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Ten lessons learned from disassembling and rebuilding our washing machine

This wasn’t how I thought I’d spend the holidays. I planned to write, draw, and reorganize the house and my digital life. Instead, I found myself deep in washing machine parts, disassembling the LG WM2140CW so that the 27" washer could fit through our 26" staircase. It was the first time I’d disassembled anything brand-new, much less a major appliance. Here’s what I learned.

1. A great relationship transforms hard work into lots of fun. W- and I worked on disassembling and reassembling that washing machine all afternoon and into quite a bit of the evening. Because I was there, he didn’t have to do it alone. Because he was there, I not only discovered more of W-’s amazing skills, but developed my own. We worked more efficiently together than he could have on his own: another pair of hands to keep things steady or pass a screwdriver, another set of eyes to spot the spring holding the gasket in place, another person to find a free online copy service manual for our exact model (you wouldn’t believe how many ad-spam and link-spam sites there are for service manuals)…

W- and I joked that even if our gamble failed and the washing machine didn’t turn back on, it would’ve been worth it as the tuition for skills and the prevention of future couples’ therapy costs. ;)

So it was exercise AND social time AND preparation time, and now I need to find a better time-tracking system that takes into account perfect days like that when everything comes together. Not multitasking, but combination.

Even if you don’t have a significant other who can turn things like this into wonderful bonding moments, you might be able to share your hard work with friends. For example, I once held an IKEA assembly party, which was lots of fun and which resulted in a kitted-out apartment. =)

2. Before you move large things, look for anything that might scratch it, and disassemble more than you think you need. Orient it based on risky areas, too. We forgot to take off the door holder (part 1), and it scraped and dented the front part of the washer instead of the back (part 2). Learning from our mistake, we disassembled it and took the dryer through without any problems. W- hammered the dent out. The scratches can be touched up with paint (yay white washers, no colour-matching like the red ones would’ve required), but it would’ve been nice to avoid that in the first place.

3. Don’t be afraid of taking things apart. Particularly when you’re working with an electrical engineer who gained experience by taking apart the previous washing machine, and when you’ve got enough of an emergency fund so that messing up is annoying but not catastrophic. I now know way more about washing machines than I learned from How It’s Made or from the exploded parts diagrams.

4. Service manuals rock. I can understand why they’re not just part of the package (after all, most consumers won’t need them). I’m glad we found them, though. Although we were willing to pay a little extra for the features of the Samsung washer, we found the LG service manual for free, and that decided it for us. ‘Course, now that I’ve done some more digging, I’ve found a Maytag Technical Institute service manual for a Samsung washing machine we could probably have used, but ah well. =) I like the LG service manual a bit more because it uses clear diagrams, although the photos in the other one are good for general orientation.

Retailers or sales representatives who sell appliances could keep a copy of the service manual so that they can answer questions from people about how far the machines can be disassembled in order to get it through a narrow opening, although I suppose that’s a very niche thing. ;)

The service manual’s disassembly guide pointed out screws we might’ve taken a long time to find, the spring holding the bellows closed, and the sequence in which to take off the panels. It didn’t go as far as removing the drum, but we figured that part out easily.

5. Watch out for sharp bits on the interiors of machines. Yes, the washing machine was all rounded corners and smiles on the outside, but boy, there were some sharp edges on the inside. Move carefully.

6. Keep track of your screws by screwing them into the empty places. Make rebuilding easier by returning screws to the proper location after detaching whatever needs to be detached. It’s hard to label everything correctly or to remember where each type of screws go. Let the machine remember for you. If you don’t rattle things around too much and the screws are fairly secure, you probably won’t lose any screws when you move the machine.

7. Use magnetic screw-holders to keep your other screws together. If you can’t leave the screw in, you can keep it in a magnetic screw-holder. This is generally a good idea, and almost a necessity if you have cats who like chasing loose things around. I’m looking at you, Luke.

8. Keep screws from old projects. If you have left-over screws from other projects (say, reassembled items that mysteriously had more screws than you started with, or optional parts you didn’t use), keep them organized. You never know when you’ll need to replace a screw after searching under the couch and all the other usual Bermuda triangles for cat toys.

9. Resist the urge to snap the plastic bits. If connectors appear to be stuck together, it could be some kind of latch you can find and open instead of snapping various plastic bits until the connectors can be eased apart. ;) Patience.

10. Celebrate. If you can’t celebrate successfully rebuilding a washing machine and hearing the sweet, sweet sounds of it turning on without any leaks or explosions, what can you celebrate? Even though we had lots of food in the fridge (such as a turkey we’ve been chipping away at since Friday), we headed out to Pho Hung for some delicious bowls of pho. Perfect wrap-up for a perfect day.

See pictures on Picasa

Week beginnings

What day does your week start on? It’s the same seven days, but where you start can influence how you look at things. Today I realized that my week doesn’t actually start with Mondays, as I thought before. Or maybe it shifted.

W- and I treat our weekends as week beginnings: the perfect time to lay the groundwork for a smooth-running and productive week. We do the laundry, shop for groceries, prepare food, drop off and pick up library books, tidy up, finish assorted tasks, reset our sleep schedules, and tweak our household routines.

Preparing is fun. W- and I enjoy cooking, so it hardly counts as a chore. This weekend, we made chicken adobo, leftover stirfry, and these incredibly moist and airy brownies. I also experimented with making onigiri, which would be great for afternoon snacking throughout the week. I may have gotten a little carried away.

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Other chores are relaxing, too. Washing dishes, folding laundry, and putting things away are meditations in action.

If we finish early, or we want to take breaks along the way, then we spend time on other interests. I set aside blocks of time for reading, writing, coding, drawing, or sewing, depending on what I feel like. I also make time for social interaction – not so much that I’ll feel worn out, but enough to get to know other people better.

Some weekends are busy, such as our once-a-month lunch-packing extravaganza. Then we’re doubly glad when Monday comes around: proud of the accomplishment, and looking forward to the relative relaxation of the work-week!

I love the way this has been working for us. Most weeks run smoothly. When crunch time comes, we’ve got healthy food in the fridge, routines we can rely on, and relationships that carry us through.

Using part of our weekend to make the rest of the week better also helps keep our stress and energy levels on an even keel. Instead of swinging wildly from “Oh no, it’s Monday” to “Thank goodness it’s Friday!”, or treating the work as something that gets in the way of life, we treat all of the days as part of life, and we invest time into making those days more wonderful. We also make sure we don’t end up thinking of the weekend as something that gets in the way of work.

Try turning your weekend into the beginning of your week, and use that time to make your week better.

Married!

Rings
Married!

Labour Day painting

From Monday:

path5719 We spent the Labour Day weekend finishing our Adirondack chairs, patching holes and dings in our hallway, and priming the surface for the another colour. I’m speckled with paint, but most of it has ended up on the wall and on my chair, so things are good.

I got frustrated, was encouraged, took a break, returned to my work, and made things happen. I had fun.

DIY makes me feel just a little more grown-up, a little more ready to take on life. I’m not afraid of hanging things on the wall, because I know we can patch it up. I’m not constrained by the furniture available in stores. I can make simple pieces. I’m not limited by the produce in the neighborhood supermarket. I can grow bitter melon and different varieties of basil.

It would’ve been much harder to explore these things on my own. I’m so lucky that W- has a lot of experience in these things, and he makes it easy for me to learn too. A lot of it has to do with having a house, and investing time into shared practical interests.

What else could I have been doing with my time? Writing. Coding. Drawing. Every moment is a decision to do one thing instead of another. Even if DIY leads to a less optimal life than, say, focusing on development and outsourcing time-consuming tasks not related to that, I like the balance and the freedom and the diversity of experience. I like building more stories into the everyday backdrop of our lives.

Here’s to working with your hands.

Woodworking

Russian birch plywood love © 2010 Sacha Chua – feel free to use it under the Creative Commons Attribution Licence

After Neko (our cat) joined our household, we discovered that we couldn’t leave bagels and other bread products outside without the risk of nibbles from a cat with the midnight munchies. We’d been looking for a wooden bread box for some time, but the stores we frequent have only plastic and stainless steel bread boxes. So I found a simple bread box plan and borrowed the basic ideas from it.

I modified the plan to use butt joints instead of lap joints because we haven’t figured out how to make proper joints yet. I also changed the plan to use 3/4″ plywood all around, because we might wall-mount the bread box and the back needs to be sturdy. I changed the height, width, and depth of the bread box too, so that it was as long as the microwave but shallow and short enough not to get in the way.

After drafting the plans on graphing paper, I marked the pieces on a sheet of 3/4″ Russian birch plywood, with 1/8″ gaps for the kerf removed by sawing. W- cut the pieces using the circular saw and his straight-cut jig. I glued and nailed the box top, back, bottom, and front rail. The nails gave me a bit of trouble, but I’m getting better at driving them in.

With the center assembled, it was easy to trace the outline on the two pieces of wood for the sides, adding 3/4″ near the top to account for the cover. I refined the lines with a ruler and W- cut them to size. While I attached the sides, he beveled the cover to fit.

All the bread box needs now are two hinges, a knob, and some kind of finish. It’s a substantial bread box with plenty of space for bread and other things we want to keep away from cats.

If I were to do this again, I’d probably make it out of a thinner wood. Russian birch plywood is stronger than regular birch plywood, so 1/2″ or thinner might do the trick. Russian birch is probably overkill for an everyday bread box, but (a) we had it, (b) I enjoyed working with it, and (c) the 13 layers of alternating dark and light wood look rather pretty on the front-facing edges. So maybe it would be regular plywood for the bottom and back (no exposed edges), and Russian birch for the sides, front, and top. =)

Oak bread boxes sell for ~$85 – 120 on Amazon.com. The 3/4″ sheet of Russian birch was around twenty dollars. Sure, it’s not oak, and we spent a lot of time making things, but it was a great way to learn something new, create something useful, and enjoy a holiday with someone I love.


Squirrels, shop class and drafting: making my peace with high school

The squirrels had messed with the wrong seedlings.

To entertain cats and people alike, we’d fed the squirrels throughout winter. Now we were paying for it with the consequences of population explosion: ravaged seedling beds, munched-on sprouts, and dug-up and discarded onion bulbs.

The stench of bloodmeal didn’t stop the marauding rodents from plundering our vegetable patches. We didn’t want to use hot pepper flakes and other painful irritants. We needed a plan.

We stapled chicken wire on our raised beds, which kept the scallions and other bulbs safe for the moment. When the strawberry plants grew tall enough to poke white and pink flowers through the mesh, we knew we needed something bigger.

I was about to experiment with circles of chicken wire held together with duct tape and string. But W- had an engineering decree, and he wasn’t afraid to use it.

After days of discussing diagrams on scratch paper, we decided to build a semi-permanent frame. We picked up spruce and hardware from Home Depot, and then set to work. W- taught me how to use a circular saw to cut the lumber. I told him that it felt a lot like sewing: marking my seams and following the lines. We sanded, measured, marked, leveled, measured, and fastened. We finished the frame just as the sky darkened.

This is what it will probably look like:

 garden-frame (… minus the text, of course, and liberally covered with chicken wire.)

We’ve finished the vertical and horizontal supports, and we’ll work on the chicken-wire doors this week. I’m looking forward to it.

I’m making my peace with subjects I detested in school. Now that sewing and cooking have become enjoyable hobbies, I’ve set my sights on shop class and drafting.

Working on shelves and other small projects in high school shop/tech class, I had felt awkward and clumsy. I struggled to wrap my mind around the spatial puzzles of carpentry. The classroom was full of sweat and sawdust, and the lab coats we wore did nothing for either.

Drafting classes in fourth year were more refined, but not more enjoyable. My classmates drew neat lines that intersected at just the right places. My papers were full of smudges, distortions, and impossibilities.

Now, without the pressure of a classroom and with more developed spatial skills (thank you, sewing and drawing), I can find these long-forsaken subjects relaxing, even enjoyable. Working with wood, I found myself thinking of other things I’d like to build. Drawing the structure, I though

Helps to have the right tools, too. Axonometric grids in Inkscape for drawing isometric images? Yes! So much easier than erasing and redrawing segments.

It’s great to challenge my memories. I’m learning that sometimes things are better learned the second time around. It’s great to know it wasn’t me, it was then. Who knows? I may yet revisit the Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock and learn how to look at fiction and poetry with a critical eye.

But first, I have some squirrels to chase off the lawn.