Respect the Wood: When Pinterest Goes Well

There were a good couple of years between when I first saw Pinterest and when I finally made an account. It seemed smug and precious, and my friend who was planning a wedding described how addictive and demoralizing it can be to see other people’s immaculately crafted and “curated” wedding ideas. I’m pretty sure the bulk of what you see for DIYs are created by people who do those sorts of things all day long/professionally, not weekend warrior crafting/baking/woodworking schlubs like the rest of us….well ok, to be honest, I’ve been making stuff since I formed fine motor skills, but still, it’s not the same. People in Chicago Skeptics book club can attest to the lumpen ugliness (but also deliciousness) of the Pinterest-inspired, halloween themed cakepops I brought once. They were black dyed chocolate over pistachio green cake. I couldn’t find lollipop sticks, so I tried using straws, which did not work. The grocery store didn’t have those little discs of melting chocolate, so I used white chocolate chips dyed with an unwise amount of black food coloring. I guess I have to be bad at something.

I love the idea of Pinterest Fails, what could be more human? We shouldn’t fear failure, and should perhaps even cultivate it. Besides, it’s unhealthy and deceptive to believe the highlight reels everyone posts on social media.

I finally bit the bullet and joined the Cult of Pins about a year ago, realizing that it’s a good repository for every awesome thing on Colossal, as well as the deepest, dankest visual rabbit hole in all the land. I spitefully refuse to make numerous boards, and instead divided them into categories that matter: “Things and Stuff,” “Eaty Things,” “Things to Wear” (so sinister and ingenious, you actually end up buying many of these things), “Things for my Growed up One Bedroom,” and a board for things to make for my chinchillas. You know, the big five.

I moved into a one bedroom at the beginning of the year from a coach house of roommates; and to the horror of my high school, Fight Club watching, what-even-is-a-duvet conscience, I needed to put furniture in it. Hence, the board for furniture. I take perverse joy in assembling IKEA furniture, but not in actually having IKEA furniture. I decided that rustic industrial was the annoyingly ubiquitous trend that spoke to me. It would also make it OK to get dents and marks in stuff when that inevitably happened. In fact, you’re even supposed to mark things up with a golf club or what-have-you when you construct it. I happened upon this table, of which there are two tutorial versions. Look at it. LOOK AT IT.


Screen shot 2015-10-20 at 10.41.43 PM

Moving into the new place coincided with seven months of freelance projects I was working on for Loyola University Medical Center. My evenings and weekends were crammed with making vector medical illustrations, attempts to maintain a social life and relationships, and the occasional Paper Machete afternoon (and I have a full time job, let’s not forget). I managed to make it to Home Depot several times, feeling guilty all the while for not being in front of my laptop.

After changing my mind on pipe diameter (the overly robust 1 1/4″ to the more refined 3/4″) and exchanging about 25 pieces of pipe and flanges, I finally had everything in my living room. The wood was just two two by eights cut into four planks by one of the friendly saw-wielding gentlemen at Home Depot. The pipes came in plastic wrappers and were greasy to the touch, leaving black residue on anything they came in contact with. This table was obviously an off-label use of plumbing pipe, I think the grease prevents rusting. I’d try to start screwing all the pieces together into the legs of the table to see how it would all look, but I didn’t have the time or power tools to start sanding the wood. I’d just gaze longingly at the pile while figuring out the proper vector representation for the texture of an ovary. In place of the future coffee table, I’d use these rickety vintage 70s tv tray tables my mom had discarded.

When I finally finished the freelance projects and had a week or so to transition out of that awful “I should be working at all times” mentality, it was finally time. I decided against driving all the wood to my sister’s shop in Evanston to use a power sander, and I didn’t want to rent or borrow a portable one. I hated the idea of driving for this project, and wanted to make it completely in my living room. I’d sanded things before, in Industrial Arts in 7th grade, with the teacher who inexplicably wore Zoobaz pants, exclusively. I got several grades of grit and a sanding block and did that shit by hand, much of it while watching the final season of Hannibal. It would make my shoulders and lats burn in the best way, and left a fine dusting of sawdust everywhere that wasn’t already covered with volcanic bath dust from my chinchillas. But it was also satisfying in the most tactile way.

My sister Megan, a set builder for theater, is one of the handiest people I know. She came over with a drill to join all the planks with metal brackets, and I paid her in wine. Later, I drilled the flanges at the top of the legs to the wooden top, rather incompletely because the drill couldn’t fit everywhere I needed it to go. But it was finally one stable piece. It was a surface I could place things on! I degreased the pipes with citrus spray, and sprayed them with clear coat (after initially accidentally spraying them with black spray paint – what?). Then it was time to stain. More trips to home depot, more noxious fumes in the air, and I finally got a color I was happy with. I covered this with gloss polyurethane after hemming and hawing over matte vs gloss. After looking at the unfinished wood for months on end, the rich finish brought me much visual joy.

The final result is not exactly like the photo. I got boards that were never intended to be a table, their edges are rounded, so the surfaces don’t come together in the smoothest plane. The cut edges are not entirely flush. It’s also not awesome reclaimed wood from an ancient barn or a boat yard that I imagine the authenticity one-uppers on Instagram finding. And I have no idea of how they got that finish, and my sister couldn’t figure it out either. But none of that matters. I made a gd table! And it looks pretty damn good, and I like putting my feet up on the rounded edge. It arguably looks better than the coffee tables on Pinterest, and it’s larger. Perhaps even “cocktail” table sized, if you will (and that is more of an accurate term as per my habits).

Yes, the materials were under $150, but I probably put many times that worth of hours into putting it together (considering my hourly rate for other kinds of work). From a stark economic standpoint, this is a folly, unless you consider the utility of satisfaction. Also, it was a reminder that while I procrastinate with the best of them, I rarely abandon a project altogether. I get to things when I get to them, whether it’s Pinterest, table building, urban biking, or understanding the point of coasters (thanks Larry David). Starting a procrastinated project usually results in my wanting to do nothing but that, as it becomes rewarding to actually see results instead of imagining them on a goddamn vision board.


Katie is an animator and illustrator of human innards living in Chicago.

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  1. I love the table (though my flat is full of actual Ikea furniture I put together lovingly). I just want to comment on your initial “Pinterest” rant (though I don’t use it myself):

    ” I’m pretty sure the bulk of what you see for DIYs are created by people who do those sorts of things all day long/professionally, not weekend warrior crafting/baking/woodworking schlubs like the rest of us….”

    I think it’s important to remember that Pinterest is not the average. People don’t show off the average and the slightly mishappen things on Pinterest or their blogs. I mean sure, there’s professionals and their stuff looks professional. It’s their job. And I’m damn sure that for every professional pic they have there’S a dozen that went horribly wrong. Yet the dedicated weekend warrior will proudly show off their stuff as well, but not the things that didn’t actually turn out as planned. It’s the same as everywhere: you only see the success and not the million things that failed

  2. Thanks!

    No doubt. I’m certainly not begrudging professionals their perfection. I’m more musing on how that perfection gives an illusion of effortlessness (I should’ve mentioned the broiled eggs in portabella mushroom caps I tried to make too), and how humbling it is to subsequently fail.

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