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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