I’m Baaaack…

Top Nail-Gun

Drum roll please…

In the five months since I last posted (This America) my emotions have run the gamut:  fear at the possibility of being sanctioned for infringement on intellectual property (a drawing of a door knob…); disappointment at the chilling effect this had on my creative motivation to write; encouragement that, despite removing all images from my blog not generated by me, you still flocked to the blog to read past posts; and utter joy as the threat of wrist-slapping receded and my creative juices began to flow, again.

Beginning with this post, I will only populate articles with image content that will allow me to sleep at night without the Sword of Damocles hanging over my head that someday I’ll get another eleven-page, single-spaced letter from an attorney informing me the potential penalty for my “infringement” could be up to “…$150,000 in statutory damages plus attorney’s fees for a willful violation” of the Copyright Law.  (The wrist-slap would be more in the range of the minimum penalty of $750, but  still…)

I made a case for application of the Fair Use Doctrine (without using the legalese wording) such that my motivation was to inform and teach readers to “do-it-yourself;”  I have never generated any business nor made a dime from my blog posts.  I love to write, I love to teach and those are my only motivations.  Interestingly, the most popular article I have published contains only images generated by me because I couldn’t find anything  in the cybrary on the subject, “Squaring and Repairing Old Doors.”  This article has had more views than the next three combined.  Without any help from anybody’s copyrighted image.

My long-term goal is to put back many (facsimile) images in every past post.  This is a bit daunting as I will have to create the images from scratch, either drawings or photos.  But that’s okay.  I write my stuff to be independent of images, but I know, like word count, images help readers stick with an article to the end.

Thank you for sticking with me to the end, images or no.

This America

Dear Followers, Fans, Family and Friends in no particular order:

I am greatly dismayed to announce to you I have been contacted by a retired attorney in California who shall remain nameless at the moment informing me I am in violation of copyright law by reprinting certain images from the internet intended only to elucidate, educate and enlighten you, my dear readers.

Hence, I have duly removed all of the internet-derived images from my several articles in the hopes of pacifying the voracious appetite for retribution implied by this fellow’s reputation.  As they were mostly superfluous eye-candy, I doubt you will miss them…

I thought they were public domain; alternatively, if copyrighted, I thought they were available for educational purposes (mine) for one-time usage.   I apologize to you and the offended party(ies.)


Easter Memories

All right, I get it.  Rants about popular holidays are not popular.  How do I know this?  Of the 4,348 views in the 14 months since I started this blog, the two articles featuring holidays garnered the fewest hits:  22 for “Thanksgiving Memories” and 2 for “Christmas Memories.”  So, why am I writing another “exposé” about another overwhelmingly popular holiday?  Same reason:  To point up how tradition obscures original meanings.  Besides, what have I got to lose with these statistics?

The word “Easter” probably derives from “Ishtar” and “Εostre,” all pronounced the same, the latter two being two names for the same goddess worshiped in ancient times by the Babylonians and the Anglo-Saxons, respectively.  The only mention of Easter in the Bible is actually the same Greek word specifying the Jewish Passover.

Further, nowhere does Jesus or anyone give a directive to celebrate his resurrection.  Instead, he and others made a direct link between the killing of the Passover lamb of the ancient Hebrews and his death.  Jesus’ death and resurrection are not the same event.  Easter as we know it grew out of the Jewish celebration of the Passover.  Jesus ate the Passover meal with his disciples just before he was killed on the day of Passover.  He is referred to as “our passover.” [1]  During the meal, he passed the bread and wine to everyone and instructed them to remember him whenever they do likewise, that is, share a meal.  This is not the Catholic custom of saying “grace” or giving thanks before a meal (which Jesus did do.)  This is Jesus’ specific direction to remember him and his death every time one eats, which, like breathing, is a necessary and frequently repeated human event. [2]  One gets into the habit of thinking about right living and personal sacrifice as espoused by Jesus pretty quickly if you think about it at least three times a day.

Easter became conflated with Jesus’ resurrection as time passed and the “Christian” religion moved farther away from Judaism, from which it originated, and closer to the mainstream beliefs of the Romans and Greeks.  The 4th century ecclesiastical historian Socrates Scholasticus attributes the observance of Easter by the church to the “perpetuation of its custom, ‘just as many other customs have been established’, stating that neither Jesus nor his Apostles enjoined the keeping of this or any other festival.” [3]    By the 4th century, the only concern was how to standardize the date for the festivities.  This was the focus of the Roman Church’s First Council of Nicaea in 325.  Emperor Constantine decreed the event to occur annually on the first day of the sun after the first full moon following the spring equinox, the time it is celebrated to this day.  Interestingly, a chronicle of the council proceedings written in the 4th century referred to Passover, not “Easter.”

So where did all the accretions to the Easter celebration originate?

As mentioned, most can be traced to ancient religious beliefs and practices long antedating Jesus and Christianity, specifically the Babylonian “mystery religion”‘ and Anglo-Saxon paganism.

The goddess-queen of Babylon, Semiramis, had a colorful life:  She married her son, Nimrod, after her husband, Cush, son of Ham, Noah’s son, died.  Nimrod was the founder and king of Babel.  After he was killed in battle, Semiramis kept his memory alive by claiming he had ascended to the sun and was now a god named “Baal,” the sun-god.

Still with me?

Semiramis held that Baal would be present on earth as a flame (as a candle, lamp or bonfire) when used in worship.

She claimed to be a goddess, immaculately conceived, descended from the moon in a giant egg at the time of the first full moon following the spring equinox.  She took the name Ishtar; as you can guess, her egg became known as “Ishtar’s egg.”

Her illegitimate son Tammuz (by sun-god Baal…) was fond of rabbits.  When he was killed in a hunting accident (by a wild pig), Ishtar/Semiramis deified him, decreed an annual forty day fast from meat and required meditation on the sacred mysteries while making a “T” sign over the heart.  In addition, sacred cakes were eaten marked with the “T,” or cross, on top.  Every year on the first day of the sun following the first full moon after the spring equinox, the fast culminated in a celebration including rabbits, eggs and feasting on pig.

Sound familiar?

Remember Eostre, the Anglo-Saxon goddess of dawn/rebirth?  Her symbol was a rabbit that laid eggs.  “Easter fires” are also of ancient Saxon origin intended to chase away the darkness of winter and as a symbol of fertility.  “Sunrise services” pretty much speak for themselves as an ancient practice of sun-worshipers.

Obviously there are a lot more traditions of men associated with ancient spring festivals like Easter:  egg rolling, coloring eggs, baby chicks, egg hunts, fish on Friday…  The point is, none of this is prescribed as legitimate respect for or adherence to correct religious practice – unless you’re a pagan.  The Word of God is unambiguous:  “Howbeit in vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men. “ [4]

Happy Ishtar.

1.  1 Corinthians 5:7
2.  1 Corinthians 11:24, 25
3.  Socrates, Church History, 5.22, in Schaff, Philip (13 July 2005).
4.  Mark 7:7, KJV

A Year in the Life of a Model Railroader

The Town of Here

The Town of Here

The HO model trains in this display were collected over the course of one year by a gentleman we’ll call “Gunney.”  Gunney lived in Bellingham, Washington, with his devoted wife, Violet.  He suffered from a debilitating lung disease (COPD) over the last few years of his life which severely limited his ability to move around and exert himself.  The thing that gave him his greatest pleasure and reward over the last year of his rich life was model railroading.  “It made his life count,” says Violet.

Gunney served his Country over three decades in the Korean War and Vietnam, retiring as a Sergeant in the Marine Corps. He worked as a carpenter and other professions using his agile hands and sharp mind.

As Gunney’s illness progressed, he went on disability and searched for life experiences to enjoy: He bought an ATV with the intent to go to the backwoods, find a promising stream and pan for gold; unfortunately the hike into the wilderness proved to be too taxing. Then he acquired a fishing rig; this also became too difficult to manage with his breathing problem.

In his youth, Gunney played with model trains, like so many others boys of his generation and since. Later in life he would recall his boyhood hobby as something he might want to do again, but was reluctant to spend the money. When he mentioned this to Violet, she encouraged him to take up his hobby again. Violet saw that model railroading made her husband smile, and was a perfect fit for him in this stage of his life. And so, in the last year of his life, Gunny got into model railroading with a passion.

Gunney"s Train Washing Station

Gunney’s Train Washing Station

He constructed over three dozen HO scale model building kits of every description, paying close attention to detail and setting. Violet describes her husband as eagerly heading out to his “train shack” to spend the better part of each day working on the buildings which made up his sizeable layout. He built (with the help and support of his many Veteran friends) chest-high train tables, and placed the buildings as a realistic scenic railway. Some of the buildings, like the train washing station, were scratch-built to scale by Gunney using parts and imagination.

Gunney collected roughly 80 pieces of rolling stock over the course of the year. He purchased instructional books, magazines and DVDs. He acquire “miles” of track, cork road bed, modeling tools, landscape materials and people figures to populate his village, which he christened “The Town of Here.”

As Gunney grew weaker, he became bedridden. Gunney never got a chance to lay any track before he passed away.

So, as a memorial, Violet and all his friends gathered together for a track laying ceremony: Violet laid down the first section of track; then each of his buddies laid down another section of track one at a time until the entire route through “Here” was complete.

Gunney will be long-remembered by his family, his Brothers-in-Arms, his friends and neighbors, and strangers like you and me as, in the words of his memorial, “a committed Marine, a devoted husband, a loving father, a selfless mentor and an unconditional friend.”


If you’re a typical consumer (like me) the last thing you want to do first when you get a new toy, entertainment device or car is read the owner’s manual.  It’s more the American way to just dive into the enjoyment of the new diversion, learning as we go, and maybe unintentionally breaking something in the process.  Reading the instructions is always a last resort.

If you’ve ever purchased an IKEA furniture product, you know that “reading the instructions” is not even an option:  Basically, there’s nothing to read.  Although putting together an IKEA cabinet, for example, is pretty straightforward, the task is next to impossible without the so-called assembly instructions.  And the instructions contain no words.  In typical European (IKEA is made in Sweden) style, the instructions take the form of pictograms.  I have installed kitchen accessories in the past made in Germany or Austria that were the same format:  numbers and line drawings but no words.  (In one case a dimension for locating a drilled hole was specified to the half millimeter!  This kind of precision is laudable, but, good grief!)  What have they got against some explanatory text?  Americans are not big readers, but their attention span, analytical skills and patience are also in short supply…

Recently I assembled some IKEA furniture for a client.  As I went through the thinking process to decipher and figure out the meaning of the various pictures and symbols in the instructions, it occurred to me that some explanation – in the form of words – was necessary to more easily grasp what IKEA was trying to “say” with its picture puzzle.

Allow me to digress by saying (read:  “writing”), there ARE words in the assembly instructions.  109, to be exact.  That is, 109 English words which are translated over four whole pages into 33 – count ’em – 33 different languages!  Doing the rough math, this adds up to about 33 x 109 or 3,597 words comprising three small paragraphs which can be summarized as “Important!  Buy the right screws!  If you think the cabinet is too heavy, add legs!  If you are uncertain about the ability of the wall to support the weight, add more screws!”  You’d think IKEA could assume most of the world understands English and devote a little more space to words actually telling us something we didn’t know, like how to put the damn cabinet together!

I have to admit, the drawings of the humans (you and me) are cute.  They smile when things go right, like when your friend shows up to lend a hand, and frown in multiple expressions when things go south, like when you break something by hitting it on the floor.  There’s a depiction of a confused consumer looking at the instructions with a baffled look on the face and a “?” in a thought bubble.  Beside that is a drawing of a happy-faced goober holding a telephone with a direct line to “IKEA.”  But no phone number appears anywhere in the assembly instructions.

By chance I assembled the three pieces of furniture on carpet; the pictogram advises this to avoid damaging the “wood” parts as they are not real wood and can be dinged up if banged around on the hard floor.  Lay out a rug or at least some cardboard to soften the blow and protect the floor.

I started the operation by, believe it or not, “reading” the assembly instructions to familiarize myself with IKEA-ese.  Then I unpacked all the parts and fasteners.  I grouped all the identical parts together for organization and to make sure I had the amount of each noted in the instructions.  Better to find out at the start that you’re missing a screw, than an hour into it and wonder if you accidentally kicked it under the refrigerator…

The drawings are adequate but study them carefully as they are relatively small in size and so it might be easy to miss a detail, like a hole the size of a fly speck, or this period.  There are multiple holes typically, so lay out the pieces according to the drawing and note which holes are being referenced in the current step.  The picture has a helpful rotating arrow to show you which way to turn the screw (rolling eyes emoticon…)

A slot head and a Philips head screwdriver are listed (read:  “pictured”) as tools to use for assembly.  Only one operation has a picture warning “do not use a screw gun.”  I used a screw gun with a Philips driver for every operation.  In a future article I’ll discuss using the clutch on a typical screw gun to ensure you don’t overdrive the screw and strip the threads in the hole or worse.  If you are familiar with this feature, go for it.  Otherwise, get out the Ben-Gay and Ace bandage(s) for your wrist(s) to treat the carpal tunnel syndrome resulting from turning all those screws in by hand.

As you proceed through construction, frequently examine your work and make sure everything is fitting together evenly and equally.  These are precision-made parts; everything should line up and be square.  If something doesn’t fit or work properly, you probably used one piece where another is supposed to go, or put it on backwards, or upside down or both.  Take a break if you get frustrated, except if you live in Colorado, Washington or Amsterdam, then wait until you’re finished to “take a break.”

The plastic inserts that accept the bolts holding the drawer fronts on should be tapped in flush with the surface of the drawer front.  The picture shows using a hammer and board to transfer the hammer blows; the idea is to not mushroom the plastic before it seats in the hole.  A plastic hammer works well for this and you don’t need the board.

You’re probably getting good at this by now, so I’ll leave you with the drawer adjustments to figure out on your own.  There are only six of them depicted in three drawings.

Go figure.

PS  If you have any left over parts, just kick them under the refrigerator…


The Ins and Outs of Doors, Part 2

It was a dark and stormy night.  Without a sound, the study door began to slowly swing open until it struck the wall with a soft “clunk.”  A rush of cold air entered the room, sending chills up my spine.  Was this the spirit of a long-dead lodger, a disembodied specter, or the ghost of Christmas bills past due?

Doors seeming to open or close of themselves might be the source of at least some if not most of the reports of ghosts and hauntings over the many centuries to the present.  It’s a common phenomenon with a cause based squarely in the world of the living.  It’s even got a name:  ghosting.

Part 1 covered the ins and outs of properly installing an interior pre-hung door.  This post covers some of the idiosyncratic issues associated with doors, their diagnosis and repair, and how to retrofit a new door slab to an existing jamb.

Doors that ghost are leaning, perhaps imperceptibly, as a result of shoddy installation or natural movement of the structure over time. Fixing doors that ghost can be a bit of a project, but worth the effort to eliminate the annoyance and potential embarrassment of a door opening unexpectedly, especially a bathroom door…

Believe it or not,  I have two doors in my home that ghost open.  And, yes, one of them is a bathroom door.  The other is a bedroom door.  The bedroom door also does not latch when closed against the stop.  We’ll fix that, also, but first let’s exorcise the ghost.

Fixing a door that ghosts can be as easy as removing the middle (or top) hinge pin, supporting it between two scraps of wood and striking it with a hammer.  This action puts a slight bend in the pin; when reinserted in the hinge, the bend creates just enough friction to overcome the tendency for gravity to open (or close) the door.  Because of its simplicity, it’s worth trying a second hammer blow to make a larger bend; just don’t take it to the extreme of bending it into a “C” or “U.”

If the lean angle is significant, the above technique might not work to stop the door’s movement.  Now comes the fun part:

Carefully pry the casing away from both sides of the door and remove it.  You’ll want to slice the paint seams with a razor knife to avoid tearing away paint, etc.  Taking time and care to do this will avoid damaging the trim pieces and allow you to put them back neatly when done.  Remove nails from the jamb; the nails that stay in the molding can be reinserted in their holes when replacing the casing.  (Hey, I made a rhyme…)

Now you have the area around the door jamb exposed.  If there are issues with the door slab not touching the stops evenly all the way around (see Part 1), now is the opportunity to fix that as well.

Note which way gravity is causing the door to swing.  Move both jamb legs to make the door plumb; use a long level to find plumb.  It should now not ghost.  You might have to split and remove shims to free up the jamb to move.  Keep the nails in place; they will hold the structure and bend enough to move the jambs plumb.  Replace the shims snugly, add a new nail or two, replace the casing and take the dog for a walk.  Good boy!

The bedroom door doesn’t latch because the bolt doesn’t line up with the hole in the strike plate.  The easiest way to make them line up is to take off the strike plate, make the hole in the jamb larger in the location it needs to be, cut the mortise for the plate in the new location with a utility knife and/or sharp chisel and attach the plate with screws in the new location.  (Old screw holes causing problems?  See below…)  You can dress up the old mortise cut with wood filler.

On the other hand, it would be a great learning experience to remove the problem door from its rough opening and reinstall it following these guidelines in Part 1.  There is no better teacher than experience.

A replacement slab door should be sized precisely based on the old door it is replacing.  Measure the height, width and thickness of the old door slab.  The direction of swing and “handedness” (left or right) can easily be determined by simply backing your rear end up to where the so-called butt hinges are on the jamb and noting whether the door swings to the left or right.

This is called the “butt-to-butt” method for obvious reasons.  When you put in the order for the new slab, this information will save mistakes and misunderstandings.  Also, a picture is worth a thousand words:  Make a plan drawing (“bird’s-eye view”) of the room and door and take that with you to the door store.  (Whoops, I did it again…)

To digress:  The absolute simplest, fool-proof way to ensure an accurate replica of the former door is to give it to the fabricator/lumber yard/door store which is supplying your new door.  Then, it’s all on them and nothing can be lost in translation.

If you are doing the mortises for the hinges, measure their locations carefully on the old door and duplicate them on the new door slab.  The lockset borings will probably also be duplicated, but check the specs (there I go again) that come with your new lockset hardware.  A spade bit is used to bore the bolt hole in the edge of the door, 7/8″ or 1″ diameter depending on the specifications of your lockset.  The handle hole requires a hole saw of the correct diameter, usually 2 1/8″.  Start the big hole on one side; bore through until only the pilot bit comes through the other side.  Now cut the hole from the other side using the pilot bit hole to avoid blowing out (splitting) the wood when the hole saw emerges.

Hinge mortises can be drawn with pencil and cut out free-hand with a trim router set at a depth equal to the thickness of the hinge leaf.  Use a straight bit of the same radius as the corners of the hinges to route the round corners easily.  Square corners can be cut out after routing with a knife or chisel.

The face plate on the latch assembly requires mortising as well; this is best done with a razor knife to cut the outline, and a sharp chisel to remove the wood to depth.  No face plate — just a round insert?  Skip this step.

Bore hinge screw holes with a drill bit smaller than the hinge screws; the screw holes should not be deep or large to ensure the screws get a good bite on the wood.  I’ve install umpteen doors that came from the factory with screws that were spun in their holes from overzealous workers using a drill motor to tighten the screws on a Friday afternoon trying to finish up before the corner bar fills up with hockey fans watching the big game.  Oh Canada.

If you encounter a screw or two (I can’t stop myself) that spins as you tighten it, the fix is easy and reliable:  Grab some wooden toothpicks from the local bar; remove the loose screw; add copious amounts of carpenter’s glue to the hole and toothpicks; jam the toothpicks tightly into the hole; break or cut off the toothpicks; replace and tighten (not over-tighten) the screw; go back and finish your beer.

No Disassembly Required

No Disassembly Required

A door that rattles when closed needs a simple fix;  the bolt and strike plate are mismatched.  Look inside the strike plate hole; see the metal tab?  If it has a slot, take a slot screwdriver and gently pry the metal tab  “out” a tad.

No Slot

No Slot

No slot?  Remove the strike plate and use pliers to bend the tab a tad (that’s more alliteration than rhyme, but who says poetry has to rhyme?)  The door should now close with a little shove and a soft “clunk.”

(If a door opens by itself in an empty house, does it make a sound?  Yes.  Clunk.)

Finally, here is a short list of related issues that will keep your interior doors working perfectly long into the future:

  • Avoid hanging anything on the door, like clothes racks and children.  Sagging and loose hinge screws will ensue.
  • Lubricate moving parts occasionally.
  • If the door begins to rub or stick, fix it right; don’t butcher the door with a saw!
  • Declaw your pets; better still, train them, except cats, which is impossible.
  • Keep a key or unlocking tool handy to avoid having to tear down the door to free someone like that guy at the Olympics.
  • On painted doors, install with a bit wider reveal to prevent sticking as you add more layers of paint over the years.
  • If your bathroom door opens by itself unexpectedly, keep the lights off while you’re in there.

More on doors (this is getting old) later.