Thursday, December 27, 2007

Corbin Mortise Locks

Most people I know make the assumption that people who lived a while ago, whether that be 100 or 5000 years ago, are somehow inferior to us. We take a patronizing view of them and their world. "They didn't have the Internet. How DID they stay informed of world events." "They must have worked so hard cooking without a microwave." "Without a refrigerator, they must have been close to eating spoiled food all the time." And so on.

I try not to fall into this trap. I try and remember that they were people, just like us, with the same basic needs and desires. In some ways they were more creative than we are, because they had to come up with solutions using a more limited set of tools or ideas. And yet, every once in a while, I fall victim to the "They were a simple people living in a simple time" syndrome.

The House of 42 Doors came with approximately 42 locks as well, but unfortunately, it did not come with 42 keys. I have about a dozen keys. Like so many other things in the house, the locks in all the doors are the original, 1921 mortise locks.

Previously I had noticed that a majority of the doors in the house have a small hook screwed into the frame towards the top, presumably to hang up the key for that door. I thought it would be nice to do just that, but the problem remains, that I have 42 doors and insufficient keys.

One afternoon several weeks ago, I took all the keys and ran around the attic, the upstairs and the ground floor trying each key in each lock to see if it would work. The keys have Corbin stamped on the top of the key (the manufacturer of the lock) and a letter/number code stamped as well - P2, P6, P8, P9, P11, etc. I carefully wrote down which key fit which lock - Office, P11; Office Closet, P2; Guest Room, P8; etc. Based on this, I was going to decide which door to hang which key on. I still have a few orphaned keys with no locks and a few orphaned locks with no keys.

Last night, we had to take the door to the basement off of its hinges. The new washer and dryer are being delivered today, and they won't fit downstairs unless the door is removed. This is one of the few doors remaining that I did not test the lock, so I trundled upstairs, grabbed the keys, took them back downstairs and tried the lock. The first key did not fit. But the second...well the second went in, turned and promptly got jammed.

The next hour and a half was spent taking apart the handles, the key plates and the mortise lock to get that stupid key out. I took the time to polish one of the brass plates and to oil the lock. While polishing, I found myself thinking how horribly inconvenient and time consuming it must have been to try so many different keys to open a lock. After all, who was going to remember that the office door took a P11 key, or the kitchen door took a P10? And if it was dark, it would be impossible to read the stamp on the key - P2, P4, P5, etc. What if you lost a key? How would the locksmith know what key to replace it with? Would he have to take the lock out of the door and take it apart? What if there was a fire and someone needed to get out? I had visions of some poor maid burning to death while trying to go through every key on the key ring in hopes of finding P12.

Then, when I was putting the mortise lock back into the door I noticed that stamped onto the lock itself, in small, inconspicuous letters was P8. In other words, not only are the keys stamped, but so are the locks. I wasted all that time running around trying keys, and on top of it all, I almost broke off a P9 key in a P8 lock. I guess that those "simple" folks were pretty clever about matching locks to keys.

If anyone has any Corbin skeleton keys, P series, please let me know. I'll be happy to buy them from you.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007


Another week has gone by and I find myself sitting at work, marking time. The year's projects have been completed or the budgets have been expended. My colleagues in Ireland have the day off (St. Stephen's Day) and a majority of my colleagues in the U.S. are off for the week. This leaves me one part apathetic, two parts relaxed and two parts contemplative. Boredom hasn't hit yet, as there are a large number of mundane things that need doing, all of them necessary, but none time critical. It's a nice place to be at the end of the year.

Those of you who know us know how busy 2007 has been. We filled it with almost every possible stressful event possible, with the exception of a wedding and a death (thank goodness). We moved internationally, had a child, sold a house and bought a house. And if you're reading this blog, you know that the House of 42 Doors is not a stress-free house.

I think that in the last 12 months, I've accomplished more than in any other year of my life. And it's made me realize that life is entirely too short. This epiphany is made all the more poignant by my upcoming birthday. I'm very soon reaching the second half of my life, if I live to the average age of an American male. I come from fairly long lived grandparents (one in his seventies, the other three in their nineties) so it is also possible that I'm nowhere near that 50% mark yet.

It's said that the more you know, the more you realize how little you know. It seems to be true with doing to. The more I do, the more I see that remains to be done. I don't know if I'll ever get to see the House of 42 Doors "done", but I do take comfort in seeing a little progress every day.

And of course, there are all the other projects and goals that remain outside of the House of 42 Doors. After reading some of the letters and blogs of our overseas friends, it made me "awaysick". I'd still love to live over seas again - someday - much, much further in the future. There is the all-grain, beer brewing contraption I want to build. And the mead that needs making. And the hops that need growing. And the gardening that needs doing. The Spanish or French I want to learn. The MBA and architecture degrees I want to learn. The marathon I want to run. The book I want to write. The tower I want to build. The blacksmithing I want to learn. And on and on. As I said, life is too short.

We had a great Christmas. It was just the four of us and we started a good number of Christmas traditions in our family this year. we are fortunate enough to have a real chimney in our house, so Santa could make his entrance and exit in the traditional manner. In addition to the cookies and chocolate milk for Santa, we left out some whiskey. We asked our oldest (now three) if Santa preferred Irish or Scotch whiskey and the very emphatic response was Scotch whiskey. He must have liked it. It was gone in the morning (along with all the chocolate milk and most of the cookies).

Santa left a sled for the girls. We took both of them out and pulled them around the yard until I got entirely too tired (I think I see an exercise resolution for the New Year coming). The youngest, who is eight months, wasn't too excited with all the pulling and running though. She fell asleep on the sled while Pumpkin pulled her. We transferred her inside and Pumpkin and I stayed outside to play in the snow. We hid in the snow caves (underneath the yews in the front of the house), threw snowballs at each other and dug for buried treasure. When I asked her what kind of treasure, she replied "yong, yost" (her l's are still coming along).

The day was capped off by a fabulous supper cooked by Ms. Huis and a movie after the girls were in bed. Here's hoping that next Christmas is just as enjoyable. Hope yours was too.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Settling In

We've been trying to get ready for the holidays, like everyone else these days; shopping, putting up the Christmas tree, decorating the house, etc. And my parents will be arriving the weekend after Christmas, so we're also trying to get the house put into some semblance of order for them.

We have ordered guest room furniture and are hoping that at least the box spring and mattress are available before the guests arrive. We bought a full size mattress, so hopefully it will fit upstairs without having to be lifted from the ground over the first story railing and then into the back second story door.

We've bought several floor rugs and put them down. The electrician is off until January 7th, so we'll be putting down some of the other rugs too.

Most of the wiring is done, although we still have several lights we need to purchase and one I still need to rewire. So far we're very pleased with the work that has been done. There was only one screw up where he deviated from the plan.

The snowblower is fixed and since then it hasn't snowed an appreciable amount. Not surprising really. When you're ready for something, it seems to never happen.

There's still plenty to do, but it finally feels like a home. Wednesday night I grabbed a beer, sat down in my chair and turned on the television. I watched TV for the first time in...I can't remember when. It was American Idol and I only watched for a half hour. The act of sitting and watching TV seemed decadent and hedonistic.

I find watching American Idol an almost complete waste of time, so it was absolutely perfect for that occasion. All I wanted was to waste some time.

The floor in the living room has continued to settle, rather alarmingly. When we moved in, the gap between the floor (which is sinking) and the mop board (which is nailed to the wall and therefore, not sinking) was about 1/2 inch (1 cm). Just small enough that I couldn't get my fingers in there to pull out the toys and other strange bits. when I looked over the weekend, the gap was approaching an inch and a quarter (3 cm).

I supported the sinking joists with some posts in the basement until I can get the floor supported properly. I suspect that the floor is not sinking that much. Part of it is just seasonal humidity variation. Yes, I know. Ever the optimist.

On a side note, I just finished reading The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan. If you are a foodie, it's worth a read. He writes well and has some good points. I've asked Ms. Huis to give it a read, so we'll see if she rates it as highly as I do.

I'm looking forward to having a few days off to spend with the girls. Christmas will only be with the nuclear family this year, but its nice that it will be in our house - the house we make payments on (its not really ours until the bank is paid off).

Hope all of you have a safe and merry Christmas

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The Sounds of Silence

A quiet evening. Enjoying a beer. Listening to the house. The clank of dishes. The creak of a floor board. The pitter-patter of little feet...Wait, the girls are asleep. What is that sound? Not feet. Right. Of course. The roof. Guess I better buy some more buckets.

Monday, December 10, 2007

On Its Way

It shipped! It shipped! I never thought I could be so excited about a bit of copper, plastic and gold colored rayon. My spool of wire is somewhere between here and Willington, Connecticut. It should be here this week. Once I get the wire, I get to rewire the lights. Once the lights are rewired, the electrician can hang them up. I'm hoping that by Christmas we'll be done with the contractors and we can live in peace.

I'd never heard of Willington before, so a quick Google led me to their municipal site. Looks like a pretty cool place to live. Check out the beginning laido course. Just under it is a class for basic foil fencing.

We got a ton of things done over the weekend, due almost wholly to the visit of the in-laws. We were able to buy a guest room bedroom set, a rug for Penguin's room and a rug for the living room. And we got several boxes unpacked. Thankfully the snow held off (they were predicting another two to four inches on Saturday), which was great because the snowblower is in the shop for a tune up. FIL and I looked at it on Saturday and concluded that since the quick fix attempts didn't work in repairing it, there were probably better ways to spend our time than taking apart a carburetor in an unheated garage.

What I really wanted to get done, but didn't, was dropping off the white oak to the sawmill. It is surprising how heavy a six foot long, 14 inch diameter piece of white oak is. Those that know me, know that I am definitely not a hulk of human being. The better part of my energy seems to go into something other than muscle growth (not fat either, so I'm not sure what happens to it). And with a sedentary computer job, my raw lifting power is nothing to brag about. Still, both my wife and I could barely lift the largest of the four logs that we saved from the tree trimming we did immediately upon taking possession of the house.

A little bit of research online suggested that a log of that size would weigh between three hundred and four hundred pounds depending on wood density and water moisture content. Rolling it to the trailer was difficult, but not impossible (especially when I used metal pipes underneath it as rollers). Lifting it up to the trailer, however, was impossible. So I took a cue from the ancients and have been slowly using 2 x 4s to create cribbing underneath it. Once I get it to the height of the trailer, I hope to just push it forward off the cribbing onto the trailer. That's a "this week" project. If I don't write again, you'll know it didn't go well and I was crushed under several hundred pounds of oak tree.

I hope that the neighbors are enjoying the show we're giving them. We've had two diggers out, had the electrical pole removed, trimmed up trees and now we have a six foot log resting fifteen inches off of the ground on 2 x 4 cribbing. All of this is, of course, perfectly visible from the street. I wonder what they'll think when I start boiling up maple syrup in the backyard?

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Diamonds Are A Girl's Best Friend

One of the things that I love (and is also very frustrating) about the House of 42 Doors is the continuous stream of discovery that occurs. In the past, people have made decisions about how to do something and most of the time they made the best decision they could with the information they had at hand. Trying to figure out what they were thinking is what I love. Dealing with the consequences of their actions is what is frustrating.

I have written some about our new plumbing, but I have left out some juicy details (nothing too gross, I promise). Last Friday we had a meeting with Don the plumber to go over what was done, what remains to be done, problems that arose and the final bill. So here's a recap of the "Let's Replace Our Sewer Project."

What We Did

  • Replace the soil pipe from the basement ceiling, all the way out to the sewer main, 75 feet behind the house. This means, tearing up some of the basement floor and digging the backyard up.
  • Replace the drain pipe from the kitchen sink to the soil pipe.
  • Add a floor drain next to the boiler.
  • Add a wash sink so that the washing machine doesn't have to drain into the existing floor drain.
  • Plumb in the original 1921 kitchen sink (with the original faucets) in the basement.
  • Add a new stack for the "someday" first floor bathroom.
  • Abandon the cistern overflow drain and fill in.
  • Abandon a mystery sewer clean out in the backyard and fill in.

Why We Did It

  • The cast iron sewer line under the basement floor was almost fully corroded through and backed up frequently. The previous owner had a nice collection of ten plungers to attest to this fact. I guess if one didn't work, he went out and bought another. More plungers is certainly cheaper than a new sewer. Ironically, the owner probably put in cast iron because it was seen as more durable than the more fragile clay tiling at the time. They didn't consider the effects of rust I guess.
  • Our municipality is upgrading the sewer mains and requiring home owners to upgrade older sewer lines by 2009. This is to reduce the amount of water seepage into the sewers and therefore reduce the cost of sewer treatment.
  • Our mortgage company required replacement as part of the mortgage. This requirement almost killed the purchase of the house. In the end, we were able to negotiate an equitable agreement with the previous owners.

Problems That Arose

  • Our backyard looks like a war zone. Hopefully we can get it put back together next summer.
  • We had a nice brick patio. A good portion of it had to come up for the backhoe to dig down to the sewer line.
  • Somebody, sometime in the past had replaced all but the last 20 feet of the external sewer line with PVC piping. The village inspector was NOT pleased to see this. He didn't know about it, meaning that whoever did it, didn't file for a permit. In the end, he could have ordered it replaced, but he signed off on it and let it go.
  • The concrete in the basement floor ended up being six to eight inches thick. This meant that the subcontracted concrete cutters not only had to go back and get a different concrete saw, but they also had to get two more guys to help haul the concrete out.
  • And now for the real gem (almost literally). When I went down the first day to see what the concrete cutters had done, I noticed a lot of good looking black dirt mixed in with the clay under the basement. I didn't think too much about it and didn't look at it that closely. According to Don, it wasn't black dirt. It was coal. That's right. coal. Apparently, there is a layer of coal placed under my basement floor. The combination of coal and eight inches of concrete means that the concrete cutters went through one of their diamond saw blades doing our job. Those saw blades usually last 30 to 40 jobs, and they aren't cheap. I had to chuckle at this. Once again the House of 42 Doors proves to be difficult. I have no idea what reasons could possibly exist for the coal. Drainage? Anyone have any ideas? Maybe they thought they could make diamonds given enough time. It's comforting to know that I have a secret cache of coal for when the real energy crunch hits!

What Remains to Be Done

  • The toilet in the basement needs to be reseated.
  • Both drains need to be cut down to floor level and drain covers put in place.
  • Parts of the concrete settled and need to be re-leveled with the floor.

What It Cost
The cost of the concrete cutters turned out to be huge. With the extra man power and the loss of a blade, the bill from them came in at five times what Don normally expected and made up half of the bill. Still, Don stuck to his bid plus a little bit more for the extras I requested.

Lessons Learned
Never do this unless you absolutely have to. Even then, consider building an out house, or moving. Our backyard is trashed. The basement floor looks bad with the new concrete channels. Our basement is filthy. The floor and walls needs a good sweep and mop. They even used a wet saw to cut the concrete. If anyone says that they are going to cut concrete in your house without a wet saw, box their ears and then kick them out immediately. Concrete dust is insidious and evil. I suspect that it was originally in the bible, but "fire and concrete dust" didn't sound as good as "fire and brimstone".

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Widow Maker

Saturday night saw a dumping of the most beautiful and hateful snow I've seen in years. We received seven inches (18 cm), blanketing everything in a clean, white layer. It was the first snowfall of the year, so there were no snowbanks yet and no salt or dirt build up on the roads. Truly beautiful.

It was also the heaviest, wettest stuff imaginable. I'm not sure how, but I think that a shovel full of this stuff was actually heavier than an equivalent shovel full of water. Great for making snow men and snow forts. Also great for giving people heart attacks and making early widows.

We have a snow blower, but it hasn't been started in two and a half years. Trying to remember how to start the darn thing took a bit of mental drudging. Remove kill key...check. Turn throttle to full...Check. Turn choke to full...check. Put in gas...check. Check oil...check. Ok. Pulled on the rope go. So I tried again, and again, and again. Still no go.

Ahhh! That's right there is an electric start. So I ran into the house, grabbed our one 100' extension cord, brought it out and plugged in the snow blower. Push the button to do the electric start and it sounds like a cat is being put throw a blender on liquefy. This is normal. It really does sound like that. But after a minute of go.

At which point I notice a strange dark spot below my knee on my snow suit. Following it with my eyes, I see that the snow blower is doing it's best imitation of a peeing dog, with gasoline. Well at least I know why it isn't working.

I am not a big fan of small engines. Bolts get rusted shut. Guards and casings are difficult to remove, or in the way. No matter what I want to get at, my hands are too big or my fingers aren't nimble enough or I don't have the right tool. I always scrape up a knuckle or cut a finger. In short, they are very frustrating.

So I opted to shovel the driveway by hand. In retrospect, I should have taken the three or four hours to drive to the hardware store, get parts and fix the snowblower, because there is a lot of driveway and sidewalk to shovel. It wouldn't be bad if it were regular snow, but this stuff was like a shovel full of lead every time. It took pretty much the entire day to shovel, but we got through it. The snow blower still needs to be repaired and it's supposed to snow in the next day or two.

Yesterday the power company came and finished energizing the underground line. That means there is no longer a power pole in our back yard and we are officially running off of 200 amp, underground power. Now the electrician can really start rewiring. The old electrical panel has been removed and everything is running off of the new shiny one. Just another two weeks and he should be done (really).

We also handed over the keys from the rental place to the landlord yesterday. We are responsible now for only one house - The House of 42 Doors. This is the first time this has happened in two and a half years and it feels good.