My First Wood Craft – I designed it, I built it

To be very honest, I am quite excited that I made my first wood craft item. And I designed it myself, and built it myself, with the active support of my wife, Komala. Read on till the end. I think you will find reading at least the climax exciting.

Somehow after watching few videos on wood products in last few months, I developed some kind of interest in the art of wood craft. I realised that there was a lot of potential for original creativity here. And when well designed, the result could be quite smart either in design of product making and/or product’s function. I finally decided few ‘days’ back that I would buy a jig saw power tool and few other small tools and make my hands dirty to see how it felt like to make some furniture items.

Background – Komala was saying yesterday morning that she was considering buying a dolls step system for display of her dolls (bommala koluvu in Telugu) for this Sankranthi. This is ‘third’ such purchase in last few years (well …… a decade plus actually!) . The first was one of heavy iron anglers with holes all over. It was heavy and cumbersome to fix with several nuts and bolts. My fingers would become sore after assembly. Although this was required only once a year (for every Sankranthi festival), it was still quite an ordeal that I had to do for her. The second was when she purchased a proper product (again made some kind of steel) that was purpose manufactured for doll display in Sankranthi. This had series of directions to follow to to complete the assembly. And it again needed umpteen number of nuts and bolts, heavy when completed. It was very cumbersome. If you had lost the printed directions, then you had it nay impossible figuring out the order of assembly. It had several components of varying sizes and shapes. Wonder, why people such badly deigned products, in the first place! So she wanted to get one this time that was easy to assemble. Apart from being expensive (over 10k), they were small and fewer steps. She needed one that had 7 steps. And wide.

The budding Wood Crafter in the Making – Given my recent inkling to make some wood products, I offered to design something that would be very very easy to put together, and never require my personal help every year. Also I said I could possibly design something that was easy on weight so she could take it out from storage and assemble herself. Finding her ‘open’ to the idea, I designed something in next few minutes, and showed my drawing to her. She liked it! Got the confirmation that this was a viable model with no immediate flaws she could think of. And I suggested to do this in WPC sheets (Wood Plastic Composite, a substitute for plywood, that was lighter, waterproof, and lot more elegant), albeit a little expensive. Since I didn’t have my power tool yet at home (waiting to be ordered once I could make up my mind), she and I felt we could take the help of the shopkeeper to make some cuts in the shop itself before bringing the material home. Some internet search for nearby shops, price estimates, and feasibility to cut in shop, we were at the shop within the next hour.

The Shop Experience – After a long wait, had a carpenter come over and make the cuts for us. Per a wonderful suggestion by Komala, I made some templates cut in paper to show the shopkeeper how I wanted it to be cut from the 8X4 sheets (and I ensured in my design there was least wastage in material by a smart design to use the left over piece as the exact second part of product). Adding another suggestion by shopkeeper, I had markings made on the WPC sheet before the carpenter cut it.

And proving the shopkeeper wrong, I was able to load all this material into my car trunk. I knew my car was big enough to accommodate really large and long items. But never did it occur to me that my car could be converted into a pick up van (like in the US). God damn it, the car is bloody good to hold some 6 foot by 4 foot WPC sheets, and several other smaller ones in just one car load, and drive me home! And gave the luxury to stop on the way, and have some dinner too at a restaurant. Sometimes, this car deserves some pat from me, while I only mostly complain of its high maintenance.

DISASTER STRIKES – I altered my designs slightly in the last minute today morning during my 32 km cycle ride (meditative of the design) to make it even more simpler to build. Like I said, the idea was to design it so it was super easy to build, and super easy to assemble later by Komala every year. And bought some additional hardware from market too today. Little did I realise in my last minute change in design that this introduced some slack in movement after assembly (for deviating from my original design that needed few more screws). Also, the narrow long pieces in WPC came out too supple to provide a rigidity that I was hoping for the structure. The result was it was easy to build but did not have the rigidity to stand by itself. Disaster!

STRESS – I became a bit stressed and somewhat afraid if I will have to give up the whole thing after having spent over Rs. 11k on material already. What a shame! An over confident person who thought he could build something that many products in the market (there are several models) could not offer today! Komala was worried too that probably we wasted a lot of money and been reckless. And time was running out. The doll display work by Komala starts tomorrow! If I couldn’t finish this before late evening today, I will have to work on assembling the last year product at home which was cumbersome anyway.

Convert Threat into Opportunity – But I said to myself not to panic and get despaired. Every problem in this world had a solution. We just have to think. And think. And think positive. Shove the stress to a side and focus on what could be done. I said to myself, one of the management strategies was to convert threats into opportunities. I redesigned two more times. The second design not only resolved my issues of stability (with a minor screw work for now, that I will convert to easy fix-by-hand once I get some needed hardware after this occasion which is time bound), but also made the final product even better overall. It is now even more elegant than I had planned for in my original design! All I had to do was reposition the hooks diagonally. I wont go into theory of rigidity, balance, clearances etc., which would be beyond the objective of this blog post.

After the assembly was done, Komala and I like kids, tore away the plastic sheet convering, to display its all-white-beauty. The hardware was so beautiful that we decided not to cover the steps with long drapes of sari as is usually done in doll displays. Rather we would showcase the steps in its natural beauty, ‘bare bones’!

This was a 6 foot tall, 4 ft wide and 6 foot deep doll-display-steps furniture.

For my life, little did I ever imagine that I had a flair for woodcraft! And little could I dream that I would build something as large as this from concept-to design-to-product in 1.5 days flat.

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