The right lesson

Whenever you do something for the first time, you always learn things. The trick is knowing which of those things is most important. My daughter knew immediately.

With absolutely zero experience at carpentry or woodworking (save watching me while growing up), my daughter just built what she calls her “deck oasis.” The centerpiece is a sectional sofa and low table she built from pallet lumber and old rough floorboards stored in her barn. Part way through her project, Courtney sent this email:

Hey Daddy – I learned a very valuable lesson about building furniture today. Always scout for materials before starting! Before I started I found cushions online at Walmart, the cheapest I could find at 35 bucks each. So I built the sofa with those cushion dimensions in mind. I went to Walmart to get them, and they’re beautiful, but not nearly as nice as the ones right next to them that weren’t online. And instead of $35 each, they’re $20 each! Bingo-bango, right? Not quite; they’re 21″ x 21″ instead of the 24″ x 24″ I built for. I got the ones I liked better and saved all that money, but they’re too short for the seats (front to back) and look silly. I decided to add a 3″ piece of wood at the back to push the cushions forward. I mull this over while having a coffee break and decide I just can’t do it halfway like that, I have to do it right. So now I have to take nearly half the thing apart and shorten it by 3″! Doh! Off to work…. Next time I’ll buy the cushions first!  P.S. – Maybe you can get a blog out of my screw-up!

As you can see, the final result turned out awesome, with the pallet lumber and the rough, as-is edges of the old floorboards achieving the exact rustic look she was going for. And she’s right, those cushions are perfect.

She learned a lot here. In additional to mastering a few tools she’d never even touched before (like a circular saw and heavy-duty drill), she learned to get your materials first. She learned that seeing a material in-hand is far different from seeing it online. She learned a way of working around a problem. And somewhere in all this is the old measure-twice thing.

But the most important lesson Courtney learned here, the one that makes me the proudest of my kid, was this one: You can’t do it halfway. You have to do it right, even if it means more work.

Back in those days when she used to watch me work, she must have been paying more attention than I thought.



  • Jenny says:

    Your daughter is so talented!!!

  • Lee Gordon says:

    Looks like she has already advanced beyond the “Beginner Woodworker” stage.

  • Mark L. says:

    This is an awesome blog. I liked the story and the parential pride reflected in it. She did a very nice job.

  • Daniel Cada says:

    Had exactly the same experience with my youngest son,he alone tiled 3 adjacent rooms with a laser like precision.
    Moral, if there’s a spectator, they are learning something from you- make it good.

  • Howard Van Valzah says:

    We have two grown daughters who happened to marry unhandy husbands. They do all the handy work needed to run a household and learned most of it “helping” me on household repairs and maintenance. Our son,who was the oldest, was excited at an e very early age with electricity and later on with electronics and computers which led to his career. He too is quite handy, but has learned that doing work which you can hire done for minimum wage is not smart if you can use the same time making big money doing your professional work. A lesson we woodworkers should learn.

  • Hi I’m a master woodworker. 8 years ago my son decided to in least in the Marines. He helped me with some projects before that time. When he went to basic training they were all (about 100)assembled in the camp mess. There was a pallet there sitting on the floor with some white boxes on it. The commander said that these boxes where there for a month and know body did anything with them. He asked for volunteers to assemble the cabinets to install. Know one raised there hand, but my son did because he could. The commander was very impressed so to speak. Isn’t it great that we can pass down this valuable information.

  • Page Hamler says:

    That’s our girl. She always was an observer. She sews like a seamstress and now builds like ‘Bob’.

  • Gary Schmidt says:

    Great job Courtney and you too AJ. My daughter helped me, watched me and tagged along and now she is an art student who comes up with great ideas because she is able to visualize point A to point B and knows the tools to get there. Word of caution to Howards son, if you hire a tradesman for minimum wage you may well be displeased with the outcome. I agree there are times when you will make out better hiring highly specialized work done, but beware,the sting of a poor job will far outlast the pleasure of a cheap price.

  • Carol says:

    Courtney Rules!! Of course she has wonderful genes.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Comments are moderated and generally will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive. For more information, please see our Terms of Use.