Backyard builders get a hand Projects: How-to expert David Tenenbaum provides plans and advice for those who want to create something quickly and easily.

November 16, 1997|By Marty Ross | Marty Ross,UNIVERSAL PRESS SYNDICATE

Weekend building projects in the garden often have one major flaw -- they seem to take a month to complete.

If the scale of the project and the scope of the gardener's ambition are at odds, the garden turns into a major construction site, and the result may scarcely seem worth the trouble. How-to expert David Tenenbaum never lets that happen.

Tenenbaum's new book, "Backyard Building Projects" (Houghton Mifflin, 1997, $12.95), is full of plans and projects for people who like to make things themselves, but have limited time at their disposal. If building a birdhouse or a window box appeals to you, Tenenbaum practically guarantees that you can do it yourself in your spare time -- and get those afternoon naps in, too.

"I think inside a lot of people there is this urge to putter and to make things and to do things where the consequences of a mistake are not all that great," he says. "But so many people don't know where to start. You start with a few tools and plans and the ambition."

Tenenbaum's plans are smart-looking and professional. They are designed for gardeners, not woodworkers. The projects are meant to be enjoyable, not a test of your carpentry skills, he says.

Tenenbaum has worked as a mason and as a professional home contractor. He's an Internet journalist now, writing for the Why Files, an online magazine that explains the science involved in news stories.

To put together "Backyard Building Projects" for the "Taylor's Weekend Gardening Guide" series, he took up his tools again. Tenenbaum owns a table saw, but the sandbox, garden gates, window boxes and bird-, butterfly and bat houses in his book are projects that don't require much more than a handsaw and a hammer.

His garden in Madison, Wis., is filled with the results of his weekend projects.

The vegetable garden is a series of raised beds, enclosed with boards and stakes. In the book, he recommends using CCA (copper-chromium-arsenic) pressure-treated wood, fastened together with rustproof deck screws, which are stronger than nails, he says, and easier to drive.

"Profit from my mistake," he says. "Put the stakes on the bed side of the boards, so they won't snag your wheelbarrow."

These simple projects are deeply satisfying. In a time when everything comes in a box or a can or wrapped in plastic, making your own planter or weaving a wattle fence around the herb garden gives you a chance to express your own ideas of grace, proportion and workmanship.

Some of the plans in the book, such as those for stone walls and various styles of arches over gates, maintain traditions that are being lost, Tenenbaum says. Others merely provide the detailed instructions needed to make a sturdy cold frame or a compost bin in a day or two, so you can get back to gardening.

If you've ever started a building project and abandoned it after a careless mistake, give yourself another chance, Tenenbaum says. "A lot of people don't realize that lumberyards will cut wood for them," he says. "You can get the difficult cuts done accurately and instantly. But don't worry too much if you make a mistake while you're building a birdhouse. Nobody will know but you, and the birds won't care."

For many of his projects, Tenenbaum recommends working with cedar.

"It costs a bit more than pine, but it's beautiful and strong," he says, "and it's really resistant to weathering. It's worth the extra expense."

In the book's last chapter, Tenenbaum presents the highly decorative concrete sculptures made in the 1950s by Fred Smith, a retired Wisconsin logger. The fascinating, monumental pieces represent loggers, farmers, milkmaids and teams of horses. Tenenbaum provides some guidelines for making such pieces.

Pub Date: 11/16/97

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