Ever since my age was in the single digits, I’ve enjoyed taking things apart and putting them back together. I always end up with extra pieces (who doesn’t?) but rather than throw them away, I keep them. My ever-loving wife, “Patience” (not her real name), has made peace with my stock piling habits, although I’m pretty sure she rolls her eyes when she thinks I am not watching. The key is to find uses for those oddball parts–double credit if I’m making or fixing something for Patience.
My Craftsman table saw excels at widely distributing sawdust. It is a contractor-style saw, which means it is a motor mounted on four legs and wide open to the world. I tried installing a bottom cobbled together from pieces of thin aluminum with a shop vac connected to a roof boot (PVC pipes go up through them) re-purposed as a dust port in the center. That helped contain the dust but most of it just piled up on the inside rather than being sucked out. What I needed was a cabinet table saw. Or at least a table saw in a cabinet. Continue reading Table saw workbench using stuff I keep→
When we go house hunting my ever-loving wife, “Daisy” (not her real name) and I draw up a list of requirements for the new house. We divide these requirements into two categories: 1) Desired and 2) Non-negotiables. The list of non-negotiables for our last house was short and realistic:
Not next to an apartment building
Not near a train
Garage and driveway.
I found the perfect house. Unfortunately it was right next to an apartment building, the train ran behind the backyard, and it didn’t have a garage or driveway. By some miracle I convinced (a very skeptical) Daisy we should buy it.
My ever-loving wife also wanted a screen porch but had to settle for an open deck. It finally occurred to me that we could turn the deck into a screen porch that would double as a carport and turn the brick sidewalk along the house into a driveway.
The driveway needed to be “historically compatible” and permeable so that the rainwater would soak into the ground rather than run off and flood our neighborhood. I chose 3 ½” thick, colored pavers from Lowcountry Paver set about ½” apart. Laying the pavers is the easy part. The hard part is giving them a strong foundation, which means digging down through the clay using shovels and pick axes like the inmates at the beginning of “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” Continue reading Paving the way→
My father-in-law was having outpatient surgery in North Carolina so I drove my ever-loving wife, “Robin” (not her real name), up there the day before so we could take him to the hospital. The weather forecast said there would be a big snowstorm the day of the procedure. Sometimes the meteorologists are right and sometimes they are way off. This time they nailed it. About 12″ of snow fell overnight and into the next day.
A few days after we returned to South Carolina and warmer weather we noticed an unusual sour odor in the car. Each day it got a little worse. I did some research and concluded the cause must be mold in the A/C vents as a result of the heavy snow getting in there and then melting. Mold likes cool, moist places to grow. The car probably has a design flaw with a low spot in the ductwork trapping the water and encouraging the mold to grow.
Numerous articles and You Tube videos said the solution is to spray Lysol, lots of Lysol, into the “cabin air intake” while running the A/C on high and the fan turned up all the way. My first question was, “What’s a cabin air intake?” Continue reading I smell a rat (in my car!)→
A few decades ago the car phone was invented and the car phone antenna held by a magnet to the hood quickly became a status symbol. Not everyone could afford these expensive new phones–but many people wanted to give the impression they could. Some smart entrepreneurs took advantage of the situation and invented the Car Phoney, which was a dummy antenna with a wire that lead nowhere. For a few bucks you could slap an antenna on the hood and draw envious glances from the Joneses.
A decade or so before that it was all the rage to have exposed ceiling beams in the living room. The beams were typically dark-colored against a white ceiling. Real ceiling beams rested on top of the outer walls and held up the rafters of the second floor when there weren’t dividing walls to support the weight.
Again, many people wanted the look–even though the house didn’t need the support. So builders built these long beam-shaped boxes and attached them to the ceiling so that it looked like you had big rugged beams. The key phrase here is “attached them to the ceiling,” which means they were suspended from the ceiling rather than holding it up.
My parents’ living room ceiling had a pair of these pseudo-beams. They (the beams, not my parents) were clad in that rough sawn wood that was popular back in the 70s.
Picture what is going on. You’ve got two heavy beams, whose ends are not supported, hanging from a bunch of heavy rafters. Take a wild guess what is going to happen.
Old heavy things sag. That is just the way it is. For confirmation we need look no farther than my ever-loving wife, “Maggie” (not her real name), of 40-ish years. By that I mean of course that the bed and couch and stuffed chairs we got when we were first married have all started sagging over time. Age and gravity conspire to bring everything down–like the ceiling beams in my parents’ old house.
Fortunately only one end of the beams separated from the ceiling joists they were nailed to. There was a 2″ gap between the ends of the beams and the ceiling.
I put a landscape timber between a hydraulic jack and a wood plate at the end of the beam and started pumping. The ceiling creaked and groaned as it went up but it didn’t crack. After propping that beam up with another landscape timber I jacked up the other beam.
My first attempt to fix the problem was to go in the attic above the ceiling and mount some large angle brackets to the end joist (or so I thought) and some framing around the fireplace. When I released the jack, the beams sank right back down. Apparently the joist I needed to support was the next one over and there was nothing to attach the angle bracket to on that one. Strike one.
For the second try I bought some sturdy-looking metal bookshelf brackets. After jacking up the beams again I drilled some holes into the brick of the fireplace and screwed the brackets into the brick. This time when I released the jacks, the beams … wait for it … sank down again. The very attractive rough sawn boards cladding the pseudo beam weren’t attached to anything solid and the shelf brackets pushed up the middle of the board when the weight of the ceiling pushed the pseudo beam down. Strike two.
I clearly needed a support as wide as the pseudo beam (unlike the narrow shelf bracket) so that it could distribute the weight evenly. The local Big Box store had some pre-cut pieces of oak called “plinth blocks.” They are used to join two large pieces of molding without miter joints.
For my third (and as it turned out final) attempt I bought a couple of plinth blocks I could screw to the brick wall that would hold up the beams. Since I didn’t want the screws to show, I also bought a pair of rosettes to cover them. Before drilling, I positioned the rosette on the block and marked three holes it would cover up. I used flat-head screws and countersunk the holes so that the rosette would fit tight to the block.
To hide the fastener that would hold the rosette to the plinth block I drilled a hole for a small finish nail from the back of the block and halfway into the rosette. This would allow the rosette to hang on the (invisible) nail after the block was screwed to the wall.
After jacking up the beams yet again, I marked the holes for each plinth block on the brick and used a masonry bit to drill holes in the brick for the plastic screw anchors.
With the nail pushed through the back of the block so that the point stuck out about 1/2″ I screwed the block to the wall.
Mounting the rosette was simply a matter of aligning the nail hole on its back with the point sticking out of the block. I considered using some double-sided tape to hold the rosette to the block or to keep it centered but it wasn’t needed in this case.
I might or might not admit to holding my breath as I released the jack to lower the beam onto the block to see if it would hold. But it did. And I exhaled.
Some dark stain on the new wood made it all blend together with the other wood in the room. The blocks are both functional and aesthetic. The Joneses are going to have a hard time keeping up. But it won’t be nearly as hard as the time I accidentally called my ever-loving wife “Saggie.” Trust me, you need more than a hydraulic jack to get up from the floor after a slip like that.
My ever-loving wife, “Skippy” (not her real name), likes to move. Move, as in from one house to another and one state to another. She got this endearing quirk by growing up in a family that moved frequently. She claims it had nothing to do with running from the law or staying ahead of bill collectors and I believe her. Really.
So we move a lot. It’s in her blood.
One advantage of moving into new houses every few years is the appliances are always new. The A/C is new. The stove is new. The dishwasher is new. Everything works like new because it is new. I conveniently forget that things wear out–especially if you don’t perform regular (ugh) maintenance. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” is the easiest policy. (I know a guy whose motto is, “If it ain’t broke, keep fixing it until it is,” but I wouldn’t recommend that approach.)
We lived in one new house a couple of years too long. I learned the hard (expensive) way that you really are supposed to have the A/C serviced twice a year. The compressor burned out and we had to buy a whole new air conditioner. If we had just moved a year earlier ….
In our current house (of about 7 years) the dishes didn’t seem as clean as they could be. Right up front I want to say that it wasn’t Skippy’s fault. She did in fact put the dishes in the dishwasher (yes, with soap) and turn it on. But they came out a little hazy-looking.
So I pulled out the lower dish rack and cleaned out a few bits of food in the bottom of the dishwasher where the dirty water goes down the drain. Some dishwashers have a little plastic screen over the drain for trapping the gunk that you just pop out and rinse off in the sink. But this was a Bosch and it had a screw-in cylinder screen, which I had never seen before.
Being a computer guy I try to keep up with modern gadgets but I had no experience with surveillance cameras–excluding appearing in any video footage submitted as evidence in any court case for an alleged crime. We had been having trouble with the toilet paper being switched around from unrolling off the front to unrolling off the back. Apparently someone was breaking in at night and switching it around. This was a perfect opportunity to try out a new surveillance camera by mounting it near the bathroom ceiling focused on the toilet paper and catch the culprit in the act. When I shared my brainstorm with my ever-loving wife, “Prissy” (not her real name), she was not as enthusiastic as I had hoped.
Fortunately, but sadly, another opportunity arose.
Our neighbors, Nick and Gilda, have a little horse farm and when Gilda found an oily substance in the water bucket and around a horse’s mouth and some horses in the adjacent farm died under suspicious circumstances they decided it would be a good idea to install a surveillance camera to keep an eye on the stalls and watch for any miscreants. I jumped at the opportunity.
Since the horse farm was a few miles away from their house, they needed a camera they could view remotely over the web. I chose the Foscam FI9821W v2.1 for its reasonable price and combination of features. That has proven to be a nightmare. Continue reading Watching Mr. Ed→
I am constantly amazed to discover new subcultures on planet Earth that I had no idea existed. Such was the case when someone asked me if I could build a dog ramp for a woman who had had a stroke. I had never heard of a dog ramp. Was it like an exit ramp on the highway but for dogs to get off a walking trail after a long hike? Boat ramps let you back a trailer down into the water so that you can slide the boat into the lake. Maybe a dog ramp makes it easier for Fido to go for a swim without having to take a flying leap off the dock.
Google enlightened me that a dog ramp lets “athletically challenged” dogs get up onto a bed. Why that would be a desirable thing is not clear to me. I thought the idea was to keep animals off the furniture but I’m not a pet owner so what do I know. Anyway my job was not to ask questions but to build the ramp.
A doggie ramp has two main parts: the platform, which should be about even with the top of the bed mattress, and the ramp up to the platform. In this case, the mattress was 27” off the floor. The ramp itself needed to have a gradual slope so that the aforementioned athletically challenged dog could climb it. I thought it would be very entertaining to wax the ramp and put the dog on it like a Slip ‘N Slide but my ever-loving wife, “Gertrude” (not her real name), put her hands on her hips and said, “Zat is not funny.” Although I might have detected a little snicker, I decided to play it safe and make it a non-slip surface with some leftover carpet. Continue reading Ramp for Rover→
The hot water in the shower seemed to be kind of wimpy, which is to say that it wasn’t very hot. The temperature ranged all the way from lukewarm on the one extreme to tepid on the other. My ever-loving wife, “Paris” (not her real name), is not one to complain but she made it clear that it was not up to “Hilton” standards. I turned up the temperature dial on both water heaters from the “A” position to the “B” position and then to the “C” position but it didn’t make much difference. Every once in awhile, the shower would put out a brief burst of water that was actually hot. This made me think there must be a blockage somewhere in the hot water pipes or the water heaters.
I did a little reading on the subject and apparently you are supposed to drain hot water heaters once a year to flush out the sediment and corrosion in the bottom of the tank. I calculated my water heater flush rate: number of years in house: 5; number of times flushed: 0.
With my ever-loving wife, “Anne” (not her real name), on sabbatical, I get to see her working on her laptop at home. Not many people actually put their laptop on their lap and Anne is no exception. She had been complaining about royal pains in her back and neck and arm. One look at her sitting at the desk explained everything.
Her laptop was resting on top of her Queen Anne (no relation) cherry desk, which meant that her arms were angled upward against the edge of the desk so her hands could reach the keyboard. That’s a fine recipe for pain in all sorts of places right there. I tell you what.
The large center drawer was at just the right height for the laptop so I set about figuring out how to cut off the drawer front so the laptop could sit in the drawer.
We had built that desk from a kit that we bought in a (literal) fire sale many years ago. The insurance company was selling everything from a warehouse that had caught on fire and the prices were pretty good. Putting the desk together ages ago somehow gave me the impression it was OK for me to take a saw to it now.
I used the table saw and the miter saw to cut off the drawer front. I pulled out the little cutoff piece of the bottom from the slot in the drawer front and glued in a new piece of hardwood to fill the slot.
My plan was to use a brass piano hinge to join the front to the bottom so that you could tip the front down and back up. The bottom of the drawer, however, was a thin piece of plywood so I glued Continue reading Drop Down Desk Drawer Delight→
So I was down in the carport, which is under the house, minding my own business when I noticed water dripping on the sheets of MDF for my new workshop. I ran up stairs to the kitchen where my ever-loving wife, “Hazel” (not her real name), was cleaning up the dishes. “Something’s leaking!” I announced in my this-is-serious-but-do-not-be-excessively-alarmed voice. Hazel had been unaware of the problem because the sink and faucet looked fine but when I opened the door under the sink we were looking at the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
After taking out the soggy contents of the sink cabinet and sopping up the water we figured out that the faucet leaked only when it was turned on and only under the sink. I pulled out the sprayer, which is on a flexible stainless steel hose, and made sure the hose was screwed on tightly to the sprayer because recently the faucet was leaking a little and that was the reason. When I turned on the faucet, it looked like the water was spraying out of the middle of the hose, which I have to admit I’ve never seen before.
I shut off the water supply, disconnected both ends of the hose, and then sawed off the connector on one end so I could pull out the rubber tubing inside.
As you can see in the next photo, it had a good-sized hole in it. This faucet was about 9 years old and the hose saw relatively little use. (I am in no way saying Hazel doesn’t use the kitchen sink very often. She does the dishes and cleans up just as often as any other American housewife. She just doesn’t pull out the sprayer excessively when she uses the faucet. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.)
Apparently these hoses fail pretty often because the Big Box stores carry replacement hoses that you can put in fairly easily. It wasn’t too hard to imagine some other part failing on that aging faucet in the near future so I bought a new faucet instead. Besides, I’ve never gotten in trouble for buying something new for my ever-loving wife’s kitchen.
Getting out the old faucet is not rocket surgery but it can be tricky because there is no room to work. To get the nut off that holds the faucet in place you really need a special faucet wrench, which is shown in the photo. You put the jaws around the nut and then twist the handle to unscrew it.
I gently pressed the tubes of the new faucet together so I could slide on the top ring and feed the tubes through the hole in the counter top. Then underneath the sink I slid the big washers and nut over the faucet tubes and tightened the nut to hold the faucet in place. This is where it would have been helpful to have an assistant to hold the faucet from above to keep it from turning as I tightened the big nut with the faucet wrench. Unfortunately, my ever-loving wife was unavailable at the time and I had to prairie dog it: go under the sink, tighten a little, come back out and turn the faucet straight, back down under the sink, tighten, …
Hooking up the water supply tubes to the faucet tubes is not difficult–if the tubes are long enough. The tubes on the new faucet were shorter than the old faucet, which meant that the supply tubes didn’t reach. The tubes on the faucet are different lengths so that their connectors don’t hit when you feed them down the hole in the counter top. I took the longer supply tube and connected it to the longer faucet tube. Since I didn’t want to make another trip to Lowe’s right away, I “appropriated” a longer supply tube from another sink that we don’t use very often.
I have since read that it is a good idea to replace the supply tubes when you replace the faucet because they do wear out and leak. Get a handful of sizes of the braided tubes when you buy the faucet and then return the ones you don’t need. Saves trips to the store.
The old faucet used two holes in the counter top (one for the handle and one for the spout) but the new faucet uses only one. So instead of replacing the old soap dispenser with the new, I decided to install the new soap dispenser in the hole next to the faucet and leave the old one in the outside corner of the sink: one for dish soap and the other for hand soap.
Hazel is happy with the new faucet because it is stylish and easy to use. (Did I mention that she frequently washes dishes? Multiple times a week, I’d say.) I’m happy because my lumber isn’t sitting under Niagara Falls.