Getting past â€śLook, Ma, No Hands!â€ť
I no longer have to prove to myself (or anyone else) that I can be completely self-sufficient when it comes to restoration. I have executed pretty much every imaginable task involved with construction, from masonry to roofing to gas-fitting. You name it, and Iâ€™ve taken a stab at it. And sometimes it stabs back.
This can be painful and humiliating, but Iâ€™ve learned from the experience and improved where and when I am able. After 20 years of this process, Iâ€™ve also acquired the wisdom to know when to delegate; that there are certain jobs best left to professionals. While Iâ€™m about to incur the wrath of Building Inspectors and Union Tradespersons everywhere, these jobs, with few exceptions, have to do more with craftsmanship and aesthetics than they do with imminent death and destruction. I know Iâ€™m gonna get a litany of homeowner disaster stories from the pros in the comments section, but you can do a lot of this stuff on your own, with the proper research and practice.
But then there are the jobs you should sub-out:
Floor-sanding: It doesnâ€™t matter how steady your hands are, we can tell you did the floors all by yourself. That ungainly beast of a sander you rented was a bucking bronco waiting to claw through your white oak, and the corner sander that accompanied it wasnâ€™t much better. Thereâ€™s a dip over by the fireplace where you avoided the hearth, and you did a mediocre job of scraping out the corners by hand. And your urethane is streaky.
Plastering: I donâ€™t mean taping sheetrock; that should be in everyoneâ€™s repertoire. I refer instead to Plaster of Paris three-coat work or even skimming over blue-board. Ever wonder why home-made cakes never come out looking like they do from the bakery? Because you werenâ€™t hanging around either shop since you were eight years old and they threw a spatula or a trowel at you and said â€śget to workâ€ť. These skills may not be genetic, but the touch thatâ€™s necessary and the familiarity with the materials is not something thatâ€™s developed over two or three projects. Itâ€™s a true craft and career.
Brick-laying: Yeah, we can all mix up a tub of soft lime mortar (you werenâ€™t going to use modern, hard mortar on your old wall, were you?) and re-point some bricks into our crumbling foundation, especially where they will only be seen in the darkness of our cellars, but if youâ€™re building a landscaping wall or face-bricking the chimney or exposed foundation, you really have to be pretty damned good to make it look professional. Even if you line up your courses okay, the pointing never seems as nice as the masonâ€™s. And donâ€™t think you can just smear the whole thing with more mortar; itâ€™ll look like crap. I know; Iâ€™ve done it.
Tile Walls: Floors arenâ€™t so hard, but walls are tough. Theyâ€™re never straight, square or plumb and youâ€™re fighting gravity the whole time. Itâ€™s very easy to go off-repeat as you progress around the room, and itâ€™s very difficult to keep everything on a smooth plane. Case in point: subway tile. Ever been in a pre-war bathroom? The subway tile has flush, butted ends, not like todayâ€™s rounded corners; and the tile guy always managed to make it a smooth wall! I canâ€™t tell you how many times Iâ€™ve beheld a new subway tile wall with the rounded corners, and itâ€™s still bumpy and out of alignment. Whatâ€™s the deal? Iâ€™m not saying I could do it better; I know I canâ€™t! But if todayâ€™s pros arenâ€™t as precise as those of a century ago, do you think you can do it better? Not meâ€¦
Tree work: Do you know what pros call that 14â€ť thick pine tree thatâ€™s leaning against another tree and near a power line? A widow-maker. Thatâ€™s because a civilian has no idea how heavy that tree actually is, and just how tricky it is to drop it with any accuracy. (But it didnâ€™t seem that tall! I guess I shoulda moved the cars.) Felling a tree appears to be the most basic and primitive of the building skills; pioneers clearing the land and all that. Itâ€™s not; Iâ€™d rather work live on a circuit in a dimly-lit attic than deal with a runaway oak. Hell, itâ€™s just a little shock, and thatâ€™s better than trying to dig your lawnmower and grill out from under your new lumber.
Iâ€™m sure there are other tasks that I havenâ€™t thought of; feel free to chime in.