January 21, 2007

What’s Ikea’s deal with hex keys?

Filed under: Tools — marcstober @ 8:36 pm

I’m someone who believes you should use the right tools to do a job, and take advantage of the best tools available. Which is why, even though just about every piece of Ikea furniture I’ve bought comes with a little hex key that is arguably the right tool, I’d much rather use my cordless drill-driver than drive a couple dozen screws by hand. Now, this would be really easy if they just used ordinary Phillips screws but not so much when you need a hex key – a metric one at that.

(Actually, I have an interesting history with hex keys. The summer before my junior year in college I worked at the Holo-Krome factory in West Hartford, assembling sets of Sears Craftsman Hex Keys. 10 hours a day, but I earned enough to buy a used car by fall. When I left, the manager advised my to stay in school – as if assembling thousands of identical hex keys sets wasn’t enought to convince me to seek better opportunities.)

Anyhow, I really lucked out and found a set with metric hex bits in the bargain tool bin at National Lumber this afternoon. (It turns out that Ikea’s Trofast uses 3mm hex screws, in case anyone wants to know.) Of course, the set also includes the same Phillips bits I already have several of. So, why doesn’t Ikea just use Phillips screws in the first place? The product had Phillips screws, too, and they expected you to have your own screwdriver for this; wouldn’t it be cheaper not to include a hex key at all? We’re not assembling precision aircraft parts. Or couldn’t Ikea at least sell the bits? I suppose everyone else puts together Ikea furniture without complaining, but I think there are some design aspects that could be improved.
(As a disclaimer: use the above advice at your own risk and when in doubt, follow manufacturer’s directions over mine!)

October 31, 2006

Front Door

Filed under: House Blog, Tools — marcstober @ 7:09 pm

Fall 2006 031Just in time for Halloween, we have a freshly painted and fully functioning front door. See below for advice on paint and caulk guns, but first some editorial content.

When we bought the house, we were only given back door keys, and the old mortise lock (probably original) felt like it was one jiggle away from falling off the door. I know what you’re thinking – this is the suburbs, people enter their houses from the driveway. But I like to use the front door, and always have, ever since I let myself in that way when I got off the school bus. So what if I’m the only one in my family who enters my parent’s house that way? Now that I take the train home, I like to use the front door, too – especially now that it gets dark early and it’s dark in back.

We’ve made a few improvements, like installing a bracket for an American flag and a new doorbell we bought at Restoration Hardware on our second night in the house. The biggest improvement was hiring a locksmith to get the old lock working. It took him a while to rebuild it, but was still a lot cheaper than buying anything that looked as nice as the original one. So now we can actually go in the front door. (I suspect this will be particularly important when the kitchen is being renovated and maybe we can’t get in that way.)

I did some pre-winter maintenance as well, like painting the house numbers white (for visibility), and installing little solar floodlights so you can see the house number and steps, which are not well illuminated even when the front lights are on. I sealed some cracks in the steps and caulked and painted the front door. I think the old wood front door adds character to the house and a thick layer of glossy black enamel brings it out even more.

On the advice of (someone – Hammerzone I think, but can’t find it now), I got a professional quality caulk gun. Fortunately, professional grade caulk guns are still under $20, It does make it easier to get good results. I also used Benjamin Moore paint. I think it really is better that the Behr paint (which I basically consider the store brand) at Home Depot. The big soapstone sink in the basement with garden-hose pressure made quick work of cleaning my brushes, too (although buying new brushes every time has got to be better for the environment than using all that water).

Finally, I did some work to restore the appearance of the lock. There are 12 brass slotted screws on the outside, and the locksmith replaced the missing ones with drywall screws. This was functional, but I replaced those with matching brass screws. Even this turned out to be more work that I’d thought because it turns out that the screws around the cylinder where shorter (because of the mechanism behind) than the others, and I needed to cut the screws and wedge in little pieces of plastic anchors for them to stay in the stripped openings. (They must just be decorative anyway. Even back in 1920, I think they were smart enough not to build a lock you could just unscrew from outside!)

Eventually we want to rebuild the whole front porch and steps. Until then, I think Cheryl is still using the back door. 🙂

June 12, 2006

New Tools

Filed under: The Garden, Tools — marcstober @ 4:58 pm

I bought a Black and Decker 18 inch electric lawnmower at Sears this past weekend. There was also a 19 inch Craftsman model, which looked so similar I suspect it’s a private label model from the same manufacturer. The main difference was that the Craftsman model had a grass catcher bag included.

I was a little harder to put together than it should I have been. It’s interesting how Black and Decker has had such success at consistently being, let’s say, “average”—they walk a fine line in selling tools that do, in fact, get the job done, but no one could ever accuse of being heavy-duty or professional-grade like so much that is sold to homeowners seems to be these days.

Net result is that I have no ambition of creating a golf course, but it’s better than it was. I’ll need to experiment with how to deal with the extension cord, but I figure that’s a transferable skill; whereas maintaining a gasoline for such a small yard will be more of a hassle (not to mention more polluting). Next yard project is going to be getting some of the hedges under control, like the one that scrapes the car every time we come and go.

While I was at Sears I also picked up a Craftsman self-leveling laser level with tripod. Of course self-leveling because otherwise what’s the point? I almost passed it over because its accuracy was labels at only +/- 1/4 inch in 30 feet – but really, if the whole house is not level or something, am I really going to consider that a do-it-yourself project? It’ll be great for handing things on the wall.

All the laser levels advertise that they can make cross-hairs for laying floor tile but I can’t figure out how you’d set that up. It’s not really leveling anything, you’d have to mount the level sideways (and not on the floors since you’ll be putting tile there). Curious.