More Adventures in Furniture

DrawersJust got a bedside chest of drawers from B&Q. It came as a flat-pack, which pleased me no end of course. A kit! I loved those when I was about twelve. It would be just like making a model aircraft again – albeit one with unusually poor aerodynamics.

Well no, as it turned out. Not really. The difference is that with a model, at least half of what you’re paying for is the process. Owning a plastic plane is as nothing compared to seeing it materialise beneath your hands. With flat-pack furniture though, you’re paying for furniture. Very few people , you’ll notice, spend their evenings building model wardrobes.

The assembly is not a thrill, but something you do to save money. At least that’s the theory. This thing cost nearly €100, which seemed like a reasonable price when displayed on an example of the finished object. After making it myself, I reckoned €100 was roughly what B&Q owed me. This was several hours of not wholly unskilled labour, and frankly a small wooden box seemed insufficient reward. Five different sizes of screw, plus assorted bolts, plugs and nails. Three sliding draws on metal runners. Twenty-three variously shaped pieces of timber. While it’s true that when I was a child the best model was the one with the greatest number of interesting parts, this is not a sought-after quality in furnishings.

And I got a splinter.

The parts are of reasonably good quality. Light yet solid pine stained to look like a more expensive tree, but no tacky plastic or MDF. It all fit together nicely, and the results felt solid – or at least they did when I added a few nails and doubled down on the amount of woodglue it came with. (In particular, using it to help keep the handles in place. Knobs that screw on, screw off.) The problem was that the instructions were way less helpful than they could have been.

The thing is full of screw holes that go unused – presumably the same bits make many different pieces – but you absolutely must use the correct ones, which makes assembly far more fiddly and the risk of error far higher than it really needs to be. And while the diagrams are never actually wrong, they could be a whole hell of a lot clearer. Much time will be wasted glaring at the pictures in an effort to ascertain exactly which of seven closely-clumped holes is being indicated – or alternatively, on the non-amusing task of taking it apart and putting it back together right. They’re often the butt of jokes, but IKEA‘s instructions are a model of clarity compared to B&Q’s Danish imposter.

Still, you end up with an almost entirely style-free but not unattractive piece or furniture. Whenever I look at it – which should be most days as I’m keeping my socks in it – I’ll be able to say “I made that, with my very own two hands, the day I was held captive and forced to work by that chain of British hardware stores”.

The Mystery Of Summer

20130605_174156
Something isn’t right about this picture. The colour of the sky looks wrong. Too… pleasant.

You won’t believe what I’ve just been doing. Watering a garden! With a hosepipe yet. It must be four or five years since I last needed to do that. It may be too soon to interpret this as the end of our appalling run of summers, but it’s a great feeling.

Sunny Ireland. Seems almost an oxymoron, like quantum vacuum or a healthy treat. The first real summer days seemed evanescent, illusory. As if the fates were teasing and testing, daring us to bare the vulnerability of hope. Then as soon as you accept it’s true, you find yourself wondering if this is what you really wanted. It’s not easy to get used to heat after so long. It is… hot. Not just warm and cosy, hot. And bright. It makes you sore. I’m sitting inside now, itching mildly all over, glowing pink as a neon sign. You know when you’ve been irradiated.

It’s amazing how much there is to be done outdoors, now that it’s possible to go there. I have spent much of today destroying the unapproved plants and planting the approved. A border of verbena and ageratum, should be very pretty. Repairing the lawn – a cow had strayed into the garden and been chased around a bit. She must’ve been big, her hoof prints were inches deep. Tying up climbing plants, spreading grass food, cleaning paint brushes, and now of course this watering. So much done today.

And yet, I feel unworthy of sleep. I got almost no JavaScript studied, I’ve yet to even begin work on that old range, I’ve a client in Australia I promised to get back to about a sale, I’ve made really little progress with the design of a new website, I still haven’t… written this yet.

You know, what I need to do is pay someone to come around about midnight and just hit me over the head.

Cognitive Dissidence

365px-International_Monetary_Fund_logo.svgIreland is the success story of austerity, the figures prove it. According to the IMF, the domestic economy grew 2.38% over 2010-2012. The bitter medicine is working. Soon we’ll be able to borrow on the markets again.

Yay.

But even the IMF admits it got it wrong in Greece. Severe austerity there has only deepened recession and dashed any hope of quick recovery. Yet somehow the very same policy seems to have worked in Ireland. Mysterious.

Hold on. Is this not the same Ireland that was recently called a tax haven in the US Congress? A country that – there is no secret to this – encourages transnational corporations to declare their profits here instead of in

other, higher-taxing jurisdictions. How much of our apparent growth, touted by our EU partners as the fruit of prudent austerity, is actually owed to what we might call the Tourism For Your Taxes sector?

Every damn bit of it.

Discounting the money-shuffling activities of transnationals, the domestic economy in Ireland declined by 5.2% between 2010 and 2012 (Source: Dr. Constantin Gurdgiev). The real economy – the one in which people who actually live here have to work and buy things and pay their (much higher) taxes – is one of closing businesses, joblessness, emigration, debt. Austerity as it actually works.

This presents an interesting conundrum for our EU partners. They wish both to use us as proof that austerity works, and to condemn taxation practices that are patently ripping them off, all the while maintaining the cognitive dissonance necessary to avoid acknowledging a causal connection.

Good luck with that, partners.

Varnishing Point

Washstand
It looks just like this. Well it will when I’m finished. Or would if I knew what I was doing.

I’ve taken up paint stripping. That’s where you cover yourself in several coats of gloss and dance around on stage with a scraper. No it isn’t.

There was this old washstand hanging around my mother’s house, lookin’ ugly. I’d never restored furniture before, but I was varnishing the window frames and thought “Well it’s much the same job, may as well do this while I’m at it.”

The windows were finished a week ago.

They were nice fresh cedar wood, not caked in ancient brown paint. Actually I mistyped that as “cacked” first and it was better. This table was totally cacked in brown paint. A rub of sandpaper was not going to bring about meaningful change.

So I got me some Nitromors, the popular paint stripper, slapped on the whole tin, gave it time to do its chemical stuff, and went at it with a scraper. I might as well have attacked it with a sandwich.

Am Tip¹: If you’re using Nitromors on an encrusted piece like this, don’t get the “Craftsman’s” variant. No matter how art-and-crafty you’re feeling, use “All purpose”. It’s more powerful, it’s thicker, and it’s whitish instead of clear so you can actually tell where you’ve put it.

Also the scraper I was using flexed far too much for the job. In the end I got two – a multi-purpose painter’s tool that looks like a miniature seaxe, and the even more ferocious shave hook. Now this really was the business. Its one drawback: with its multiplicity of pointy ends it’s easy to damage the wood with it. Or yourself. Or passers-by.

But with it and the new stripper the paint finally began to move. About three layers down I find one of duck-egg blue. My first reaction – who the hell paints a piece of wooden furniture duck-egg blue? My second though was one of admiration. People who have duck-egg blue paint and just don’t care, that’s who. People with a fine disregard for conventions, appearances, notions of taste.

My third was “Glad I have varnish”.

So the chemicals and violence got the worst of it off, but left a sort of muddy patina. Next then, the scratchening; I dug out the old sanding attachment for the drill. Judging by the dearth of compatible discs in the hardware store this is pretty much an antique now, ousted by dedicated disc and belt sanders, but the drill attachment works well enough. Too well at times; while I was still getting the hang of it I managed to scoop huge depressions into the wood. Pretty lucky I’d started on the underside.

But though this does get you down to the grain with a pleasing speed, it’s only much use on flat areas – of which the washstand has few. The turned legs and grooved details will all have to be done by hand. Lord this is going to be a job. Pictures when it’s done.

¹Like a Pro Tip, except from someone who doesn’t know what the hell they’re doing.