Tag Archives: do-it-yourself

Truck Repair Karma


I have marked this down as a karma thing.

Here’s what happened.

My truck was randomly “not” starting. I attributed it initially to bad batteries.

Nope. Bad starter.

So I checked out my car repair manual.  It looked like an easy repair.  So I ordered a new starter from NAPA and decided to go ahead last Saturday and replace it myself even though I had the flu and a fever.

And yes, I’m an idiot.

Three hours later, I finally tossed aside my 10mm box end wrench and muttered f*&k it.  As it turned out, replacing the starter wasn’t as easy as my repair manual had led me to believe.  There was one bolt in particular that refused to loosen.  It was located on the top of the starter; I was having trouble getting a tool on it, and enough leverage to break it free.  I’d tried every option I could think, and then some, but no luck.

I hate to admit failure, but sometimes its time to quit bashing yourself in the face with a hammer.  So, I tightened up the bolts I had managed to loosen, put away my tools, and backed the truck out of the driveway.   That’s when I noticed the wet patch on the pavement. My first thought was water, but upon closer inspection, I realized it was diesel.  Good grief.  Not only had I failed to replace my starter, I’d knocked something loose.  I locked up the truck, closed the garage door, and went to bed.

On Monday, though still feeling like crap from the flu, I called the local car repair place and they agreed to do the fix, using the starter I’d purchased, and also fix my broken fuel line.  I dropped the truck off the next day (courtesy a tow from my friend Tony).  A few days later, they called up and said it was ready.

Here’s where it gets interesting.

Before I got a chance to object to price of the repair, the mechanic says, “Oh, yeah, we couldn’t use your starter.”

“Why not?”

“It was the wrong one.”

“I got it from NAPA,” I said. “5.9 Cummins turbo diesel….”

The mechanic shook his head. “Nope. They gave you a starter for a VW van.”

A starter for a VW van instead of a starter for a 2004 Dodge 2500 pickup truck with a 5.9 liter 24 valve turbo diesel?  Wow.  That wasn’t just wrong, but “way” wrong. Thanks to a reluctant bolt, however, I had only wasted 3 hours on the job.  I mean, what if I’d managed to get my old starter off?  And what if they bolts for the VW starter had actually fit my truck, and I’d ended up installing that?  I could have easily spent a day or more futzing around on this before giving up.

So, unlike most things in life. This all actually sorta kinda worked out.

I’ll go with that.






DIY as an act of rebellion


I’m sorry to say that dependency is becoming the American way.

Why spend time and effort fixing something yourself when you can  A) Pay an “expert” to do it for you, or B) Trash whatever isn’t working and buy something fresh and new? After all, it’ll leave you more time to do really important stuff. You know, the kind of things you see all those gorgeous people doing on TV and the Web: sky diving, traipsing to exotic vacation locations, working out with their pals, gambling at the casino, and on and on.

After all, they’re worth it.

And so are you.

I get it.  I really do.  Hard to ignore the 24/7 advertising onslaught.  And some people just don’t like to get their hands dirty. Or may shy away from DIY because the repair involves doing something that is perceived as “dangerous.” Better to leave any risk to a well insured “professional.”  Or maybe it is a lack of self-confidence.  Plenty of advice on Youtube to counteract that, but still, some people fear failure and have been indoctrinated into leaving most things to “experts.”

There could also be more subtle impulses at play.  The one I hear most often can be boiled down to the belief that one’s time is so darn valuable why would they want to spend it fixing a dishwasher, or a leaky toilet, or something equally mundane and blue collar when one can hire some lackey to do it for them.

But getting it doesn’t mean I like it. In fact, in society’s mad rush to become more dependent, I’m marching the other way, along with a few other vagabonds.  From what I can see, we’re an odd quilt of men and women. We come from a variety of backgrounds and incomes even.  We may not get our news from the same networks, but we share a common interest in working with our hands and our minds.

Some of us are DIY by necessity. If I don’t fix it or build it, it won’t happen. We can’t afford to buy a playhouse for their kids; so we build it.  Others do it because they have an independent streak.  They could pay for someone else to do it, but what’s the fun in that?  And if you have kids, why model that kind of behavior?

This particular movement isn’t controlled by any organizations or political party. Anyone can join. . . anytime.  No need to start with something big like rebuilding a car engine, or fixing a short in your electrical panel.  Start with something else. Instead of ordering out, make dinner from scratch.  Next time you have a leaky faucet, fix it yourself.   Need to repaint a room.  Yeah, you can do that.  And if you don’t know what you’re doing, ask around, or spend some time snooping on Youtube.

So, if you’re ready, raise your right hand, and repeat after me:

I <ENTER YOUR NAME> do henceforth commit to a life of increasing independence from our political and corporate overlords and agree to follow the holy precepts of Do-It-Youselfism as handed down by our forefathers and mothers. I commit myself to a future of looking for opportunities for radical fun and learning new skills however innane by doing more things by myself with advice from family, friends and my community of brother and sister do-it-yourselfers.  So help me God (or whatever else you might consider holy).







I find uncomfortable. Most of the time I grin and bear it, but sometimes I need to strike out and demonstrate at least a small amount of independence, and if I’m lucky, maybe I can infect someone  else with an independent streak that might come in handy down the road.  Like my grandson, for instance.

Here’s a photo of he and I underneath my wife’s Subaru


After 17 months, Gracie is done. finishedwherry

And here’s what I started with:



Unlike the celebrations and inaugural launches I’ve seen on YouTube, the inaugural launch of Gracie was low key as fitting a high functioning introvert like me.  Just Sandy and me. No marching band. No champagne. I backed my truck up to the boat launch at the Port of Kingston, pulled her off the bed extension and set her gently in the water, locked in the oars, responded to a few comments from  some fisherman, took a few photographs, and then I was off, pulling out into Appletree Cove.

It was a big moment.  And yet I felt terribly out of sorts. On one hand, I had been working hard to get her done and out on the water before summer was completely  gone. But “done” meant I had to say goodbye to a routine that had become as anticipated as a greeting from an old friend.  When I wasn’t working on my boat, I was often thinking about what I was going to do next, and when I was about to attempt something I’d never done before – and I had plenty of those with this project – I was wrestling with how in the hell I was going to do them without committing an error so egregious it would ruin everything.  The project was very nearly all consuming at times, but more importantly, it was real, unlike so much of what I do.  In other words, it’s hard to sink your teeth into web-based training courses, but my boat was something I could quite literally bite, and I certainly breathed enough of her dust when I was sanding to make darn sure she was part of me in a way that wasn’t particularly healthy.

Enjoy. It’s a fairly common word with a less commonly used worked, joy, buried inside.  But that’s the word I would use to describe every moment of this project. It was a joy from start to finish, and now I’m experiencing a different kind of joy when I take it out on the water.

Delayed Gratification


One final coat of sea green polyurethane was the exclamation point to finishing the exterior hull of my wherry.  Now, it’s on to the interior with another coat of epoxy needed followed up by four or five coats of varnish.

I think the sea green adds a nice accent to the white planks below and the warm mahogany rail above.  The mahogany is a little dirty right at the moment, but once I clean up the white primer and finish with the varnish I think that line will be nice and clean looking. It helps to have a color expert as a wife!

I’m sure I’ll have a heart attack the first time I scrape the hull over some rocks or run over a piece of driftwood, but so it goes. I can’t imagine a worse fate for a boat than to be stuck in a garage or storage unit year after year. In other words, Gracie is meant to be rowed, and rowed a lot, and the best gift I can give my wherry and myself would be to row it so much I wear her out.

So, the exterior hull was initially covered with three coats of epoxy.  I followed that up with three coats of primer, and finished it off with five coats of white Interlux Brightside polyurethane, and four coats of Interlux sea green.  There was a couple of hours of sanding required after each coat except for the last one.

This project is many things but certainly an exercise in delayed gratification. But that makes moments like this all the sweeter, and the anticipation is growing for that first time I slip her into the water and head out across Appletree Cove.

Sandy is suggesting we have a christening of some sorts and invite everyone who has been following my progress. I suppose that would be okay,  though that’s not really my style.

But that’s next month. Now it’s time for a Black Butte Porter.

Or two.



And now painting

wherryAh, the clarity that comes from painting.  Imperfections unnoticed by eye or fingertip are revealed and I am once again thwarted by the sore fact that perfection is but a Siren’s song never to be attained this side of the veil.

That doesn’t, however, prevent me from continuing to throw myself against that particular rock. I can do nothing else. It is in my nature.

But after four coats of primer and three coats of white polyurethane, I must admit that my wherry looks pretty darn good.  I have two more coats of white to go, followed up by four or five coats of sea green on the top plank.  And then I get to flip it over and finish the inside with one more coat of epoxy and four or five coats of varnish.

Maybe an August launch?  That is one hope, anyway.



I am a hack, but I can change, if I have to, I guess.

Ncleatotice anything wrong with the curved piece of wood on the left distinguishable by the two small holes on either side?

Me neither.

Not for three months, and
certainly not when I initially glued it and four others just like it — they’re called seat cleats —  onto the face of the bulkheads of the wherry I’m building.

But last night, I stepped into the garage to take a look at how the second coat of epoxy was drying, and, yes, I’ll admit, admire my work.  That’s when I spotted a problem. Why I hadn’t noticed it before, I’ll never know. The wide part of each cleat was facing toward the stern…they should have been facing up.

Uh oh.

I didn’t need to look at the instructions for confirmation. I’d screwed up. But I was determined not to wallow in self pity and move quickly through however many stages of grief I was going to need.  A Black Butte Porter would have helped, but I was fresh out. I made it to stage five and decided any more would be self-indulgent. The best way to start feeling better was to figure out a hack.  Or as my grandfather would have said, “suck it up.”

First, a little background on seat cleats.  They aren’t just a decoration but serve an important structural function. They provide places to attach the drop-in rowing units to the hull while at the same time, strengthening the bulkheads.

One of my hacker mantras is to do no harm, either to the thing I’m trying to fix with one of my hacks, or to myself.  Little danger of the latter in this instance, unlike some of my other hacks that involved electricity. In this particular case, I  needed to add a modification that would provide a secure place to attach the rowing units without damaging the bulkhead, or weakening the cleats in the process.

Also, whatever solution I came up with couldn’t look stupid.

My child of the depression dad was a fairly talented hacker.  After he hurt his back working as a logger, he returned to school, received his degree,  then worked in the mortgage banking field for a time, and from there, went on to work in real estate and finally owned his own real estate development and investment company.  Until he went bankrupt, but that’s a story for another time. At his heart, I think, he was always a blue collar guy faking it in the white collar world.   And nowhere was that more apparent than when something around the house had to be built, painted, or repaired.  Why pay money for something he  could do?  He didn’t see it as a chore; it was entertainment, for him, as relaxing as watching ball game on the TV.  His final results weren’t always pretty. For example, he was a rotten painter.  But they usually worked.

I’ve  inherited the same do-it-yourself tendencies, though I’m more sensitive to aesthetics than my old man ever was.  I’m a decent carpenter, know how to tile, can fix most plumbing problems, and can paint better than most professionals.

And unlike my dad, it’s not only important to fix something right, but make it look right in the process.

No where was that going to be more important than with my wherry.    I was building something that was not only going to be functional and fun to row, but I was hoping it was beautiful, too.

The first step in my hack was to assess the extent of the problem. If the wood along the top of the cleat was wide enough, maybe all I would need to do is re-drill the holes from the top. It would leave an ugly blemish exposed, but it would be the simplest solution.

As it turned out, the wood wasn’t wide enough for that option.  That was just as well.  If I’d gone that route, the blemishes on the exposed surface of the cleats would have bugged me until I died.

On to considering option two. This would involve cutting the cleat from the bulkhead and reinstalling it in the correct position.  If I was really careful, and used a super thin blade, I wouldn’t nick or cut into the bulkhead or take off too much wood from the cleat.  Once I was done,  I’d need to redrill some holes, sand and prep the bulkhead, and the rough side of the cleat, and then reattach the cleat.

It was tempting. But I wasn’t confident I could cut  away the cleat without cutting into the bulkhead and affecting its integrity.

That led to option three. It would involve leaving the cleats as is, and gluing pieces of identically shaped mahogany to their faces. These additions would serve two functions: 1) provide the extra width I needed to re-drill the hole used to attached the rowing unit to the bulkhead, and 2) cover up the old holes.   Even better, it wouldn’t put the bulkheads at risk, and I was fairly confident I could replicate the shape of the original cleats so it would look like my fix was part of the original design (albeit installed wrong), and not one of my hacks.

So, that’s the solution.  Instead of making my own replacement cleats, I bought perfect matches from Chesapeake Light Craft.  $30 plus shipping seemed like a good deal.

Here’s how the fix looked before I glued it in place:

hack fix
By the way, Sandy doesn’t think anyone will notice my hack, and the other blemishes I pointed out to her.  As usual, she’s probably right.

Before. . .and After. . .

Fiberglassing the hull.  Here’s a before photo.before

And here’s “after”. . .after

I think the transformation from white cloth to transparent, rock hard shell is pretty cool.

Since this was taken, I’ve added another layer of cloth to the bow, removed the tape and trimmed the edge of the finished fiberglass, and added filet material (a thick, peanut butter-like combination of epoxy and wood flour) to the seams between the planks.