Prior to this time a year ago, I had never purchased lumber in my life.
But then I walked into one of those big box home improvement stores to purchase some outdoor furniture for the deck and the pool, and I was blown away by how poorly all of that stuff was made. And they wanted thousands of dollars for this junk… stuff that was probably going to break in just a season or two.
So… I set out to make my own. “How hard could it be?”
Working with Wood
First things first, we needed a convenient way to eat outdoors. With lots of year-round sunshine it seemed like the thing to do.
I wanted a picnic table with attached benches, but setup in a way that it was easy for the kids to get in and out without a lot of climbing.
After a bunch of time with Pinterest and Google Images, this is what I ended up with.
The plans I found on Instructables. It is made of 24 8 ft 2x4s and 16 carriage bolts. At the time I paid about $7.50 for each 2×4 ($180 total.) The carriage bolts were ~$5 each ($80.) I also used 2 boxes of 3″ deck screws (~$10 each.) Total cost of materials, ~$280.
I would have liked to have used cedar or redwood, but prices were insane at the time so I used kiln dried douglas fir. I then stained it with a cedar colored waterproof sealant. (~$30, but I have 80% of it for future use.)
I had a cordless drill but not much else in the way of tools, but I figured I could allow myself one tool purchase per project. For this go around I got a 10″ miter saw for around $250 (with a free stand.)
I built the 2 benches, top, and 2 leg structures in my garage and driveway, and then carried them to the back yard for final assembly.
There were a lot of tools I should have used – clamps, specifically, but I had no idea what I was doing and I had already purchased my “1 tool per project.” Instead I just cobbled together some frames and jigs from the end pieces of the 2x4s. I also built a jig and blocks to level and support the individual pieces for assembly. (Although I now own these beauties.)
Overall I learned a lot and had a good time, and we ended up with a nice piece of outdoor furniture for much less than the cost of a lesser quality item at retail. I know many things that I would now do differently, which goes to show that I really did learn a great deal.
Future project – a dumb waiter to get food and dishes from our kitchen to the poolside picnic table without having to go up and down stairs 100 times.
Outdoor sofa, chairs, and coffee table
Now that we had a place to eat, we needed a place to lounge. All over the internet I found pictures of these simple block 2×4 sofas. They looked super simple but also aesthetically pleasing.
This is the final setup.
For extra comfort, I also installed a ceiling fan on our patio roof structure.
The plans for all of the furniture pieces come from Ana White. They are as simple as you can possibly make something, basically just connecting some sticks at right angles, so they go together fast and easy. I didn’t even need to buy a new tool to do these (although I think I got a rotary sander, and I now “need” an impact driver.)
One nice feature of these pieces is that they are crazy heavy. There is no way our toddler can move a chair next to our deck railing for a potential 15 foot drop.
By now I was able to get 2x4s for ~$5 each, and a chair can be built with just 10 of them (I modified the design slightly for lower armrest height and shorter legs to be more kid friendly.) I had figured out I could buy a 10 lb box of deck screws for less than the cost of 3 lbs purchased in 1 lb boxes, and I was able to get a gallon of dark stain on clearance for $5.
The big expense comes in the form of cushions. These things are insanely overpriced, but what can you do? Even DIY requires buying the foam, and it was going for more than the price of a finished cushion. I got the 3 blue cushion sets from Lowe’s for ~$45 each. When I looked recently, they were selling for $70. The 2 red cushion sets I got at Home Depot recently for half off ($32 each.)
All together, 2 chairs, a sofa, and a coffee table cost about $250. The cushions add another $200.
Raised Garden Beds
We had a prosperous garden this year – I ate almost nothing but zucchini for 2 months and we gave as much away as we possibly could.
But we are getting a bit up there in years, and bending over to tend a garden is not as easy as it once was. Thus… for our fall planting we will be raising the beds.
I built four 8 ft x 3.5 foot beds out of redwood 2x6s. Each board was about $15 and each bed used 6 for a total cost of ~$75. (For some reason, on my last visit to home depot a redwood 2×4 was also $15…) From what I heard, redwood should last 20+ years so that is nice.
I’ll finish the install and drip irrigation system this coming week. Next week we will get some compost and rocks for the walkways delivered.
We have room for another 2 boxes (slightly smaller) but haven’t decided if we want to maintain such a large garden just yet (but I’ll probably build them anyway.)
The design for these is something I did myself, nothing fancy. I cut the end pieces and the 11″ support block (mid point of the 8 ft sides) from one 2×6.
Hot tub step
My most recent project I just finished yesterday, a new set of steps for our hot tub. The old steps had seen better days and I was worried they might break and injure someone.
I more or less copied this design from our old set of steps but snazzed it up a bit. It is built out of 4 8 foot redwood 2x4s ($10 each) and a 2 ft section of a 2×6. The 2×6 I got from home depot – I found the nastiest ugliest 2x6x8 that they had and asked if it would end up on the cull pile…. so I got it for 70% off.
I did buy a new tool for this little project, a handheld router. I also got a cheap set of router bits for $35 that I can use to experiment with different router options. For this project, I put a nice 1/4 round edge on all of the steps.
Dumbwaiter for outdoor dining
Night stands for master bedroom
Round table for kitchen breakfast area
French cleat wall for garage storage
Many, many, more….
Too many to list
Some woodworking resources I enjoy
I’ve been bitten by the woodworking bug. It is loads of fun and the results are super useful. I’ve been spending a large part of my free time these days either watching woodworking videos, planning new projects, or tinkering with new tools.
If I can avoid the (probably inevitable) tool creep, this new hobby of mine may actually save us money in the long run (it has so far!)
And the results have been great – we used our picnic table often these past few months, and the new lounge area is now seeing regular use. The hot tub step is also seeing a lot of use, but none of the younger members of the household have seemed to notice the fine craftsmanship.
The school season starts up again in a couple days, and it is likely that I’ll be spending more time in the garage working through my ever expanding list of projects.
I like working with wood. Who woulda thunk.
Have you worked with wood? Share a story or pic in the comments!
You inspire me!
Mind you, not enough that I’ll actually do any of this myself, but I can dream. :)
A year ago I would have said the exact same thing. Now I need to add a new line item to our budget for tools :p
You can never have too many clamps.
Ana White is amazing for building things! When we first bought our house, we used so many of her plans to furnish the house.
lots of good stuff on there!
Inspiring – thanks for sharing. I picked up skiing last winter, and can’t wait for skiing season to start this year. I know you ski. I also want to keep adding to my knowledge base, skill set.
It’s a great sport! I snowboard mostly these days after switching a couple decades ago (wow, time flies.)
Wowww. Getty all craftsy. A better man than I!
Nah that can’t be true. Equal but different more likely.
Nice job! Does come out better most of the time doing/building yourself. Saves a good chunk of change too.
Great use of your free time. We don’t have a home yet as we still enjoy nomadic travel but once we decide to settle, I will definitely go back to this post and the ressources you captures!
I started with Ana white. They are supper simple and budget friendly.
WOW! They look great! Love to see the kids involved. My Dad did a ton of projects when we were kids even though we could have afforded to hire someone or buy the furniture.
I have worked with wood, and I like it too. Its unfortunate that I’m pretty bad at it, but no injuries (yet)
Do splinters and cuts on the hands count as injuries? I get lots of those :)
If you have full function of all your fingers you’re doing pretty good
It is important to respect the power tools
It can be addicting… It’s only a matter of time before you build a handcraft cedar canoe…
ooh… (putting it on the list)
This should get your book creep started. And, check out their non-sale titles. https://blog.lostartpress.com/2022/08/07/a-once-in-15-years-sale/
Check your library. They may have some tools you can borrow for your next project.
I’ll check that out, thanks. They do have a 3D printer and we borrowed a nice telescope awhile back… I wonder what they have for tools.
My dad leased an office with a heap of furniture left by the previous tenant. I found an old desk from the 60s which I repaired, sanded and coated with a natural sealer. Twenty years later still one of my favourite pieces of furniture and in fashion again! You can’t beat doing it yourself..
Recently retired and learning woodworking here too. For your next tool project I would highly recommend a small Kreg pocket drill set. Your options for projects would really explode, and I you can make some really nice useful stuff. Keep up the great work!
I have a pocket hole jig. Got a different brand for half the price but basically same thing
One step closer to MMM
sorry I don’t follow
I think he meant that Mr. Money Mustache is one step closer to you, rather than vice versa lol
This is my CoastFI thing. Lots of projects and all local people have become my clients (& DW, of course).
Here’s the link to some of my work.
Ahh, the woodworking rabbit hole. It can be DEEP, but it can be a great hobby as well.
I think I’m at the start of the same path myself, as after seeing the shoddy quality of storage benches for the end of my bed I went out and bought a mitre saw and stand a couple of weeks ago. I’m looking forward to seeing what it can do, although shamefully admit that I’ve only got around to using it for cutting up firewood so far. Would be very interested to know what you’d do differently if you were starting out now?
Sanding and staining before assembly is the way to go.
I would have put dowels or biscuits on the corner joints on the picnic table instead of just throwing some screws in.
Pocket holes are nice.
Setup blocks on the miter saw are great when you have to cut multiple pieces of the same size.
Having a drill for pilot holes AND an impact driver for screws is a necessity not a luxury.
Love crafting/DIY wooden furniture. We built out a full kitchen and having the right tools makes an insane difference.
We have an affinity for all things Makita or Bosch as tools. We found that it was better to pay up for a really good tool, but also its something we’ve been doing for decades and many many projects so the cost per use has really plummeted, but you notice small differences on pricier tool brands (stability, play in the bolts/blades, and general build quality).
Enjoy the woodworking, that furniture looks great!
I like my Bosch dishwasher.
We’re just finishing building 4 nightstands (2 for the master bedroom and 2 for my son’s room) because I thought $800 for one crappy nightstand was too much. We ended up spending $800 to build all four high quality ones. We could also customize the finish (my son and I have different tastes). My 14 year old was involved every step of the way and learned a lot!
What did you make? Any pics or a link?
We purchased plans from Jenn Woodhouse (Nightstand with hidden charging station).
Great job! It’s always fun to “get your hands dirty” and make something. I made a console table to go near our entryway as well as a small bench with shelving to keep the kids shoes organized and near the door. A router is probably the next tool item on the list to help take off those corners. The thing I like most is that even if it’s not perfect, the table and bench will last practically forever. An outside table/chairs is likely next on the list for projects.
Once I finish the nightstands I’m probably going to go for a round table for the kitchen dining area. We had a square one there but I moved it outside on the deck because we were always bumping hips on it. The router will come in handy for cutting the circle
Ah the woodworking bug has bitten! It’s good fun, isn’t it?
This also leads to all kinds of interesting household discussions with the missus about build vs. buy and the quality/durability.
A lot of times Ikea can do it cheaper, but their particle board furniture doesn’t last. That, and it’s WAY easier to fix something you built if it breaks, rather than trying to repair something from Ikea.
Enjoy your adventures in woodworking! Oh, and don’t forget the safety goggles!
got some goggles and hearing protection too
Fortunately for us, Ikea is a 45 minute 1-way drive so we can avoid that place.
We’re both still working so I’m keeping my foray into crafting small. I’ve taken up some simple sewing to make things cheaper than I can buy them for. Ignoring the cost of labor because part of the point is to give my brain something new to learn that’s within our time constraints, so far I’m at least breaking even with a bonus for having fun. Woodworking feels like a fun thing to do when I can subtract a whole job from our days. Then again I am notoriously clumsy so maybe I should avoid power tools…
Sewing sounds like a great skill. My grandma was a big sewer/maker of things, and has given each of her great grandchildren a hand made blanket. Lots of quilts, etc…
Winnie has developed a great number of skills these past 10 years – bread making, baking, watercolor painting, gardening… there is always something new to learn.
It is also possible to do wood working the old fashioned way with all hand tools.
My comment has nothing to do with working with wood….
I wanted to sincerely thank you for your blog- it’s been both an inspiration and a source of fantastic information on early retirement.
While I know your blog has made money, knowing you retired without any plan to make money, and your focus on stock (as opposed to real estate) investing has been inspirational and confidence-building.
It has been a pleasure. And thanks to you for all of the good discussions over the years.
One thing we certainly did right was the timing – during our ~10 years of doing this thing we do, the CAGR of the SP500 has been ~17%. This is perhaps not repeatable.
Oh wow, nice job! You should look around and see if you can find a wood reuse/recycling center nearby. Used lumber is cheaper and more environmentally friendly. We have a great one in Portland that I visit whenever I need wood.
Thanks for the tip, I’ll look around
Some advice from an amateur woodworker that found out the hard way (fortunately not permanently), use eye safety gear, even for quick/easy jobs…
Excellent advice sir