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calendar   Friday - October 15, 2010

My Day From Hell

Getting Screwed In Concrete





In which Drew finally learns to read the instructions and the fine print, and to actually accept what they say.


Today was the day to install that threshold for Mrs. G. What should have been an easy one hour job, a quick $50, turned into a day-long nightmare. And I lost money on the deal. Sadder but wiser.

The previous owners of her condo installed a floating laminate “wood” floor in the kitchen. Over concrete slab. She has carpet in the room next to it. Over concrete slab as well. The floor guys installed one of those thresholds that look like a comma in cross section. They used a cheap piece of crap that was wood-tone vinyl over pressboard. Masonite. Pressed cardboard, not even wood. First they tried gluing it on. That didn’t work. Wrong glue, or wrong approach. Then they tried using their air stapler to shoot a dozen wire staples to hold it down. That didnt’ work. Every single one of them bent up like spaghetti when they hit the concrete. So finally they just got 2 concrete screws and screwed the damn thing down. But they didn’t do a good job. They didn’t cover the screws, or countersink them, or anything. Ugly-ass screw heads sticking up. And she lived with that for 20 years, until the yucky pressboard started falling apart. I knew I could do better.

So, 2 trips to the hardware store later, and I had her a lovely bit of real oak that was nearly the color of her floor. And I had my countersink bits, a depth stop I made from a ply ripped from a bit of plywood, some concrete screws and the screw company’s own concrete drill bit.

And today, away I went. I measure twice, and cut the threshold to length. Perfect fit. Well, I had to trim one end in a little since the sides of the doorway weren’t parallel. But then it was perfect. I found the thickest part of the wood, and taped a perfectly straight line down the piece. Found the exact center, and found both spots exactly 1 3/4” in from each end. Drilled them all and countersunk them. Took my time so I didn’t even smoke the sawdust. Perfect. Laid the part in place ... and found out that the floor has a hump in it. Crap. Still, no biggy. 3 sturdy screws will hold it down, right? So now it was time to drill the hole in the concrete.

I hate concrete. I hate the builders who built these condos and were too cheap to put in actual subfloors over foundations or crawlspaces. No, these units were built over slabs poured right into the ground. Wonderful. And folks wonder why their floors are so cold in the winter.

So I put the long and skinny concrete bit in my drill, and away I went. And nothing much happened. Huh? So I pressed harder. And still nothing happened. Harder. And the only thing that happened was that the bit got really hot. Blued steel! I had smoked the damn thing.

So off to the hardware store. Again. 15 miles away.

“Oh, these don’t work as straight drill bits. See how it says “hammer drill bit” on the label? You have to set your hammer drill to hammer to use these bits.”

Um, I don’t own a hammer drill.

“Well, you could try a regular masonry bit, but even those work better with a hammer drill.”

Fine. And that’s when tool lust made it’s entrance. I could have bought a cheapo hammer drill for $59. It probably would have done the job. Mostly. Or maybe a demolition drill? Nah, they’re way too expensive. So I looked, and I learned, and I realized that at some point a hammer drill becomes a rotary hammer which eventually becomes a demolition drill, and the price goes up the whole time. And rotary hammers only take socketed bits; they don’t even have a drill chuck. So I “settled” on the 2nd priciest hammer drill, a Rigid. 1/2” chuck, pulls 9 amps. Holy cow. An 1100 watt drill. It was only $20 less than the Milwaukee, and it had a stronger motor and a lifetime warranty. So I bought it. $160 tool to drill the holes for 3 75¢ screws. Shit. But what can you do?

So then I picked up a 5/32” x 6” Bosch bit for $1 less than the “official” bit the screw company makes, figuring my heat-blued bit was a goner. Same size right? Wrong. The Bosch bit drilled the holes pretty well, but the screws didn’t quite fit. Seems like the “official” drill bit is merely nominally 5/32”. It’s actually a hair over. Secretly metric. And guess what happens when you try to drive concrete screws into holes that are just a smidgen too small? They don’t go. So you lean on them harder of course. And they still don’t go, but the heads tear up. Crap.

So I had to remove several screws that were halfway down their holes. Couldn’t do it with my regular screw driving drill. Couldn’t do it with pliers. Had to go home, get the full size pair of vise grips, come back, and clamp that mother down with both hands. That got the screws out, screaming all the way. The screws, not me. Although it was tempting.

Fine. Back to using the official drill bit. That opened up the holes just a tiny bit, and away I went. First screw went right in. Second screw went right in. Third screw went almost all the way in ... and then it sheared. Son of a dessicated camel! Crap. Hey, there’s a little bit of screw still in the wood. Maybe it will hold. It seems to be holding. Cool! Glue up the other 2 holes, get out the little bits of wooden dowel that fill the holes, pound them into place. Still holding. Glue and pound the last one into place. Sweet. Hey look, I’m all done! And it’s holding beautif ... poing! And that end pops up. Shutze no saco. Now I have to take the whole thing apart. After I just glued in the covers on. And the “one hour setting time” really means “dries in one minute or less”. Gotta drill them out. Sucks.

Ok, got them all out. This is becoming a real pain in the ass project. Grab the grips and turn that sheared screw out, since it sheared 1/4” above the concrete. Quarter turn at a time, then reclamp. Sheez. Ok, done. Finally. Fine. Redrill the hole, in case there was something down there. Threshold back in place. Screw another screw in ... and this one sheared too. Right at the concrete. No way in hell I can get it out. I am now totally effed. Damnation!! Sure, I can just put a cap on that hole and drill another one near by. That will work, but it will look like junk. And I don’t do ____-rig work. Shit. Double damnation. Half a day wasted already!!

So I went home, 2 blocks away. And made some coffee. And tried to get my head together. I’d done such lovely work, and everything had gone pretty well. Right to the end, when I was done in by a crappy screw. Two cups of coffee and a small Why ME tantrum later, it was time to go back to the hardware store. Get a new piece of threshold wood. And a tube of universal fast-set extra tacky ultra-glue construction adhesive. If I can’t screw it, I’ll glue it. Screw it!

15 miles, 5 traffic lights, and 8 speed bumps later I was back at the hardware store. Again. New piece of wood in hand.

“What, you’re doing another one?”

“No, the screw sheared off right at the concrete. I’m screwed, so I have to start all over and drill the holes somewhere else.”

“Those screws sheared? That never happens. Builders love these things, they never go wrong.”

“Well, good for them. They went wrong for me.”

“Here, try some medium length ones this time, and make sure you follow the directions. They should work. They always work.”

Fine. Drive half an hour back to her condo. At this point I’ve been at it for 6 hours. For a 1 hour job. I swear I’ve spent half the day just driving. Ok, I stopped for lunch. But it was a speed lunch. And I’ve spent nearly $40 more than anticipated, plus the cost of the new drill. But I’ll eat that one, since “I always wanted one”. I did? Ok, maybe. I guess so. It’s a helluva power tool, so fine.

Measure, cut, drill, countersink. That part of the job takes all of 10 minutes. I took the easy way out this time and decided on 2 screws, each 1/3 of the way in from the edges. Plus I knew it would be tempting fate trying to hit that old center hole exactly right with a new piece of wood. And those holes have bad ju-ju.  And I had that tube of wonderglop, so that ought to do it. Please God, let that do it.

Put the threshold it place. Perfect fit. Put the official drill bit back in the mighty hammer drill. Brrrrrrrrrrrrraaaaapp!  It’s a little spooky leaning my entire upper body onto a big drill with such a long skinny bit in it. I’m waiting for it to snap and send me face first into the floor, but it doesn’t. And it drills the holes real well, leaving a perfect anthill of concrete dust. Sweep that up, clean up the holes just to be safe. And then I remembered what the guys at the store said, so I read the fine print on the back of the little box of concrete screws:

1. Drill hole with your hammer drill, drilling 1/4” deeper than the screw will penetrate.
2. Drive screw into hole using your hammer drill.

Say what? Son of a gun. I have to screw them in, in hammer mode? That’s when it hit me: concrete screws really aren’t screws. They are dual groove spiral ring shank nails. They only look like screws. They have heads like screws. They only mostly behave like screws. But they’re really a special kind of nail. You have to sort of hammer them in while turning them. And that’s what a hammer drill is for. If you try to put them in using a hand screwdriver you’ll blow a blood vessel before they will turn. Put them in with a screwdriver bit in your regular power drill and they will probably shear. I found that out the hard way, twice. I should have listened at “once”, but I didn’t. But put them in with the hammer drill ... and fother mucker, the damn things go right in. Brrrrrapp! Tight. And they hold like little blue demons. Awesome. And no glue comes squirting out from underneath. Sweet.

So after a full day of very careful work, some messing about, one fatal screw-up and a bit of a panic attack, probably 100 miles of commuting to the hardware store, I read, accepted, and followed the instructions. Come on, who knew that screws came with instructions? Like, duh! So my second attempt at building and putting in a solid oak threshold took just over an hour. Like it should have the first time. And yeah, I used a big ass glob of construction adhesive underneath too. Probably not necessary, but that thing ain’t never ever gonna come loose. Evah! And it came out perfect. And everyone lived happily ever after. The end.

She gave me a $25 tip. Felt sorry for me, but appreciated my tenacity. So I have to write today off as a learning experience, and my net is out $120 for a potent power tool I now have to find uses for. Hey, I bet that puppy can stir up batches of thin-set concrete like damn! And I need a shower. And another beer.


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Posted by Drew458   United States  on 10/15/2010 at 10:16 PM   
Filed Under: • work and the workplace •  
Comments (4) Trackbacks(0)  Permalink •  
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