Learning the drill

c: | f: /

I admit I suck at DIY. But it’s not through lack of trying, it’s lack of training. And sometimes a serious lack of common sense.

Take putting up shelves, for example. Been meaning to do it for, like two years. Finally got round to visiting the timber merchant down the road, availing him of some fresh lumber and then measuring up where the batons were to go on the wall.

Then came the drilling.

I have a cordless drill, into which I installed a freshly-charged battery and a masonry drill bit. It went through the plaster. It started to go through the stone behind. It slowed. It slowed. It slowed more. By the time the drill bit was half-way through, it was spinning at about three RPM and I might as well have been using a teaspoon to drill the hole.

Wall: 1. Cordless drill: 0.

So I put the battery back on charge and fetched the mains-powered drill. It at least made a better job of the hole. The second hole must have hit mortar because it chewed through it in five seconds. The third, however, must have hit a seam of Vibranium about an inch in. The drill did not budge further. Not even a fraction. Two metres above floor level on a shaky ladder I was shoving, reversing, shoving harder, cursing and getting nowhere.

I had an ace up my sleeve though: hammer mode. Mwuahahahahahaaaaaa.

Hammer time

Flicking the drill to hammer and bracing for some serious noise (sorry neighbours), I steadied myself and let it rip. The drill started to chew through the Vibranium core and within thirty seconds I’d reached the end of the bit. Success!

I withdrew the drill and found that, in fact, it had done nothing except shove the drill bit into the jaws of the chuck. My hole was the same as it had been without hammer mode. Great.

The drill bit was of course 200 Kelvin by this point and my “chuckless” drill isn’t as easy to undo as it once was. Trying to unscrew the chuck without burning my hand was fun, but I managed it. Then the drill bit wouldn’t come out: it was wedged tight. So I got my pliers out and twatted the side of the bit until it loosened enough to drop out, repositioned it with enough sticking out to the depth I required and tightened the chuck with all my strength until my hand started to bleed.

Offering the bit up to the hole and drilling went like clockwork. Moments later I discovered the bit had wedged itself inside the drill again and I’d gone nowhere. It seemed that hammer mode’s function is simply to vibrate the drill so much that the bit goes backwards, regardless of how tight the chuck is done up. So hammer mode was out.

Undo chuck with sore hand, twat bit, reposition, re-tighten, more blood. Back to regular drilling. Go nowhere. Argh! Clearly I was doing something wrong.

And I was.

Not the sharpest tool in the box

On a whim, I rummaged through my toolbox and happened upon a drill bit of almost the same dimensions as the one I was using. Couldn’t hurt to try it. So I swapped it out, much to the annoyance of the now-shredded grip in my right hand.

And you know what? It cut fairly easily. I know, I know, donkey alert: I should have known that bits get blunt, especially when drilling into stone. But I didn’t. I compared the bits side-by-side and they looked identical to me. But clearly it was blunt.

With my drilling prowess restored I made light work of the remaining holes. In the process I found out that every inch or so it helps to withdraw the drill to remove any built-up brick swarf in the hole. Without this simple move, drilling became harder as the particles built up and formed an impenetrable barrier. Again, it’s stuff I probably should have figured out or known, but never realised its importance until I started doing it.

It was then I learned another valuable lesson: don’t buy cheap screws. To be fair, the guy offered me ‘professional’ screws — presumably named to differentiate them from amateur screws, and not just two quid more expensive because they came in a shinier box — but I declined. Well, I took professional wood screws for securing the shelves to the batons simply because he explained how they would self-countersink, and I’m lazy. But for the main, three-inch screws for holding the batons to the wall, I elected for the cheaper screws.

I sheared two of them, driving them slightly too hard with the cordless drill, or not drilling the hole deep enough, thereby causing them to ‘stick’ and snapping the heads off. Once embedded in the wall plug, there’s no way the suckers were coming out so I had to leave them in, make two more batons (luckily the side ones so I had enough spare wood) and drill holes at slightly different places, which annoyed me because it destroyed the symmetry. But there was nothing else I could do.

By this point I was three shelves into a five-shelf project, I’d wasted about an hour in total faffing with changing drill bits, and swapping from drill to screwdriver heads in the cordless drill (which was also chuckless and spun regularly, requiring tightening), my ears were ringing from the drilling, my limbs ached from being wrong-handed up the ladder, and my hand was throbbing where it had been ripped by tightening the drills. And I’d run out of swear words.

Close your eyes, Pythagoras

The thing that made everything complete was fitting the shelves on top of the batons. I had to cut the wood down, which isn’t too arduous unless your hand is bleeding. But the measuring up did my head in. Would it hurt to have square corners in the room? Maybe a wall that ran vertically instead of bowing? A chimney breast that extended into the room without flaring at certain points?

I had to make shelves that were trapezoid-shaped, even one that was a parallelogram, just so they fit snugly. But snug they fit. And I was finally pleased. They haven’t fallen down yet, even when loaded with books, and I’m happy to report that the professional screws did exactly as the guy stated, which saved me drilling forty extra countersink holes. Next time I’ll be using them throughout. Along with looking out for someone selling a drill that has an old-school chuck assembly.

Lesson well and truly learned.

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