The piece of wood is way too long — too long for my project and too long for me to manage under the sharp blade of a machine. Even if I could maneuver it over to the table saw, there is no way I can hold it up flat as it slides along the rotating saw blade. So I go to the workbench looking for a way to do this by hand. I find a small handsaw, measure an inch or two past my target length and start sawing. This is awkward. I’m barely able to hold the long board still as I drag the saw teeth back and forth over the thin wood. It’s not the sharpest saw and the space I’m in is a bit cramped, so I stop to take breaks, flexing my hand, which isn’t used to this tool, and stretching my legs, which are getting cramped in my squatted-down position. Eventually I make it through. The cut is so crooked. But I knew this would happen; I planned ahead and gave myself extra room to correct.
With the wood more manageable now, I carry it upstairs and correct my jagged cut with the chop saw: I remeasure, this time more exact than before; I line up the laser line with my soft pencil marks; I oh-so-carefully make sure my hands and body are far enough from the unforgiving machine; I squeeze the button and the metal wheel of the blade starts spinning; I pull the arm of the saw toward me to make the cut all the way through the wood.
No matter how many times I use the chop saw — and that number has increased exponentially since our renovation began — the initial commotion of the machine in action is startling. It’s just so loud, and it makes the lights in the room dim just a little as it sucks up a big chunk of the electrical current pulsing through the walls. It flings sawdust and wood particles with no regard to its surroundings. It’s job is to sever and cleave and divide, and it does so with ease.
I continue using the chop saw for several more cuts, measuring and splitting and shaping the pieces I need. It’s not an exact science for me. I’m creating as I go, fitting and re-cutting, changing my mind and re-positioning pieces.
When I finally finish cutting, I reach for the sand paper and wear down the rough edges. I refine and soften and smooth. Then comes the paint, the white primer laid on in long strokes. This too is awkward, as I try my best to maneuver the brush around corners and joints. The wood is not the only thing getting painted as I slip and touch the wet pigment with my fingers, as I drip excess on the floor, as I set pieces down to dry on spare two-by-fours. There’s white on more surfaces than I meant.
It’s days before I can make it back to my project, apply a second coat of paint, buy the right hardware that I need for assembly. The project still isn’t finished, but it will be soon. It always seems that projects take three times as long to finish as one intends …
But I’ve created this with my hands and my brain, envisioning something and making it happen with the supplies and tools I have at my disposal. I have taken what my husband has been teaching me these last couple years about home repairs and renovation and putting them to work even when he’s not around. I’m adding to our home with work from scratch and it makes me proud.
There’s a lot of building happening in our house right now. Literally, in terms of building a new bathroom and bedroom, laying tile and flooring, putting up walls and taking some down, nailing together pieces of a puzzle that will become dressers and shelves. But it’s also more than literal building. It’s also a life we’re building, every day, with our hands, when we cook for our friends, deal out cards with our family, write out notes and essays, feel the warmth of a cat’s purr, hand our partner a glass a wine. The building is good.
Sometimes the building is awkward or uncomfortable. Sometimes the building requires re-cutting, re-fitting, re-positioning. Sometimes it requires a complete redo. Sometimes the paint drips and you get some on your hands; sometimes it’s messier than you intended. Sometimes the building takes three times as long as you expected. But it’s okay because the building adds to our home and it makes us proud. It’s learning and connecting. It’s slow and it’s made from our hands.
The building is good.