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Cutting and assembly required

The words "assembly required" in conjunction with a coveted piece of furniture can strike fear in the stoutest heart. Even worse: "Cutting and assembly required. May not be exactly as shown.

The words “assembly required” in conjunction with a coveted piece of furniture can strike fear in the stoutest heart.

Even worse: “Cutting and assembly required. May not be exactly as shown.” Anyone who ever pored over assembly instructions composed by what surely must have been a first-week ESL student in a far away country will know to either discard the poorly printed piece of paper immediately or else pray for an unnatural amount of patience. Either way, a sense of apprehension often develops, frequently followed by frustration.

Our way of acquiring a new piece of furniture is not much better or easier; possibly it is worse because in the end, we only have ourselves to blame for the result. No excuse of incomprehensible diagrams and instructions.

Our new table started its life on the day we took a walk into the woods to pick the tree that we would cut the necessary boards from. A lot more pleasant than looking through catalogues or going to furniture stores in my opinion, but then that’s where the fun ended. Cutting down the chosen fir and pulling out the log sections by snowmachine were the next and comparatively easy steps.

It is the milling we don’t like, to put it mildly. Oh, we do have fond feelings for the chainsaw mill, such a small and convenient thing that allows you to make your own dimensional lumber where and how you want it—it is the whole lengthy process of setting up the log and the tedious milling itself that makes it a less than favourite pastime.

We always mount a store-bought, kiln-dried board on the log section as a template. Any warp of the template board will be transferred on the cut lumber as the chainsaw is led along by the mill’s guide bar mounted to the bar of the saw. Even if the template board is not warped, failure to mount it properly, setting the mill’s guide bar slightly crooked or pushing down too hard with one hand on the saw will also result in somewhat psychedelic-looking lumber.

There really are a multitude of things that can go differently than originally planned, culminating in the “may not be exactly as shown” (or imagined) effect.

Even once the boards are milled, planed and cut to size and the “assembly required” part has been accomplished things don’t stop there. The wood then begins to shrink. Dramatically so if the lumber was cut from a green tree, not as bad if milled from a dead standing one. But either way, it still moves.

Our efforts of carefully stacking and weighing down green boards to let them do their drying and shrinking before assembly so far always resulted in a good number of unusable twisted bananas; actually such a high percentage of wasted wood in relation to the effort it took to mill it that we’ve given up on pre-drying anything.

Now, we just put things together and, if the gaps end up being too big like on our new table, we take the piece of furniture apart again once we deem the drying process completed, clamp everything tightly together and re-assemble it.

I’ve taken to collecting driftwood and using that for furniture projects. It eliminates the whole milling process, doesn’t shrink into oblivion and looks a lot nicer, anyway. The main drawback is that it takes years to scavenge enough of actually useable pieces and that it is entirely a matter of luck what one finds (I’m waiting for about another six sturdy bent pieces of greyish driftwood to materialize so I can make a chair).

So the next time you find yourself surrounded by mounds of packing paper and static little foam balls, trying to make sense of the diagram and instructions while casting a doubtful eye at the wimpy-looking screws that are supposed to hold your new piece of furniture together—take heart. Even if it takes you a few hours and couple of beers to assemble it all, it’s still light years faster than our cumbersome methods.

And I’m sure that once you have it up (remember the “may not be exactly as shown” explanation for deviation from the picture on the box or diagram), it won’t shrink to a fraction of its original size.

Lisa Hasselbring is a writer who lives at the headwaters of the Yukon River south of Whitehorse.