If there ever was a summer in my life that I’d want to be on a roll with building shit, this would have been the one, obviously.
Was I? Absolutely not.
I’ve never been able to fully articulate the difference between when I’m “on” and “off” as it relates to building. Sometimes–through fate, or alcohol, or the alignment of the stars, or (more likely) brain chemistry–I am just on. I have energy for days, I can hold numbers and building plans in my head without trying, I never mis-cut a board, and the most complex projects seem laughably easy. Sometimes this lasts a week, or a couple of weeks, or the entire first half of 2019.
And then there’s the other times. Where I will sit and stare at a pile of lumber (or the space where I’m supposed to be building things) for a very long time. I will get distracted by whatever nonsense is on my phone. If I try to force it, I will mis-cut every board twice and then lose my shit.
The very strange thing is that this is almost exclusively related to building shit. And sometimes with writing. But it doesn’t happen in the other areas of my life, like with my job (which, like building, requires both right and left brain participation), or my workouts (which, like building, require a degree of energy and motivation).
My point is… brains are very weird.
Historically the way I’ve handled this is… I just don’t build shit when I don’t feel like building shit. (Or, sometimes I let myself build whateverthefuck I want, even when there are more critical projects I should be working on.) And that has worked because I’m okay with living in a house that has no flooring and holes in the walls. But you can imagine it’s weird for people in my life (hi mom) who need me to help them with small, building-related tasks, and instead of getting anything done, I’m just staring comatose at the tape measure (when literally the month before I fabricated a couple of built-ins in a weekend out of basically scrap wood.)
(True story: In the worst of my “off” period this summer I tried to force myself to finish those cabinets for my mom, and ended up spending a fair amount of money on custom, non-returnable cabinet doors in sizes so wrong I think maybe I had a stroke when I was reading the tape? I mean, come on. It’s a fucking rectangle divided in half, and I have built actual houses. It should not be possible for me to fuck it up that bad. But I did.)
All of this is to say… this summer, I did drink beer and built some shit. And on the scale of how much I was in Kicking Ass and Building Shit Mode? (10 being this and 0 being those cabinet doors I mis-measured.) I was probably at a 5.7 for this one:
That’s what I spent a week’s worth of evenings staring at. The back of my mom’s deck.
My mom’s deck needs some work in general, but you know what was impossible to come by this summer? Pressure treated wood. Everyone and their goddamn uncle was building decks (which I wholeheartedly support) but also, so irritating when I need lumber and it’s out of stock. Also, you know what I’m not doing when I’m at a 5.7 on the Building Shit Mode scale? Replacing all the decking and railings on a 600sf deck. Just no.
However, this was legitimately driving both of us nuts…
The existing railing was right at eye-level-when-sitting-down height and blocked the view of the lake. And I was like, okay, I’m not in Building Shit Mode, but, also, it’s stairs, right? I should be able to do this in my sleep (and/or with the help of 4 cases of beer.)
Here’s the thing about being at a 5.7. This build was miserable. (Also it was the hottest, muggiest week of the year.) But, also, it was not impossible.
Luckily, my mom’s house is a mile down the road from the farm, and I have a tractor with an auger. So digging the holes for the concrete piers was relatively easy. (Did I break a shear bolt and also somehow cause a leak in the gear box of the auger? Of-fucking-course.) Was the grade of the ground a pain in the ass? Also yes.
Did I buy those stringers pre-cut? Absolutely.
Did I also send my mom on a mission to 4 different lumber yards to find enough pressure treated wood to finish these off? I did.
I basically outsourced (to my tractor, my mother, the liquor store, and whoever cuts those prefabbed stringers) all the major hurdles in the project.
It was so miserably hot that for the first time in my life I worked barefoot and in shorts on a project. (Definitely regretted the barefoot thing more than once, but it’s cool, my tetanus is totally up to date.) But I will say that at the end of those hot, miserable building sessions… this wasn’t the worst way to end the day.
After about a week of trying not to shout profanity in front of the neighbor kids (whom I adore), there were stairs…
And a much better view from the deck.
(The railings are temporary until the whole new deck railing goes in.)
Also, here’s a legit (even after 4-cases-of-beer) protip… I ran a 1/4″ roundover bit in my palm router over the ends of the deck boards on the stairs. Looks way more polished.
Also, that “starting stair” that’s wider than the rest of the staircase and wraps around the railing posts? That was just because I fucked up on the height of where the top of the first step should land based on the grade… decided to add another step, and decided since I was adding another step, I might as well make it fancy.
None of which would have happened, if I’d been a 7+ on the scale and all my initial measurements were right. Are we doing philosophical life lessons today? If so… there’s probably one buried in there somewhere.
Like I said, it wasn’t easy. But difficult does not mean impossible.
At the end of the day I’m happy with how the stairs turned out, happy we made a little progress on Lake House projects this year, and definitely not going to talk about how many actual cases of beer it took to finish that project. (It was a lot.)