Rain or Shine, MSEL Builds On

Many of you may know that El Niño has swept through California over the recent months, bringing much needed rain to dampen our long standing drought. The playhouses have gotten too big to keep in the shop, so we work on them outside in the fenced enclosure attached to the shop. In rain or shine, we build on.

One day was particularly wet. Many of us had come prepared with raincoats, but that did little by the end of the 95 minute class. It came in waves. There was a constant sprinkle that you could barely feel. But out of nowhere sheets of rain would come pouring down on us and our tiny half built playhouses. Almost all of them didn’t have roofs yet, so working on the inside did not provide much more cover. Yet despite the pouring rain, we worked on. We enjoyed the rain, for the most part. I even felt a bit adventuresome: like we were working on a ship in the middle of the pacific, or building a house in the middle of the rain forest. We took tarps and hung them between two tall playhouses to create a makeshift canopy. It was less than effective, but it was better than nothing. At the end of the period, we wrung out our hair and went to the next class, feeling like we had just gone on an adventure.

Now we’re approaching summer, and the hot days are starting to become more frequent. The houses provide good shade and having the class early in the morning helps. It will gradually become hotter as we march on towards summer, but for now it’s unpredictable. We will have rain one day and 80 degree temperatures the next. But whatever whether, we keep building.

Time is beginning to run low for us. We only have a few short weeks until we need to be done. It’s a mad dash for the finish line. Some groups are farther along than others: some just have to paint and decorate, others have to finish siding roofing and other miscellaneous tasks. We have some pretty creative playhouses though. A castle, a Hobbit house, a saloon, and a surf shack are just some of the designs. And these playhouses aren’t just lean-to’s that will fall with the slightest gust of wind. These playhouses are built like real houses, save plumbing and electricity. We used two by fours and created walls with studs, they won’t be falling down anytime soon. We had some second graders from Vallecito, a local elementary school, come and give some opinions on what we should include. These ranged from a ball pit to a zipline. They had a great time checking out the playhouses and especially liked the castle, which includes a fireman’s pole. After they left, we got back to work.

Some tools are in short supply in engineering class, the most prominent currently is the nail gun, an air compressor connected to a “gun” that allows you to shoot nails into walls, rather than hammering them. It makes the process of siding much faster, so naturally every group wants to use it. However, there are only two of them. Many groups are on the siding stage of their playhouse, so it’s in high demand. One thing i’m bummed about is the lack of tool belt use. Before the year began, we were to go out and make a toolbelt with a plethora of tools. I thought this was awesome, and loved wearing my toolbelt in class. But most of my classmates didn’t feel the same. Half the class brought their toolbelts in, put them on the rack, and never touched them again. Only a few of us actually wore our tool belts, and after a while, I stopped wearing mine. Maybe one day we will use them again

We were asked recently if we thought it would be a better idea to have many smaller projects next year, rather than one big one. It was a natural question to ask, as we only have a few fleeting weeks to finish and a lot to get done. But the class nearly unanimously supported doing one big project. That may be due to our comfort with semester long projects from our experience in MSEL, but I think it’s more than that. Creating something in a large scale is significantly different than small scale: You have to be more precise, use different tools, and solve problems you wouldn’t otherwise face. And at the end, you can step back and admire the creation you worked months to finish. I can’t wait for that moment.


  1. Great blog Nick, I really liked it. Completely agree with your notion that working in the rain felt like an adventure. There were multiple times where I would walk into my 4th period dripping and smelling of damp wood, feeling quite miserable in my cold and wet casual clothing that was meant to be worn for a calm day of sitting in a desk. Though it was certainly a struggle, I think we have all come to love how our playhouses turned out, and I can’t wait to see what happens during the selling process. (and moving process yikes)

  2. I’m glad someone mentioned the weather struggle we have had to deal with when building these playhouses. On a slightly unrelated note you guys should paint your hobbit house like a giant taco!!!!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.