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July 11, 2004

Bodger joy
Posted by Teresa at 04:56 PM * 88 comments

So I have this plate-glass mirror to hang, which in combination with its solid wooden frame weighs about a ton. And since the walls in our new place are lath and plaster, this means I’m trying to locate a stud to which I can fasten my guaranteed-to-support-100-lbs. picture hook.

All the obvious jokes aside*, have you ever noticed that your basic hardware-store studfinder doesn’t work? I swear, they’re more responsive to their own momentum as they move across the wall than they are to the presence of nails underneath the plaster.

After considerable frustration, I took a little rare-earth magnet I had to hand, and glued a long piece of thread to it. I tied the other end to the tip of a screwdriver, and started scrying along the wall. Presently the magnet found a spot it liked and stuck there, quivering. I tried it again, and the magnet found the same spot. I marked it lightly in pencil. Within a few minutes I had the stud mapped.

I feel absurdly triumphant.

Comments on Bodger joy:
#1 ::: John Houghton ::: (view all by) ::: July 11, 2004, 05:32 PM:

Especially cool since you seemed to have used stuff you had hanging around. The electronic studfinders aren't metal seeking, they are looking for density. They work real well with sheetrock, because it is a constant thickness. They don't work with old plaster woodlath because the thickness of the plaster varies because of the squeezethrough. With modern plaster on expanded mesh, they work OK.
The impressive way is to look at the wall and figureout which end it was built from, and measure to find the studs. In really old houses this doesn't work because the lath is set on random wood scraps, not on well spaced studs.
Old woodlath has lots of nails on the studs, so magnetic detection works very well, as you discovered.
My hints for Heloise are:
Cut a little half-moon in the wallpaper with a razorknife where you are going to put a nail or screw, fold the half-moon out of the way and insert the fastener. When it is time to move, fill the hole with spackle, and unfold the wallpaper then glue it down. Invisible repair.
For things not on studs, old plaster doesn't hold up to nails very well. Make nail hole, remove nail, squirt in some thin spackle, and reinsert nail.

#2 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: July 11, 2004, 05:50 PM:


The densitometer stud finders in the deluxe version which will find the pipes and the wiring and suchlike usually have a 'deep scan' mode that does ok -- but only ok -- with lathe and plaster walls. (Well, lathe and plaster walls not possessed of the sulky spirit of something or other; the stuff is often really intractable.)

The slightly trickier version is to put the thing on EM field mode and trace the wires, finding the dips in the wire; the high points are the studs.

Actually fastening stuff to lath and plaster without going through to something structural (the wall with no studs baffled, until removal of electrical boxes, some judicious drilling, and poking about with bright lights revealed that the wall was wallpaper, plaster, lathe, thin strapping, rough sawn oak planks three inches thick. That one would have been easy if we'd known what it was) I wouldn't recommend, unless it's very light, and then I wouldn't use spackle, I'd use polyurethane 'universal adhesive'; I find that no matter what is back there, that will stick it together.

Though you may want to take this with a grain of salt; my last mirror hanging experienced netted me seven years bad luck and an earnest desire to find the Ikea designer responsible for the little plastic wall-buttons alleged to hold up wavy mirrors and make him, her, or it -- I suspect an extremely learned cephalopod -- put the things on a wall that isn't optically flat.

#3 ::: Kelly Saxman ::: (view all by) ::: July 11, 2004, 05:55 PM:

My biggest problem with your basic studfinder (again aside from the obvious, heh) is that they seem to really like insisting that my rings are where I'm most likely to find a 2x4 for hanging a pot rack. (I broke down and had my father do it for me, who managed to do it the very impressive "look at the design of the wall" method John Houghton mentioned.)

And thanks for the suggestion for "things not on studs but in old plaster", John - I've been trying to figure out how to re-hang a picture and a towel rack that both fell; would seem that in addition to old plaster not holding well, it also warps and swells and does other interesting things in humidity (like, say, just slide off the wall one afternoon). Although I'm still contemplating just rehanging everything via picture rail, if I can ever find the appropriate hardware.

#4 ::: DaveHD ::: (view all by) ::: July 11, 2004, 06:08 PM:

In defense of stud-finders, they're made for drywall covered studwalls. Lath and plaster confuse them. Of course, even on drywall you can get false-positives off of pipes and wires. If you're going into a wall, I've learned not to make the first drill at 4:30 on a friday afternoon, 'cause on the weekends it cost $250 bucks just to get the plumber to answer the phone.

I learned the following indisputably effective method to find studs on lath and plaster wall from my father-law (a luthier who hand builds guitars with unerring skill, attention to detail, and exacting craftsmanship) when he helped us hang our 100lb mirror:

Step 1: Measure to the center of the area where you intend to hang the object (you can draw a line if it makes you more comfortable.)

Step 2:Using a 3/16 drill bit, drill into a wall. Chances are you'll poke through the lath into the wall cavity, you'll know when the drill spins freely. If you do...

Step 3: Move the drill laterally 1 1/2 inches and drill again. Repeat, alternating sides from the original hole until the drill catches a stud.

Step 4: If you've got about two feet of wall pretty well perforated without finding your first stud. Find the two holes with the biggest gap between them, you probably just missed. Sooner or later you'll draw good wood.

Step 5: From that point it's pretty easy. Studs are (usually) 16" apart (the older a house, the less true this becomes.) Just measure over to the stud nearest where you want to hang the second bracket. Refine aim using the method described above.

Don't fret that the wall looks like the backdrop at a firing range, 'cause after all, you're hanging a big frickin' mirror over the holes.

Tomorrow's helpful home hints: Plastering.

#5 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: July 11, 2004, 06:20 PM:

Kelly --

Plaster has a working life; fairly standard Eastern NorAm oxblood and horsehair plaster is good for somewhere between eighty and a hundred and ten years, and then it just crumbles.

(If you've ever heard the phrase structural wallpaper, this is very probably why. It's holding the plaster on the wall.)

There are some Italian Renaisance plasters that are still doing very well; commercial efforts to reconstruct the reciepe have produced some neat stuff.

#6 ::: Claude Muncey ::: (view all by) ::: July 11, 2004, 06:28 PM:

My time doing remodeling work to stay alive was here in California, so my skills are largely restricted to drywall with the occasional brick or cinderblock wall.

(A previous house of ours was a mixture of conventional framing with redwood -- common in the 1940's around here -- and concrete brick walls covered with plaster. I got good at patching cracks at corners of window frames and we generally hung stuff with adhesive attachments.)

Since construction after say, 1946 or so, was fairly uniform around here, you could generally make certain assumptions safely. We didn't use studfinders, we used small hammers to tap on the wall. You listened for a shift in pitch, or a lack of hollowness to the tone, and deduced the stud pattern based on that. We found that method to work better than the studfinders we tried out.

The rule is three studs to four feet, but we found interesting variations from that in the homes by certain builders. Something I remembered later when buying a house myself.

#7 ::: Phill ::: (view all by) ::: July 11, 2004, 06:53 PM:

Remember the old electrician's trick.

Drill ONE hole, if you do not hit a stud insert a piece of stiffish wire and twirl it arround till you hit the stud.

Of course, best to do this with a plactic insulated piece of wire if you are working in an older house that has peg and ball electricity run in it.

#8 ::: John Houghton ::: (view all by) ::: July 11, 2004, 07:13 PM:

Kelly: Froogle shows lots of results when I searched for "picture molding hooks". If you need the molding itself, most any lumberyard can get it for you as custom millwork. You may need to sketch the profile, but probably not.

#9 ::: Melanie ::: (view all by) ::: July 11, 2004, 07:24 PM:

Boy, does this discussion bring back a bunch of unpleasant memories, including the wall in the bedroom still scarred with the drywall fasterners where I tried to hang shelves on my woodlath walls.

#10 ::: xeger ::: (view all by) ::: July 11, 2004, 07:47 PM:

The level best use that I've found for lathe was making swords as a child. My current abode has an interesting combination of drywall over studs that once held up lathe and plaster. It makes finding studs remarkably unpredictable, and I've gotten used to the 'thunk' method. It's -usually- accurate :)

#11 ::: Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: July 11, 2004, 07:57 PM:

Just a word of caution about old walls and old houses. Beware of the possibility of old gas lines for gaslight that may just have been capped off instead of removed.

We had this problem in our old house in Brooklyn, and eventually had a plumber come out and disconnect everything except for the handful of known gas outlets.

#12 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: July 11, 2004, 08:04 PM:

I did the "stare at the wall until you start seeing through it" thing. I also got in touch with a friend who owns a recalcitrant 19th C. house and asked him how far apart studs are. I also looked up the age of our neighborhood, and tried to find out whether lumber thickness was nominal or actual when it was built. None of this is guaranteed to keep our mirror from crashing to the floor; but if it does, I have the comfort of knowing I did everything I could to keep that from happening.

(I have, by the way, if anyone's interested, been reading The Damned Engineers. The U.S. Corps of Engineers has been cleaning out their remaining copies, and is giving them away to people who ask nicely. Mine arrived just in time to take along on the drive north to Colebrook, so Jim Macdonald and I could read it aloud to each other as we drove.

It's a wonderful story, but it's written in the style of one of those military briefings where the speaker has a long pointer in his hand and is tapping pertinent spots on the map as he speaks. If you're Jim Macdonald, this is a good and familiar expository style. If you're me, you read five or six sentences, then close the book with your finger stuck in to mark your place, and beat yourself several times over the head with the book; then open it again and go on reading.)

John Houghton, I've been spackling/plastering/water puttying (depending on what I had to hand) my nails for years now, ever since my first NYC apt. -- which, come to think of it, was build only a few years later than my current neighborhood.

Graydon -- Trinc hael, thu. Meanwhile: rough-sawn oak planks three inches thick?! Why did anyone bother putting lath-and-plaster over that? ... Never mind. Looking at old construction is an infinite process of wondering why. If my shade is ever called to answer for any of my fixes, it will answer that I have a fetish for over-engineering. The only time I ever got an explanation for an odd piece of work was back on Staten Island, in an 1860s building, where an apparently overdone plastering job at the threshhold turned out to contain a crucifix and various saints' medals. I put them back and spackled them over. They clearly belonged to the house.

As for Ikea -- Ah, well. I'm fond of Ikea in general, though not of their penchant for fiberboard. Do you suppose the walls are flatter in Scandinavia?

Kelly, I strongly favor E-Z anchors -- self-driving, very solid, and you can take them with you when you go. Admittedly, they leave a hole in the wall, but everything does. I'll do a lot to avoid having to use molly bolts. Love may come, and love may go, but molly bolts are forever.

DavidHD, the last-ditch version I know of how to find your studs is to drill one hole, stick a bent coathanger wire through, and feel around until you find the stud. In emergency plumbing situations, a trick I learned from my first NYC landlord (Constantine Paradisis, of glorious memory) is that in a pinch, you can shut off your building's water main by packing dry ice around it. When I asked Costa how he'd known the pipe wouldn't rupture, he said he didn't; but that while the city wouldn't come out on a weekend to restore water to a single building, they would come out to fix a broken water main. Since the building in question was the one I lived in, I couldn't but approve.

Costa was the best landlord I've had to date. It was like having a minor superhero on site. When our building was invaded by a gang of malfeasants (we were living in a rough neighborhood), we phoned Costa to tell him about the invasion, and he told us to bolt our front door and sit tight. Following this, we heard all kinds of interesting noises from the central stairwell. When things seemed to have calmed down, we opened our door and found Costa's younger brother Spiros standing calmly on our floor landing with a metal golf club over his shoulder. "No problem," said Spiros, whose English was okay if not eloquent.

Actually, he didn't say it calmly. He grinned. The Paradisis brothers (Costa, Spiros, and Jimmy who was born in the US) kept a stash of sporting goods leaning against the wall just inside their front door: golf clubs, pool cues, baseball bats, hockey sticks -- nothing threatening, just a lot of recreational equipment. As Costa explained it to me, if you kept gear that was useful only for committing mayhem, the cops would object; but if on the spur of the moment you'd picked up some sports equipment you happened to have lying around, you were in the clear.

Costa was full of these wonderfully logical bits of analysis. I don't know what he's up to these days, but I wish him well.

Did I mention that he'd immigrated from Sparta? Interesting family, that.

Graydon again, I've met horsehair plaster, when the attic area of our house on Staten Island got redone. It was interesting -- the underlying beams, which were spaced on a 13.5" center, turned out to have adze marks on them -- but Patrick had allergic fits like you wouldn't believe while the horsehair plaster was coming down.

The bricks were interesting too. They had lots of clamshells incorporated into them, and were so low-fire that if you left them sitting in water overnight, they'd start to melt.

That house was interesting. My office was in the attic area, and when there was a storm going on I could feel the whole building sway. I also knew whenever someone was coming up the stairs, no matter how quietly they moved, because I could feel the building adjusting to their weight.

Tell me more about this Italian plaster?

#13 ::: Andy Perrin ::: (view all by) ::: July 11, 2004, 08:21 PM:

T wrote: The only time I ever got an explanation for an odd piece of work was back on Staten Island, in an 1860s building, where an apparently overdone plastering job at the threshhold turned out to contain a crucifix and various saints' medals. I put them back and spackled them over. They clearly belonged to the house.

This is fascinating-- do you know if it was a common practice at the time (or for all I know, now)? I come from a Jewish background, so I'm used to mezuzahs, but I've never heard of an "equivalent" (folk?-)Christian custom.

#14 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: July 11, 2004, 08:49 PM:

Teresa --

The short version is that a plaster sculptor got really tired of breaking dropped sculptures and did a lot of research into older plasters plus about twenty years of basement experiements.

The short blurb about the reconstructor/patent holder is here; the commercial (and direly flakely) website refers to the stuff by the trade name geobond.

It's impressive stuff by all reports. I haven't myself handled any.

#15 ::: Scorpio ::: (view all by) ::: July 11, 2004, 10:05 PM:

I'm afraid I did my stud-finding in a lath-and-plaster house by knocking on the walls and listening to the change in tone. It worked well enough that my mirror never fell down, which I suppose is good enough.


#16 ::: Amanda Coppedge ::: (view all by) ::: July 11, 2004, 10:42 PM:

The best thing about a studfinder is that it beeps when held against a person. So home improvements usually begin with me chasing my husband around the house and shrieking "I found a stud! I found a stud!"

#17 ::: xeger ::: (view all by) ::: July 11, 2004, 11:31 PM:

Amanada - what brand do you have? Mine won't find any sort of stud...

#18 ::: Christopher Davis ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2004, 12:28 AM:

I managed to nicely Swiss-cheese a couple walls pulling some Cat 5e wire to get gigabit Ethernet run from the basement to the dormered finished attic.

However, the walls in question were inside closets, so I didn't care too much; they were also pretty easy to patch with spackle and some of that mesh tape stuff.

Getting the wire from the attic crawlspace to the basement, on the other hand, was a pain and a half. I eventually taped a dead AA battery to the end of the wire to give it some heft, and dropped it down alongside the drain vent pipe, wiggling it each time it stuck, until it came out at the other end. I got to do this while crammed into a space just big enough to get into, wearing a hard hat so I wouldn't keep smashing my head against the roof beams every time I moved.

Ah, the joys of an 1870s house. As for walls, the front wall is all balloon-wall construction; when they replaced the windows, they had to build new boxes around the holes before putting in the new windows because the old window frames were, in effect, the studs!

Still, we can walk to work, and that's not to be knocked in Boston with our upcoming transportation chaos during the DNC.

#19 ::: Bob Oldendorf ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2004, 12:59 AM:

TNH: 'I did the "stare at the wall until you start seeing through it" thing.'

Yep, that brings back memories of my 'Zen' method of hanging shelves. I stood studying my kitchen wall for longer than I spent actually drilling the holes.

If you're lucky, sometimes you can read a wall with the help of a strong side light. If you're VERY lucky, a side light will make the location of the studs stand out like ribs under skin.

#20 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2004, 01:03 AM:

It might be apropos here to plug Stewart Brand's _How Buildings Learn._ A wonderful book about architecture, good and bad.

#21 ::: Andrew Brown ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2004, 01:14 AM:

Swedish walls, at any rate, _are_ very flat and smooth, except in the kind of old house that is built of wood very clearly exposed. The first flat I lived in in Sweden, the walls were concrete. There was only one sort of fastener that would go into them at all.

#22 ::: Kate Yule ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2004, 01:49 AM:

The PBS show History Detectives started its newest season with a segment on one of Thomas Edison's many--erhm--"learning experiences": the one-piece cast-concrete house. Although Edison didn't actually get any on the market, someone else did, and they're lived in still. Just think of the joys of making any changes whatsoever to such a structure.

See a brief essay at

We--in our 1913 wood bungalow-- have been planning a kitchen remodel since early March. Tomorrow I meet with the job foreman and learn the anticipated construction schedule. (Whereupon I get to call the asbestos abatement people and arrange to have the floor taken up just-in-time, since the primary contractors don't do no asbestos nohow.) I kept saying I'd do some kind of web diary of the process, but all available time was sucked into the actual process of choosing floor, tile, cabinets etc. After four months of that, the actual demolition and whatnot seems as if it will be an anti-climax. Right? Right? I hear laughter....

#23 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2004, 02:04 AM:

Prefabricated housing in America has a rich and slightly weird history. Most folks are familiar, at least in concept, with the Sears Homes (frame houses sold in kit form), and Buster Keaton got a wonderful two-reeler, "One Week," out of the idea. After WW2, there were enameled-steel-panel prefabs (built by an outfit that made gas stations the same way), designed to be cheap and easy for returning GIs to assemble in their new suburban developments. Only a handful of those survive; they weren't very satisfactory as houses, and most owners moved into a "real" building as soon as they could afford it, with the old place going for scrap, or else reuse as sheds -- or shed patching.

Teresa, didn't I read about your method in THE AMAZING KRESKIN'S GUIDE TO HOME IMPROVEMENT? (It's kind of like "Trading Spaces" hosted by Dr. Strange and Clea.)

Boy, it's a good thing the people I know at Marvel don't answer their phones this late.

#24 ::: Lois Fundis ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2004, 02:24 AM:

The rule is three studs to four feet

Or sixteen inches from stud to stud. Supposedly. This is the current standard, approved by most local building codes, but in practice it's not always hard and fast, even in newer buildings, and varies more in older buildings.

In the house I grew up in, which my grandfather built with his own hands ca. 1928 (he was a carpenter and cabinetmaker by trade), the studs were 14 inches apart. Grandpa wanted that house to last. (It certainly outlasted him; he died in 1940. And his wife, and her second husband, and his son, and two daughters-in-law, and one of his great-grandchildren for that matter.)

Sometimes you can see in the basement or closets -- the access panel for your bathtub plumbing, for example -- how large your studs are and how far apart they are in your building, and so if you find one stud, you can use that as a guide. Safer than the drilling-in-the-wall-and-fishing-with-wire method, though it assumes the measurement is the same all over the building.

#25 ::: Madeline ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2004, 02:42 AM:

I'd never encountered old houses until I came to California... On one hand, character. On the other, lath and plaster. (And one outlet per room. Ai!)

I had a terrible time trying to hang a Sky chair once. A long line of 3/16 holes stitched the ceiling. Wires went up, twirled, hit nothing but studless lumps. Tapping demonstrated only that the plaster varied in density. Was it just that the ceiling floated, supported only by lath? Surely such a thing could not be!

#26 ::: hamletta ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2004, 03:05 AM:

I don't understand all these people saying they can hear the studs behind a plaster-and-lath wall. They are either talking big, or they are moles.

I've never tried the electronic studfinders, because when I was shopping for them, the guys at Home Despot couldn't tell me whether or not they'd be any more effective than the magnetic hard-dick indicator.

I did the tapping thing in my mom's really old house, because the plaster was gone and had been replaced with drywall long ago.

However, one thing that worked in my current house is the magnetic hard-dick indicator on the baseboard. They pounded nails into the studs, or at least at the stud marks. (hehe)

When I was hanging shelves, I made a few miscalculations, because the corner of the house was super-reinforced, but I managed to hang some shelves that haven't gone anywhere in 5 years (though I also substituted 3-inch wood screws).

#27 ::: Dorothy Rothschild ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2004, 06:42 AM:

Thanks to everyone who suggested New York songs - I may have to make this a multi-CD set!

When I get around to doing this, I'll post the final track list in an open thread.

#28 ::: Claude Muncey ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2004, 07:52 AM:

Or sixteen inches from stud to stud. Supposedly. This is the current standard, approved by most local building codes, but in practice it's not always hard and fast, even in newer buildings, and varies more in older buildings.

Too true, as I discovered -- I came across some houses with 18in widths. Not much one can do about it as a remodeler besides a) remembering that the building inspector will not catch everything, and b) deciding to never buy a house built by the developer that tended to cheat that way, as they will cheat other ways as well.

Trivia note: three studs to four feet is a slightly more reliable guide than 16 inches, as the designs used in many tract homes over the past 30+ years use a system of four foot modules, with a lot of building materials sized to match.

#29 ::: Amanda Coppedge ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2004, 08:23 AM:

Xeger--maybe it only works on my husband?

I can't remember the brand name. It was cheap, purchased from the Home Despot, and I believe it has an "O" somewhere in its name. Olio? Sanrio? Ryobi! I think that's it.

#30 ::: Robert L ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2004, 09:52 AM:

I lived for a month in a poured-concrete house in upstate NY. It was not built all at one time but rather gradually, over a period of years, wings were added on. One thing that was remarkable about it, and rather nice, was how incredibly soundproof the interior walls were. You would never know whether there was anyone even in the next room. It would be ideal for small apartments...

#31 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2004, 11:13 AM:

I spent June 1952 through July 1968 in a rent-controlled corner apartment of a 10-storey building built in Brooklyn in 1888. It was advertised as "the first skyscraper in Brooklyn" and was a luxury hotel. It was built to high standards, but eccentrically, as it was sui generis. There was an octagonal tower running up one corner, our corner, which meant an octagonal living room with 5 windows looking out, at different angles, to the East River and Manhattan.

Just to mention two anecdotes telegraphically, as per stud-finding and the like:

Once I was standing in the hallway, outside the kitchen, leaning with one hand against a square panel while I fiddled with a recalcitrant light fixture on the ceiling. Suddenly, the panel shattered. It was an interior glass window, painted over. I fell through the broken glass (not quite the way seen in the standard movie/TV shot) and found myself surrounded by a thousand china cats on shelves. I'd fallen into a neighbor's apartment. My mother deduced that these were once halves of the same 4-bedroom suite, and this window was for handing food through, from cook to butler.

My brothers and I did extensive exploration and mapping of a network of underground tunnels, starting at our building's basement and running hundreds of feet in all direction, and sometimes much more. There were originally tunnels running all the way down to dockside, as part of the escaped slave underground railway, so I was told by local historians. One day we broke open a door that must have been closed for many decades. To our astonishment, we found a 10-storey spiral staircase, totally unconnected to the one (marble steps) that we'd used forever. We deduced that this one was used only by The Help, and shut down when the building was converted from hotel to apartments. The steps were a centimeter deep in dust. The feeling was akin to the dreams (I saw this once in a Fantasy story that I can't identify) of discovering a staircase, that you somehow never noticed before, from your childhood bedroom, up into some pseudoheaven over-the-rainbow.

My brother made a film about the building, for his degree at University of Michigan, but, alas, all copies are lost.

An unrelated Film treatment: "Only the Dead Know Brooklyn" -- a touring rock & roll band explores Green-Wood cemetery, and finds an ancient and uncanny mystery, in B-Flat.

#32 ::: Columbine ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2004, 11:44 AM:

This house I'm in dates from 1910. I came to Boston from Baton Rouge, where unless you are living at the tiny original center of town, odds are very good your house was built after 1950 - the town didn't start to spread until then. This thread has reminded me of all the various culture shocks working on this house has given me - dead gaslight lines, random lath, plaster which has hit the end of its life and when you pull the wallpaper you get a handful of sand, exposed knob-and-tube wiring in the attic, et cetera. Very good. I like knowing that others have gone before me and faced the same tribulations.

One thing that hasn't been mentioned here, and I know you're all smart people so it's probably not needed, but even so: My excellent guide (Renovation: a Complete Guide, by Michael Litchfield, 2nd ed, softcover), which I got because it seemed to be one of the few that deals specifically with old-house problems, says GET A TETANUS SHOT in italics as soon as page 4 and repeats it in several other places. When I told various renovation-savvy friends about the house, they immediately gave me the same advice. I pass it on to you.

#33 ::: Skwid ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2004, 12:03 PM:
Graydon wrote: Though you may want to take this with a grain of salt; my last mirror hanging experienced netted me seven years bad luck and an earnest desire to find the Ikea designer responsible for the little plastic wall-buttons alleged to hold up wavy mirrors and make him, her, or it -- I suspect an extremely learned cephalopod -- put the things on a wall that isn't optically flat.
Wasn't me...I promise!
#34 ::: Yoon Ha Lee ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2004, 12:14 PM:

TNH: I have, by the way, if anyone's interested, been reading The Damned Engineers. The U.S. Corps of Engineers has been cleaning out their remaining copies, and is giving them away to people who ask nicely....

Thank you for mentioning this! I went to and lo! they listed books for the requesting. I just popped a request in the mailbox two minutes ago. Oh, this makes me happy, even if I am no engineer.

Of course, at this rate, I may never be able to justify going to the library and checking out books ever again. But it's a happy dilemma.

#35 ::: Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2004, 01:21 PM:

A couple of years ago, I was staying with an architect in Berlin (I was taking a language course) who was trying to find American partners to sell a French modular-concrete construction system for homes. It seemed pretty neat, with modular forms for just about any building part.

He didn't quite get it when I tried to explain that Americans really like their frame homes because we almost always move walls around or add on or do other things that makes concrete impractical. Plus concrete is more expensive than it should be here due to *ahem* arbitrary distribution considerations.

Euros, on the other hand, seem to favor concrete, as well as metal roll-up window gates. Maybe having tanks rumble through every couple of decades has something to do with it.

BTW - I had a college friend who had a concrete house in Hollis, Queens. He swore by it, because his family never had to do much to maintain it.

#36 ::: John Houghton ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2004, 02:23 PM:

European construction standards are based on different assumptions and rules. They remember city destroying fires, they've had to deal with lumber being expensive and scarce. A few years ago I saw a fairly small house being built in the Swiss alps. With a tower crane (a small version of the cranes we use to build skyscrapers) sticking up out of the house. Masonry construction is made much easier if you don't have to manhandle the material up stairs. When there is no offstreet place to put a truck, you need to unload it very quickly.

#37 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2004, 02:33 PM:

Yoon Ha,

I am feeling like a frustrated idiot, but I can't find the information on book requests you referred to.


#38 ::: Keith ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2004, 03:07 PM:

Most folks are familiar, at least in concept, with the Sears Homes.

There is one of these houses in Savannah, GA where I live. it's lovely, even if the man who built it did put all the windows in upside down.

#39 ::: John Houghton ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2004, 03:17 PM:

On next week's episode, St. Teresa MacGyver has a drain clogged with mushrooms (of all things), and in searching for an improvised drain auger it heard to mutter: "Bodger, bodger, bodger, bodger, bodger, bodger, bodger, bodger, its a Snake!"

#40 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2004, 03:20 PM:

Terry, the URL for the publications section is:

The section they're talking about is the Depot Publications--they also have quite a few available on-line.

#41 ::: Andy Perrin ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2004, 03:34 PM:


But that leaves us with another sense, the more common one (at least in Britain and Australia) of an incompetent mender of things, which Americans and some British people may prefer to see spelled botcher. In both spellings this comes from the Middle English bocchen, which had a sense of repairing or patching. It could be significant that in medieval times it was a neutral term that had no associations with doing a job badly.

And it's fun to say. Bodger, bodger, bodger, ...

#42 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2004, 05:04 PM:

Hmm. Andy, that makes me wonder if 'botch' is another cognate.

#43 ::: Andy Perrin ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2004, 05:21 PM:

Xopher: Looks like it. The OED has this to say:

bodge, v.

[An altered form of BOTCH v.; cf. grudge from grutch.]

#44 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2004, 06:42 PM:

"cf. grudge from grutch"

Ah. That would explain the O.E. "grutch madge," then.

Elsewhere on the bodging front, not that anyone who wants this information probably needs to be given it, but Discovery Science (one of their high-number cable channels) does rerun "Scrapheap Challenge" Thursday nights. And if you get that particular block, History International has the spectacularly cool "Time Team" on Wednesdays, though there are disappointingly few episodes -- I seem to have accumulated the entire run on tape.

#45 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2004, 08:54 PM:

DaveHD: why such a big drill? I found a smaller one quite effective when I was putting up shelving supports, which do \not/ cover missed holes (although I drilled just above the baseboard to make them less conspicuous); not nearly as elegant a solution as Teresa's, although I doubt I have a rare-earth magnet (and certainly couldn't have found one so soon after moving if I had).

Lois: 14" is better than 16" if you're actually measuring center-to-center, which 16" usually is, instead of space-between. But your grandfather probably got more advantage from dimensional lumber (when a 2x4 really was 2"x4"); our house, built in 1940, is probably in the last building spurt in Boston to have this. The studs for the abovementioned shelves were on ~12" centers, but it was a tight spot so may not be typical.

#46 ::: julia ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2004, 09:14 PM:

You go you! The world belongs to the improvisors (does this mean the pizza mirror survived?)

#47 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2004, 11:01 PM:

Julia, it's the pizza mirror we're talking about here.

Everybody else: Julia packaged the plate-glass mirror for moving by cushioning it with the pizza boxes left over from our food breaks. She also cushioned some breakables by packing bagels in around them, which hardened into shape at the usual rate.

Bodger is to engineer as jam band is to symphony orchestra.

#48 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little ::: (view all by) ::: July 13, 2004, 12:12 AM:


I had a terrible time trying to hang a Sky chair once. A long line of 3/16 holes stitched the ceiling. Wires went up, twirled, hit nothing but studless lumps. Tapping demonstrated only that the plaster varied in density. Was it just that the ceiling floated, supported only by lath? Surely such a thing could not be!

Did you ever succeed at this endeavor? If so, how? I would very much like to hang my Sky Chair inside (rather than roll it up and stuff it in a closet) when the weather outside makes sitting on the balcony unpleasant. But so far I haven't dared, fearing results much as you mention. I'm living in a fairly recent (70s i think) condominium unit, so things ought to be to some sort of standard...

#49 ::: Madeleine Robins ::: (view all by) ::: July 13, 2004, 12:51 AM:

I tried to hang a Sky Chair in my room at my father's house (I should note that my father's house is, quite literally, a barn; the rafters and joists all date from the mid 1800s) and had no luck. Or rather, locating a nice sturdy overhead beam was no problem, but getting the chair to stay installed was. Once my kids climbed in and (inevitably) turned the chair around, the thing unscrewed itself immediately, depositing the Young, with much gnashing of teeth, on the floor, lightly sprinkled with saw dust.

I'm sure there's a way to hang one permanently indoors, but I haven't yet found it.

#50 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: July 13, 2004, 05:11 AM:

Running a bolt through the beam, and then securing it with a lock washer would probably reduce the tendency to unscrewing, as would rigging a swivelling bolt for the attachment point.


#51 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: July 13, 2004, 08:53 AM:

Swivel bolt was what came to my mind when I read that. It's ... um ... a sort of two-part thingy where one part gets fastened to [whatever], and the other part can spin freely without affecting the fastening.

I have a Sputnik-ish rotating coat hook from Ikea that fastens to the wall. When I turn it, looking for one jacket amongst the many, I have to always remember to turn it in the right direction. If I give it too many turns in the wrong direction, its head unscrews and falls off, depositing all the jackets and scarves on the floor. On the bright side, the clothes cushion its fall, so you can just retrieve it and screw it back onto its fitting.

#52 ::: Spam deleted ::: (view all by) ::: July 13, 2004, 09:30 AM:

Spam from

#53 ::: Janet Brennan Croft ::: (view all by) ::: July 13, 2004, 09:31 AM:

I miss Ikea...I used to live in Pittsburgh, and bought tons of their Ivar bookcase components, but now my closest Ikea is in Houston. But there's one a-building in Dallas, yay!

#54 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: July 13, 2004, 11:39 AM:

Janet Brennan Croft,

So, how much is IKEA? Here's a (admittedly useless) mathematical answer. Skip this posting if you hate Math.

We computer IKEA base 36, where the "digits" are 0,1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,A=10,B=11,C=12,D=13,E=14,F=15,G=16,H=17,I=18,J=19,K=20... This gives us IKEA =

(18 * (36 ** 3)) + (20 * (36 ** 2)) + (14 * 36) + 10 = 866,242

where Google's calculator likes "*" for multiplications and "**" for raising to a power.

In fact, according to The Base-N Calculator

866242 (Base-10) =
Base-2 to Base-36 Conversions
Base Value
Base-2 11010011011111000010
Base-3 1122000021001
Base-4 3103133002
Base-5 210204432
Base-6 30322214
Base-7 10235326
Base-8 3233702
Base-9 1560231
Base-10 866242
Base-11 541903
Base-12 35936A
Base-13 244390
Base-14 187986
Base-15 1219E7
Base-16 D37C2
Base-17 A6567
Base-18 849AA
Base-19 6C5AD
Base-20 585C2
Base-21 49B5D
Base-22 3F7GE
Base-23 324BG
Base-24 2EFLA
Base-25 25AOH
Base-26 1N7B0
Base-27 1H071
Base-28 1BCP6
Base-29 16F0C
Base-30 122EM
Base-31 T2C9
Base-32 QDU2
Base-33 O3EP
Base-34 M1BO
Base-35 K74R
Base-36 IKEA

CROFT, by the same method, base 36, is:

12 * (36 ** 4)) + (27 * (36 ** 3)) + (24 * (36 ** 2)) + (15 * 36) + 29 = 21,446,777

Oddly, to computer geeks, 21,446,777 base 16 (Hexadecimal) = 1474079. What's odd is that hexidecimal numbers often have A=10,B=11,C=12,D=13,E=14,F=15 in them, but 1474079 has no such letters. Computer folks like to make words spelled only with ABCDEF for fun.

I admit, this is not fun to non-math people, but I'd thought, in the interest of cultural tolerance, to give you a flavor.

Some mathophils will now waste more time with that Base-N Calculator...

#55 ::: Dan Hoey ::: (view all by) ::: July 13, 2004, 11:59 AM:

I'm sure there's a way to hang one permanently indoors, but I haven't yet found it.

Sprinkler pipe?

#56 ::: Madeleine Robins ::: (view all by) ::: July 13, 2004, 12:06 PM:

>Sprinkler pipe?

Yes, a swivel bolt would work. Of course, now we've got tenants in the house, and the question is moot. But we brought the Sky Chair out here with us, I think. Perhaps we'll find somewhere to hang it here.

We have huge quantities of IKEA stuff around here, but currently I'm holding a grudge because they discontinued the Billy Bookcases in medium brown, which of course is he color that all my other IKEA bookcases are in. It's a plot.

#57 ::: xeger ::: (view all by) ::: July 13, 2004, 12:30 PM:

Madeleine -

I'm wondering what's with the colours that IKEA's been choosing lately too. They seem to be based on "matches nothing", "clashes with everything" and "what were you thinking???".

Speaking of hanging things from the ceiling, does the collective wisdom have any thoughts about hanging hamock chairs from trees? The thought of putting huge eyehooks into the tree twitches me badly - but getting a rope into the tree would be entertainment for all viewers.

#58 ::: John Houghton ::: (view all by) ::: July 13, 2004, 12:41 PM:

Trees usually cope with eyebolts quite well. However, I can't think of any tree that you can't just loop a rope a couple of times around the trunk to hold up a hammock. For a tree with fragile bark (white birch, forex) the bolt would be preferable.

#59 ::: Bill Higgins-- Beam Jockey ::: (view all by) ::: July 13, 2004, 01:54 PM:

John M. Ford writes:
Prefabricated housing in America has a rich and slightly weird history. Most folks are familiar, at least in concept, with the Sears Homes (frame houses sold in kit form), and Buster Keaton got a wonderful two-reeler, "One Week," out of the idea.

Speaking of prefab homes, the U.S. stamp commemorating the inventor of the Geodesic Dome and the somewhat less popular Dymaxion House came out yesterday.

I heard him lecture once. He used English words, mostly, but I can confirm that he didn't use 'em the way the rest of us did.

As I understand it, the Dymaxion House went like this:

A zeppelin shows up. It drops a bomb. Concrete is poured into the crater. The zeppelin plants the central mast, from which the House unfolds like an intricate duralumin flower.

I would not be surprised to learn that Mike Ford knows more of these matters than I do.

The thirty-seven-center reproduces Boris Artzybasheff's 1964 painting of Bucky-Fuller-as-domehead, which is, for my money, the greatest cover ever to appear on Time, the Weekly Newsmagazine.

#60 ::: Janet Brennan Croft ::: (view all by) ::: July 13, 2004, 02:07 PM:

Well, Jonathan, glad I could provide you a few minutes of entertainment... So, is the deep signifigance of these numbers that I should immediately make a pilgrimage to Houston and spend $21,466.77 and a fraction at Ikea? And wouldn't they like that!

#61 ::: Madeleine Robins ::: (view all by) ::: July 13, 2004, 03:09 PM:

I grew up with hammocks, indoor and out. Always a large eyebolt, with an S hook attached to another S hook attached to the chain in the hammock. The trees never seemed to blink about it--forty years later, the eyebolts are still in place.

The rope hammock, in particular, was essentially the babysitter when we were small: throw us in and we could not generally get out on our own (it is, of course, a mercy that niether my brother nor I was strangled in the cords of the hammock). When we got large enough to get out on our own, we then wanted to get back in again and swing. An excellent device.

#62 ::: Michael ::: (view all by) ::: July 13, 2004, 03:22 PM:

All this talk of old houses is making me jumpy. Our current old(ish) house in Bloomington has a mold problem, which in combination with our mold-allergic son and our growing suspicions of mold sensitivity in the rest of the family, has basically forced us to the conclusion that we have to abandon the house entirely. And Bloomington. And heck, why not Indiana while we're at it? They vote Nazi here anyway.

But I'm never ever ever going to build with organic materials again. From here on out it's all concrete, stone, and tile for me. Works in Europe, and it works in Puerto Rico, which is where we're going. (In Puerto Rico, they build with concrete because of this problem they have with wooden construction blowing away every ten or twenty years.) After my discovery of a teeny little leak and the hueueuege (roughly eight feet by three) patch of rotten-bread-like mold it made on the inside of the drywall, I've come to the conclusion that it's just damn well tempting fate to use organics.

Except, I suppose, polyester laminates and hardwood surfacing and trim. I could go with those. But whew, mold is just no joke at all. Speaking of which: 1,058,305. Neat toy.

#63 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 13, 2004, 03:30 PM:

I got rid of all my rugs and carpets when I moved to my new place in my new building, after living in a semi-basement. I had asthma the whole time I lived there (but also when I lived in a Mansard Roof with the rugs but no carpets).

I haven't used, or even carried, my inhaler in a couple of years now. New building; hardwood floors; no rugs, no carpets, no drapes: no asthma.

#64 ::: Allen Baum ::: (view all by) ::: July 13, 2004, 04:17 PM:

I am feeling very inadequate at the moment.
I don't think I could find a rare earth magnet.
And, if I could, I couldn't find one just after I moved.
How does one know that a magnet is rare?

Finding studs:
I have a stud finder. It sometimes works great, and sometimes, uh, doesn't.
I have made a lot of holes in walls, and its a lot more work to patch than try to get it right the first time. This is an attitude that has taken many years to acquire, and it didn't come easily.

I usually make a lot of measurements to be really, really sure, marking the studs that it has allegedly found on either side, and the vertically, just to make sure you didn't find something else, like diagonal bracing.
Or pipes.
Or wires.
Or fire blocking.
Or crucifixes (crucifi?).
I try to make sure that the studs on either side are 16" away, just as a double check - unless I'm close to a corner, door or window, when all bets are off.

My stud find has a bar of LEDs that moves up as it encounters - something, and then moves down as it leaves it behind. On a good day, those two points are 1 1/2" apart - but infrequently not.
I usually move it across the stud-like object both from left-to-right and back, marking both start and endpoints, and splitting the difference.

When I'm finished with all that, I attempt to take all the skin off my knuckles by knocking the wall, trying to se if where it sounds the best (and hurts the worst), is where I think a stud it.

Concrete buildings and finding studs:
In California - we don't build with concrete much. Earthquakes and concrete (not to mention brick and mortar) aren't particularly complementary, though reinforcement mostly helps.
Earthquakes make finding studs even more important. One doesn't put up a bookshelf (much less - shudder- put books on the shelves) here without strapping the bookshelf very securely to a wall - into a stud - using something other than a deck/drywall screw (which tend to shatter under shear stress). (We also don't tend to put bookshelves behind/above beds, where the books might come crash down like a ton of, uh, books on sleepers.)

This is trickier than it sounds; if you screw it into the wall, and then put books on the shelves, you may find that the shelves will dig into the carpet, bending the lovely straight screw that you just
spent all the work screwing to your hard to find stud.

Living in California does give a skewed sense of safety. When we moved to Cambridge, we walked on the outside of the sidewalk (==pavement if you're English) closest to the street because we couldn't get ourselves to believe that all those multi-hundred year old brick buildings wouldn't just start tumbling down at any moment. We had an American friend that almost bought a flat in London, and he talked to someone living in the building, who pointed out that the building appeared to be held by gravity and because it was leaning againt the one next door, and demonstrating that this was true by scraping mortar out from between some brick with his finger.

#65 ::: Paula Helm Murray ::: (view all by) ::: July 13, 2004, 04:51 PM:

We had to give up and use the old dowel shelves on either side of our fireplace. Either the backing is rock, there's a sheet of steel/hard metal back there or the oak is 1912 case-hardened. I used the line where they attached the paneling to whatever is back there, but when I attempted to drill in screws for a bracket shelf set, I first I broke one drill bit and two screws in place, then one broke and went shooting past my head. I took that as a sign. Stop before you put your eye out.

We use the shelves now for 3d art, the solid bottom shelf holds big coffee-table books.... we've enough bookcases for now though. In other rooms.

#66 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: July 13, 2004, 05:00 PM:


You are the first to provably check out that web toy.

For the rest of you, Michael has discovered that

1,058,305 (Base 36) = MOLD

Hereafter, cryptic numbers are either this toy, an attempt to drive General Ashcroft crazy by making it seem that all Making Light people are crypographers, or something else.

#67 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 13, 2004, 05:19 PM:

Or crucifixes (crucifi?).

Crucifices. I think. But 'crucifixes' is more common.

#68 ::: Jon H ::: (view all by) ::: July 13, 2004, 10:52 PM:

From 95-97 I owned an old house in Cincinnati (or a smal fraction of it, technically), which I'm pretty sure was one of those Sears-style kit homes.

At least, I found a near-identical design in one of those vintage kit-house catalog reprints you can find at bookstores. There are a number of such catalogs.

A friend of mine in High School lived in one of those modular sheetmetal homes. Damn, was it ugly. When new, it probably looked like something from the Buck Rogers TV series. It was pretty rundown by the time I saw it. It seemed a bit of being in a big white filing cabinet.

#69 ::: Ulrika ::: (view all by) ::: July 13, 2004, 11:08 PM:

Yeah, 'bodger' was new to me, too. Seems like it ought to maybe relates to 'kludge' somehow, although that might make one who kludges sometimes a clutcher, by analogy.

And now, of course, I have the earworm, and keep wondering, if substitute 'bodger' for 'badger,' what should I substitute for 'mushroom' and 'snake'?

monster! monster!
spiiiiiiiiike, ooohhh, spiiiiiike...

#70 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: July 14, 2004, 02:03 AM:

Jon, it certainly might have been a Sears home (no way of knowing without seeing it), but in addition to the kits, there were a great many small houses built in the first third of the last century from commercially available plans, mostly in the "craftsman" style (no connection with the Sears Craftsman brand). I have two sets of friends who lived respectively in Minneapolis and Staten Island (though both have moved) whose houses had identical plans, excepting only that the Minneapolis house had a fully enclosed porch, for probably obvious reasons.

There's obviously a book in this. Fortunately, for once it's somebody else's book.

And, Ulrika, Elise (and doubtless many others as well) beat you to that one. It's somewhere aways back in her LiveJournal.

#71 ::: Michael ::: (view all by) ::: July 14, 2004, 02:18 AM:

Speaking of quasi-prefab homes -- I grew up in a log cabin kit which my father built in 1975 or so. With wood heat. My father was a Mother Earth News junkie with a 9-to-5 in the auto industry, very typical Indiana lifestyle.

So I'm one of the few people my age I know who actually had to split and carry wood in the winter, or freeze. And get up at 3 AM to stoke the fire. Well, my mother did that part. And when they divorced, it was about three weeks before my mother had central gas heating installed. :-)

Xopher: I hear you, on the asthma. We're nowhere near that poorly off (except possibly for my son, who has been diagnosed with benign proteinuria and of whom we have to wonder, how benign can it be, will it get worse, and how connected is it with the mold?) Our house actually has hardwood floors, making the dust problem rather easily dealt with (he's also allergic to dust) -- but a block cellar, old water damage in the bathroom, and until last week a wooden deck.

The wooden deck proved .. well, it would have been an interesting biological experiment if it had been somewhere other than nailed to my house. Oh, and after removal, it was possible to see why you don't nail a deck to your house. Fortunately, I was able to have that seven feet of sill plate replaced for only $600.

Organics are simply not suitable building materials. If you build with organics, things will eat your house.

I, for one, welcome our new concrete overlords.

#72 ::: Lois Fundis ::: (view all by) ::: July 14, 2004, 10:55 AM:

... it certainly might have been a Sears home (no way of knowing without seeing it) ... I have two sets of friends who lived respectively in Minneapolis and Staten Island (though both have moved) whose houses had identical plans, excepting only that the Minneapolis house had a fully enclosed porch, for probably obvious reasons.

There's obviously a book in this. Fortunately, for once it's somebody else's book.

Among others, Dover Publications has some books about old house plans and one on Aladdin Houses, Aladdin being another mail-order house-kit company popular in the early 20th century (their tag-line was "built in a day"). These could help you track down your friends' houses origin, if you were so inclined, Mike. I believe there are similar books available about the Sears houses.

My sister and her husband have an Aladdin house, and we were able to find it in the Dover book, which is a reprint of their 1917 catalog. ("Hey, look, that's my pantry cupboard!") We knew it was an Aladdin house because it had the original front door, complete with door-knocker with the Aladdin logo, when they moved in.

#73 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: July 14, 2004, 11:44 AM:

Lois, the two houses in question were definitely not kit homes -- they had, however, clearly been built to a Standard Plan. I'm not, at least this particular afternoon, that interested in seeing the plan source -- someone else lives in the New York house and the one here no longer exists.

Or maybe there was, in fact, only one house, and paratemporal bilocation finally caught up with it. I understand there was a major outbreak of this in the early Nineties, involving multiple iterations of "designer original" dresses, and this led directly to the hastily created vogue ("From the Publishers of Analog Science Fiction!" Well, not anymore...) for visible lingerie, just in case, you know.

#74 ::: Julia Jones ::: (view all by) ::: July 14, 2004, 01:44 PM:

Living here in lovely Silicon Valley, only a few miles from the San Andreas fault, my rational mind knows perfectly well why the house is built of wood.

But it took a couple of years before the part of my brain that remembers what bushfires look like stopped running around gibbering about "This house is built of wood! Wood! Wood *burns*! And there's a tree next door tall enough to fall on this house and it's a resinous tree!"

At least the tree is a redwood, which I know rationally isn't actually going to be a problem. If it was a eucalypt, of which there are plenty in the city, my *rational* mind would be running around gibbering every time the weather was hot enough that I could smell the eucalypt oil hanging in the air.

#75 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: July 14, 2004, 04:59 PM:


Classic hardwood stick construction. Must sell for family reasons. Slight wind damage. Email

#76 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: July 14, 2004, 05:24 PM:

And if the Big Bad Wolf had been a coyote, he would have tried the Acme Earthquake Pills...

#77 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: July 14, 2004, 06:28 PM:

House built of matchsticks by hotheaded obsessive owner for sale. Complete with moat containing ship-in-a-bottle. I must be a fuel to sell...

Building things from kits? I offer the following original:

Once there was a Pangolin
who tried to build a mandolin.
He bought a kit
then threw a fit;
he couldn't get the handle in.

#78 ::: Michael ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2004, 05:03 AM:

On identical plans -- a couple of years back I visited some cave or another here in Indiana and had a quite vertiginous experience when I realized that their store, a log cabin kit, was identical to the house I grew up in, except that they had it facing the other way, that is, north was south and vice versa. The cashier was in what I considered the kitchen. Weird.

#79 ::: Jon H ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2004, 01:13 PM:

John M. Ford: "Jon, it certainly might have been a Sears home (no way of knowing without seeing it), but in addition to the kits, there were a great many small houses built in the first third of the last century from commercially available plans, mostly in the "craftsman" style (no connection with the Sears Craftsman brand). I have two sets of friends who lived respectively in Minneapolis and Staten Island (though both have moved) whose houses had identical plans, excepting only that the Minneapolis house had a fully enclosed porch, for probably obvious reasons."

This was in Cincinnati, in an older neighborhood (with gaslit streetlamps). The house was a stucco cottagey design, built in 1927.

I'm really not certain if it was a kit, or just from commonly used plans.

#80 ::: Kate Yule ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2004, 02:50 PM:

Something about the story of the 3 Little Pigs lends itself nicely to demented revisionism. The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs by Jon Scieszka & Lane Smith, of course. There's The Three Little Wolves and the Big Bad Pig, by E. Trivizas with pictures by Helen Oxenbury. Note the way the teapot always survives.

But my favorite is David Wiesner's The Three Pigs, in which the wolf blows the pigs right off the page and into a meta-story.

#81 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2004, 09:30 AM:

So that was what the visible lingerie thing was about! Makes perfect sense.

#82 ::: PiscusFiche ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2004, 10:10 AM:

The conversation on pre-fab houses and the geodesic domes reminded me of Roger Dean's Home for Life houses--they are modular pods that you could berm easily--and which look rather like hobbit holes. (There's also some guy who is trying to use concrete tubing to make serviceable hobbit holes for people to actually live in.)

Anyway, links here and so on:

Home for Life pics

Underground homes, treehouses, hobbit holes, etc

More homes for life info on their display home in England - Check out the concepts for their "village". It's a little too ElfQuesty for my personal aesthetic, but it's still pretty funky.

#83 ::: xeger ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2004, 11:15 AM:

PiscusFiche -

The homes for life do look interesting - rather an extension on the earthships - although I'm not sure that I'd want to live in one either.

There's a show on the telly called 'Extreme Homes' that often features interesting designs, and is worth a watch now and again.

#84 ::: Rob Rusick spots old link spam ::: (view all by) ::: February 21, 2009, 12:22 PM:

Andrew @52: I've never seen a site with so many comments! I'm glad you got it to work.

A one-line, out-of-context comment; the only one ever made by 'Andrew'.

#85 ::: Mary Aileen disagrees ::: (view all by) ::: February 21, 2009, 01:11 PM:

It's in context to the original post, although the discussion had drifted by then. Also, the link name looks like a blog not a commercial site (although I admit I didn't follow it to see for sure).

#86 ::: siriosa ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2011, 03:09 AM:

We are seriously considering knocking down the garage and building a Tiny House (on wheels!) where it now stands.

And Teresa, back to the original brilliant makeshift: I hereby crown you Queen of the Workaround.

#87 ::: Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2011, 07:23 PM:

The obvious joke about stud finders, of course, is detecting the metal on somebody's zipper and saying "Yes, that guy's a stud"

#88 ::: Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2011, 07:24 PM:

The obvious joke about stud finders, of course, is detecting the metal on somebody's zipper and saying "Yes, that guy's a stud"

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