The hatch to the attic fell out and it turned out one hinge had broken. It was obviously screwed in by a previous Shed because all the screw heads were knackered, no doubt because they were all second-hand, and in the wake of our discussions of the Kowalski Toolkit, we were interested to find ourselves requiring our Mole wrench (which Kowalski would call a Vise Grip).
Actually, it’s not a Mole grip. It’s a cheap Chinese alternative we bought in a market 30 years ago. Considering it probably cost £1, we can’t knock it. But there is so much slack in the construction you are never sure it is ready to grip tight. Most of the time, it gives another quarter-inch at first pull and you have to come off and re-tighten. Also, in terms of delicacy, it is the sort of tool you would choose to knock somebody out with
The hatch goes back and it is a fortnight before The Shed gets a call to report a problem. Somehow, in the course of the hatch twisting out or in clearing the decks for the repair, the loft ladder has been wrenched out of one its guide brackets and the bracket is badly bent. It has to come off the beam it is screwed to so it can go on the bench for skilled attention with a hammer or, more likely, to yield a part number for a replacement from Abu.
This time, the screw heads are just as bad as they were on the hatch and access to them is even more awkward. The Shed sends in some brute force and gets enough of a lift on the screw heads to provide a grip for … well, we’d like to try a small reliable Mole wrench. No way the resident hulk is going to get in there and it would take a piece out of your fingers in revenge for trying.
It is just possible to access the loft with one of The Shed’s ladders, so they are stored in the guest bedroom for the duration of the emergency, along with several other pending projects, while the hatch is closed on the whole mess for the time being.
Meanwhile, the wheelbarrow had quietly developed an almost-flat.
The wheelbarrow is a currently important element in the life of The Shed, facing a first full winter in the land of coal and logs. Smokeless fuel costs about £1 a kilo on garage forecourts and you can easily burn a fiver’s worth in a day at that rate. A local cash-and-carry depot will do a 25 kilo bag for 11 quid and it might be possible to get it delivered too for about that price. Even then, however, we would need to barrow the bags from the garden gate to the rear yard. Half of the way is gravel, so the flat tyre is a major drag.
The Shed deployed a foot pump which is very good except none of us can ever remember which way the connector clips onto the valve. Get it wrong and you let the tyre down altogether. One day, The Shed will write the instructions down, for itself and for you, but meanwhile it was going to be a suck it and see job again. In the end, we failed to even get the dust cap off the valve because the valve was skewed in its hole and lying tightly sideways in a groove in the wheel. The Chinese pincers were once again too lumbering to be any use. The Shed sent out pliers and broke the valve cap, although leaving an annoying collar of plastic in place so it was still not possible to fit the inflator. The last player in the game used a thin-bladed screwdriver as a lever and lost the valve inside the wheel altogether.
It would be necessary to remove the tyre, or at least get one edge over the rim to allow access to the inner tube. But Shed manning has been hit by injury and various combinations of bike-tyre levers, chisels and a makeshift jemmy which turned out to be a bit of a girl, failed to shift even a bit of one edge of tyre over the hard plastic wheel rim. The wheel would have to be taken to genuine Men of Spanners.
Nobody was volunteering to wheel a barrow into Kwikfit and ask them to put it on the ramp. Somebody said they might do it if the wheel was taken off so it would fit in a carrier bag. The bolts holding the axle ends were all welded into place with old concrete, of course. But after a bit of chipping, they came out, and the axle followed, with a bit of persuasion from a mallet, getting its once-a-year chance to prove itself an essential part of the basic range of hammers as Kowalski would have recommended in the long run.
The lads in the tyre place said leave it with em and after an hour they had got the tyre off, re-aligned the inner tube and got everything put back and pumped up, bless em. The Shed offered a fiver for cash and the job was a good un, so far.
Opposite the tyre place is the ironmonger’s and The Shed’s man dropped by to check out door mechanisms. The Shed has an ongoing contract to fix a living room door with a screw-on catch and lock mechanism in which the catch was retreated and wouldn’t come back, the lock was painted shut and the handles wobbled but would not turn. We took off the lock box and opened it in the hope of something obvious and easy to fix. Sometimes a file around the edges of the brass door catch will free it. But several pieces of an old iron spring fell out, loose, identifying the problem but offering no easy solution. The Shed naturally had a spare broken door box in stock, in one of the drawers marked O&S, but naturally it turned out to have an entirely different sort of spring. Oh, and its spring was also flapping around loose and didn’t seem to work however you put it back.
Our man was pleased to be able to talk centimetres with the ironmonger’s wife, a Shed favourite. They explored whether it was possible to get the same distance between the edge plate and the doorknob spindle, to save redrilling the door. But the measurement was a touch wider in the models in the shop. Also, they all had locks and keys included – not really required for an interior door.
Some filling and redrilling was probably going to be required anyway. We did consider starting afresh and cutting a hole in the edge of the door, for an internally-fitted latch. But The Shed generally avoids using mallet and chisel where drill and screw will do and our inner Julians argued that the external fitting was quite an appropriately cottagey look for this particular door.
Historically, this was once the door immediately inside the back door, back before somebody built an extension which The Shed must soon extend again, to meet contemporary female standards in kitchens and outhouses.
Because of that, it was fitted with a lock, and a keyhole through to it from the other side. We could just replace like with like, although, in the interests of Shed karma, that would have to include getting the new lock to work.
A deal was done, for about 16 quid. No doubt it is cheaper through Screwfix but The Shed plays a long game.
The ironmonger only had cheap Chinese moles, however. Same with the tool stall in the market. The High Street DIY shop turned out to have moved to a back street, with limited space and ranges, but the boss knew what The Shed wanted and said he could probably do with a couple anyway. We imagined how many times people walked out and went to Amazon and said we’d call back in the New Year. We asked about those little boxes of special bits for extracting broken screws and bolts but nobody had one in stock or had used one or could imagine that they were a better bet than a good little Mole or equivalent.
Back at home, we started with the wheel. We slid a washer to the base of the valve and held it in place with cable ties, in the hope of keeping it in place for the next time it needs pumping. The axle went back in and the fixing brackets sat back over the axle and The Shed came up with three of the four bolts which hold the brackets in place. The fourth bolt went missing until, according to the laws of the universe, an hour after it had been replaced by another which was not quite right.
However, the wheelbarrow works for now.
Indoors, the new lock box would take the doorknob spindle in its original position if we held it in place with a 2mm gap between the edge of the door and the edge-lip of the box. But it was not quite straight. To get it precisely right we thought we would have to fill all the old holes and then redrill them, a fraction to the right for the spindle and a fraction to the left for the key for the lock. But it was decided that an acceptable bodge might be achieved by routing out both holes for more wiggle room and gluing a thin shim under the edge lip of the lock.
We tried a rechargeable drill with a spade-edged bit but the drill is getting tired and didn’t have enough torque. For a while, The Shed got excited about the prospect of an outing for the old-fashioned brace but then could not find any old-fashioned curly auger bits to go with it. Eventually, the holes were enlarged with a file and a rasp and a bit of sandpaper. To prepare for this, we had to take off the ceramic washer for the doorknob on the outside – the opposite side to the lock box. We also had to lever off the keyhole cover, which turned out to be brass, with brass pins, although it had been painted over. In The Shed’s opinion, the painting in of door furniture just looks sloppy, so the keyhole cover and the pins were set aside for cleaning.
Eventually, we could get the key through the door into the lock and the doorhandle spindle in its place at the same time, except with both of them at a slight angle. A bit more filing and a couple more tries and it all fell into place with just a mill’s worth of gap between door edge and lock edge. We glued some strips of Barclaycard on the edge lip of the lock and we repositioned the brass keyhole cover, so that it would guide the key somewhere close to its proper place in the arrangement.
The new screws to hold the box to the door would run very close to the old screw holes here and there, so The Shed filled with its favourite combination – Blu Tak, matchsticks and cocktail sticks; maybe a bit of wood glue instead of Blu Tak where appropriate.
All looked good and all worked okay but the old cast-iron catch catcher on the door frame was too shallow for the new assembly. It had to come off. Then it turned out that the replacement, the one which came with the new lock, was designed to screw into the doorframe sideways, and The Shed needed it to fit head on. After playing a game similar to Rubik’s Cube for about an hour, it was agreed that the only solution was to drill new holes in the new box. You could then hold it with long screws. But the box is only pressed tin and we felt we had to watch out for a) squeezing it when tightening the screws against the outer face; and b) bending it in the long run with the striking action of the door catch. The Shed was able to come up with an old Bic-type ballpoint in a clear plastic tube, which could be cut down to make collars for the screws, to turn them into strengthening struts where they passed through the box. A little wrap of gaffer tape was agreed on, for some small protection against the plastic cracking under pressure.
The Shed is almost convinced it will end up being quite a neat job, and can’t wait to finish it.
But the Shed stores are clean out of dome-headed black-japanned screws measuring at least an inch and a quarter, so that they are long enough for there to be more screw in the frame than out of it.
And now it’s Christmas.
Merry Christmas to all sheds. And may some of your projects get finished in 2015.

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