Originally Published on 1/15/19
4 trips to Home Depot.
2 broken drill bits.
1 very excited 7 year old.
Y’all, I’m not special. I’m not some woodworking goddess with tons of experience and a knack for building. I’ve literally never built anything in my life, except Lego sets. Do I generally know my way around basic power tools? Yes. Was building something like this mildly terrifying? Yes. Did I know how to build a structure before this? No. I’m just a woman who decided she could do it.
I’ve lived my whole life with sheer willpower and gumption. When I was 15 years old learning to drive a stick shift, I was nervous because I had never done it before. If I messed up, what even happens? Does the transmission explode or does the gas tank fall out? Probably. But then, a little spark in my noggin was like HOLD UP, MEG. How many other people in the world can drive a manual transmission? A bunch, right? So, why not me?
When I shifted my mindset (rolling with the stick shift metaphor here), I was able to figure it out. Did it take practice? Of course. But because I decided I could do it in my head, I was able to get out of my own way and do the thing. Since then, I have applied this mindset to everything – can I run a half marathon? YEP. Can I become an employed graphic designer without any formal education in the subject? YEP. Can I build a freaking awesome fort for my kid? YEP.
Now, I’m not saying I just decided I could do it and it magically happened. I had to work hard for each one of those things, and it took a long time to get to my goal. I’m just saying I set the initial intention, threw self-doubt AWAY (bye) and carried on like I owned the place. Because, why not me?
I loved doing this kind of work with Jason. When we would do home renovation projects, he would always take the lead and I would help because he had wayyyy more experience and knowledge, and I loved that. I loved learning from him, and I learned a lot. I had never built anything by myself though, until this project when I was forced to take the lead and do it without help. Not complaining – I didn’t want the help that was offered. Part of building this was proving to myself that I could do it.
And friends, I almost bailed on it. The night before I had planned to start it, I was on Facebook Marketplace looking for “fort beds” because I thought, what if I just buy one? Wouldn’t that be easier? But do you know what that is? That, my friends, is fear dictating my decisions. And honestly y’all, it’s been a shit year and a shit season and I almost crumbled and just didn’t do this project in favor of sitting on my couch watching Netflix. But then I said, wait, why not me? If other people can build forts and tree houses, then I can too.
And just like a good workout, finishing something I initially thought I couldn’t do lit me up like I wasn’t sure I was able to be lit up. Granted, since then I’ve still had ups and downs because grief is a roller coaster of emotions I am seldom ready or prepared for, and just because it’s been 7 months and most people have moved forward, I still feel pain very much every single day. So I do my best to deal with it, and sometimes dealing with it means distracting myself for self preservation – i.e. with the holidays or, you know, a big woodworking project.
This took a bit of a turn. I just mean that the elation from finishing this project was probably heightened considering my baseline of the lowest lows I continue to experience regularly. I’m freaking proud of myself, and dammit, Jason would be proud as hell, too.
I used the plans from Ana White here. Jaime Costiglio built it too, with some mods to Ana White’s plans – check out her post here. The plans are free and accommodate a twin sized bed, so I had to modify it so that it would fit over a queen sized bed, plus I did some other mods to the sides of the fort. I don’t know how to create actual plans, but you can bet your nuts I will figure it out for my next build. I just measured and marked up the plans I printed out to fit my specs. It was helpful for me to have these basic plans just as a starting/jumping off point. I will say that they are very basic. I had to google stuff along the way because some of the steps are “build wall as shown”, but maybe that’s normal to a seasoned builder. I’m new, so I need more deets. However, I was able to do it, so don’t let that discourage you!
You can also check out the “brag your build” posts on Ana White’s blog post – just another way to get those ideas swirling in your head. People can post pictures of what they built using her plans. The one that I saw posted said it only took him 3-4 hours. Uh, jealous. I can’t remember a time before I started this project. I kid, but it did take me 2 full weekend days and then 1 day the next weekend. Ain’t no shame in being slow. Slow progress is still progress, right?
Things I learned:
Things I underestimated:
You can see mending plates on 2 of the seams on the top of the peaked wall. They still have pocket screws, those joints were just weak and wonky and I wanted to add some extra stability to it.
Ana White’s original plans don’t call for shelves in the side wall, but in Jaime Costiglio’s build she included them. That’s where I got the idea, especially because the side wall is over 5′ long as opposed to the size of a twin bed. Plus, my son is an action figures kid, so I thought these shallow shelves would be good for some of those smaller toys like that.
I just used extra 2x4s I had on hand from cutting some of the other pieces and measured out 3 sections. This whole section took way longer than I thought and was the bane of my existence on Sunday. The shelves aren’t perfectly level or perfectly done, and maybe that’s only obvious to me. Or maybe it’s obvious to everyone. Either way, I’m proud AF that I did this part with no real plans to go off of – just inspo from a blog and my own imagination.
I attached the vertical pieces to the frame first, then did the horizontal pieces. I measured out the distance between each shelf to make sure they would be even (or close to it), marked the wood and attached it with wood glue and pocket screws. Then, I attached the plywood paneling to the back with 1″ screws. I marked the location of each shelf on the back of the plywood, and screwed the paneling into the shelves too.
I did the front side slightly differently from the plans, too. First, I used plywood paneling for all of the outside. I wanted it to be pretty to look at from all angles, even though 2 sides are up against a wall. What if we move it and another side is exposed? Granted, this thing is heavy AF even when it’s taken apart into the 4 sides, but still. Who knows. I used the same wood paneling across the front, but I wanted a fun way for him to get in and out that way too, so instead of extending it all the way across, I left a space. He can jump from here onto his bed or climb up this way from his bed. He can just sit here and let his legs dangle off when I eventually put a tv on the opposite wall. Options. I like options.
I used bolts to bolt it all together on the bottom, middle and top of each of the legs. I actually built a wood roof, but we decided to use fabric for the roof instead so that more light can get in. To be continued. I also decided not to paint it because my goal was for it to feel like a tree house, and I think the natural wood fits that vibe.
Once the sides were all bolted, I added floor joists and a floor using the 3/4″ plywood. Fun fact, I learned what a joist is from Jason who was explaining to me how he added a ceiling fan to a space in his old house when we were dating. Question – is saying “joist” as gross as saying “moist”? Because I feel like it should be, but isn’t for some reason.
This project would undoubtedly have gone much faster, been more smiles and less confusion, been less expensive and probably slightly fewer trips to Home Depot with Jason, but he would certainly be proud that I built this on my own. I used a couple of pieces of cedar wood he was saving for a project to incorporate him a little bit. <3
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