An associate I once knew said that I had a boring job and boring hobbies. Ok, so to call him an associate is a bit misleading as I didn’t associate with him. Truth is told, I didn’t hold a very high opinion of him or his points of view, which tends to happen when you’re dating my sister. She finally came to her senses and grew up so he’s not around anymore. However, the words of a person whom I do not associate with and opinion means little to me stuck around, or more importantly the meaning behind his words.
IT is boring.
Woodworking is boring.
I firmly believe that both of those statements are false. More so over, both of those lend to each other and success in one can create success in the other.
Now how does hacking the snot out of wood make a person better at IT, and how can any skill at a keyboard help you bend wood to your will? Valid questions. I thought the best way to compare the two would be via project. Luckily for us it has finally turned to Spring(ish) in Ohio and the workshop (garage) is available.
Much like any good IT organization my workshop is run by management whom understands outcomes and doesn’t delve too deep into the details on how the end goal is achieved. In this case the project was spawned from sitting on the couch on a Sunday morning looking at a disaster of children’s books invading the living room floor. I was told we should have something that matches the toy chest that I made last year to hold books AND wouldn’t it be nice if she could sit on it as well, like a reading bench. As any married man and good employee can attest, a statement like that can be converted into the project requirements.
Project Goal: Create a place to store children’s books, provide a sitting area, and match the existing décor.
The next step in a project is going to be… a plan.
Mine might leave a lot to be desired.
The bench will be 35” long and 13 ½” tall. It’s a bench with two sides, a top and a bottom. This gives us the dimension we need to create a material list. Materials list can be converted into budget request. In this case were looking at:
1- 4’x4x’ panel
Because the workshop is already stocked with tools, stains, and working supplies I am not counting those towards the budget. You might ask how do I justify cutting those cost out of any project, after all you can’t just take planks of wood and look at them to become a finished product. There are tools that will be used to cut the wood to size, stains that will be used on the wood, nails, glue, screws and pegs to hold this all together. Those are expenses that do occur but they have been paid for as part of owning a workshop. In the IT world this is known as operating expenses vs capital expenses or opex vs capex.
For the workshop the tools and supplies are part of owning it, these are capital expenses that were paid upfront as part of me to wanting to operate an environment that could take wood and convert it into something else. This is the same as a shop that wants to take the data they have already accrued and turn that into something more tangible. In that IT case the infrastructure is already in place that collects, process, and houses the data. This has been paid for so the real expense to account for is whatever it takes to convert the data into actionable product.
Expenses submitted and approved and now we have budge for the supplies. The local hardware store however didn’t have the 6′ lengths in any sort of form that I would find workable. In place of that I procured 2x additional 4′ boards. From a budget standpoint this had no impact (0.07$, so almost no impact).
Now it’s time to turn action plan into product.
First steps are to cut the lumber to size. This is where we hit the first real challenge. We opted to cut some corners right off the back and purchase some subpar quality lumber. Here I purchased white wood which is notorious for being warped, twisted, and generally crappy. What it lacks in quality it makes up for in being dirt cheap. Point in case, the first cut we need to make is for the sides of the bench.
If these were quality cuts of wood then these would line up. Since we cut cost on the materials we can make it back up in skill. This is the basis of the large companies that you hear run their entire enterprises on white box and sup-bar equipment. There is nothing wrong with using lower end materials if you have the skill set to make up the difference.
In this case it’s fairly easy to correct. We can make a quick line and cut to line up the sides.
This methodology actually has an extra benefit. The original design states that the top and bottom should be 35”. This would mean that all of the pressure of someone sitting on the seat would be placed on whatever is connecting the legs to the top. Like any good IT presentation, pictures speak a thousand words.
We will need to make a modification to the original design so the top sits on top of the leg as opposed to being supported by the sides. The mathematical way to do this is sum up the thickness of the sides and remove that from the bottom. We declared we used sub-par wood earlier which means there is bowing to take into account. So since math might not be as accurate as we want (no theoretical physics required) we need to rely on reality. The two sides were already clamped together to come to a consistent base, we can use the same to figure out an accurate amount to cut from the bottom.
Another line and a cut and now we have the entire frame lengths cut to size, regardless of quality of material and minor setbacks. Time for the first dry assemble of the book shelf commute reading bench.
Wow, somehow despite poor quality materials and a plan that needed to be changed mid-flight we have stayed on course and have the shaping of something that is starting to resemble a bench. Shape though is only part of the solution; it’s time to work towards making the product look like the end goal. In this case the end goal is supposed to be a weathered pink. From an IT standpoint were now looking to customize the end solution to meet a specific need. This is the pseudo fork in the stream that separates the solution from something you can buy off the shelf to something that you will need to customize to meet your end business requirements.
First step is to prep the workspace to hold the pieces as they dry. I’m a fan of using clamps as they allow customization without being permanent. Keeping something reusable helps cut cost on future projects.
Introducing two new liquid tools to the project. One is rather tasty; the other should not be consumed. Please raise your hand if you are having difficulties distinguishing between drinking the beer and the pre-stain, its ok to ask question if you’re unsure.
Pre-stain / wood conditioning is a corner that is often cut from many projects. I will confess when I started out, I too tended to skip this step. I mean, who has time to slather something twice just for the sake of even color. The ironic thing is that wood conditioner works best on sub-par wood and you are probably working with white wood because it’s an inexpensive to work with. So in one nice little trap we were too cheap to put in the effort to make the end product look anything but cheap and poorly done.
For this project that corner shall not be cut, we will simply put in a little extra effort for a better end product. Since were working with liquids that will be absorbed into wood I like to attempt to have a cleanish work space. I keep a piece of scrap cabinet backing around for this purpose. I wouldn’t eat off it but it does keep the dirt off the projects I’m working on AND has the added benefit of keeping the mess off the workshop garage floor.
I have found that for application purposes the cheap disposable applicator cloth sponges work best. Now depending on your local paint department they might not actually carry these. The pant department manager at the Home Depot up the road from me got into an argument with me at one point over applicator pads. Apparently it is his / their belief that the only professional way to apply stain is with a brush, so he would not stock any applicator pads. I learned a valuable lesson that day that I use towards my job as a Systems Engineer and as a consumer. People don’t want to work with asshats. I no longer spend my money with Home Depot. I’m sure they are a great company and they sell many good products but their public interface was a rude jackass. It’s something I keep in mind when working with any customer on a project.
5 – 15 minutes later the wood conditioner has done its job. A quick wipe down with a paper towel removes any excess conditioner and the inevitable dust that still managed to find its way stuck on the wood.
While the label on the can says wood stain, this is more of a watered down wood paint. It comes rather thick and if you wanted to it could probably be applied like paint. That would detract from the look though as we want the wood grain to come through. This is solved in two parts. The first part is to mix a small amount of paint thinner with the stain, roughly 10:1 ratio. The second part is actually done mostly by the applicator pad. It’s a sponge, so I let the stain be absorbed on one side and I stain from the opposite side. This reduces the amount of stain being pushed down to the wood so we don’t get areas with heavy amounts and some with none.
Hrm, the consumable liquid tool is running low.
Time to finish up staining the remaining pieces, then set them back into the drying rack. For the 6 pieces of wood we are working with here I will chew up roughly two applicator pads; one for the pre-stain and one with the stain itself. These aren’t reusable, hence the disposable name. I have seen though where someone tries to save a few pennies by reusing them in the future. It doesn’t work and will only make a mess of the project you are working on. Some times its for the best in the long run to accrue those opex expenses.
Now the stain is “dry to touch” in 60 minutes but takes about 24 hours to really set. So we will be doing nothing more with this today. We are on track towards having a nice place to store kids’ books and provide a place for my daughter to sit and read them. To keep cost low on this we opted to go with inexpensive whiteboard, however were making up for the lower quality wood with skill set and experience.
This is the same thinking that we should be applying in the IT world. We can always build a solid infrastructure out of sub-par components but only if you have skilled and experienced people behind the scenes to make it work.
Some Assemble Required!