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Arkansas Times Recommends: DIY edition

Excerpts from our regular series.


If you should ever happen to find yourself in Durham, N.C., stop by the Scrap Exchange. Somewhere between a thrift store and a junkyard and a Habitat ReStore and a communal art space, it's a catalog of all the bits of sundry refuse that human civilization can generate, meticulously sorted into its component parts: Barrels and buckets filled with old cassette tapes, dowel rods, binder clips, knee pads, pipe fittings, medical equipment, spatulas, Christmas ornaments, key rings, lumber, paper dolls, Rolodexes, googly eyes, baronies of strange and scratchy fabrics. It's a place like nothing I've seen before or since, a stopover occupying the otherwise ignored commercial real estate between the Goodwill and the dump.

It's a beautiful place, but also a dangerous one. Going after a DIY project without any sense of how to accomplish it can open up a deadly time sinkhole, utterly destroying an afternoon or a weekend, and the Scrap Exchange is uniquely situated to deal ruin to those with such a mindset. Walk inside and an infinity of paralyzing, open-ended potentialities unfolds in front of you. You'll end up leaving seven hours later with a trunkload of cotton balls and PVC scrap, aimless and dazed and self-loathing. (There should be a sort of serenity prayer for DIYing: Grant me the courage to build the things I can manage to do myself, the serenity and disposable income to purchase the things I cannot, and the wisdom to know the difference. And the time management skills to not waste a whole goddamn afternoon poking at things I don't understand.)

—Benjamin Hardy

For a couple of years in grad school, I kept chickens in my backyard in a refurbished rabbit hutch. In terrifying disparity with the happy-hippy organic urban farming visions I set out with, the entire experiment was a bloody drama from which I have still not recovered.  

The first couple of flocks, brutally murdered by a poultry-hungry cattle dog with no more regard for a fence than Jesus for a stone tomb, dampened but did not extinguish my ideal, and I came to love my third-time's-a-charm flock, Patsy, Loretta and Tammy, like my own chicken triplets. But our serenity was short-lived, for Patsy took ill, and despite my efforts and immoderate expenditures on chicken antibiotics, cold medicine and various other remedies, she soon departed our flock for a heavenly one. My heart frozen at this point, I did not name her replacement. Then, the final humiliation: A possum started sneaking into the coop. Alerted by nervous clucks and rustlings, I would brandish the fencepost that leaned against my house, poking around through the coop door until the dog could get at the possum and paralyze it, then use a shovel to toss it over the fence. Understandably, the hens refused to re-enter the coop of their own accord after that and became a kind of chicken street gang, sleeping in the trees and fending for themselves when they eluded me. 

Eventually I rounded them up and returned them to the farm from whence they came, where they are no doubt happier (as am I, my chicken-burying and possum-shoveling days behind me). 

— Megan Blankenship

Find a step-by-step album of photos at in which a dude with very basic tools builds a classic teardrop-style camper out of ¼-inch plywood, 2-inch rigid foam insulation and sealed duck canvas. Don't laugh about the canvas. Most of the airplanes made before World War II were covered in doped canvas. The result here is sturdy, quirky, cool and fairly cheap.

If you started with a small flatbed trailer purchased off Craigslist (instead of starting from scratch the way he did), and kept the inside very minimalist (his has amenities like a chemical toilet, sink, a raised platform bed, fold-down table and cabinetry), I bet you could get the cost of this way, way down. A weekend project it ain't, but a basic version of this is very, very doable for an experienced maker, and much preferable to sleeping in a tent.

—David Koon

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