Saturday, August 10, 2013

Girls and Boys and Toys. Tools

I think it's fair to say that I've never attempted anything remotely so far outside my comfort zone as this floor project. 

I've never done woodwork, but when I was child I'd watch my dad in his workshop. He could do anything with wood. He had a chip on his shoulder because he never designed anything, always needing plans, but he was an extremely talented artisan in terms of his technique and execution. My daughter has the desk he made me when I was about ten or twelve; it's one of those flip-top things with cubbies and nooks, and four drawers underneath. My Barbies lived in the second drawer. I had quite the collection.


Even though my actual woodworking experience is very limited, tackling a woodworking project would be far less scary. I have some sense of what it takes, some sense of how the tools and the techniques are handled, just from all those hours of watching and soaking it in.

Concrete? Floors? Getting tar or asphalt or whatever that disgusting stuff is off a floor?

Utterly foreign.

I'm not averse to asking for input, reading up, trying to find useful videos on YouTube, so I did.

I've talked to a few guys at work who've done lots of home projects, and they even lent me tools.

I talked to people at Home Despot (who were actually pretty awesome).

The thing is, all the people who had advice about removing tar from concrete were men. They told me how they would do it, showed me the tools that they would use.

Actually, they all said I should rent the machine that does it, but I realized that even though the machine would have cleaned the entire floor by yesterday lunchtime, I would first have had to have been able to get it out of my car, and given that it weighs far more than the large box of kitty litter (about forty pounds - that's about my lifting limit), it would still be in the car.

So the guy took this long thing off the wall and said "Here, use this to scrape it off". I asked about a hand scraper (I'd read about them) and he pooh-poohed that idea, saying that this was what I needed.

So Wednesday I took this very long metal thing with a thick blade at one end, a foot-rest just above it and a tee-shaped metal handle at the other end, and tried the scraping thing.

Very awkward. It's too long for me, I can't get a good grip, and the handle gave me a bruise on my back, just under the bra line.

Thursday night my body figured out how to make it somewhat effective, but it's very hard work - I can't do more than half an hour with it, at which point I'm horribly out of breath and sweat is dripping into my eyes. This is way more intense than any exercise regimen I've tried.

My plan was to clear the floor on Friday, and fill in any dips and irregularities, and then lay tile on Saturday. Today. And grout on Sunday, and get my daughter and a male friend to help me move the furniture back in on Monday.

One word:


Some of it is dry and crumbly, end then it comes right off. Some is softish, so I can scrape it off in small curls and slivers. Most of the time though, I just burnished it smooth and dense. Going into this, I figured if I could clear fifty percent of the concrete, that would be enough to adhere the tiles.

By the time I fell into bed last night, I may have been at twenty percent, and all the low-hanging fruit was gone. The stuff that was left just wasn't coming off.

This morning I realized that I had to consider a Plan B. Initially Plan B was just "Screw it, I'll just put the tiles down anyway" and then I started reading the instructions on the bag of stuff that has to be mixed and it went on and on about how the surface has to be cleaned of this and that and asphalt.

At the hardware store I tried to find a trowel that looked like the one that the guy in one of the videos used, and two shelves above, I saw a hand tool, perhaps ten inches long, with a short, angled blade. A scraper. For $6.95, what could it hurt, right?

The metal tool (with some wadding wrapped around that useless handle to protect my delicate self) is taller than a broom, and much heavier too. 

Twenty minutes with the small, useless, girly, wrong tool, and I removed more tar from the floor than all of the time I'd spent until then.
Those scrapings are bigger than anything I could remove with the big tool. See those patches of not-black in the foreground? Couldn't get those with the big man-tool.

With the small tool, I can sit down, hold it with both hands, and use my upper body weight to lever the gunk off the floor. Because I'm not using my whole body, I can do it for longer, and it's way more effective.

So yes, long-winded, but what I wanted to get at was that even if you do get excellent advice, how helpful it ultimately is to you and your body and your situation has an inordinate amount to do with who is giving you that advice.

My friend's husband offered to sharpen the blade on My Big Tool, but that's not the problem, because it's the wrong tool for me

I know they say a bad workman blames their tools, and I'll cop to that, but at the same time, the right tool for you makes all the difference.

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