Sunday, February 27, 2011

Tinkering

We've devoted much of today to doing little odd jobs around the house. We haven't tackled any really big projects since the triumphant completion, two weeks ago, of the new vanity (at right), which Brian built and installed with his very own hands in the downstairs bath. Today, however, as Brian tackled several smaller jobs in that room and various other parts of the house, I was struck as I've been struck on previous occasions by my husband's ingenuity, and by just how many problems it's possible to fix with materials you already have lying around the house.

Job #1 was installing the mirror above the new vanity. This mirror was salvaged from the front door of the old medicine chest that used to hang above the old vanity. The chest itself was small, unattractive and not very functional, but the door was a good-sized mirror in a sturdy wooden frame that we thought might look very respectable with a bit of refinishing. Brian contrived to get it loose from the metal cabinet, and all the time we've been working on the rest of the bath, it's been sitting in the workshop, waiting for us to get around to it. This past week, we scrubbed it, sanded it, and refinished it using the stain and varnish we had left over from the vanity. Brian then replaced the old backing, which was very heavy, with a lightweight piece of fiberboard he had left over from another project. However, all that proved to be the easy part: the difficulty was figuring out how to put it back up on the wall. Even with the new back, it was still too heavy to mount with standard picture hangers. Rather than head for Home Depot to look for some sort of heavy-duty hanging hardware, Brian shut himself up in his laboratory (pronounced la-BOR-atory, as all evil and not-so-evil masterminds like to say it) for a while and cobbled together an ingenious solution with materials we had on hand. He affixed to the back of the mirror a length of this sort of steel tape punched with holes, like this...


...and then built a pair of picture hangers consisting of screws threaded through a series of washers, like this...

...so that now the screw holds the big washers in place, and the washers hold the big mirror in place.

After solving this knotty problem, he didn't rest on his laurels. He went back into the la-BOR-atory to work on Job #2, building a tilt-out drawer for the kitchen sink. You may have seen these before: in place of the purely decorative front panel that normally conceals the sink from view, there's a little drawer like this, which you can use to keep your sponge and scrubber neatly stowed away. I've been wanting one of these for a while, but I couldn't see my way clear to paying $26 for a kit that was basically just a little plastic box and a pair of hinges. So Brian finally turned his ingenuity to the problem and built this out of scrap wood. The tab on the end is secured with a screw, so you can turn it to slide the drawer into place and then turn it the other way to hold it there so it won't fall out.

And he also found time for Job #3, reupholstering the cat's scratching post with a new carpet patch that we found at a discount store in New Brunswick. The post itself isn't a new construction, but the fact that he was able to reupholster it as he did proves just how clever a design it is. A year or so ago, we got tired of throwing out the cat's scratching post every year or two, after she'd worn it down to the bare wood, and shelling out $15 for a new one. I'd read a tip saying you could extend the life of the old post by removing the carpet and winding the wood around with sisal twine, but Amélie wouldn't touch the stuff and took to scratching the rugs instead. So Brian came up with a very simple design for a new scratching post: two lengths of two-by four, attached back to back, to form the post; a square piece of plywood, neatly stained, to make a sturdy base; and another scrap of two-by-four, also neatly stained, to cover the top. The only part we actually had to buy was a two-dollar carpet swatch to cover it with (secured with heavy-duty staples), and when the cat wears through it, we just buy a new two-dollar carpet swatch to replace the old one, rather than having to throw away the whole post. Less cost, less waste, and as you can see, a much more respectable-looking post than the ones they sell at PetSmart. (Edit: If you look closely at the picture, you can see that the post itself is set at a 45-degree angle to the square formed by the base. That's so that when the cat pulls with all her 10-pound weight against the post, she'll be pulling the entire piece along its diagonal, rather than sideways, and she'll be much less likely to tip it over. The old PetSmart post used to tip over frequently, but in all the time we've had this new one she's never managed to overturn it—although she has occasionally dragged it across the floor instead.)

So, here in the pages of this blog, I would like to hereby award my husband the title of Master Tinkerer. Three cheers, Brian, and keep up the good work!
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