short story

DIY: Dodgy-It Yourself

I have two great phobias in life: starting things, and finishing things. No wonder my procrastination skills are five star.

So for me to have started, and finished, this project (in a total of about six hours, not counting the painting, which I took my time doing because I was really watching telly) is truly outstanding. (This post, on the other hand, took me much longer).

‘How did you do it?’ you ask. ‘After all,’ you continue, a little too honestly, ‘I’ve seen your other half-hearted project stuff, and, well… oh look, is that a shiny thing over there?’

Well, it was easier than it looks. And I can tell you how I did it without once saying ‘simply’ or ‘just’. And not because I gloss over tricky stuff like dovetail joints and make you feel like a fool for not keeping up, but because there are no dovetail joints.

So let’s get started!

Tools list: one phillips head screwdriver.

Ok I’m exaggerating. But only a little bit. I can’t give you the tools list, because everything goes wrong along the way. It depends how dodgy you want to get, how you opt to get out of your mistakes and how fussy you are at the end result. But I did also use a saw, a tape measure, a pencil, and a cordless drill (until I realised it was easier by hand). And a dremel (not the appropriate tool) and a razor blade (invaluable) and hammer (again, not appropriate). And Google. Don’t forget Google. A DIY’ers most undervalued resource.

Oh and very important – put the spare battery for the cordless drill on charge now. That way you won’t even need the drill at all. If I didn’t put it on charge, metaphorical hell would have broken loose, and stars would have fallen from their orbit around our sun.


1. Measure the shelves – duh! Of course. But I just did it freehand. I put the books on the plank, left a space either side that pleased my eye, and cut. All four shelves are different lengths because it was all about those books.

2. File off sharp edges – did I mention I’m clumsy? There are enough sharp edges put on surfaces by embittered engineers in my life (window frame edges! Seriously! If I bang the tip of my finger when cleaning the window one more time I might have to write a letter about it. Or do a post…). I used whatever file I had in the shed and ran it along every edge of the shelves-to-be (except the ones that will be flush against the wall) in whatever direction felt right.

3. Paint pipe, flanges, and saddles – I hate the limited range of ‘serviceable’ brackets Bunnings want me to use, and I like the steam-punk industrial look. Also they kind of match the books. Kind of. Magic is almost steam-punk. This was actually hard because metal doesn’t like paint very much. The result is a rough, unfinished look that I pretend was my aim in the first place. Don’t zoom in on them or you’ll see what I mean.

4. Put all that aside and make a template for your silhouette – I couldn’t find anything in local shops, and ordering on-line would have taken too long (the start phobia would have finally figured out what was going on and had time to kick in). I really needed Google here.


5. Paint it onto the wall – I had to experiment with different paints and colours – fortunately they all came straight back off the wall again. I ended up using expensive artist’s acrylics (I once thought I’d be able to paint pretty things – haha, I know, I can’t – so what better use than this?).


6. Force yourself to continue – as awful as this looked, and as much as I wanted to quit, berating myself as the most useless, unartistic, even disartistic person in the world, my start phobia was still in shock so I kept going.

7. Draw bamboo leaves freestyle – again, Google. Copy.


8. Step back and admire progress. Come on! It’s actually pretty good for someone with two left thumbs.

9. Ok, I guess I’ve been putting it off: place one flange/pipe for a measurement – I can’t show you pictures because I only have three hands. Left hand held flange, right hand held shelf at perfect position – I wanted the shelves about a centimetre away from the end wall so I could run a cable in the gap if I wanted a light there, and they had to also sit below the join of flange/pipe as there was a step-up there. Somehow, draw circles in the screw holes of the flange.

Then I personally like to drill a pilot hole. Apparently you don’t have to, but this is my way of finding the stud – I only found one, so I simply drilled another hole into one of the other circles (I only used two on each flange).


10. Screw in the most amazing of inventions – thanks JCB (not you, JBC – different person). These plastic Wallmate thingies are for gyprock walls (Americans – you call them dry walls – are your other walls really wet?). They give your screw something to bite into and hold (see 11). You literally screw the plastic thingies in by hand, but keep them straight as you do, and scrape off the first bit of wall that comes out once you get the triangle part in or else it stops your anchor from finishing flush. You can even pull it out to clean up the edges at this stage. Put it back in, keep screwing, and keep firm, steady pressure. (Just like you would keep firm, steady pressure on a bleeding injury from doing DIY stuff the wrong way).

(By the way, because I know you’re just hanging to know where I used the dremel, razor blade and hammer – it was right here, when one of my anchors went in crooked. I stuffed it up so bad, I couldn’t get it back out again. So I broke the fitting on the dremel trying to cut off its head, then used the razor blade as per this amazing bloke here, tried the hammer to hammer it through and failed, covered it up by turning the flange).


11. Screw the flange to the wall – here’s a shot with the anchor still visible in the bottom hole, with the screw already in the anchor at the top hole. Oh, please ignore the pencil lines showing where the shelf goes – I stuffed that up.


12. Mark the second flange – you thought I didn’t have enough hands before, you should try this on your own! Left hand holds flange against wall, right hand holds shelf on single pipe, spirit level sits on shelf. Make tiny adjustments with right hand until spirit level shows a balance, then use your remaining hand to pencil a circle inside the screw hole of the flange. Well… in reality once the spirit level balanced, my elbows and shoulders came into play. It was a bit like pole dancing, except a) I tried this and b) I actually got there in the end.

13. Stand back and admire your progress – a very important step that should never be overlooked. It was hot. I was sweaty. No there was no pole dancing.


14. Repeat for next three shelves – another important step on the road to completing a project, apparently.


15. Stop there for the day! Honestly, I nearly destroyed everything by trying to attach the collars. I was tired and deserved to end on a positive.

16. Have a break for dinner. Mushrooms with white wine, garlic and onion. Cauliflower with spinach-mayo-sour-cream-packet soup mix meant for cob loaf. Bake.


17. Day 2, and to the Collars. Also known as rotten sods that don’t quite do the job and hate being screwed in against the forces of gravity.

With the shelf still sitting in place (oh – remove the books. I know, it’s obvious, but we’ve come such a long way and it’s tempting to let them stay and look pretty, but trust me, they’ll fall off, you’ll hurt yourself trying to catch them from this cramped position, and they always land out of sequence anyway) mark where pipe sits, use one hand to hold shelf down (gravity just doesn’t have the strength when you want it to), use other hand to hold collar over pipe, and miraculously draw hole inside screw hole (this image shows a punch mark, but I nearly fell over trying to juggle that. Bonus points for spotting the punch mark for the other collar on the same pipe).


18. Put the shelf on the floor, upside down, and screw collars mostly in place – but stop a few turns short of tight. The buggers may not lie against the pipe the way they should (thanks, Bunnings – nothing ever quite fits, does it? It can’t be due to my shoddy work…) but they can still be too tight at this step (in which case step 22 happens).

You can see I didn’t bother making sure the collars were at exactly the same point along the pipe. Meh. No-one’s going to see that.

19. Slide shelves into place over pipe – self-explanatory. Surely you don’t need a picture?

20. Count screws when halfway through third shelf – and discover you are five screws short. Also find out your substitute screws are bright shiny silver instead of ye olde antiquey brassy. Better late than never.


21. Undo good work already done – now can you see the silver?! Unscrew inside screws (the ones no-one can see anyway) from bottom shelf and replace with bright silver screws. It needs to be perfect after all…


22. Fix up mistake of step 18 – yep. Screwed them too tight while they were still on the floor. Scraped off all that expensive paint I laboured in front of reruns of Star Trek for. Can’t slide it back off either. Gotta undo the screw at the worst possible position to fix. Note paint stain on bottom of shelf. There’s always one.


23. Load the shelves and pat yourself on the back! Terry Pratchett. So worth the effort.


24. Pack everything away and then find the one bit you left out. There’s always one.

I didn’t even use this bit!

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