Thursday, April 3, 2008

Still blowing

The rains finally slacked off yesterday morning. There were a few parting squalls before the skies cleared to a haze. But the wind kicked up to almost 30 mph. This is the normally calm Caicos Bank across the road, where our new neighbors are trying to keep their new palm trees in the ground. They are propped against the prevailing winds (the palm trees, I meant. Not the neighbors. I don't know what they are propped against):

Checking the weather forecast, I saw we are expecting twelve foot seas. It was not a "lets drop it all and go fishing" day, No sir. On days like this we do get some entertainment watching other boats coming out of the calm marina into a suddenly evil and nasty chop. Nothing like that first splash of sea water in the face to wake you up.

With the intermittent showers still around and the wind howling, I decided to just spend another day knocking small chores off this seemingly endless move. (So, a fair warning here, this post is just about handyman repair stuff. No tropical scenes, no colorful sea life. Just one of our typically boring days, lately.)

We have had a microwave oven sitting in a cardboard box in the middle of the dining area for, oh, something like six hundred years. Since way before we moved in. Yesterday I took it out of the carton for the first time to have a look at it. I was thinking maybe there was something wrong with it. A reason people have avoided installing it. Perhaps it had bad breath. Or an attitude.

Nope. Nothing wrong with it. An apparantly healthy, new, microwave.
We had actually gotten accustomed to it sitting there. We walked around it fifty times a day without a second thought. A variety of construction workers have been walking around it for months. "Install the microwave" has been on every punchlist we have generated this year. Every other appliance is in, and fully functional (pending some fine tuning here and there. Mostly trim work).

The new microwave in it's carboard box had become somewhat of an unofficial piece of furniture. A convenient place to park other stuff that does not yet have a home of it's own. The usual clutter. Stacks of books seemed to like it, for example, and they'd gather there often.

It doubled as a table or workbench at times. For some reason, it just never got installed. We even became inured to the reminder of what we once considered a conspicuously annoying empty spot above the cooktop. We had always envisioned a microwave there.

Well, we planned for it. We paid for it. And there it was, sitting on the floor. We just needed for it to be up there. On the wall. Blinking its little LED clock display of 12:00 every time the power fails, just like all the other appliances do. Something to use to warm tortillas and pastrami. Reheat things. Make popcorn. Defrost hot dogs. You know....all that microwave stuff.

It only had to move about twelve feet from where it has been to where it needed to be. And up five feet vertically from the floor to the wall. (That's the simple version of that.)

It waited on the floor for a long time for the cabinet guy to build cabinets. Back in '07, I think it was. Then it waited for the electrician to install an outlet. For the past couple months it has been waiting because.....well....I don't really know why it has been waiting. Probably because I specified that it be vented outside the house, which I gather is unusual here. Despite the fact that outside is the preferred place to be venting things, as far as I am concerned. It's the exhaust for the stovetop, too. Or it is intended to be.

Now that I think about it, every microwave I have seen for quite some time has been set up to recirculate the steam and odors, and blow it back into the room. I am not sure why. Convenience, I suppose. Or maybe people just don't think about it. Perhaps microwave salesmen and installers just fail to mention that these things come ready to be vented outside. Certainly nobody here seemed to realize that it was possible.

They sure do now, though. I am sure the builders people dread seeing me show up with that "WHY ISN'T ANYBODY VENTING THE MICROWAVE???" expression on my face.

In any case, I decided we had suffered without a microwave for long enough. It did not look like our builder was going to get to it before it became an obsolete antique, so yesterday I took the job on.

Armed with a cordless drill, a 2" hole saw ( that %&*$#@ red thing in the drill), wood bits, a masonry bit, a jig saw, hardened masonry bolts, screwdriver, square, level, installation manual, operation manual, a cutting template....

...adhesive tape, a socket wrench to turn the bolts, a pencil...this is one of those jobs where you get to put pencil marks on the walls. I don't know why that gives me a little thrill. Must be some psychological reminder of when I was a kid and forbidden to write on walls. I didn't get away with it then, as I recall.

I drilled and cut a whole bunch of holes in the new cabinet. New cypress wood shavings. Expensive shavings.

That's a unsettling feeling, isn't it. The first time you take a power tool to something new. It's like this little nagging "Ah oh...what have I forgotten?" twinge. Trying to remember to measure three times and cut once...or is it cut once and then measure....It actually wasn't that difficult. Good experience.

First step is to attach a metal bracket to the wall behind the oven location. When I first started bolting things to concrete walls I was a little nervous. I am familiar with wood-framed houses. What we call conventional framing in the US. 2x4 or 2x6 studs on 16 inch centers. Well, this is all concrete block. Once you get used to working with it, it's not too bad. Just drill a hole with a masonry bit where you want the bolt, then use a power driver or wrench to crank in a hardened blue bolt. It's real solid. I think I now prefer it to hanging stuff on hollow drywall.

Then it was just a matter of taping the template upside down to the bottom of the cabinet above the cooktop, drilling three holes, marking and cutting out a rectangle with a jig saw, and using a hole saw to cut a hole for the power cord. I started out trying to do the contortionist routine,standing on a step ladder,bent over backwards trying to drill and cut upward, with sawdust gently wafting down and sticking to my eyeballs. After a few minutes of that, I ended up taking the entire cabinet off the wall and performing this surgery with it sitting on the kitchen floor. Got a little more complicated than I anticipated. However I now know a lot more than I previously did about these multi-adjustable cabinet door hinges.

I am laughing now, thinking about that little phrase that snuck into this story just now. The bit about "using a hole saw to cut a hole for the power cord". Yes, THAT part. I'm gonna tell you why I am laughing, and I realize this is somewhat of a departure from our normal sort of blog post format here. An aside, as it were. A trip off the path. A bit of local life, I guess you could say.
Anyhow, getting to the point where I could type that specific phrase about the hole saw ....took something like four hours out of the day. My cheap two-inch hole saw was dull from the one and only time I used it last fall to install a fuel gauge on the boat. Cheap metal. So, while being unreasonably asked to last through a second job, the hole saw's set screw sheared off a third of the way through the job. "Gosh!" says I. "Oh dang!" and stuff like that.

After taking it down to the future workshop at Base Camp to see if I could fix it, I discovered the little allen head set screw had totally jammed and the end of it was splayed out like a smashed rivet head. Spun on the hardened drill. Useless. Couldn't turn it. So, with the project on hold I drove to the hardware store. Leaving the kitchen in some disarray. A trip to the hardware store is 7 miles of dirt and rocky road, made even more interesting by new washed out potholes of varying depths left by the rainstorms, and then another three miles of pavement, always an adventure in itself. Just to buy another cheap two-inch hole saw. Ah, but they did not have any more two inch diameter  hole saws of the same type. Popular item, I guess. Or more likely people buy them a half dozen at a time to be sure they can get a job done. SO, I decided to buy a quality 2 inch hole saw, which they DID have in stock at several times times the price of the Chinese one.

But, you see, the quality hole saw uses a different arbor than the cheap hole saw. In fact, the quality arbor alone costs four times what the entire cheap hole saw with arbor costs. So, doing the math, a quality hole saw with arbor does indeed cost something like eight times the price of the cheaper setup...But that's immaterial, because, friends and neighbors...

they did not have any of the quality arbors for the quality hole saw

At this point, I was thinking I could just burn a hole in the cabinet with a propane torch...or perhaps use an axe..but thinking it over I realized I would forever be explaining that burnt spot where the cabinet used to be. Or why there was a large hole chopped in it. La Gringa would be peeved, in either case.... Then I noticed that what they did have in stock was a 2 1/4" cheap hole saw, which had the same arbor as the one that stripped out. So I came up with the idea of buying the odd sized cheap hole saw that I did not want nor need in order to scavage the arbor from it for the cheap, dull, saw that I already had. This making sense so far?

So I did that. I bought the wrong sized cheap hole saw with the right sized cheap arbor, and took it back to the garage. I used a Dremel tool ( love those things) with the little flat carbide cutting disk to sharpen all the teeth on the old but right sized cheap hole saw. Took about a half hour to get it right. There's a lot of teeth, and they point in different directions. I now know a whole lot more about sharpening saw teeth. I then installed the new cheap arbor on the newly sharpened old cheap saw, and....then I could proceed with the microwave installation. (Remember the microwave?)

This is common in a climate like this, I have found. The first part of any little job seems to be to get the tools working again. Need to use a pair of pliers? Step One will usually be to find something to spray on the pliers to get them working. And a rag to clean the oil and rust off of them...then you can get back to the reason you needed them. It's true, you know. Rust Never Sleeps.

Somehow, someway, when I got it all back together, it all fit. And it works!

So, microwave is off the floor and working just fine. One less thing for me to complain about. I still have to work out the details of venting it outside though. It seems nothing like a "3 1/2" x 10" rectangular to 6" round adapter" has ever been seen in the TCI. It's difficult to describe one even with a drawing to point to. I need to find a good sheet metal man, or make my own I guess.

After installing the microwave ( the last of our appliances to become operational) I was on a little problem-solving binge , and before I could stop myself I had hung a mirror La Gringa has been wanting on the wall for a month. Man, I was moving right along now. Drill in one hand, masonry screws in the other, I was getting in the groove. Developing that thousand-millimeter stare of a home handyman on a mission....

Flushed with pride of accomplishment after the microwave and mirror installations, I rapelled down the driveway to Base Camp ( the garage) to see what else I could get done. I still had battery life lin the power drill and daylight on the horizon. On the way, I noticed that in just two days of intermittent rain, the run off has already started eating a riverbed into our compacted limestone driveway. This dry gulch was a micro Class II rapids yesterday during the rain.

Well, we knew it was going to happen. Even though we were assured otherwise. We just did not think it would happen this fast. Especially since we were assured otherwise. I think "pave the driveway" just moved up a notch on the priority list. Before the rest of the driveway decides to head toward town.

So, while La Gringa was out shopping for patio furniture I managed to install two sets ladder hangers and a tool hanger thingy on the garage wall:

Three more things off the garage floor. I am getting closer and closer to my dream of an actual workshop. I just need to find homes for all the stuff piled on the benches I built. The stuff was piled on the benches to save it from the floods. Well, you know that story.

Oh, La Gringa returned from shopping, and she had been to our old favorite "Krazy Bargains" looking for patio furniture. She did not find any patio furniture, but she DID manage to find probably the only two woodworking-style sliding adjustable bench vises on the island:

Massive things, compared to the smaller ones I am accustomed to in previous workshops. I think the Pakistani's at Krazy Bargains have probably had them in stock for several years. I bet they were astonished to sell them. I am really happy to have them, though, and I am really looking forward to getting these fitted to the benches. Just the thing for clamping stuff that needs working on. And we have LOTS of stuff that needs clamping and working on. Oh boy.
And yeah, they were made in China. I just hope it's not the same company over there that makes hole saws. (They seem to have lost their edge....nyuk nyuk..)

So, that was how our Wednesday went. Just a mundane day, working our way though all the little details involved in moving into an uncompleted house. Sound like fun?

Oh, we are still looking for a name for the house. In lieu of an actual street address. La Gringa came up with one that both of us like pretty well so far:

"The Back Side". That's what a lot of people call the boat route from here to the other islands over the Banks. The other route, between the islands and the reef is the "Front Side" I had liked "The Other Side" and "The Far Side" as names, but both are registered trademarks . The Back Side has room for some humor in it, a few word play games. So far, we like the name.


Anonymous said...

thousand-millimeter stare of a home handyman on a mission....

Anonymous said...

What you are doing,I have done and it doesn't stop.

On that name "Back Side",it could work.By any chance did ya'll look up for a local name for the hill ya'll built on?

Anonymous said...

Seeing the palm trees blowing, another house name sprung into my head...."Caiconut"

Captain Dubble

Anonymous said...

whaat a beautiful kitchen. i noticed the can of cafe bustelo. do you drink it cuban style? also, do any cubans end up on shore there? just wondering since you said the patrol boats are out there looking for haitians. my family and i left cuba when i was 8-right before the cuban missile crisis. it's so sad that things are still so bad there that people continue to risk their lives by leaving on just about anything that will float.

have a great weekend!

Anonymous said...

Unreal. I am writing this in 2013, i was reading back through some old posts and saw this one again. I can't believe I never saw any of these comments at the time.

I do typically try to answer every question someone sends in. I apologize to you guys. I know none of you are probably still reading this five years later. But...for those who come after:

We are on our fourth microwave. We no longer even install them in that spot. We use cheap, small counter top models.

We have not named the house yet. We DID get to name the road, though and we now have a street address. No mail delivery, but hey, it gives us a warm feeling. Or is that just the tropics?

And Theresa, I'm not sure what Cuban style is when it comes to coffee. We brew it in a drip coffee maker ( our third in five years) using a heaping tablespoon of Cafe Busty per cup of water. That's probably not Cuban style, but it's strong enough to make rustling noises on it's own.