like I know what I’m doing, then privately jam my nose into a book to learn what I missed – began there in the kitchen with Dad asking the back of my retreating head if I wanted him to show me.  It persists today.

I recognize it in the way my brother and sister-in-law nod and smile in noisy crowds when their hearing-aids become useless, or when the person they’re talking to turns away and mumbles.  When you miss half the joke, the other half isn’t nearly as funny, and I clearly had missed the first part of Dad’s joke.  I didn’t have to be a boy to get it, but I knew my watery eyes and wobbly, “Sure, I’ll figure it out” cemented in his brain (and mine) that a.) I wouldn’t figure it out and b.) even if I had been born a boy, the two of us would have had a hard time bonding over sand paper and wood screws.

The next time I saw the pile of metal, it had been magically assembled into my very own tool box – empty of course, but only for the briefest of moments.  I took it downstairs and filled it with bent nails that could be straightened, saws that weren’t too rusty and a hammer that wasn’t quite broken.  It was a gold mine.

My first project was a bookshelf for Jo Anna, a person who not only didn’t read, but spent most of her time outside.  I was undeterred.  I sawed the 2x8s with the handsaw (yes, it took for flipping ever) and thwacked it together with my straightened nails.  I haven’t seen that bookshelf in many years, but I’m sure it’s being admired in a museum of fine furniture somewhere.

So, back to the Outhouse Workbench.

Kris woke me up one morning, handed me a cup of coffee and proceeded to lace her tennis shoes, talking in one long, continuous sentence about the unbelievable bounty of treasures in our alley that morning.  For those of you who aren’t familiar with the Kleindienst-Steele household, this is not an uncommon method of awakening.  When the landlords across the alley evict the latest tenant, there’s typically an avalanche of household stuff dumped unceremoniously beside the dumpster.  “Beadboard!” and “Bathroom!” and “Too heavy!” were repeated patterns in this morning’s report.

Indeed, there was a mountain of beadboard affixed to various 2x4s leaning against one another.  It wasn’t until we had most of it in the garage that I noticed the smell.  Upon closer inspection, there was not only a toilet paper holder mounted to the wall, but evidence of the explosion of some sort of bodily function.  Our find was in fact the disassembled parts of a very unfortunate bathroom stall.

It has sat in our garage for some time now, but I had to move it this weekend because I broke the tool fairy’s router.

Perhaps I should explain.

I’ve  been working like a fiend to get the most out of the tools bestowed upon me by the tool fairy before they turn into pumpkins and he needs them back, so I’ve made the following:

Two – count them two – deck planter boxes from an old fence.

pencil box thing for Kathleen

Sculpture type thing with a melted bottle and Kathleen’s wrought iron thing. The base is from the old fence.

even more planter boxes

even more planter boxes

Kris went out of town, leaving me with time on my hands and nary a project in site.  She called our friend Kathleen and asked her to Jaysit (which really means just give me something to do so I don’t tear down the bathroom wall and install a whirlpool).  Kathleen obliged and told me she wanted a hutch for her desk.  I gleefully bought wood, router bits and stain and took a three day weekend in which to build my masterpiece.

Mid-dado cut (the groove where you put the shelf), the router shuddered and stopped.  I did the most obvious thing and shook it, hoping it would start working again.  Nope.

Lori, the most awesome neighbor in the world, saw me sitting in the driveway with my head in my hands and rushed over to ask me what was wrong, which made me decide that she’s several notches above the most awesome neighbor in the world.

I begged the tool fairy’s forgiveness, and in true tool fairy fashion, he forgave me via voice mail, email, and message conveyed in person through his wife, Pam.  I, of course needed all these forms of forgiveness because even though the router was 25 years old, the old dear died on my watch.

I had to have a router to finish the bookshelves and my new project (hopefully) of building a cabinet for some drawers Kathleen bought, which were salvaged out of the old St. Louis City Library building.  I stalked Craig’s List for a week until I found a man willing to part with his router, router table and a box full of brand new bits for a reasonable price.

Isn’t she pretty?

By now, you know me and have no doubt guessed that I talked louder and dropped the g’s on my gerunds to sound less soft handed and bookish on the phone, then drove all the way to Belleville, IL rehearsing how I would introduce myself and making a list of relevant topics to discuss while pretending to examine the tool before buying it.

In the end, the bookshelves weren’t up to snuff, but the tool breakage and purchase and prospect of more woodworking projects lead me to this past weekend, wherein I cleaned out my garage, which had started to look like a four year old organized it.

Amongst all the detritus was the disassembled bathroom stall, toilet paper holder still attached.  I threw away the feces stained portion and broke apart the rest, then reassembled it into a work bench.

I have waited my entire life for this small room in heaven.

When we finally get back to the kitchen project, my workshop will rock!

It is thirty years after Dad brought home the disassembled tool box and a bajillion household projects later.  I like to think he would be jealous of my garage, and sometimes when I’m alone out there I share it with him in spirit.

I still wouldn’t know how to put together the tool box, and I totally straightened out the old nails on the bathroom stall to make the workbench.


A Pantry Like No Other

I’ve paused my obsessive blogging about my kitchen partly because I’m perpetually worried that you all see my posts on facebook and roll your eyes like, “Oh, goody. Jay sawed through another gas line.  Big friggin’ deal,” and partly because my wrists, elbows and hands have raised their collective voices in protest for being asked to enter endless bookstore numbers on my laptop, turn screwdrivers, hold palm sanders and then type about all of it.

Carpal tunnel anyone?

Anyway, let’s catch up.  When last we met, I was soothing my bruised ego (after flooding the basement) by painting random park benches and building drawers.  I have recovered sufficiently enough to unveil my latest triumph.

Check. It. Out.

Behold the self-contained beauty of the drawer slide out thing

I took out the glass in a couple of glass cabinet doors and replaced it with MDF (sort of like plywood only kind of better and a crapload dustier to cut), glued and nailed it in, then attached the drawers that I built from spare wood in the garage.

Later, we’ll paint the cabinet fronts to match the kitchen and put on  drawer pulls.

For my next trick, I decided to use medium duty drawer slides on the top and bottom.


The answer is no, it’s not flipping level! These drawer slides are a thing of the past.

After trying for two days to get the godforsaken drawer slide out thing to actually SLIDE OUT, I decided to take a break and build another drawer slide out thing that probably wouldn’t budge either.

This one had to be built a few inches off center to get around the funky air duct that the dear installers left jutting into our pantry.  Degree of difficulty? 8.

New drawer slides (model not included)

I finally got wise and sprung for the better drawer slides and it worked proving that my death grip on my wallet sometimes gets in my way.  They totally work now!

And scene.

What, you may ask, is Kris doing whilst I am toiling away at our project?


She’s landscaping the entire back yard.  By herself.  Apparently she “needs somewhere to go that isn’t under construction.”

Picky, picky.

In case you’re wondering who gets any rest in our house.

I’ll stop typing now so that my fingers don’t fall off, but I will be back with updates on what will be the most awesome built-in wine rack in the world:

Why yes, that is an old bookshelf.

How Jarek Got His Groove Back

After last week’s severance of my confidence from my person by my plumbing,  I couldn’t bring myself to look at another kitchen related project.  Instead I cleansed my palate of Hell Corner and did this instead:

Bench Before

Before taking out my aggression via sandpaper.

Bench After

After reattaching some boards, painting, and stenciling.

I feel much better now.  So much better, in fact, that I decided to dip my toes back into The Project.

I’ve been sneaking out to the garage to play with my tools all week.  I do love them all, but I reserve a special place in my geeky, diy heart for my table saw.  She is strong.  She is capable.  She can do anything.  I’m sure of it.

This unfettered admiration is almost matched by my infatuation with the band saw that was one of the tools that Terrie the other Tool Fairy provided the other week for the promise of a couple hundred dollars and my lawn mower.

What?  Have you seen my yard?  It measures approximately 6 1/2 x 4 inches.  I have been mowing it with a weed whacker for a year and a half.

Anyway, I’ve been bonding with my first love (the table saw) by figuring out how to build out our pantry.  And who figured out how to make cabinet joinery for the slide-out drawer cabinet thing without so much as ONE shop class in high-school?

That’s right -ME.  But before I get too self congratulatory, let’s just review the training I’ve had in all things home improvement.



Exactly.  While other boys (who, incidentally, were born into actual [ahem] boy bodies) were busy building soap box derby cars and plaques in shop class I was planning my wedding in a high school class called “Marriage and Family” [a mandatory class exercise I managed to squeak a C out of after planning a K-Mart Wedding with Kentucky Fried Chicken catering – which, incidentally, isn’t too different from what my actual wedding was like later on, except we went to McDonald’s after hitting the Justice of the Peace].  Also on my class schedule was Home Economics, and Foods.

I’m convinced that the Unit 40 school district contributed to the melt down I had years later while shopping at the Boy Scout store for my step-son, Ben.

I would have been a kick-ass boy scout.  Instead, I was in the friggin’ Brownies making up cheers and dances in South Side Elementary School’s lunch room.

Anyway, imagine my GLEE when I actually succeeded in putting up a level built-in cabinet wall, complete with hidden screws I drilled with my pocket hole jig, then actually installed drawer slides for the slide out drawer cabinet thing (at midnight last night)!

Behold the Beauty!

Ok, so it’s not beautiful YET, but once I patch and paint the walls and install the drawers it’s going to be great.

But THIS –  this is the thing that swept away the anxiety of Hell Corner in a thunderstorm of AWESOME.

With my trusty table saw, I mastered (sort of) the technique of building the drawers this morning before realizing that Bruno ate a light bulb.  That put an end to my fun.  That and the fact that I have to actually work today.

See the perfect grooves?  The beautiful cuts?!  The straight lines?!!!

Recognize that wood, Terrie? That’s the stuff you were going to BURN! Blasphemy!

Anyway, I think we can all agree that I.  AM. AWESOME.

Today anyway.  There is that phone call I have to return to my therapist, but that can wait until tomorrow.

Today I rock.

With this router, I thee wed

This is the front side of the cabinet frames.

I decided to keep myself busy this weekend by cutting the panels from our cabinets so I can replace them with MDF (that’s medium density fiberboard to you and me).  Why, you ask?  Because our cabinets are so cheap [how cheap are they?]  They’re so cheap that the panels in the frames won’t even take paint well.  At least that’s what Tommy [the architect who Kris knows from back in the day] says.  I only call him “Tommy” here because it’s weird if I call him that in person.  It’s like at the Oscars when everyone talked about Martin Scorsese in their acceptance speeches.  “Oh, it was such fun working with Maaahty” and “Marty is such a genius.  He really gets actors.”  Then the camera went to him sitting in his seat nodding appreciatively, but you could tell he wanted to jump up from his seat and say, “I am Hollywood royalty you peon.  Address me by my rightful title or I’ll relinquish your acting credentials!”

In real life I call Tommy by his whole name, Tom Cohen, the way I still refer to Jennifer Matthews as Jennifer Matthews, although that’s to differentiate her from the 14 other Jennifers in my life.  Tom Cohen is Tom Cohen because there is no way my life would ever intersect with his except through Kris and the bookstore, and calling him “Mr. Cohen” suggests some sort of kinky secretary/boss relationship.  Sure, I force myself to call him “Tom” when we’re in the same room together, but that’s like when your father-in-law tells you to call him “Tom” so you do but secretly it creeps you out.  But I digress.  Often.Tommy came over to our house the other day and informed Kris (because I was picking up a dishwasher and generally trying to look competent and busy and therefore inaccessible) that the adhesive on the walls about which I complained in earlier posts in fact contains ASBESTOS!  Is there nothing that is not tainted with poison in this house?  Anyway,

Pantry/ductwork thing.

the kitchen is poison and the cabinets are too cheap to paint, but he did mention that I could use a router to “pop the panels out” of the doors and replace them with MDF, which isn’t too cheap to paint and will make all the doors match.I do love the tools I borrowed from Kim the Tool Fairy, including a router,  and even though I’ve never actually used a router, I was confident that I was up to the task.

The long and the short of it is I suck at routing.  Or is it routering?  Probably routing.  We’ll call it that.  Kris and Lori, the most Awesome Neighbor Ever, soothed my damaged ego by saying the gouges add “character” to the cabinets.  I told them that I’d made the executive decision to use the other sides of the doors so that we’ll have the arts and crafts shaker look, plus the crappy routing/routering job and panels which are sure to be crookedly cut will be hidden behind the closed doors. How quickly one forgets that one is not the executive. Kris set to work sanding the frames within an inch of their lives so that we could “pop” a panel of mdf in when we get paid next week while I destroyed something – which is what I do best.

I ripped out the rest of our built in hutch/air conditioning thing so that I could start building a new pantry there.  I even got to use the “saws all” to rip out a particularly stubborn piece of cabinet.The plan is to close off the ductwork thing and build shelves for cookbooks under which will be the wine/coffee station.  Below that will be two slide out pantry cabinets made by yours truly.

An argument against open shelving.

As it stands now, the kitchen is cabinet doorless and the ductwork is slightly exposed.  This week, I’ll convince myself that I can actually build a pantry.

Next weekend I’ll beg Cody to come over and solder our copper pipes so we can replace the kitchen sink cabinet without flooding the house.

What could possibly go wrong?