Time/Life Books’ Amateur Handyman Series: Vol. 3

June 25, 2010
[You know what people say they “just love” about Fancy Plans and Pants to Match? The lack of new content. I’m sure they say that, like, all the time. Here’s one from the archives in lieu of one from the forebrain: originally posted on September 10, 2009. Sorry about all the dust…]

This latest edition in the Time/Life Amateur Handyman Series is Birdhouses & Shit: Hundreds of Ways to Waste Your Children’s Summer Vacation and Make the Best Use of Your Inadequate Tool Selection. This selection features the expertise of Paul Macguire, a finish carpenter with over 40 years experience, last seen teaching shop at Devry. Despite feeling “incredibly over-qualified,” Paul’s expert skill and surly manner promise to be a potent combination that will have you up and running in no time.

Previous volumes can be found here: The Time/Life Archives

Keep dreaming, rookie. Yours is going to look nothing like this.

Keep dreaming, rookie. Yours is going to look nothing like this.

Project #1 – Birdhouse

Let’s get started. A birdhouse, huh? Well, why not.

Don’t kid yourselves. No bird will ever get within 50 feet of this thing. They build their own. If, by some odd chance, some lazy bird stumbles into this thing, he’ll soon be having his ass handed to him by the nearest blue jay, nature’s homeowner’s association president. That, or you’ll spend your free time evicting squirrel after squirrel. Your choice.

First, the “joy” of building it, followed by the tedious micromanagement of being the landlord for the world’s smallest, stupidest and whiniest tenants.

What You’ll Need

  • Pine or Cedar Board (Overall dimensions: 12″x36″x1/4″)
  • Saw (table or hand) – Note: this was not an instruction, Nimrod. Please stop sawing your table or hand.
  • 1/2″ Nails
  • Hammer
  • Wood Glue
  • Sander (belt or hand) – Note: That’s a pretty tender spot for an abrasion. Let’s do this like a game of “Simon Says,” since you clearly need some indication as to when you can jump in and start things up.
  • Paint/Varnish (Optional: But if you really dig that “unfinished” look so much, why don’t you just lean the uncut board against the tree and save us all the trouble?)

Step 1:
Provided you haven’t already disfigured yourself with the saw/sander, go ahead and cut out four pieces matching these dimensions:

  • (2) 8″ x 6″ (front/back)
  • (2) 8″ x 6-1/8″ (side)
  • (1) 6-1/2″ x 6-1/2″ (base)

Remember the old adage: “Measure twice, cut yourself.” Let’s be careful with thumb placement, people. You’ll want those opposable thumbs for holding up the “Will Work for Food” sign. I notice it’s not listed, but unless you’re some sort of dimensional Rainman, you’ll probably want a tape measure or ruler.

Once you have the pieces you need, lay them out in two stacks and the smallest piece separately. Notice that the two stacks should only have 1/8″ difference. If you notice a larger variation then all you really have is some wood to toss in the dumpster or hammer over very small windows during hurricane season.

Uh huh. Well, let’s try it again, only right. 1/8″ is roughly about the size of my patience.

OK, now that we presumably have the correct pieces, let’s continue. Pick up one side piece and the base. Apply a thin line of wood glue to one side of the “side” piece. Not that side. No, really. Go ahead and stick it on there.

Awesome. Now, I’m no rocket surgeon but 8″ is way more than 6-1/2″. I’m sure the birds will love the offset funhouse you’re trying to build, but maybe you could do a little thinking on your own. Put your hands down. I’ll talk. You listen. Any other combination is turning this project into a complete abortion.

Just wipe off the wood glue and try again. It’s not like it’s Wacky Glue or Crazy Glue or JB Weld or anything that actually adheres something to something else. The glue will wipe right off. You’ll notice this effect soon enough. Like when your side wall piece falls right over because wood glue can’t hold shit.

You’ll have to either hold it until a bond develops (30-45 minutes, just like with your makeup-wearing son) or find something to prop it up with.

Even this one may be a bit of a stretch...

Even this one may be a bit of a stretch...

You know what works great for this? Going to the store and pulling a $10 out of your wallet. Bingo. A professionally made birdhouse, just like from the factory. It’s not like this is a deck or an addition to the house, where you could conceivably save some money by doing it yourself. You’re not saving any cash or aggravation by banging this out at home. Christ, it’s a fucking birdhouse.

OK. That side has finally set. Go ahead and repeat these steps for the other side.

Beautiful. The 8″ side again? Jesus. I ran a shop class for a truckload of amputees with OCD that went smoother than this. And that includes the dipshit that somehow nearly lathed himself to death after failing to stop the “crazy train” when he ran out of wood. Substitute teaching is always one catastrofuck after another. I swear, you turn your back for one minute and someone’s got the reciprocating saw halfway through their femur.

Alright. Assuming you now have all four sides on, let’s shore this up with a few nails. Grab your hammer.
That’s a screwdriver.
That’s your leftover wood.
That’s your screwdriver again.
Here’s a picture of what we’re looking for:

While you’re playing Scavenger Hunt with your only clue, let me just tell you what is wrong with the carpentry/shop class field. No. You will listen. No one has a sense of perspective. One reckless endangerment charge and suddenly you’re out of the sweet Devry gig and caged with a half-dozen other parolees cranking out How-To’s in the Time/Life paper mill.

Back to the birdhouse. You’ll need to put the nail pointy-side down and hit the flat side with your hammer or screwdriver or wood glue bottle for all I care.

Oops! That’s going to be tender for awhile. Swing carefully, you’ve got those always-in-harm’s way thumbs all over the place.

Wow. That’s going to be tender-to-useless for a long time. Take your time and aim for the nail.

Nice. That’s going to need some medical attention. The surprising amount of blood is a dead giveaway. Hey, bright side: at least you had the nail pointing the right way so you won’t have to entertain the ER with your Jesus impression.

Man. Another ER trip. This takes me back. I remember one of my first supervisor positions in construction. A simple translation error led to a misunderstanding with the Mexican migrant workers, who responded alarmingly quickly by beating me severely and making several cement-related threats. I think it was pay-related. Or a lack of payment. Something along those lines that was taken badly after I insinuated that they take the issue up with the Border Patrol. That and they kept mispronouncing my first name as “Puto.”

How’s your hand? It looks bad. I’m not going to lie to you. That sucks. I don’t think that you’re going to be making a sudden jump from manual labor to white collar pro anytime soon.

Bingo. There's your birdhouse, benchwarmer.

Bingo. There's your birdhouse, benchwarmer.

You seriously want to go on with this? I mean, I’ll drive you to the goddamn mall myself. It’s like 10 minutes away. We’ll pick up a birdhouse and some bird seed. Maybe some lunch. You should eat. You look a little pale.

No. I can drive. You’re maimed. Hold your hand out the window when we hit the parking lot. Just wave it around and I think we can score some handicapped parking.

No. I can drive. Just because my license is suspended doesn’t mean that I forgot how to drive.

Why do want to keep going? What are you trying to prove? That you can keep me sober for 6 hours in a row? Who the hell do you think you are? My sponsor?

Besides, your neighbors will start bitching about “line of sight” violations and there will be birdshit everywhere. Blue jays fucking with squirrels at all hours. The Homeowner’s Association will have your ass. They bitch about everything. “18 feet is too high for a privacy fence.” “You can’t arrange your Christmas lights into the shape of a penis.”

Chapter 2: Sweet Jesus and Mary Chain! A Picture Frame??!! Why in Holy Fuck Would You Not Go Buy One??!! The Dollar Stores Even Carry Them, for the Love of Godsmack!



  1. Professor…

    I’m still laughing. So much great stuff that I don’t even know where to begin. I’m completely awed as usual.

    • Claire, great to see you in class again. You flatter me altogether too much with the nickname, but I’ll be damned if I’ll ask you to stop using it.

      Always a pleasure having you here, Claire. I noticed you sporting some cubs at the CC site and I shall be over soon to hijack the comment thread.

  2. Thank-you for this, CLT.

    I’ve been wanting to make a birdhouse for the four- foot balcony of my downtown condo for years, but just never knew where to start.

    To be honest, I was a little worried at first. When I saw that this Paul MacGuire guy was actually a finish carpenter, I thought I might have trouble reading the instructions. Thank God those nutty Finnish people write in the same dialect as we do! (I’m guessing it’s just their accents that make them sound so bizarre)

    One question, though…I’m wondering if there’s an instructional DVD/Betamax tape I could get to go along with this? I’m still having trouble with the thumb placement issue, and since I’m a visual learner and all, it might be better if I could see the exact hammer and saw protocol firsthand…or secondhand, I should say. (I had a little accident with that spice rack you featured a while back… don’t worry, it’s nothing that a well-fitted, stainless-steel Captain Hook prosthetic won’t fix).

    Anyway, if you could let me know that would be great, until then I’ll just be over at my local “Store that sells stuff to do construction stuff” store, picking up the required materials.

    I just hope this doesn’t end up costing me an arm and a leg!

    • Bschooled –

      The DVD/Betamax combo you speak of exists only in the fertile imagination of you, and the people at Time/Life Books. Fortunately, it can be yours for a song. A hit song of no more than 4 minutes in length and it must spend a minimum of 16 weeks on the Hot 100.

      The DVDMax will only play in certain Region 8 players available behind the counter of the Korean grocers (ask for the “Lolicon Does the Dematerialized Zone”). It was shot entirely on Betamax using a wide-angle lens and an epileptic cameraman. The director insisted on strobe lighting so the visuals are hectic to say the least.

      A delicious pun at the end, especially to us cannibals. (Hah! It’s all a joke, people. Have several drinks and relax a bit!)

      Thanks for the visit, bschooled. Enjoy your new birdhouse. It should only cost you your thumbs.

  3. “1/8″ is roughly about the size of my patience” – I’d actually pay money to get brain damage to read this again for the first time. Take it from me, I spend a lot of time in a bird houses and nothing is sexier than the “The Bingo Pot House”.

    • Thanks for the disturbingly kind words, RR. Tell you what, rather than paying for the brain damage, I’ll just try to whip another one of these up within the next 10 days or so.

      The world is already a little low on what experts call “smarts.”

  4. Yeah! One from the archives! These are too damn good not to recycle. The closest I have ever come to a ‘craft’ project was helping my daughter construct the Knesset (Israeli parliament) out of popsicle sticks during elementary school. I’m not an artsy person and I remember fuming throughout the entire project thinking what a colossal waste of time it was and environmentally wasteful to boot. I have to say though, that I had some semblance of accomplishment when it was done and I have never forgotten the architectural details of the Knesset. I think your coinage of “catastrofuck” sums up the whole process of crafting and do-it-yer-self “bonding projects”.

    Looking forward to more archives!

    • I don’t know what educator decided that popsicle sticks were ideal construction material, but whoever it was hopefully purchased some stock in the manufacturers, because apparently there isn’t anything else out there you can use. God forbid you actually use those to make popsicles.

      I’m not much of a craftsman myself. I can repair a few things, but there’s no way in hell I can build anything from the ground up, no matter how simple the cover of the book would tend to indicate.

      There may be more from the archives, Elizabeth. Right now I’m dealing with some schedule changes, so I may have a few reruns while I sort things out.

  5. Hey, Hollywood, if I wanted recycled entertainment I would drink my urine. (Garnished with lemon and thru a large, swirly straw, of course).

  6. […] Capitalist F Lion Tamer: The Fancy Plan’s Guide to AFI’s Top 100 Films – Volume 4 and Time/Life Books’ Handyman Series: Volume 3 […]

  7. I was sure that I’d commented on this in the way back when. We were definitely hooking up then, so where am I? Maybe this was during one of those times that I disregarded all of my responsibilities in order to hang out in the shed, build birdhouses, chug vodka, injure myself badly with a nailgun.. but why was I using a nailgun to build birdhouses(?) go to the hospital, get pain meds, drink more vodka on top of the pain meds, stay drunk and high for two full weeks, take a week to recuperate, say sorry, and commence my blogging and commenting duties. Remember how I used to do that? We had some good times didn’t we, CLT?

    • You know, I’m not sure exactly where you were. I thought we were trading comments back in the day, but the thread says otherwise. It could have been during your “unscheduled downtime,” when burying that hooker in Mexico took twice as long thanks to the hand you had nailed to your leg.

      I think it’s equally as troubling how quick I head to the archives when I’ve got nothing lined up. I also think it’s troubling that the archives seem to be more entertaining than my current stuff, but that’s not your fault no matter how much alcohol/pain meds/penicillin you’ve consumed.

      Thanks for the enlightening and brutally funny comment, Scott. You’re obviously on the long hard road out of hell, or heck at least.

  8. I’m glad you re-posted this because I think it perfectly captures what we need more of today – craftmanship. Hammering together four sides and a base is the kind of genius that the ‘young ones’ would do well to take notice of, they could learn a thing or two about putting those opposing thumbs to more use than just pressing away at the keypads on their video games….

    Wonderful voice CLT

    • Thanks, Ruby.

      It is sort of the thing kids need more of these days. “Focused activities.” In fact, I’d settle for just a little focus, so that they’d be more apt to limit the destruction to one area of the house rather than moving from one disaster to the next like mischevious tornadoes/imps.

      They do like their videogames, but not nearly enough. I’d even settle for some mind-numbing in exchange for time spent cleaning, rebuilding and yelling.

      Good to see you again, Ruby.

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