Last weekend served as a good reminder that I am not a handyman. I was stymied for considerable time on a minor home repair because I wasn’t given complete instructions. Perhaps a native born Californian with fix-it genes in his blood would have figured out the solution, but I need step-by-step guidelines.
The fact that I was even doing the project was a testament to my psychological growth. For most of my adult life, I tried to avoid repairs around the house because I lack an innate talent for seeing how things work and didn’t grow up learning about tools from my father. Combine those two facts with a fear of failure and you understand why I was always quick to call for professional assistance. Why berate myself because I can’t fix a leaky toilet? There are more important things to do in life.
Around age 50, I became more self-accepting and slower to criticize myself. I came to realize that I could fix a fair number of things if I had the patience to wade through the instructions. I have quite a collection of “how-to” and “for-dummies” books. Internet videos have been a godsend. Even so, technical writers – and hardware clerks – often omit salient details.
Example: how to cut plexiglass. I decided to make a temporary fix on a small window pane that got smashed last weekend. I figured that would take care of the problem until the replacement windows my wife and I ordered for the house come in next month. I found an 18-by-24-inch of plexiglass at the hardware store. I asked a clerk how I could cut it down to the 8-by-12-inch size I needed.
“Just use a utility knife,” he said. “We do it all the time.”
I found a utility knife in my toolbox and put in a new razor-style blade. I went to work cutting out a small pane. I cut and cut and cut, but got little more than an etched outline. At that rate, it would take hours to cut through the plexiglass. Heavy-duty scissors were no help. I tried a hacksaw – and promptly cracked the pane.
Rather than proceed with this folly, I went to my computer and found a video on how to cut plexiglass. Lo and behold, the grizzled guy pulled out a utility knife and slashed it across the sheet just as I had done. Then he lined up the slash line with the end of the table, leaving a foot-long section hanging over the edge. With a sharp whack of his hand, the expert cleanly broke off the section he wanted.
Why hadn’t the hardware clerk told me about step two? Was it that obvious? Had he led me to the water and assumed I knew how to drink?
I returned to the garage and whacked out a pane that fit the window – sort off. The rough edges were a quarter-inch long. I tried for perfection and come up with a pane a quarter-inch too short and a bit jagged. Oh, well. All that remained was to knock out the broken glass, chip out the old putty, put in the pane and reputty.
For those of you with old homes – ours was built in 1937 – don’t try to chip out old putty. I spent 45 minutes at the chore and never got a clean frame. And yes, my impatience with the hammer led to a cracked pane above the one I was trying to replace.
Clear packaging tape covers the gaps in the plexiglass and putty covers some of the tape. From a distance – say the sidewalk — the window looks all right. It will serve its purpose for a few weeks. I’m sure the replacement-windows guys will be amused.