How to Teach Yourself to Build Anything: Buy a Nail Gun

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Just like the ol’ debaucherous adage goes, “Yes; you can dance.” – Vodka, I firmly believe, “Yes; you can build it.” – Nail Gun. It’s the foundation to make your carpentry dreams come true, and how to teach yourself to build anything.

I didn’t grow up with any kind of carpentry basics (or any carpentry tools for that matter). I did grow up with an intense love for decorating, DIY and design. It wasn’t until about seven or eight years ago I realized my Mom and I were practicing an art form that exists. That artform is feng shui. There I am, sitting on my apartment porch reading this succinct little book, “27 Things to Feng Shui Your Home (Good Things to Know)” by Tisha Morris and it hits me like a ton of bricks.

My entire childhood flashes before my eyes. Who friggin’ knew?! It was intrinsic.

My grandfather was a carpenter. I never had the chance to meet him (he unfortunately passed away of pancreatic cancer many years before I was born), but I like to believe I inherited what I’ve learned from him someway, somehow. I may not have met him, but I often feel like he’s been hangin’ around.

The affinity for building began with the Indigo Room. It was a big job. My sister and I went to town ripping all the faux wood paneling down. When we were done reno-ing, I quickly realized the original floor molding had been removed (but, seriously, why?!!). As much as I’d like to complain about the prior maintenance, this experience afforded me the opportunity to spread my carpentry wings for the first time.

With a nail gun, air compressor and miter saw in tow, I recreated the seven-inch high molding reminiscent of our Craftsman Bungalow home. And it was bee-yoooo-ti-ful.

HOW IN THE HECK DID I DO IT?! Well, I’m going to breakdown my self-taught carpentry know-how in six steps:

Find and Buy the Necessary Tools

This step is critical. If you don’t have the tools, you can’t build. Good tools don’t have to cost an arm and a leg, but they aren’t cheap by any means. They’re an investment. If you feel like you have the ability to build, YOU CAN. Do your research, look around on Amazon (or garage sales; auction sites; or our personal fave, Harbor Freight) and snag up something fierce to accomplish those carpentry dreams.

Recommended tools:

Plan, Plan, Plan, then Draw it Out

Paper is your friend. So are pencils (chubby No. 2’s to be exact). Whether you’re planning to install molding, interior doors, board and batten, etc., get the ideas down on paper first. You don’t have to be an artist, but when you’re planning out a carpentry design as a newb your ideas start to come together on paper. Lay out the design (it may take a few tries—don’t give up!), incorporate the measurements and you’ll start to feel confident in what you need. I’m a waste not, want not kind of gal, so this step gets your list of goods in order.

Make a List of Goods

Now that you’ve drawn out your design and with your measurements, it’s time to make the list. How much wood do you need? Decorative and/or plank wood? Nails? Nail size? Hinges? Sandpaper? Caulk or wood putty or both? Take it all into account and break down the design into a shopping list. Add an extra 10% for any screw-ups. It’s cool; we’re new at this guys.

Measure Twice Four or Five Times

When you’re not sure what you’re doing, the old saying of measure twice, cut once is not for us. 😂 Take your time, think it out, measure, measure again, then make that cut. Once you get the hang of it, you’ll be moving and grooving in no time flat. 

Installation Time

This is your shining moment. You made the plan, purchased your goods, measured a thousand times, and it’s time to get this bad boy installed. Use a pencil on the walls to mark your lines, quadruple check your measurements, and make the cut. Hold it up, grab your handy dandy pneumatic nail gun and start pippity-poppin’ away. My general rule for wood planks: every 6’’- 8’’ inches.

Finishing Touches

Woodworking requires a finishing touch. Make sure to have wood putty or caulk (clear, white, stainable, whatever makes sense for the job) to fill in your nail holes or any unwanted gaps to complete the look prior to staining or painting. This adds that professional finish and is how you’ll end up impressing yourself.👌🏻

You might not get it right the first time, and hear me out: that’s A-OK. I’ve learned and created my own way of building. To-date, my major carpentry accomplishments in my home include installing floor trim; a set of french doors to the office; and board & batten in the dining room. We’ve taken on some jobs that have gone South (in the sense that it took suuuuuuch a long time) and from those experiences I’ve learned what to avoid and what to hire out. We all have strengths and weaknesses. You won’t know until you try.

Things I’ve Learned

From my three major carpentry projects, I’ll share my three biggest lessons I learned just by due process.

Tip: When installing board & batten, opt to nail (or use a screw if necessary) the planks directly to the wall, no matter how warped it is. Our house is old and nothing is plum, so I shimmed my planks. This added at least a few extra hours of caulking time (not to mention, bottles). Still came out a beaut.
Tip: We had our floors refinished when we bought our home. My biggest regret is not taping off the floor during reno in the Indigo Room. This room is rarely used and we certainly caught up the age of its floor to the rest of the house. Be ready for possible plaster wall spackling in old homes.
Tip: French door installation taught me to measure three or four times. The doors needed an extra shim (see left) to fit snugly. I mistakenly installed two shims. Let me tell you, removing a nail gunned piece of wood isn’t fun and makes more finish work. Use the hinge itself to mark and pre-drill holes once it’s chiseled out.

Recommended tools:

So, why DIY? Number one: it’s rewarding. YOU built it. Everytime you walk in the room, or show it off to a friend, honor that accomplishment. Number two: you’re saving money. Are there more experienced people who can do this and do this better? Yeah, of course. But YOU did this. And I promise you’ll feel proud.

Not only did you take the chance to teach yourself something new, but you’re seriously saving some sheckles.

That’s a win-win in my book.

How To Teach Yourself to Build Anything | Buy a Nail Gun | Jessica Brigham Blog | Home Renovation | DIY Home Construction | Carpentry Basics | Lessons Learned from Home Renovation


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