Category Archives: Trades

90% of Contractors Suck

do not ever pay for work that isn’t done right and completed on time

what the Arc would have looked like if Noah had used a contractor

Stop letting contractors screw you over.  There is NO excuse for work that isn’t done right, finished on budget, and completed on time.  I’ve heard it again and again that some contractor totally fucked up a job, or charged far too much, or did work that didn’t need doing, left an utter mess behind them after they finished, caused far more damage than they were asked to come in and fix, never finished the job at all, didn’t do the job they were asked to do, or didn’t even turn up…..

This is not a new story for me, so why am I bothering to flog this comatose horse?  Well a couple of friends of mine, and another couple of nice people whose blogs I follow, have all had problems with contractors in the past few days.  In my expert opinion 90% of contractors of every ilk from decorators, to plumbers, to electricians, to garage mechanics, to moving men et al, are utterly useless, partly skilled, dishonest, lazy, misogynistic jerks.

So how to avoid being totally ripped off?

  • Do not hire a contractor based on somebody else’s unsupported recommendation.  Especially do not hire anyone recommended by another contractor; say your realtor.
  • Do not ever, ever hire a friend, or a friend of a friend, to do ANY work for you.
  • Do not ever hire a contractor without first having a totally clear picture of the work you want doing, when you want it done by, how much you are going to pay, and when.  If you don’t know any of this stuff, GO AWAY AND FIND OUT!
  • Do not ever hire a contractor who can’t show you a current copy of their appropriate certification, and customer references.  Check these out, and never just by making a phone call.
  • Do not hire a contractor who can’t give you a firm written quote, on a proper letter-head.  If possible get three quotes, (if it’s a big job then you must have at least two firm quotations)
  • Do not ever pay a contractor before they have started work, and never ever pay them in full until the work is completed to your satisfaction.  Agree stage payments if appropriate.  Go over everything your contractor has done with a fine tooth comb.  Your word is the final word!
  • Do not ever, ever allow an unsupervised contractor into your property. And, ensure they are watched over 100% of the time thereafter.
  • DO NOT hire day rate illegal aliens under any circumstances.  And don’t hire anyone who isn’t fluent in your language.
  • Learn some DIY stuff.  Learn a hell of a lot of DIY stuff.  It is always easier, cheaper, and better to do the job yourself than hire some utterly useless, partly skilled, dishonest, lazy, misogynistic jerk to do the work for you.  And if you have some idea about how to actually do a bit of say; decorating, then you are in a far better position to control your idiot contractor.
  • Finally; do not be a woman.  All contractors think women are easy marks.  If you are a woman then follow the suggestions above with the utmost regard.

This is your job, your money, your home, your safety.  If your plumber floods your home, your electrician sets fire to your home, or you home just blows up……  then ultimately it is YOUR fault.  Do not let ANYONE tell you how you should go about dealing with a contractor.  (except me)

Some say that they have had a really good contractor.  And that not all contractors are bad.  All I know is that anyone who says they have had one good contractor will also have had three utter disasters.

~

jack collier

jackcollier7@talktalk.net

some decorators can’t even varnish a floor without making a mess of it

Stupid DIY Mistakes

you’re only human, it’s all right to make mistakes

If you do most things for yourself, eschewing messy decorators, useless contractors, and rip-off garages, then every now and again you are bound to commit one of the classic howlers.  Mistakes you could kick yourself for.  Really stupid mess-ups that leave you thinking; ‘how the hell do I get out of this one…..?’

I might admit to being guilty of some or all of these;

  1. Painting yourself into a corner.  You can either walk on it or wait until it dries.
  2. Touching a spark-plug lead while the engine is running.  If you’re healthy you’ll just get a terrific jolt, if you have a heart pacemaker you might get dead.
  3. Opening the radiator cap on a hot engine.  Getting scalded hurts.
  4. Over-tightening a nut so the bolt / stud snaps.  That is likely to be expensive to repair, unless you know how.
  5. Sawing off the branch you’re sitting on.  The fall hurts.
  6. Sawing off the branch your ladder is leaning against.  The fall hurts.
  7. Taking off the bathroom door handle and closing the door while you’re inside, with no way to open the door to get out.
  8. Putting up a picture / shelf by hammering a nail / drilling into the wall, and going right through a water pipe.  Flooding is expensive to repair, so is the big hole you’re going to have in the wall.
  9. Ditto an electrical cable or gas pipe.
  10. Not learning how to use a spirit level and putting up a shelf.

Today I was guilty of #7.  Just as well I took lessons from a master locksmith.

Some say that we learn by our mistakes.  And that necessity is the mother of invention.  All I know is that I can now build, decorate, install, make, repair….. just about anything ~ and I have the scars to prove it.

~

jack collier

jackcollier7@talktalk.net

I didn’t build that,

but I could

 

Men, Advice, and Solutions

A man’s self-worth is defined by the results he can achieve.

Real Men Slay Dragons

Today, practical men are great at solving problems involving faulty electrics, leaking faucets, broken-down cars, busted appliances…..  Real men are crap at listening when all a woman wants is to talk about her feelings, or how her day was.  Masculine men are basically problem-solving machines.

To understand why a man always gives advice and solutions, when all a woman wants is for him to listen, you need to know how the male brain works.  And for a start, unlike women, men have dick-all connections between the right and left hemispheres of the brain.

A woman’s brain is organised for communication and empathy.  A woman’s brain is structured to talk, and the main purpose of her talking is to talk and share feelings.  For the most part she is not looking for solutions, advice, or answers, which is what the male brain is organised to provide.

Men evolved as mostly solitary hunters, and their main contribution to the survival of the human race was the ability to hit a moving target so that everyone could eat meat.  Prehistoric Man needed the ability to accurately throw a rock, club, or spear, either at edible targets or enemies who wanted to steal their food or who threatened their tribe.

As a result, men evolved a target-hitting and spacial awareness area in the brain, which uses up the part of the brain that forms the speech and communications centre in women.  Talking, listening, empathy, and emotions uses up odd bits of the male brain that aren’t used for much else ~ men don’t have a speech centre.  Women don’t have a spacial awareness, target-hitting, and throwing centre in their brain, which is why most women have a useless sense of direction and can’t read maps.

Early man turned into result-oriented creatures who measure their own success strictly by outcomes, accomplishments, and their ability to come up with solutions to problems.  A real man feels that he is the one person most capable of solving his own problems, and does not see any need to discuss them with anyone else.  Men will only ask another persons opinion about a problem if he is looking for expert advice; say from a doctor.  Unsolicited advice from a woman is not welcomed by any masculine guy.

Some women say that men have countless annoying traits.  And that a woman wants to be listened to, not fixed.  All I know is that real men don’t want to worry about toilet seats.

~

jack collier

jackcollier7@talktalk.net

put a real man on an idyllic desert island, and the first thing he’ll think about is how to get off it.

 

 

Atchison Topeka and the Santa Fe

Desire is the history that drives the engine…..

In Albuquerque I went to see an old railway locomotive being restored by a bunch of unpaid enthusiasts ~ older and interesting guys.

It turned out that the massive 450 ton engine ran on the AT & SF, and how cool is that?

~

jack collier

jackcollier7@talktalk.net

go to New Mexico and see this

Shipping Container Homes

You don’t need more space, you need less stuff.

Back when I owned a trailer park, shipping containers often made instant buildings which could serve a myriad of purposes for me, from simple storage units, through a workshop, to a pretty nice office.

(not my office, a home made from shipping containers)

What I have never yet attempted is to use a shipping container to make a tiny home, or more likely, use several shipping containers linked together to make a decent-sized home.  The place to start is to learn something about shipping containers, and then buy the right units.

Shipping containers are usually strong steel boxes with doors at one end, but they actually come in lots of versions.  The standard width is 8′ (eight feet), the standard height is 8’6″ (eight foot six inches), and the two standard lengths are 20′ (twenty foot), and 40′ (forty foot).  There are a whole raft of non-standard lengths starting at 5′, but a 10′ container is the more common of the non-standard lengths.  The internal floor areas work out at 150 sq ft for a 20′ container and 305 sq ft for a 40′ container.

Given that most people regard 1000 sq ft as a decent size for a home, (plus a garage), then we are talking of at least a couple of containers to make anything that approximates a ‘normal-sized’ house.  Container architecture is a discipline all of its own.

You obviously need a plot, the appropriate permissions from whatever building authority is responsible for all the regulatory stuff, and you may / or may not need to lay a concrete slab on which to stand the container(s) you’re going to turn into a home.  (Whether or not you need to lay a concrete pad depends on the ground, and how long you expect the container home to stand there.)

It’s no good just buying a plot, plonking a used shipping container there and expecting to live in it.  Shipping containers are steel boxes, and that means they are damn hot inside in summer, and bloody freezing inside in winter.   To make a home you will have to line out the inside, and perhaps even clad the outside.  Even if you just buy one 40′ container and are going to be happy living in 305 sq ft, you will still need to do a hell of a lot of work to make your steel box habitable.

One of the first things you need to learn is how to cut steel plate.  Your box needs more than a big door at one end, you need windows, (at least), and maybe another door, and perhaps holes so you can link one container to another to make a bigger home.  Luckily, shipping containers are mostly made of steel that’s only between 1.5mm and 2mm thick, so it’s easy to cut.  Realistically there are 3 ways to cut steel on site, (using an ordinary hacksaw will take you aeons and you’ll hurt your wrist and hands).

  1. Oxy-acetylene cutting torch.  These things are dangerous, and unless you’ve done this kind of cutting before, you would be best getting instruction before attempting to use an oxygen / acetylene torch.  However, a cutting torch is fast and it’s easy to cut complex shapes.  If you want circular cut-outs for round windows / portholes in your tiny container home, then oxy-acetylene could be for you.
  2. Electric jigsaw.  The sides of steel shipping containers are pretty easy to cut, so an ordinary electric jigsaw will chop out your doors and windows.  And, you can cut curves in steel with an electric jigsaw.  This is possibly the best choice for the averagely skilled person.
  3. Stihl cut-off saw.  STIHL is a trademark, but what we are talking about here is a big power saw of some description.  Cutting lots of big holes in your containers, on site, you may well want something like a petrol powered Stihl saw, (and make certain you have the right disk for steel).

The benefits of using steel shipping containers to make a tiny home, (or something bigger), is that it’s pretty fast and inexpensive to get a weatherproof structure on site, they’re strong and durable, and you can put them down just about anywhere.  A shipping container is probably the start of the ultimate off-the-grid home.

I can and have lived off-the-grid in a log cabin I built myself, (from a kit), but I would strongly caution anyone thinking of doing this concerning water.  You will need a constant supply of potable water, either from the mains or from your own well / borehole.  The average American uses between 80 to 100 gallons of water every day of the year.  It’s possible to finesse around all the other services; sewage, electricity, gas, heating, telephone and internet, but shipping water in a small bowser on a regular basis is an absolute non-starter.

Once you have a weatherproof structure with the doors and windows installed, and you’ve made a start on connecting your services, then you can start on the really fun stuff, which is fitting out the interior to suit your tastes.  The only limit to your imagination is the dimensions of whatever containers you have bought.

Making a home out of steel shipping containers is within the scope of anyone who is fairly competent at all kinds of advanced DIY, and who can also manage a project.

And all this gives me a problem; is my next project a school bus camper, or a container-based tiny home?

~

jack collier

jackcollier7@talktalk.net

click on the book for more

 

 

 

 

Sponsored by:  http://www.amazon.com/shops/salinevalleyenterprises

10% discount on everything on this site if you quote code C7SYDV6B

Advanced DIY

Really successful engineering is all about understanding how something will break or fail.

For some strange reason I am blessed with the ability to fix almost anything, install almost anything, make almost anything, and build almost anything.

I built myself a Caterham / Lotus 7 sports-racing car, which I then drove all over Europe on long road trips.  The trip I enjoyed most in this little car was driving down the entire Loire Valley in France.  (Or maybe it was the Stelvio Pass.)

Minor pieces of carpentry are child’s play for me ~ which is why I could rip out the old kitchen in my garret and replace it with something that I liked and suited my needs.

(With help from my friend Marmaduke of course.)

I’ve also erected log cabins and built vacation homes from plywood.  (This is a stock picture, not one of mine)

Sometimes, half way through a project, I’ve wondered why I started, and if the thing would ever be finished.  The picture above shows this kind of ‘why am I doing this’ project. Although, this wreck of an Austin-Healey Sprite turned into a really beautiful little car, finished in British Racing Green as a frog-eye.  (the almost completed little car, I like that I did the white stripes)

For my next project I’m thinking about finding an old school bus, rebuilding it as an RV, (Recreational Vehicle), and then spending an entire year in the thing, touring as much of the USA as I can, on the longest road trip ever.

Something you need, if you want to tackle advanced DIY projects, is a really, really comprehensive tool kit.  And, take my advice, always buy the very best tools you can afford.  (You may need a hard hat.)

This post is sponsored by:  http://www.amazon.com/shops/salinevalleyenterprises

~

jack collier

jackcollier7@talktalk.net

some power tools are a must have

click on the power tools picture

Marmaduke’s Christmas Bird House

Marmaduke the Teddy Bear Carpenter

He’s very skilled for a little teddy bear, and Marmaduke also loves nature, so he’s been making a rustic bird house to keep the little robin redbreasts safe over the cold winter.  And, like a good little bear, he’s finished the work well in time for Christmas.

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The snag was, when he’d finished the thing, he wanted to keep it for himself, and moved in with all his possessions, even his marmalade.

bt10

Eventually he realised that the little birds needed it more than he does, so now it’s gone.  Marmaduke loves robyns especially.

All cool guys should be able to do a little woodwork, it’s an urban survival skill.

WAF Landscape Christmas Cards.qxdjack collier

jackcollier7@talktalk.net

Woodwork at Advent

There is something very therapeutic about working with wood.

Marmaduke and I made a stool as a Christmas gift for a close friend.  A cool guy should be able to do some carpentry.

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By a Carpenter mankind was made, and only by that Carpenter can mankind be remade.  ~  Desiderius Erasmus

I seem to have really caught the carpentry bug again.  So, what’s next?  Build a boat in the basement?

~

p1050279no little teddy bears were hurt during the making of this little cracket

jack collier

jackcollier7@talktalk.net

Carpentry for Chistmas

As men will do, I asked a female friend what she would like for Christmas.  Now, this woman is the only female who has ever been allowed in the garret, (apart from a policewoman).  And, she has seen that I can make things, fix stuff, do amazing things with my hands…

What she has asked Santa to bring her this Christmas is a stool a little like mine.  Around this part of Northern England it’s called a cracket.

dscf0004

I made this cracket back when I was in school, so despite all the abuse I could throw at it, this little wooden stool has lasted for 40 years or so.  All I’m going to need a length of plank, a few bits and pieces, and a little time.

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dscf0005For 40 years old it doesn’t look to bad at all.  And, it’s an amazing useful piece of furniture.  Standing on, resting stuff on, using as a saw horse…  So, that’s what I’ll be making her for Christmas.

Doesn’t the real spirit of Christmas have something to do with a carpenter?

I’ll do another post nearer to Christmas showing you how Marmaduke and I progress.  For a little bear, he’s a pretty good apprentice carpenter.

~

dscf0007Jack Collier, jobbing joiner.

jackcollier7@talktalk.net

 

 

the warmth of a real a log fire

Now that autumn is drawing in, there’s nothing much nicer than sitting near a crackling log fire.  Cats love being near the warmth, and the flames seem to fascinate the little assassins.  Almost every woman you meet will love to curl up in front of a log fire, if you’re lucky right next to you ~ or the cat anyhow.  Burning wood is environmentally friendly, (more or less), and it’s a much cheaper and nicer way to heat your living-room than oil or gas.

Well, let me tell you, if you’ve never had a log fire, (or a wood burning stove), then it’s all a lot more complicated than you’d think.  First of all do you have a fireplace, or a wood burning stove?  Do you even have a chimney?  Look outside, are there neatly stacked plies of seasoned firewood?

Start with the basics, and assume that you at least have a fireplace.

When was the last time the fireplace / stove was used, and when was the chimney last swept?  Burning wood creates ash, smoke, soot, and tar, which then goes up the chimney, and some of it sticks there.  Birds and other creatures nest in chimneys, or on top of chimneys.  Dead stuff and other crap falls into chimneys.  If in doubt thoroughly clean out the fireplace and chimney, (this should be an annual job anyway).  If you’re a useless wimp and in real doubt get some guy to do it for you, (if you have never seen a fall of soot you have no idea how filthy, stinking, dirty that is).  If you don’t have a clean chimney some very bad things could happen; the fire may not light, your house may burn down, you may die.

Do you have some firewood?  Have you any idea how much seasoned firewood you can get through in one winter ~ even if you only light the fire / stove at weekends?  Do you know the difference between hardwood and softwood?  Have you ever used an axe, log splitter, saw, chainsaw?  Do you own a truck?

We could see that gas was costing us too much money.  That’s why we made the choice to go to the wood burner.  It’s easy to do.  Cutting firewood is putting a little sweat equity into it, is all.  ~  Jerry Lambert.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAn average sized home could easily get through two cords of wood in a winter, just to heat the lounge in the evenings ~ Jerry Lambert must be one fit actor, or he buys in his firewood by the truck load.  I have cut, hauled, split, stacked, and brought firewood into my home ~ and let me tell you it’s hard work requiring some expertise in everything from forestry to using hand tools.

The Finns have a proverb; Judge a man by his firewood.  If you can haul enough firewood to heat your lounge in a cold winter, then you’re a real man.

Open log fires can spit sparks onto the hearthrug, burning embers can fall out, and they are quite inefficient, (maybe 10 to 15%).  Really, an open log fire is for looks, cooking the odd whole side of lamb, (cooking with wood is by far the best way to do a lot of meat), and for snuggling near in the flickering light, (much better than scented candles).

vermont_encore_woodburnerTo actually get some heat into your home by burning wood, what you need is a wood-burning stove.  These are heavy, expensive, usually iron or steel, use much less wood for the amount of usable heat you get, and you can also get your hot water and central heating from the thing.  Some come with pretty glass doors so you don’t lose the joy of watching the flames, (or you can open the doors while your girl is snuggling with the cat).

If you don’t already have a stove, you may need a professional installer to put the thing in for you ~ or you could start learning some practical skills.  One benefit of a wood-burner is that you do not need a working chimney, you can run a steel flue outside of the house.  (If you don’t understand that, then you do need a professional installer.)

The choice of stoves is huge, and mostly limited by your wallet.

The last time I built my own place I had a pretty little stove with glass doors in the lounge, and a much bigger, utilitarian, stove in the kitchen for cooking, central heating, and hot water.  I also owned 18 acres of woodland, a tractor, and passed my chainsaw certificate.  My cat, Pyewacket, loved those stoves, but I was always too damn busy shifting firewood to take his picture sitting next to one.

~

Pyewacketjackcollier7@talktalk.net

liebster-12

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