Picture of a judge's wigThe Judge RANTS!Picture of a judge's wig

Date: 31/10/15

Sands Doute

Let me tell you a little about my Great Winter Project.

I've lived in this 'ere des-res for over thirty years. For that whole length of time, the carpets on the stairs and in the upstairs rooms have stayed the same, except for the bog, the carpet of which started to disintegrate some time ago, and which I replaced with two artfully-cut (that's 'art' as in Gilbert & George, as in 'I might just get away with this for long enough') pieces of lino.

When the Council's contractors put in the central heating, they rolled some of the carpets back to lift the floorboards to lay the new pipework. This meant that they loosened them from those metal strip thingies (sorry to get technical again) which fastened them down at the doorways. I never bothered to fix the carpets back into them again, and so that's how they've stayed for the last eleven years.

By the first half of this year, the stair carpet had become positively dangerous. So I pulled it up (a process described near the bottom of this page) and decided that all the carpets upstairs - being little better than the one on the stairs - would have to go. The thought of spending hundreds of pounds on re-carpeting, plus the unenticing thought of having total strangers milling about my manor while the job was done, didn't exactly appeal. However, the floorboards seemed to be in solid condition, so I determined that I would sand them and stain them.

I ummed and aahed about it until mid-September, when I went down to our local branch of a major DIY chain to buy the necessary equipment for the job: a set of nail-punches, a carpenter's pincers (I hope the carpenter in question doesn't want them back), a set of scrapers and filling knives (the former for getting the gloss paint off the stair treads, the latter for filling gaps between floorboards - and between the boards and the skirting), some PVA glue (mixing with sawdust, filling the aforementioned gaps, for the use of)...and, of course, a sander.

Being a complete tyro in these things, I spent a long time looking around before finding one which I thought would suit the purpose and which was warmly recommended. And so that was added to the list, also adding nearly 220 to the cost as well.

I got everything home, but had no intention of starting the job there and then. This was because I had to get the paint off the stairs. My brother loaned me his hot-air gun, and so three weekends ago I set to with it. I found that the job was a lot more long-winded than I thought it would be, taking something like an hour to do each stair, whilst minding not to damage the paint on the skirting boards or set fire to the wallpaper (this latter actually did happen when I was doing the bottom stair, but it was only few embers which I managed to pinch out. I could smell it through the mask, and it wasn't as if the fumes of melting paint weren't setting the smoke alarms off anyway, even with the window open). It took me the equivalent of two whole weekends, in fact, finishing last Saturday afternoon.

Last Sunday morning found me on my hands and knees in the Library (aka the third bedroom), where the carpet had been removed some little time ago, with my reading glasses on and wielding a hammer and the nail punches, looking for any nasty little metal surprises which could cause bother when I started sanding the boards (I'd decided to start with that room because it's out of the way, no-one else will see it, and so it was the ideal place to serve my goof-prone apprenticeship).

I was done by about noon, and I resolved that that would be it for the day. But I was was sitting here at about 13:45 when - to use one of my sainted mother's catch-phrases - I thought, "Oh, arse'oles to it!", and I went upstairs to try out the sander. I started off very gingerly, not quite knowing what to expect, and not expecting the fool thing to try to run away with me. After a little while I got to grips (literally) with it, and an hour later I had sanded an area about four feet by three. The boards - relieved of the grime and what-not of either 40 (if the boards had been replaced when the house was last renovated) or 90 (if they hadn't) years - came up very nicely. Heartened by this outcome, I left it for the day.

I came back to it this morning, confident that I could finish that room today, or tomorrow morning at the latest. I found that the sander didn't seem to be performing as well, which I initially put down to the fact that many of the boards were not only uneven between themselves, but were individually - intrinsically - either convex or concave. This meant sanding some areas in two if not three directions before getting something close to the desired result.

After a little while, I came to the conclusion that the sanding belt itself needed replacing (I'd bought a pack of five belts at the same time as all the rest of the stuff). I changed the belt and set off again; only to find worrying sparks flying off the front of the belt. I determined that I hadn't set the new belt quite in the right place, sorted that out and started once more.

Suddenly, something flew out from under the sander and landed on the floor a couple of feet away. Thinking it was a large splinter from the boards, I carried on. When I next paused, I picked up the 'splinter', only to find that it wasn't wood but metal, about an inch long, one eighth of an inch wide at its broadest, and with a twisted end.

I examined the underside of the sander but couldn't see anything obviously missing (as if I knew either by instinct or experience exactly how the underside of a sander should look, of course). So off I went again to sand an edge, where I found that the sander wasn't going anything like as close to the skirting board as it had been. I then noticed that the belt was right over to the opposite side. I took it off and put it back on where it should have been and tried to get on with it. Immediately, the belt slid over to the far side again. It was at this point that I realised that whatever had broken off had been part of whatever mechanism kept the belt in line. In short, that the machine was knackered. And this after only about four hours' use.

So, in the words of Alexei Sayle, "That's that sketch knackered then, inni'?". I shall have to take the sander back sometime during the week to see if they'll exchange it and then - this time somewhat trepidantly - try to get on with the job. After all, I've only got one third of a small bedroom, two whole - somewhat larger - bedrooms, the bathroom, the bog, the landing and the stairs (which I've resigned myself to having to do by hand anyway) left to do.

I'll just have to hope for a long winter...