Sunday, October 14, 2018

First do no harm

One of the things plumbers are sometimes called upon to do is remove tub drain assemblies, a waste and overflow is what it is called. The hard part of that task is to remove the drain strainer, especially if it has been in place for several decades. It is notoriously difficult to do and often the strainer is destroyed in the process. If the parts are being removed for replacement the important thing is to not damage the tub but what if the parts are being removed in order to restore them?

There are two types of modern tub drain strainers, those with a cross bar and those without a cross bar. The latter of the two has no cross bar to allow a pop-up plunger to be used, much the same way as a lavatory pop-up. These two variations have been used all the way back to the early mid-century. There are a host of tools designed to help in the removal of tub strainers and still it is not uncommon for them to be removed with a saw.

Tub drain strainers before the mid-century going back to the Victorian period can present an entirely different problem. Yes they are as frozen in place as later versions but many times there are no tools for the task of removing them. Many of them are not just old and part of assemblies that are to be restored, they are beautifully ornate as well.
This beautiful strainer, circa 1900, fared well, coming away from removal nicely intact.
This is the two part style. The top has a female thread that fits to the male thread of the flange. 
It typically requires a propane torch flame to induce them to separate.   

This one part strainer was not so lucky. 
I was not able to reshape it and it was replaced. 

Here is another two part, I was able to straighten the minor damage to the spokes of the strainer but the drain boot was too mangled by the force required to remove it. I was able to find another.  

In many cases I make installation wrenches from plastic pipe or fittings. This custom cut wrench will not scratch the new polished nickel and is strong enough to compress the new gasket. 
A hole through the top of the tube allows a bar to be passed through for a handle. 

Last week I was told that I will be receiving a vintage standing waste for restoration. I have seen this tub and waste and know that the strainer is vulnerable to damage when removed. It may take considerable force to unthread it from the boot below the tub. As it so happens I have a strainer here that is the same size and pattern so I decided to fabricate a removal tool. It will probably take more force than a plastic wrench will tolerate so I needed to make my tool out of steel.

I put a lot of thought into it but didn't decide upon a design until about four days go. I woke early and designed it with my eyes closed and my head on the pillow. Today I finished it, it isn't exactly what I envisioned but it's close.

This is a one part strainer made by "Standard Sanitary" about 1910, before the merger with "American Radiator". 
It is the motif I copied when I made the drain strainer for the Victorian railway car basin, see my blog post from  March 25th 2016.  

Making my custom tool was a lot of work. I started with a piece of 1/4" steel plate and selected a hole saw that is slightly smaller than the strainer top. With the steel clamped to the drill press table I cut my disc from the plate.  Once I had my disc I marked it using the vintage strainer as a template. I drilled my six holes in two steps to help me stay on center, the center hole I had from the hole saw.
The target hole size was to allow 7/18ths" bolts to pass through. The heads had to be removed as the holes are too close to allow them. I selected small brass washers and threaded them to 7/16" x 20 thread per inch. They are the stops that lock the headless bolts on the forward side of the plate. I needed nuts on the other side but again the nuts wouldn't fit that closely together any more that the bolt heads would. 3/8" nuts would fit and I needed tall coupling nuts that would penetrate the ratchet socket I planned to use to turn my tool. I drilled and retapped  my coupling nuts from 3/8" x 16 to 7/16" x 20. When it all fit together the nuts made a circle of six, six sided nuts with six outside faces. A center nut bolted through the center hole holds the outside ring true and gives resistance against the force of the socket.

Note how large the bolts look inside of the formerly 3/8" nuts. 
That is a 3/4" drive socket which will take a seriously large wrench. 
This custom tub strainer wrench is ready for work. 

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Only fifty pounds

I could bring fifty pounds and no more. I was going to be flown from Portland Oregon to Pendleton Oregon, a distance of 210 miles, to work on a vintage ribcage shower. I was returning the same day, which was not a problem. The problem was being limited to fifty pounds of tools and repair kits to work on an ornate fixture I had only seen photographs of. I wasn't even sure of the manufacturer of the shower valving.

What do I select to bring? What can I afford to leave behind? I'm accustomed to driving a ten foot cube van stocked with repair kits that range from ten years old to older than me. The same may be said about my hand tools. Hardly any of it is light and altogether it requires a one ton truck just to haul it around. Removing something from the truck in order to streamline the operation is a sure way to find yourself missing it sooner than later. One thing was certain, I wouldn't be carrying anything for myself or my comfort, Those fifty allowed pounds were reserved for tools and parts.

In February of 2017 I was contacted by the owner/operator of The Pendleton House, a bed and breakfast set up in a 1917 Italian Renaissance style home in the town of Pendleton Oregon.

There is a walk-in tile shower in the house that is equipped with a full ribcage shower arrangement. The handles were not original, the main valves were not original, and the control valves were not functioning optimally. We texted back and forth, I looked at the photos he sent and gave him my opinion of what he had and what I might be able to do to help. That was as far as it went at that time and in the course of answering emails and running my restoration business I forgot about it.

In July of 2018 he contacted me again and we had another conversation about his ribcage shower. He told me that he was prepared to pay for my airfare if I would agree to come out and spend the day doing whatever I could to solve some of the problems with the old fixture. I figured I could do something to help and if nothing else, form a strategy for the needed repairs. We agreed upon a day and he emailed my boarding pass to me.

Years ago my wife Sandy and I speculated and rather joked about the possibility of me flying off to other places to work on vintage fixtures. I still maintain one of my tenet workplace philosophies, "The diligent worker should make himself indispensable on the job." I am well accustomed to being one of only a few sources of help when it comes to preserving and restoring vintage plumbing fixtures. Now though, someone actually wanted me to get on a plain and travel to work on a fixture.

The boarding pass was for Boutique Air and I would be flying in an eight passenger turboprop out of their own small terminal at PDX.  And of course I was only allowed to bring a total of fifty pounds of carry on.
Duck your head to get into this sweetheart, stay ducked down until you sit in your seat as well. 

There was a strong possibility that I would need to reseat at least one valve so my full reseating kit and a selection of bronze faucet seats had to go with me. Unfortunately that already had me over twenty pounds. Certain parts assortments like cap gaskets and bibb washers had to be included as well as thread seal and Teflon tape. I included a decent four way screwdriver and flat jawed wrenches of various sizes. I had already supplemented my reseating kit with an assortment of seat wrenches.
I brought no pliers, nor did I bring a tape measure of flashlight.

Once I had found a box strong enough to carry my equipment the loaded box, including foam to keep kits from tossing around in the box, weighed in at forty five pounds. I used two crossed cargo straps instead of tape to be certain the box would stay closed and because the straps made good handles to lift the box by. At the terminal they weighed my box in at forty nine pounds.

Returning at the end of the day I was over weight, carrying a tip from the client, a fifth of Pendleton Whisky. How the day went is another story.
Feeling great at the end of an interesting day.