A hole in my editorial schedule has afforded me the time to catch up on my honey-do list. Like you, being handy with woodworking tools exposes me to a host of home renovation/repair/remodelling tasks. Also like you, my standards for interior woodwork (really any woodwork) are impractically high. I straighten studs with hand planes and hand cut miters.
I’m also the king of mission creep. A bad electric burner turned into a kitchen remodel. My wife’s desire to repaint our bedroom, untouched for more than 15 years, meant new trim, new doors, hardware and new electrics. The project was completed last Fall with a new bed and period correct textiles.
Not content with a beautiful bedroom and an ugly hallway, I extended the renovation down the second floor hall and into the bathroom. I did little to the bathroom proper save paint, trim (including crown molding) a new vanity and a hand cut cherry bathroom mirror.
My goal (and advice) is to be sure to finish such projects. A scarring episode of Oprah highlighted how annoyed some wives are with their husbands’ half finished projects. Its a sensitive subject with me since such jobs consume my very precious spare time. I’d rather spend my spare time painting pictures or playing basketball with the kids.
Still, the transformation to my suburban New Jersey split level (read- horrible 1950’s architecture) has been fairly dramatic. And just a shout out- lighting always makes it pop.
Latest project (bedroom, hall, and bath was last Fall) once again involved mission creep. We hired a painter to paint the exterior of the house. He was fast, good, and inexpensive so we asked if he could paint the high ceilinged main living/dining room. A wet Spring delayed his start date presenting me with the opportunity to quickly retrim this space, bringing it up to the same standard as the upstairs.
With that done, the family room started to look a bit dingy. I originally intended this space to have a utilitarian Shaker theme. Years ago I fitted the laundry room with built-in pine cupboards and lined the walls with peg rails. Throughout this space I used simple 1×4 pine, adding a bead to the lower edge with a side bead plane, as crown molding. The molding houses Shaker pegs from LV.
A wierd niche at the end of the room between the back door and powder room cried out for built in closets. That’s where I am now. The electric is done- walls are closed up and the solid wood 6 panel doors are hung but not planed to perfectly fit. 2 closets side by side consist of 2 24″ doors each. I buy these as blanks and hang them. But the trim is all supposed to be very utilitarian and built-in looking. Beside the closets a 2′ wide space remains. My intention is to make something akin to a built in hutch- open shelves over a half door.
Frankly, I don’t care for this sort of work. My wife Maria really doesn’t care for the disruption and stress that largely I create. The stress stems from the fact that I don’t feel particularly good at this sort of work. And I honestly don’t think I’m good at it. I have very little experience with power tools. And this sort of work really requires them. So for this latest project I’ve sought a few power tools to help me pick up the pace.
I bought a Bosch cordless drill (my first) and it’s been awesome. A Bosch compound miter saw has been helpful, tho I’ve found it not to be a panacea. Houses are rarely square enough to simply miter stuff. I have a airnailer powered from a big Sears compressor I bought years ago when I was working on my old German cars. Airnailers can be great, especially for trim work involving ladders. But moving the tank isn’t fun in a split level. And dragging black rubber hose around isn’t all that convenient. A hammer is cordless. So despite access to a few modern power tools, I’ve been leaning heavily on old fashioned hand tools.
I consider this sort of work entirely separate from furniture making. For me, my work is always bounded by “context”. Its the reason I wear colonial clothes in my articles. Home remodel jobs are certainly out of 18th century context. I’ve often heard it said “I choose the best tool for the job, be it hand or power”. I think this is code for “I use power tools but I own and can sharpen a block plane”. The reality is, for someone to choose, they must have skill to use the alternative efficiently. Otherwise it’s not a choice. I guess I feel I’m in that camp, and while perhaps not uniquely, certainly rarely.
Case in point: I stopped to sharpen my hand saw last weekend. I planed the door frame studs even with each other using a wooden jack plane in situ (i.e. planing a vertical surface). And I’m all that and a bag of chips with a chisel. I just don’t know how many woodworkers have these sorts of alternatives. Not sure how a commercial carpenter would do this sort of work. So much of what I do, even to me, seems esoteric, bordering on irrelevant. But these household projects have reminded me of what a huge advantage it is to be proficient (and maybe more than that) with hand tools.