I love projects. My wife loves blogs. Hence, she made a blog for me to document my successes (and failures). It's more for us than anyone else, but if we can help spark a few "Hey, we could do that..." thoughts for anyone else out there, then that's great.

I like to make things out of what other people would consider "junk". I inherited the trait from my dad and grandpa, from the years I spent helping them out on the family wheat farm. When the equipment breaks down mid-harvest and the parts store is closed, you make it work with what's in the scrap pile.

Part of the fun is seeng what can be made for free or at a lower cost (which doesn't hurt when money is tight). The rest is in working through the project and, of course, sitting back and admiring the finished product. I try not to come off as a hoarder, but I like to keep things that I would consider eventually useful. I rarely turn down anything free (so if you're even thinking about getting rid of that metal bedframe, you be sure to let me know).

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Window Well Covers

Look at how cute my kids are.

Look at this deep, dangerous, uncovered window well.

Look at my cute kids stuck in the window well.  

Look at the window well covers I made to prevent the above simulated event from actually happening.

Look at my cute kids eating the ice cream cones I used to bribe them to go down into the scary window wells (after I promised them I'd killed all the bugs and removed the spider webs). Note the smiles on their faces - no visible sign of long-term emotional scars from being coerced by their father to be placed down a deep, previously-bug-infested hole in the ground. 

This was one of the first projects I took on once we moved into our new home. Toren couldn't resist throwing rocks at the bugs that get trapped down there, which made me a bit paranoid about him falling down or breaking a window. When I started looking around for window well covers, I balked at the prices being charged on the market ($130 and up, so at least $520 for all four that I'd need). On the other side, I didn't want to settle for just laying down a piece of particle board, so I started looking for a solution somewhere in the middle. I ended up making the frames out of angle iron (used bedframes from D.I.), but needed a way to cut them, so of course I just had to buy a grinder ($45 at a local pawn shop).

Since I don't have a welder, I decided to attach all the pieces with machine bolts. One of the more time-consuming tasks was drilling the holes in the angle iron with my cordless drill. I went through more than a couple drill bits.

I was originally going to cover the frame with plexiglass, but to get enough of it that was thick enough to support someone standing on it would have brought the cost well above the $520 I was trying to beat, so I went with expanded metal mesh - still the most expensive part of the project, but it still lets in plenty of light to the basement and I don't have to worry about the covers breaking when the kids play on them (and they do play on them).

(Can you guess which one craves the attention and which one is still more interested in the bugs down in the window well?)

     Expanded metal (Two, 4x8 sheets) - $148
     Angle Iron (Bed Frames) - $45
     Drill Bits, cutting wheels - $24
     Nuts, bolts, washers, & other incedentals - $39
     Rubberized spray (to make them look nice and to prevent rust) - $31

Total Cost: $288 ($336 if you count the grinder), or $72 each ($84 each if you count the grinder).

Time: I can't remember, but it was a lot - probably the equivalent of three full weekends non-stop.

After making my own window-well covers and understanding the time and materials that go into them, the $130-per-cover price doesn't seem so outrageous anymore. Would I do it all over again? Probably, but only because I got a power-tool out of it...

(I just had to stick these pictures in. We were trying to get them to act scared. Ayda got it down pretty good for that one shot - or it could have just been the large stink bug rising up from the dead that did it for her...) 

Thursday, September 1, 2011

A Typical "Brady Project"

WARNING: This blog post contains NO PICTURES. If you are a standard blog-reader, who scrolls straight to the pictures and whose eyes glaze over at the sight of more than three lines of text – PLEASE BE ADVISED that this is not one of those “look at how cute my kids are” posts (though I’ve got some of those coming up, so stay tuned). In fact, if I were you I probably wouldn’t read anything below this point. If you do, please do not attempt to read it while driving, or while operating heavy machinery.
Okay, so it’s been more than two months since my first (and only) post to this blog (thanks, Patrice, for putting that second one on there last month). I suppose now is as good an opportunity as any to explain the typical production cycle for my varied projects - this blog serving as a pretty good illustration (meaning – “I need to post something, but I don’t feel I have all the pictures I need to post the one I want to post (remember the whole chronological order thing). Also, it’s been so long, I have to make something up that will provide a decent bridge between my first attempt two months ago and what I’ll optimistically call the bright future of semi-regular posts).   
Step 1: The Idea. Some ideas come to me as if from nowhere, like a stroke of lightning in the night (Though I think Patrice might wonder at times if the bolt was a direct hit).  Sometimes I’ll see something and think: “I wonder if I could make that…” (sandbox excavator, for example). Often times, the idea arises out of a simple need for something (shelves for storage, a landscape rake, a multi-level dirt sifter - you know, things that a typical American family needs for basic survival…).  Other times, like this blog, Patrice starts a project for me, knowing very well that it will be enough to distract me away from all the other projects I’ve got going on.
Step 2: Research & Development. Other than the projects done on the fly, most involve a bit of thought and research – whether it’s looking online and around town at what others have done, or drawing and pricing it out in Excel. The vast majority of time, though, is spent just thinking. I say it’s because I want to make sure it turns out right – Patrice says I simply overanalyze everything (as I write and re-write this sentence, changing the wording so it sounds just how I want it to, double-checking the punctuation, etc., for the one or two people who might actually make the choice to read this excruciatingly-long post with no pictures (thanks, Mom)).
Step 3: Inventory. A shoot-off from the previous step, this phase involves gathering what materials and tools are already on hand to see how much of the project can be completed without having to make a run to The Home Depot, D.I., or the next yard sale. The more time the project spends in incubation, the greater the chance there’ll be of finding some of the materials for free or for pretty cheap (be it a pallet left on the side of the road or a free couch on craigslist).
Step 4: Begin Building. Making the time to start working on a project can be the hardest part, depending on the nature of the task and the number of kids I’m supposed to be watching. Once started, one of the most important things is having the materials and necessary tools within reach. This is where it proves important to put all tools away in their proper home after every use, so time isn’t wasted wondering where I put the measuring tape or set of drill bits.    
Step 5: Mid-Way Thinking. About half-way through a project, I often stop (or am forced to stop by screaming kids or the reality that I have to sleep at some point), which gives me time to evaluate my progress and determine whether or not I need to adjust my design. Case in point - each time I sit down to work on this essay (I started it two weeks ago), I end up changing a few sentences or words as I read through with a fresh set of eyes. Some pauses are sparked by the excitement that comes from stepping back and seeing my idea take shape. Others come from thoughts like, “Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea after all…” as I stare at two pages of text that even I wouldn’t want to read if I hadn’t written it myself. As I type this, my brain is screaming “You’re not really going to publish this, are you?! There’s no point to it. People will judge you!” and at the same time, something else within me is arguing, “You’ve spent so much time on it already – you might as well finish it to avoid a complete waste, and so you can get on with your life.” (For you fellow business majors out there: Yes, I know the meaning of a “sunk cost” but am going ahead with this anyway).
Step 6: Get Idea for Another Project.  Some ideas come to me as if from nowhere… (insert separate process here). This is how I get so busy, and why I have about five or six unfinished projects at any given time.
Step 7: Project Completion. Ultimately, a project is either aborted altogether or reaches top priority again - either out of a desire to work on it some more, or out of a necessity to get it out of the way so it’s no longer cluttering up the garage, basement, back yard, or my to-do list. I hate to admit it, but in the case of the latter (and depending on my mood at the time), I’m often forced to lower my standards just so I can be done with it, resulting in a sub-par product that I may be embarrassed to show anyone else, but which nonetheless serves the purpose for which it was designed. Then there are those projects that turn out just like I had hoped (or better). These are the projects that keep me going, that put a smile on my face when I see them, and that I force all visitors to see when they come by our house because, don’t we all want to show off how cool we think we are?
On that note, and in the interest of moving on to higher priorities (like sleep) I think I’ll end this sub-par product that serves the purpose for which it was designed. For you who actually had the gumption to read the whole thing – I would apologize, but I did warn you, now, didn’t I…