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Wednesday, October 21, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Ammi Midstokke: Off the Grid, the empowered carpenter

Ammi Midstokke is a columnist for The Spokesman-Review writing about living off the grid. (The Spokesman-Review / SR)
Ammi Midstokke is a columnist for The Spokesman-Review writing about living off the grid. (The Spokesman-Review / SR)
By Ammi Midstokke For The Spokesman-Review

The first step to undertaking any kind of home project is acquiring the appropriate wardrobe.

In this way, even if I don’t know anything at all about what I am doing, I appear to, and this gives me a false sense of confidence. And a false sense of confidence can be easily turned into a sense of confidence by adding a dash (or healthy pour) of naive optimism.

I particularly love to commit to a project with this blind trust in myself, because it puts a sense of determination in my walk or even how I select the tools I am going to use for the particular project. I will march out to the shop, and regardless of my plans, sling my tool belt around my waist and put on safety glasses. This is why cowboys wore holsters even if they couldn’t hit a horse broadside. Just having my tool belt on, loaded with pencils, a miscellaneous selection of nails and a tape measure makes me feel rather capable.

On this particular day, I was determined to build myself a kindling box. The kindling box would be square, or rectangle, depending on whether I tried to use new math or not. It would have four sides, at least. Maybe a bottom. I drew a picture of it with my carpenter’s pencil then threw away the picture so there was no evidence of what the original intention was. Chances are, I’d end up with a trapezoid and I didn’t want to put up with any judgment about that.

The only real obstacle I needed to overcome was being caught by my future husband as I rifled through the tools. The worst thing that can happen when I am wearing my omniscient tool belt attire is for Charlie to say, “What tool are you looking for?”

Because I have no idea. It’s a tool that cuts the things this way or that way and probably needs a battery or a cord. Not knowing the name of a tool doesn’t exactly mean that someone doesn’t know how to use it. But often it does. I never let that stop me.

I deflect these questions by wearing earplugs, which also gives the impression that I am quite concerned with safety. It is generally accepted that people who put safety first probably know what they are doing. Thus, when Charlie passes by as I start to lay out my lumber, I begin to appear preoccupied with safety. As soon as he isn’t looking, I throw my plywood down on a couple of wonky two-by-fours and start hacking through it with some kind of power tool.

I will not be deterred by my lack of knowledge, skill or common sense. This is the mantra I was repeating to myself as my kindling box began to take shape. I had some sides prepared and needed to figure out how to attach them to each other. Where is my crafting glue gun when I need it? Charlie was walking curious laps around, pretending to work nearby. I knew he was just waiting for me to pick up a tool from the wrong end.

So I moved the entire project to a hidden location. Of course, I was wearing my tool belt, so I do this with confidence and purpose, schlepping hammers and nails and a few other things that looked like they would be useful if I knew their use.

Approximately 179 bent nails later, something resembling a wooden box emerged from my scattered pile of lumber. I stood back with my hands on my hips and looked upon the thing I had built.

“I built a thing!” I say to myself. In that moment, the world became my oyster. I could even build a trapezoid house now, except that I used up all our roofing nails and dulled the blade on the thingamajig. The satisfaction of this is why humans don’t live in caves anymore. Caves are arguably safer, better insulated and cheaper, but there’s no real self-satisfaction or pride in cave life. Sometime, thousands of year ago, someone in a cave needed a kindling box, and the rest is history.

Ammi Midstokke can be contacted at

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