Sunday, August 13, 2006

Doing it Yourself (DIY) -- August 14, 2006

I was standing in a large hardware store, looking at tall pine boards. When I mentioned to the twenty something attendant that I wanted to build some furniture, he almost choked. I'm not sure he knew what one does with boards anyway.

Even the acronym, DIY sounds shady, a little like DWI. A DIY store is a hardware store, and there aren't many of them, the largest being B&Q, a clone of the Home Depot and judging by the similar layout probably owned by them. Thirty five years ago when I lived on this side of the Atlantic, DIY amounted to painting a room yourself or, if you were brave enough, wallpapering it. You didn't hear of intrepid souls who built their own furniture, fixed their cars, repaired their plumbing or, heaven forbid, built their house. Doing it yourself was regarded as definitely disreputable, like doing a bad job, Unprofessional, and not something that respectable people wanted to tangle with. Today it's catching on, but you still have to hunt for a hardware store. Aberdeen has a hole in the wall with the basics, but no building material.

When I arrived in the States, I knew how to paint and lay wallpaper. Leaving the States I can build furniture, carve wood, lay a plumbing line, repair appliances, work on cars and so on. I learned those arts first by living in a hippy commune and later working summers in a camp up in the Sierra Nevada as their maintenance man. American attitudes towards using your hands were different, at least in the seventies and eighties. That professionals will totally screw it up so you'd best do it yourself. Book learning isn't enough; you need to be able to do it with your hands. Who's going to board up your house in case of a hurricane but you?

But we need bookshelves to take care of those bulging cardboard boxes that still haven't left our living room. No problem. I measured the space available, sketched out what they'd look like and calculated how many feet of 1 x 10s I'd need. Six ten foot lengths would do. The lumber section in B&Q had many selections of pressed wood and prepared panels, ready to insert. I found the raw lumber in a warehouse in back. Where are my 1 x 10s? I find 20.1 mm x 265mm by 4m. Dismayed, I look to Amber for help, but she makes it clear that she hasn't got a metric to foot converter on her. I take out my paper pad. Good thing that I learned long division in school or I'd be sunk. The wood feels fresh, barely seasoned, and it's expensive. Almost twice what I'd pay for in the States. That may be why furniture here is so expensive. Wandering off to the tool section in search of a ¾ inch router bit, I get my next shock. Lots of millimeters and fractions of them stare at me from the display case. I take out my pen and paper again.

We push our cart loaded with metric lumber and tools to the checkout where I realize we're standing in line with professionals, not at all the DIY crowd. This point is reinforced as I tie down the lumber to the car's roof and look over a few acres of parking lot. All small cars and none with anything strapped to the roof.

Yesterday I sawed and routed out the wood, then glued up the bookshelves. I used power tools I had brought from the States, hooked up to a 120 to 250volt transformer. What was lumber now resembles furniture. And Amber was happy.

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