By Joe Rector

I so much want to be one of those men who can build things. To be a craftsman who takes a piece of wood and creates a beautiful piece of furniture is a dream I’ve long held. The truth of the matter, however, is that I am less than capable when it comes to designing things and then constructing them. In fact, I’ve always found using tools difficult and working in construction situations demanding.

I never learned how to do things with tools. Daddy never had the time to teach us, and even if he had, he wouldn’t do it. He believed that things should be done correctly, and that required calling in a professional. The only successful things I ever built was a teepee from pine branches and a small enclosure made with small pine tree trunks. Jim, Bill Burns, and I spent several afternoons working on those projects. They eventually collapsed as the limbs lost their needles and the logs rotted.

I worked construction one summer with a man who’d been my boss at the Holiday Inn the year before. He tirelessly worked to teach me how to do things, but I wasn’t crazy about the lessons. On one occasion, he sent me up a ladder to nail soffit boards to rafters. I am fearful of heights, so the job was scary from the very beginning. Once up on the ladder, I tried to drive nails into the boards, but they bounced and fell to the ground with every hammer blow. It didn’t help that I was nailing these things above my head.

After finally driving the nails, Frank told me to do the next board. I began coming down when he said, “Stay where you are.” Then he told me pull the ladder back and to set it several inches to the right. I told him I was afraid that the ladder would fall. At that point, Frank begins shaking the ladder until I do as he instructed.

On another occasion, Frank sent me to nail board on a flat roof because I was left handed and could reach it. I carefully maneuvered to the spot and began kneeling on a rafter to get into position. My feet slipped, and just like Clark Griswold, I crashed through the ceiling of a bedroom and found myself stuck. Frank came to my aid, all the while sprinkling his laughter with profanities.

One summer I helped Uncle Wayne roof his house. We worked from daylight until early noon. He was into his 60’s and worked circles around me. My uncle was a quiet man with the patience of Job. He tried to teach me what to do, but it seemed as if he redid most of my work. I suppose my only help was keeping him company and being there to call an ambulance if he fell off the roof or had a heart attack.

In recent years, I’ve built a few things, but they are what I call “primitive.” That best describes things that are just a tad off measurement-wise, even though I’ve measured multiple times and cut once. My cuts with a saw are never straight, something I blame being left-handed and using a right-handed saw. I use twice as many nails and continue to add wood until pieces seem sturdy enough to hold a glass of tea or a hardback book. They weigh tons.

Last month, I took a stab at building a drying rack. As usual, pieces didn’t match exactly. One piece warped so that the thing won’t close completely. It looks okay, and I enjoyed the work. Nailing the side boards, I managed to shoot one into my finger, even after I’d checked to make sure my hand was out of range from the nail gun. I also made a frame from wood from a scrapped pallet. It turned out well.

I plan to continue to work with wood and tools. Say a prayer for me that I don’t shoot more nails into body parts. Also, cross your fingers that I might build quality piece of furniture before I die.