It's Time For The Manly Hunt For Holes To Caulk


October 12, 1991|By Rob Kasper

There comes a time when a man has gotta do what a man has gotta do. When a man has to pick up his gun and go caulking.

Generally I break out my caulking gun when the leaves start to fall. My caulking gun is cool. All the little boys in the neighbor say so. They gather around me whenever they see me toting my piece. They think my caulking gun is a toy, a cousin of their battery-operated squirt guns. They want to touch it.

I set the boys straight. After sticking a nail in the nozzle to prevent the gun from firing, I remind the lads this tool is not for fun, it is a weapon in the serious, never-ending battle against household leaks. This is a battle every property owner has fought.

Like many parental edicts, this one is only half-true. It is true that caulking gun is a terrific instrument in the battle against drafts, drips and other domestic threats. But using it is a hoot. First of all, the gun feels good in my hands. It is a simple piece of work, a frame of metal supporting a plunger. When urged into action by the trigger, the plunger pushes against the backside of a caulk cartridge, and a stream of hole-plugging caulk spews out the cartridge nozzle.

It is satisfying work. Sometimes I'll be walking around the roof, patroling for fissures, when I spot a surprise gap in the flashing around the exhaust fan. I ease over, remove the nail from nozzle and plug the trouble spot.

My gun and I have just protected my family from unwelcome winter visitors. Who knows what could have happened if this hole in our home had been left to fester? But regardless of the heroic nature of his work, a caulker doesn't brag. He and his gun just plug and patch, then quietly move on to the next fissure.

In high caulking season, I prowl around the premises looking for places where trouble could start. Likely spots are the places near door and window frames. That is where cold winds and hungry critters often try to enter the house.

Once I find such a spot that needs plugging, I take my time and try to follow correct caulking procedure. First I wipe the hole with cloth. Then I gingerly remove the nail plug from my gun's nozzle. Next I size up the job and figure out whether it is a "push" or "pull" job.

Basically the difference between the two is a difference in shooting styles. There are people who push the caulk gun away from them as they fire, contending that their pushing style puts more caulk in the hole than any other technique.

But pullers, who bring the gun toward them as they fire, contend that their method is the fastest.

Both sides agree you can't change caulking methods in the middle of a gap. If you do, you'll end up with an unsightly lump of caulk in your hole. Besides failing to plug the hole, such a lump is the telltale sign of a crummy caulker.

I use both styles. For deep holes, I push. For small cracks I pull. Before I begin, I take a deep breath. This calms my nerves. Caulking is precise work, and you can get jumpy. Especially early in the caulking season. It takes a few false starts before your caulking form returns.

The tricky part of caulking is that once you pull that trigger, the caulks seems to flow on its own. I find it fascinating to watch caulk flow out of a nozzle. It reminds of free-flowing whipped cream, and symbolizes all that is good and free-flowing in the world. But I gotta be careful. I sit there mesmerized by the beauty of the caulk flow, and before I know it, I am running out of hole.

Halting the caulk flow is like stopping a truck, you have to put the brakes on well in advance.

Frankly I need work on my stopping technique. In the past, I have stopped by pulling the gun's plunger away from the back of the caulk cartridge. In the caulking world, this is the equivalent of of slamming on the brakes. It gets the job done, but there is usually a fair amount of clean-up work required to makes things right.

The other day I read about a new twisting technique. In this maneuver, you stop by pushing the nozzle head into the bead of caulk, then you twist the nozzle sharply and pull it away from the ribbon of caulk. I can't wait to try it.

Stopping is just one of the many fine points to caulking. There is also the question of whether or not you smooth over the applied caulk.

Smoothers say their work gives the caulk a finished look. They often use wet fingers or the moistened back of a spoon to do the deed.

Anti-smoothers say if you have put the ribbon of caulk down correctly, there is no need to touch up your work. Besides, they say, if you smooth too much, the caulk will get too thin, dry and crack.

I'm in both camps. I smooth caulk when I work inside the house, when I caulk around the bathtub. But when I'm on the roof, I simply pull the trigger and let the caulk fall where it may.

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