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Monday, March 31, 2014

HOA Approved (Because They Can't See It) Shed

I really enjoy building things. Years ago, I would approach a project with the following mindset: "What tool do I want? Therefore, what project can I do to justify purchasing that tool?" And that, my friends, is how to build a tool supply in your workshop! Now, either because I'm more mature or because I have almost every tool there is to own (I choose to believe the former, but the latter is probably more accurate), my method of doing projects is solely based on what needs to be done. Of course I also enjoy helping people, which led to the following project.

Framing in my driveway and dry-fitting the walls
My pastor and his family live in a neighborhood with an HOA (HOA, for my international friends, is a Home Owner's Association. They make and enforce rules in the neighborhood with the intent to keep the neighborhood from looking terrible, although some HOAs tend to be slightly more oppressive, dictating the minutes that trash cans can be on the curb). Their HOA will not allow backyard storage sheds to be seen from the front. So the question became this: Is it possible to build a storage shed for 6 bicycles and various scooters that is shorter than a 6 foot wall, can withstand the Arizona sun, all while staying under a $400 budget? The answer: of course you can (but not if you're looking to buy tools with the budget amount).

My helper, practicing with her hammer
I am not going to give you a step by step for this project. In fact, I'm going to let you in on a little secret of mine. I don't use plans, nor do I draw them up. I never have. Not for a single project that I have ever done. I built bunk beds from plans that were in my head. I built craft station stairs for those bunk beds from plans in my head. I built numerous storage sheds from plans in my head. I am in the process of building a entryway storage unit/bench from plans that are in my head. I have tried to draw plans and work from plans with projects, but it doesn't work. I know that many woodworkers will read this and scoff at me. That is fine. I can take it. For whatever reason, I just cannot work with paper and pencil as the middle man. I need to go straight from my brain to wood and tool. 

Perhaps I learned this from my dear friend Doc. Doc is somebody that I worked with for several years. On top of teaching together, Doc and I built all of the sets for the school plays together. Doc and I talked about the set and pieces that we needed, but as I look back, I don't ever remember the two of us having paper that we worked from. We discussed, visualized, problem-solved...and then built. Doc helped build in me a love for tools, and he taught me most of the basic building skills that I use regularly.

A set piece from Fiddler on the Roof, the first set that Doc and I did together
Doc passed away quite abruptly in 2006 from cancer. The anniversary of his death was last week, the same time I was working on the shed for my pastor. As I was framing the shed, I began thinking about the influence that Doc was particularly (but not solely) in the area of tools and craftsmanship. One of the last times I visited Doc in hospice, I gave him a cross that I made. It was made with lace wood, and it wasn't that great. While it looked like a cross, I couldn't get the miters quite lined up, so there were some gaps. I wrapped rope around the middle of the cross to cover the gaps, but I didn't fool Doc. He smiled, said that he was impressed with the work, and then turned it over and saw the gaps. I confessed that the gaps were the reason for the rope, and with a twinkle in his eye he said, "So what makes you think that I would want it?"

I have realized with every project that I tend to focus on the mistakes, the gaps, the errors, the imperfections. As the shed went up last week, my pastor asked me if I would do anything differently if I were to build another one. Of course I would. There is always room to improve and things that could be better. But I accept the imperfections. These are the things that separate the work that I do from something that comes from an IKEA factory in Sweden. (IKEA, if you're reading this...I really do want that $10,000 kitchen make-over, even though your cabinets are too perfect). No two projects that I make will ever be alike. It will be different every time. And next time it will be better.

Leveling the base and checking the walls for plumb
I'll close with the story of Dick Proenneke, a man who wanted to see if he could survive in Alaska alone for one year after he retired at age 51. He ended up living in Alaska for 30 years, documenting his experience with a journal, a still camera, and a reel-to-reel camera. Everything that he needed he built by hand. He built his cabin, including the fireplace, the hinges for the door, his table and chair. Watching the two part documentary is quite amazing. Dick said that, while teamwork is good, one of the problems (as he sees it), is that people don't work on a project from beginning to end anymore. He felt that everybody should have the opportunity to start with raw materials and create something.

The finished product, with two inches below the wall to spare
While I did not cut down the trees and mill the lumber that I used for this shed, I did create something from my own design from semi-raw materials. I know that what I did was not exactly what Dick Proenneke was talking about, but there is still a sense of accomplishment in creating, building, and finishing a project. And I imagine Doc is looking down, wondering about the bent nail here or the gap in the siding there with a twinkle in his eye and a smile on his face. After all, the imperfections are what make it my creation.






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