Never in my life had I made anything. I got a saw from my father then.

I got a DeWalt circular saw for my 30th birthday from my dad. Before that my woodworking experience had been limited to assembling IKEA furniture and installing prefab shelves—­incidentally, with a drill my dad bought me for my 29th birthday. He would appear to be sending me a message.

The toothy blade of the saw caught my eye as I carefully spun it in my hand, and I decided to persevere with learning to use it. My dad was framing walls and building cabinets when he was my age. However, as I was editing a story about two guys who raised a mountaintop cabin, I was forced to google simple carpentry terms. While I was not aiming for mastery, I figured I would feel more competent if I had some basic skills.

Making cuts for the planter box
Photo: Luke Whelan

My first project will be to make a planter box. I didn’t start building it for weeks. To set up my workbench, I needed to visit the Home Depot multiple times and call my dad. It appeared that he had just bought screws, which were fairly simple. I don’t think so. In addition to wood screws, deck screws, sheet metal screws, Phillips head screws, and Torx head screws, these products come in dozens of different lengths and diameters. It wasn’t a bad idea to buy five kinds just in case. In addition to YouTube how-tos, I spent some time FaceTiming my dad as the mustached hosts said things like “Don’t forget to square the end of your dimensional lumber.”.

Despite going to the hardware store five times (fun fact: circular saws do not always come with their own batteries and chargers), I finally was able to use my saw. To ensure straight cuts, I practiced rip cuts using my homemade jig. Once I got over the fear of slicing off a finger, I was delighted by how smooth it felt. Wood was cut like butter by the blade. My first cut was a trial and error process.

My enjoyment of the project decreased once I actually started to build the planter. Calculating the dimensions of the frame pieces, I worried over every 16th of an inch, and I ended up ripping half of them too wide. Frustrated, I tried to put together the planter with my motley assemblage anyway. It was easier to determine what trimming I needed to do as the box took shape in front of me after I drilled and glued the uneven panels. It was still possible to assemble the planter, despite the slightly mismatched pieces.

Finished planter box
Photo: Luke Whelan

It surprised me how perfect imperfection could be. I usually conduct endless research before trying something new, instead of figuring out what I’m doing wrong along the way. It was by actually making the planter, not by watching five more YouTube videos, that I began to get a grasp of woodworking and gain confidence, as if slowly becoming conversational in a once foreign language.

As I reflected on my preparation, I realized I had done too much. Although not quite a masterpiece, the crop stand was sturdy enough to support a tomato plant. As a result of my new understanding, my next project would be twice as good and half the time to complete.

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