Down East 2013 ©
I confess that I am not now, nor have I ever been “good with my hands”, the durable old Maine phrase denoting mechanical aptitude. What makes this such a bitter pill to swallow is that I am a Mainer from a long line of Mainers and all Mainers are pretty much presumed to have been endowed at birth with a basic, practical, intuitive mechanical sense. It’s part of that whole “Yankee Ingenuity” thing , right? Sadly, in my case, the answer is “not likely, chummy!”
My step-father Frank L. Sample once actually built a thirty-six-foot, V8-powered sport fisherman for the family. He did this in his spare time working nights and weekends. Of course it helps if you own a shipyard, but still. My brother is the same way — both brothers, actually. The younger one, a building contractor, can dig a hole, pour a foundation, and proceed to build a big honkin’ house right on top of it. Amazing! My older brother qualifies by virtue of being the guy with the pickup truck and chainsaw you call after the ice storm. Even my youngest sister, a TV producer in Portland, sits at a console eerily similar to the bridge of the starship Enterprise and keeps an entire TV station running. Meanwhile back at the ranch, I’m typing this with one finger. See what I mean?
So I’m not even remotely good with my hands. So what? Does that have to stop me from trying? On the contrary, my sporadic attempts to override my all thumbs’ ineptitude have now acquired the soft patina of cherished family legends. Here’s a classic.
As a fledgling dad I once purchased a home in Winslow, Maine. It was a “fixer-upper,” the whole idea being that you save cash up front and build “sweat equity “ over time by doing a lot of the work yourself. Right. The early “paint and paper” type jobs went along just fine. I am, after all a cartoonist so that puts me in the “art department.” From there we quickly progressed to the structural stuff which is way above my pay grade! I wanted to put my art studio in the basement and, assisted by some “good with their hands” friends, got the sheetrock walls up.
Since my involvement was limited to “lugging stuff,” this project went off without a hitch. When I started setting up the studio I placed the drawing table over there, the light table over there. Hmmm, something’s missing. Hey! How about a little table next to my drawing stool, something simple and sturdy with a few shelves and those swiveling casters on the feet? This is how it starts.
Of course I could have simply purchased such an item for $100 or so (twenty bucks at Marden’s ). But, where’s the fun in that? We handy homeowners love a little project. It’s what “sweat equity” is all about! Heck, how hard can it be anyway? A couple of hours later and about $512.97 poorer, I exited the parking lot of Wickes Lumber. I did manage to drive everything home in one trip. But, it was tight.
Not really owning any actual “tools,” I had been compelled to purchase a few. I’m not sure about the rest of the folk singers but I certainly “had a hammer,” plus two different varieties of power saw (the kind with the big round blade and the other kind with the little skinny blade that goes up and down), a vast selection of screwdrivers, pliers, drop lights, power strips, and about a half-bushel of assorted nails, nuts, bolts, and screws. Oh yeah, and a heavy- duty shop vac for cleaning up afterwards, just the basics.
In the interest of making my little table “sturdy” I’d selected pressure treated six-by-six timber for the legs. The top, sides, back, and shelves were all fashioned from sheets of three-quarter-inch exterior plywood. Generous mounds of galvanized nails, each roughly the size and weight of a railroad spike, were augmented by a few dozen strategically placed six-inch-long woodscrews added for strength and durability. The end result, a wooden table about three and a half feet tall by two feet square, took just over 137 hours to complete and weighed pretty close to 300 pounds. I gave up on the casters because by the time I remembered I had them I couldn’t lift the table high enough to install them.
Adding insult to major groin injury, if you were to stand in front of the table, place your two index fingers on the front corners and push gently, the entire structure could easily be induced to wobble around comically like a huge plate of Jell-O. It was, in fact, an appalling waste of perfectly good trees.
After sulking for a day or two I gave in and called a carpenter friend of mine in Skowhegan who came over, looked at my monstrosity, asked some questions and left. Returning bright and early the next morning, he went right to work. A couple of hours later he called me downstairs. I was stunned. In half a day, without breaking a sweat, he’d created the very cabinet I had imagined, a masterpiece of elegant simplicity which weighed about a dozen pounds yet would clearly support half the varsity football team should the need arise. “No big deal,” he said. As I made him out a check: “I’m pretty good with my hands.”
So there it is folks. If you ever find yourself in need of someone to step in on short notice and keep a couple of hundred people laughing for an hour or so, by all means give me a shout. If, on the other hand, you’re looking for help with a few projects around the house? I know this guy up in Skowhegan.