September 2010


Here’s what I’ve learned while rebuilding my back yard fence.

You can pretty much do what you want because when your neighbors find out you’re replacing the fence they will make themselves scarce lest you ask them to share the costs.

You can probably reuse the old fenceposts. Push on them – if they fall over then you have to replace them.

You don’t have to dig out the old concrete lumps that the previous fenceposts were sunk into. If you do, you’ll be sorry because the garbage man will not take them and they weight a ton. Just move over a bit and dig a new hole.

Most fencing contractors will just put the pickets in contact with the ground which encourages rot and termites. I elevated mine slightly. Time will tell if that’s the right thing to do or not. Dogs are no more likely to dig under than if they were touching the ground; if a dog wants in or out he will dig no matter what.

A pneumatic nailer is 10 times faster but it’s pricey to rent one and the nails discolor soon.

If you choose screws don’t get philips head type. Get those kind with a specialized star shaped head – they come with a driver bit for your drill. These won’t pop out of the screw head and mess up the screw.

Buy all your material at once and pay for it to be delivered. It’s 60 bucks whether you have them deliver one picket or a semi truck load. Picking it up yourself is a great deal more work than you realize; you have to pick up each item three times. Once when you put it on the cart, once to lift it into the car, and once to get it out of the car. If you’re tired after lifting the stuff once then heaven help you when you get it home.

Invite friends to help and feed them a huge barbecue dinner. I didn’t but I think it would have been faster if I did.

It will turn gray soon if you don’t treat it. If you do treat it, it may not turn gray. I’ll let you know.

Most of your neighbors have crappy yards. Lots of them have random junk laying around. That’s where the weeds in your yard come from.

Use gloves. Splinters abound.

Don’t take the old fence apart by knocking all the pickets off; just pry the whole section loose from the posts. The intact section is much easier to deal with than a pile of loose pickets with nails sticking out everywhere.

I guess that’s about it. I may update as I think of things.

This past weekend was full of everything.  Sort of.  I finished replacing the old fence (Huzzah!) but decided to keep going (meh).  Fall finally arrived so I was never in danger of heatstroke so there’s that.  Perhaps more details are in order.  Why not?  

We had a really odd thing happen on Thursday when a water main broke.  This was in important one – the one right after the water treatment plant so everybody in town literally lost their water pressure.  We were informed of it by an automated phone call at 5:45 am.  We got up and showered before all the water drained away by the other citizens showering and then got another automated call informing us that the schools would be closed because of the water thing.

Erin had been scheduled to go to a student council thing in another town that day and so was busy on the phone rearranging things with the other officers and the teacher that handles such things.  There was a lot going on and when Mel kept standing in Erin’s bedroom door demanding to know a status, Erin smarted off to her about leaving her alone.  She was immediately grounded for the weekend.

And that’s how I ended up with a fence-building partner on Saturday.  That was a complex build-up to the story but that’s how life is with a teenager in the house.  Especially one as active as Erin.  But she made maximum use of her enforced vacation and helped me build the fence and we successfully replaced all the remaining old dilapidated stuff with brand new wood.  It was a banner day.  We did this until about 1:00 at which point I had to release her so she could go work on college applications so I put the final touches on by myself. 

I then went inside to watch Arkansas play Alabama.  Evan had been updating us all week on the football frenzy that had developed in Fayetteville.  The students had started getting in line at the stadium about Tuesday and a tent city soon developed along Stadium Drive that went south all the way to the edge of campus.  Evan and his buddies set up a tent somewhere in the middle and camped there in shifts from Wednesday until game day.  They all had tickets but apparently the student section is general admission and they all just wanted to do it for the fun of it anyway.  The media got hold of the event and it was covered pretty well.  Also, the athletic department got in on the public relations extravaganza and so the quarterback and coach were seen passing out free pizza to the students in line.  Evan said that over time he was fed Chick-Fil-A sandwiches and something else in addition to the Pizza.  He had a grand time and with all that slack time, he apparently got lots of studying done.

He and his friends also painted their bodies up to maximize their chances of getting on TV.  I thought I saw his friend which meant that my eyeball was only two kids away from Evan but they are never on screen for more than a fraction of a second so I didn’t see Evan although he was probably on the screen.  Too bad they lost – it was a fun day for everybody.

After that, I returned to the back yard to put the finishing touches on the fence – fill in all the screws, spray it with waterproofing etc.  I stayed out there until dark.

Sunday dawned nice and cool – I don’t think the temperature ever rose above 75 which was awesome for outdoor work.  With the old fence replaced we realized that I had only replaced that which adjoins all the neighbor’s yards.  There’s a small patch that fronts the street that is relatively new but gray colored and to have it all new except that seems silly.  I started to replace that too.  It’s only about another 20 feet and I know that those fence posts are all good since I’m the one that put them in.  I can’t remember when that was but it can’t be more than 7 years ago.

I started in but around 4:00, I just lost all energy.  The two days of work caught up with me so I put away the tools and went in.  But I finally got all the construction crap off the back patio where I had been staging it for the project.  I’m finally back around to the front and can work out of the garage.  I’ve got yet another pile of old pickets laying in the back yard but I think I can trickle those into the regular garbage pickup since I finally figured out that it is not necessary to knock the fence apart and produce an enormous pile of boards.  You just leave the fence sections intact and disconnect them from the fenceposts.  They stay together and are much easier to deal with.  I used my saw to cut these into more manageable sizes and with the smaller size, the garbage men will take them as long as there aren’t too many. 

I will soon be done with this massive project and can move on to what is hopefully a more fun project.  I have no shortage of projects; I think them up regularly and Melissa thinks up even more.  It’s a matter of picking the ones we want to tackle.

Last night was the annual high school talent show. It’s put on by the theater production class which Erin is taking so she was instrumental in it’s success. It was pretty fun and way better than last year.

For her part, she did a number with another guy from the show choir; they did a duet of Aerosmith’s “Dream On”. I think it was the arrangement from the TV show Glee (which is providing lots of material for choirs everywhere).

I honestly did not know that Erin or this other guy could sing like that. This was not in Erin’s normal vocal range and so sounded different than all the usual singing I hear around the house all the time. In fact she took the low part and he took the high parts. But with their experience in theater couple with their musical background, they pretty much brought the house down.

I like to catch my coworkers outside of the office. It’s fun to see how they act and what all they’re interested in when they’re not talking shop. I’ve done so twice lately.

One who just bought her first home is fixing it up with her husband who I also work with. I got to go see it (and they’re little bug-eyed ShitTsu dog. Both were quite charming. I like homes and home ownership in general so that was fun.

I knew that another guy likes to build guitars so I asked if I could see his shop. I also wanted to fondle some of his hand tools. Mine all came from antique stores and his are top dollar ones from a boutique maker. I’ve dated mine to the late 1800’s but that doesn’t mean they are better necessarily.

That too was fun. He lives in an old “charming” part of town and has done a really nice job of making a workspace on such a small lot. He and his girlfriend also have a dog who was not as friendly but he can be forgiven since he is ancient. Being blind and deaf he can be forgiven for being skittish where new smells are concerned. He eventually got used to me. Either that or he just ran out of energy. He’s 17 or so; it could happen.

Yesterday I did my annual ritual of overseeding the lawn and fertilizing. It was a bit of a non-event except that it was way hotter than I expected.

A couple hours afterward I looked out to see at least 20 birds in the back yard feasting away. I ran to the front and saw the same thing.

When I started, the weather radar had showed an approaching shower but that apparently dried up so I ran outside and turned on the sprinklers to water it all in and keep the birds away for awhile.

I took the day off Friday. I had waited until the hot part of summer was over and the forecast was for a cool day to spend the day playing in the garage. Unfortunately the forecast was revised between the time I scheduled it and the day itself. It was not terribly hot but was terribly humid and I sweated like a pig.

I first went to the lumberyard to get some wood to continue my fence project. After that it was all playtime. A friend is moving out of the county and is selling some of his large tools. I bought his dust collector for cheap.

It was wired for 220 so I had to figure out the either/or diagram to rewire it for 110 and return to the hardware store for the appropriate plug. I got it working though and it does indeed suck (but in the right way). It does a poor job with large things like planer shavings and leaves ( lots of these find their way into the garage) so I will eventually need a separator but for now I just need to limit it to sawdust.

My garage is at capacity and so I had to retire something. I chose to put the shopvac in the attic.

I have had a fantasy for years of doing all my woodworking with hand tools only. This would solve several problems. It would be quieter, would require much less floor space, and generate less in the way of fine dust. But I can’t seem to do as good a job with hand tools

I spent the remains of the day Friday attempting to tune up my handplanes to do what they were used for back in the olden days. I failed utterly. I know it can be done; there are entire magazines devoted to hand tool woodworking and I’ve looked into week long classes. It may involve buying some higher quality tools but I’m resistant to that. The guys back in the day used what I have so I should be able to make these work.

Still, a bad day woodworking is better than many other things so it wasn’t wasted time but it was frustrating and very very sweaty. Last year I spent a Saturday afternoon with an expert up in town and was convinced that I could work wonders with hand tools but so far I can’t do it with MY hand tools. For the moment, I’m stuck with my large power tools.

On Saturday I had to return to the fence. It went smoothly and I replace 16 feet. I’m coming down the home stretch. The neighbor whose yard this meets has four dogs so I was a bit nervous about it. They predictably went crazy when I started banging on the fence but when I knocked down an entire section, they were pretty scared. That had never happened to them before.

I stayed on my side and they eventually came up to sniff and hopped over into my yard. They smelled everything and marked all the territory and then went back to their yard and stayed. They ignored me from then on.

So it was a hard working weekend but pleasant. I’ll beat those handplanes into submission eventually. Until then I have a dust collector.

Well, there has been no sign of any money from our old customer in the government so we have all been reassigned to other things. My thing has been quite interesting but also stressful.

I was asked to do something that I’d never done before. Such has been my entire career; I’m not sure if that happens because of chance or some underlying psychological preference that I sort of exert all the time but it has never been boring. Or at least not often. At any rate I’ve been doing this thing that others already know how to do but who were all out of town on extended business.

This implied some political minefield issues such as other guys coming home to find somebody else doing a job they’ve always done.

As it turns out, what I did was more or less adequate and nobody seemed all that territorial about it. At least not that I could tell. It generated a fair amount of buzz; mostly in the form of “that’s not right”, or “yeah that’s what I thougt too”, etc.

It was super stressful in the sense that I wanted to prove myself as resourceful and reliable and so had to learn a bung of stuff by myself in a hurry but it was fun overall and I feel like I’ve learned more in the past three weeks than in the past three years combined. But it was on internal research money which is always really limited.

But now I’m done. Now on to the next reassigment. Hopefully one will come along with long term prospects. This must be how self-employed people feel who work from one commission to another.

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