Monday, October 25, 2010

A technology guy plays with lumber... (with photos)

When I got my new phone from work a couple weeks ago, one of the first things I did was test the speaker phone to see if it would be usable. I called my boss from my living room. "How does it sound?" I asked "Like you have me on speakerphone in an under-furnished townhouse" was his answer.

Between having eyes that are bigger on style (I prefer clean lines and minimal ornamentation) than my wallet is on cash, it's true -- to take the apt words of my boss "under-furnished" -- Rather than buying pieces I don't love for the sake of owning furniture* many traditional pieces have been temporarily forgone**

For example, my bowling alley of a living room has been crying for something to delineate "living" from "dining" more clearly than the naked back of a sofa. The one piece that I've seen that earned a "eh, I could probably make that work" reaction shocked me away with a $1,900 price tag. Likewise, I was enamored by one of the set pieces from The Cleveland Play House's Around the World in 80 Days, but realized--if by some long shot I could acquire it--its proportions probably wouldn't work.

I've had occasional delusions of building my own furniture (and I do own a respectable, if far from complete collection of tools) but I also realize my own limitations: Mechanical precision is something I appreciate but is not a strong suit. Any design would have to be relatively simple, both to satisfy my desire for clean lines and to address the precision aspect.

The right combinations of light bulbs flicked on while my mom was visiting... a spontaneous visit to the Home Depot lumber department and about $80 in materials later I have "Phase 1" of my sofa table.

Yes, it's pine -- possibly the cheapest solid wood; similar size oak and poplar boards, for example sell for more per lineal foot than pine does for a full 6' board -- but the pieces my mom and I pulled look pretty darn nice, if I do say so myself... and it's real wood, not particle board, press board, laminate, or plywood.

My original thought was that I wanted something "piano black" (e.g. black high-gloss lacquer) but the natural wood is growing on me. Recognizing my limitations all of the joints are 90 degree butt joins rather than the more traditional mitred edges. It looks a little cleaner, but I can guarantee that I'd flub the measurements and waste perfectly good wood... Not having to worry about angles makes the cutting much easier.

Phase II will add a shelf underneath and will turn the "sofa table" into a combination "sofa table/sideboard" and add interface modules for my house lighting system so that the table lamps (to be acquired) can be automatically dimmed with the rest of the lights in my house.

With my mom's extra set of hands (which came in quite handy while navigating a 6' long by 18" wide piece of wood up the stairs without damaging anything as well as while nailing the trim to the top and legs) it took 6 pieces of lumber, 6 cuts and maybe 90 minutes to build. And left a sense of tangible satisfaction when I was finished.

(The geeky touches that prove that it actually is my living room: The Cisco VOIP phone, my violin, and in the background the posters enticing you to visit destinations served by long defunct airlines)

* - The idea of spending (wasting) money on something less than ideal for a nicety such as furniture is repugnant to my "don't do anything half way" motivations...especially if I plan to replace it.
**- It really wasn't that long ago that my nightstand (read: the object upon which my alarm clock sits) was upgraded from "cardboard moving boxes" to "scrap board held up by hastily-assembled 2x4 scraps left over from an earlier project"

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