Thursday, June 25, 2009

Paw Prints in the Floor, Part I

Jumpy and Scout, taking a nap together.

I really should have expected it. Every project we've attempted involving this house has always developed into a drama with more things that come up that have to be fixed that make the project bigger, more complicated, more expensive and a pain in the arse.

I first wrote about our kitchen floor in this entry on Trials & Tribulations, where Sprockey and Scout kitty had an adventure escaping through a hole in the floor to under the house.

A little background first. On the day before our new washer was to be delivered (that's us; always waiting until the last moment) I started to take up all the tiles in the laundry area of the kitchen so I could replace them with new ones. There were three layers there, under the plywood we had installed for a level base for the washer. When I got down to the last layer, the tiles brought up large chunks of dampish, crumbling wood, the consistency of mulch. That's when I called Mr. Sprocket.

We discovered that on top of the plywood base, someone had installed particle board. Over the years (when there must have been washer leaks) water got trapped in that particle board and stayed wet, never getting the opportunity to dry out. He took to the floor with a hammer and realized the damp wood in some spots went all the way down to the plywood that was rotting. Thinking that "maybe" we could take out a section of the floor under the washer and dryer and just replace that, we move the dryer outside and take up a section of floor. When the delivery guys come the next day, they install the washer on the back porch.

Mr. Sprocket had the "brilliant" idea that cement board would be a better under-layment than plywood and spent considerable time cutting and installing two layers of cement board on top of each other. He screws them in with about 40 screws in each layer.

Then we realized that the plywood under the particleboard that was bad extended beyond the washer and dryer area to under the refrigerator. We move the refrigerator into our dining room and cut out another section of floor and Mr. Sprocket buys more cement board. At this time, Mr. Sprocket is also spending lots of time trying to get the rear transmission of the White Whale Work Truck rebuilt and he doesn't have time for the kitchen floor. I convince him to let our old carpenter friend give us a bid on what it would cost to repair the floor, install new vinyl flooring and finish the roofing of the back porch framing that my friend built for us back in 2005. Mr. Sprocket agrees.

Our friend comes out to get an idea of what the job will entail. I hadn't spoken to my friend in a long time and come to find out, he now just works as a general contractor. He no longer does any work himself. (This should have been a red flag.) He tells us his lead guy is also licensed and very good. At that time, we tell him about the weakness under the floor by the back door and explain the temporary fixes that Mr. Sprocket did to fix it. He gives us a bid for all the things we want done and we arrange payment. He recommends we go to Home Depot and pick out the type of vinyl floor we want. We also pick up some other miscellaneous things we think they will need.

Our floor comes in and Mr. Sprocket picks it up in the White Whale Work Truck. Here is a link to the floor we ordered. We get a call from my friend the contractor that he wants to come out the next day with his crew and go over all that needs to be done. That evening we take the stove and the pantry out of the kitchen and tape up all our cupboards with tape and plastic. We move everything else out of the kitchen into the dining room and all our counter type items are on the dining room table.

The contractor and his crew come out to meet us. The wall plastering and the threshold repair is added to the project but no cost is mentioned for how much that will add to the job. Mr. Sprocket mentions the weakness in the floor again, points out to the workers the fixes he did and the lead crew member mentions that they can go under the house and fix that. That afternoon, the carpenter's remove all the old flooring and they tell Mr. Sprocket how much plywood to get for the kitchen floor and the back porch project. The guys go to work removing all the old wood and flooring down to the sub-floor.

The next day, the new plywood floor is put in.

The lead crew member and Mr. Sprocket talk about the floor fixes Mr. Sprocket did and there is no resolution as to what needs to be done. The workers remove the bricks that make up one of the fixes but don't tell us and they don't shore up that section of the floor under the house.

After finishing the plywood and installing a roof over the back porch, the first stage in the drywall is repaired

the first coat is applied

and the threshold is torn out.

To help cut down our costs (because we know the drywall and the threshold took a lot of time and that the drywall needs to dry completely before the next coat is put on) we tell them that we will cover all the nail holes ourselves (they recommend we get "Bondo") and make the floor template ourselves. They will come back a day after that.

When Mr. Sprocket walks on the floor (finally paying attention to the sponginess) he realizes that there are sections of the floor that are not nailed down properly. For about 30% of the floor, they missed hitting the joists completely with the automatic nailer. We realize that it's going to take a lot longer to get the floor together. Mr. Sprocket informs me that we need to screw the floor down completely to get rid of the squeaks and spongy feel to the new floor. I get to listen to his usual ranting and raving about "nails verses screws." We go shopping and get some good screws and Mr. Sprocket spends hours and hours installing about 225 to 250 screws in this nine by fourteen feet kitchen floor.

He calls up my friend the contractor and tells him that the workers missed a joist completely in nailing down the floor. The my contractor friend tells my husband, "We're the experts, you're not." That was the wrong thing to say to Mr. Sprocket. They then have a discussion about nails verses screws and my contractor friend tries to tell my husband that a nail is just as good as a screw. Another big mistake. So we delay their coming out another day.

The "Bondo" application doesn't go very well.

Mr. Sprocket has never worked with Bondo before (it has a very short set up time) but he does devise a way to use it where the set up is not so quick. He calls the company and finds out that if he keeps the mixed material cold, he will have 10 minutes or less to work with it instead of the usual 4 minutes. Even so, after all that work he realizes that we will need to add a skim coat to the floor.

We purchase skim coat and Mr. Sprocket tries working with it in small batches and finally gets the hang of it. Sprockey and Scout check it out between applications.

I'm starting to think that finally, this project is coming together and the workers will come back and finish it and I'll be able to paint my kitchen when they're done. I worked like a slave to get the covered patio all cleaned off,

just waiting for us to roll out the vinyl sheeting for after we make a template of the kitchen space.

I have hope; hope that the kitchen will get finished and the big trash pile behind my house will be a thing of the past.

We almost get the skim coat finished except for a few tiny areas. We skim coated about 99% of the kitchen, backing out of the kitchen back door. We're admiring our work from the back alcove when I see Sprockey standing by the back door, in the kitchen. Someone forgot to lock Sprockey in the office and he went exploring. He was not a happy camper with the work that it took to get the skim coat out of his paws. I had one mad and howling kitty on my hands.

Mr. Sprocket realizes that even though we've added the skim coat, there's still a lot of squeaking and sponginess around the back door. So he tells me he's going to put in more screws. Can you hear a loud, long scream about now? I'm about to go ballistic and tell him to give it up; to live with it. But he can't. It's that obsessive compulsive gene. You have to understand that this house was built in 1941 and virtually every floor throughout the house squeaks. But in his opinion, we're installing a new floor and he believes it should not squeak. So he puts in about 25 or 30 more screws and it's not fixing the problem.

It's then that he realizes that the workers never shored up more support for the sub flooring under the house. They took out his temporary fix and didn't replace it with anything! So now he's really mad because he wants this part of the floor fixed. He doesn't have a single nice thing to say about construction workers. The areas that are still squeaking are the high traffic area path and where the dryer will go and he wants it fixed.

Now I have to call the contractor AGAIN and tell him it's going to be a bit longer. We ask our out of work neighbor across the street if he will help us. About a month ago, Mr. Sprocket seriously injured his ribs while he was working under the truck and he doesn't want to make it worse by trying to crawl under the house. Our neighbor can't help us that day but he can the following day. So now we have to delay the contractor ANOTHER day. So our neighbor comes over around noon on Monday. And Mr. Sprocket and the neighbor discuss various ways to fix the squeaks and spongy floor area. One idea or neighbor had was to cut down through the floor. (This was when we find out that our neighbor is afraid of spiders and is reluctant to crawl under the house.) I shot that one down immediately. I should have stuck around to listen to the next idea and override the plans because the next "brilliant" solution involved demolishing some of the stucco around the vent hole to get easier access to the area under the kitchen.

Yep. They did it. They demolished the stucco. So not only is my floor still not fixed, but we now have the added work of repairing the stucco. Here's the mess they made in the back alcove, trying to fix the floor.

At the end of the day, Mr. Sprocket and the neighbor put in a extra support beam, three quarter inch plywood to shore up the subflooring (and more screws, of course) and got the floor to be squeak free and no bounce. Here's the new support beam at the vent hole.

Mr. Sprocket is happy that his fix worked, the floor is solid now, no more squeaks or movement and I take a little video of him happy as a kid, jumping up and down on the area he just fixed.

So now I'm thinking that Mr. Sprocket will finish the skim coat and we can get moving on the floor so the workers will come back and finish, right?


In the interim, Mr. Sprocket got a call from a restaurant he's done work for in the past and now not only does he have the potential commercial building maintenance contract that he still needs to make a bid on, he has to go out and give this restaurant an estimate on some much needed work. But the truck isn't functionally ready. So what do I have to do? I have to call the contractor AGAIN and tell him that the kitchen floor work is on hold. I don't have a kitchen floor, we're cooking on a little electric burner in the dining room

and we have to put mesh screen under our back door every night before we go to bed.

In the mean time, I'm thinking that we might as well leave those paw prints in the kitchen skim coat as sort of a memento of the long road we've traveled just to get a new kitchen floor.

So Monday we shifted gears and went to work on the White Whale Work Truck. The tool box got installed and so did the metal drawer unit. I wish I had taken photos of all the complicated bracketing and bolting to the floor and the vertical strut we did to ensure this very heavy tool box doesn't go flying when he's driving. Today two of the three shelving units have been installed. You can see the back of Mr. Sprocket on the floor of the truck, reaching under one of the shelf units to bolt the bottom shelf to the strut.

And just when you think things are going well on one front, another wrench is thrown into the mess. Another project that needs our immediate attention. Mr. Sprocket was on a trip to get more bolts and brackets when the car stopped working. This is just not our month! It was the air conditioning (AC) clutch that has frozen, which means the alternator belt won't move. The belt over heating and not moving means the alternator is not charging the battery. Mr. Sprocket was able to take the belt off and get the car home ~ after cooling the belt off with three bottles of Gerolsteiner that were in the trunk ~ but now the car is only good for short trips until we can order the parts and fix the AC clutch. We have a battery charger on it overnight and, we've put a spare battery in the trunk, just in case. Wednesday day we ordered the parts for car. Luckily, the AC compressor is still in good working shape so we won't have to replace that. The parts should be here by Monday where we will have to shift gears again and work on the car.

Stay tuned for the next installment of Paw Prints in the Floor.

Sprockey, planning his next big adventure.

Monday, June 15, 2009

The White Whale Work Truck: A Work in Progress

I had a momentary break from the Work Truck to sew a wheelchair bag, but it's back to getting my hands dirty again. When it comes to working on this truck it never ends.

The White Whale (as I like to call this truck) has been taking up all our time and energy so that I have not been able to get back to the sewing machine.

I thought I would show you some photos so you can see what we're working with. I did talk about the truck a little bit in this entry on T &T, and I've been keeping friends updated on our progress on my Facebook page. Just friend me if you want to follow me on Facebook.

Here is the truck Mr. Sprocket purchased the day after the Spector verdict was read.

In these type of trucks, the body is aluminum. That gives you an advantage of a lightweight truck that you can load up with product. However, it also means that there isn't an internal shell for mounting anything like shelving or toolboxes.

So what we've been doing (ever since Mr. Sprocket rebuilt the rear transmission and brakes)

is getting the inside of the truck ready to mount his toolboxes, shelving, equipment and various other items, like a worktable.

But before we could do any of that, we had to remove the inadequate shelving brackets that were welded on the inside of the truck.

That involved taking a drill and grinding down the rivet in each side of the bracket you see above, so that the weld came apart. There were about seven of these shelving stanchions on each wall, and about six welded brackets on each of those. Once we got those removed from the truck we started installing "C" channel, deep strut.

Here is the truck with the old shelving brackets removed and before we started installing the C channel.

And here is one side of the truck with with the C channel mounted to the side of the truck.

This heavy metal strut comes in 10-foot lengths. Each piece has to be cut, and then the burrs on the end ground down and smoothed before it can be installed. Here is Mr. Sprocket grinding down the burrs.

My help would be to stand on the strut while he cut it with a metal cutting blade. All while we were working on this phase of the truck, we had a family of nestlings in the bird box high on the peak of the house.

I tried to get a photo of Momma Bird feeding her nestlings but she would not perform for the camera.

The babies have all left the nest now, and I think Momma Bird has laid another batch of eggs.

Here you can see where we have more cross bracing strut installed. In this photo you can also see the strut up close as well as what are called "strut nuts" and a metal strap with bolts that go into the strut nuts to "tie" the pieces of strut together to make a more rigid framing inside the truck.

Yesterday, we got the wood floor of the truck completely installed. Over 225 screws later, it's tied down pretty solid. Here is a current photo of the inside of the truck while we are working on getting the toolbox situated.

The problem with the toolbox is the fact that it's actually four separate boxes resting on top of each other. Each one has to be bolted to the other, and then everything mounted to the wall of the truck. The problem is, the place where we want to place the toolbox is right behind the door pocket panel, and you can't drill into that. So, we have to work around that and devise solutions.

One solution is to add strut to the bottom of the toolbox and from that strut, bolt it to the floor. Below you can see a piece of the shallow C channel strut that Mr. Sprocket added.

And here is the door pocket with a piece of foam board over it. The foam board is to cut down on the noise.

And here is the toolbox that's going in this space.

The toolbox will be bolted to the strut pieces on either side of the door pocket. Once we get to that phase, I'll upload some more photos on the progress.

Tonight, we have to do some prep-work on the kitchen floor to get it ready to lay the vinyl down. We have to make a template of the floor and fill in all the nail holes and seams with "Bondo." But at least the kitchen is coming together. The walls have been repaired today and hopefully on Wednesday, the new floor will go down! Then, I'll be painting, painting, painting the kitchen white, and eventually the cupboards red for a black and white and red kitchen!

Friday, June 5, 2009

A New Wheelchair Bag

I can't believe it's been six months since I've done any serious sewing.

My girlfriend Julienne with transverse meylitis has been bugging me for quite some time to make her a new wheelchair bag. Now that I'm not glued to the bench in Judge Fidler's courtroom anymore, I had no excuse.

I've made her several bags for her two chairs over the years, usually out of a heavy tapestry fabric. The bags I've made for her have been multi-purpose. They act as a small handbag and also as a place to keep her water bottle. My construction of these bags has evolved over the years, but one thing that hasn't changed is the fact that they go through a ton of wear and tear. I've repaired almost every bag at least once before I make her a new one.

When her children were still young, she needed zippers on the bags to keep their little hands out. I usually had to hand sew these in. Later we tried velcro but because it can wear out quickly we eventually settled on the magnetic snaps.

When designing a wheelchair bag, you have to think about function from a sightless person's point of view because when they reach or feel for something in their bag, it's all behind them. Oftentimes they can't turn around completely to "look" inside the bag.

Although I had recently made a wheelchair bag in December for a new client, it was made from tapestry and did not include a water bottle carrier.

About three weeks ago, I stopped by Julienne's house to talk to her about what she wanted for her next bag as well as to take measurements for a new bag for her husband's chair. We talked about the wear and tear issue and I suggested that maybe we should make this next bag not from upholstery fabric, but based on my Market Bag design: stiff canvas glue-bonded to cotton. I have Market Bags I've made for myself five years ago that are still standing up to the wear and tear. I thought this might be the answer to making her bags last longer.

When designing a wheelchair bag, you have to accept the fact that each bag will be different because all wheelchairs are not alike and not everyone needs the same thing. Julienne needs to be able to reach around to her bag, but it also needs to have easy access, hold it's shape and not add too much weight to the chair. Another concern Julienne had was the fact that the lighter shade of fabrics we've used in the past showed the dirt so she wanted to choose a darker fabric this time. (I chose not to put my label on the bag this time for this reason.)

I brought Julienne a large selection of black based fabrics to choose from. She picked two prints for two bags, and her husband picked a neutral print for his bag.

This bag would have two outside pocket overlays, a water bottle carrier able to hold a bottle with an 11" diameter, two inner pockets on the back side, three magnetic snap closures and D-ring holders. The size of the bag is based on my medium handbags. The base of the bag is made from two rectangular pieces 14" wide by 12" high. The bottom of the bag will be 4" deep. Her husband's bag will be wider (larger chair) and much shorter.

My Market Bag Line is a unique, hand bonding process that glues heavy, stiff canvas to a beautiful cotton print. Once the cotton is adhered to the canvas, you have a fabric that is almost as stiff as a lightweight piece of cardboard. The disadvantages of adhering two fabrics with glue sheets is the finished product is difficult to iron down seams and turn right side out.

Since I had not made one of these bags in so long, I was almost in uncharted waters as I tried to remember which step came first after cutting out and gluing the base of the bag. I realized that before I could even sew on the overlay pockets (that was quite a chore getting the tiny pocket fabric to be a perfect overlay to the print below it) I had to construct the water bottle holder.

The water bottle holder was designed to hold a specific size drink cup that Julienne uses when she's driving. It's 11 inches in diameter. I found a large bottle close to that size and determined how long the fabric piece needed to be to hold the carrier. I then calculated the spacing on the strapping that holds the bottom of the bottle, and sewed the three straps to the carrier piece. After that I sewed the strapping to the base of the bag and then the side of the carrier that goes underneath the bigger overlay pocket. Every seam is triple sewn.

Once the water carrier was constructed I could place the left side of the carrier fabric underneath the overlay pocket and sew the pocket pieces onto the base of the bag.

The next step is placing the front bag-base piece and the back-side piece right sides together; pressure mark, fold over and iron press the top edge of the bag then triple sew the side and bottom seams. Once the two sides have been sewn together then the seams have to be pressed open. The bottom square of the bag is then marked, 4" wide, and triple sewn.

The bag is then ready to turn right side out and the inside corner flaps glued down.

Once the bag is at this stage, I'm home free. Before the liner is made I install the magnetic snaps. Making the liner is no different than any other bag; the liner is custom fit to the bag. The inside pockets are made first, pinned then sewn to the liner piece. The sides of the liner are sewn together, the corner flaps measured, sewn and then sewn to the bottom of the liner. The liner is then fit into the inside of the bag so it will hang perfectly. After the liner is in the straps with D-rings are sewn into the top sides.

Here is the finished bag hanging on Julienne's chair.

Julienne at her office, where she sells wheelchair accessible vehicles.