I met up with some family down in Savannah, Georgia recently for a low-key family affair on Tybee Island, just east of the city. According to family lore, and testified to by the name of the main street running through the town of Tybee, my three-times-Great Grandfather was one of those responsible for building the railroad out to the island back in the 19th century, resulting in its permanent settlement by residents of nearby Savannah, as well as the naming of the main street in town after our family.
While there on “our island” (insert brogue from the Irish character Stephen in the movie “Braveheart”), my brother somehow got onto the topic of the miniature American Ninja Warrior course he built for my nephews in their backyard down in Largo, Florida. He went through the whole process of how he researched online all the various types of obstacles, then plotted out all the plans and measurements on paper, purchased all the needed materials, built it, set it in the ground, and stained and finished all of the wood pieces. We then looked at the pictures on his phone, and were all suitably impressed by the effort and the result.
Overcome by that familiar spirit of brotherly love-mixed-with-competitiveness, I was inspired to tell my own story of recently using two bottle jacks in the crawl space under my house to lift my house up roughly an inch and a half, so that I could re-shim two of the piers running from the subfloor beams to the ground. This was all precipitated by a bedroom door that had stopped closing properly in my master bedroom, and the appearance of a crack in the drywall emanating from the corner of the same door, indicating the house had settled some.
Essentially, my eldest son, myself, and a firefighter buddy (the brains behind the operation) cut the needed lumber against which to set the jacks, crawled down there with all the tools and gear, and jacked the house up slowly, until the door closed flush (as relayed by my wife via cellphone, staged inside at the affected door). We then hammered composite shims (wedges) into the space created from jacking the house up, and voila, we captured the progress of the lift and the door was back to normal.
Now, the point of these three stories is that my brother and I had no earthly idea what we were doing, at least before we started our projects. We asked around, we found some videos online, we talked to experts, and then we just went for it. Conversely, I can only assume that my ancestral grandfather was knowledgeable when it came to his railroad building job, simply because there was no YouTube back in those days to learn on the fly. He was also building a tens-of-miles-long railroad, for God’s sake, but whatever. Details.
My brother and I did not grow up in a household filled with handymen, or farmers, or mechanics, nor did we ever really have any training or schooling whatsoever in any trades. We were solidly middle class, raised in the suburbs by a Navy doctor and civilian nurse, and we could build forts, change tires, and — in extremis — possibly suture a laceration, but that was about it. My brother went on to become an executive in the world of personal investing, and my handyman skills, regardless of the fact that I am a firefighter, are serviceable, at best. As one of my firefighter buddies says about me: “You’re a silver-spooner, man, definitely.” (Damn it, dude, that hurts).
What we do have is the internet (in my brother’s case), a knowledgeable friend (in mine), and the gumption to give it a go. There is really no excuse, in this modern age, to not try something that would have once been thought impossible in the pre-internet age, except by a trained professional. Whether that be designing and forging your own blades, as my friend (and Sandboxx editor) Alex does, building a backyard obstacle course like my brother did, or undertaking a bit of crawl space pier and beam repair, as I did, there a million little projects and tasks that access to information now allows you to conquer.
Having said that, let me offer this disclaimer: do not undertake a task that is both beyond your capability and potentially a threat to life, limb or property. Always know your limits. Do not get yourself killed, nor destroy your house for the sake of a DIY project. That same friend who ridicules me also built — mostly alone — his own house for a family of 7. He is qualified and an expert.
With that caveat out of the way, though, there are a million things out there just waiting for you to give a go. I have a friend who builds cabinets, dressers, and other pieces of wood furniture. I have another who makes jewelry, cuff links, and other types of items out of bullet shell casings. My stepdaughter paints and draws using everything from pencils to charcoal to watercolors. A buddy of mine built a climbing wall in his detached shop behind his house. He also built a mountain bike course in the woods behind his house. The possibilities are endless. You are limited only by your imagination, your desire to complete the task, and the money required for tools and supplies.
Related: A Navy SEAL Dad’s 7 lessons for the next generation
If you have ever thought of taking on the challenge of doing something yourself, because it interests you, and you know you could get it done, as long as it does not kill you or destroy something valuable, then do it! Find videos on the internet, buy some books, do the research, make the plan, purchase or rent the tools, buy the materials, and go to work. The satisfaction you will feel is worth all of the effort, and everyone wants to be able to point to something significant and say, “Yeah, I did that.” It does not have to be a railroad spanning twenty miles, but do something just impressive enough, and you too might get something named after you. And that would be pretty cool.
Read more from Sandboxx News:
- Alaska Air National Guard builds houses for Cherokee veterans
- Louisiana Guard builds bridges, clears roads to recovery after Ida
- 7 rules for when you find yourself to be the ‘new guy’ (or gal)
- Two former Navy SEALs’ plan to map the ocean floor
- When the sun begins to set on the parent’s journey
This article was originally published 4/6/2021
Feature image: U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Amanda Savannah
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Overcome by that familiar spirit of brotherly love-mixed-with-competitiveness
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Great article. I like to use a laser engraver to make some home decor.
Love this!!! You should see my garage (welders, tools! more tools!) My roofline has a slight sag, and yes, I have pondered that off and on for many years – cutting through concrete floor, and making a pier in my garage floor, filling with concrete and using a 3 inch load bearing pole that has threaded connections to create a turnstile type mechanism to raise that sag very slowly over a year or so. Then brace it properly. Might have to farm that out, but those are my thoughts! But yeah, I am like “how hard can it be? Code, what code?”
You are spot on though, working with your hands is more satisfying than many things you can do.