Hide the children; he’s got a new power saw


Now that the weather is nicer, I’ve been doing some home improvement and maintenance projects. And those who have been reading this column for a long time know that’s about as dangerous for me as driving the wrong way down a one-way street, blindfolded.

Although I hate to admit it, I am not mechanically inclined. I’m so clueless, in fact, that I’m a card-carrying menace. My wife can attest to that fact, since she’s the one who found me after I went downstairs in my underwear one night to check the sump pump and stuck my hand in the tank to free the obstruction (a dead rat, as it turned out), forgetting that the sump pump was still plugged in. The ensuing electrical jolt would have flat blown my socks off, had I been wearing socks at the time.

I will say that the guys at Home Depot love to see me coming. For my latest project, I needed a lot of screws. On the first trip, I bought 1-inch screws. Too short. On the second trip, I bought 1½-inch screws. Too long. On the third trip, I bought 1¼-inch screws. Just right.

I also bought a Skilsaw, which in my hands becomes an actual weapon of mass destruction. Trouble was, I misread the assembly instructions and put several of the washers that hold the blade on incorrectly. The blade didn’t fly off and cut me in half, as was apparently possible. But it did get wedged against the safety housing and burn the motor out. One more trip to Home Depot for another saw. The one I ruined is in the trash, where I’m hoping my wife won’t see it.

It took me the better part of three days, but I did finally finish a couple of simple projects, which look pretty good if you don’t look very closely at the craftsmanship, or lack thereof.

The last time I wrote about this subject, I articulated several of the Greg Bean axioms of home improvement projects. Here are a few addendums I came up with after my latest fiascos:

• If your home repair project can’t be completed with a hammer, get a bigger hammer. Caveat: You can’t drive a screw with a hammer, no matter how big the hammer is.

• Carpenters say “Measure twice, cut once” for a reason. That’s so guys like me won’t be found wandering aimlessly around the garage muttering, “I cut this board three times and it’s still too short.”

• You can’t cut a board at a 45-degree angle by “eyeballing” it, especially if you’re holding a screaming Skilsaw and squinting because you’ve misplaced your eyeglasses.

• Super Glue is not a universally effective bonding agent when bonding metal to wood, or metal to plastic, unless you have many clamps. Epoxy is better. Super Glue is, however, an effective bonding agent for closing wounds.

• Your neighbor, a bona fide home improvement professional, will be horrified when he sees you in the garage and hears the whine of the saw. He knows how these projects usually turn out — with a trip to the emergency room. He will first come over to see if you need a tourniquet, and then he will sell tickets to his friends to watch the “show” at your house. It goes without saying that he thinks you are all thumbs — which could change, depending on how long you use the aforementioned saw.

• Your neighbor notices immediately that you have cut many of the boards too short. He does not buy it when you explain that you did it on purpose, because you intend to cut other boards too long.

• Home Depot will not let you return all the scrap lumber created by boards that were cut too short. They actually laugh when you explain that the boards must have been defective, since it was impossible to cut them properly.

• Paint covers many sins.

Next week, I plan to refinish the deck — a project that requires a power painter. Last time I used one of those, I accidentally spraypainted the siding of my house (green) with big swaths of deck paint (barn red). It looked like drops of blood, which occasioned my wife to note that although I had apparently injured myself again while attempting a home improvement project, it looked like I had lost less blood than the last time. (When sharpening an ax with a file, be very careful.)

If I survive it, I’ll let you know how it turns out.

• • •

In the past, I wrote a number of times about the torture chamber that was the New Jersey Department of Motor Vehicles.

But it’s a different universe these days, after its big meltdown and reorganization a few years ago. Nowadays, the folks at the DMV (now the Motor Vehicle Commission) office nearest me are polite, and organized, and they don’t make you stand in line for an hour, just so they can cackle as they tell you that you’ve been waiting in the wrong line.

In fact, I renewed my driver’s license last week and was done with the whole process in under 10 minutes. Easy peasie.

I do have one question, though. Last time I got one of the new digital driver’s licenses, I had to have a whole bunch of documentation to prove I am who I say I am.

You’d think, therefore, that when I renew that digital license, they ought to assume I am who I say I am, or I wouldn’t have gotten a digital license last time.

In other words, you’d think they would trust their own process.

That’s not the case, however. Your old digital driver’s license only counts for four of the six points you need for renewal. So you’re going to need additional documentation to prove you are who you (still) say you are, and proof that you still live where you say you live to get to the magical number of points.

There might be a rational explanation for that, but here’s what I think:

It may be the new and improved DMV, but there are apparently still a few bureaucrats in the organization who enjoy making us jump through hoops.

On the plus side, they actually ask if you like the picture on the license these days, and will retake it if you don’t. That’s a plus for those of us whose license photos usually make us look like convicts.

Deviant, Skilsaw-wielding convicts.

Gregory Bean is the former executive editor of Greater Media Newspapers. You can reach him at gbean@gmnews.com.