DIY Home Projects With RA

by Emil DeAndreis Patient Advocate

I saw the writing on the wall when she saw the shelf on the wall.

What I mean is, my wife, Kendall, and I were at a friend’s house, and they had a floating shelf displaying various pieces of art in their living room. Kendall said: “I love your shelf. Where did you get it?” The response was: “We built it.” And then I knew.

Of course, she brought it up on the way home. And then she emailed our friend, asking for the DIY website that inspired them. Soon, “I liked that shelf” became “I think it would look good right there in the kitchen, don’t you?” which swiftly became “We’re not doing anything this Sunday. Can you do it then?”

Thankfully, this particular project was not heavy or stressful on the body. Nonetheless, this house project required a few considerations to avoid its potential impact on my rheumatoid arthritis (RA).

Having the right tools eases strain on your joints, and your patience

It sounds obvious, I know. But I didn’t have the ideal tools for damn near anything. At our house, we had a hammer and a wrench and a tape measure. These were sufficient for hanging up a painting, but not much more.

In other projects before, such as putting up our TV mount, I had been tempted to make do with the tools we had. Did I really have to drive all the way to Home Depot to buy a socket wrench when I had a manual wrench already? Well, after many curse words, and the mount ending up crooked several times, the answer ended up being: Yes. I needed a socket wrench. Not only did a socket wrench make logistical and efficient sense, but it also meant way less pain, as it took a lot of strain off my wrist.

For this project, when assembling the wood together, we needed a stable surface on which to drill, and we needed a level to be sure the shelf was hung straight on the wall.

Shelf home improvement project.
Emil DeAndreis

Thankfully, my dad had these very rusty sawhorses I was able to borrow, instead of my drilling the pieces together on the floor, or accidentally drilling holes in an important piece of furniture. Having the right tools makes sense not only for the ease of your project, but also for your RA!

The timeline for your project may take longer with RA

The website that gave us this idea assured us the project was surprisingly quick and easy. That was a lie. Going into it thinking it was going to be done quickly was a mistake. The process required lots of measurements and exactness. The time it took to double check measurements, get things wrong, triple check measurements, mess things up, adjust this and that — it all added up! And this became frustrating.

With RA, the physical production of anything can be slowed even more. Sometimes we need to figure out a way to use and maneuver our body so that we don’t feel pain. Figuring out how to do this can take time, and sometimes with RA, we need to move slowly. That’s OK. So it’s important to know that when we’re doing home projects, we should accept that it’s going to take some time, and plenty of patience!

Having a helper can lessen the heavy lifting

Again, the website implied this could all be accomplished from beginning to end by one person — not true, especially for someone like me, a non-handy man with RA. Thankfully, I had my dad around to impart such vital wisdom as: “When you’re trying to find the middle of a wall, you measure halfway across it.” But seriously, he was helpful in moments when stabilizing the bulky piece of wood was necessary to drill it together.

He also spent a career in sheet metal and operated these tools in a professional climate for decades. So physically, it was nice to have another set of hands when precision was so important. And psychologically, my dad’s presence helped remind me that cooler heads prevail.

Before committing to making this shelf, I always thought a house project involved a toolbelt, heavy with tools I knew nothing about, and couldn’t operate because of my RA. This experience taught me that the right tools and environment can make DIY house projects possible, even with RA. Don’t count yourself out of adding personal touch to your house on account of your condition!

Finished shelf.
Emil DeAndreis
Emil DeAndreis
Meet Our Writer
Emil DeAndreis

Emil DeAndreis is a baseball coach, and an English professor at College of San Mateo. His memoir, Hard To Grip, chronicles his journey of losing a professional baseball career to rheumatoid arthritis. He lives in San Francisco with his wife. Follow along with Emil on Twitter @EmilDeAndreis).
Emil is also a Social Ambassador for the RAHealthCentral Facebook page.