I guess I can’t complain about the weather

As anyone following the news from Texas knows, I have no business complaining about the weather here in Vancouver. Beyond that, some people I know in Chicago are basically snowed in, which is definitely not the case here. So I will avoid the obvious topic and move on.

Sadly, that leaves little to discuss this week. I don’t know where all the time went, but I suspect I am not alone in feeling that way as Covid drags on. A good deal of time went into something I think I have mentioned before: The Overhead of Life, as my friend Jesse called it. You know the stuff: cleaning, grocery shopping, the daily needs of the dogs, and so on. Things you have to do, but which don’t add to the list of accomplishments at the end of the week.

Thankfully I did some work on the headboard project and have a couple things to share from that.

To set the stage, here’s the photo from last week of the existing bookcase that needs a headboard added to it:

A thing that might not be obvious is that the shelves in the middle are sagging. You can just see a gap at the very top in the centre, where the upright has pulled away from the top by about 3mm (1/8" give or take). Here’s the closeup of that:

On inspection I learned that the upright was only caulked into place. No nails or screws held it there. The same lack of fasteners was also true of the bottom of that same upright. I could lean it from side to side and found no indication of nails or screws on the bottom either. Not good.

And of course these shelves are not attached to the wall either, so over the years (25 of them) they sagged and pulled the upright away from the top, as seen above.

I decided to fix that, but there is no good way to attach the shelves to the wall. The obvious way would be to add a support underneath them, but that would be visible and ugly. Instead I decided to use screws driven in at a sharp angle (which would be called toenailing, if I was using nails) to lock things into place.

But first the sag had to be removed. And how does one accomplish that? By raiding the car, of course:

That’s the jack from one of our cars holding up an improvised post. By cranking the jack up I was able to lift the shelves back up and remove the sag.

Also in that photo you see two holes for screws drilled down from the top into the bottom shelf. Here you see a few more of those:

There are similar holes on the back side, so the uprights are held firmly in place by the screws. There are also two screws coming up from the bottom through the shelf and into the lower upright. With luck, this will never sag again.

Once the screws were all installed I removed the post and jack. Everything remained level as far as I can tell, so that’s good.

I am midway through the process of patching the screw holes in preparation for paint, but first I need to get the headboard built and installed. It will be painted as well, so I will do it all at once.

In addition I need to fill the gaps between the shelves and the wall, which are at best ugly, and at worst huge and ugly. The wall wanders a fair bit from perfectly flat, which makes them really obvious in places. The fix involves caulk where the gaps are narrow enough, and a backing piece of foam insulation covered with caulk where the gaps are too wide. Once that is done all around I can paint it all and be done with it.

It’s not many home repair projects that need a car jack, but sometimes you use what you have.

Had this not worked I would have been forced to rip out the entire bookcase and rebuild it all from scratch. I didn’t want to do that, though, and so far it isn’t necessary.

In my ongoing research for this project I encountered an additional surprise, this time at the hardware store:

The trim on the shelves is made of 1x2s. For those not in the know, lumber like that is called “dimensional” and is never the actual size stated. For example, a 2x4 is not 2" by 4" in size unless you’re looking at one that is very, very old. These days a 2x4 is actually 1.5" x 3.5". In the same way, a 1x2 is not actually 1" x 2".

As it happens, I had determined the trim was made of 1x2 lumber and was expecting to buy what I needed simply enough at the local big box hardware store. But when I got there, I noted something off. I got out my tape measure and discovered that finger jointed pine 1x2 lumber is actually 1 3/8" wide, while MDF 1x2 is 1.5" wide. This is what you see in the photos above. MDF is on the left and finger jointed pine is on the right.

Excuse me? What? This stuff has been standardized for many decades. How on earth can these dimensions vary?

I left the store without buying any 1x2 because I didn’t know the dimensions of the existing material in the shelves. On inspection back at home it turns out to be 1.5" wide, and the thickness also matches the dimensions of the MDF version. And when I drilled the holes for the screws I learned that the entire unit was constructed of MDF originally, so I guess the fact that those are the dimensions that match is not really a surprise.

Armed with that knowledge I returned to the store and bought some 1x2 for the project, along with a few other things. I’ll need more 1x2 later, but I have enough to get started. The same trip also included buying a full sheet of plywood. I mentioned last week that I had no way to get such a sheet home and was trying to create a design that didn’t require the purchase of a full sheet. In the end every design I tried risked sagging or bending eventually.

Avoiding those issues requires a nearly 6' x 2' piece of plywood, and there is no way to purchase that without buying a full 4' x 8' sheet. And since that won’t fit in my car I had to risk having it cut down to size at the store. And it worked out well. The saw they used for the cut was amazing. I don’t know if they’d just replaced the blade or if it’s just that good, but there was no tear-out and the cuts are dead straight and crisp. I am very happy with the result, and I got it home easily.

Another thing I am working on is how to get power outlets and USB ports in the shelf on the top of the headboard. I had a few alternatives in mind but the difference in what is readily available in Canada vs. the USA came up. In the end I special ordered some already prepared devices that will mount in the headboard. I’ll share information about those when I get them in a week or two.

At this point I have much of what need and am trying to get the project moving. There are always distractions, though, and I make no promises for what will show up here next week.

That’s all the amusing (?) stuff from this past week. Maybe there will be more interesting things next time.

Meanwhile, keep safe, stay warm, and may all your dimensional lumber match both your needs and expectations!




Sculptor/Artist. Former programmer. Former volunteer firefighter. Former fencer. Weirdest resume on the planet, I suspect.

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Jeff Powell

Jeff Powell

Sculptor/Artist. Former programmer. Former volunteer firefighter. Former fencer. Weirdest resume on the planet, I suspect.

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