simple title art)
Reader Note: If you are just catching on, each Thursday we’re are doing a chapter each week of a book I’m writing for Millennials – teaching the insights that will (hopefully!) allow them to live long and prosper – and be around to clean up after us Old People who made a mess of getting civilization this far.
There are three sections to each chapter. Something you can read to children, a general reader part, and the advanced/business section.
We pick up with morning like so…
We established in the first chapter that there is RECIPE for everything we do.
Chapter 2 involves understanding (and owning) PROCESSES.
Chapter 3 discusses recipes and processes of INVENTION.
Chapter 4 looked at FLOW The reason we do management reports is so we can spot problems and head them off at the pass.
Chapter 5 considered “WORLDVIEW” and how that “place we stand in our minds” determines what happens in the strange land “outside our heads.”
Chapter 6 focused on “TRAVEL” and considers the importance of travel as a way to more deeply understand worldviews since people with similar problems will come up with surprisingly different answers to the problems of Life…
In Chapter 7 “Matrix 512 is discussed as a unique way of keeping your worldview consistent and how to use it as a tool for clarified thinking in an every increasingly complex world.
Today, in Chapter 8 we discuss the keyword “MAKE” and how it is that what we produce really is a large measure of our value in the world. Being natural DIY’ers, humans love their tools and what they can “make” with them…
For All Readers:
Tom, the Royal Baker stood before the King. He had been summoned to the King’s chamber in an urgent manner by one of the King’s most trusted guards.
On the way to see the King, the guard hadn’t said much, except that the King was extremely upset with the Royal Pharmacist and he was outright furious with the Royal Castle Builder.
Tom wasn’t sure what all of this had to do with him, but you don’t say “No!” to a King.
In fact, it was the opposite. You show up whenever you’re told, especially when a guard has been sent to fetch you.
The King was deep in thought as Tom approached the throne. He was twisting this way and that, that way and this.
First he would scribble something, then he would get a worried look on his forehead, and he’d scratch out what he just wrote.
Tom was relieved when the King looked up from his notebook long enough to smile and say “Ah, Tom, my friend, thank you for coming. I’ll be with you in a moment.”
Presently, the King put down his notebook and began to explain what was going on. Tom listened closely because he wanted to understand what was going on, too.
“Tom,” began the King, “I have two major problems in my Kingdom right now and I need your help in order to solve both problems.”
“As you know, I have a new castle being built. Now the Royal Castle Builder is having problems because none of the walls are coming together like they are supposed to. Some walls are too long, and some walls are too short. Some are too high, and others are too low. The reason I have called you here is because you seem to have a great handle on this recipe business and I think you might be able to help the royal castle builder.”
Tom considered the King’s request. It seemed reasonable enough. Building a castle couldn’t be any more difficult than cooking dinner, he imagined. It would be, after all, just a different kind of recipe.
Surely it couldn’t be all that difficult to fix.
After a few moments and then replied, “Sure Your Highness, whatever you want”.
“Good” said the King. “Now, there’s my other problem with the Royal Pharmacist. As you know, he mixes up my Royal Vitamin Potion every day, but some days it is better than others. Some days it tastes a lot like carrot juice, and other days it tastes like nothing but fish oil. Could you drop by and find out if your theory about recipes can help him out?”
Again, Tom thought it through before answering, because when you deal with a King (or anyone else for that matter) you want to make sure that you don’t promise more than you can deliver because if you’re wrong it could be “off with your head!”
In this case, Tom was confident he would be able to help out, so he told the King “OK, your Highness, I’ll go over there right away and figure out what’s going on after I meet with the Royal Castle Builder. I will come back this afternoon and give you a full report.”
With that, Tom excused himself from the King’s presence and went to the Royal Stables, where he picked up a horse and rode out to the construction site where the new castle was being constructed for the King.
It was an impressive affair, but he saw the moment he showed up that something wasn’t right. Some of the walls were taller, some were shorter, some too long, and others ran off at funny angles that didn’t look pleasing to the eye.
Tom spotted the Royal Castle Builder almost at once, because he was wearing a silver safety helmet while the other workers were wearing plain ones.
“Hi, I’m Tom the Royal Cook and the King has sent me out here to help you straighten out some problems with the new castle” he began.
“Boy, am I glad to see you,” replied the Royal Castle Builder. “I have no idea why this castle is not coming out right. All the ones I have made in the past have come out just fine. This one has something really odd going on”
“Let’s see if we can get to the bottom of this,” said Tom. “Let’s start by going over all the parts of the recipe. First of all, do you have a recipe that you are following?”
The Royal Castle Builder got a confused look on his face. “Recipe?” he asked. “I don’t use recipes to build castles. In the castle building business we use drawings that are drawn up by a Castle Designer. The Castle Designer makes several sets of drawings. One set is for the wall builders, and that’s the set where we are having problems right now,” he explained.
Tom looked at the drawings. Sure enough, they looked fine. All the angles made sense, all the wall heights were correct, and even the lengths of the walls all looked right as far as he could tell. But suddenly, something occurred to him!
“What are these numbers along each wall?” Tom asked.
“Those are the measurements of each wall, of course. Why do you ask?” wondered the Royal Castle Builder.
“What exactly do these measurements mean?” asked Tom.
“Well, as any beginner at castle-building knows, these measurements say how tall the walls are, how long, how thick, and so forth.”
The castle-builder was eyeing Tom warily. The Royal Castle Builder had been skeptical of having a cook – a cook for heaven’s sake! – come out to solve his castle building problem. But he had known better than question the King, of course.
“No,” said Tom, “I mean what units are you using for measurements?”
“Well, cubits, of course,” replied the Royal Castle Builder.
“What’s a cubit?” asked Tom.
The Royal Castle Builder explained that a cubit was the length of a wall builder’s arm from where it bends at the elbow to the end of the wall builder’s longest finger.
“Well, there is your problem!” exclaimed Tom. “You have workers that don’t have the same length of arms!”
The Royal Castle Builder thought about it for a moment.
In the past, when he had built castles, he had never encountered the problem before. But as luck would have it, the castle wall-builders he had used in the past had been twin brothers.
On the project before that, it was a small castle and he had only used one wall builder.
But now, because the king was having a very large castle built, he had workers of all different sizes. Some of the wall builders were very short, and so were their arms. As a result their cubits were too short.
One fellow, in particular though, was a very tall man indeed and he had very long arms. As a result his cubits were far longer than the short workers.
“I think we solved that,” said Tom. “All you need to do is cut one stick of wood to an average wall builder’s cubit length, and use that one stick for all the wall measurements. That will solve your problem.”
Shaking his head that he could have missed something so obvious, the Royal Castle Builder thanked Tom and said he would forever be in his debt. He hadn’t understood how important the size of the workers could be.
“Yes,” said Tom “Size matters.”
Tom then headed back to the King’s chamber by way of the Royal Pharmacy.
He happened to arrive there just as the Royal Pharmacist was preparing the King’s daily vitamin mixture.
“Mind if I watch?” asked Tom.
“Sure, I don’t mind if you do, but remember now, this is not a kitchen. This is medicine,” warned the Royal Pharmacist.
It struck Tom as curious that everyone he met had a hard time with taking advice from the Royal Cook, but he held his tongue in check.
After several minutes, the Royal Pharmacist was done. He had poured a little bit of this, a little bit of that, a few pinches of something else and stirred it all up.
Although it looked horrible, and smelled bad, the Royal Pharmacist told Tom that it was just the thing to help the King feel his very best.
“Say, I noticed you didn’t measure anything,” began Tom, after watching the Pharmacist concoct his brew.
“No, but I am in medicine and I have vast experience,” claimed the Royal Pharmacist.
“Can we do an experiment?” asked Tom
“Sure, why not,” agreed the Royal Pharmacist.
With that, Tom produced some measuring cups and measuring spoons he had brought with him from the Royal Kitchen.
He showed the Royal Pharmacist that without making measurements, he would always produce a vitamin mix that was different.
Some days it would have more carrot juice, and other days, there would be more fish oil. Some days the herbs in the mix were very strong because there were too many. Yet on other days, the herbs were almost missing. Today’s mixture tasted very fishy and had no taste of herbs.
“Why don’t you throw that out, and let me show you how to use proportions like we do in the kitchen?” asked Tom. The Royal Pharmacist grudgingly agreed.
After working for a half-hour or so, the Pharmacist made several small batches and came up with the best tasting, yet also more nutritious vitamin mix. It was 3-parts of carrot juice, 1-parts fish oil, and 2-parts herbs. Because they used teaspoons, it hadn’t taken long and it didn’t waste anything.
Then, the Royal Pharmacist made up a bigger batch, but using the same 3,1,2 proportions and was delighted that it tasted exactly right.
“The only thing to watch in the future,” suggested Tom, “is to make sure the herbs are ground up the same each time. If you grind them too small, you will put more in and if they are ground to coarsely, you won’t be putting enough in.”
Tom had learned this much about herbs, because he used them all the time in the Royal Kitchen.
The Royal Pharmacist expressed his thanks and Tom returned to the King’s chambers to report his findings.
“What did you discover was going on with my new castle?” asked the King.
“Your Highness the units of measurement were not consistent,” explained Tom. “Once we figured out that some workers had very short cubits, and one worker had really long cubits, we decided that everyone would use a standard measurement. We cut a stick and everyone is using that.”
“Excellent!” beamed the King. “What about the Royal Pharmacist’s vitamin mixture?”
“That was a different problem. The Royal Pharmacist was not using the same proportion each day, so every day he got different results,” Tom explained.
“I helped him to get the proportion right, and now he can make up any sized batch of vitamins for you and the Royal subjects, and it will always taste the same” Tom concluded.
And so it has been ever since.
Even now in construction of buildings, consistent measurement techniques are an important key to success.
And in pharmacies around the world, proportion of ingredients has been a major focus of pharmacists and drug companies.
The art of “Making” is not terribly difficult. But in order to “make” well, one must use a very good recipe and remember measurement, proportion, observation, and placement are universal facts.
“To make, we plan, we count or measure, we cut, we join, and we finish, Your Highness.”
“It’s that simple, Tom?” said the King?
Tom just smiled and nodded his head.
For All Readers
“Making” is what humans do.
It separates us from other animals. We are the tool builders and dreamers who have made the Planet what it is.
Every human at some level has an “urge to make” but how it expresses is often misunderstood.
More to the point of our discussion here, the “urge to make” is often the result of “sensory focus” we learn as young children.
Take my wife Elaine, for example. Her unique sense is her eyes.
If you have been paying attention in earlier chapters (especially the “look at that boat” story from our adventures in San Diego) you would recall that she has another way of seeing.
As a complimentary mate I have a different unique sense. Mine is my ears.
When you look at my resume, what you will see are jobs in electronics, broadcasting, teaching, administration, business management, and oh yeah…studio design and building.
By rights I should be a musician, but while I love to mash on drums and can use my voice to good effect as a sound-effects box, my muscle coordination has never focused long enough to get down the “muscle memory” needed to master an instrument.
I would guess my son is more the tactile/touch kind of person. He enjoys extreme physical activity. His twin sister, on the other hand, has a sensory focus on taste and she is the cooking school grad.
Daughter Denise is the family empath whose senses are highly tuned to the emotional levels of people. Which makes her valuable in social services.
So it goes: Everyone “makes” in life; I don’t know how – or why – we settle on a single “sensory” input as a favored inclination, but it seems to work.
I’ve always found it a useful tool when analyzing people to ask myself “What does this person make and what sense is their focus?”
In business management the follow-on is “How can I align what they like to do with what we – the organization – need to get done?”
There is more to “Making” of course. But it is much less complicated than you might think.
Pardon this morning’s remarks being exceptionally long on this point but the following from my 2004 book “How to Live on $10,000 a year…or less!” was a bonus section.
MAKE 101: How to Build Anything
Find the Hidden Recipes! It’s all just recipes and business models, after all…
The “recipe book” approach to learning is not widely used in educational systems but it is hugely powerful. Worst? Today’s schools don’t encourage “making.” It’s more like parrot-talk centers. Dead are Industrial Arts and the artisans who made those programs great.
I’ve seen young people – not gifted with math or words, but marvelous craftsperson’s = screwed out of the opportunity for great success in life.
Screwed by the fear-pimping district lawyers and cowardly school boards that can’t see farther than the next election or retainer.
Recipes are a method. A way. Such that even incredibly complicated things in the industrial arts arena become extremely simple.
Here’s why: There are only a handful of operations on metal, plastics, wood, and what have you that can possibly be done.
- You start with a plan and measuring of things. Then…
- You can cut things
- You can form things and join them
- And you can cover or finish things.
Short list, though, isn’t it?
Many people – otherwise good home handypersons – don’t keep these basic skills ‘front of mind.’
As a result, they waste a huge amount of time getting sidetracked with non-essential activity. Because they haven’t started with a simple Big Picture (a sort of construction order of battle), the helpers end-up getting yelled at and are told they’re ‘dumb’ when that’s almost never the case. They just haven’t learned the ‘recipe’ yet. And the journeymen are slow to share, sometimes, because as we’ve explained, hidden recipes have more value than public ones.
Example: A craftsman with high-end carpentry skills might get befuddled when confronted with a metal project.
Someone with metal-working skills gets intimidated tasked with wiring a house. And, the electricians may be put-off by plumbing. (Admittedly plumbing can stink…)
Our lesson in generalizing “Making” (industrial arts) is each of the major crafts is a cut, form, join, and cover operation.
Usually, planning is done first. Dirty secret: I usually just “build from my head.” It happens especially when I’m ‘ad-libbing’ a project, with no particular constraints.
I built a deck once that was going to be 4-feet by 20. But as I moved pier blocks into place, it suddenly appeared as a 20’ X 20’ deck in my head…so that’s what poured out.
Sins can be covered in the end anyway, with your choice of Bondo, filler, putty, paint, resins, and what have you. Sanding and painting the project(s) right ensures they will look fine.
Once I was asked “Where did you learn to do electrical work, plumbing, carpentry and welding, so prodigiously?”
The answer is I am a generalizer. You are learning how to be one, too.
When you look at a problem posed by any of the crafts, start by asking “Do I need to plan, cut, form, join, or cover here?”
Since these operations seem to occur mostly in order, if something needs cutting, it will likely then need joining, then finishing. Simple as pie.
Take carpentry, as a craft.
If you hand a carpenter a measuring tape and a plan, what do they do? They cut wood to size.
They can do a little forming with sandpaper, routers, shapers, jointers, and lathes.
Then, they can join things together with only a handful of choices (nails, screws, glues, and joinery such as dovetails or pegs).
Then it’s time for finishing as they slap a cover of paint or plastic on it and call it done.
The same is true of a plumber. Given a plan that says “Put a toilet here and a shower there, and a wash basin over there…” they will:
Measure and layout where pieces go.
Then they will cut material and then?
Sometimes the joins are black iron pipe that’s been threaded, others will occasion PVC glue, and there’s always sweat soldering copper pipe.
Then, they either finish or cover their work.
Plumbing is easy in that you don’t get involved in covering, except in the sense that a toilet covers the end of a sewer pipe, or a sink and garbage disposal cover the end of a set of pipes in the kitchen. Fresh water pipe covers are faucets and the like.
Tile covers the shower walls and floors? Yes, but a different union. Even the tile layers plan, cut, form, join, and finish (grout oftentimes.)
Electrical tradesmen use exactly the same processes as the plumber and the carpenter: They get a blueprint that has funny little marks on it that might look like these:
Next (look surprised here): They run wire from one place to another and then cut it. Or, for short runs they cut it first.
They then form the wire, by removing a bit of insulation from each end so they can join it to something.
Lots of cut and join in electrical: wires to outlets, switches, breakers, and fixtures or appliances.
Then, they put on electrical outlets and switch covers, so that you don’t zap yourself. But the covering is minimal.
There are other trades beside these involved in home building. Three important ones that come to mind are the masons, the dry wall crew, and the flooring installers. Did I mention the HVAC people? Can’t live without them.
Residential or commercial, each of them does a little planning & measuring, cutting, forming, joining, and covering.
This is not to trivialize the importance of their work.
We merely emphasized that at a fundamental level most of what humans have accomplished is pretty darn simple.
Machinists and welders follow similar work patterns. See the work pattern of the upright apes and the rest of it (learning to imitate their tool use) isn’t usually that hard.
Carpenters cover with paint, electricians with tape and outlet covers, metal workers with anodizing or powder coats, plumbers with caps, taps, and toilets, HVAC crews with grills, flooring crews with carpet, and… you get the idea.
Important Disclaimers and CAUTIONS
Doing things yourself is inherently risky. I am not advising you how to do things, only telling you a few personal experiences. I’ve managed over a million dollars’ worth of commercial build-out and I don’t have any problem building anything. I’m not as fast as a skilled tradesman. But, I know the recipes. I own it.
If you are not confident and have not done considerable study, there are lots of ways to hurt yourself. When taking on projects around the home or ranch you can’t be cowardly or not confident.
Lack of confidence can KILL you. Hold a Skil saw loosely and you beg for injury. Hold it right, tight, and almost mean. You should be thinking “I’m in charge of this tool…it’s not in charge of me. I am ready for it to kick-back and try to “get me” but I AM IN CHARGE OF THE TOOL at all times.” (A ‘hoo-rah’ is OK, too.)
Other tools may issue smaller pains: Like the momentary pain of smashing your thumb with a hammer.
But wear the damn goggles, read the safety cautions, and if you don’t understand the tool, go to YouTube and learn by watching others. See instructables.com.
WE TAKE NO RESPONSIBILITY FOR YOUR SAFETY AND HEALTH. WHAT YOU DO IS ON YOUR OWN. CONSIDER HIRING SOMEONE WHO KNOWS WHAT THE HECK THEY ARE DOING. WE ARE NOT RESPONSIBLE, IN ANY WAY, FOR YOUR ACTIONS.
GET AND USE THE RIGHT SAFETY GEAR.
When working with electricity TURN OFF THE POWER AND TAG IT OUT OF SERVICE SO OTHERS WILL NOT BE TEMPTED TO TURN IT ON, WHILE YOU’RE WORKING ON IT.
If you are working on your water system MAKE SURE TO TURN OFF THE HOT WATER HEATER, BEFORE DOING ANY WORK, IN ORDER TO AVOID EXPOSING THE ELEMENTS TO AIR AND BURNING THEM OUT.
When you are done working on your water system, MAKE SURE TO BLEED ALL PIPES OF ANY AIR THAT MAY HAVE ENTERED, INCLUDING AND ESPECIALLY IN YOUR HOT WATER SYSTEM, BEFORE TURNING YOUR WATER HEATER BACK ON, AGAIN.
If you are using power tools DO NOT USE THEM AROUND CHILDREN. UNPLUG ALL TOOLS WHEN NOT IN USE, TO AVOID ACCIDENTS.
USE PROPER ANSI APPROVED EYEWEAR AND EAR PROTECTION. WEAR GLOVES.
WEAR THICK RUBBER-SOLED SHOES, IF POSSIBLE – ESPECIALLY WHEN WORKING ON ELECTRICAL ITEMS.
TRUST NOTHING. Example: If you throw the Main Breaker on an electrical panel and the power should be off, try shorting from a downstream breaker to the Bus Bar. If there’s a huge arc, and part of your screw driver is vaporized (insulated screwdriver, right?), then the Main Breaker can’t be trusted. Get professional help.
If you are not sure about something, ask others for help and advice.
Know how to summon aid, should you need it. Not just medical. I mean a licensed plumber, or electrician, if things go really badly.
Wear good, solid work clothes. Denim shirts are hot, especially long sleeves in late spring and summer, but they provide protection. Wear a dust mask. I have to remind myself about these, and they are a nuisance. But it’s your health, so hang onto it.
There, now. One last count of fingers and we move on. Let’s go build some stuff.
Good carpentry starts with good measurements and accurate cuts. To do this, you want a very good quality tape measure, like a Stanley “Fat Max” tape, because they are a solid measure which extends out 11 feet or so, before it collapses. This means you can, with a deft arm movement, measure a 12-foot span, without the need of a helper.
On the other hand, Elaine has a 26-foot Stanley “Lever Lock” that only extends 81 inches, before collapsing. Not that you need to be a connoisseur of measuring tapes. But, there is something to be said for testing them, before buying. 99.9% of people don’t even know what to look for – thinking, incorrectly, that an inch is an inch.
No! HOW FAR IS THE TAPE SELF-SUPPORTING?
Always try to use the same tape on a job. I’ve tried using one tape on a ladder and a different one on the bench, and it seems like I always get something “off”, just a bit. Shouldn’t, I know, but it just seems to be that way, for me.
It’s important to know why the end tab on a measuring tape is loose. It’s because when you are measuring to a wall (as shown below) you will want the metal tab to come in whatever the width of the tab is, so that the measurement is accurate.
On the other hand, when you are measuring to the outside dimension, you want the tape side of the tab to line up with the zero mark on the tape, like so:
Cutting of wood is done with a variety of saws. But, my favorite two are the saber saw, which you can buy all day long for under $50 bucks, and a decent chop saw (compound miter with laser) for around $130.
Joining is done with nails, screws, and glues. I’ve become a real fan of screws, simply because the 18-20 volt electric drill/screwdrivers/drill-hammers that are so powerful and easy to use. I’ve got the nail gun and compressor for joining. But, that seems to get used on finish-type carpentry (cabinetry and what have you).
The saber saw, with a 2 x 4 clamped in place for a guide, does a good enough job on plywood; and, to my way of thinking, is less dangerous than a Skil saw (portable rotary 7½” saw), although they work well enough.
Kreg makes a marvelous rip guide for circular saws. Go ahead, treat yourself…
The most dangerous thing about these portable rotary saws is something called ‘kick back’, which is when the saw teeth bind up in the wood and the saw comes running back at you. Use extreme caution with all power tools. But, with this one, even more than most. The very last thing you want is a Skil saw kicking back and leaving a gouge up your leg.
Table saws can’t ever be too big. There are three measurements that define how good a saw is and they are: 1) the length from the front of the blade to the front of the table, 2) maximum rip fence setting on the right and 3) the maximum rip fence setting on the left.
The rip fence is a guide that will attach to either side of the blade and which provides for extremely accurate/square cuts – ideal for doing things like building those new kitchen cabinets you’ve been thinking about. And, you can build them much, much cheaper than you can buy them.
The problem with all construction, though, is that it takes time away from what you do to earn money for a living. And, so, it must always be weighed-out carefully.
The hand tools that matter, when the power goes down: Hammers, nails, and some good hand saws. A #8, a #10 (number of teeth per inch); an in-cross-cut (for cutting across the grain of wood); and a rip saw (for cutting with the grain).
Joining wood is no big deal EXCEPT to say that if there’s one place you can see the difference between an amateur woodworker and a pro, it’s in how the joining is done. If you take the time to use clamps or to make a holding jig, your work is likely to come out rather well. On the other hand, if you ‘free-lance’ the joining, then you’re asking for trouble. Invest in some clamps and good glue.
A lot of people, nowadays, are using something called Gorilla Glue – great stuff, but remember not to overdo it, because its glue that expands as it dries. So, it can require some sanding or trimming if you get sloppy with it, especially on furniture-grade joints.
If you want to make sure you are getting an even surface to glue to, you can run material over a jointer. But, for most home building projects they are a nice tool, but not necessary. When you get into cabinet making and furniture grade work, they become indispensable.
Kobalt, and possibly a few other manufacturers, make hammers with magnetic heads so you can put the nail onto the hammer and then whack it into place. That would seem to end smashed thumbs. But, like Pappy used to say, no construction project is complete without a little bloodshed.
If you’re going to talk the carpentry talk, you will need to know that a “two by two” (2 x 2) is really only an inch and a half, by an inch and a half. And, by the same token, a “two by four” is only 1½” by 3½”. But, it’s assumed you knew that. A “two by six” is about 1½” by 5½”. Don’t ask me why…I didn’t make up these recipes.
If you ask a carpenter: Why isn’t a two by four 2 inches by 4 inches, they will usually launch into an archaic discussion about how “years ago, when rough-cut wood was used,” it was really 2″ by 4”. But, it shrank with drying and then, making matters worse, there was usually finishing, which took dimensions down even more.
When you nail 3 or 4 two-by-fours, remember wood “grows” as a contractor friend explained. Imperfections in the wood can add a 1/16th or more (1/8th) to four two-by-fours.
On the other hand, you can lose 1/16th or more on each dimension for finishing, you will about have it. A two-by-four should be about 3½” wide, while a two-by-eight ought to be about 7½” wide. Half an inch off the “dimensional width” is about what you get.
If you ever work on a really old house, something built before 1950, or so, you’ll likely find the rough-cut lumber really was close to a full 2″ by 4″. And, that makes cobbling on modern appendages to an older home an adventure.
Doubly so, because most homes in this period used lath and plaster for walls, which involved putting up strips of horizontal wood and coating it first with chicken wire; and, then a good slathering of plaster.
Matching-up plasterboard to that can be a challenge. The answer is go slow, use plenty of furring strips and shims to build up the thickness behind plasterboard, so that they will come out close, and then tape carefully, matching the texturing applied to both surfaces.
What makes joints stick-out are three things. The first – and obvious – is the level of the material. The second thing is the quality of the joint. And, third is the texturing and painting. If you get a smooth finish and texture paint across a joint, you can make old and new blend nicely. Skip a step and it looks like crap.
Not to be overlooked in building a house/barn or whatever is the electrical & plumbing. I always tell people they should get a very good book on electrical, before taking it on themselves, because if they get it wrong, they can burn the house down. Or, worse, end up dead.
With plumbing, on the other hand, all you will get is wet, maybe swimming in crap, and/or part of your house might be ruined by the water damage.
Here’s a concept in the telephone company that’s good to borrow: De-Mark: The “line of demarcation”.
In the telecom world, that’s where the Telco *(phone company) responsibility stops and the customer responsibility takes over.
My personal lines of demarcation around my house are as follows:
Water (Incoming) – I can handle everything on the house side of the meter and shutoff.
Sewer/Septic – I can handle everything. But, prefer to sub-out everything below floor level. Call it lazy, but I’ve done the low work and it’s not fun. Crawling under a mobile home is for the young.
Electrical – I can handle everything on the house side of the main breaker.
You can ruin a whole house by getting this stuff wrong, or you can electrocute yourself. Find a friend who has been thinking about the same kind of home/farm/residential improvements as you have and then work together on them. It’s easier to learn, with a friend.
Turn the POWER TO YOUR HOT WATER HEATER OFF, before doing any plumbing work, to avoid exposing the elements to air, which can cause them to overheat and burn out.
Before restoring power, make sure all air has been bled from your water system, to avoid element burn out.
TURN OFF WATER AT THE STREET, OR AT THE HOUSE INFLOW VALVE. Drain the system.
Again this is a plan, cut, form, join, and cover operation. Actually, I like to do two rounds of cut/join/cover with plumbing. The first round is to do all the sewer/drain pipes.
You might ask why? If something goes wrong, where will the water go if you start with supply pipes first?
DWV pipe (drain/waste/vent) is simple to install. About the only thing you may not be familiar with are things like how to put in a toilet mount, attach the pipe, how to measure, and so on. Here’s where you can get a more advanced book than this overview of the process. But, once you get some of the basics down, it’s easy to cut and join plastic pipe.
There is no greater joy than the first use of a toilet you’ve set yourself.
Make sure you use fresh cement. Once the ‘hot’ solvents have evaporated, the joints are nowhere near as strong and the chance of leaks goes up remarkably.
The key thing with any sewer or drain pipe is to make sure that it always has a slant to it (generally, the more the better), because a greater slant means the drain will tend to move things along faster. 1/4-inch slope per foot, or more.
On the kitchen sink, you can never have a sink that’s too big, or a good enough garbage disposal, so don’t go cheap.
Another thing, which may get your goat but makes for a happy spouse, is to budget $200 -$300 for the kitchen faucet.
Something with a soap dispenser, a good rinser, and a pleasing look to it pays dividends, year after year.
Similarly, don’t go cheap on the strainer baskets. Yes, the little plastic ones for a dollar or two will work. But, I’ll spend the $15 for a good metal set, any time. I just like the quality feel of such things. If it’s a rental unit, then a different decision may be given.
With the supply pipes, there’s no real mystery. PVC is generally used for the cold water and CPVC for the hot. But, check with the local parts houses to see what’s done in your area. Some people like to use sweated copper, for their plumbing. But, there’s a little more work to putting it in. Also, California has made such a big deal about lead from sweated copper that PVC seems a better choice, nowadays.
I come from a family of fire fighters, so plasterboard scraps and a propane torch are not a big deal. But, if you don’t know what you are doing, don’t use a propane torch in an enclosed space. It is not chic to burn down your house while it’s under construction.
Occasionally, if you have an older house, you’ll run in to galvanized iron or steel pipe (black iron pipe is still used for gas lines frequently).
If you’re cutting, be prepared to do some threading of pipe, so you can get fittings onto it. You can buy a 3/8″ to 2″ pipe-threader set, for about $70, at Harbor Freight. Remember to add cut length to allow for threading.
Rather than pipe threading, though, the easiest answer is to find the right adapters and transition to PVC or CPVC, when you can. You’ll still end-up with a couple of pipe wrenches to twist things about. But a big vice and a pipe-threader can be saved. Gas lines require copper tubing or threaded pipe.
Be sure all your pipe connections have pipe dope on them. Pipe dope (known more properly as “Teflon Enriched Pipe Thread Sealant”) more reliable than the Teflon tape, which you can buy in 99-cent rolls. I just seem to have better luck (read: fewer drips) with pipe dope.
Generous use of brackets, to hold pipes, is in order. Nothing I hate more than noisy plumbing. Besides, pipes that move eventually wear; and, that’s like asking for a leak somewhere in the future – and usually at the most inconvenient possible time.
Stores have PVC pipe cutters available which look like garden snips on steroids, and they cost around $20. A saber saw and a piece of sandpaper, to finish the edge is the alternative, but not as fast.
The actually joining part is usually done in four steps, after plastic pipe is cut to length: Sanding off any rough spots, test fitting, application of primer, then cementing and the final join.
Like I said, it’s not really complicated.
DON’T MESS WITH ELECTRICITY, IF YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT YOU’RE DOING.
MAKE SURE THERE’S SOMEONE AROUND WHO CAN GET HELP, IF YOU SCREW UP.
Make sure the power is off any time you are working on electricity. Tell everyone in the area that you are turning the power off. Then tag the box “OUT OF SERVICE – DO NOT TURN ON”, so everyone will be alerted that work is being done.
If you do not know what you are doing, get a professional to do it for you.
Wiring up a shop, barn, or home is not a terribly complicated matter. But, again, before you work on anything, make sure the power is off, that you have tested to make SURE the power is off, and that you have a very good idea about what you’re doing. Otherwise, hire a professional, or take some classes at a local community or vocational school to get your skills built up.
Wiring goes in, just like plumbing: Holes in the studs work just fine. The idea is (yet again) measure, cut, join, and cover.
Properly done, wiring that you put in should be nice and neat, because if it is ever inspected, one of the tip-offs that an amateur has been doing wiring is that it looks “unprofessional”. On the other hand, if the wiring is put in such that turns are nicely squared off and there’s adequate (if not plenty) use of insulated staples, it gives the job a look of craftsmanship.
Here’s a 60-amp sub panel I put in for my office and shop. Notice how the wires are all secured with a staple within 6 inches of entering the box and that feed-through bushings are used? These things are in the National Electrical Code for a reason. So, remember, your wiring is a reflection of your skill level. If you’re going to do something, think it ahead just far enough so you can do a nice and neat job.
Nine times out of ten, if wiring is done really well (see example) no one would even question whether the homeowner or an electrician did it. NO homeowner is that good, right?
One thing about panels is it helps to know is how many of today’s breaker panels are laid out on the inside and the difference between a 110-volt circuit and a 220-volt circuit.
The key thing to know is that a 110-volt circuit is between the neutral bar and the breaker, while a 220-volt circuit is generally between two circuit breakers.
It’s terribly important to make sure you use grounded outlets as well as understand how the switches and outlets are color-coded.
The silver screw on a switch or outlet is for the white wire. And, the white wires are connected to the neutral bus in the box, on 110-volt circuits. The green wires go to the grounded “neutral bus”, too. But, on a switch or outlet, the ground wire (bare wire or green) goes to the frame of the switch or outlet).
I tend to be very conservative, on wiring. Although I understand that 15-amp house circuits are being wired with #14 wire and 20-amps are being wired with #12 wire (the smaller the number,- the bigger the wire), I’ve made it a personal practice not to wire with anything smaller than #12. I hate voltage drops and if a wire gets hot, it’s too small!
As long as you’re running cables, don’t forget (before buttoning-up the walls, if you are indeed covering them — in a shop, it’s optional) to run wiring for your computer, telephone, and television. Wifi is fine, but wired is faster.
I had a terrible experience, when I built my “Perfect Home Office”. I didn’t check the wiring, once I had put it in. Just buttoned right up. Turns out that two runs of my phone cable were bad, a manufacturing defect, forcing me into using wireless phones, where I didn’t want to.
Lesson? Light everything up, before you button-up the walls. Test the phone, computer, and television wiring BEFORE the walls get covered and work on the wiring becomes nearly impossible.
Putting up drywall is an art in itself. But, it’s made easier if you remember to put the ceilings on first, so that the ceiling presses down on the sidewalls, like so:
You’d think this kind of stuff would be obvious. But, no, it’s not.
The cutting of plasterboard is done by scoring through the paper (good side up) then breaking over a sharp corner – a 2 by 4 works fine. Then, cut through the paper on the back.
Drywall can be installed using either ring-shank nails, or screws. My preference is nail, because the better plasterboard nails have dimpled heads and rip the paper less, than do screws. When I use screws, I usually find I have to go around with a hammer to drop everything down below the layer of the surrounding material, so they will mud-up well.
There are two kinds of plasterboard – tapered and plain. If I am after a really first class kind of job, I will put 4-foot by 8-foot sheets up, horizontally. Because, why? Because, it leaves most of my tapered edges about waist-high, for taping. It’s easier than bending and climbing, for everything.
For cutting-in holes, break down and spend the $7 bucks on a plasterboard saw. It is designed to be shoved through the board and then cut, so things like outlets and cutouts for trim are simply done. It looks like an 8″ long knife, with teeth on one side.
Tapered board is easy to use. But, you’ve got to plan on three passes over it, with the tape joint compound (aka “mud”) to get it right:
A 14-16” blade can be used to fair-out untapered joints.
A little finish sanding, to get rid of residual blade marks is usually required. But, the biggest secret to taping is many small layers, getting rid of imperfections while they are wet. If you wait until the mud dries, you will be sanding ‘til the next coming of (pick your deity here.)
Making a good tape joint is an art form. About the time you get your first room or two done, you’ll see why the pros often cover their evidence. I mean work with a blown-on surface covering. A good layer of texture covers a multitude of sins.
Go to a home construction site and ask them if the workers will let you watch (or even help a big) in return for a case of beer. Learn everything you can.
Elaine asked me about using the new mesh tapes, instead of traditional paper. Yes, they work. But, I didn’t find them any easier than “normal” paper perf tape. You need to make too many passes and I hate mudding. Elaine’s the artist.
One of the key details of putting up sheetrock is you always want to install the ceiling pieces first. And when you do, be sure it extends all the way out to the edges, so that when you put the sidewall sheetrock in, it will butt-up against the ceiling.
This is a fine point of construction, but the idea you should always remember in any kind of construction is to build so that if a few fasteners fail, the piece has a fighting chance to stay in place.
In this case, some of the fasteners on the ceiling could fail and the sheetrock on the wall would still tend to hold that ceiling panel in place. BUT, if you put in the ceiling panel LAST, then there’s no support around the edges.
This same concept applies to building decks, too. If a fastener fails, you don’t want the deck to fall down. Building this way is good engineering practice and results in superior strength, durability, and in the case of sheetrock, no worries about long cracks around the ceiling-to-wall joint. Cracks develop when there’s movement. So, the idea is to keep that arrested, from the get-go.
Damn shame schools don’t teach people how to Make things anymore, ain’t it?
Any darned fool can spend thousands of dollars and have a great shop. The trick is to spend the least, to get the most done. Again, when we go shopping, we can be guided by the plan idea – measure, cut, join, and finish.
- Carpenter pencils (get dozens, these walk off all the time)
- Grease pencils
- ‘Sharpies’ (permanent markers)
- 12″ adjustable square
- 25′ or 35′ wide – super high quality measuring tape (Stanley Fat Max or similar)
- Engineer’s paper
- Tracing paper
- Plumb bob with 20 feet of string
- Adjustable square
- Framing square (24″ x 18″ or larger)
- Long metal straight edge (4′ aluminum measuring stick is great)
- Scratch awl (ice picks do fine, too, but a carbide point is nice)
- Library card
- Home design software (Punch Super Home Suite is really useful)
Cutting: – General
- Pocket knife
- Sharpening stone
- Box/carpet cutter with spare blades
Cutting – Wood
- Hand saws: 8 and 10 teeth per inch (both cross-cut and ripping, use cross-cut on plywood)
- Saber saw, assorted blades
- Skil saw (count fingers before and after use)
- Hand drill (18v battery is fine for most things) plus a good set of bits
- Brace and bits (a crank kind of drill)
- Spade bits for big wood holes
- Table saw with assorted blades
- Router with bits
- Router table
- Formica edging bits
- Drill press, drills
If you still have too much money?
- Planer (mills wood to custom thicknesses
- For cabinetry work, add jointer and belt/disk sander
- Chop saw (compound miter saw with laser guide)
- Wood lathe
- Shingle hammer
- Engineers hammer (4-5 lb. sledge)
- Folding saw horses (to hold work)
- Assortment of files (metal working) and rasps (woodworking)
Cutting – Metal and Plastic
- Hack saw and assorted blades
- Vices (one wood, one metal/general with anvil)
- Jib saw blades for metal (Skil “Big Ugly” blades are good)
- Power hack saw
- Cold chisels and punches
- Metal punch set
- Tin snips/aviation snips
- Extreme: metal lathe and milling machine, assorted lathe tooling including bits, steady rest and follow rests
Beyond extreme: basic casting equipment – green sand for mold making, copes and drags, melting furnace, charging and pouring tongs, parting compound, borax or other flux agents
Joining (*Including Unjoining)
- Large (huge is better) assortment of screws
- Large assortment of screwdrivers, square drives, and specialty drivers
- Power screwdriver bits for variable speed hand drill
- Bolts (big assortment)
- Open end and sockets, adjustable wrenches (Crescent wrenches) and Channel Locks)
- Assortment of glues: Gorilla Glue, Elmer’s glue, Krazy Glue, 5-minute epoxy, duct tape
- Nails of all kinds
- Hammers of all kinds
- Pry bars for when you screw up with the hammers
- Band-Aids for when you screw up with anything
- Small bending brake (sheet metal bender) plus sheet metal screws, pop rivets and so on
- Air compressor with nail guns: One each – framing nailer, roofing nailer, finishing nailer
- Staplers: electric and manual, plus gobs of staples to choose from
- Glass “points” (a funny little triangle thing to hold glass in wood windows)
- Splining tool (used for putting screens into screen doors and windows) plus lots of spline
- Metal duct tape (2″ and 4″)(4″ is hard to find, but darn useful stuff)
- Pipe wrenches
- Pipe cements
- Shop towels (you’ll make a mess with the glue, it’s not an “if” question, it’s a “when” question)
- Special solvents (Acrylic sheet, for example can be joined with colorful specialized glue.)
- Frame clamps
- Bar clamps
- Wire welder for up to ¼” steel plate (Extreme for home, mandatory on a farm.)
- Penetrating oil
- Spray coolant
- Hair dryer or heat gun
- Breaker bars and crow bars
- Variety of sand paper
- Variety of steel wool
- Tape joint compound, with perf tape, or mesh tape if you want to try it
- 220.127.116.11.10″ tape joint knives and mud tray with metal edge
- Primers (such as Kilz)
- Selection of interior paints (I keep a couple of gallons of white around)
- Ditto exterior paints (pick one simple color like “parchment beige” or whatever you like)
- Air brush kit for compressor
- Big paint spray kit for compressor
- Drop cloths
- Newspapers, paper towels
- Manila folders and cardboard cut up for use as ‘cut in’ tools while painting
- Masking tapes (3-M blue in assorted widths)
- Electric sanders (belt and orbiting/finishing) with sand paper
- Paint brushes
- Paint pads
- Paint rollers and trays
- Casting resin
- Durham’s Rock-hard Water Putty
- Solvents including paint thinner, mineral spirits, acetone, Everclear, diesel or stove oil
Other Shop Items
- Assorted ladders
- Scaffolding (if more than a single story house)
- Bernzomatic propane torch with various nozzles
- A cutting bench (chop saw and drill press go here)
- Assembly bench (kept clear at all times for actual work in progress – you’ll never do it, but it’s the theory that a bench can be kept empty – that one bench should always be ready for new work…
- Catch-all bench (they all turn into these overnight)
- Roll-around tool cabinets (Sears makes good ones, for about $100-$150 each. Craftsman Club is worth it for the sales.)
- Task and General Lighting
House and Farm Reconstruction
It’s a good idea, if you live in a particularly wind prone area, to have a small home generator. You can get these for under $500, if you shop around. See Craigslist. While they may last only 1,000 to 2,000 hours (if you’re lucky!) they will likely be able to provide enough power so that if you get creative with the leftovers from a storm, you will at least be able to put something comfortable together for you and your family. $40 dollars’ worth of ubiquitous blue tarps belong in everyone’s emergency kit.
It’s surprising how little time tools are actually run on a job. What eats up the time is the measuring, planning, moving material around, and so forth. I doubt a person who planned well would use more than 20 gallons of gasoline, building a small house. In fact, I bet one of those small 18 x 20 cabin kits you see at Lowe’s could be built with 5 gallons of gas, given some planning.
We’re getting to the point where Elaine and I can see the ‘end’ of our home remodeling projects. We will run out of something worth reinventing, in another year or two. By then, we will have completely built, or rebuilt, the inside of the house. Bathrooms, plumbing, heating and cooling…you name it.
Even when you figure in the cost of tools and machinery, the work we have done on our home has been about 20-30 cents on the dollar, compared to what having someone else do it for us would cost.
The new HVAC system we put in set us back about $8,700. I could have done the whole job myself, for under $4,000, including shipping and so forth.
But, with client demands at the time, some things are just better off being subbed out. Remember what I said about crawling around under a home is for young people? Especially when putting in sheet metal ducting that just waits to cut your hands (wear gloves).
Remodeling the kitchen, for the third time? 25 cents on the dollar. Super custom cabinets, for the garden room (oak)? About 25-35 cents on the dollar. Cabinetry may look daunting. But, it’s really pretty darned simple, when you figure out how it’s done. A book on basic cabinets is richly rewarding.
Store-bought cabinet secret? Mount a 1-by-4 “rail” to rest the bottom of the cabinets on. Then take your time to true and shim everything perfectly. Those Irwin squeeze clamps are your best friend at times like this.
Having a few tools and having done a few projects with them, makes one either “BS Resistant” or “BS Proof”, when dealing with service providers.
You may not be ready to put new laminate on your kitchen counters (same plan – cut, fit/form/join/finish rules apply here, too). But, at least you will be able to intelligently supervise people you might have do the work for you.
I am terribly embarrassed that young people today have nowhere near the sense and ability to MAKE that previous generations have.
Code is code. But a piece of furniture you’ve made well – and by hand – is forever.
A shop class project I’d built in 9th grade shop class – a folding kitchen stool – was still used by my mother into her 70’s. I smile about both, often.
That, young Millennial, is what intergenerational values are all about. There’s not a lot of heritage value in hand-me-down C# libraries, now, is there?
Perhaps GW-Basic will make a comeback?
Perhaps it should.
For Business Readers
You really need to be able to MAKE things yourself. The best managers are the master MAKERS.
I was totally impressed with Donald Trump, Junior when he spoke at the GOP Convention.
Had nothing to do with politics.
Had everything to do with him telling people he was a “hands on” guy who was comfortable driving a Caterpillar or running a chain saw, or any tool on a job site.
Impressed the hell out of me. No idea if Barrack Obama could replace an outlet in his home, though. No problem with any of Trump’s kids. To working people, that means something.
There are people in business who can MAKE and there are people in business who shouldn’t be there.
As I have explained throughout this book, the people I value are those who can MAKE and those who habitually and instinctively collect recipes to do anything and everything in life.
I’m proud to say that during my time in management I was always able to say to most people I supervised that I was able to “MAKE” as well as they could.
The one exception was airline pilots making an instrument approach during a violent tropical storm. That skill is one that is only learned through hard fought experience.
Programmers? It would take me forever, but I’d eventually get there.
Networks, sales plans? Promotions and pro formas? I’m Ure guy.
I believe people who have worked for me over the years can see through most managers. The braggarts who “talk a good game” don’t last long in today’s world. People who have capabilities above what they are minimally required today? Inevitably they move up.
Every night at home from a “day at the office” I would spend time in a short mental review focused on this “MAKE” point.
The art of management is to get maximum MAKE and minimum MANAGE.
That comes from helping people see a way that aligning their job performance (what they MAKE for the company) with what they personally are trying to MAKE in their lives.
Exceptional managers know this. The rest are the suck-up bullshitters and there’s not a one of ‘em who doesn’t get what they deserve in the end.
MAKE is what good companies do.
Next Thursday: Keyword [Lifestyle]
Write when you get rich,