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Spinning My Tires   is one man's view of the world of cars. Random thoughts, ideas and comments pop up here, all of them related to owning, driving and restoring cars. I've been doing this car thing as long as I can remember, and have enjoyed a great many car-related experiences, some of which I hope to share with you here. And I always have an opinion one way or another. Enjoy.

E-mails are welcomed--if you have thoughts of your own to share, please send them.

Additional Spinning My Tires editorials can be found on the Archives page.


Restoration is Restoration

Iíve decided that restoration is restoration. This old house Iím working on is not really much different than the Century. Theyíve both been used and neglected, they were both built with a modicum of care and precision, and both need unique, often difficult-to-find and expensive replacement parts. Despite the fact that I havenít had more than 5 minutes of free time for 3 months now, I feel like Iím still honing my restoration skills, even though Iím not specifically working on a car. 

I was talking to a friend a few weeks ago, the very guy who taught me everything I know about fixing houses, and mentioned that even though Iím doing this house to make a quick buck, I just donít know how to cut corners. Honestly, doing the job incorrectly, regardless of how much time and money it may save, is impossible for me. A good part of that is simply how this friend taught me to workóheís an artist and a craftsman of the highest order. The rest is my personal philosophy: do every job to the best of your ability. As my father used to say, ďA job well done is its own reward.Ē Thatís true for every aspect of every project Iíve ever tackled.

Thereís a lot of satisfaction in doing a good job. Itís hard to explain unless youíve experienced it, but unless something is right, it haunts me. In three months, this house will be sold and Iíll never set foot in it again. But I have confidence that the next owners will feel that I cared enough to go the extra mile for their house (because this is not my house). There wonít be any problems lurking in the corners waiting for me to cash my check to reveal themselves. Iím spending a lot of extra time (like maybe as much as 25% more time) to make sure everything is right. Thatís just who I am and I donít know any way around that fact.

So even though Iím spending all this extra time, I count it as quality time. Just like when I work on the Buick, I find working on this house soothingóso much so that I plan to leave my desk job and do this full time in the next 12-18 months. Iím honing a lot of my skills, learning a lot about the process and Iím confident that Iíll only get better and faster in the future.

Iíve also decided that restoring stuff is my favorite thing to do. To take something rough and worn, something with little value, and polish it into a gleaming jewel is remarkable. To see the before and after photos are startling, but to watch the process is even more so. Itís incredibly rewarding because of the positive reinforcement offered by having something fresh and new every day. Feedback from passers-by is always positive. Iíll never get tired of hearing, ďWow!Ē

The two are really quite similar, restoring old houses and old restoring cars. Of the two, I think working on houses is the easier simply because it is inherently less precise. If that piece of drywall is ľ inch too short, well, nobody will ever notice. Last night is a good example of the similarity. I was repairing a section of plaster wall that the plumbers had crudely chopped out to gain access to the drain stack. Being an old house, the walls are almost ĺ-inch thick plaster, in two layers. So I have this irregularly-shaped hole, some Ĺ-inch drywall and some crude cutting tools. Suddenly Iím back in the Buickís trunk.

The first thing I do is make some ľ-inch spacers so that the Ĺ-inch drywall will be flush with the surface of the ĺ-inch thick wall. Then I cut the hole to a reasonable size and shape, making sure that the joints all land on studs for support. From the sheet of drywall, I carefully cut a patch to fit and massage it into place by slowly fine-tuning the edges. This is exactly like cutting a patch for your carís steel skin: make a simple opening, careful not to cut any support brackets, make a patch and seamlessly knit it into the whole.

Then I had to finish the surface, just like on the car. Of course I could skip the welding phase (I think trying to weld drywall is probably a bad idea), but I have to smooth the surface. This is when I remember everything Iíve read and been taught about applying body filler to sheet metal: you should always use three coats. Youíll never get it perfect in one pass and more than three coats is just a waste of effort. My first coat of ďmudĒ was rough, just enough to fill in the gaps and get the surface close to flat. Then a lot of sanding *cough*. Then a second coat to get it even closer, then more sanding. Then a final coat to remove any imperfections, and a final light sanding to prepare for paint. Exactly like restoring a car body, albeit requiring less perfection.

So I want to encourage you, if youíre someone who always thinks that jobs are too complicated to try yourself, to try it yourself. Sure, thereís always skill involved, but youíll never develop those skills until you get started, and professionals didnít have any skills when they started, either. I guarantee the rewards will outweigh the difficulty of the task.

Best of all, youíll know itís done right if you do it yourself.

See you next month!

(And thanks to all of you dropping your change in the tip cup and shopping at Eastwood! It definitely makes a difference. In fact, I just got my first check from Eastwood. Though it probably wouldn't even buy me a tank of gas in the Buick, every little bit helps. Thank you!)

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Last modified on 10/07/2005

Thanks, Fidget!