The product of generations of constant tinkerers, I sort of backed my way into the field of architecture as I grew up learning to build things with anyone with a project going.  That experience led to summers working in construction while earning a bachelor of architecture degree at Louisiana Tech.  I too am a constant tinkerer and continue to build things which I believe helps strike a balance between the domains of drawn and built form.  I believe that the understanding of how things go together really helps to identify with the contractors who are making our drawings come to life.  This subject of contractor-architect cooperation alone deserves it’s own blog post and I’ll be getting to that later.  My main point for this round being that an understanding of the way things go together should be second nature for architects, not just something we allude to on paper.

School projects and room decor for the kids are one example of how I am able to continuously fulfill the need to build stuff.  The most recent of these are a series of night lights for their rooms.  It all starts with a shape or object which goes well with other items in the room.  For example, silhouetted jet plane and helicopter motifs from the bedding.  An iphone photo and a few minutes cranking in CAD and I have a high resolution template which i can then project to the plywood as a guide to cut by.  Then to the work shop to cut the shape with a jig saw or dremel (actually the dremel only survived the first project, turns out plywood is a bit too strong for the dremel).  The edges are are then sanded with a combo of a bench grinder with hook n loop attachment and some good ole fashioned hand held sand paper.  I really like the back side of luan plywood because its normally got a somewhat outlandish looking grain  pattern which really pops with a simple coat of polyurethane.  After the edges are sanded I will typically make a couple passes across the front with a fine sand paper to get it nice and tight.  After about three coats of poly with sanding and mineral spirits wash in between its ready for the lights.

Regarding the mineral spirits wash, this is a trick I learned from Gentry and Holder,  the oldest hardwood flooring refinisher here in Shreveport.  One day while doing my own floors I called them to ask if they sold the wax that was historically used as the finishing method.  The guy who answered sounded as if he may have started the company back when everything was black and white but was the most helpful person I ever encountered while trying to ask someone for advice on how to do myself what they normally charge for.  He proceeded to give me a run down on the pros and cons of each method (poly vs wax) and what to do to execute whichever method I chose to perfection.  At any rate, the most important product of that conversation was that I now know that tack clothes are a waste of time.  Tshirt rags and mineral spirits will give a much better product on any wood finishing job.  Besides that, tack clothes will make you feel like you dipped your hands in liquid jolly rancher for at least a few hours after you finish.

But I digress.  Back to the nite light.  The next step is to apply the rope lights.  I am still perfecting this but the best I’ve come up with so far is to cut some luan scraps and hot glue them every 8″ or so around the perimeter.  Then screw the plastic clips that come with the rope lights right to the wood scraps (screws would otherwise go through because the luan is too thin).  Once the clips are down you simply clip the rope light in to each taking care not to break the clips or leave any of the rope light peeking outside of the edges.  I also like to use a dimmable switch as well.  Typically the lowest setting provides just the right glow to light the room without keeping the boys awake.

So, every few months I take to the shop and dream up a new need for something that needs powertools and elbow grease to come to life.  Its a constant need of mine.  To build things and then try and think of ways to build them better the next time.  I like to think that I’m building myself at the same time as I’m building conversation pieces that the kids will keep in their minds eye as visual cues for their childhood.  A hobby that dovetails with a career.  That’s how you build a better architect.

Jeff Spikes,