Recently I helped a pro, a skilled carpenter, make a hole in a house. It was remarkable how his style of work differed from mine.
When he drilled through the floor, for example, the pro didn't hit the water pipe. He didn't get discouraged by surprise obstacles. And he seemed to have a sixth sense for beams.
When I looked at the house I saw the outer skin, floors, ceilings and walls. When he looked, he saw the skeleton. He could undress a house with his eyes.
The task at hand was installing a vent for a clothes dryer. This required making holes in the floor and walls of the house, and I was reluctant to try it alone. Other members of my family happen to be very good at making holes in the house. My kids, for instance, can punch a hole in plasterboard with a flying %o doorknob faster than I can say, "Don't slam the door." But this task required precision hole-making, so I hired a pro.
I'll call the pro David, because that is his name. I don't want to give his full name, address and phone number because he is good and in keeping with the homeowner's code, when you find a workman you like, you keep his identity under your hat.
The first thing David did when he arrived was to look the job over. After examining the laundry room floor where the hole would begin, he peered at the outside of the house. I walked outside and stood next to him.
We were staring at the same house, but we saw different things. I saw a roof that needed checking and window sills that needed painting. He saw the telephone cable. The telephone cable also ended up in the laundry room, he said. By spotting where the telephone cable came out of the laundry room David could figure out where the hole for the dryer vent would end up.
I saw the same telephone cable and came to very different conclusion about where the hole would emerge. Since David was the pro, we went with his opinion. He turned out to be right, and I turned out to be off by about five feet.
Next he drilled a hole in the floor of the laundry room. He used a big drill with a long drill bit for the job. It was much more powerful than the little drill I use. Yet he drilled gently.
The moment that the bit pushed through the floorboard, he stopped drilling. I would have kept going. For me, "punching through" is the fun part of drilling.
But a pro, I learned, journeys cautiously into subflooring. "You never know what you'll find down there," David said. Sure enough, a few inches below the whirling drill bit lurked a water pipe. Two of them, actually, one feeding cold water to the nearby washing machine, and one draining the used water away. If I had "punched through" I would have punched my way into a major plumbing repair bill.
When I saw the pipes I was alternately elated and discouraged. I was elated that they had not been punctured. And I was downhearted because the pipes appeared to be blocking the route that the vent was supposed to travel on its way to the outside of the house.
The pro, however, displayed no such emotions. He figured the water pipes might be there; this was, after all, a laundry room. And he was puzzled, but not beaten by their location.
He figured out that if the vent traveled at an angle it could dodge between the pipes. Again being careful not to cut too deep, he used a reciprocating saw and cut a hole in the laundry room. Two-thirds of the hole came from the floor, the rest from the adjoining wall.
The angle cut was a simple solution that I would never have thought of. The pipes would have scared me off.
Similarly, when David cut the exit hole in the outside of the house, he worked with amazing confidence. First, he penciled an outline of the exit hole on the wood. Then, almost before the pencil was back in his shirt pocket, he began sawing along the lines.
At one point he paused. "I think I got a beam here," he said.
If it had been me working the saw, I would have gone into "beam shock." I would either have conceded defeat, or I would have armed myself with a bigger blade and attempted to plow through.
David did neither. He simply sawed a quarter-inch away from his penciled line. When the saw blade moved easily, he knew it was missing the beam. Later, when the hole was cut and the beam exposed, he "shaved" a little wood off the beam to make room for the vent.
He finished the job in about five hours, including cleanup.
I learned a lot watching a pro. In future repair jobs, I will be a kinder and gentler driller. I will skirt, rather than confront, beams. And if a job is really serious, I will hire him again.