Teaching an old dog new tricks

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I have discovered that when embarking on a problem-solving situation, it’s always best to rule out the most obvious. If the car won’t start, first make sure that it has gas. If the baby’s crying, first determine whether she’s hungry. If no water is coming out of the faucet, ascertain that the pump is working before drilling a new well.

I mention these situations because I just finished a project that left me very confused — I did not check the simplest solution first.

Preparing my house for the warm weather, I decided to tackle a hose faucet that has been troublesome for a long time. It seems to have been dripping for a while. I remembered turning off all the inside valves in the fall. It was a very warm and pleasant day last week when I looked at the faucet connection inside the basement. It was soldered onto a pipe that had a shutoff valve. I cleared away the cellar debris and secured a chair that would let me have good control over the situation.

After attaching a spotlight to one of the ceiling beams, I then went into the garage to search for my plumbing tools. Sometimes the search takes longer than the project. But I found my propane torch, solderer, sandpaper, flux and pipe cutter. I shook the torch and determined that there was enough juice for this task.

It took me a while to light the torch -— the pilot flame kept going out and the gas was spitting. But I finally adjusted the air and was ready to go. Just heat up the copper and melt the solder in the old joint, and then twist the faucet pipe to release it.

Nothing happened. No melting solder. Just smoldering wood from the nearby beam.

Maybe the gas was bad, I thought. So off to the hardware store to buy a new canister of propane. I returned home and set everything up with new gas.

The flame seemed just right. I held it on the pipe for a good bit of time without any success. It wasn’t until I decided to grab the faucet from the outside that water sprayed. The water was still on! The valve I thought was closed, was not. I should have checked this first. I felt very stupid and discouraged about all the time I wasted. So often this happens with these do-it-yourself projects. And maybe therein lies their charm and therapeutic value. That final sense of accomplishment that one feels when “the job is done” and all the stumbling blocks encountered along the way make the do-it-yourselfer so different from the pro. We have the time to learn from our mistakes

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