Archive | August, 2012

Drain Disdain

12 Aug

This was going to be a product review. The drain in our bathroom was not clogged, but it was a little slow, like if you put both faucets on full blast the drain wouldn’t keep up and the sink would start to fill and then take a while to drain down. I decided I’d try some drain cleaner since I didn’t feel like trying to snake it out. I went to our local hardware store and was recommended a product that was supposed to work very well. Here’s the picture of it from when this was supposed to be a simple product review.

It’s called FlowEasy drain opener and it’s supposed to be more gentle than something like Drano. It’s a buffered acid which supposedly means it’s not bad for the pipes, although the precautions they suggest you take to protect the sink sort of make me think it might not be that gentle after all.
The directions ask you to pour in a certain amount, a pint in this case, and then cover the drain and wait 15 minutes (but no longer) and then rinse with cold water for 5 minutes. As soon as I put the liquid in you could tell a reaction was occurring, it is activated by contact with water. They warned me it could smell pretty strong so I opened the window, turned on the exhaust fan and closed the door while I waited the 15 minutes. I went downstairs and you could actually feel the heat in the pipes from the action of the acid. When I rinsed it out it seemed like the water was flowing great, I cleaned up and cleaned the bathroom and I was pretty pleased.
The next morning, however, I ran the sink and it started to back up. It backed up to the point that it would not drain at all. I think what happened was that some of the gunk that was dissolved by the acid finally broke loose and piled upon itself to cause a clog. I hoped maybe a little plunger work would help but all it did was push loose crud around and I was also rewarded with water shooting out the overflow. Even when I tried to cover the overflow plunging still didn’t do the trick.


It was time to get some tools out and try to find where the clog was and hopefully dislodge it. I got a shallow pan and a cup from the recycling bin and emptied all the water I could from the sink, then I took off the P-trap to see if that contained the clog. I did a pretty good job of containing the spillage, and there was some loose particles in the trap, but nothing major. the pipe was pretty clean. I then tried to remove the tail piece where it connects to the drain in the wall, which was a tough job, but finally with a pipe wrench and the assistance of a mallet I was able to break it loose. There was not visible clog at this point either so I went and got the snake, which is just coiled flat steel with a little hook on the end to try to catch hair and other debris that might cause a clog. The fear with a snake is that once it’s in the pipes the hook might actually hook onto something solid and you won’t be able to get it back. This was not a problem for me because I couldn’t even get the snake around the first bend. The drain goes into the wall and then quickly goes to T fitting, with one pipe going down for the drain and one above going straight up for the vent line. This is a straight T fitting and the snake just did not want to go around this corner no matter what I did. It was very tempting to try to use more chemicals to break down the remaining clog but I didn’t want to get dressed down by the person I knew I’d be calling if it didn’t work.

So, I skipped that step and some aggravation and went straight to the calling an expert step. It’s a tough thing for a person like me to have to do, to admit that I couldn’t do something that seems to be within my capabilities. But, I really didn’t feel like re-builidng the entire drain system for the house, and I have a feeling Corinne might not be too pleased to be showering at the gym while I tried to figure out how to do so. I’m sure I could do it if I really wanted to, but it would probably be time consuming and messy, and I had already spent too much time monkeying around under the sink. When I talked to Deegan, the plumbers that installed our new heating system, they said they could send somebody by later that day. When he showed up he obviously was a little concerned with what I had put down the drain, but he actually seemed to condone my do it yourself effort, and gave me credit for at least trying. He brought in the power snake, which is a little more sophisticated, and work off a drill motor powered coiled snake, which is a lot more flexible than the solid spring steel.

This machine spins around to try to scrape the walls of the pipes and dig in to clogs and drive them out. Even with the big machine he still had to fight the hard turns in the pipe. He did pull out a very old toothpaste cap, which probably was helping to create a dam. After a while of trying he wasn’t sure he had gotten it but he was a hitting a point where the snake would not go any farther in so he decided to try re-assembling the drain and running some water to try it out. It flowed nicely and we even ran the tub and flushed the toilet to make sure the clog hadn’t relocated itself. It wasn’t exactly cheap to have this service performed, which is why I tried to avoid it in the first place, but the plumber did say that at least I should be reassured by the fact that even he had trouble with the big machine.

A few days later our drain still seems to be in working order so hopefully that should be it as long as we can avoid dropping caps down the drain!


Stihl Working

8 Aug

The chainsaw we have, which was donated to us by Corinne’s Dad, has been out of commission for some time because the bolt that holds the bar on was stripped out. More specifically, it’s actually a stud and it was actually the aluminum casing of the saw itself that was stripped out. Aluminum is a great, lightweight material but it is relatively soft and therefor threaded holes are easily stripped out if over-torqued. I think this was the case due to the missing chain tension adjuster mentioned in an older post. I was a little nervous to tackle this repair for two reasons; first, if you screw up the repair you don’t really get a second chance and second, I didn’t have the necessary tool to do the job. OK… who are we kidding? I think everyone knows that I’d just see that as a reason to get another tool. I tried to resist, though and asked the mechanic next door to work to see if he could repair the threads. After about a month and a half of him being sorry he didn’t get around to it every time I stopped by I took it back and took matters into my own hands. I went and searched out a Heli-Coil kit to fix the threads. I wound up getting it at County Line Hardware in Huntington, which is right around the corner from my old apartment. As always they were very helpful and were able to determine what type of thread size I needed (Metric 8 x 1.25) and supply me with the needed kit to do the repair.
Follow along as I go through the repair step by step:

The first step is to drill out the damaged threads with a specific size drill bit that is called for by the tap. (I didn’t take a picture of this) It’s important to try to keep the drill bit as true to the direction of the original hole as possible. Then you take the tap in a tap wrench and basically screw it in to the hole you just drilled. Again, it is crucial to keep the tap aligned properly. I actually was a tiny bit off but luckily it was close enough to get away with.


The tap is essentially a hardened bolt which cuts new threads, it has recesses to catch the metal shavings as they come off.


Here is the newly tapped hole.


This is a look at the actual Heli-Coil itself, with the installation tool and the tap in the background, it is basically like a spring where the exterior fits perfectly into the cut thread and the inside fits the bolt that fits the original hole. The little tang sticking in to the middle is how the installation tool drives it in.


The installation tool has the same thread as the bolt that will go on with a little notch that engages the tang so it spins it in rather than just threading through it.


This is a view of the fully inserted Heli-Coil, the thread is now repaired. The tang is broken off by inserting a hardened punch and giving it a smart tap, it has a little notch in it so it breaks off easily.


The last step is to install the original bolt or stud into the repaired hole.


I actually wound up replacing the stud with a brand new one because the original nut was a bit stuck on and it was easier to get a new one for 85 cents rather than fight with the old one.

I’m happy to report that I was able to rebuild the chainsaw, install the bar and chain and actually start it. I gave it a test spin and then shut it down to tension the blade a little. Then I made my arm sore trying to get it started again, first because I had the cutoff switch in the Off position and then because it was out of gas! Once I put some gas in it and turned the switch On I was able to get it started and actually get it to idle and I even cut a small branch that had fallen in a few pieces. It seems like the chain could use sharpening or replacement to make it cut well and safely. A dull chain encourages you to push too hard, which can be dangerous, so, as with knives, sharper is safer than dull. Once I get that chain taken care of I think we are good to start chopping down a bunch of overgrown saplings and bushes on the side of the house, maybe even the berry tree by the deck, although I might solicit the services of Derek and his Stihl Farm Boss again if we decide to go for that.

Wrapping the Deck

8 Aug

No, we’re not wrapping it up. We’re not done just yet!

As a few people have noted when seeing the deck in its partially completed state, “The ends are all different lengths!” Yes, thank you, we are aware. This wasn’t a case of measuring once and cutting twice. Well, actually it kind of was, or more like measure never and then cut later. We basically used boards that were long enough to cover and a little extra and left the tails long. It was the plan all along to cut them en-masse to create a continuous edge, rather than taking meticulous measurements and hoping they all lined up, which, I can assure you, they wouldn’t have. Also, this extra gave us a little more time to think about how we wanted to treat the edges of the deck. We decided to cut the boards flush to the edge of the joist all around and then wrap the edge with a vertically oriented deck board to close it in.

The first task was to take the 18 Volt Dewalt circular saw and rough cut a line about an inch from the edge that I made by snapping a chalk line.

Then I went and got out the Festool TS55 to do the actual finish cut. This saw runs on a guide track for super accurate cuts that you just can’t match with any hand held saw. I used a sliding square to find the edges and lined the guide up with that. I used my 4 foot track so it took relocating the track about 6 or 8 times to do the whole 26 foot edge.


I followed that up by easing the edges with an orbital sander with 60, 80, and 100 grit sanding pads. This gives the edges a softer look and matches the profile of the machined edges better, as well as making it less likely for something to catch on those edges and splinter. I then screwed on the vertical deck board, all the way around the perimeter of the deck, using a miter joint in the corners… Below is a little preview of how it came out, I think it does a lot to give the deck a finished look.


A Very Inspiring Trip

1 Aug

As Jer has referenced in several posts, we took a quick weekend trip up to Providence and Newport last month. Our primary purpose was to help his brother and sister-in-law move, but we squeezed in quite a lot of other activities in those two days as well.

We drove to up on a Saturday, making an obligatory stop at Super Duper Weenie along the way. Conveniently, it’s right off I-95 in CT. We really can’t pass this place without stopping for one (or two) of their amazing hot dogs!

From top to bottom, that’s a Chicagoan, a plain dog w/ketchup and mustard and a Californian, with a side of fries!

Some amazing clouds along the way!

When we got into Providence, Chris and Elaine were already quite busy packing, so we took a stroll down to India Park on the water, while biding our time before one of our favorite Providence events started: Waterfire! Dating back to an art instillation in 1994 by Barnaby Evans, 100 bonfires are lit in the rivers of downtown Providence on select weekends in the Summer & Fall. The fires are lit at dusk, and burn through midnight. We arrived just before the lighting, which gave us some time to wander around the city.

Waterfire – just before the big lighting

It was just after the summer solstice, and so in addition to Waterfire, there was a Solstice festival in City Hall Park. This is where we encountered the amazing Roxy’s Lobster truck! (There were other food trucks there, but we were drawn to their adorable logo!)  The truck sells an amazing CT-style lobster roll. It was so good, that we were inspired to recreate the roll ourselves this past weekend (see our last blog post!)

Roxy’s Lobster Truck!

After the lobster roll, we stopped by the Union Station Brewery for some wings and a house-brewed beer before heading back down to the river. Union Station is just off the river, so we didn’t have far to go. By the time we got back the bonfires were all lit and as always, it was a beautiful sight to behold! We spent the rest of the evening on the river enjoying the Waterfire music and snacking on kettle corn!


The next morning we were up bright and early to drive to Newport for brunch. I randomly booked a restaurant following my own criteria of being on the water and serving Bloody Marys. My random pick was The Grill at Forty 1° North. The restaurant is right on the harbor, and the food was fantastic to boot! The view was also spectacular!! We had front row seats to a yacht being prepped for departure. When we finished brunch, the yacht still hadn’t left, so we ordered another round of drinks and waited for it to set sail.

Dockside brunch

In addition to great food, great service, and a magnificent view, we also found some inspiration for our deck! While seated out on their deck, we noticed it was framed with a piece of wood running perpendicular to the main decking boards. It provided a nice finished look, and we will be featuring a similar technique on our deck. I personally also loved the table and chairs there too!

The Grill @ 41 North (you can see the decking border in the lower left corner of this pic.)

We spent the next few hours walking around Newport, then headed back to Providence. By the time we got back Chris and Elaine were just about done packing what they needed, and we proceeded to load it into the back of Jer’s truck, tetris-style!

We did make one more food stop on our way home.. it was a bit on the late side, but we were able to get into the Shake Shack in Westport, CT just before they closed!