Some Things Take Time


This had been some time in the making. Eight years to be exact. Gifted or cursed by the love of books, through the centuries years, we have amassed quite a few tomes.  More than a flimsy-pressed-cardboard-ready-to-assemble library could hold in any case, not that I would let one inside the house. I think my dad would reach across the Veil and smack me upside the head if I did that.

I’m by no stretch of the imagination a carpenter. I do a little bit of everything, none of it really well, I’m what’s properly called a  jack off of all trades. So building a more than good enough bookcase was a daunting project. It’s funny how quickly time goes by, you buy a house, realize the second floor is starting to sag because of all the piles of books, decide to do something about it, have a few false starts, change of plans and finally, eight years later, which also means that much more books, you go and get some wood before a long weekend.


We were still working out the exact plan that very morning. In fact we were still tweaking it as the buzzsaw was coming to life.


Using a piece of wisdom I got from Buffy The Vampire Slayer, I remembered to “cut once measure twice”, that’s as good advice as any TV show will give you. Also, I wore safety glasses because my wife is smarter than I am. It was not rocket science to be sure, just precision work, a bad cut could mean scrapping a whole 2x10x12. Oh yeah, we went big. Basically four eight feet vertical planks holding up eight twelve feet long shelves. Everything in 2 inches thick, which is actually 1 inch and 5/8’s planed. It seems like any type of construction is shrouded in language designed to keep the uninitiated fooled, I have read texts about medieval alchemy which were more straightforward. Once we figured out that two inches actually was something else, we had to readjust the plans, like Xander said, cut once, measure twice.

Throughout the whole process I kept on thinking of my dad and what he would have to say about all this, he was a gifted carpenter and had built bookcases out of oak using basically a kitchen knife, no, I’m not exaggerating. It was largely his ethos of woodwork that demanded this bookcase be assembled without a single nail, screw or dowel. It’s all cross halving joints, yes I had to look that up. Anyways, dad’s spirit must have been looking over my shoulder because over the three days the project took I did not fuck up once, well not seriously anyways.

Here’s a top tip for all you newbie woodworkers like me, any time allowance you make for a project should be doubled. At least, and while I’m at it here’s another: stop while you’re ahead, don’t wait for a mistake to realize it’s time to take a break. It’s been a longish day and you notice your mind or hands aren’t quite as sharp as in the morning? Stop. That’s when bad cuts happen, planks are cracked (aaarrggghhh!) or fingers are lost.

My original plan was to use the circular saw to cut the boards to the right length, don’t get me started about lumber yards selling you wood by the linear foot and not by the plank (what kind of fuckery is this?), and then use a jigsaw to cut out the half joints.


That turned out to be a bad idea, or at least suboptimal, way too time consuming and certainly resulting in some form of hairline fracture to the forearm by the end of the day. So we opted to use the circular saw to make the half cuts and the jigsaw for the back cut.


I kept on thinking there must be a better way to do this, but jack off of all trades and all that, I had no idea how, perhaps the one carpenter among you can give his two cents? I’m looking at you Mister Foisy.

The neighbours were having family gatherings, this being a long weekend and all, and I kept of filling the air with the screams of saws and tearing wood. Sorry about that. Day one was all about prepping (not the crazy kind), planning, adjusting and making half the cuts. I got better as the day went on but didn’t want to rush anything. This had been eight years in the making, one more day to do it right would save me a trip to the store.

Which it didn’t, because one of the vertical support beams had a through and through crack I had not noticed when the planks were delivered. Gaaaaaaaaah! Time to get another 2x10x8. I must have had a don’t fuck with me look when I showed up at the lumber yard because the long haired gentleman taking care of my needs was especially helpful. Also I was covered in saw dust and smelled like the Dickens.

Once all the cuts were made (yay!) we were like “time to stain”, but then one of those stray thoughts popped into our heads, why don’t we see if it all fits first. I’m sure this is standard practice for carpenting folk, but we were really winging it as we went along, so I’m pleasantly surprised at this foresight.

Because it did not fit.

Not right anyways, some of the half cuts were not deep enough or wide enough. In my effort to make tight fitting joints I had overly erred on the side of caution.

Back to the saws. I added a centimeter to most joints.


Not the best cuts in the world but what can you do? No I was not working with a beer in the other hand, that properly waited for the end of the power tools.

After a while, all was ready for test assembly number two.


Yup, looks good.

Time for another tip: be very, very very careful as you assemble and disassemble. Here’s a random example certainly without any basis in reality: do not attempt to take a plank out by yourself to “go faster”. The lever like action of a board not pulled right out, but at a slight angle, can produce catastrophic results. Like full cracks or broken joints. I avoided that by the sheerest of dumb lucks (or again, dad looking over my shoulder). I heard a cracking sound a froze immediately (and swore profusely). No serious damage was done, just a reminder to chill out and take my time.

Since we built out of white pine we chose to stain the wood with a cherry tree hue, at this stage beer drinking was allowed, encouraged even.


That was the end of day 2. Everything stayed outside to dry out during the night, it was very fortunate that the weather was cooperating.


Final assembly took some doing and an extra pair of arms (thanks Ely), but the gods of woodwork seemed to be smiling that morning for everything fit and went according to plan, there was a few moments of tension, but the result, to me, was spectacular, far outweighing my expectations.


Then came the fun part, well if you like carrying hundreds of pounds of books. Which I sort of do.


That was just the first batch, the process isn’t quite over yet. It really is like meeting old friends to rediscover long lost books. These books are all very much alive, or at the very least witnesses to living, they bare tomato sauce stains, old library stamps, the names of previous owners… In a way you don’t own books, you just take care of them until somebody else does. That’s why I sign all my books, someone will eventually have at least a fleeting thought about who I was and what life was like  in the 20th-21st century. My oldest book is from 1848, it’s a translation of a 13th century Arthurian Grail romance, I have one from 1918 that used to be in a British university library. Another, dedicated in 1937, still had museum tickets inside it, I wonder who the gifter and giftee might have been, two people on the eve of World War Two…

1848, a year of revolutions across Europe.
1848, a year of revolutions across Europe.
Ferdinand Lot's Étude sur le Lancelot en prose, 1918, the last year of the First World War.
Ferdinand Lot’s Étude sur le Lancelot en prose, 1918, the last year of the First World War.
Names of friends on the eve of the Second World War...
Names of friends on the eve of the Second World War… In Lawrence’s Seven Pillars of Wisdom.

It would be a good thing for someone in the future to care for all of these books as much as I do. If beer is spilled on them or passages underlined and commented upon, that much the better.


The carrying went on. There was even an Encyclopedia Britannica in the lot, all 29 volumes, it didn’t make the cut, I’ll have to find another spot for what used to basically be the internet. As you can imagine all this book carrying on a sweltering and humid day is thirsty work. It was nice to oser le rosé with a bit of ice, southern France style.


Things are coming along nicely, we still have books to retrieve and place, but it’s already a spot where we happily congregate. I’ve resumed my habit of randomly picking books from the shelf and spending some time immersed in random passages.


I’ll do my best to make this a “breathing” bookcase, one where books go in and out of, with its invisible tendrils spreading across the world, well the neighbourhood in any case.


It was a long time coming but seems it was well worth it. There certainly are things like that in life.

See you soon.

5 thoughts on “Some Things Take Time”

  1. Smashing my good sir! Absolutely marvellous! Nothing compares to building something with your own hands… But be careful! It’s quite addictive… Pretty soon your fingers will start to itch for the next project…

  2. I thought this was to be a dining room, not a library! Who cares? It looks awesome with the little reading nook. Good job!

  3. What could be more pleasant in a dining room than a wall of books, warming the ambiance with their spirits and whispering their stories to animate the diner’s tales? This is by far my favourite blog post from D&C (or is it the aspiring handywoman in me?)! Both entertaining and practical, i think you should go viral with this one; go ahead and save-inspire all those DIY dilettantes!

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