This week Jordan and I did a construction project. She saw a photo of a headboard that she wanted, so we designed and built it! Of course, there was some math involved. Rounding and precision were the most interesting aspects for me on this project.
First I asked her to draw the pieces we would need. She wasn't sure if it would be better to draw each piece or the whole thing, but started with each piece separately. We ended up needing both to figure it out! We measured a few things that were determined mostly by the size of the bed and then had to figure out how those would convert into cuts. She wanted a 34 inch high headboard, but when she calculated the height of each board and got 11.3333... we got to discuss what was reasonable. We decided it wasn't really fair to ask someone at Home Depot to cut a board 11.3333... inches wide so it would be better to round. When it came to the shorter middle boards she asked me how long each should be. It's still so interesting to me that kids assume adults know everything! We had a blurry photo to work from, no more information. I certainly didn't know how long each piece was in the original. So I suggested that she pick a number for the middle board and then we'd figure out how long the other boards would be and decide if it sounded good. She did the calculations all by herself, mentally, then we held out the measuring tapes to check if it looked reasonable. It did! Throughout this conversation there was a lot of, "The whole thing is 64", the gaps are 4" so what's that?" and I'd stare at her and smile and she'd say, "Oh, 60, duh." Wait time and high expectations, they need to happen everywhere!
Since Home Depot is around the corner from our house we just showed up with our vague plan. I've done so many home improvement projects that we saw several employees who I recognized/who recognized me. Which is why I felt fine about going in needing some help. We knew we liked melamine (I've built shelves from it before) and I figured we'd find some brackets or something to hold it together. Step one was find the melamine, which amazingly comes in 11" boards. How perfect for us! We got some help and solidified our plan (rather literally - instead of using brackets we used a solid beam on the back to secure everything) then headed home with all our supplies (kindly cut to size for us). You can see on the side of the paper where we figured out how many boards we would need to use. I hypothesized we would be able to use just two boards and Jordan asked if I was sure. Absolutely not! She had the pen and paper so I had her verify my work. Another reminder that I don't know everything, and I needed to see it written down to be sure.
Once we got home we realized that we had a drill bit that was 1/16" too small for the dowels we bought, as well as one that was 1/16" too big. We all know that 1/16" is tiny, does it really matter? Earlier we rounded off 1/3" so it seems like we could make this work. But it was too hard to try moving the drill around to expand the small hole, and the big hole was too loose (the point of using dowels is so that the pieces would line up, the large bit defeated that purpose). It was amazing to me that a sixteenth of an inch could matter that much! Attend to precision indeed. So I went back to Home Depot for the right drill bit while Jordan labeled where we should drill the holes. Amazingly we only were off on three out of fourteen alignments. Pretty impressive for some amateur builders making things up as we went along! I was most concerned about the center piece where we put three dowels instead of just two. Why would three be harder to line up? Because two points define a line, dear reader, or so I thought. However, since there was no wiggle room to allow for the added distance if we needed to rotate one of the boards I'm not entirely sure if that fact is particularly relevant. Geometry is more complicated in three dimensions rather than with infinitesimal points!
Our final snag was a communication one. When you buy a 1x4 board it never ends up being a full inch wide (or four inches long). I know this fact, but (again with the amateur builders), I forget every time. And so did the person helping me pick out screws (who doesn't work in the lumber or hardware department so I don't blame him). So I had 1 1/2" screws to connect two boards that are each 3/4" thick. Do you know what that means? Bumps and splits on the front where the end of the screw is pushing the material out. Yet another situation where the exact measurement makes a big difference!
If you look closely you can find errors. But if you step back and look at the big picture, we're quite proud of our accomplishment! And it's all the more awesome because we built it together.
(There was a lot more sweat, problem solving and challenges than made it into this post, but I focused on the mathiest aspects here. If you want to know exactly how we built it I'd be happy to provide more detailed instructions. And thanks to the kind souls who listened to me complain when I hit my frustration point!)