pleasure twice, butt once


My Fascinating Home Improvement Projects


What Happens When Daddo Gets a New Miter Saw

Even before I started taking Mother’s Little Helper to improve energy and focus, I’ve always had at least one project going at any given moment. This has been true since I was about eight years old. In fact, I can’t imagine not having some sisyphean task in your house that has nothing to do with your career; what a crappy world that’d be. If I’m not buying the wrong size hex bit, I’m not psyched.

Anyway, I thought I’d bore you into a senseless, limp sack of barely-warm meat by sharing four projects I’ve done over the last six months or so. As always, my disclaimer: nobody is making you read this. If you have a cancer vaccine you’re working on, by all means get back to it.


click any of these pics for bigger versions

1. The Magnetic Kitchen Chalkboard – Speaking of seemingly cancerous things to drink, there’s this awesome paint made by MagnaMagic that, once applied, becomes both a chalkboard and a magnetic surface. I warn you, it’s the heaviest gallon of paint I’ve ever held; it feels like you’re carrying the collapsed nucleus of an imploded supernova.

We wanted this wall in the kitchen to be a general “leave notes and let Lucy play with it” kind of space. The house we rent is an old Craftsman from the 1940s, so it has that quaint Happy Housewife feel, with a fair amount of pink in the kitchen. I found an old electric wall clock (top left) and painted the trim pink to match.

The magnetic chalkboard paint has the consistency of hot fudge, and takes some getting used to. After two coats, the magnetic properties weren’t all that great, so I put on a third coat and sanded it as smooth as I could. While drying, it cracked a little bit, so I’d definitely stick with two and just use strong magnets. Either way, Lulu and Tessa were pretty psyched with the results, and both started doodling the minute it was dry.


2. The Great Attic Handrail Caper – We have an attic space that was converted into an office before we moved in, but it still has the somewhat-nightmarish folding attic staircase, and getting up (and down) was a drag. I thought about putting a straight vertical bar at the top, but the mental image seemed too much like those things in a handicapped bathroom.

Not that there’s anything wrong with a handicapped bathroom. They’re frequently much cleaner and more private, as any guy can tell you.

So I decided to calculate the angle of the staircase and existing handrail, and add a “crook” to my horizontal bar that would make it seem to be a visual extension of the original. I’m here to tell you that taking a handrail and adding a 28-degree crook is no laughing matter. It had to be shaved down, sanded, whittled, taunted and humiliated before it looked pretty.

Add three coats of high-gloss linen paint, attach via studs and butterfly screws, and voila! At the end of this project, I asked myself “what the fuck was THAT all about?”


3. The Odd Notch Map of Scotland – One of my first “blog hits” was an ancient rime I wrote about bizarre U.S. state shapes, and when we were in London last year, I came across this map. It has a notch at the top for no reason, other than to include part of the Cairngorms mountain range in Scotland. Weirdly enough, that notch was where Tessa hiked as a young girl, so I had to get it.

Taking it to a framing shop, however, was out of the question. I don’t know if you’ve ever been to a frame shop, even a chain like Aaron Brothers, but they charge you $50 just to walk in. So I found some cool wood trim, stained it red mahogany, and then went batshit with the miter saw. Putting that thing together took the whole week before Christmas, and it didn’t help that I had strep the whole time.

I finished it on Christmas Eve and got it to Tessa before collapsing. Now it hangs in our bedroom, and it’s oddly compelling in a way that only asymmetrical things can be.


The Picture That Went On Forever – Back in 2003, I posted a stitched-together panorama of the hill by our farm, taken while the leaves were changing. I’d always wondered what it would look like as a printed picture, and once I figured out that our Epson had a paper-roll feature, I wanted to push it to its breaking point. Turns out that the Epson 2200 can actually print something six feet long, but my silly panorama was actually longer than that.

So I fixed up the image, strung it together into the biggest Photoshop file this side of Lars Lucier, and divided it into three long rolls. Target had some of those long frames on sale, so I painstakingly mounted the three pictures in the frames with some white foamboard and a matte knife. In the end, the hardest thing was getting them to line up on the wall correctly.

But now that it’s there, we can come back after a crazy day of meetings and L.A. traffic, lie on the side of the bed, and imagine what it’s like on that hill right now.

8 degrees, with a wind chill of negative-20. mmmmmm, yummy.

0 thoughts on “pleasure twice, butt once

  1. Beth

    Me too! Ian, did your dad teach you to build things? Do you plan to teach Lucy? I really wish my dad had–I can wield a screwdriver and a hammer and a paintbrush, but my “expertise” stops there.

  2. Josie

    If I were to get my DH a mitre saw, I might never see him again. He built a shed in the back yard last year; Given his very high “level of acceptance,” it is now considered the neighborhood bomb shelter. He was gone for months.
    These are great projects. Certainly #2 and #3 were inspired by the mere presence of a mitre saw. That’s cute.

  3. Anne

    Love the framing jobs. Very, very nice, and cleverly executed. Commercial framing is ridiculously expensive these days.
    And as for this descriptive bit: “a senseless, limp sack of barely-warm meat” — Have you been spying on me first thing in the morning???

  4. Rebecca

    Wow. You never cease to amaze me. But I must ask if you got the map at The Map House and if I get credit for suggesting it to you.

  5. kjf

    that handrail is especially impressive! your landlord should give you a free month of rent for that addition to the home!
    have you ever read the book HOUSE by tracy kidder. great book about the building of a house.
    any tips on putting up some wallpaper?

  6. GFWD

    Did I see, “The Tao of Pooh” in that stack of books? I know that’s being nosey, but I have that on a shelf of books I want to read but haven’t gotten to just yet.

  7. rhl

    so, hey are you going to mexico? it’s a place i haven’t been to but have been thinking of visiting and there was a book in your stack that, i’m pretty sure, said “Mexico” on it. (i’m an unbelievable smart-ass with too much time on my hands). and yes, ian, you amaze me beyond beyond. lexapro gets me out of bed. not sure what could get me to self-start. super-slow?

  8. Rebecca

    I think I was going somewhere with that thought, and then Henry tossed his yogurt cup across the floor, creating a disaster, and I hit post in error. More than an hour later, I have no idea what I was trying to convey.
    Anyway, I’m glad you got to The Map House and found something meaningful to you. It is an awesome shop!

  9. Neva

    Fascinating, I didn’t see you as a home improvement guy Ian. I’m impressed with the depth and breadth of your knowledge (isn’t breadth a strange word?).
    I personally enjoyed the challenge of trying to find the handrail in that photo. It was kind of like one of those odd photos where you can see a beautiful woman with a long neck or an old man with a beard, etc. In this case I could not find the damn hand rail in the white part of the picture. My eyes would not focus there and I was so frustrated that I just didn’t see what you meant and suddenly there was that “a ha” moment. I love those. Not what you intended but lots of fun.
    Great work all around!

  10. Ian

    Weird, we own “The Tao of Pooh” but it’s not in that picture. And yes, that’s a 2002 travel guide to Mexico that we got so we can look at maps with Lucy and her babysitter – my uncle has a place in Baja without electricity or running water, so we’ve dreamed about going down there for a few days.
    Other books on that shelf include Jim Murray’s 2006 Scotch Whisky Bible, “The New Father: A Dad’s Guide to the First Year” (don’t know why that’s still out), “Light on the Hill: A History of the University of North Carolina At Chapel Hill”, “Getting Things Done” by David Allen, and a bottle of Febreze.


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