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Forget Lego, let's build something useful

May 12, 2021

Forget Lego, let's build something useful

The boys are six. I thought it about time they knew the business end of a chisel and their mitres from their dovetails. They love getting involved in home and business life so were chomping at the bit to pick up the tools. I was also being slowly suffocated by colour-pollution and an outlet of Hamley’s in our lounge.

You see, our living area is quite open plan with all the bedrooms upstairs. We didn’t want the twins hidden away in their bedroom from birth so opted to have a fair selection of their toys in a dedicated area of the living space. But as they got bigger so did their toy collection along with hand-me-downs from their cousins, including eight massive crates of Lego.

I repurposed an old shoe cabinet from our staffroom refit as toy shelves some time ago. But it was open both sides and my carefully chosen pallet of mellow interior design tones was becoming overwhelmed again, and so were my nerves. Especially when toys were strewn across the lounge. But as our recent generations have developed to watch four screens at once and speak on the phone while listening to music and watching YouTube, whilst doing their homework apparently, maybe that’s how they play Monopoly, Scrabble, Lego and chess at the same time?

Hence the idea to front their cabinet with an adult visual of a bookcase. Their toy side would be out of sight and accessible from behind. As a learning project, I could then take them through all the cabinetry stages of building a double-sided bookcase, along with decorative trim, with a few shortcuts like having all the sheets pre-cut to size.

Ready for action, the boys helped draw up the list of work stages.

When I was growing up, I saw my Dad put his hand to everything. The family couldn’t afford to bring professionals in. He was mending shoes professionally from age ten and carried on looking after the whole family’s footwear. He even cut our hair until my brother made a career of it and took over.

Decorating, including paper hanging on the ceilings, electrical repairs, central heating, cabinet making…. In fact, the library I’m writing from now at home he built wall to wall in Regency style, sympathetic to our 18th Century building. He would labour over cutting everything by hand, then planing and sanding all the sheets and doors to be true. He always said that if he had this or that piece of equipment, he’d be able to do more complex work. Certainly, it would have been quicker and easier. But he never got to have the expensive kit. He came from a generation where labour was cheap and equipment was expensive, so he laboured, and never quite shook that belief. Even as things got easier in later life, he would still make it all by hand.

Square and true. Fitting all the shelves together. Pilot holes with countersunk

Building up the carcass and applying felt pads to the underside

The boys assisted with each segment and as stages became tedious or unsafe, they sometimes wandered off while I completed that part, but they soon returned ready to help and eager to learn.

Cutting skirting and top beading

Applying trim. Pin nails, glue and screws. Belt and braces.

Cabinet complete and ready for filling and sanding

Painting, one at each end – no arguments.

It’s good to share. The finished bookcase. Their side and ours.

We’re all delighted with the result and they know they've made a bookcase with a little help from Dad who’d had a lot of help from his Dad.

NEXT WEEK: The boys reproduce a set of Chippendale dining chairs. Just kidding, they’re not taking any commissions yet.


 Michael Van Clarke


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