Topping out the wardrobe…

When people discover that I am taking quite a hands on approach to building a house, they often ask “How do you manage on your own??”

To be honest, I never give it much thought. The phrase “How hard can it be?” comes to mind. Apart from that I think it’s mostly brute force and bruises.

As an example, I ordered a couple of oak worktops for my dressing room. In what seems to be the usual delivery mentality of ‘We-are-not-insured-to-take-it-any-further-than-your-front-door-in-case-we-drop-it-and-damage-something-and-you-sue-us’, the worktops were dumped just inside the conservatory.

I needed to get them both upstairs. A 4-metre piece needed to be cut into three smaller pieces, making it easier to shift, but there was a 3 metre piece that needed to go up as one unit: Up a couple of steps, 90 degrees through a low-ceilinged doorway, up a full flight of stairs, 90 degrees round a corner up a couple more steps, another 90 degree turn along a corridor (which is only a metre wide and hangs out over a 12 ft drop into the Music room), another 90 degree turn up 4 steps to destination.

Easy. It’s only a 3-metre piece of wood, 22mm thick, weighing a mere 70kg. I mean, that can’t be too hard for a girl on her own to shift…


OK. Towel under one end to protect the wood floor. Lift the other end and drag up the couple of steps. Have a bit of a rest. Brace yourself. Lift the 70kg. Drag it a bit further. Until it reaches tipping point.

(I had the most boring physics teacher on the planet, and spent most of my physics lessons wondering exactly what kind of wildlife could grow in a beard like his, but some of the basics of Pivot, Lever, Tipping point, seem to have stuck in my teenager brain somewhere.)

Put down another towel. Change ends and push. Great! Have now successfully moved worktop up the first couple of steps. Go and have a cup of tea to celebrate…


Phase 2. Lift one end, swing it round and slide through doorway. Change ends and start trying to upend 3-metres of wood at the same time as dragging it round 90 degrees through low stone doorway. Somehow wedge yourself between doorway, worktop and stairs. Wonder, crucially, how much flexibility there is in 22mm oak boards. Learn a few contortionist moves, gain a few bruises and put half a dozen small holes in the plasterboard. Worktop is now upended at the bottom of the stairs = phase 2 successfully completed. Go and have a cup of tea to celebrate…

Phase three – getting up the stairs. Standing at roughly the midpoint of the length of the worktop, lift and drag the entire weight so the bottom edge of the wood is now resting on bottom stair. Brace yourself. Lift and drag. Stair number 2. Only 11 to go. Lift and drag. Stair number 3. Take a breather – with 70kg of wood resting on your thighs.

Brace, lift, drag. Stair number 4.

At stair number 6, take another breather. Contemplate life, love and the universe. With thigh muscles now shaking in protest, idly wonder how much damage would be caused if you let go at this point.

Keep going – only a few more steps to go. By this time, each ‘brace, lift, drag’ action was accompanied by the kind of roaring and swearing you hear from sweaty, macho weightlifters in the gym. Brute force, prayer and swearing. Works every time.

Fortunately, when the bottom of the worktop has reached stair number 9, the laws of physics take over and the whole thing tilts safely up on to the floor above. Getting it round another couple of corners and up a couple more steps was easy.

IMG_0949But at this point the whole operation came to a grinding halt. The only way to get the work surface into the dressing room from there was for one end of it to be swung right out over the edge of the landing. I thought about whether I would be able to lean out far enough to manage. But I decided that trying to manhandle a 3-metre/70kg bit of wood while hanging over the edge would probably result in either me dropping said bit of wood and it smashing down onto the piano below, or me falling over the edge and splatting onto the slate floor below. Or probably both. Maybe not worth trying….


IMG_0948So then I contemplated trying to manoeuvre the worktop from the top of ladder. My largest step ladder is just about level with the floor of the gallery. But again, I decided that would probably have the same result re smashed piano and broken bones; single leg squats with a paintbrush are feasible, single leg squats with a 3-metre/70 kg piece of wood probably aren’t.

So in a rare admission of weakness, I called in the cavalry. Or at least – I went and knocked on my neighbours’ door. I should probably have done that from the start; it’s so much easier to move a 70kg piece of wood when there’s three of you….

After all that effort and all I’ve achieved is getting my bit of wood into the right place. Now I have to fit the thing.

I hate sawing wood by hand. a) I don’t think I’m good at straight lines b) it’s just such bloody hard work and c) I get really bored after the first 10 minutes.

But in the absence of anyone else to do it for me…….

When it was all in place and finally fitted, just one more job to finish the whole thing off – create a fancy routed edge. As a rule I quite like using my router. But if you’ve not used your power tools for a while, always best to check they’re all in proper working order before you start.

As I learnt to my cost when I realised the bit in the router wasn’t quite fully tightened. Half way down the length of the wood, it worked loose, gouging a chunk out of the worktop and went spinning off to the other side of the room.

Fortunately it missed gouging a large chunk out of my leg as well, which probably would have been a bigger issue and quite a bit messier.  Nothing I can do about the damage to the worktop without replacing the whole thing. So it’s become just an extra ‘decorative’ effect….

A whole weekend just to move and fit one worktop. I decided to leave the other one to another weekend.

And what better weekend to wait for than one where your Dad is on hand to do all the hard work!!


I had to put that photo in – my Dad thinks I’ve been misleading people with his DIY “Don’t Involve Yourself” theory of house-building. He would like me to point out that is a choice not a capability mantra. And I have to admit, when he does involve himself, (which is every time he comes to visit) he’s far more precise, and much more of a perfectionist than I am – as long as somebody else is doing the spatial awareness thinking…!

So whilst Dad’s doing all the sawing, I can just play around with the (properly tightened) router again.

But there was also that Wonky Wall issue again, so I just need to trim a bit off the end of the last bit of worktop I installed. Another helpful little hint here – moving the bit of wood so you can get to it properly is quite a good idea. If you try sawing it while weirdly contorting your saw, chances are you’ll end up sawing the edge of your thumb off.


Trust me, that’s quite painful……


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