Bob Vila is a legend in the home improvement game. The New York Times once hailed him as “America’s best-known Mr. Fix-It,” and from 1979 to 1989 he hosted the beloved PBS series This Old House. He’s written numerous books on the subject of home reconstruction and if you ask him to inspect, say, the seams of a kitchen floor or stills from a video of Frank Ocean working with wood, he’ll assess the situation with an expert’s eye.
Complex connected with Vila as he relaxed at Martha’s Vineyard with his family, and though he’s not personally familiar with Frank Ocean, his son and daughter-in-law are. In fact, they told Vila that Ocean is “a big deal” before he called me. (These days, Vila listens to mostly jazz. “Miles and Coltrane,” he said.)
But we weren’t here to discuss music. We needed to talk wood.
In preparation for the discussion, I shared a number of stills from the Frank Ocean woodworking video with the OG. Our conversation has been edited for clarity.
Bob, tell me what you’re looking at.
Are those all speakers in the background? It looks like he’s making boxes and he’s using what we call a chop saw. It’s hard to tell what’s going on but I can see the chop saw and a stack of boards. The thing in the middle looks like it could be a drill press, but I’m not sure.
In the next one, he’s built what looks to be a plywood box. On the left he’s got stacked pieces of pre-cut plywood. There’s the chop saw. On the left he’s got a cordless drill driver on top of some other power bench tool I can’t recognize. The next shot seems to have a rack of speakers off to the right. He’s holding a piece of wood. Maybe he’s just been sanding it, getting it ready to fit with another piece of wood. Fit is a joiner’s term. I think he’s making boxes for these speakers. Maybe.
Here, he looks like he has a board and a bottle of carpenter’s glue, and is applying glue to one board. Something you would do if you were building a box or frame.
Some people have speculated that he’s building a staircase.
The staircase is a possibility, though you wouldn’t be doing it with plywood. It would need to have an additional wood element, like an oak tread. You wouldn’t be gluing either. A staircase needs to have stringers—the structural elements…and I don’t think [that’s what he’s doing].
Thank you for your time.