sanding

Cracks & Consequences: a kitchen building adventure

Last night I got to play construction worker. I didn’t have a hard hat, but I got to play with tools and wood and stuff.

It was kitchen building time! Our house is humming right along (I really want to remember to take pictures and post them, but my rememberer is broken). We’re to the point where flooring and cabinets are happening (eeeek!). I hunted and hunted and spent hours on the internet trying to find a decent cabinet man, and finally settled on one that I’ve known for a few years and typically does fairly decent work. I call him “Dad.”*

In order to get the “family discount,” we get to help with the building process. Which is fun and scary. Fun because I get to use tools and see all these plain, flat pieces of wood turn into a beautiful blue kitchen, and scary because I’m afraid if the cabinets fall off the walls in two weeks it can be blamed on me.

I helped put the first few cabinets together. By “helped” I mean I held things while Dad clamped them into place. Then he handed me a staple gun and said, “put a staple right here!”

I froze and panicked. His hand was right beside “right here.” And he doesn’t usually let me use things that are sharp or loud, so I was afraid his mind was finally going. But he appeared to be serious, so I took the gun from him, aimed, closed my eyes, realized closing my eyes was a bad idea, opened my eyes, and pulled the trigger. Nothing. “I think it’s on safety,” I told Dad.

“It doesn’t have a safety,” he said. Then he took it and shook it violently, wiggled a button, spoke some sort of voodoo magic charm over it, and gave it back. I repeated the whole aiming-closing-and-opening eyes process, then shot again. BAM.
IMG_1072It was frighteningly satisfying. So, we worked our way down that cabinet and down the next one, stapling and shooting and lining up and whatnot. Jonathan followed with a screwdriver, and my mother watched and gave helpful advice.

After a few cabinets had been assembled (I think it should be called “scrapling” because of the screwdriver-staple combo), it was time to fill gaps and cracks and chips with wood putty. Which became my job. Here is what you need to know about this process:

  1. 1. We had put “edge banding” (?) on the cabinets the night before. Jonathan glued it; I trimmed it. In the trimming process, a lot of it chipped and cracked and broke. We had to fix those spots with putty.
    2. The putty looks like peanut butter. It feels like peanut butter. I was told it would not taste like peanut butter.
    3. The putty looks very easy and fun to do when Dad does it. It is a hot mess and ended up all over the floor when I tried.
    4. You have to see small things (like chips and cracks) when doing this job, so you don’t miss anything. It is a job for a very detail-oriented person.
    5. I am NOT a detail-oriented person.

We created an assembly line. Dad and Jonathan scrapled the cabinets together. I delicately spread smeared, smashed, and crammed the peanut butter-putty into cracks and gaps in the wood. Mom sanded the sides of the cabinets. Then they came back to me, and I sanded the fronts. My instructions for sanding the fronts sounded like this:

“Run the sander over all the fronts, like this, until they are smooth. Then go over the edges so they are smooth. Do the inside and outside edges of the tops and bottoms, but ONLY the inside edge of the sides. Do NOT sand the outside edges of the sides. I repeat, DO NOT sand these edges! Don’t sand them! Sand only these edges… NOT THESE.”

I was afraid for my life (and the lives of my cabinets) for the first few minutes of sanding. But then I got a system going. I was rolling right along, sanding and smoothing and having a good old time, cranking them out at a decent pace. Then, about halfway through my 4th or 5th cabinet, I realized I had sanded the DO NOT SAND edge.

I looked across the room at Dad. He was busy scrapling. He hadn’t seen anything. I looked at Mom. She was sanding, too. I waved my arms at her and she looked up. “I SANDED THE WRONG EDGE!” I mouthed to her, pointing at the rounded corner that wasn’t supposed to be round.

Her eyes got wide. Her mouth dropped open. She looked at dad. “Just don’t tell him!” she mouthed back. I nodded and went back to sanding.

As the evening wore on, I began to worry about the consequences of sanding the wrong edge. What if THAT led to my kitchen cabinets falling off my wall in two weeks? When the scrapling was done, I spoke up in the most non-committal way possible.

“Hey dad.”
“Yeah.”
“Say… hypothetically speaking… if I DID sand the wrong edge… what would happen?”
“You’d have a hypothetical crack between two of your cabinets.”
“Hmm. That would just give it some character, right? Nothing too bad would happen.”
“I suppose. Why? Did you sand a wrong edge?”
“Maybe. Hypothetically, of course.”

Then mom spoke up.

“Why don’t you look and see if you can find an edge that wasn’t supposed to be sanded but is?” she pointed to our growing pile of finished cabinets.

So dad dove in and hunted. And he found one. Then he told me that that one actually needed to be sanded anyway, for some reason.
“Right!” I told him. “I knew that. I did it on purpose, to save you some work later.”
“Right,” he said.

Man, my instincts as a kitchen-builder are spot-on. I think I’ve missed my calling.

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*P.S. – kidding about the whole “hunting for a cabinet man” thing. Dad really builds cabinets, and does a darn good job. Click here to see his website.

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