July 8, 2012
Solo Diving From 13500 Feet
At the end of last year's Southy soccer season I was very pleased to receive a voucher for a Red Balloon experience. The V8 Supercar rides and rally car hot laps available from Red Balloon were extremely tempting, but I've pulled off Tommi Makinen impressions in paddocks and dirt roads all over NSW, and I have my own little Supercar now to get me from A to B.
What I've really always wanted to do, and never done anything like before, is jump out of a perfectly good plane with a parachute strapped to my back.
To my feverish delight, I found that one of Red Balloon's offers is a solo skydive - no experience necessary. No dude strapped to your back, no just going along for the ride. Wear your own chute, dive from the plane, control your own free fall, pull your own chute, deal with your own dramas, fly your own canopy and walk away from your own landing. I was sold immediately.
I sat on the offer for a while wondering when I'd get a chance to exercise it. All of a sudden the Queen called a birthday holiday and the opportunity struck. A week out I submitted the request, five days out I was booked in to jump, and at 7am on a chilly Saturday morning last week I was signing disclaimer forms at Sydney Skydivers near Picton. All day Saturday I attended the AFF (accelerated free fall) training course with 7 other hopefuls.
While we learned about Jump Masters and Target Assistants, parachutes could be seen spiralling dangerously yet gracefully through the air outside the window. While we practiced height awareness and freefall stability drills, planes bounced to a halt on the dirt runway nearby just long enough to allow another pile of divers to squeeze on board. After 7 hours of an extremely well delivered, pragmatic course we all sat an assessment to prove we were fit to fly. Throughout the day we'd also been assessed on our practical ability to recall drills, enact emergency procedures and physically react in an appropriate way. At the end of the exam the instructor shook my hand, said I'd been a good student and handed me my accreditation to jump out of a plane solo.
The sun was setting by then so I had to wait until the next day for my opportunity to swap my credentials for a spot on a plane. Sunday morning then, found me back at the drop zone as eager as a child on Christmas morning. I scored a booking on the first "load" to go up, but the clouds had rolled in overnight and we would have to wait to see where they were heading before the plane would take off. We had gone over cloud cover in training - if we find ourselves above the clouds while flying the canopy, we were to perform tight right hand circles to drop below the clouds without straying too far until we could locate the landing target. But, we were told, you won't have to worry about that because they don't let the students jump through cloud.
I needn't have been concerned about the weather. Not 20 minutes after being booked on the plane, and before the clouds could disperse, the PA crackled over the drop zone calling Heath to the gear up area as the first load was about to board. I met my two jump masters, who were responsible for everything I wasn't capable of and anything I might neglect. They geared me up with a jump suit, an altimeter, a helmet, some gloves and a "rig" containing the main and reserve chutes. Once I was fully kitted out, we ran through the drills again before hurrying off to the plane loading area. There, in a mock up of the door of the plane, we performed one last "dirt dive" of how the jump was expected to go. We then rehearsed the emergency drills before piling into the rear of the plane.
Inside the almost empty shell of the plane were two simple rows of low cushion bench to straddle, allowing two cosy trains of skydiver, backpack, skydiver, backpack. Apart from the gutted plane, and the large plastic-covered hole in the side of the fuselage that serves as a door, I found the most unusual aspect to be the fact that we were all sitting backwards. I was right next to the door, so as the plane bolted down the runway and quickly pointed skyward, we could only hug our chutes and watch the world falling backwards away from us.
At 1000ft I noticed my altimeter reading for the first time and took some mental snapshots of the landing target from the air. At 4000ft we passed through some wispy cloud and the ground lost it's depth, turning instead into just a picture of a pretty landscape. At 9000ft we disappeared into some thick cloud and emerged into the featureless world above. I could hear my instructors words, "we don't let students jump through clouds", and wondered what else from the training was a nicety just to ease our minds. At 13000ft the green 3 minute warning alarm lit up and my jump masters started to shuffle. On went the helmets and goggles, and my JMs made sure the chutes were set to do what they're supposed to do. We were to be the third group out the door. The yellow 1 minute alarm went off and the door was opened, peeling away the side of the plane. The -15°C air rushed in at 90 knots and I could see patches of the earth 4 kilometres away on the other side of my knees. I didn't feel the cold and I didn't register the red 0 minute alarm, as four people gathered at the door. They nodded at each other once in a knowing acknowledgement and then in a startling instant they were gone, falling backwards and away like nothing I've ever seen before. The plane lurched with the absence of weight then settled as the second group gathered and jumped. Then it was my turn.
Jump master 2 turned to me and recited the two simple words that signify game on. "Let's go", he beckoned. My conscious mind was awash with new experience and awe but subconsciously I focused on the procedure to come. I shuffled to the door, hanging my left toes over the edge and my right knee prompting my body forward. I felt the freedom of the wild, cold air and I blinked as I looked out at the cloudy horizon. My hands came up to my chest and I took a breath, stealing a fleeting moment to saviour the rush. Then I locked eyes with JM2, focused and called "check left".
"Ok!", "Check right", "Ok!",
Then looking at the horizon, but for the first time at 13500ft, I called out rhythmically, driving my arms in time,
"Out. In. Go!"
For all I know my dive from the plane would have put Michael Klim to shame. Or perhaps it was a beaut belly flop contender. All I knew was that I had launched out the door head first, was deep in sensory overload for some time and was now in a hard arch position, horizontal and stable with the ground somewhere below and no doubt hurtling towards me.
Horizon. Ground. Alti. The drills kicked in and I gained awareness. Horizon. Ground. Alti. JM2 was on my left and JM1 was on my right.
Horizon. Ground. Alti. 9000ft. I blinked and looked again, yes, 9000ft, time to get the show started.
Arch. Locate. Wait. I found the hacky attached to my pilot chute. Shake, shake, shake - JM1 was happy with my position. Practice throw. And again. Arch. Locate. Practice throw.
Alti. Looking. Looking. Looking. My eyes darted from right to left, desperately trying to sample the scene with some element of perception and appreciation.
Alti. Looking. Looking. Looking. Holy flapping cheeks Batman, I'm really skydiving.
Alti. 6000ft. Alti. Alti. Alti. 5500ft. 5500ft - this time it's for real.
Check left. JM2 and I exchange tongue pokes. Check right. JM1 and I exchange tongue pokes. They're ready, now it's up to me.
Arch. Locate. Grasp. Throw!
I rip the hacky out of my backpack and hurl it behind me. The pilot chute is thrown into the 200km/h air stream and trails behind me. A fraction of a second later the pilot yanks the main chute out which catches enough air to arrest my shoulders and pull me upright, while my JMs continue plummeting.
1000, 2000, 3000, I count, and then the final free fall step - "check". I am to check for the five characteristics of a perfect chute. I look up to discover a ruffled bag of colourful crap, flapping about impotently above me. Of the necessary perfect characteristics; size, shape, flying straight, slider down and twist free, I count none from five. My first chute ever and it looks like a clown threw up.
I need to make a decision. Is it a fast chute, and therefore I need to jettison it pronto and deploy the reserve, or is it a slow chute that is worth trying to straighten out? I take another look and start to identify half a chute opening out from the middle. It's a slow chute. I'll hang on to it for now and give it a chance.
As I prepare to flair the crumpled chute it splutters a little and opens a touch wider, but kicks around suddenly. This wraps the risers connecting me to the chute into a twist. Instinctive I grab the risers and pull them apart. Some how it's even more instinctive 3500ft above the ground then it was hanging from the practice rig in the training shed. Pulling the risers apart quickly untwists them and they snap straight. The jolt pops the chute open and there's a sudden silence.
In 6 seconds I've decelerated from a 200km/h fall to a 30km/h glide and I'm still alive. In fact, more alive then ever. As I spot my landing target and then take in the world of cars and houses and people carrying on 3000ft below me it dawns on me that I'm floating above the world in more ways than one. A rush of emotion floods in and I kick about in jubilation.
The flight back to the ground was graceful and effortless. I followed the directions of the target assistant on the ground and as the grass arrived at my feet I flaired the chute and slid into contact with terra firma. Deflated and having finally succummed to gravity, the chute slumped behind me and I scooped up the voluminous fabric as best I could. After a bumpy van ride back to the gear shed I jumped out to find one of my JMs holding my phone to capture the moment.
No sooner had I laid out the chute and rig on the packing room floor, when my other JM burst through the door and exclaimed, "Ready to go again?". Still on a high and realising how little I managed to take in, I could hardly refuse the offer. So after a quick debrief I was immediately booked on the next load and back in the gear shed putting another rig on, ready to do it all again.
So who wants to go next time?
February 20, 2011
Last Saturday was Australia's first taste of the Red Frog Events "Warrior Dash", a "mud-crawling, fire-leaping, extreme run from hell". A merry band of us warriors made the trek - just an hour drive from Newcastle - and discovered an enormous, well organised and super fun event. Perhaps more like a fun, dirty run through paddocks than an "extreme run from hell", but you have to excuse the hyperbolic marketing efforts associated with these things.
On arriving we discovered a huge makeshift arena bordered by a creek on one side and the race track on the other. Marking the entrance to the arena was a narrow bridge, with a constant stream of ridiculously costumed, wide-eyed and keen racers heading in, with an equally constant stream of muddy, dishevelled and grinning finishers heading out. Inside the arena we found the check-in tents and collected a t-shirt, a timer chip, a horned warrior hat and a numbered bib. The arena also sported a tent selling huge turkey legs for gnawing on, a beer tent and a rock band on a stage.
By the time we made the starting line for our half-hour wave there were already hundreds of people lined up ahead of us as we counted down the minutes to 12:30pm. My hangover had been building steadily to this point and reached a particularly unpleasant crescendo just before our race started. Feeling decidedly unwarrior-like, I swallowed breakfast for the fourth or fifth time and did some light stretching.
Soon the flame cannons erupted over the starting line and the crowd shuffled forward. With so many people, adorned in so many awkward contumes, all funnelling through the start gate it was hardly a blistering start. But as soon as I crossed the start line my hang over cleared and I began 2 kilometers of weaving, skipping and squeezing through rows and rows of walking warriors. It proved an excellent chance to banter with a huge number of fellow competitors, if not an excellent chance to get into a stride.
The obstacles that followed included walls to be climbed over, barriers to be crawled under, rivers to be swum and mud pits to be stuck in. There were slippery balance beams, A-frame rope nets and arrays of tyres. Particularly good fun was the series of cars, pairs of which were parked nose to nose, which had to be scaled, slid over or crawled through.
The final two obstacles were the two fire pits and a long, deep, mud pit with barbed wire over it. The mud pit was lined with spectators and one gave me all the encouragement I needed, calling out "dive!" as I approached.
I amazed, and glad, that this photo was captured and identified, because it represents the last second in the life and times of that magic green wig.
After a search through the unidentified photos I tagged another one of me at the A-frame rope nets. While I was searching I was also able to repay the identification favour and tagged one of Byron in the final mud pit.
But of course, the main reason for this post was to offer an analysis of the results of the race. When they were finally posted all that was available was two PDFs, one with results overall and one by age category. Neither PDF offered anyway of grabbing the data for further analysis, so I thought I'd save everyone the trouble and do it myself. Below you can see the distribution of overall race times for all participants. The pattern is quite remarkable I think. I've overlaid my result to give it some context. Congrats to Dyl who smashed it in in 26:04:45.
July 25, 2010
Changing CVs on a N15 Pulsar
A friend's Pulsar developed the tell-tale "click, click, click" of shot CVs a while back but was able to drive on them for some time. When looking to sell the car however, the loud mechanical clicking every time a corner is taken does not make for a good sales pitch, so I took a look. In preparation I found a bunch of apparent how-to guides for changing Pulsar CVs, but found them all lacking. This then, is written as a step-by-step guide for anyone else undertaking job on a Nissan N15 Pulsar. With the right method the task is dead simple and shouldn't take much longer than an hour. It will however, be an hour of the messiest work known to the backyard mechanic, so ensure there are plenty of rags, degreaser and hand cleaner on standby.
- Before raising the car, crack each of the wheel lugs on one side. Pop the centre cover out of the rim cover to expose the wheel nut. The centre cover has a slot for a screwdriver to lever it off, but the plastic might be very brittle and difficult not to crack.
- If necessary, bend the split pin flat against the axle stub to allow a 32mm deep socket to slip over the wheel nut. Loosen the wheel nut with your torque tool of choice - breaker bar or impact wrench. It'll probably take at least 5 metric grunts to get it to budge - the factory torque spec is 196 - 275Nm.
- With the nuts loosened, raise the car off the wheel and place onto an jack stand. Finish removing the wheel and wheel nut. At this point the wheel makes a great seat for the rest of the job.
- Undo the two bolts that hold the strut to the wheel hub. They're either 17mm or 19mm bolt and nuts and the torque spec is 114 - 133Nm, so they could use some loving too.
- Tap the shim out that holds the brake line to the strut and free the brake line. It can be handy to have a couple of bricks to rest the wheel hub on, and to route the brake line under the strut to maximise access to the CV joint.
- Now turn the steering full lock so the steering arm comes out as far as possible. Turn the hub the opposite way and lean it out off the control arm ball joint.
- Push the driveshaft in towards the gearbox and pull the CV joint out of the hub. It may be necessary to tap the end of the driveshaft stub that pokes through the hub. Smile when you've managed to free the CV joint.
- Turn the steering back the other way and tuck the wheel hub out of the road.
- Raise the other side of the car up and place it on a jack stand as well.
- Shimmy under the front of the car head first until you can see where the driveshaft enters the gearbox. It first goes into a transaxle that has its own rubber boot with a small and a large boot band.
- Loosen the large boot band (the end closest to the gearbox) with a flat screwdriver and a pair of needle nosed pliers. Work the screwdriver under the boot and prise it off the transaxle. Being able to reach over and turn the opposite wheel works wonders here.
- Back out from under the car, carefully pull the driveshaft to remove it from the transaxle. It should come very easily now. It might be a good idea to put a plastic bag over the spider at the end of the driveshaft as soon as possible, to try to contain the grease. The bag that the new CV joint comes in might do the trick.
- Place the driveshaft in a vice with the CV joint hanging down. Give the star of the CV joint a few whacks with a hammer (you are replacing it, right?) until it slides off the shaft. Also remove the old boot.
- Now it gets fun. Put the small boot band on, the boot itself, and then get elbow deep in grease. Pack the CV, the boot, your nostrils and your hair. Put it everywhere. Make sure the CV is full of grease, and that if the new CV came with grease, that you use it all (both packets if there are two!).
- Fitting the new CV on to the shaft is the last tricky bit. If you can rest the spider on some soft ground with a plastic bag around the end to contain the grease, then you can tap the CV on from the other end. Put the wheel nut on the axle stub so that most of its turns are in contact with the shaft, and then give the nut a few metric whacks. Hopefully you'll feel the circlip pop into position, but if you've done it right and packed it to the brim with grease, you'll barely notice the circlip slipping into the groove.
- Tighten the new small and large boot bands and swivel the CV to ensure the boot handles all angles.
- There are no gotchas with reassembly. Slide the drive shaft back into the transaxle and retighten the boot band. Insert the stub axle back into the wheel hub. Clip the brake hose back in position and refit the strut to the hub. Put the wheel nut back on and do it up a bit.
- Now refit the split pin into the axle stub. Using a new one is not only a good idea, but may make it a great deal easier to slide back through the hole. Bend the ends down so you can still fit the nut socket over it.
- Put the wheel back on and drop the car back on to its wheels. You'll need to have both wheels on the ground (unless you have someone willing to stand on the brakes) in order to do up the wheel nut properly. Remember we're talking over 200Nm here, so get your strong socket handle out.
- Pop the rim covers back on, remove the tools from under the car and go wash your dirty self.
- Test drive, turning full lock both ways while accelerating. If it works, grab yourself a beer and enjoy the sweet reward of DIY. If it doesn't, grab yourself a beer - it's going to be a long day.
June 4, 2010
In February I booked in for a joyflight. It was a present from the girls soccer team for having the pleasure of coaching for another year. Win-win I say. I knew nothing of the details of the impending flight - plane, duration, style - but was still beside myself with excitement. It turns out I wasn't to be disappointed.
The plane was a Pitts Special biplane. 650kg, stiff, open cockpit, stupid amount of power. Delicate and fierce. Gorgeous.
From go to whoa the experience was an enormous thrill. Despite my brimming anticipation, my expectations were exceeded. I was just excited to be in the plane, strapped loosely over the shoulders into a rough cushion, partially cocooned by the fuselage and peering out over the imposing engine.
The pilot cranked the prop into life and my world began to shake. As the prop blurred almost into invisibility and began to push a gale over the plane, my eyes darted from sky to wing to instrument panel, desperately trying not to miss a thing.
After gaining a crackled clearance over the crackly radio we grumbled and skipped down the runway. All the time the plane rolled on the tail gear wheel, leaving only a view of the sky out over the front of the plane, tantalisingly restricting any opportunity to spot our route. The grassy edges of the runway equidistant out the sides of the plane were the only navigational aids.
Soon we rounded out at the end of the runway and I gave my pilot a reprieve from incessant questioning to execute the take off. The engine pitch ramped up, the gale turned to a ferocious deluge of air and our meandering taxiing was replaced by an unrelenting surge of determined acceleration. In seconds the wings, which had calmly come along for the ride so far, stiffened and took charge. In frighteningly short time, the tail wing rose to attention, lifting the rear of the plane to level the fuselage, and for the first time since sinking into the cockpit the world in front of the plane came into view.
There was scarcely time to digest the explosion of wonder born by the new horizontal perspective before we separated from the runway. It was nothing short of magical the way this little rocket could blast off the ground like it was hitching a ride on an elevator. But there was no elevator, no suspension, no heavily engineered lifting rig. Just a tremendous impulse of aerodynamics and in a flash we were floating around above the runway. I'm tingling just writing about it.
With the runway slipping away below us, along with the means of reference I had relied on for 28 years, there was an uncanny moment when I lost the sensation of propulsion. It seemed we were suspended in space, some indeterminate distance above the trees and houses below. That's when the rickety airspeed indicator in front of me became more apparent. I actually stuck my hand above the perspex windshield to confirm that yes, there really was a wall of air blasting over the plane at 250 knots.
The other thing that gave our speed away was the ease in which the pilot slipped into a 4g spin. My arms turned to sacks of bricks as I experimented with the new acutely gravitational world, but still the Earth below us just seemed to calmly rotate on the spot. With each aerobatic move the pilot checked for my response through the barely audible headphones. My giddy affirmations of enjoyment must have been enough to allay any reservations and we steadily progressed to the vertical climb manoeuvre.
The pilot dipped the nose to the ground to pick up some terrifying airspeed, then, with the wind reaching a crescendo and the wings bursting with bridled potential, smoothly reversed the dive to point us at the sky. He crackled over the radio, "Look out over the left wing. Notice the horizon? Close enough to vertical ay?". And so it was. I was so comfortable, lightly coupled to a rickety old seat and feeling cordial with the plane despite the precarious circumstances, that it took a double and triple look to realise that out over the left wing the horizon was indeed perfectly perpendicular to the plane.
Even landing was a blast. With zero visibility out the front of the plane the pilot has to wrestle the plane in sideways to grab a view of the landing strip before cutting the power, plummeting the last 50 metres, and bouncing the plane down the runway to we restore the relationship with terra firma.
The whole experience was no less than a blow-my-socks-off highlight of my life so far.
March 7, 2010
What's a few thousand kays between friends?
My Crewman’s “Extended Car Warranty” rort finished up in January. The whole scheme has been one debacle after another. The continual misrepresentation was one of the reasons I took the advice from the mechanic after a service 8 months ago with a dose of skepticism. He reported that the front brake pads need replacing and only have a couple thousand kays left in them. I declined his offer to “fix ‘em up” and said I’d take care of it. I then promptly did nothing about it.
Six months later, in January 2010, the car was in for its last service under warranty and the situation was reported as quite desperate now - the brakes had “less than a millimetre left” and needed changing right away. I said I’d take care of it and this time I did. The replacement pads were only $70, but it was a bit tough finding some free time at home to fit them. Nervously I continued to drive the car for another couple of months, listening intently for the telltale scraping sound of extinguished pads. No sign became apparent. I thought the mechanic was probably being a bit conservative, but with less than a millimetre to go I didn’t want to push it.
Yesterday I finally had a chance to change the pads.
The first suspicious moment came after I had undone all the wheel nuts on the front right wheel and found that the rim was stuck in some rust on the wheel hub. It took some wiggling to free the wheel from the car. Bit strange, given that the rim is alloy and it should have been removed in the service two months ago…
With the wheel removed it was on to the brake caliper housing bolts. I could not budge them with my socket ratchet so grabbed the long torque wrench instead. The bolts did not release until about 190Nm! I think the spec is around 80Nm. Certainly not a knuckle busting 190Nm anyway. Either someone has gone nuts doing them up last time or could it be…. they were never taken off during servicing! Admittedly, the mechanics may have some method of measuring the pads without removing the calipers, so I would concede the benefit of the doubt at this stage…
There was no denying the next stage of the inspection. The calipers were off and the pads exposed. You could blame the rusty hub on the coastal weather, you could blame the over-torqued bolts on manufacturing procedure, but there’s no argument about how long a millimetre is.
According to the mechanic, the pads had “less than a millimetre left” in January. Well blow me down, they appear to have grown over two millimetres in two months! For comparison, take a look at a new pad:
The old pads measure a bit over 3mm and the new pads measure around 8mm. Sure, it wont hurt to replace them, but they clearly have some life left! And the mechanic would have been happy to replace them 8 months ago. How many other customers are they replacing pads for at half their service life? How many people would actually check?
It’s a bloody rort, and a sad state of affairs when you can’t trust your mechanic. If you have a trustworthy mechanic, value them, because there’s a lot of dodgy operators out there. Servicing will be done at my place from now on.
February 1, 2010
DenyHosts on Snow Leopard
Ever noticed your system log is chock full of this crap?
Jan 31 01:11:43 hostname sandboxd: sshd(18375) deny mach-per-user-lookup
Jan 31 01:11:46: --- last message repeated 8 times ---
Jan 31 01:11:46 hostname sandboxd: sshd(18377) deny mach-per-user-lookup
Jan 31 01:11:49: --- last message repeated 8 times ---
Jan 31 01:11:49 hostname sandboxd: sshd(18379) deny mach-per-user-lookup
Jan 31 01:11:52: --- last message repeated 4 times ---
Check the secure log file and you'll likely find thousands of ssh login attempts from a small number of IP addresses, trying various generic usernames.
Enter DenyHosts. It's a mature, configurable Python script that monitors your log and adds entries to /etc/hosts.deny if things look suspicious.
It's quite portable and there are various instructions for older versions of Mac OS X, but there's a couple of gotchas for Snow Leopard, Mac OS X 10.6, that don't appear to be addressed in one location anywhere else. Here's how to get DenyHosts up and running on OS X 10.6:
- Download the tar.gz file from the download page.
- Unless you're a command line purist who doesn't need to look up the tar man page every time you use, just double click the downloaded file to unpack it.
- Now drop into Terminal and cd to the freshly unpacked DenyHosts directory.
- Run the installer: sudo python setup.py install
- Optionally, move the installed files into local: sudo mv /usr/share/denyhosts /usr/local/share/
- Change to the install directory: cd /usr/local/share/denyhosts
- Copy the example config file: sudo cp denyhosts.cfg-dist denyhosts.cfg
- Edit it: sudo vi denyhosts.cfg
- Find and set these settings:
- SECURE_LOG = /private/var/log/secure.log
- WORK_DIR = /usr/local/share/denyhosts/data
- LOCK_FILE = /var/run/denyhosts.pid
- DAEMON_LOG = /private/var/log/denyhosts
- Optionally set this to allow entries older than 10 weeks to be removed: PURGE_DENY = 10w
- Copy the example run script: sudo cp daemon-control-dist daemon-control
- Edit it: sudo vi daemon-control
- Find and set these settings:
- DENYHOSTS_BIN = "/Library/Frameworks/Python.framework/Versions/2.4/bin/denyhosts.py"
- DENYHOSTS_LOCK = "/var/run/denyhosts.pid"
- DENYHOSTS_CFG = "/usr/local/share/denyhosts/denyhosts.cfg"
- PYTHON_BIN = "/usr/bin/env python2.4"
- Create the hosts.deny file in case it's not there: sudo touch /etc/hosts.deny
- And finally, kick off the daemon: sudo ./daemon-control start
You can monitor progress via the log at /var/log/denyhosts. You could also create a launchd service to ensure the daemon runs at boot up, but if you reboot as rarely as me, you might save yourself 10 minutes and skip it.
January 12, 2010
A couple of weeks off work over the Christmas period proved an ideal opportunity to put some solid days into the renovations. My plans were roughly half the break for renovations and half the break for PlacesToLive.
As I began to cut into the kitchen wall however, it quickly became apparent that if I was going to be building a new kitchen, I was also going to be building a bunch of adjoining walls. Such is the case when you have a house with 80 years of "influence". Very rarely do you find a wall that gracefully flows on to its neighbour. Add to that the fact that there was some water damage to the roof in that part of the house, and the fact that that room has never been a kitchen before, and you have a bit more than a flat pack and assemble job.
And so it turned out, my annual leave consisted primarily of 10 to 12 hour days renovating. Fortunately, I enjoy it.
After ripping up the slate tiles a few weeks ago, I decided that the underlying masonite was in too bad condition to serve as underlay for the new flooring. There was no choice but to rip the masonite up too.
Underneath were tongue and groove floorboards, with plenty of holes, undulations and even an old fireplace slab to add character.
One of the renovating lessons I've learned is not to underestimate the amount of waste generated. The mass of the material that needed to be disposed after clearing a layer of slate tile and a layer of masonite was immense. Each week I'd test the council garbage truck by tentatively adding a bit more to the Otto bin, until one week I put the bin out for collection only to find it dragged on to the road but never up ended. Admittedly, to get the bin out to the kerb I had to launch all my (75kg) weight on to the bin handle just to rock it on to the wheels, and strained to roll it while keeping it precariously balanced. I estimate it weighed around 250kg and was surprised the wheels didn't bust off. I've since found on the council website that the maximum pick up is stated as 65kg.
Most of one day then, consisted of loading the ute with about 600kg of timber and heading out to the tip. At the tip the hardiness of those Otto bins was again demonstrated when I accidentally dropped the bin off the back of the tray and the entire 250kg weight fell upright, some 600mm on to the concrete. There was an almighty thud, but barely a whimper from the tank-like bin.
With the flooring out of the way, the next job was to cut down the low wall between the kitchen and the back room. Getting enough access resulted in carefully destroying most of the surrounding timber while managing to preserve the kitchen side of the wall.
This is where consideration for the adjoining walls became a serious factor. After a lot of head scratching, I decided to strip the left, top and right beams, as well as the beam adjoining the right wall. The mismatch of walls coverings and angles and profiles had always been a terrible eyesore, and it became obvious that this was the only sensible solution.
To restore strength and also provide a stud for the new wall, I installed two 35x70 pine lengths in a L-shape from floor to ceiling.
The top and right beams and also earned a new set of studs, albeit much shorter, forming the skeleton for the new seamless walls. And finally the new walls went up.
I took particular pleasure in redoing the wall above the washing machine - the wiring that had been installed here was atrocious. There were cables hanging out of the roof and terminations by double-adapter and all sorts of bad ideas. With the new wall in place there is just one double outlet with a light switch on it, and all the wiring is hidden behind the wall.
After a couple of applications of gyprock compound, some frustrating hours with the trowel and sander, and a couple of coats of white paint the walls are ready for final sand, a paint to match the room, and some cornice. My tragic gyprocking skills beside, I'm very happy with the result.
While a layer of compound was drying I made up the triangular supports for the new bar. Although trying to correctly measure the mitre cut lengths while dealing with the existing surface's various interpretations on "horizontal" was a foreseen challenge, the difficulty of working with the hardwood studs left in the wall was a big surprise to me: cut the timber put a worrying large load on the compound saw; screws had to be significantly predrilled or the heads would just screw off; and nails, despite being predrilled, would bend every time. This was some seriously heavy duty wood!
Nonetheless I managed four strong, level supports, that after a sand and a stain, look the part.
In the meantime, I also bit the bullet and purchased some new masonite and set about laying that. 'twas a pity to have to rip up two layers of flooring just to put two more back down, but at least I have discovered the history of the flooring in that room as well as and have the best opportunity for laying a nice new floor.
The masonite sheets were $16.50 each, so a new masonite underlay added about $100 to the cost of the new floor.
The doorways also received a new coat of paint to match the highlight colour from the exterior of the house.
With the kitchen finally physically prepared, I was able to put the finishing touches on my new kitchen plans. And so I present, rendered in 3D for your enjoyment, Heath's New Kitchen:
Now to get some quotes, finalise the materials, and actually get the thing ordered.
December 13, 2009
My sauna now has an access door
Given the hiding I've unleashed on this house over the last few weeks, an update is in order.
With the sky window in place (highly recommended - looks classy and the ventilation is tremendous) it was time to gut the room to make preparations for a kitchen. A weekend of huffing and puffing and I had the furniture cleared. Since then I've had a constructive outlet in case any frustration begins to build. Ripping into the wall and floor with a hammer really takes the edge off.
This weekend I spent some time deliberating over a new floor covering. I'm going lino for the ease of install, the softness under foot, the ease of cleaning and the stability. I brought a few samples home, but I'm none the wiser. Fortunately I've had some valuable input from the fairer gender.
Mid week I had an electrician come in to fit the kitchen and nearby rooms with some new power outlets. One of the big motivations for the work was to establish some sort of order amongst the chaos that is 90 year old wiring. In particular I was aware that access under the house was terrible, thanks to an inconveniently positioned old fireplace, and access to the roof was even worse - there was no manhole!
Months ago I invited the next-door neighbour over (he was born in my house - on the kitchen table, in fact) to show me where the manhole used to be. He hobbled into the back area and slowly raised his cane, pointing to the spot in the old kitchen near where an exhaust fan was now installed.
After meeting with the leccy I started to see a great deal of justification for installing a manhole. While he was busy cutting holes in the walls I figured now is as good a time as any to rip the exhaust fan out. That left a convenient peephole into the roof, but with no small children near by to throw into the roof, the hole was going to have to be enlarged. I drew a rough guide on the ceiling and with a run of the reciprocating saw and an explosion of dust, a manhole was born!
This weekend I had an opportunity to square the hole, install a border and cut a cover to size. Who knows how many years it has been since anyone has been in the roof, but there certainly was some dust to disturb. I made a good and proper mess.
There's something disappointingly plain about the result. Even those tell tale signs of an arrested fall from the ladder on the wall to the right were gone after a once-over with a cloth and spray.
Oh - after spending some time in the roof this weekend I actually came across the original manhole. My neighbour was right - it was right near the exhaust fan, but not quite where I installed the new one. Under a layer of dust and insulation fibre was a small trapdoor, which when lifted revealed some patchwork over a small hole - right above the bathroom wall that can be seen just to the left of the new manhole!
With access to the roof established, the opportunity presented itself to do a couple of wiring jobs. I came across some bargain ceiling fans in Bunnings and thought I'd whack one of in each of the two secondary bedrooms. Shouldn't be too hard right?
After twelve hours of crawling through the roof, dealing with incomplete and crappy hardware kits, breaking tools and screws, unraveling 90 years of accumulated roof wiring and generally having a ball of a time, both fans are installed and operational! Same old story - if I had to do another one it would probably take about an hour or two. Plenty of lessons learned!
All of a sudden it's almost midnight on Sunday, and I've spent the weekend on a ladder or in the roof. I celebrated tonight by putting my newly discovered rice skills to good use, cooking up about 1.5L of rice to satiate a weekend of sweat. One more week of work to go and then I can spend two weeks doing reno's non-stop!