Does it ever go as planned?


Been working on a fence for the past couple of days.

Had to. A post snapped during an extremely windy storm. Found it toppled into the driveway, along with the four rails (two from each side). While looking over the damage, I found a second post that had snapped but not toppled.

Two posts to replace.

As most people that have wooden fences understand, by snapped I equally mean broken and rotted and other assorted words of similar intent. When it comes to do-it-yourself repair projects, perhaps nothing causes as many moments of prayer and apprehension as the posts of a wooden fence.

Digging into the ground is a hideous thing. For most projects—such as posts for fences and footings for decks—we usually find the endeavors providing a minimum of two to three feet needed (and often forty or more inches, depending on the project and the particulars of local building codes). It never fails… Murphy would have a field day here… the x-marks-the-spot location for any hole is always where the biggest rocks reside about ten to twenty inches down. And that’s just the actual digging…

Are you concerned about what’s under the ground? Many homes have sprinkler systems. Many homes have electrical wiring headed out to lights and alarms and such. Quick summary… there’s a really good chance you should be concerned before you pick up the shovel.

In my case, one of the big challenges was that I had to find appropriate posts. I thought I had been quite fortunate when I spotted the right look in the very first store. But, nope, the holes for mounting the railings were off by about six inches.

We could go on, but I think most of you are following along and have a nicely developed sense of the project and hazards. Some things concern you… some things don’t… get the materials and get going. (In other words, when it comes to checklists, despite what we know we should do, everyone does not turn off the electricity before beginning the work.)

More to the point for me and my thoughts here, the idea is that a best-case/worst-case set of scenarios begins to develop.

Fence post replacement? Well, I could get started, find that the old post is crumbling in the ground and fairly easy to clear. It’s just a matter of scooping out the fragments and sliding the new post into place. Easy. Or, I could get started, and find headaches after headache, and… you already know where this is going…

In both places, the only weak spot on the posts was where they snapped. Nothing was easy to remove. But the shape of the breaks also left no grip, so there was no way I was going to be able to pull it out, or attach something to it and use a vehicle to pull stuff out. Plus, the wood being solid meant there was an obstacle in the middle of the hole, and I couldn’t use any large tools. I was reaching into the holes with my hands, a trowel and assorted small gardening tools. (Lots of fun!)

The true decision-time test was when I reached the cement.

Yup, in one of the holes the base of the post had been cemented in place. And that discovery was when I went into the garage and broke out the chainsaw.

(The chainsaw is not a subtle tool. Crap just got serious when the chainsaw comes out as the problem solver.)

Suffice to say about the fence, things are fine now. Posts are in place. Overall things look great. Just need to get a bit of weathering to bring the posts from that new look to more of an aged gray.

But that doesn’t really address the idea of this essay.

See… the reality is, the unexpected (or at least a splinter portion of the worst-case scenario) almost without exception comes into play on every project in the home.

More than a decade ago, we were building a deck in our yard. We were basically connecting it to the back of the garage. Part of the project included attaching a ledger board. As we prepped for that, we found significant problems in the walls of the garage.

The way the house was built included some funny angles. End result was a section that literally had no direct sunlight. Ever. Add in an abundance of oak trees around the property, and even the spots of the garage that might see sunlight had an extremely limited amount at best. Lots of water accumulation… little quick drying. Lovely combination.

I feel fairly confident that most of us do not approach a checklist for deck building with an item for the garage that outlines “repair foundation, rebuild framework, and replace studs” as one of the efforts for the day.

It would be nice if the best-case scenario actually came about once every so often. Heck, there have been times when I’ve celebrated the fact that when replacing a lightbulb, it didn’t shatter (leaving the base of the bulb in the socket).

Most of the time though, I’m at the edge of a hole, arm about fifteen to eighteen inches down inside it, small hand-held hoe scraping away while I mutter and swear about who I must have ticked off to be spending my morning in such a position.

For now, I’m looking at the other posts along both sides of the driveway. Eventually. Maybe. Maybe another project awaits. There was absolutely a moment when I thought taking the things down would have been less work. But I didn’t. I persevered. And now I’m happy.

(Now that it’s done.)


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