Janet Combs

Janet Combs

Many of you have unwittingly joined me in forgetting that this is a column about serious home improvement.

You may have thought that we had completed all renovations and repairs on our formerly foreclosed home, but we’re far from finished—we’ve just taken a little vacation from it all. And this small break has refreshed us so much that we tore off an entire lower section of our front steps this morning!

Because we will be having our home painted in a few weeks, it was time to attack this project. Our front steps feature some rotted boards that need replacing; one bottom post has completely disintegrated, which makes the whole railing on that section wobbly and unsafe. We’d always warn unsuspecting visitors to our home as they reach the bottom step: “Don’t grab that handrail by the bottom post, it’s completely rotted!” Invariably, people would seize it and give it a hefty jerk, further unseating it from its decayed base, and then tell us, “You’re going to have to replace that.”

“Yeah, we know,” we’d chorus back. “Thanks!”

This is an example of an unnecessary conversational exchange. The Planet Janet Institute of Redundant Communications reports that the average American spends 47 minutes a day in fruitless interpersonal interchange, most of it with former high-school classmates on Facebook.

Which reminds me of that day in high school Science class, when Andy Marren and I spent the entire lecture portion of the lab tearing loose-leaf paper into tiny confetti-like shards so that they would fit neatly in my fist. On cue, when the teacher walked by our station, I convincingly “sneezed” them all over the floor. Turns out, physical comedy appeals to all ages, except to my parents who got a note home about my lack of focus. And wouldn’t you know it—that day’s lab was the basic physics one on the power of levers—and I completely missed it, sitting out in the hallway for the rest of the class period. This instruction would have been of vital assistance in my work this morning, prying off stair boards.

Once again, this column has masterfully meandered back to the main point of today’s column, which is, “Big levers work better than small levers when demolishing stairs.”

Fortunately, my husband came into our marriage with an assortment of functional pry bars, whereas I brought an assortment of decorative purses. Each of these items is ideal for a particular occasion, so even if you don’t use all of them every day, it is important to keep your collection together, as they outfit your work, or work with your outfit, perfectly.

Some of my husband’s pry bars are not much larger than your hand, and can fit in a nail bag, which one could consider a construction purse, it occurs to me. One pry bar he owns is so heavy you can barely lift it with one hand and would make an excellent prop for a violent murder movie entitled “Crow Bar Killer,” starring Javier Bardem.

We used several pry bars to remove the cedar boards around the rotting post, and I learned many leverage tricks that were both highly productive and physically draining. I realized that without the levers of the pry bars, these boards would not have been persuaded to release from their rusted nails. Pry bars are certainly moving up on my mental list of favorite essential tools, especially for demolition.

Once we got all the stair boards off, we discovered that the stringers—the supports for your steps that are hidden under those boards—were also in bad shape. They had to come off, too. More fun with levers!

I’m not sure I’ll be able to raise my right arm to blow dry my hair for work on Monday morning. But that is okay. With the right purse, I can always distract attention from my hairstyle. That’s fashion leveraging.

Janet Combs is a freelance writer living in Georgetown County. Contact her at www.janetfrickecombs.wordpress.com.