Home Improvement With Brian J.

My wife has never really liked the kitchen sink at Nogglestead.  An off-white acrylic two-bowl with just room for a bead of caulk between the edge of the sink and the back splash, she never felt it got clean.  So when our faucet began dripping constantly, I knew I had to act with the alacrity to which I respond to most household repairs and/or improvements that reach the “project” level: I acknowledged I’d replace the faucet, and I would replace the sink at the same time.  After all, one set of water connections would be disconnected anyway.

So after enough time elapsed (one cannot say alacrity without first saying alack!), I actually went to the home supply store to see what was available.  I hemmed, I hawed, I slept on it for weeks on end.  Then I decided I wanted a four-hole sink and a faucet that had two valves for the hot and cold.  Then I decided I wanted the standard cartridge type faucet after all, so we could make due with two holes.

My wife knew she wanted stainless steel, so at least I didn’t have that to Handymanlet over for two acts of the drama.

At any rate, sometime right after Christmas, we finally got the sink and the fixture.  I even considered having it installed until I saw the sign that indicated it would cost $260.  $100, I would have spent on it.  $260, though, is more then 1/4 of $1000, and that quarter-of barrier is something that has a lot of psychological weight for me.  For that amount of money, I could spend many, many hours at my contemporary bill rate (because I’m affordable in the IT world) to account for it.  So we loaded the faucet-and-sink pack, along with a $30 book of plumbing pictures, into the SUV and headed home.

Then there were football playoffs on Sunday mornings, my best quiet time with an uninterrupted stretch of hours.  The week between conference championships and the Super Bowl, I got sick, so I managed to put it off completely, dreading it the whole time. It’s not to say I did not do some prep work. I opened the book, reviewed the relevant sink installation section, and then went to the hardware store for an 18″ pipe wrench ($20) to remove the strainer kits on the existing sink, which I would just swap out.

I dreaded and procrastinated a bit because, although I understand the different natures of the connections and the physical manipulations involved, I had never done it before. Swapping faucets, I’ve done.  I had confidence in that.  The sink, though, had a whole different set of drainage connections and a garbage disposer with which to contend.  And when I don’t know how to do something handy like that, I tend to screw something up.  Or fear that I do, although most of my projects are mostly successful.  So I dreaded it as the box with the new sink stood in the garage for almost a month.

But Sunday was to be that day.  I awakened at 4:30 with a raccoon-delivered crashing of a cat bowl outside and lie awake for a while, eager to begin.  I had to prep a couple boys for church before I could, though, and when they were out the door at 7:30, I was ready to go.

I opened the box, laid out the new sink on the dining room table, inverted, atop some towels to not damage either the table or the sink.  Then I got under the existing sink and turned off the water to the faucet (and the dishwasher, since the hot water line had two valves, but I was being careful).  I turned on the tap to let out the remainder of the water from the lines and thought I should have a little breakfast before I tackled too much.

After a couple of pieces of bread, I was ready to go.  The water slowed to a trickle, so I began disconnecting the existing faucet.  The cold water faucet was your typical steel-banded connector hose.  The hot water, though, was some rubber hose whose type I hadn’t seen before in my lifetime.  Even when I undid the locking nut, it remained attached.  I tried finding it in my book on plumbing, I tried finding it on eHow, but eventually it took a little experimenting with a screwdriver (fortunately, the orange juice from concentrate was already made!) before I figured out how it attached.  I managed to disconnect it and the regulation cold water tap.

I disconnected the non-disposal drain beneath the t-junction with the garbage disposal (right above the trap).  I was very gratified to find that the garbage disposal just plugged into the wall under the sink, so I unplugged it.  That let me pull the whole old sink out after cutting away as much adhesive as I could from between it and the countertop and then prying it loose with a screwdriver.

All right, I had the whole drain assembly pulled with the sink so I could undo the strainers and the disposal mount and transfer them onto the new sink.  Before I did, though, I was wise enough to try to fit the new sink into the aperture left by the old sink.  I was careful to make sure they were the same size, but forewarned is four-eyed.  And, of course, it did not fit.  The new sink’s mounting used a rail into which one inserts moveable brackets, and those rails needed .25″ on both the horizontal and vertical.

I looked at the instructions provided with the sink, and they contained elaborate instructions for cutting into the countertop.  I didn’t need to completely cut a hole, but I did need to widen it.  The instructions mentioned a jigsaw, and ha, ha!  I owned a jigsaw. So I got it out and traced lines for cutting and started with the vertical (that is, between the front and back of the counter) cut, and my jigsaw broke.

The jigsaw came with an easy-mount feature which allowed one to quickly change jigsaw blades.  You tip the mount a little bit and put in the new blade.  Easy-peasy.  On the whole, I would have preferred having to take a little longer to change the blades if it would have prevented the whole assembly from snapping off the front of the jigsaw. But you go to work with the tools you got for Christmas a couple years back.

This is the important turning point in the project. I had a small hand saw, so I started to make cuts with it. Unfortunately, as it was a small saw, I wasn’t making much progress at all. I also own a circular saw. Well, two, actually: One that I got for Christmas but that got misfiled in our move to Nogglestead so that it was in an unmarked box in our storage room instead of in our garage for a year, and the second which I bought cheaply when I could not find the first. Hey, I might knock Christmas gifts lightly, but when I buy tools for myself, I go cheap. This new circular saw binds when I try to cut wood paneling. So I looked for the first saw, which I’d found and put in my garage but did not put away properly. So it took me fifteen minutes to find it.

As I said, this was the turning point. In most of my projects, the problem or point of failure comes when I use the wrong tool for something. The jigsaw is the right tool for this job. I could have driven into Republic and been back with a new one in about an hour. But I did not want to waste that time, so I went at it with the circular saw.

The result is that the edge of the cut looks like I chewed it out, and, as a result of the obvious way a circular saw works, I chipped the laminate of the countertop in such a fashion as it’s visible under the edge of the sink. I.e., I ruined everything.

But the sink fit, so I could start switching over the plumbing and whatnot. The new pipe wrench worked wonders on the non-disposer strainer (the part that connects to the sink), but the disposer assembly was something else. I undid some screws, twisted some things, and could not figure it out. I tried this, I tried that, and after enough futility had elapsed, I went back to eHow and discovered how easily it dismounted and came apart.

After that, really, it was just a matter of applying enough plumber’s putty to various edges and enough thread tape to sundry threads and tightening them down. I got most of the things mostly secure, and the only problem came when I turned on the cold water. I’d tightened the connection to the faucet so that it was threaded askew, something you cannot see from below, in the dark, at a distance. So it sprayed festively before I turned the valve back off.

It drips just a bit, so I have to tighten that connection a little more. Also, when tightening the faucet to the sink itself, I should get under there and tighten it a little more since the faucet rocks just a little bit. And I will, someday. Maybe soon.

At the end of the day, the expense ledger runs the installation cost to the cost of a new jigsaw, a book, a pipe wrench, and some caulk to cover the chipped laminate. Suddenly, I saved something like $80 instead of $260. I laughed in the book when it said it would take you half a day to install a sink, but it did take me about six hours including breaks for breakfast, looking for things, and cursing.

But I changed my sink. For a person who works for a living, that’s nothing much, really, but for white collar dilettantes, it’s something to be somewhat proud of, at least once I finish it in the coming years.