My First Building Project

The first thing I did when I decided to start growing my own food was to pick out an unused corner of my yard for a compost pile.  As I showed you at the end of this post, it’s nothing fancy.

Initially, this worked just fine because the pile was pretty small.  But now that I’ve added an whole new season of leaves and grass clippings and kitchen scraps, it’s kind of getting out of control for the tiny little space I allotted it.

A compost pile needs to be “turned” every so often.  That simply means you get in there w/a shovel or pitchfork or something and give it a good mixing.  It keeps the pile oxygenated which helps the bacteria do their job.

With such a small space and no walls to speak of, every time I turned the pile, it spilled into my shoes, filling them with bits of yuck (technical term).  Since it needs good air circulation, I didn’t want solid walls, but I needed a little more support than what I had.

So I decided to remove the wrought iron fence – whose only purpose was to keep the dog out – and replace it with wooden slatted walls.  My first building project!  Yay!

And scary.

I haven’t used power tools or built anything since I was in middle school and had to take wood shop.  Aahhh, the good ol’ days.  I still remember my teacher – Mr. McMahon – a bearded, red-headed, pot-bellied Scot.  Looking back, I still can’t believe he let us (at 12 years old!) use machinery like that.  Of course, that was after he’d scared the crap out of us with the gory safety videos of someone chopping their fingers off with a band saw or getting a giant splinter in their eyeball because they forgot their safety glasses.  Hahahaha!  Good times.

But I digress . . .

So after taking a few measurements, off to Home Depot I went.  I found the Lumber department easily enough.  And I knew I needed untreated lumber – you don’t want treated lumber for a compost pile because those chemicals will leach into the soil you are making.  Kinda defeats the purpose of growing your own organically, yes?  Untreated lumber will decay faster, but that’s the trade off you make.

I wandered from pile to pile trying to decide what I needed and envisioning how I would use it (not having taken the time to draw up an actual plan for this project).  There was no one to ask for help which was kind of good because I probably wouldn’t have asked anyway.  I’m one of those people who doesn’t like to feel stupid (are there such people? yes, believe me, I know plenty), and I’d rather figure it out for myself.

I knew I wanted my walls to be approximately 4×4, but all the boards seemed to come in 8-ft lengths.  Lucky for me, I heard another customer (a woman!) ask about getting wood cut.  Hey!  Just what I need!  Did you know they’ll do this for you?  For free!  At least, when their saw is working.  Which it wasn’t.

Oh well, I got this!  Last spring, I bought myself a reticulating saw. My first power tool! (If you don’t count the rechargeable drill and screwdriver, which I don’t.)  I had visions of me scarfing up all the free pallets I could find around town and using them to make all kinds of fun stuff (seriously, google it, it’s a thing).  So of course I’d need a saw to take apart the pallets!

Never took it out of the box.

Until now!

I paid for the boards, came home, and performed a feat my husband has trouble with called reading the instructions.  I grabbed my work gloves, donned my safety goggles (thanks, Mr. McMahon!), and got to work.  Using my metal construction worker tape measure, I marked the lengths I needed and, with my trusty reticulating saw, I cut those suckers in half!  All by myself!


Last few boards to cut.

Here’s a close up of the saw.  It’s a little heavy and kinds scary when you first turn it on, but you get used to it.

Reticulating saw

Reticulating saw.

Not owning a pair of sawhorses, I just laid the boards across the frame of the kids’ old sandbox which we were tossing.  It worked fine.

Then it was time to build!

Guess who wanted to help?


Whatcha doin, Mama?

Since each board was 4-ft long, and I had two posts that were 4-ft high, I just made two 4-ft square walls and connected them to the existing fence posts using exterior 5/8” screws.  I wanted the boards toward the bottom of the wall to be closer together to keep the compost from spilling out.  But I gradually increased the spacing as I went higher, using my level to keep the boards straight.

I used my drill with the Phillips head bit (the one that looks like a plus +) to make the work go faster and to get the torque I needed.  Mine has a magnetic head (is that standard?) to help keep the screw from falling off before you really get going.  See . . .


Drill with magnetized screw.

A couple of things that would have made this project easier:

  1. If my yard were level and the fence posts plumb (level & straight), that would have been a HUGE help.  There was just no way I could attach a plumb wall to a non-plumb post and have it work out.  So now my walls are crooked.  Oh well.
  2. If I didn’t have any compost in the compost pile to begin with, it would have been much easier to get the right angle going with the drill.  As it was, I had to step and sometimes sit in a giant pile of wet leaves and grass to reach the right spot.  I’m still itchy.
  3. If I didn’t have a dog who wanted to supervise.  She was the Chief Leaf Inspector and Tool Thief.  Couldn’t turn my back on her for a second.

Here is the finished project:


I built that!

I left a wide opening to make it easier for me to work the pile.  I’ll have to block it off so Ding Dong doesn’t get in there when I’m not looking, but I’ll probably just use some rope or something.  I may also put some wire mesh along the two fence sides to keep the compost from leaking out into the neighbor’s yard.

Anyway, I know it isn’t going to win any HGTV awards or anything, but that wasn’t the point.  It was something I’ve been meaning to do, and I did it.  All by myself.  And I feel much more confident now finding my way around the lumber yard and using power tools.

Hmmm, what should a build next?  Maybe a shed!


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