Monday, August 8th, 2011

I spent yesterday fixing a book case. I didn’t plan to. It was just one of those things. I happened to walk past it, looked up at the top and noticed that it had walked about an inch from where I wedged it against the ceiling about a year ago.

This was no ordinary book case. I built it out of two by fours and several slabs of rough-cut three quarter inch plywood. It probably weighs at least a hundred pounds empty, maybe three or four hundred pounds after I load it up with books, record albums and an old Underwood cast-iron typewriter. When a monster like that starts to tip over, no matter how slowly, I feel I pretty much have to drop whatever I’m doing and fix it.

I always meant to fix it in place eventually. I thought I had plenty of time to do it. I really thought it was wedged in so tight between the ceiling and floor that it couldn’t possibly fall over any time soon, but I was wrong. I should have realized that, with us walking across the floor above it month after month, and the natural expansion and contraction of the frame of the house through the seasons, there was no chance it wouldn’t fall over in just a year or two. I was awfully lucky to have caught it before it all went crashing to the floor.

So I spent pretty much all afternoon and part of the evening unloading books from the shelves, taking the frame of the book case apart, measuring and cutting, drilling holes, driving screws, and reloading the books so they wouldn’t be sitting on the floor where the bugs and the cold could get into them and wreck havoc of one kind or another. I tried every way I could think of to make repairs without taking all the books out and piling them on the floor, but in the end I realized that would be a half-assed fix and bowed to the inevitable. Also, if there was any chance the whole thing might tip over on top of me, better it was empty than full of books.

fix | 5:36 pm CST
Category: daily drivel | Tags: , ,
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Friday, August 20th, 2010

image of router bit

When I picked her up from work, My Darling B noticed the back seats of the car were folded down. “What were you hauling home today?” she asked. She doesn’t miss a thing.

I made an early-morning visit to the local lumber yard to bring home some plywood to start Phase II of the great big bookcase project going on in our basement, my effort to unpack and organize our insanely huge collection of books. I also managed to navigate my way through the labyrinthine aisles of the warehouse hardware store to the exact spot where I could find a router bit big enough to chew a three-quarter inch divot out of said lumber. That leaves a clean-cut groove almost wide enough to stick your thumb in, the only drawback being that it makes the router about as easy to control as a drag racer. Makes about as much noise, too.

After marking the lumber and making sure everything was lined up the way I wanted it, I chucked the bit and fired up the router to try out my new toy. It barely touched the edge of the wood when BRAAPPP! It chewed a trench almost a half-inch long through good-quality pine. Broke off a nasty sliver from the edge, too. After I took a deep breath and a tighter grip on the router, I tried again. BRAAPPP! It made another half-inch trench that I didn’t see until it was all over. This was going to take a little getting used to. The machine-gun noise was making me a little jumpy, too.

Router bits tend wander across the face of the wood I’m working on if I don’t clamp a stout piece of finished wood in place to use as a guide, and oftentimes they will even if I do. It’ll happen in spite of the fact that I’m anticipating it and think I’ve mustered as tight a grip on the router’s handles as it’s possible for a human being to have. Moving slowly and deliberately, I’ll press the bit into the edge of the wood, concentrating on the router’s path as if willing it to proceed in a straight line, and whoops! There it goes in a crazy curlicue. A router is very headstrong, the adolescent of power tools.

A router with a three-quarter inch bit chucked in the collet, though, transforms a router from a headstrong adolescent into a skinheaded rebel with homicidal tendencies. I had to keep a deathgrip on the handles at all times, press the edge of the router face against the guide fence with all my weight, and move in the tiniest of increments. In response, the bit would grab a handful, so to speak, of pine and pull, and it wasn’t playing this game of tug-of-war to merely win, it wanted to drag me into the mud, jump on my back and roll me around to get me filthy dirty from head to toe. This was not a quiet day of relaxing wood working.

I finally finished up around two o’clock in the afternoon, leaving me just enough time to clean up my mess, shower, and fry a mess of bacon so we could have BLTs when we got back. Actually, they were BLATs: bacon, lettuce, avocado and tomatoes. Bliss!

Digging In | 6:25 am CST
Category: daily drivel | Tags: , ,
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Sunday, August 8th, 2010

I retreated to the cool, cool comfort of the basement lair this evening, once Tim went back to his apartment after dinner, because it was just too freaking muggy upstairs. Humidity had surpassed the ability of certified official weather personnel to measure it in the way they’re used to, so according to the local weather web source the humidity this evening was so heavy and damp that it had a dangerous undertow that would drag you way out beyond the dropoff and drown you.

I was pouring sweat just from the mild exertion of chewing my dinner. When I stopped doing that and I could sit absolutely still I was still pouring sweat, but I felt only almost as miserable as when I had to move my jaw up and down and continued sitting stock still right up until the time I had to get up out of my seat to say good-bye to Tim. That was agony.

Things weren’t quite so bad this afternoon while I was trying to do a little more work framing up the windows I installed by the back door yesterday. I was pouring sweat again, but once I’m already basting in my own juices I can just keep on chugging away and it doesn’t make much difference how much hotter I feel. At that point, hot is hot and doesn’t feel any hotter until right before I collapse in a puddle of my own juices and go sliding down the tunnel with the bright, shining light at the end.

It was so hot that a Porsche in the parking lot at the hardware store burst into flames and every fire truck in Dane County came to put it out. Seriously, there were almost as many emergency vehicles in the parking lot as there were cars that belonged to customers. With that many blinking lights I expected to see quite a show, but by the time I came out and saw what was going on the car was barely smoldering as its owner poked dejectedly through the interior as a couple dozen firemen stood by, ready to douse him in foam if the fire should somehow spring back to life.

Actually, I was much more interested in knowing why a Porsche was in the parking lot of this particular hardware store. It’s the sort of place where you see lots of pickup trucks and beat-up Econoline vans, but the most expensive car you’re likely to catch sight of would be a late-model Camry or possibly a Lexus. Driving there in your Porsche is practically begging the gods to drop a meteor on it.

And naturally on this hot, hot evening we planned to grill our dinner on the barbecue, a task I’m normally all to happy to do but this evening was thinking up ways to get out of it, like faking a stroke or gnawing off my own leg. My Darling B asked me to grill bison steaks, though, and I love those so I just manned up, lit the fire and grilled away. They were delicious.

Hot Hot Hot | 9:12 pm CST
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Saturday, August 7th, 2010

image of book shelves

I don’t know how many books we have. I wouldn’t be able to give you even a ball park figure. Could be hundreds, could be thousands, I have no way of knowing, because most of them are doubled up in the garage-sale book shelves we’ve collected over the years, and a significant number are still crammed into boxes, waiting for the day of liberation when we have enough shelf space to bring them out in the open air. It could happen. Not sure when; I’m a little vague on the details of that, too.

Although I planned to knock together a proper book case to stash some of the books in, I got to thinking, as I was looking over the lumber on sale at the local do-it-yourself store, that I could rig up something more like a multi-media organization and display center than a piddling book case. Besides needing a place to set our books, I also need shelf space for my ever-growing neato typewriter collection, as well as a rack to hold the stereo components I’ve cobbled together and a nearby shelf for the LP phono albums I keep finding at the thrift store. Aaron Copeland’s Grand Canyon Suite for a buck! Nat King Cole’s Greatest hits for a buck and a quarter! I couldn’t leave them there, could I?

Obviously all these considerations called for a shelving system, nay, a structure that would be a bit more suitable to the various needs of each different tenant. Connecting all the wires of the stereo components in a typical book case, for instance, sucks. You can’t get at the back of the components, which are all in the dark, unless you give each component a quarter-turn that leaves half of it hanging over the edge of the shelf, so you have to nervously hang on to it while you’re plugging things in. Then you have to try to quarter-turn it back while simultaneously tucking all those wires in. And that’s if you’re lucky enough to be able to fit all the components into a single shelf. When you have to poke holes through the back of the book case and run wires from one shelf to another, you might as well do a couple shots before you even begin and just keep drinking to dull the pain.

A mere book case, being just eight to ten inches deep, won’t hold a typewriter, either. I’d need a shelf at least sixteen inches deep, and made of wood stout enough to bear the thirty-pound weight of a 1929 Underwood upright. Particle board doesn’t cut it for a job like that.

With all these considerations running through my head, I selected a car load of lumber that might have given the impression I was remodeling a closet rather than building a place to keep our books and record collection: a heap of three-quarter inch plywood and two by four studs that came to a grand total of forty-six bucks, much less than the eighty or so I would have needed to build a proper book case. I was well chuffed about that.

Assembly took all freaking day. It wasn’t hard, it’s just that I wanted to take my time and make sure it got done right the first time. After clamping all the two by fours together I carefully measured out the grooves that would hold the shelves, then cut them out with a router, one-quarter inch on each pass. Took two hours, much longer than I thought it would, but that’s largely because I don’t use a router much so the widest blade I have is a quarter-incher. When I go shopping for more lumber next week I’m going to see if there isn’t a router blade that will hack out a three-quarter inch dado on one pass. There has to be, right? If there isn’t, don’t tell me.

Hacking the plywood into shelf-sized pieces took only twenty minutes or so because I have a table saw and it’s awesome. I’m literally awed by it, and maybe just a little scared yet. I still count my fingers after each pass, for instance, but that doesn’t make any less awesome.

Then came assembly. I hadn’t quite worked out how I was going to do this. Most of it ended up coming together on a wing and a prayer.

The first set of uprights, on the far left, was easy: Using a beam level I made sure they were straight up and down, and then I fixed them in place.

The second set of uprights, in the middle, was a little harder. In theory I knew exactly how far they should have been from the first uprights and should have been able to place them using a tape measure and a plumb bob. I don’t have a plumb bob, so I cobbled it together by sticking the top shelf and the bottom shelf into the slots on the first uprights, slapping the second pair of uprights against them, and screwing things together to see if that would work. For some reason that I’m not completely aware of, it did. The rest of the shelves slid into place deceptively easy and I was inordinately pleased with myself. That was the calm before the storm.

I tried to put the third pair of uprights, on the right-hand side, in place using the same method. The moment I stepped back to it up, everything fell apart. I tried again and got a little further along, but it fell apart again. When I finally got the top and bottom shelf fixed in place between the uprights, I could clearly see they were leaning forward further than a drunk taking a leak at a urinal. I took everything apart, lined it up again and, while I was fitting the bottom shelf into place, the top shelf fell out and tried to give me a concussion.

Eventually I worked out a sequence that would let me put all the shelves in the slots except one. I tried every way I could think of to get that sucker in there, even shaved the edge down a bit with a chisel, and it came really close to sliding into place where it should have gone … right before everything fell apart again.

At that point I should have started drinking vodka from a beer bong, but I had to shower and pick up My Darling B from work.

After supper it all went together rather easily. I don’t know what I did differently. I guess because I’d had that chance to walk away and not think about it for a while, my head was clear enough to get through the sequence without making mistakes. Not that I recall making mistakes before that, I just seemed to be having rotten luck lining everything up. It all went so much more smoothly after supper, though, that it was almost magical.

If I can find the time to put a few more of these together I’ll not only have a place to put all the books, we may also finally know the answer to the question Just how many books do we have in our possession?

Shelf-Improvement | 9:20 pm CST
Category: books, entertainment, music, Our Humble O'Bode, play | Tags: , ,
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