Tackling Your First DIY Project

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Pinterest. Check.

Instagram. Check.

HGTV. Check.

Google. Check. Check. Check.

Congratulations, you have confidently completed your virtual homework to prepare yourself to go where you have not gone before but have always wanted to: the DIY landscape. You are going to build like you have never built before – literally.

But, is it that simple and easy to do? Yes. With the right preparation and process, anyone can confidently become a DIYer!

Myths to Doing it Yourself

Let’s get some myths out of the way before we take our deep dive.

You need to be “handy.” Does it help, of course! Is it a dealbreaker? No way!

You have to have power tools. This is not a dealbreaker; there are easy work-arounds.  Make sure you have or have access to tools like a hammer, screwdriver, sander and entry-level drill of some kind.

You have to have a workshop. If you thought I would say no, you are right!

While there are more myths, my hope is that you will see and learn that DIY is possible for just about every person, at any skill level, in a variety of settings.

Getting Started

Now that we have squashed any lingering doubts, let’s get to the heart of the matter: what to build, how to build and honestly, how to get started. I think writing this article was more difficult to start than my first building project!

For me, this is the hardest part. I love process, so I spend a lot of time thinking, “pinning”, viewing images, visualizing – wash, rinse, repeat. Beginners, you should embrace this ideation and process. This is the time when your creativity will come to life. We can all look at pictures of things we would love to build in a variety of places, but ultimately what will make your project successful is how it will work for you and your space. Putting the time and effort into the upfront planning will help clarify your end result. This process could take anywhere from a day to a week or even a month or longer!

Take my first big project, for example. Once I moved out of NYC into my house, I dreamed of building my own dining table. The time came and then kind of went. It was two years after I was in my house that I finally found the courage to get the project underway. I was a bit overwhelmed at first. What wood do I choose? How big should it be? How many chairs? Rustic? Traditional? Where do I get materials?  You can see how this can be a bit much, yes?

However, I have learned that creating your own process allows you to be nimble and flexible throughout, and to ultimately pivot when needed.

Embracing My Project

I take my time with my process. I pull lots of images, ideas, etc., print them out, and sit with them. I sit with them until I can find my version or style and my end result. For my dining table, I wanted it to have that industrial feel, but also to have a gorgeous dark stained wood look that wasn’t too perfect. Translation: I wanted my table to look like it was hand built.

Once that was decided, I went to my local woodworking retailer. I encourage anyone who is embarking on a building project as a first timer (or intermediate expert) to use your local resources! I brought my notebook and talked to store staff about what I wanted to do – the color, size, where it was going to be in my house, the sunlight, and the use. They were able to talk to me about the variety of woods, durability, the aesthetic with and without stain, and longevity. It was better than the Internet, because we got to walk around and see the wood. When you start holding the pieces of your build, it all becomes very real, very exciting and you realize that this fully attainable and within your reach.

I believe in living with something before you make it permanent, so I chose to buy some cheap poplar board, had the store staff cut it down to size for me (at the time I only owned a set of hand tools and a small drill), came home, and laid it out on a table I had placed in the dining room as a place holder. For the next several weeks, I got to “live” with my idea but was able to change it to be sure. Seeing it laid out helped me to see how it would be in all times of the day in my house and also how it would be for entertaining.

The Build

I chose to go with Mahogany, a wood that is a little darker and would absorb the stain I chose more to give me that rich, dark look but still show the grain of the wood. Again, I relied on my local woodworking retailer to cut all of my wood for me, and I also purchased all the other things I needed build the table while there – plywood, screws, nails, wood glue, wood filler, tarp, and industrial pipes for the legs. Check. Check. Check.

With my process and road map already laid out, the build was a piece of cake. It was built within a few hours. I started by using industrial plumbing piping for the legs and attached the piping to the plywood to make the table’s base. Next, I laid the pieces of wood on top of the plywood, glued them down, and then screwed them in from underneath the table to pull them down to the plywood.

I left the table to dry overnight, so I could sand the next day. Days and days of sanding! Luckily, I was able to borrow a friend’s sander.  Once satisfied, I wiped it down and cleaned up my dining room (yes, I had nowhere to actually build, so I put some tarps down on the important stuff for sanding, and well, let’s just say my vacuum had never worked so hard even with owning dogs and cats).

After sanding came the staining, a slower process as it takes time to be neat and for it to dry to see the color. How many coats of stain to apply is your choice. Once it was dry, I used polyurethane to coat and protect the table. Since my new table was going to be used for everyday dining and working, I chose to apply several coats to protect from the anticipated wear and tear.

When all was said and done, the pride, satisfaction and happiness I felt then still carry over into every single project I undertake.

So, if you have been thinking about tackling your first project, it’s time for you to do it! Find your project, create your process and bring it to life!

Check out my end result!

About the Author


Abbe Simmons was raised in a DIY environment where she observed and participated in do-it-yourself projects with her father Bob. He taught her many skills that she uses today when tackling her own home projects that range from custom builds to bathroom renovations.  


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