DIY Life

Habitat for Humanity: Learning and Giving Back

I am concrete, detailed learner, so playing around and figuring things out on my own does NOT work for me. I need a lot of hand-holding and specific step-by-step instructions. Naturally, I am drawn to classes, manuals, and the “watch others and imitate” method.

One day when I was researching local classes online, I browsed the Habitat for Humanity site and clicked on “Volunteer”. There under the list of events was a special day designated as “Women Build.” This seemed like a great opportunity to pick up some handy-woman skills, at the same time do something nice for others. Win-win!

I was a bit naive about what Habitat for Humanity was all about. I thought it was something that you did on a church mission trip, driving to the Appalachians for a month and building one house in the middle of nowhere. In reality, there are Habitat homes and developments almost everywhere, often in the middle of developed cities and neighborhoods. Chances are there is one within 30 minutes of you.

It was an interesting day and I met a lot of really nice people. However, there was a lot of standing around. I’m sure the site managers are used to their regular volunteers coming in, picking up their tools, and getting to work without needing many directions. We, on the other hand, were a room full of women – many first-timers – who had no idea what to do or how to do it. I learned that to fit in at this particular site, you need the confidence to step right in and not wait to be told what to do (definitely not my strong point).

But there were a lot of things I did learn on my first day of volunteering for Habitat:

  • Drilling a concrete drill bit with an impact driver into the concrete foundation of a house makes your entire body shake for 15 minutes afterward.
  • Carrying insulation in shorts and a t-shirt makes you itch. A lot.
  • Snakes can pop out of dirt piles at very inopportune moments. There are no pictures of this because I was too busy running away and screaming like a 6-year-old girl.

Most of all I learned that Habitat does not give their homes away, but sells them to hard-working and deserving families who, for one reason or another, have fallen on hard times and truly want the opportunity to turn their lives around. They have proven employment, attend classes on financial management, and are required to log hundreds of hours volunteering with the construction of their own home and others. On the day I volunteered, there was a Habitat couple there who are homeowners in the community. They met their hourly requirement MONTHS ago, but still show up every weekend to build because, according to the husband, “I can’t sit on my couch looking out my window at other people helping when so much has been given to us.”


I also learned that giving back is about so much more than showing up on a worksite for a few hours one day and hammering a couple of nails. I’ve got a long way to go before I can say that I’m a committed volunteer, but I’m looking forward to going back.

And next time, NO SNAKES.


The Farmhouse Table Restoration

Sometime soon, I’ll write about the Kitchen renovation that drove the need for this table. For now, I’ll stick to the table. The kitchen table is the center of the family home. Especially in our house with 3 boys. Our oldest builds bridges, tree houses, clubhouses, and other stuff with his mega blocks on the table so his brothers can’t get to it.

The twins (turn 1 this month) spit out all their baby food on the table and surrounding area, and my wife and I share peaceful and romantic date-night-home dinners there…every few years :). The kitchen table we had was great. It was passed down from my grandparents to my parents and then to me. I re-finished the table and chairs the summer before our wedding, and it’s been at the center of our home ever since.

The table could last us for years to come, but I’ve always had this dream of sitting down to dinner with my whole family around a table that I built with my bare hands.

Fortunately, my wife is supportive and loves what I do so she commissioned me to build us a “new” table. We wanted a table that was warm and inviting, and sturdy enough to hold up well to years of abuse from dogs and 3 boys (4 if you count me).

I had my eyes set on a reclaimed barn wood table. I saw them in magazines, on Pinterest, and everywhere else. But, I had one problem: where I am going to get barn wood? I don’t have a barn in my backyard, no one in my family owns one, and most people that have it either won’t trade it or are happy to sell it to you for $5-$10 a board foot ($500+ just for the table materials). I kept looking though, and one day it showed up.

A 550 board foot stash of 80-year-old lumber. Rough cut Oak and Birch found in the loft of a Wisconsin barn, have never been used. I had no idea what I was going to do with all this lumber but I knew I wouldn’t find a deal like this again soon so I went for it. The guy was very nice and even delivered it to my house. So there I was sitting in my garage, literally half full of dirty, weathered lumber grinning from ear to ear. I already had 3D plans done using Sketchup so I got to work.

My design centered around a strong desire to build a table with no metal fasteners. That seemed like the manly way to go. It didn’t take long for me to realize how different it is working with 80-year-old Oak compared to hardware store oak.

Every cut with the saw was slow. After the first joint was complete, I gave up on the table saw and switched to my trusty circular saw. The entire table base was made using a hammer, a $5 chisel, a circular saw (used the table saw a few times), wood glue, and oak dowels…oh, and lots of grunting, sweat, sawdust, and sandpaper. Three days in, the table base was assembled. I was leave sanding for last…it’s messy and not nearly as fun as construction.

I had this crazy idea that I wanted the base to be rustic, full of character, and then contrasted with a beautiful tabletop sanded smooth and a high gloss finish. So I headed over to a friend’s shop to run 8 boards through his jointer and planer. 3 hours later I was down to 5 boards, none more than 3/4 thick, and most looked like….well, oak. 2 boards were stunning, but not enough to build a tabletop.

Now what? I spent two weeks considering various options: I didn’t want to bother my friend again, all the remaining rough boards were of various thicknesses and not exactly straight, and I was running out of time. I decided that I would build a “temporary” tabletop until I could afford the power tools necessary to do it “right”.

I picked 6 boards, laid them out, and joined them with pocket screws. I then spent 6 hours (3 separate days) sanding and HAND PLANING (never used one before this) getting the top of all the boards level and smooth. I rested the top on the table base and I fell in love. It was stunning. It wasn’t perfect, and I think that’s why I love it so much.

Throughout the entire build, I was reading about St. Joseph. He, too, was a carpenter, and as I worked I the table I felt connected to him. There is something spiritual about taking the remains of an oak tree God created over 100 years ago and turning it into something equally beautiful that serves a completely different purpose. God gave me the skills of a carpenter, and I hope that, through Him, I can bring Him glory in what I create.

DIY Gardening

Are You Hot for Hypertufa?

Plants love hypertufa because the porous material provides great drainage. Making a hypertufa planter has been on my list of want-to-dos for a while now, maybe years. But I still haven’t tried it. I have no good excuse because it’s reportedly pretty easy and really fun. The only kicker is the setting time — it takes several days — so hypertufa isn’t as much about instant gratification as it may seem. What it is about? It’s about creating a planter or garden ornament that looks like stone but is light as air, and as a bonus, is porous enough to provide great drainage for plants. Genius.

DIY Life

How to Paint a Door in the Middle of a Snowstorm

I bought the supplies to paint the doors and had them all ready to go. However, it snowed and I spent the next 8 hours shoveling and snow blowing the snow. So, I painted a door using this method the next day while the town continued to clear all the snow away. And it was still cold…… so the spirit of the title (there was 35″ of snow on the ground) was still there, even though the letter of the title (it was no longer snowing) was passed.

DIY Woodworking

Beginner Woodworking Plans

If you deciding to take on your own do it yourself woodworking project, whether it be your cabinets, shelves, or tables and chairs. The first thing you going to need is a good woodworking plan.