Adam Lee Potter: Finding my inner Bodger

PUBLISHED: 11:16 03 January 2017

Illustration by Claire Jelly

Illustration by Claire Jelly


When your toolboox blowtorch is strictly for searing scallops, is planning some Victorian doors beyond a gastronome’s basic carpentry skills?

I am rubbish at DIY. I would far rather pay an expert to plaster a wall, fix a shelf or mend the washing machine the first time around than try to do it myself, bodge it, and end up having to fork out even more to have it all put right.

I’ve always been this way. While I can happily whip up braised saffron sweetbreads or layer a ceviche, power tools remain a strange and foreign country.

The only weapon in my toolbox is a blowtorch. But that’s strictly for searing scallops.

When we first moved in together 100 years ago, my wife brought with her a Black & Decker set that would not have disgraced a Formula 1 mechanic. I brought my spice rack and a pastry brush.

But sometimes, there is no alternative to rolling my sleeves up. Having just laid ruinously expensive carpet through the house, I was a tad piqued to be told by the teeth-sucking fitters that, though taking all the doors off clearly does meet their job description, planing them to fit again does not.

Our lovely old house took on, in a trice, the appearance of a barn. My wife was in no doubt: “Oh, just man up. How hard can planing half-a-dozen doors be?”

To be fair, YouTube made it look pathetically easy, the work of a moment.

I went about it – I thought – diligently. I drew a guiding line in pencil, put the hinge screws in a safe place and wrapped the edges of the door with blue masking tape, to avoid splitting the wood. I set up a trestle and donned safety glasses. Handling my borrowed electric plane gingerly, I even practised on an old plank.

So far, so good.

But I lack a craftsman’s patience – not to mention skill, knowledge and eye. While I’m more than happy to take the skin off tomatoes or devein a prawn, DIY always brings out my inner bodger.

First, I took too little off. And if you’ve ever wrestled with and rehung a ton-heavy, old Victorian door, only to find it still doesn’t fit, you’ll know just how irritating it is. My daughter - popping up to investigate my histrionic huffing and puffing and sweetly offering to fetch her mother for help – got short shrift.

Determined not to make the same mistake twice, I then – of course – took too much off.

The bedroom door now clears the carpet but hangs at an ugly slant and there is a diagonal gap beneath that a small child could wriggle through. There are – despite the masking tape – nasty splinters on the bottom edge and scuff marks on the front panels. I didn’t realise that a plane spins on for a few seconds after you turn it off. Putting it down on the door you’re halfway through planing is, it turns out, not a smart idea.

My wife was less than pleased but – utterly unsurprised – pragmatic. “Well, it’s not great, no, she said, already on her phone, Googling a carpenter.

Deluded Michael Gove might have had enough of experts but I couldn’t do without them.

Latest from the Dorset