Sunday, May 11, 2008

A Horrible Day

Well, I'm glad today's almost over.

It started with me offering to mow the in-laws' lawn. My father-in-law is a demon when it comes to keeping his lawn looking good, but he recently had an operation and the aftercare means no strain whatsoever. The man being the way he is, he ignored that advice, burst his stitches and nearly bled to death. After that, he was willing to trust his now badly overgrown lawn to an amateur like me.

You must understand, my father-in-law thinks I am a walking waste of quantum mechanics, and I don't spend any effort to disabuse him of that view. My lawn is often a tangle of waist-high dandelions that when I eventually do get round to cutting turns out to be made almost entirely of brown grass. I have half a lawn of that grass that turns brown in winter and goes green again in spring, but mine takes its time about getting out of bed and so is often still brown in July.

I estimated two hours for the job and agreed to be there around 10:30 am to 11 am.

Then Mrs Stevie discovered that either a raccoon or a possum had used our front cedar deck as a latrine and so I had to wash the entire deck with soap and bleach (the stench from these droppings, which I find on our land once or twice a year, is truly mind boggling and Action was Called For). There went the first half hour of that schedule.

Then I proved incapable of starting the MrsStevieDad's weed-wacker without help. Mine has a centrifugal clutch and you start it by messing with the choke, pumping the priming button a given number of times, wedging your foot against the cutting head and pulling like mad on the string. The MrsStevieDad's weed-wacker had no clutch, and so when I jammed my foot on the cutter head and gave the starting string my signature pull (the same move is used by Kung-Fu masters for breaking the ribs of attackers to the rear with their elbow) I almost dislocated all the fingers of my right hand at the first joint.

"That's the ticket" I cried, and gave my sneering father-in-law an ad-hoc demonstration of improvisational Folk Dance which he probably didn't appreciate to the fullest, being a philistine.

Once the weed-wacker had been mastered, it was time to meet the lawnmower, the architect of my agonised right arm. Like my mower, it was a Sears model. Unlike my own mower, it wasn't self-propelled. It was quite small and light, however, so that would compensate until the bag filled with clippings. We gassed it up and checked the oil. Everything looked good.

It started after only eight or nine pulls on the cord.

I noticed that the mower actually took more effort to start than my own, despite having a smaller engine. Said engine also ran with a disconcerting "hunt1" which if I didn't know better was the signal of something Not Right in the works.

"It always runs like that" said the MrsStevieDad.

I got almost his entire back lawn done before the mower conked out and refused to run. We pulled the spark plug, which was black as the ace of spades. The engine was running rich, or had been when it was running. The MrsStevieDad ran it through his wire-wheel to clean it while I pondered the problem. Too much gas could mean too much gas or it could mean too little air. The former would probably be caused by the automatic choke not working properly. The latter by a blocked air filter.

The air filter for this mower turned out to be a piece of sponge dampened with oil. First order of business would be to replace that and see if it magicked the engine back to life. I jumped in my car and set out for the local Sears.

I don't know why I did that since they never have anything I'm looking for. I drove to a non-local Sears, then an Ace hardware before giving up. When I got back I told my father-in-law that it was probably easier to get parts for the Space Shuttle than his mower, and he would have to order one. I refitted the filter and pulled on the string, and the mower sprang to life in a cloud of black smoke.

I'll do the front lawn while it is still running" I yelled, and got all but a 5x20 foor section in the middle when the mower quit again and refused to start no matter how many times I pulled the starting cord.

I looked around and rehearsed quitting on the MrsStevieDad. It had now been almost four hours and the job was cursed with a capital cur. I could wait another half hour until the mower engine was cold whereupon it would most likely start (my current theory is the busted choke one) but it was looking like rain. I wanted to quit but much as this man cannot stand the sight or sound of me I couldn't find it in my heart to leave his lawn with a mohawk. The neighbours would have a field day at his expense.

A new plan sprang into being in the cortex of Mr Brain (who was so fed up with the state of affairs he had uncharacteristically been working for me rather than his usual modus operandum of thrusting improvised spokes into the wheels of my plans. I would use Mrs Stevie's car to carry my lawn mower to his house2.

It was beautiful. It was elegant. Mrs Stevie agreed and I drove home and swapped cars with her.

I unscrewed various things and managed to fold the mower up, and by the cunning artifice of sacrificing three or four vertebral discs I got it into the car. I climbed in, turned the key and fired up the engine. I was just saying goodbye to Mrs Stevie when the most gadawful racket erupted from beneath the hood of the car. Then stopped. Then restarted. With a weary sigh I popped the hood and we looked inside to see what was about to ruin our day3. Fortunately it was nothing trivial.

On the Ford Taurus there is one belt, the so-called "serpentine" belt, that provides mechanical oomph to everything possessed of a rotary input requirement. Power steering, alternator, A/C compressor, it all gets driven by the one belt. I took a look in the left hand side of the engine bay and saw the problem4. There was a pulley with a clutch that allowed it to either idle or supply drive to what I suspect is the impeller of the A/C compressor. When the clutch was disengaged everything was noisy but not excessively so. When the clutch engaged the whole pulley shook so much I thought it was about to come off its spindle. The bearing that the shaft was running in had obviously disintegrated.

Gritting my teeth I prepared to ask the age-old question husbands have asked their wives since time began: "How long has this been happening?" to which the standard answer is "How long has what been happening?5", but Mrs Stevie couldn't possibly have not noticed this so I had to surmise the demon-infestation had occurred about the time I put the key in the ignition and the question died unasked on my lips (which were actually busy trying out some new combinations of my favourite swear words, car engines for the use at).

We decided that the engine would probably hold together for the trip to and from the in-laws' place, and we were out of options anyway, so I drove to the MrsStevieDad's place in a car that periodically made loud noises that, judging from the looks of on their faces, convinced my fellow road users that the car was in immanent danger of exploding in a ball of shrapnel. The way the day was playing out the shrapnel shredding would come as blessed relief.

I unloaded my mower, pumped the primer a few times and pulled the starter cord with a wince - my arm had been strained by pulling the other mower's starter about a jillion times that day. My mower burst into life at the first pull and I was finally able to finish the wretched lawn.

I went home some five and a half hours after the job started.

If the Not Terribly Good Club of Great Britain were still in operation, I could probably get into the worst attempt to cut grass classification in their handbook6.

  1. A rhythmic speeding up and slowing down
  2. I cannot carry large machines in the trunk space afforded me in the fabulous Steviemobile
  3. Or ruiner it, I suppose, since it was already ruined from where I limped
  4. Yes I know, technically it is "a" problem and there could be more but this day of anti-handyman demon infestation has to end sometime and I'm being optimistic because if the thing I'm looking at is what I think it is it will cost mucho deniro to fix thus satiating the evil spirits that have plagued the day's events
  5. It never fails. I get in my wife's car and begin to drive it. Some new aberrant behaviour of the machine will show itself, such as the windshield falling out when the wipers are activated, the airbag deploying when the horn is pushed or flames shooting out of the heating vents while attempting to defrost the windows. "How long has this been happening?" I will ask. "How long has what been happening?" Mrs Stevie will respond, beating out the flames in her hair and clawing the passenger side airbag from her face
  6. The Book of Heroic Failures

The Agony and the More Agony

Last week I started in on the six months of misery that is summer.

I suffer from allergies, have done since I was 17 and suffered a summer at the university of East Anglia in Norwich, England where the pollen count hit a record high ten times the national average, and stayed that way for several weeks. You looked outside and it was like a yellow blizzard. From that summer on I had the most terrible trouble with Hay Fever, though I'd never had a hint of it before.

When I first came to New York I had a couple of summers with no allergies at all, which I put down to the urban eden stamping out the agricultural blight for miles around and the air conditioning that filters everything except Legionair's Disease out of the air inside the buildings and pumps pollen-repelling hot air out of the exhaust. The Manhattan thermal on any given summer week day is a thing to behold and I remain convinced despite the lack of any scientific surveys to support me1 that it actually changes the weather. Each weekday rain in the summer months becomes a rare event, yet each weekend, when the offices are closed and the A/C powered down the rain rolls in. I digress.

Over the course of the years my allergies once again re-asserted themselves.

For the first twelve years I owned Chateau Stevie I had a post nasal drip and a throat so sore I nearly went mad. It only cleared up when we went on vacation and I becoame convinced we must have a toxic mould problem in the house.

Then Mrs Stevie's cat2 died, and I discovered that I was allergic to cats as well as pollen. Some cats, at least.

This had a somewhat amusing coda in that The MrsStevieDad bought a cat soon after ours died. He meant well. The Stevieling, upon whom he dotes, was missing our cat very badly but I was able to swallow without pain for the first time in years and wasn't going to go back to that place again on a bet. We went round to his house and within minutes of the new kitten rubbing my trouser leg I had eyes like E.T. and was hissing and wheezing like Darth Vader. I've never had such a strong reaction to anything in my life. I said that I was going to have to leave soon.

"What's wrong with him?" Said the MrsStevieDad to Mrs Stevie, talking past me in the third person and making it clear that his opinion of me3 hadn't mellowed over the two decades we'd known each other.

"He's allergic to cats" snifed Mrs Stevie, sending the subliminal message that she concured mostly with her father's opinion. "Apparently".

The stunned look that greeted this announcement made everything clear in an instant of clarifying clarity. The MrsStevieDad had been expecting us to leave his house with the new kitten. I could see the visible manifestations of a plan going nails-up bigtime on his face. It was good to be able to see what that looked like from the outside for once.

It turned out to be a lucky escape because this cat was Evil Made Manifest. It stripped off yards of embossed wallpaper that was irreplaceable and of which the MrsStevieMom was inordinately fond. It shredded furniture, drapes and humans. It would beg to be petted and bite you if you were stupid enough to fall for the ploy. It was not a Nice Cat. It bit the MrsStevieMom so badly she ended up in the emergency room of Good Samaritan Hospital.


After the first time I offered to "find a farm" for it to live on. After the second the MrsStevieDad did so, and peace returned to their home.

Anyway, the allergies were kicking in again and I was begining the trip into the place I go before I end up begging for an appointment with Doc Rubberglove to see if he can fit me with a working set of lungs and eyes. I don't just get itchy eyes and sneeze a lot. Well, I do get all that, but I also get what the doctor calls "cobblestones" under my eyelids. The skin under there apparently4 gets all knobbly and the lids start oozing a sticky pus that glues my eyes shut overnight. I also cough. A lot. And then my windpipe starts to close up. Apparently the allergies induce athsma, and I usually have to suck on Doc Rubberglove's Patent Electric Medicinal Vapour Bong for 15 minutes or so just so he can hear my reaction to his bill. It is all very tiresome.

This year I thought I would get a head start in the war against nature, and so I scheduled myself for an allergy shot on Saturday (yesterday). The only problem was that Doc Rubberglove doesn't do Saturday's any more, at least any of the Saturday's I've attempted to see him on. I was informed that Doc Rubberglove's partner in crime was on duty. This partner goes by a different name than "Rubberglove" but I happen to know that she is actually Doc Rubberglove's spouse. Since they would likely share many of the same interests, medically speaking, I generally reschedule under these conditions since having a lady squeeze my "trouser" parts or shove a latex gloved hand into the places I can't see without a cunning arrangement of mirrors has a context I prefer to keep firmly in the area of Mistress Alexa's House of Pain5, but in this case I couldn't see the harm.

The doctor, a disarmingly pleasant person with no trace of the maniacal gleam Doc Rubblerglove's eyes habitually show the world, chatted a bit, prescribed a nasal spray and gave me the shot, which I didn't feel at all. Not so much as a needle sting.

My hackles immediately rose. I did a quick survey - intra-muscular shot6, no immediate pain. This was definitely one of Doc Rubberglove's moves.

"Wow Doc", I said conversationally. "I didn't feel a thing. Is this like the cortisone shot where it hurts like heck in ten minutes, by any chance?"

"No, it doesn't hurt at all" she replied with a disarming smile, and sent me on my way.

I left the practice a little bemused at the lack of discomfort the entire proceding had inflicted. It was a first.

Then, as I was crossing the car park, someone rammed a white hot branding iron into my arm, and twisted it. I manfully bore the pain for about a quarter of a second then screamed for mercy. It did no good.

I staggered around the carpark smashing into cars, lamp-posts and passers-by, vision paling with the pain all the time begging for death, until the pain subsided enough for me to regain control of myself. I checked my watch. The doctor was right, the shot wasn't like the cortisone "ten minute delay" shot. It was more like five and the pain was orders of magnitude worse. Lesson learned there then.

Doc Rubberglove's technique is childish compared to his wife's fiendish and sophisticated methods.

  1. All the scientists being far too busy worrying about Pluto not being a planet and Lake Huron not being a "real lake", as if anyone who deals with the bloody thing on a daily basis cared
  2. He never admitted that I had any right to be in the house with Mrs Stevie, and would enact small deeds of terrorism at my expense on an almost daily schedule
  3. Which can be summed up as "Thick Dick Shirthead"
  4. I can't see it myself
  5. Offering executive correction for the delinquent businessman in discreet surroundings
  6. And yes I do still have them thank you very much, even if they are a trifle relaxed these days

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

The Rule In Abeyance On Project "Fence"?

I've been asked by a reader to explain why I didn't apply The Rule1 to the weekend's fence rebuild and acquire a gas-powered post hole auger or a fuel cell driven power nailing gun or somesuch essential tool.

In short, I did, sorta.

The taxman had recently stripped the Steviewallet of several hundred tool-acquisition dollars and rendered anything but essential tool purchases impossible, but even so I would normally have indeed justified finding $350 from somewhere for that nail gun2 had I not snuck out of the house during one of Mrs Stevie's previous absences two weeks ago and acquired a replacement for my recently self-destructed router.

I had made the descision to go with a Sears model again because:
a) I had actually liked my original Sears router very much.
2) I could not afford to buy both the expensive 3.5 horsepower plunge router I knew I needed3 and a fixed-based router
þ) The Sears 2 horsepower router I had my eye on was getting good reviews
♥ The Sears 2 horsepower router cost well under a hunnerd bux.

Of course, once I had actually visited a Sears the plan got altered a bit. I like to try out the plunge router plunge mechanism on each plunge router I see up close, and when I tried the el-cheapo Sears 1.75 horsepower model the springs were the softest I'd ever experienced. Call me A. Nidoiot but it makes no real sense to me to make the springs on a plunge tool so strong they could double as truck suspension parts. If you are trying to operate a tool , the moving part of which is razor sharp and zooming round and round more than 300 times a second, the last thing you need is to be fighting to overcome the resistance of the springs that are really only required to lift the bit clear of the workpiece, not catapult the hapless craftsman across his workshop upon releasing the plunge lock at the end of the cut.

Now I was torn. Fortunately Sears had a solution. They offered the fixed-base router I wanted with an exchangeable plunge base, and put it all in a nice case too. I verified that the plunge base was the same as the one I'd just tried and it was. Sold!

Or not.

Sometimes, the staff in Sears can be a bit dense. If you read the entry on trying to buy a cab for Troll, The Snowblower Of Supreme Spiffiness you'll see what I mean. Once again I was allowed to stand in a store while three members of staff ignored me. I wouldn't have been surprised except that I picked this particular Sears because it normally is the only local one that doesn't suffer from this problem. I was intrigued and in no particular hurry to buy so I went home. During the next week I made four trips to this Sears on the way home from my train to conduct a little unofficial research. Each time I allowed ten minutes to elapse before I left the store unhelped by any of the gossiping 20-something staff. I finally went into the store and found some elderly guys manning the fort and was, at last, helped.

Or not

It turned out that although the computer to which the national Sears website is connected and from which it was possible for me to order ahead (though I didn't) said there were four of these router kits in stock, the real value was zero. Even the display model wasn't a complete set and so they couldn't even offer to sell it to me.

Eventually I remembered there was a Sears in Hicksville, drove over to it on a Saturday night while Mrs Stevie and the Stevieling were safely out of the way, and found that they had one which they were happy to sell to me. The whole deal took about 30 minutes.

The router is all that I hoped it would be, and I used it to machine the 2x4s that I used to repair the fence between me and Crazy Joe. Given the shortage of folding cash in the Stevievault, the happiness with the New Router which, being a replacement, was acquired outside the strictures of The Rule and the lack of any real need for a new tool for Project Repair The Front Fence Before It Falls Completely Over And Kills Someone You Nitwit4 (which by itself is actually no barrier to tool acquisition, indeed, is actually the point in some cases) I couldn't justify the cost.

The new router has twice the power of the old one for chewing up wood all the faster, electronic torque control to stop those annoying motor stalls that make flames shoot out of the router louvers and pop the circuit breakers, variable speed so the larger raised panel bits don't fly apart and embed shrapnel in the Steviebod, slow start so we'll have no more of those embarrasing "dropped router" or "accidentally routed workbench/bystanding item/limb" incidents upon switching on and integral worklights so that when the urge to route with the workshop lights off is overpowering I can just go with it.

Why the money saved on trips to the emergency room alone should pay for the thing in only five or six jobs.

  1. No Tool, No Job
  2. Not a waste of money inasmuch as I would then have spent the next day fixing every single defect in the fence to try out the tool, a job that will take several days to do by conventional hammer
  3. For something as yet not actually defined
  4. Title kindly provided by Mrs Stevie

I Am Become Even More Famouserer

A quick check on just how famous this authoritative commentary on everything important1 is has revealed some long-absent and long-deserved recognition in the Interweb At Large.

A search on "The Occasional Stevie" proved what I've known for yonks: that I am #1 on Google, the Search Engine of Choice. I'd thank them, but really they are only stating the obvious and giving me my just dues. The people has spoke and when they want to put "the", "occasional" and "Stevie" together, they invariably want to end up here and who can blame them? This righteous recognition had not, however, formerly extended to the other search engines out there.

Until now that is.

Yahoo, upon being given the same criteria that for months have returned this location when using Google, has finally seen the light and begun sticking up a grudging link at the top of the possibilities. No longer must one laboriously remove "Ray Vaughn" or "Nicks" to even see a link to this blog. Took you long enough, Yahoo. No wonder Microsoft won't meet your asking share price. Thrrrrrrp!

Icing on the cake was to discover that (aka Ask Jeeves) is also bowing to popular demand and at long last disregarding the elitist cliques that for years have kept any mention of "The Occasional Stevie" off the first page of results from a search for "The Occasional Stevie", and now they position me at the top of page one where I belong. Finally. Well whoop de do. Like anyone actually uses anyway.

What does this mean to you dear reader, to me or to this literary instrument through which I address the world?

For one thing, when one or the other of you asks me for a link to "The Occasional Stevie" I can snarl "Google it for Azathoth's sake!" in the very best web 2.0 tradition, safe in the assumption that this will not result in Stevie Nicks's website being slashdotted.

Other than that, I can, with some justification, claim that not only am I number one, but that all others are number two or lower2. I've held that opinion for many years in point of fact, but now I have some statistical evidence to back it up.

But with fame comes the worry that it will prove ephemeral and I shall wake up one day to find one of the other Stevies has had some sort of occasional happening that thousands of people want to read about. I urge my three, possibly four readers to read and re-read this blog often. Several times a day should crunch the search engine stats enough to offset that new Stevie Nicks boxed CD collection being issued.

Of course, I don't want to lose the eclectic feel that only being accessed once a month gives to my work, since that ups my academia street cred and makes me that much closer to a Pulitzer.

  1. to me
  2. Yes I stole that. If you know that, you also know from where so there's no need for me to mention the wonderful movie Mystery Men or The Sphinx

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Post Post Posting

I finally decided to get my finger out and replace the newly-snapped fencepost today.

While I was at it I thought I'd add three new fence rails to the back of the panel that joins the two broken fenceposts1 and nail the pailings to them in situ as opposed to doing the job right and dismantling the fence panel and rebuilding it. I assembled a small kit of tools consisting of:
  • My 14v battery-powered drill fitted with a quick-change chuck
  • A quick change screwdriving bit
  • A set of quick-change drill bits
  • A freshly-sharpened chisel
  • Mr Hammer
  • Mr Hammer Drill2
  • A ginormous hammer drill bit
  • A box of galvanised, resin-coated 3½ deck screws
  • A box of hot-galvanised fourpenny common nails
  • A spirit level
  • A couple of pencils
  • Mr 25' Tape Measure
  • Mr Chopsaw c/w brand spanking new carbide-tipped blade3
  • A couple of those one-hand-operated pump-to-close clamps with yellow jaws

The Plan: It was now 10:30 am. I would unhook the 8-foot long gate from the post, then unfasten the screws and allow the post to fall over. I would use Mr Hammer Drill and the ginormous hammer drill bit to dig out the rotted stump from the concrete, leaving a socket into which I could drop the new post. I would unscrew the hinge pins from the old post and screw them into the new one before rehanging the gate. I would clamp Pressure Treated 2x4s to the fence rails and screw them into the posts at each end with deck screws. I would nail the pailings to the new fence rails thus formed with hot-galvanised fourpenny common nails. I would pack everything up, shower and go for lunch.

What happened: I unhitched the gate and undid the fence panel. The fence post fell over. I did a bit of drilling, but it turned out the stump of the post was entirely replaced with soil, which was a bugger to scoop out of the socket as the hole was a little narrower than my hand. I slotted the old post into the socket in the concrete pig I had poured around the original post some 12 years ago, to see if my "drop in post" theory was sound. It was. Or rather, it was until the weight of the post broke the concrete away from the patio slab and then cracked it through. The Plan was toast.

I pulled out all the fragments of concrete I could, but just as I suspected, there was enough concrete still securely embedded in the ground that I could'nt just dig a new post hole. It took a pickaxe, a sidewalk scraper, a mattock, a clamshell post hole digger and some of my most carefully hoarded antique swear words to get the bloody stuff out of the hole, which had grown to about a foot in diameter owing to the various adits I had to sink to loosen the damn concrete from its bedding.

I then made a quick dash to Home Despot and bought the best looking cedar post and three unbent, non-twisty Pressure Treated 2x4s and it was time to start rebuilding before the threatened rain happened.

When putting a fencepost in the ground you have three major choices.

You can dig a hole, prop the post up in the position you want and pour in concrete to anchor it in place. This was what I'd done before, but now had discovered was contra-indicated for cedar posts.

You can pound in a metal socket-on-a-spike affair and drop a sawn-off post into the socket. This worked well for a couple of places on the fence I put in between me and Crazy Joe. I did it that way because there were tree roots preventing a real post hole being sunk. You cut down the post because you don't need 18 inches-2 feet of post in the ground. You need a bit of the post for driving in the spike too. You put a block of wood in the post socket and pound on it with a sledgehammer (which I didn't have, but The Rule4 meant I could have one if I wanted it badly enough) until the spike, itself between 18 inches and three feet long depending on the design, is completely driven into the ground. Then you mount the post in the socket and tighten the socket's collar bolts and Bob's your Uncle. I couldn't use this method because I had doubts the post would be secure enough to serve as a gatepost.

That left the standard method of digging a hole just big enough for the post, dropping in some gravel for drainage followed by the post itself, then the earth that will support the post firmly. In order for the post not to loosen up, it is crucial to pound the earth until it drums when you hit it. The only way to get this sort of packing is to pound the earth as you go, using something thin enough to get in between the post and the hole sides and flat enough to squish the earth down. I usually go with either a piece of 2x4 or a piece of 1x1 for tight spots. Here the hole was bigger, but I had to get behind the post to pack the earth under the slab that had collapsed during concrete removal ops.

The earth itself was no problem even though I had to make up a few cubic feet lost to excised concrete blobs since I still had piles of it left over from the time I ordered topsoil for Project Put Up The Bloody Swimming Pool You Idiot5 and Mr Brain had used a moment's lack of attention to detail to inform me that there are 9 cubic feet in a cubic yard instead of the customary 27. I had stashed this earth around the property cunningly disguised as molehills and explained the inferred size of the moles that made them as the inevitable result of the Love Canal and Three Mile Island ecological disasters, along with certain regrettable side effects of the Staten Island landfills.

I managed to get the new post bedded in place with only the usual wrist sprains from having to pound earth with a sawn-off 2x4, and began the removal of the hinge pins from the old post.

These are basically an L-shaped piece of iron. One leg is the pin on which the hinge sits, the other has a huge screw thread milled into it and forms the anchor. The thread in question is over a quarter of an inch in diameter and about three inches long, and they have to be put into tight pilot holes because the cedar is soft and you don't want the pins letting go of their grip by stripping the thread of the hole. Needless to say, this meant that it was extremely tedious with a capital teed to get them out of the old post. I ended up using the stem off an old ladder-type truck jack as a tommy-bar, slipping it over the pin to form the lever. Because the resulting affair drew out a circle some three and a half feet in diameter, life didn't get very much less tedious after applying this solution, but I did get the pins out.

I used the gate to guestimate where the new holes had to be and drilled them into the post. I made the bottom hole a bit bigger than the other two (three hinges on this gate) because I knew I wouldn't have the room to swing my tommy bar - the drive was in the way. I reasoned that the top and middle hinges would take the lion's share of the strain anyway. It actually worked out rather well, apart from straining my elbow and shoulder rather more than I can stand these days. Then it was time to rehang the gate.

I heaved. I hoed. I cursed. I swore. Eventually, I constructed a cunning machine I call "the bloody great pile of wood under the gate" and used it to hold up one end while I wiggled, dropped and finally engaged the hinges on the pins at the other. I estimate this would be an easy job for three or even two people at a pinch. It almost killed me doing it alone (Mrs Stevie and The Stevieling were off playing miniature golf). Still, it only remained to nail up some 2x4 fence rails and I was done for the day.

The rails in question had, of course, to be cut to length since the panel they were for was less than full length. For this I used the newly re-bladed chopsaw, a venerable veteran of my outdoor construction projects. I almost cut my fingers off because since changing out the blade from the original high-speed steel one that essentially rubbed its way through the wood, I'd only cut maple, a considerably harder wood than the pine the Pressure Treated 2x4s are made from.

The new blade cut through the 2x4s effortlessly. I mean that quite literally. I was expecting, from several years working on PT wood with the saw, to have to supply some small amount of oomph with my right arm. The new carbide blade went through the wood like a hot knife through molten soft ice-cream. There was literally no resistance at all and the entire 3½ inch cut took about a tenth of a second6. I was totally unprepared for that and almost fed my hand into the saw as a result. I did some manly grunting at my new mastery of all things Pressure Treated and got back to work.

I got the first and most important rail installed under the original so it would support the weight of the panel, drilled out the pilot holes and screwed it into place. Then I got busy with Mr Hammer and nailed the fence to the rail at each pailing. No w the fence was secure I could mount the next two rails with a bit more ease.

Unfortunately, while I was drilling one of the pilot holes I snapped off one of my quick-change bits.

I was mad about that. First off, the bit simply hasn't been worked that hard. I was making pocket cuts that involve starting the hole then carefully swinging the drill to an angle of about 45 degrees. The drill was still factory sharp and shouldn't have failed, but it did. The problem is that I don't think I can obtain single quick-change bits from this manufacturer. I'll probably have to buy an entire set if I want to replace it, and I do. The quick change drills snap into a hexagonal socket and lock in place. They can be released by pulling on the outside of the quick change chuck. It saves valuable time and you don't get drills slipping in a poorly tightened chuck. One of the most wearying facets of a job like this fence thing is the need to keep swapping between a drill and a screwdriver, or between two drill bits. Some people use two drills, but that just means more to put away after the job is done. These quick change fittings are one of the best ideas I've personally used in over two decades of tooly stuff. Oh well.

By the time I'd managed to get everything back on track and finished the nailing I was groaning from all the muscle pains and I barely made it up the stairs to the shower.

Still, the fence looks good now.

  1. The one I'm about to describe the replacement of and the one in the corner that I don't want to get involved with. Keep up!
  2. It's a drill that hammers. The best of both worlds
  3. It turns out that in normal operation the saw should not fill the room with clouds of choking blue smoke and leave scorch marks on the workpiece
  4. No Tool, No Job
  5. Project title kindly supplied by Mrs Stevie
  6. Memo to self: Only carbide blades from now on. Steel ones are not in the same league.