All posts tagged: Tools

My Favorite Hardware Store is…My Basement.

On Saturday, this blog turned 7 years old. SEVEN! That’s so old! I celebrated by thrifting most of the day and buying a few things that I did not need but wanted and didn’t have the self-restraint to leave behind. Some things never change!

But other things do change. A lot has changed, actually. In particular, everything?

When I started this blog, I was a freshman in college who tried—mostly in vain—to make my dorm room cute and nice until I could get the hell out and move to an apartment. In service of this goal, one of the most important things I brought with me to college was a clear plastic “men’s shoebox” from the Container Store, onto which I had adhered a label reading, simply, “tools.” In my possession, I think I had a hammer, a selection of nails and picture hooks, a small spackle knife, a pair of vice-grips, a tape measure, and a manual screwdriver with a bunch of interchangeable bits.

I was the only person on the floor to bring anything like this to college (this was New York City, after all), so my little teeny tool kit ended up being a valuable piece of social currency. I wasn’t just that guy in room 218, I was that guy with a hammer. Try not to be too jealous. It was a long time ago and I’m not nearly that cool anymore.

When I did rent that first apartment, my supplies got upgraded to an entire drawer, which I remember thinking was SO legit. I mean, I didn’t have any friends with a set of clamps and multiple sheets of sandpaper. I could pretty much do anything!

As time passed and the projects got more numerous and more involved, I started to accumulate more. More and more and more. I started having to buy actual power tools on an as-needed basis, fill out the selection of manual tools, and figure out when keeping the last dregs of a can of wood stain just wasn’t worth the storage space. After a year I moved to Brooklyn to an apartment that needed more work than I’d done on the first one, and I was also designing and building stuff for clients, and so the collection continued to grow.

And then I bought the house. And it’s been almost four years since then, so maybe you can imagine. If you’ve ever renovated, you know how many tools and supplies are involved, and how many trips to the hardware store you end up making over the course of a single project. You acquire a TON of stuff, especially if you’re anything like me and end up keeping and storing anything that might still be remotely useful to some future task. You stop returning small extra purchases to the hardware store because you’ll use them at some point anyway, and start to think you could practically build an additional house with all the supplies you have to renovate the first one. It seems crazy, but also not crazy?

Of course, just HAVING all that stuff doesn’t necessarily equate to using all that stuff, because you have to be able to find it all! This is harder than it sounds, because when you’re mid-project and you need to something, you want to be able to grab it quickly. If you can’t, you might think you actually don’t have the thing you thought you had, so you end up buying it again. So you gotta keep it organized. Organized-ish. Organized enough. Because THEN, this magical thing happens. You’re doing a project and you actually have everything you need and it feels so badass you can’t even stand yourself. And since you’re not buying much stuff anymore because you’ve already effectively transported a small hardware store into your own home, you can delude yourself into thinking that renovating is cheap! It’s all very satisfying. Hoarding, but with purpose.

This is why I’m SO GLAD that I put some real effort into my basement a while ago, even though I haven’t really discussed it here! The basement was TERRIFYING when I bought the house, primarily because it was so dark. I think there were three lights in the entire space, all activated either by pull-chains or tightening the lightbulb until it turned on. Picture lots of groping in the dark for lights and running into cobwebs and tripping on the uneven floor and just being generally spooked.

Now, this basement is what it is. It’s never going to be a finished living space or anything like that, but I’ve tried to make it nicer and, someday, might make a few more improvements just to polish it up a little. By the way, the beams and steel supports were here before I was, which I always think is kind of remarkable. Somebody did some major work on this house back in the day! There was a family who owned the house between 1962-1973, and I think they’re responsible for this among other improvements. I’d love to find them and thank them for taking care of her! Unfortunately google hasn’t turned up anything helpful for me regarding their whereabouts. I’d guess at least the kids are still out there but I don’t know where.

ANYWAY. The first and most important thing I did? LIGHTING. IT CHANGED EVERYTHING. Now there are 16(!) lights, all on a single switch at the top of the basement stairs. Wiring a simple circuit like this is somewhat time-consuming (what isn’t, really?) but not technically difficult. I think it took me a couple of days. It’s the kind of project that’s good practice if you want to get comfortable with simple home wiring tasks. A lot of electrical work is very straightforward and approachable for homeowners, even though it seems kind of scary. If you’re thinking about it, read up! There are a lot of good books out there like this one, and big box home improvement stores always have similar books for purchase. Also check to make sure it’s legal for you to undertake your own wiring work—it is for homeowners here as long as it meets code and passes inspection.

With the basement all lit up and gorgeous, I turned my attention to storage! The house came with these old and VERY cobbled-together shelves, which I sort of loved in a way because they were just so scrappy. But they were not functional so rather than try to modify them, I just ripped them out.

Look how crazy! These must have been here for a long time because the concrete floor was poured around them.

Bam! Shelves! Fancy! I bought these simple utility shelves (similar to these), which are cheap and very sturdy. The shelves themselves are a fairly thin particleboard that does bend and bow over time (particularly on the shelves with heavier items), so maybe someday I’ll swap them for some thicker plywood or something. For now they’re fine. It’s hard to care about stuff like that when you don’t have a kitchen.

When it comes to how things are organized, I’m not convinced there’s anything that makes this easy. I’m certainly not dutifully putting each thing away right after I use it, but I try to spend a little time every couple of weeks (more or less, depending on how much I’m working on) resetting and putting everything back where it belongs. Otherwise I end up with 7 packed IKEA bags full of tools and supplies on the floor.

I won’t claim it’s a flawless system, but it works for me! I don’t have a pegboard or a nice big rolling tool chest with a bunch of shallow drawers (have you ever looked at the prices on those bad boys??). Instead, it’s basically just a huge version of what I’ve been doing since I brought that little plastic container with me to college! I like keeping things in clear plastic bins, I guess.

Here’s what we have going on with these shelves, from left to right:

  1. Wood stains and poly. A Dremel. A jigsaw. Antique plumbing escutcheons. A crock pot for stripping hardware. All the screws, washers, nails, that kind of stuff. Manual sanding tools, the finish nailer and nails, clamps, rags, the staple gun and staples, velcro, weatherstripping, leftover subway tile, tiling supplies, and window repair supplies.
  2. Safety equipment like respirators and gloves, batteries, soldering supplies, anchors, door and cabinet hardware, assorted old house bits and bobs, wrenches and pliers, sandpaper, the mouse sander, the oscillating saw and blades, manual screwdrivers, rubber mallets, hammers, pry bars, sawzall blades, levels, manual saws, tin snips, pain scrapers, framing squares, pens and pencils, plug-in drills, drill bits, empty plastic containers, chisels, box cutters, pens, pencils, and the requisite container of random IKEA hardware.
  3. Paint sprayer, router, pneumatic siding nailer, hand planer, various cleaners and sealants, orbital sander, aluminum flashing, construction adhesive, wood glues, various solvents and chemicals, spray paint, leftover VCT flooring and mastic, wallpaper removal supplies, shelving brackets, L-brackets and mending strips, concrete binding adhesive, and what I think might be an original plaster ceiling medallion which was down here when I bought the house.

And on the other side, more shelves! These nicer metro-style shelves were secondhand and are great. From left to right we’ve got…

  1. Assorted crap that I’m saving for an upcoming project!
  2. All paints, spackle compounds (I have a few varieties, but always go back to Ready Patch), my Kreg Jig and Kreg Crown Pro, siding nails, and framing nails for the pneumatic guns. All that paint is leftovers from past projects (I KNOW) but will get used up shortly and save a lot of money in the process. Full gallons can be re-tinted, too, as long as the formulas are compatible!
  3. More paint! Cans of spray foam, different types of primer, Bondo (my one true love!), caulks, paint brushes, adhesives, hole saws, supplies for drywall and plaster repair, painting supplies, and Shop Vac accessories.

Then over here, there’s…

  1. Grout, leftover tile from Anna’s bathroom floor, a pneumatic flooring nailer, a garden sprayer.
  2. 6 mil plastic, lightbulbs, an old pot also for stripping hardware, cork contact paper.
  3. Assortment of NM electrical cable, power strips, light switches, outlets, switch plate covers.
  4. Electrical boxes, utility light fixtures, supplies for small re-wiring and lamp-making projects, drop cloths, and other electrical supplies like clamp connectors, electrical tape, breakers, wire nuts, staples, and conduit straps.
  5. Pex fittings, other assorted plumbing supplies, and a belt sander.

Here’s my nice stockpile of light fixtures. There are more but they didn’t fit on the shelves.

I feel shame.

The furniture/old sink hoard has been worse in the past but this is just the basement. There’s more. There’s lots more. It’s just elsewhere.

We also have in attendance a pile of old framing lumber and a pile of moldings that have been removed during demo in various parts of the house. And some old wide-plank pine tongue-and-groove subfloor. And a bigger pile of narrower old pine tongue-and-groove subfloor which you can’t really see. I got 99 problems but having enough old lumber ain’t one.

Oh yeah and then there’s this area, which is where I keep…this stuff? Old doors, old window sashes, a tabletop, a billion chair bases, and some other random things.

My favorite part of the basement, though, is the room right under the kitchen. I actually think this room could be fixed up a little and turn into more of a workshop space one day. Until then, it’s where the lumber goes.*

*BECAUSE THE GARAGE IS ALREADY COMPLETELY FULL OF LUMBER. I don’t know if you’re ready for the garage. Let’s see how this goes first.

We’ve got some leftover Pex pipes, various trim pieces, beadboard from the solarium, beadboard from the mudroom, beadboard from the downstairs bathroom…I love beadboard and am so excited to repurpose this material for some upcoming stuff! There’s also more framing lumber, yellow pine flooring, fir flooring, and a totally absurd amount of lath.

I struggle with the lath. I recognize this is ridiculous. I feel like I have to do something cool with it, but I haven’t figured out what! I think it comes down to the fact that I’m not sure I actually like stuff that’s made out of lath (unless Ariele Alasko makes it, but I think she’s mostly moved on from that). I mean, now that I can buy a big fake lath piece of “wall art” at Target, it just seems sort of played out. And I don’t want to toss it because it’s part of my house, but maybe I just have to accept that it really isn’t anymore? And be OK with that? And use it for something practical, like firewood? Or give it to someone who is more inclined to do something crafty with it than I am?

LOL. That all makes way too much sense. It can’t be right. I’ll just store it indefinitely. Forget I said anything.

OH, and by the way, isn’t it fun how you can see the outline of where the stairs used to come down from the kitchen? Those stairs were removed nearly 100 years ago, but I love that there’s no mystery about where they were.

SO ANYWAY. There it is. My basement.

And since I started this post with blog-i-versary talk, I’ll end it by just saying a big, sincere thank you. This blog has been such a strange and fun and unexpected experience, and has fundamentally affected my life in so many ways. It’s a big part of who I am that I owe to you—the people who read, comment, share, and make this still fun after 7 years. I’ll try to make year 8 the best one yet!

Back to Top