The Wrong Tool

Sometimes it seems I remodel to support my tool habit. Over the years I have acquired quite a collection. Since each aspect of construction is unique, it requires its own specialized tools. I am involved from the foundation to the roof, so naturally I need the tools to do each and every one of these disparate tasks. After all, if you’re going to do a job right, you must have the right tool for the job, except when you don’t. Sometimes the best tool for a job is the wrong one.

A bucket may appear to be the tool for catching water, but what about under a sink? The space not taken up with pipes, p-trap, garbage disposal, and dishwasher lines has been filled with cleaning supplies. They don’t make a bucket that can fit under such a nest of plumbing. They do, however, make a plastic paint tray that is perfect for the job. Its low height, about three and a half inches, allows it to slip easily under all that piping. There is even plenty of room left to work. The rectangular design means it can fit into the corners, and the broadness of the tray makes it wide enough to catch the water from the supply hoses and the p-trap at the same time.

These trays can comfortably hold three quarts, or a full gallon if you want to push the limit, but since a p-trap and supply lines combined hold less than a pint, there is plenty of capacity to get the job done. In addition, the sloped part designed to even the paint out on the roller is a great place to put that nasty, hair-clogged trap you just removed.

When working under a sink I like to put an old towel under everything. This catches any water missed by the paint tray as well as acting as a drop cloth. It also provides a bit of cushion while trying to reach those out of the way places. Like Arthur Dent I don’t go anywhere without a towel.

When you’re all done under there, be sure to check for leaks. Leaks don’t always show up right away and sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference between a slow leak and water left over from the repair process. I like to leave a piece of cardboard under the pipes for an hour or so. Any drip

shows up nice and clear on it so I can be sure the job is done right.

A common tool abuse that I can not condone is the use of a screwdriver to open paint cans. This often results in damage to the lid that prevents it from being put back on correctly. This not only makes it harder to open the next time, but it can also allow air in to dry out the paint. If you don’t have an actual paint can opener then my two-bit advice is just that: use a quarter. They are quite effective and the round edge won’t damage the lid. As for putting the lid back on, the traditional method is to use a mallet or hammer to tap it down firmly. Some will set it on the ground and stomp it shut with a foot, putting the boot in as it were. These are effective, but care should be taken to avoid splatters. Excess paint on the rim can be squeezed out at high velocity during the process, decorating surrounding objects. I like to use my roller extension pole. I lay it across the center of the lid and with firm pressure, roll the lid closed in both directions.

A final word on painting. Don’t let your brushes stand upright in the paint, or while soaking in water. This forces the bristles out of alignment and ruins the brush. Insert a small screw into the wide part of the handle with the head sticking out a bit and you can conveniently hang it on the side of your container.

If there is a lot of hand sanding to do, trade in that sanding block for a drywall sander. The wider sanding base and actual handle make the job much easier. Pre-sized paper is commonly available from 80-150 grit, although you can cut your own to fit.

Very few construction tools require thick grease, so when it is called for it may not be readily available. This can become a problem if you are removing ceramic tiles. An air hammer makes this job considerably easier. But it needs an application of viscous grease on the shaft to work properly. My environmentally friendly solution can be found in any well stocked medicine cabinet, petroleum jelly.

The most useful item in my unconventional tool box is my x-ray safety goggles. With these I can see through walls. I have built and torn open enough of them to know what I am likely to find inside. Before starting any project I study the area carefully. All those switches and outlets have wires

running to them. Not something you want to cut into while removing drywall. Nor do they look good running through your new window or doorway. A careful look at their layout can predict their probable path. It is a good idea to have a plan for moving them before you begin your tear out. I find a trip to the attic to trace what wires are heading into what wall and where is very helpful

That wall behind the sink is going to have not only wires, but an inch and a half vent pipe running up it. This makes it a difficult place to put in that sunken medicine cabinet. If you are considering removing a wall, check the rafters above it. If they run perpendicular than it is a bearing wall. That means the weight of the roof is resting on it. A little forethought can save a lot of frustration.

The x-ray glasses can also be used to find studs. Look again at those electric outlets. They are almost always nailed to a stud. If you have trouble determining which side of the outlet the stud is on, simply remove the cover plate and have a look. This also lets you see if there is an extra screw on the top and bottom which will indicate that it is a remodel box and therefore not next to a stud. Studs are typically spaced at sixteen inch intervals. So once you’ve located one stud, it is just a matter of measuring to find the one you want, or all of them. I use this method whenever I put in baseboards. A note of caution, every window and door has studs on either side irregardless of the rest of the layout.

These are a few of the tricks I have learned over the decades. There are many more. One of the wonderful aspects of the construction trade is the constant inclination towards innovations that make jobs faster, easier, and safer. In the two decades that I’ve been in the business I have seen many changes. The ones that work become the new standards. These changes are the results of the most powerful tool available, the human brain.

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When Desperate Housewives Call Me

It can be difficult to make a living as a writer. That is why I moonlight when I can. Desperate women from all over the Austin area call me to come over and do for them what their husbands can’t or won’t. They pay me well to satisfy the one real need they have for a strong man who knows what he is doing, and they get it without all the bother or commitment of a relationship. It is also a task I usually enjoy preforming, even if it gets hot and sweaty.

That’s right, I fix things. I also remodel kitchens and bathrooms. I worked construction to pay for college and enjoyed it so much I ended up becoming a general contractor. Okay, there was a little more to it than that. For the equivalent in paperwork and cash as a semester at college, I became a licensed contractor, a member of the California Contractors Association and started a business that earned over 60k in the first year of operation.

But that did not leave much time for writing. So twelve years later I’ve reversed priorities. Being a writer is now my primary occupation. If that is what I want to do with my life, then it must come first. I still do some remodeling, but it gets done around my writing schedule. You have to be who you want to be now. Someday starts today if it is to come at all. What are you doing to follow your dreams?

National Geographic

On Saturday, I attended the Texas State Jousting tournament which took place in the Village of Sherwood. I do not normally seek out entertainment that involves grown men poking each other with sticks. So when I say attended, what I really mean is that I keep a shop within the village where I sell the books we write and the toys I make. I can see the jousting lists from my doorway.

My shop also happens to be right next to the stables and the gate where the jousters come in and out. On this particular day the back area of my shop and all the surrounding area was crawling with National Geographic film crews. They were there to film the jousting for one of their TV Specials due to be aired this fall. Being a considerate and accommodating creature, I did my best to work around them, and even set up a couple of my chairs for them to use during the day.

Around mid-afternoon I was ready for a break myself and went out back to spend some time in my favorite lounger. This was when I discovered why National Geographic travels all over the world. It’s to get away from the wasted environments they leave in their wake. What I found in my backyard was cheese (I hope) smeared into the seat of my chair. The remains of the offending sandwich and the wrapper had been tossed on the ground nearby despite the large garbage can five feet away. Empty drink containers were scattered liberally around with other bits of random garbage. Before I could sit down and relax I had too wipe down my chair, cover it with a clean cloth, pick up all the garbage in my backyard, and kick the empty drink containers into a pile around their coolers.

But it turned out okay. At the end of the day they gave me a hat to thank me for allowing them to take over and destroy my eco-culture. This is in the civilized tradition of giving representatives of a local culture (i.e. obviously inferior and savage culture because they did not have the benefit of our civilization’s culture) cheap adornments in exchange for taking whatever they want.

Spring

Spring has once again been sprung upon us here in the Northern hemisphere. When I was a young lad, this meant that it was time to get the garden planted. It also meant that we had just finished planting about 10,000 tree seedlings over the past month or two, often in the pouring rain.

And no, we were not engaged in a reforestation project. These trees were destined, after about ten years of growth, to be cut down and stuck up in someone’s living room for a few weeks before heading to their final destination in a land fill.

But that was thirty years ago in Northern California. Today, in suburban Texas, Spring means repairing the lawn and getting some potted plants from Lowe’s to flesh out the flower bed. My vegetables are imported from third world countries, modified genetically, and lacking most of their traditional flavor.

And yet, Spring is still a time of rebirth and renewal. I may no longer be a farmer, but my business still follows the seasons. After the feast of the Christmas season, there was a time of rest during the darkness of winter. It was a time for preparing as well. I spent it repairing the house and making stockpiles of toys for the upcoming festival season which began with the opening of the Spring fair at the Sherwood Forest Medieval Fair. And so now I am once again tending my business like a garden and encouraging its growth.