Week 22: Build Something

If I’m being completely honest, I really have no desire to do anything for myself.  It’s not that I’m ready to throw in the towel — more that I’d like to focus on the fun things in life and outsource the rest of the crap.  Don’t worry, I’d stay busy.  I could fill my days with writing, reading, playing guitar, watching movies and the like.  Someone else could handle the working, the commuting, the errands, the waiting, etc. and I’d be perfectly happy.  I doubt this is a rare request among those interested in artistic endeavors.

suitcase pedals

In his quasi-memoir On Writing, Stephen King describes an idyllic writer’s paradise: mornings writing in an isolated cabin, delivered meals, and plentiful afternoon naps.  I might have added an hour or two of guiltless YouTube watching, but I think he nailed it on the head.  Why should I concern myself with all the distractions and nuisances of life if it’s not necessary?  Yes, money is required to pay for delivered meals and maid service, but the progression of technology is closing the monetary gap between outsourcing and doing it yourself.  And if someone can do it more efficiently and expertly than I can, why should I even bother?

I bought an old suitcase a few years ago with the intent of transforming it into a case and platform for my electric guitar effect pedals.  My grandfather built something like this for me when I was still in high school, but I’ve now outgrown what he made.  Selfishly, I didn’t help him make it and really had no clue how to build a super-sized version of it.  As the suitcase collected dust in my bedroom, I considered aborting the whole project and buying a premade pedal board online.

Though I took shop in middle school and built sets for theatrical productions in college, I’ve never been totally at ease with power tools.  Since school ended, my skills have deteriorated due to inactivity.  I don’t think it’s because I’m afraid of hurting myself; rather, I’m letting laziness trump everything.  I tell myself that I can buy one online and that my time is better spent elsewhere, but those are just lame excuses.  It’s time to man up.

bruces workshop

My father-in-law Bruce not only has a workshop full of fun tools but also worked as an architect, so I have no question that he’s the best MANtor for the job.  We start by sketching out my desired finished product.  I have no idea where to begin, so Bruce helps me devise a small blueprint and list of materials.  The board itself will be a sheet of particle board, propped up on an incline by three wedges of two-by-four.  We plan to place Velcro strips on the board to keep the electronics in place and install two handles on either side for easy removal from the suitcase.  While Bruce looks around his workshop for scraps of wood we can use, I head to Home Depot to get the other supplies.

Is there any place on Earth that is a better litmus test for manhood than the Home Depot?  The way I see it, Home Depot customers can be divided into three categories, in descending order of manliness: the lone wolf, the delegator, and the lost puppy.

The lone wolf is the man who walks into the Depot with the intention on ignoring every employee available to help.  He doesn’t need your help because he knows more about every possible home improvement project than you ever could.  Yes, he knows where the drill bits are.  No, he’s not carrying a list of what he needs – it’s all in his noggin.  And yes, he vocalizes the final “t” in “Depot,” not because he’s unaware of the correct pronunciation, but because silent letters are for wimps.

lost in home depot

The delegator is your garden variety Home Depot customer.  He’s watched enough HGTV to know what he wants to accomplish, but doesn’t realize how much time it would actually take to build that in-ground swimming pool and water slide combo.  But never mind the details, because the delegator is more than happy to let those employees decked out in orange aprons show him around the store.

The lost puppy shares qualities with the lone wolf and delegator; however, the combination of those qualities often results in disappointment.  He doesn’t know what he’s doing, but is too shy or embarrassed to ask for help.  If he is able to work up the courage to ask for assistance, he is stymied by the fact that he doesn’t know the name of what he actually needs.  He’ll need a Philips head screwdriver and will instead ask for the “pointed cross turning thing.”  I’ll give you three guesses as to which category you’ll find me.

Fortunately, my list of supplies is so brief that it’s practically (KEY WORD) foolproof.  The Velcro and handles happen to be near the entrance, but the foam proves tricky.  We intend to use foam to cushion the insides of the suitcase, but the fiberglass insulation foam seems to be off the mark.  True to my designated Home Depot customer category, I don’t really know the name of what I want, just that I’ve seen it in other musical instrument cases.  When I find a helpful employee, I ask for “foam rubber,” which gets a weird look before he sends me back to the insulation foam.  After a quick consultation with Q, I decide to pop over to Target and pick up a foam mattress pad that will do the trick.

table saw

When I return to Bruce’s workshop, he has found more than enough wood for our project.  We measure the dimensions of the suitcase and calculate the measurements of our cuts.  Once the math is done, Bruce sets up the table saw.  It’s been so long since I’ve used a power tool that a nervous surge of energy jolts through my body.  Fortunately, Bruce is a calm presence, and it’s clear that I’m in good hands despite my lack of confidence.  The first few cuts are easy enough because I can use the table saw fence to guide my hand, but when the diagonal cuts require only my steady grip, I lose my moxie.  The wood gets stuck on the blade for a moment, and then is shot backwards and flies upward, falling with a clang on the side of the table.  Though my instincts prove good as I quickly turn off the machine and step back, the ensuing heat from the blade sets off the smoke alarm.  Though I was embarrassed at the time, in hindsight, I view the alarm as a beacon sounding my manhood.  In the future, I will wear the shrill beeps like a badge of honor – it proves that men are at work.

After the table saw, Bruce directs me to the band saw, which I will use to round the edges off the wood so it lines up with the curvature of the suitcase interior.  I remember liking the band saw more than any other tool I used in shop class because it was meant for more fine tuning.  It felt like something I could control, whereas the table saw seemed to be its own master.  Using the band saw, I round the corners decently and am ready to settle for mediocrity, until Bruce suggests that I use the belt sander to finish the job right.

drill bit

I notice that my perfectionist streak wanes quite a bit in the workshop.  With so many things in my life, I can be anal-retentive to the point of inefficiency, but when I’m working with power tools, I find myself resigned to misshapen corners and inaccurate cuts.  I think it’s my perceived ignorance with all things woodworking and my fear of worst-case scenarios that effect this shoddy workmanship.  A certain incident with a safety knife might also have something to do with it.  In any case, I resolve to use Bruce’s encouragement as a step towards refining my craft.  I don’t stop sanding until the wood lays perfectly level on the ground.  When sparks start flying off the sander, I quell the voice inside my head that warns me about fire hazards.  My only thought is that I must look pretty cool right now.

After some drilling, sanding, screwing, fine tuning, more sanding, and hammering, the pedal board is complete.  It doesn’t fit as securely in the suitcase as I would have liked, but it feels solid on the ground and lays flat.  It’s somewhat rough around the edges, but I kind of like it that way.  It’s unquestionably my work.  Of course, there’s a healthy bit of pride that helps me see past its flaws, but thanks to Bruce’s encouragement, it turns out better than I could have originally hoped.

finished product

Perhaps it’s the difficult and time consuming parts of life that make the good parts so good.  Sure, a life full of fun while outsourcing everything else might be the dream, but it maybe it’s best left a dream.  It would have taken five minutes and two clicks to buy the perfect pedal board with money that I probably wouldn’t even miss in a week’s time, but where’s the satisfaction in that?  I made this thing, and the pride I feel is no different than the pride I felt in seventh grade shop class when I stopped asking for help and started working independently.  I never thought I would want to relive a single iota of middle school feelings, but I suppose there’s a first time for everything.


4.24.  I haven’t caught the DIY bug, but I can see its appeal.  It’s not just the pride or feeling of self-sufficiency that makes woodworking such an essential manly skill, it’s the individuality.  No one has the pedal board I made.  For all its flaws, I still look at it like my own little Charlie Brown Christmas Tree.