Category Archives: home

A poor carpenter also praises his tools

Published by:

homeimprovement.jpg

Let me add to the list of new tools that are making my home improvement project so much easier the simple expedient of a new lightweight, high-powered Milwaukee circular saw. After just a couple of days of working with this modern marvel, I want to get into a time machine, go back 20 years and beat myself for the next 20 years for holding onto and using my father’s and grandfather’s 1960s vintage circular saws. WHAT WAS I THINKING? This baby cuts through OSB like butter. Butter! If you could cut butter and leave a clean, straight edge without that initial drift that I had just accepted as part of the process. Power, weight, accuracy, ease of adjustment: let’s be clear, I have wasted days, perhaps weeks of my life struggling with those old saws when I could have had something better all this time. As Tom & Ray always said, it’s the stingy man who spends the most.

Enhanced by Zemanta

The curse of home repair

Published by:

Renovations DSC_5946.jpg

I’m never sure whether to thank or curse my father for whatever he taught me about carpentry. My mother’s father and grandfather were carpenters, my father was a carpenter for a period of time, and all through my life, if something needed doing on the house, we did it ourselves. So I’m cursed with just enough knowledge to believe I can do almost anything myself (except I know I’m bad with concrete), just enough skill to get by (though in my sixth decade, I’m almost good at it), and a hatred of paying contractors outrageous rates to do something I can do myself. So when estimates for replacing our 72-year-old porch came in somewhere in the stratosphere, my wife asked, “Well, can you do this?” Uh, yeah. Sorta.

The challenge with house carpentry is that if you don’t do it all the time, you don’t really know how to do it. You just know how to figure it out. Figuring it out takes a lot longer. And because it’s my house, and my yard, I’m way more careful about the demolition part, especially the millions of nails and shards of glass that come from demolishing a glassed-in porch. I’d like to walk in the yard again someday, so I have to try to be careful about where the pointy stuff lands. (Can’t get that from a contractor).

A few minor technological revolutions have made this vastly easier than any other project I’ve undertaken. First, let me sing the praises of the laser-guided chop saw. Somehow I’ve gotten by for more than 20 years of home ownership without a chop saw, and no, I don’t know why, but man am I glad I have one now. There is a little red laser light that tells me precisely where the blade will cut. It is unbelievable. If I make a mistake, it is only in measuring, no longer in figuring out where the kerf will be. No need to get out the square and draw a cut line — just find the right measure, mark it, line it up with the laser, and chop away. Not to mention that I get the perfect square cuts that always seem to elude me on the table saw.

Second, I finally invested in a new tape measure with engineer’s marks. This means it’s in English measures, but provides decimal fractions of feet. Instead of having to figure out English fractions (and divide them, which is always the challenge), I measure something out as 4.1 feet. Still in feet, with the easy math of metric. Flaming brilliant. (Though I will ask, why have all tape measures gotten so thick? The smallish-handed among us can hardly maneuver the things.)

Third, I invested in a new Milwaukee drill/driver, with the hope that when its batteries can no longer take a charge I’ll be able to get replacements . . . which has not been true for the past two Craftsman drills I’ve had. And not only does this magnificent device show me how much charge is in the battery, it shines a brilliant LED light right on the space I’m drilling. Suddenly, I can see what I’m doing as soon as I put up the drill, instead of having it block the light. So obvious, so brilliant.

Last but not least, the very process of ordering the major parts, doors and windows, has become considerably simpler because you can download all the dimensions and specifications from the internet, figure out your spacing and what will fit there, and start to draw up your plans before you even set foot in the home improvement store. When you order windows every decade or two, it’s a bit of a daunting task, but being able to read through all the specifications and installation instructions makes it much easier.

So if you don’t hear from me, it’s because I’m lashed to my laser-guided chop saw.

Centrally located

Published by:

Albany Troy map

Albany Troy map (Photo credit: carljohnson)

This started out as a long, dreary post about why I live where I live, but I thought I’d cut the dreary. The “Non-Urban” part of My Non-Urban Life is that I’m in an early suburb, set just across the river and up a hill from the filth and noise of the city, advertised as a place for healthful living just minutes away by trolley. We’re on little village lots, close to our neighbors (in good and bad ways), on streets that should have had sidewalks but don’t. I live a block from a lovely little lake that has been the center of neighborhood activity since a neighborhood was installed on historic old farmland more than 85 years ago. The schools are good, the politics petty, and diversity almost non-existent. So sometimes I wish I lived in a place where I could tuck down the street for a morning coffee or an evening decaf or grab some groceries without getting in a car (although honestly, there are limited places in the city where that’s true). Since the number one thing I hate about my current location, perhaps the only thing, is one of my current neighbors, going back into a city setting and getting even closer (physically) to my neighbors seems unappealing.

But there are some other parts of the urban fabric I miss. Sidewalks, for instance. Stoops. Looking at the details on the brownstones. Somehow taking a walk through our neighborhood and looking at one sloppy vinyl siding job after another isn’t the same as tripping down Second Street in Troy and looking at the ornate doors and window casings. I miss wondering what goes on in the secluded back patios, what little gems of gardens are hidden there. And I miss being able to walk to work, as I could and did for several years in Syracuse and Albany. While it’s hard to figure out where jobs are going to take you, I’ve worked a substantial number of my years in downtown Albany, and my wife now works in downtown Troy, and it would be nice for one or the other to be able to roll out the door and down the street for a brisk 20-minute walk, rather than having to contend with traffic and bus schedules and the problems of crossing the bridge by bike.

So as we’ve just refinanced and are looking at finally making this into the house we wanted it to be, it’s also tempting to just re-assess and see if there isn’t a better location. I find downtown Troy absolutely charming and have enjoyed the residents I’ve met, but wonder if it could fit my lifestyle. Right now it doesn’t seem that way — I don’t see city houses with off-street parking, room for bikes and boats, and a decent separation from neighbors at a price I can pay. Or where I do, they’re essentially in neighborhoods just like mine, not adding a lot of walkability or diversity; they’re just suburban houses in a city.

So I think we’re staying put in our little slice of non-urbia.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Floored.

Published by:

Home ImprovementBusy. Not all good. Winter’s finally here, or at least the cold and blowy parts of it, and I’ve been off the bike, which is fine because I always need a break from it. Been on the skates a bit though,which has been fantastic for my old broken knee. Turns out to be just what I needed to finally, after a year, get it back to feeling normal. I can even kneel again, which I proved over the weekend by installing a new floor in the hallway. Usually when I finally get around to a project that I’ve put off for 20 years, I find out exactly the reason I’ve put it off — they prove to be nightmares. This one wasn’t like that, it proved to be a dream, especially with my new laser-guided chop saw. That thing’s a frickin’ dream, and for the first time ever I got the trim exactly perfect, everywhere.

All I said was,

Published by:

DSC_0756 sm.jpg“It’s a shame we can’t reuse those practically brand new countertops you’re going to throw out, Mom.” Next thing I know, my kitchen is a worksite. There is painting, and drilling, and plumbing, and sanding, and countertop finishing, and every tool I own is in the kitchen, and we’re working around it trying to make meals. And, of course, get our regular work done. I should know better than to give my mother an idea about renovating things, especially when she’s not offering to actually do the work.

By the way, “measure twice, cut once”? How about “measure twice, then before you cut go back and check the original dimensions that you’re working from and be sure they were right in the first place”? Because I don’t want to believe that a certain replacement drawer is cursed, but it doesn’t seem possible I could build it to the wrong size twice, so gypsy curse becomes the most believable explanation.

This is what happens in July

Published by:

Because some people in this house are too consumed with the Tour de France each night to be bothered with common housework, there is precisely one clean cereal bowl in the house this morning. It is handpainted and marked as “Mom’s Bowl,” but I am using it despite this possessive proclamation. There are, however, two clean spoons (and, if absolutely necessary, titanium sporks).

Iced summer

Published by:

Summer is here — climatologically, astronomically, and emotionally. That means keeping cold drinks in the refrigerator. We make a lot of iced tea, lemonade, and iced coffee. Here are the recipes I use.

Iced Tea
I use decaffeinated Lipton tea bags, in the big cheap box of 72. I add 4 cups of very hot (not boiling) water to 5 tea bags, let it steep for 4-6 minutes, then remove the tea bags. Let it sit and cool, then mix with more cold water and/or ice cubes to bring it to 2 quarts (64 oz., and when for the love of reason are we going to go metric?). If you want to sweeten it, add lemonade.

Iced Coffee
I make a batch of double-strength coffee in my french press — using 8 scoops of beans instead of the normal 4 for 32 oz. Pour the coffee and let it cool (the point is not to pour hot liquids into a plastic pitcher, which is what I’ve got), then add water or ice to bring to 2 quarts. That’s still strong enough that you’ll do well to add ice when serving.

Lemonade
Just started making it this way, and love it. Are fresh-squeezed lemons the best? They are. Are they the cheapest? They are not. So I use bottled pure lemon juice, sometimes supplemented with squeezings from a couple of fresh lemons. In a small sauce pan, heat 1 cup of water and add 1 cup of sugar — this will liquify the sugar and keep it from precipitating out. Don’t boil! Then add 1 cup of lemon juice, and mix with cold water and/or ice to bring to the magical 2 quarts (guess what size my pitchers are?). Again, this concentration allows for ice when serving.

Remember – there isn’t a man, woman or child alive who doesn’t enjoy a nice cold beverage!