Reader Feedback: Issue 178, April/May 2006
The best job ever
Thank you for the best issue yet, Fine Homebuilding #177, and congratulations on 25 years of great advice. As a construction superintendent, I, too, am passionate about the homes I build and appreciate the knowledge you bring to us in so many aspects of home construction.
After retiring from the Marine Corps, I could have done anything I wanted in life but chose to come back to the most fulfilling profession I’ve ever experienced. Last summer, my brother-in-law assisted me in some exterior sprucing up of one of my father’s rentals. Out of the blue, he looked at me and said, “You’ve got the best job ever.“ He’s right. While my brother-in-law works with other people’s money and is paid handsomely for it, I get to see something tangible come from my efforts every single day. For me, nothing can be as rewarding as watching a bare piece of land blossom into an attractive, well-built dwelling.
Your magazine both guides me and inspires me to give our clients the best product available. Keep up the great work.
—Earl W. Hassler, Burlington, Wash.
Competing with The Home Depot
I believe Tom O’Brien left out an important point in his story “Are big boxes better for builders?” (FHB #177, p. 20). The one thing a lumberyard isn’t likely to be is your competitor. The Home Depot installs roofs, siding, kitchens, baths, doors, and windows, as does Lowe’s.
An experience I had with Expo, an offshoot of The Home Depot, left me reeling. I brought in a longtime customer to get some ideas for a project. I introduced myself to the salesperson as the contractor who would be installing whatever items we purchased. Within minutes, I found myself competing for the very customer I had brought into the store, something that never, ever happened with my local cabinet supplier. Needless to say, I have never been back to Expo.
—Greg Gacek, via email
Nail guns would have slowed us down
Larry Haun is the real deal. Everything he said about the California building industry in years past was the gospel truth (FHB #177, pp. 96-101). I know because I was there.
I commonly arrived on the job site at 5:30 a.m. and saw other men already standing joists and rafters with the aid of their truck headlights. Your paycheck depended on how much work you could turn out. On some of my father’s jobs (he’s in his 80s now), we would have players from professional baseball or football teams working floor joists in the off-season. To say it was competitive is an understatement.
Like Larry mentioned, lugging around a bloated framing nail gun and a mile of hose would only have slowed the men down.
—Richard Rose, Cedar Grove, Wis.
Accidents do happen
I winced when I saw your photo of electrical wire being stripped with a razor knife (FHB #176, p. 118). That little tool has sent more of my employees to the emergency room than any other. You never should allow any body part to find itself downstream of a working razor knife.
Nonetheless, in a lapse of the constant vigilance that our trade requires, I found myself assuming this very position. The photo above shows the result. I guess we all screw up eventually, given enough opportunities.
—Randy Hicks, Marlboro, Mass.
Safer cable ripping
The picture accompanying the article “Wiring a single-pole switch” (FHB #176, p. 118) made me wince. In step three, it sure looks like a sliced finger (or thumb) waiting to happen.
For years, I’ve had a little tool called a cable ripper, which slices the outer jacket safely. Slide it up on the cable, squeeze, and pull it back toward you. The jacket then has a neat slice right down the center.
The only thing missing on that thumb is a target—or a Band-Aid.
—R.C. De Mordaigle, Lancaster, Calif.
Lubricate oilstones with dish soap?
Regarding your discussion of sharpening stones (FHB #177, “What’s the Difference?” p. 136), here’s a tip on using oilstones for sharpening. Don’t use oil. Instead, use any liquid soap for hand-washing dishes. The soap lubricates and holds particles in suspension as well as or better than oil. When you’re finished, clean the stone and tools by rinsing them in water.
—Fred Gaca, Effingham, Ill.
Author Bill Duckworth replies: Thanks for your suggestion; I’ve heard that tip before but never tried it. After receiving your note, I spoke with Dave Long, a sales and marketing manager for Norton Abrasives, who said that any liquid—oil, water, kerosene, or dishwashing detergent—will lubricate oilstones during the sharpening process and help to keep them from becoming clogged with metal particles. He added that Norton’s sharpening oil, which is a food-grade mineral oil that can be used to sharpen kitchen knives as well as plane blades and chisels, works best. He also pointed out that Norton soaks all its oilstones at the factory.
Regarding the tip about using a cookie sheet as a heat shield when soldering copper pipe (FHB #176, “Tips & Techniques,” p. 30), let me add another recommendation in the interest of fire safety. I find it advisable to keep handy a spray bottle filled with water. Wet down the exposed area both before and after soldering. As a retired fire chief, I can attest to the many times a plumber’s torch started a fire.
—William J. Schreiber, Kingston, N.Y.
No fan of open plans
Johnny Grey’s “The kitchen is dead. Long live the … active living space?” (FHB #175, p. 8) unfolds like a catalog of all the trends in home design I abhor. Consider the open floor plan. Even if the “rooms” are delineated by ceiling treatments, beams, or low-lying furniture, they still lack any real barriers, so what is going on in one locus is going on in all. There is no privacy, nor means of excluding annoyances. How can one relax by a fire with a book while a television blares nearby? Those things need isolation. Nor can a civilized conversation proceed with interruptions from foot traffic or distractions interposing from another area.
More to the point, the kitchen, far from being the “village square,” is a place for food preparation and is by its very nature messy, odoriferous, and at times noisy. I do not want to see, smell, or hear anything going on in the kitchen unless I am doing the cooking, in which case I do not want a bunch of kibitzers in there pestering me. My wife is even stronger in that opinion. For us, the ideal kitchen has walls, doors, and no place where an audience might “perch.”
Mr. Grey struggles for a word to replace “kitchen” and settles on “active living space” for the “public floor of the house.” There is, however, a perfectly good word for an undivided area where all activities occur together: wigwam.
—James G. Pastorius Jr., Richmond, Va.
Women in the trades
Here’s what the past 25 years meant to us women in the building trades: We got jobs. OK, maybe not in the numbers we’d hoped, but for the first time in the United States at least, women had careers in the construction industry.
I was glad to see a couple of photos of women in your anniversary issue (FHB #177). Still, the dearth of images of women in construction discourages young women from considering the trades. I made a good career as an electrician, contractor, and inspector, and I’m still helping women to discover the trades through Tradeswomen Inc. (www.tradeswomen.org).
—Molly Martin, San Francisco
Editor Kevin Ireton replies: As the husband of one of Connecticut’s few female licensed land surveyors, I couldn’t agree more. Check out Shellie Rigsby’s article on decorative concrete finishing on p. 83. I think you’ll like it.
Cheap tricks for garages
With regard to “Tricking Out the Garage” (FHB #176, pp. 50-55), here are two other ways to improve storage and workspace in a garage, and they offer a lot of bang for the buck.
Buy secondhand cabinets at the resale shop of your local Habitat for Humanity. People remodeling a kitchen will donate old cabinets to Habitat, which resells them at affordable prices. My local group usually has several sets available. The cabinets are structurally sound, and any surface blemishes can be covered with paint. (Habitat also sells donated paint.)
My other suggestion is to buy a pastry table from a restaurant supplier. They typically have an 8-ft.- or 10-ft.-long by 30-in.-wide butcher-block top on steel legs. They make wonderful workbenches. I purchased a used one last year for $100 delivered. The price was low because the top was in poor condition. I unscrewed it, turned it upside down, and sanded off the dirt. Works great.
—Alex Pausley, via email