Tuesday, January 18, 2011

DIY Tolerance: A Heartfelt Plea

In every long-term couple, there are divisions of labour. It just falls out that way. One person cooks, the other one doesn't - because they really shouldn't. One person does more laundry than the other. One person gets more friendly with the vacuum cleaner than the other.

And one person handles the minor household patches, fixes, repairs and chores. The dreaded DIY stuff.

In this house, that's me. Natalie is a very good doctor, a fine fiddler, and a dab hand with sushi. But her cooking is limited. And while she probably sees more of the vacuum cleaner than I do, the laundry generally lands in my lap more often. No problems there. But when it comes to picking up tools and fixing something, that's my territory.

This is interesting, of course, because I've no particular natural inclination in that direction. Indeed, before shifting to the countryside and having three kids, I was inclined to ignore that shit altogether. (Mostly we lived in rented houses, after all.)

But now I'm a dad, and a home-owner. And so I have a garage full of tools, and I use them. But I do not always use them to the time-frame and effect that Natalie would desire.

Case in point: quite some time ago, we paid to have some floor-length drapes installed in the boys' room, and in the Mau-Mau's room. There's a lot of glass in those rooms, and in winter, that means heat loss. Particularly for the Mau-mau: I designed (and the builder installed!) a big, lovely, bay-window type alcove that turned her bedroom from a pokey little box into a beautifully light and airy place for a little girl. But of course, the winter thing... that room could get seriously cold.

Hence the drapes.

Unfortunately, the folk who installed the drapes only anchored the supports into timber at either end. In the middle, they just stuck the screw into the plasterboard. This probably wouldn't have been an issue if the room wasn't owned and operated by a five-year-old. She decided that those big, salmon-pink curtains would make a good swing, you see... and naturally, that screw in the middle pulled loose, taking with it a chunk of plasterboard. And then the curtain-rod pulled apart in the centre, and the whole goddam thing came cascading down.

(It's really irritating. If they'd situated that curtain rod five centimetres lower, the central support would have been screwed straight into a chunk of hardwood that goes from one end of the bay window alcove to the other. Five goddam centimetres.)

Anyway. I drilled the two parts of the curtain rod and rejoined them with a dowel-peg and glue arrangement. But the actual remounting of the rod has languished for about three months now.


Well, let me take you through the job I did today. Step by step.

1) Cut a decent access hole in the plasterboard: to do this, I had to buy a reciprocating saw. (I wanted one anyway.) I also had to lug a ladder into the Mau-mau's room, and clear enough crap off her floor to set it in position.

2) After moving the insulation, I then had to measure the distance to the various chunks of support timber, and calculate the size of the piece of wood I needed to insert in order to provide adequate support for the curtain rod. Then I had to track down a bit of timber that might do the job, and trim it up to fit. (Bench saw, carpenter's square, measuring tape.)

3) Having cut the timber to fit, I then climbed back up and stuck it in place to ascertain it fit properly. (Not doing that would have ensured I had the wrong sized bit of wood, of course.) Once I was certain, I then drilled a couple peg-holes in the support beam behind the spot where my bit of timber would sit. I drilled a couple of corresponding holes in the back of my bit of wood. I applied PVA glue to the wooden surfaces, and to two dowel-pegs which I then inserted into my bit of wood. And then I banged my bit of wood into position, so the pegs fit into the pre-drilled holes, allowing the glue and the pegs to hold it all together. (Electric drill. Dowel/peg bit. Dowel-pegs. Wood glue. Mallet.)

4) For certainty's sake, I drove a long wood screw at an angle through the lower front of the new bit of support timber, so that the screw came through into the bit of timber underneath, anchoring the new bit of timber on a second axis. (Rechargeable drill; phillips-head driver; phillips-head screw.)

5) Next, I measured the hole I'd cut in the plasterboard, and then cut myself a similar-size and shape piece of plasterboard from a chunk I had spare after the renovations. (Pencil, measuring-tape, bench saw.)

6) Of course, the hole was a touch irregular, so I climbed the ladder, put my new chunk of plasterboard in place, checked where it didn't fit, and marked it. Then I went back down the ladder, out onto the deck, and trimmed the chunk of plasterboard down. (Pencil, reciprocating saw.)

7) Getting close now. I mixed some fast-setting two-part epoxy resin glue, and applied it both to the back of my plasterboard patch, and to the new piece of timber I'd set in place behind that hole. Then I put the new piece of plasterboard in place, and held it for a couple minutes until it dried enough to stay put of its own accord. (Two-part epoxy; disposable mixing surface; disposable mixing rod.)

8) Next, I checked my plastering gear. Okay - I had plaster-mix for making repairs, but I didn't have the tools to spread it with. A quick trip down to Scottsdale fixed that (and I picked up the groceries, too.)

9) I mixed a batch of plaster, and carefully spread it over the plasterboard patch, ensuring that it filled all the little holes around the edges, and smoothed it roughly level with the surface of the existing plasterboard. I also carefully marked the place where my installed bit of timber sits, because of course I shall have to put a mounting screw in there for the curtain rod support. Then, of course, I quickly washed up the tools I'd used before the plaster could set. (Steel bowl; measuring cup; plaster mix; plastering scrapers).

So, that's where we stand at the moment. When the plaster is properly dry, I'll get the tool that holds the fine sandpaper, and I'll spend half an hour sanding the plaster back until it's completely level and smooth with the wall. (Yes. That will be a dusty, shitty, messy job. On top of a ladder.)
After that, I will grab the cordless drill again, and put in a mounting screw. Of course, I'll have to carefully measure the location so that it provides proper positioning for the curtain rod support.

Once that's done, I can then put the curtain rings back on the rod, replace the pelmet on the end, and mount the rod back on its supports. And then I'll be able to hang the f__king drapes back up, and once more, the Mau-Mau will have curtains.

Of course, the plastered patch won't match the paint. Therefore at some point, I will again take down the curtains and the rod, remove the curtain rod supports, put down a bunch of dropcloths, acquire a clean paint roller and a new tray. I will check that the tin of wall-paint is still good, and if not, I will go to the hardware store and pick up another lot. Then I can climb that ladder and carefully reapply the 'Bohemia'-shaded paint to the wall. If I'm very careful and lucky, I won't smudge the white ceiling, and I'll be able to stop short of repainting the ceiling too.


I'd like to think you get the picture now. I'd like to believe you can understand why some apparently small jobs can languish for what seems an unexpectedly long time. But just to make sure, allow me to point out that I'm supposed to do all this while still keeping three kids underfoot, answering the phone, handling the home chores, doing the shopping, the laundry, and making dinner.

Today, Nat was home to handle the kids. Today I'd caught up most of my deadlines. Today, Natalie agreed to make sushi for dinner.

Today, there is no longer a hole in the wall where the Mau-Mau chose to swing from her curtains.

Those of you who do NOT have the job of slinging the tools around the household - please... a little patience, if you could. It helps.


  1. OKAY!, I got to the end of the fifth paragraph and started laughing, sure in the knowledge I knew full well where this was going. And FK ME!, I was not disappointed.

    Recip saw's...GOLD!, I only bought mine when I was doing the decking recently, and yes!, I had wanted one as well for a long time. One of the best pieces of kit you can have.

    Thats also perhaps going to enlighten people as to why, even small jobs, require expenditure far far greater than whats first envisaged, usually more than the other half thinks it should too. Typically that culminates in a discussion along the lines of " did you really need that piece of kit", followed by a response of " well you wanted the job done properly didn't you".

    Yeah, x 5 for the time they think it will take...in most cases. And then, thats on the basis you have all the gear required.

    If yoy EVER! require written certification to support your arguments or decision on this front, I am ONLY TO WILLING TO PROVIDE SUCH!

  2. The trick is that the non-repairman partner needs to clear the schedule and take over the day-to-days to get the 'specials' done. Good work Mr Flinthart.

  3. Thank you, gentlemen. I believe we need to form some kind of support group -- the "Non Professional Home Repair Network" or something similar.

    It's kind of like writing a book, really. Everybody out there thinks that, 'cos they can read and they can operate a keyboard, they've got a novel hidden somewhere up their fundament. But there's a reason writer's spend a long, long time getting their shit on the page.

    Likewise repairwork. There are blokes who make their living by plastering. And other blokes who fix problems with timber. I just did a job (admittedly, a small one) involving both, and I did it on the basis of observation, research, experience of working alongside the professional blokes, logic, and stubbornness.

    Totally not enough respect out there for "handyman" work.

  4. That was fkn gold. Ïts amazing what you can actually do if you're supposedly not what some call "handy". But the time involved, the time and need for unfettered work space, are the hard bits. Tools can be bought or borrowed or hired and skills gained, even by a retarded DIYér such as nyself. Its the time and the clearance.
    Pour yourself a wee dram. Just one, it starts again tomorrow.

  5. Great post, Flint. Your a man of many trades and challenges.Tomorrow indeed! starts all over again.Chuckles...Hopefully all will stay intact.

  6. Therbs: solidarity, bro. You know... there ought to be a reality TV show in which Ordinary Blokes set out to do renovations, etc. And then the TV team rescues them once they're either hospitalized, or broke, or the house has imploded.

    SW: Nice to hear from you, ma'am! Many trades and challenges -- eh, it's all self-defense, innit? One does what one must!