One of my favorite family stories includes my grandfather, a color television, and a stick of Beech Nut gum. It goes a little something like this…
It was the early 1950’s when color broadcast television became introduced in the United States. In the small town of Tobyhanna, Pennsylvania, my grandfather earned bragging rights for owning one of the first color televisions in town. Grandpa wasn’t a rich man in terms of dollars and cents, but he was rich with the belief that each of us is capable of doing anything if we are willing to learn, comfortable with hard work, and not scared off by early failure. A mindset like that can move mountains or at least it can be used to bring a color television into the home when you otherwise cannot afford one. Grandpa was one of the first in town to have a color television because…wait for it…he built it himself. As the story goes, he retrofitted a his black and white television with a color tube of some sort. He knew that he got the color correct when he could compare a Beech Nut gum commercial with the branding on a real stick of gum.
I come from a family of makers. Ours is a family where, when we are about to leave for a picnic and cannot find a bib for the baby, a bib can easily be crocheted in a matter of minutes. We build cars instead of buy them. We grow our vegetables instead of visiting the produce section. I’m about to share a few personal examples in the hope that the next time you have a big budget purchase in mind you might consider becoming a maker yourself and save a few dollars while you are at it.
A $75 Platform Bed
I bought my condo in 2007 with little money to spare. Where the bedroom was concerned I had a mattress, I had a box spring, but I didn’t really have much of anything else. I truly wanted a platform bed, but most of the platform beds on the market did not use a traditional box spring. That would have been hundreds (or even thousands) of dollars to buy something I wasn’t totally in love with. I summoned my inner grandpa spirit and decided to design and build the bed myself.
I custom built the bed such that a set of 2x4s sit on the floor and the mattress sits on top of the 2x4s. The wooden frame was then measured to be the perfect height to conceal the box spring while the mattress would still appear to float on top. I got the wood for mega cheap because it is literally just pine boards of various shapes and sizes. I then stained it ebony before coating it with polyurethane. A couple of years later I built the headboard, which is nothing but square pieces of MDF covered in both foam and heavily discounted fabric. I hung each square from the wall separately like a picture, but together the squares look like a unified whole. Grand total for both the bed and the headboard was $75. That includes renting a drill/power screwdriver, which I did not own at the time.
The Cutest $2 Sweater
I’m a bit ashamed to admit that I didn’t learn how to crochet until about a month or so ago. It’s really quite embarrassing because everyone in my family can crochet…even Grandpa could. Here is a picture of an afghan that Grandma made us before she passed away as modeled by my cat Tom Jones. So very warm. So very soft. Alas, I took some time during a recent vacation to learn the craft, and I am very glad that I did.
I bought a crochet hook and a $2 skein of yarn (right after I learned that a “thingie” of yarn is actually referred to as a “skein”) and did a bunch of practice runs that understandably didn’t result in much of anything. However, in the true maker spirit, I didn’t give up. I have now produced a few things from that skein of yarn including a shrug sweater that was custom sized to fit me perfectly. I plan to wear it while I am out jogging in the early Spring.
I also have the skills needed to make my own clothing patterns and then sew those patterns into real clothing. My favorite use for this skill is to recreate shirts and pants that I love that are no longer on the market. Recent projects include a Grecian inspired draped jersey shirt and the re-creation of my favorite pair of Ralph Lauren pants. Now that I have a pattern for them I plan to make them in every color.
Hardwood Floors for Less than $2/sq ft
We have a general rule in our home, which is that we should not replace things (flooring, appliances, can openers etc.) unless they are truly no longer functional. It’s better for the planet, and it is better for our wallet. Our original flooring was carpeting throughout most of the house and linoleum in the kitchen and bathrooms. It was quite a few years until the carpeting and linoleum truly needed to be replaced for reasons that were beyond pure vanity, and I wanted to replace them with something that would last for the next 100 years if installed properly. I tiled the bathrooms and kitchen with heavily discounted ceramic plank tiles I bought on the cheap at Floor and Decor. However, it is the hardwood floors that I am the most proud of.
I bought cabin grade red oak floors from Lumber Liquidators for $.99/sq. ft. The flooring was stored in the basement, and I worked on one room at a time. Once the floors were nailed down I filled any holes with “wood flour” that I have saved from furniture projects (like the bed) mixed with wood glue and water. I then rented a sander for a few hours before returning it the same day. The floors were then stained using a water based, non-caustic, chemical compound that reacts to the tannins in the wood and turns the floors into a driftwood gray. I then put a very light layer of whitewash over that driftwood finish to ensure that the polyurethane did not interfere with the gray look I am going for. It literally took me months of chemistry projects to figure out how to turn brand new wood floors into the perfect shade of old, but it was so worth it as I was able to stain 1,200 square feet of flooring for a total of $8. The polyurethane I used was the only big ticket item. It is Bona Naturale, which is a water based commercial grade polyurethane that dries to look like it is a bare wood floor. I will pay for quality when quality is important. Some day I plan to write a more detailed post all about how to lay hardwood floors like a girl.
Want to Be a Maker?
- You can build exactly what you want
- You spend a fraction of the cost of buying a similar (but not as good) item at the store
- You get to learn new skills, which will make you feel empowered and more employable
- You will feel proud of the work that you accomplish, which will increase your confidence. Don’t believe me? Just look at my little toddler face during one of my first maker creations a la blocks. That’s a proud girl. Oh, and, yes, that is actually me. I’m blond somewhere under all of this black hair dye.
- You will make friends with other makers, and makers are an exceptionally talented group of people with very colorful backgrounds
- You can gather stories that you will tell your grandchildren.
- You will inspire others through your example. Thank you, Grandpa!
I would love to hear all of your maker stories! Be sure to comment below. You can also ask questions about things you may want to make in the future. I have an inventory of family members with a catalogue of maker skills standing by!