From Board to Bedside

A little over a year ago, when D and I bought our very first house ever, I made a silent pact to myself to only fill it with things  I/we love and to not overfill it with things we don’t really need or use. I was coming fresh off the boat of eight years of apartment living – years of thrift store furniture and all sorts of second, third, fourth hand belongings (which there is absolutely nothing wrong with, by the way. Saved me a lot of money.) But I always would say to myself “One day when I own a house, I will invest a little more into a (insert chosen item here)” And I guess that’s how I would get through those moments when I just really really really really wanted the shiny new (expensive) couch that I truthfully couldn’t really afford, instead of this old slightly saggy one with the previous owner’s children’s toys still stuck under the cushions.

Fast forward to the house years. The intentions to upgrade are alive and well (sometimes exceedingly so). The money with which to upgrade is…well…only marginally better. Home ownership is quite a bittersweet thing, I’ve come to learn. You are freed from the constraints that come with renting, as well that ever present, if suppressed, disgust at the overpriced rental rates that you will never get any return on. But…they did take care of the all the maintenance, utilities, etc. When you own a home, you alone are responsible for the well-being of said home. It comes with no less than a plethora of things you will have to throw your money at – and it’s not always the fun stuff.

I remember when we first moved in, I overwhelmed myself with all of my ideas of these new spaces. It was a blank canvas and I was the ambitious artist. I was so excited. Consequently, after jumping in a little to fast and starting too many irons in the fire, I learned that to get the best results in creating this world that was to be our home, our refuge, and our sanctuary, (as well as to preserve a reasonable amount of sanity), I needed to learn to pace myself. I needed to learn to not settle, which would ultimately lead to wastefulness simply for the want of “stuff” or for a space to be filled.

Some of you who have had to move multiple times might appreciate that, especially in our American culture, it is sometimes much to easy to accumulate more than you could possibly need. And, if we’re being stripped down honest – want. And it becomes blatantly obvious every time you have to pack and unpack and repack it again. Or guiltily toss it in the trash if it’s not giveawayable. After doing this so many times, I was so wearied from it. It kind of got me to finally reevaluate and reshape how I purchase things. I’ve had to work on training myself not to binge buy, to put more thought into the products I was spending my money on, and every time I’m in a phase of impulse buying to make myself “sleep on it” first. Of course, being only human, sometimes things still do slip through the cracks…

So, partly because of the commitment to try to declutter my life and partly because we better described as dollarnaires than millionaires and need to face the reality of the fluctuations in our pocketbooks, I came to two possible paths of of achieving our aesthetic dreams for our home. One, we save for them. After a two month long course in Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University, we no longer allow credit cards or payment plans to be an option, particularly in this sort of venture. First of all, saving enough will take time. Time is a great cure for the impulsiveness that may ultimately lead to regretfulness, and it allows time to research and decide what you truly want and need. Also, when we do finally save up enough to buy what we want, we will be paying cash on the barrel. That is the best “no interest” option there is. So currently, there is a jar sitting in our house collecting physical cash weekly labeled “Furniture Fund”. Doesn’t need to be any fancier than that.

Second option – we make. I love the idea of filling our home with one-of-a-kind pieces – not from a fancy, exclusive supplier, but from our own two hands. Automatically, those pieces are going to carry more meaning and love than the next Target You-Assemble purchase will. In the process of making them, they also teach you patience, humbleness, and add more tiers to your skill levels. It’s a bit of a misnomer that making things on your own is cheap, but when it comes to furniture and the like, it can save you quite a bit from store bought, factory made options.  Of course, limitations can be found in your knowledge level, skill level, and tool availability. But how are you every going to develop any one of those if you don’t just jump in and try?

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Enter my latest project. A while back, D and I had a combined effort and built our own bed frame and head board for our bed. I knew matching bedside tables were the next to be, because we were currently using whatever random table-like structures that had followed us from our single days. For both the bed frame and the bedside tables, I used a wonderful site called Shanty2Chic. I love the style of these girls’ creations. They offer so many great DIY projects here, as well as free plans on many of them. For someone who is relatively new to woodworking and building, this has been so helpful to me and has really helped in developing my skills. I made the decision to fly solo on this one, and am so proud that I did. As much as a guiding hand is very beneficial, being your own teacher is a way of learning like none other.

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A fresh cuppa coffee and a fresh set of wood. It’s gonna be a good day.
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Preparing the wood can be one of the most time consuming and tedious parts of the process. I pre-cut all my of my pieces, followed by two to three sessions of sanding on each board. Most people will save their sanding until the end, when the project is put together. For good reason, because the building process can really present all sorts of opportunities for your wood to get marked up. However, for some reason I would rather sand down straight-forward pieces than odd corners, etc. of a finished project. I usually just do a ‘touch-up’ sanding at the end prior to staining. 
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Frame number one. Two lifesaving tools for this project – my Kreg Jig (which creates the little holes seen here to help discretely join the wood) and my Black and Decker Mouse detail sander. Oh, and discovering that we owned a table saw. That was a “Thank you, Lord” moment. 
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I used standard pine as my wood choice, with the exception of these cedar planks to give the tables a little design, and birch plywood pieces for the floor and the back of the tables. Pine is one of the most cost-effective project woods and easy to work with, though one day when I get a little more pocket change, it would be nice to start experimenting with different woods.

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I love stain. I love how it can completely change the character of your build, and how it can really bring out the naturally beauty and grains of the wood. My favorite stain to use is the Rustoleum brand, though I’m quite peeved at the moment because I’m having a difficult time finding a store in town that is carrying it. Luckily, I had previously stocked up on it in a moment of enthusiastic stain shopping a while back and had enough for this project. The color I used here is called Kona.
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A nice little tip I picked up on at some point – lightly sand your piece after your stain is dry but prior to applying the polyurethane. Emphasis on lightly, because you can go overboard real easily and end up causing a distressed look, unless that is what is desired (which I actually did on the corners of my tables in a random fashion to make them look less “new”). Having to stain in the same area where I had sawn and sanded created a lot of sawdust and particles floating around in the air. No matter how many times you wipe down your piece and try to clean the area prior to staining, little particles can still get caught up in your stain as it dries. Sanding it just prior to applying the polyurethane really helps make it as smooth as possible for the finished product.  
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Get creative with your hardware – you can direct a lot of the character of your piece that way. I actually picked up the knobs I used at a Junk Market in town a couple of years ago. I loved them, but couldn’t find an appropriate home or them until now!
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The finished product! The other one obviously sits on the other side of the bed, and they compliment our handmade bed frame perfectly, I think 🙂 

My tables are not perfect – they have their share of imperfections that maybe a more seasoned woodworker would have eliminated.  However, I’m starting to learn that learning to work your minor mistakes and oopsies into you project can be a very beneficial lesson, and will hopefully be only blatantly visible to the creator. But imperfections are also what makes handmade unique and that much more special.

Time wise, it took me about a weekend per table. I work slow to make things as good as I can possibly make them. Cost wise, it’s hard to say what exactly went into this project, because other than the wood, some materials I had and others I had to stock up on. If you’re already set on the stain and tools and screws, etc, wood-wise each table ran me about $30-$40.  In the grand scheme of things, I would guess our whole bedroom ensemble cost us about $200-$250 when all said and done. Not necessarily cheap, but a heck of a ways cheaper from the sets they can get you home with from a furniture store, and laced with infinitely more sentimental value.

I wouldn’t go so far to say I’m a minimalist, but I will say this – whether you choose to build or buy, love what you surround yourself with, as if it’s an extension and an expression of you. Don’t waste your hard earned money on things just to impress others or to fill empty spaces. You can never go wrong with a little elbow grease, sweat, a few tears, and hard work. 🙂

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