Tag Archive for construction

Get Handsy

Our school is cutting back on traditional industrial arts programs and pushing more kids into heavier math and science courses, and it bums me out.

Not because math and science aren’t important, mind, but not every kid is looking to go on to college or to become an engineer. Even if that were the case, what good is an engineer who’s never put his hands on a wrench? Would you trust an architect who hasn’t at least framed up a shed?

Adults shouldn’t be afraid to get their hands dirty. There’s satisfaction to be had in a lot of this work, and in many cases it can save a few bucks.

The Workspace Tour

Yep, I built this. It’s not a work of art, but it works well and it’s the most comfortable desk I’ve used because it’s custom-made for my height.

“I’m not good with tools” shouldn’t be an excuse. If you grew up with cartoons, you have a pretty good idea how a hammer works. I’m not saying everyone should be able to turn a beautiful table leg on a lathe (I sure can’t), but hanging a shelf on a wall should be an easy job.

I’ve changed the brake pads on one car and on my motorcycle. I happened to have the tools for those jobs, and it wasn’t bad. All it took was a manual, a YouTube video, and the guts to tackle the job. Labor for things like that? Usually around $85.00/hour.

Car oil & filter changes are so cheap these days it’s worth it to go to a mechanic, especially when they top off fluids and perform other simple services and checks at the same time. However, I think it’s a job every car owner should be able to handle in a pinch. Tire rotations are too time consuming to do on my own (and most dealerships do it for free if you buy your tires there), but I’ve put on several spares. Nobody should have to wait for a tow truck for a flat tire.

Tinkering on the motorcycle is fun. Sometimes the narrow spaces in and around the frame and engine are frustrating, but I’ve swapped the battery, installed battery minder leads, changed the oil and filter, changed the brake fluid, and changed the brake pads, all because taking it to a motorcycle mechanic is inconvenient. Soon I’ll be handling the spark plugs and maybe the spark plug wires. The only thing I’ve paid for is tire swaps and a new chain and sprocket install. I just don’t have the proper tools or environment for those, and if I get them wrong, I could be in a world of hurt.

I first learned to get handsy with a water heater. It had a leaky overflow valve, and someone put a scare into me about possibly cross-threading the new valve and having to replace the whole thing, so I called a plumber. He was at the house for less than 15 minutes. The part? About twenty bucks. The total bill? $90.00.

Never again. When the bottom finally rusted out of that water heater, I purchased and installed the replacement myself. We had a misstep with the flux when we sweated the copper pipes, but one conversation with the owner of the hardware store put us in the right direction. Years later, thanks to that experience I was able to help a friend cut an old, broken water softener out of his water line and sweat new pipe in to close the loop.

In our new place, when the thermocouple quit on the water heater (which it did repeatedly until a recall had me replace the whole burner assembly), I replaced it myself. Not difficult at all. Another friend sweated turning the gas on and off when his thermocouple quit, so he paid a plumber. Once again, small job, big bill.

I’m not saying we should take money out of some working stiff’s pocket. We once had plumbers dig up and replace a sewer line to the tune of $4K because it was too big a job. But I’ve replaced toilets and kitchen & bathroom faucets without batting an eye. I’ve helped a friend install a countertop, and I’ve wrestled with a garbage disposal for an hour until I realized the gasket was upside down. These are sometimes annoying jobs, but they are not difficult or highly technical.

In fact, I think a great number of smaller mechanical, plumbing, and electrical jobs are done simply because the car/homeowner doesn’t want to deal with it. Meanwhile, we probably saved hundreds of dollars across all of those jobs, and the sweat equity and satisfaction made them worthwhile.

I paid out to have a furnace installed and several windows & a door replaced because they’re just too big a job. However, I’ll be tackling a laminate floor and building a soffit in the near future. First time for both, but the flooring just snaps together and I’ve helped with a small drywall job, so I have a pretty good idea what I’m in for. Wish me luck.

Now I include my oldest son in all of these jobs, and sometimes his younger brother, depending upon the job. Heck, the boys installed the last two brackets of my desk because I didn’t feel well. I want them to have the confidence to do some of this stuff on their own when they move out, whether or not they have the opportunity to take a shop class in high school.

And ladies, this applies to you, too. My wife may not have had the muscle to break the lug nuts loose on one of those tire swaps, but I’m sure she could have handled any of these other jobs with the same instructions I looked up.

We’re both looking forward to our daughter learning some of this stuff soon. If she ends up having to change a flat tire while out on a date someday, she’ll know she needs to dump his ass, won’t she?

Next time you have a small job around the house or on your vehicle, ask yourself, “Can I handle this myself?” Then dig in and get your hands dirty.

It’s worth it.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

Building a Makiwara

I am officially the worst carpenter on the planet. I’ve done several small projects around the house, but if it involves cutting wood, I’m pretty well screwed. As such, I’m surprised my new makiwara came out as well as it did.

I’ve been thinking about building a makiwara — a board for punching practice — for some time. Most theories say the benefits are either strengthening the knuckles, wrist and arm or improving your punching technique. Proponents of one theory tend to look down on the other, but either way, the old masters used makiwara training quite a bit, and several modern karateka still use them. Why not give it a shot?

I found several plans on the ol’ Internet, and they’re all very close. I went out for a sledgehammer on Father’s Day (to resolve the post problem), got a bug up my butt to finally build the makiwara, and assembled my materials:

Makiwara Materials

  • 1 8′ 4×4 (cut down to 7′ by Home Depot drone)
  • 2 scraps of 2×4
  • Tapered-head screws
  • Sewer line connector
  • Dumbass cat (optional, actually)

Lesson #1 is to bring your plans to Home Depot. I didn’t only because it became an impulse purchase, but I might have gotten things done faster had I showed them what I needed as we debated many options before I settled on the sewer line connector. (One plumbing department employee was a grizzled old dude with a never-healing knuckle and several missing teeth. His never-healing knuckle was due to punching something wrapped in rope, and I suggest other things wrapped in flesh. I should have made him stick around as he obviously knew from punching, but someone else needed his help and dragged him away.)

They assumed I wanted to wrap the sewer line gasket thing around the post, but no, I wanted to cut it and make a flat surface, like so:

Makiwara Pad

It’s a little thinner than I wanted, but it’s easier on the knuckles than wood. I want to build them up, not shred the shit out of them. A simple carpet knife went right through the rubber, and I just tossed the two metal constrictor rings into my miscellaneous junk box.

Next came the lumber cutting. Negotiating the 4×4 through a bandsaw or jigsaw, both of which I believe I have available at work, didn’t sound like a good idea. In fact, had I tried it, I’m certain I would have come home minus a few fingers if not a limb. The Home Depot lumber guy recommended a simple circular saw, which I had already borrowed from my father-in-law to cut up and burn our old porch scrap. See, cutting things to pieces, I can do. Making precise cuts? Not so much.

I laid down a chalk line on opposite sides of the 4×4 and they seemed to match. I made the first cut down the length of the 4×4, flipped it over, and made the second cut. The good news: direction-wise, they matched and I didn’t end up with an X. The bad news: I missed by about a quarter inch on one side because I deviated from the chalk line a bit. I wrestled the two halves apart, broke off and sanded the broken edge, and ended up with posts that are a bit thicker on one half (vertically). I tried to take this pic from a more flattering angle:

Makiwara Board

At least all of my fingers survived.

Notice the pic was taken at night under my garage light. Yes, I insisted on getting it done anyway. I used my father-in-law’s post hole digger to dig a hole just over 2.5 feet deep in the corner of the yard, then attempted to screw the 2x4s to the makiwara post. My cordless drill ran out of juice, so I used a corded electric drill, only to strip the shit out of the screw heads before they could bury themselves completely. I decided it didn’t need to look pretty because they’d be buried anyway, but as it turned out the 2×4 — even as short as I had them — didn’t fit into the post hole. Good thing I tested it after the first 2×4 and didn’t waste my time on the second.

No worries, I thought, I’ll just take the one 2×4 off the post and wedge them both in around the post in the hole. I wondered how I’d get the 2×4 off the makiwara post with the screw heads stripped, and as it turned out I was able to just yank it off. One screw had gone maybe an eighth of an inch into the 4×4 and the other two screws never made it through the 2×4.

Yes, I made pilot holes with a drill. Like I said: I am the world’s worst carpenter.

The 2×4 wedged neatly down into the hole, though I could barely reach it as I laid on the ground and reached into the hole. It held the post nice and still (and level!), however, and even with no room for the second 2×4, the makiwara post was good and stable. I think it helped that I used a post hole digger rather than digging a big hole with a shovel. I filled in the dirt, tamped it all down, and boom, I had my makiwara post.

I wanted to use string to tie down the rubber pad, but the Home Depot guys talked me into screws. The screw went right through the rubber and through the back of the makiwara post. So much for that idea. I turned to black electrical tape as a temporary measure. When it starts to fall off, I’ll go back to string.

Here’s what I ended up with the next morning:

Makiwara Completed

Not too shabby despite being built by the world’s worst carpenter.

Now to screw up my knuckles beating on it. I gave it at total of about 40 good whacks on a side yesterday and have small cuts on each of my middle knuckles.

Masochism: it’s what’s for dinner.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.