December 19, 2013

Research Indicates That Cats Are Jerks


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December 07, 2013

Meditations on Power Tools

I was doing some simple woodworking recently, and I found myself pondering power tools. In my humble opinion, the greatest power tool (for woodworking) is the power sander.

Saws? Modern hand saws are excellent, with high-quality steel that remains sharp. At my sister's timbersports competitions, they sometimes show off for the crowd that a quality crosscut saw will cut substantially faster than an off-the-shelf chainsaw.

Drills? While an electric drill is great for tight quarters, those generally only occur when you're modifying existing things. For new work, two of the three hand-powered drills work fine. The bit and brace gives power for even big bits, the reciprocating plunge drill does fine for quick small holes, and the eggbeater drill is kind of a counterexample, but whatever.

Hammers? Yes, you can get power nailers. They're faster for doing things where you have to put in lots of identically-angled nails, like flooring, but they have only a small speed advantage over a traditional hammer, and a substantial cost penalty both up-front and per nail.

But the sander. Ah, the sander. Sanding by hand is a boring, tedious, laborious task. It takes hours to do it right. But an orbital sander or belt sander will cut 95% or more of the time required for that tedious task. Hooray for power sanders!

(P.S. The lathe probably deserves an honorable mention, because treadle lathes are also much slower than power lathes. But it's a specialized tool not found in the typical workshop- even professionals often don't need one.)

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December 03, 2013

The Joys of Owning a House

As heating season started, our furnace did not. It wasn't completely nonfunctional, but it would only fire up once or twice a day. It would run until the thermostat turned it off again, and then it wouldn't start again for anywhere from ten to forty hours.

I did some poking at it, but as a matter of Operational Risk Management, I didn't want to actually take apart a device that could very easily burn the house down and/or cause the house to explode. So we called a local HVAC contractor.

It took a while to get him over to visit, what with it being the start of heating season. Once he was here, it took about an hour of diagnosis to discover that the fan motor for the secondary heat exchanger was sticking, probably from bad bearings. It could be replaced, for $400, but the furnace itself dated from the early 1980s. So we decided to spend about $3000 on getting a new, high-efficiency model installed. The old one was also high-efficiency, but the new one nevertheless promised additional energy savings. The gas efficiency is about the same for both models, but the new one's fan motors are better, and for a forced-air heating system the fans use a surprisingly large chunk of electricity.

Anyway, it took another two weeks or so for them to free up two technicians to spend all day installing the new furnace. They also sprayed expanding foam into a number of passages from the basement to the first floor, around plumbing and whatnot, and then spread some sealing gunk over every joint it the ductwork in the basement. The solvent stunk up the house for a couple of days, but the effect was quite noticeable: our basement is now at least five degrees colder, because less heated air is leaking into it.

As long as we were having the furnace replaced, I wanted to get another project done. The front of the second story had a sash window that was single pane and terribly drafty. I hired a carpenter/handyman that had done some good work for my future sister-in-law to install a new, double-pane window up there. He did a fine job, and I ended up paying him $15 less than the estimate because the window opening was perfectly square, meaning he didn't need to spend any time shimming. Finding anything perfectly square in a new house is unusual enough, let along in a house that's in the neighborhood of 110 years old, and was built cheap in the first place!

So anyway, the house is better heated now, and the upstairs is less drafty. I'm pleased going into this winter.

Future projects, some for me, some for professionals:

  • Add insulation
  • Replace front and back doors
  • Repair cracks in concrete driveway and walkway
  • Add bookshelves. Many bookshelves. Many many bookshelves
  • Remove disused gas heater in basement & re-route gas lines
  • Replace two-conductor wiring with three-conductor wiring
  • Upgrade house service power from 100amps to 150amps
  • Cat door in bathroom [I'm joking. Somewhat.]
  • Second bathroom, probably in the basement
  • Exterior outlet on the front of the house
So if my father wants to stop by some time and lend a hand, I'd be glad to pay him in dinner.

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