The pine kitchen table was getting more rickety by the day. And understandably so. The 6-foot workhorse had been through a lot over the years: thousands of meals, hundreds of homework assignments, numerous bill-paying sessions, a million cups of coffee, and six moves through three states.
Come to think of it, I'm a little worse for wear myself.
Each time the table moved, she was taken apart and put back together, until her legs were as wobbly as a new foal's.
At dinner, someone would cut a piece of chicken, and the whole table would rock until we felt as if were on a roiling sea. And squeak. The table sounded like a choir of church mice.
A sturdy table seems to me basic to a good life, like a rainproof roof, solid ground and a loyal dog. A wobbly table shakes your faith in the world, and undermines whatever stability you've convinced yourself you have.
Although a day didn't go by that I didn't complain about this rocky table, fixing it was out of my skill set. Sure, I had crawled underneath with my pink and purple tool set, and tried to tighten things up, but the table still rocked like a bed in a cheap motel.
Like so many annoyances in life, including thinning eyebrows — what is with that? — the wobbly table became one more nuisance I just put up with. But I swore to myself: Next time I move, I'm making darn sure that table gets put back together tight and right.
Moving day came last week. So did my well-timed encounter with an all-star fix-it guy.
Chris Tice, of Orlando, Fla., is an electrical engineer by trade, and a home improvement blogger for Examiner.com. He's making appearances this fall at Home & Garden shows in Florida, where he will teach average do-it-yourselfers how to construct cool home improvements on a budget (an outdoor shower, a space-saving built-in desk with shelves, and more).
Oh, he can also fix a Disney roller coaster, which is his day job, and really does make him a superhero.
I asked Tice if my job was too small. He showed up in a small car with a big toolbox.
Since my new house came with a kitchen table, I decided to use the old pine piece as a desk. I had the perfect place, a small room off my master bedroom that overlooks the street, which I planned to turn into a writing nest.
Tice looked at the disassembled table and spotted the problem. The table legs were attached to the table by a large screw that passed through a metal bracket. Time and use had caused the screw to make the bracket hole larger, the way a finger works a hole in a pocket. The screw had also lost its once-tight grip where it sank into the wood.
Two washers (one lock washer for tension and one plain) set between each screw and bracket, and some glue on the screws would tighten things right up, Tice said. Then, in 15 minutes, he ended five years of aggravation.
We turned the table over. I gave it a test shake. It didn't budge. I clapped and sprang up and down on my toes, then asked if he would help me move the piece into my study.
That's when I learned that tape measures lie.
“You sure it fits?” he asked.
“Yes. I measured.”
Soon we were stuck wrestling a too-big table in a too-small room, trying not to scuff the walls, flipping and turning the table until … CRACK.
It's a sickening sound, the sound of a breaking leg.
Next, we were holding our sides laughing, because the alternative was to curse and throw things. These moments tell you almost all you need to know about a person.
He repaired the freshly broken joint with wood glue and a strong clamp, letting it dry overnight. Today, the table is in parts again in the garage waiting for the next move. When that day comes, I will know exactly how to put it back together. And I will also know that, like a good table, it will be steady.
From this experience I learned many lessons that apply to home projects and to life:
• Life is short. If something is driving you nuts — the door squeaks, the drawer knob falls off in your hand, furniture wobbles — don't live with it. Stop whining and fix it or find someone who can.
• Figure out the basic mechanics. “Step one to fixing anything,” Tice said, “is to first understand how it works, then figure out what's not working.” That bears repeating.
• Measure twice. Before you commit to putting a big piece anywhere in your home, be sure it's a fit so you don't get stuck.
• Leave some wiggle room. Also consider the angles before hauling a sofa upstairs and around a corner. You need space to turn around.
• Try the simple solution first. In the case of the rickety table, putting simple Elmer's school glue on the screw before sinking it back into the wood helped stabilize the weak grip. For a squeaky door, Tice said, remove the pins, rub them with a bar of soap, then stick them back in the hinges. It smells better than using WD-40.
• Have tools and know how to use them. “That right there's half the battle,” Tice said.
Syndicated columnist and speaker Marni Jameson is the author of “House of Havoc” and “The House Always Wins” (Da Capo Press). Contact her through www.marnijameson.com.