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My worst blunders---series of cautionary tales--- various authors  RSS feed

 
Dale Hodgins
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    We are not supposed to mock the ideas of others on this forum but nobody said anything about making fun of ourselves.

    So let's make this thread a series of cautionary tales where we tell on ourselves and explain in detail the blunders we've made. These could be as simple as not bracing the wall and having it come down in a windstorm or it could be an entire project that was ill-conceived from the beginning that ended in bankruptcy, divorce or both. I know there are thousands of those stories out there so, don't be shy, not only will this be instructional for our novice builders it will also be cathartic to not keep it all bottled up.

   I think we will want to start off with short introductions and then a description of what went wrong.  It might also be helpful if you explain what you were thinking at the time or who you were listening to. If you have a number of blunders give us a quick rundown of them all and save the worst one for last. If this was someone else's screwup tell the story anyway but stick to first names or fictitious names.

   I'm going to construct a similar thread for the permaculture, alternative energy and other selections where this sort of information might be helpful. It also makes damn fine reading. I'm a fan of stupidity in all of its glorious manifestations and I don't believe in hiding from my mistakes. By examining what we've done wrong we are likely to improve future performance.

   I've made this rather fun discovery. If you're planning to hoist a beam, pour cement, cut down a tree or any number of other things that could go wrong it's helpful to do a YouTube search. For instance try "tree cutting goes horribly wrong" or "beam crashes through floor". If there's a way to screw it up somebody has probably posted it on YouTube. Every kid who owns a skateboard should watch a few hours of entertaining footage before they build their ramp

  I'm off to work now. If no one has posted by the time I come back online then I'll go first.

 
Tyler Ludens
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Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
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Wow, hard to decide which are the worst mistakes.

Moving to this miserable climate was the biggest single mistake, but I have family here so I guess I'll figure it out somehow..

Thinking a good rain year was typical, so I planted things that would not survive in the long run.  This includes most of the fruit trees, nut trees, olives, etc I've planted.  Hundreds of dollars worth of trees, dead.  Now we're in a drought that might last a decade, so I have to plant everything over essentially from scratch and plan on desert conditions.  Don't know where the money for that is going to come from. 

Worst building mistake; not slanting the porch floor away from the house enough, so if rain comes from the wrong direction it runs toward the house.  What was I thinking?  I wasn't thinking, and neither was my husband.  Nope, don't know what we were thinking. 

Ugh, this thread is too depressing! 

 
                        
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This thread reminds me of the Kludge  thread on Stumbleupon..some of the fixes are hilarious, some very clever, some are horrifying and some all three to the right mindset.

My worst building mistake was trying to build a greenhouse from pallets without planning it out entirely first. Specifically, not lining up someone who would help with the upper parts and roof that are difficult to do alone. I should have remembered that this is a highly conventional area and nobody wants to be involved with anything the least bit "outside the box". So now I have this partial skeleton sitting reproachfully in the yard..another mistake was putting it together with nails rather than screws so it won't easilly come apart....

PLAN PLAN PLAN!!!
 
                        
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Just over 10 years ago we decided to renovate a 1960's bungalow on a modest trickle of income. Because funds were so low I decided to try and re-use what ever I could to try and save a few pennies along the way. After an angry confrontation with a neighbour at the back of the property I found myself removing an old timber post and plank fence to replace it with something more substantial. As the timbers were old & untreated I decided they would be of little construction use but could at least be cut up to burn on the fire and save on buying coal to heat the property.

One morning I was using a hand axe to chip away at the planks to provide a supply of kindling wood when I found the axe was bouncing off a knot in the wood. After several attempts with the axe bouncing out I lost my temper and took a hefty swing at the wood. The axe was deflected when it hit the top of the plank and I put the axe straight through my left hand pinning it to the wood.

In a moment of pain and disbelief I didn't really realise what I had done and pulled the axe out. That wasn't smart, I started to loose blood quite quickly.

I did a rubber legged walk back to the house where fortunately my good lady was on hand to call an ambulance.

After 7 hours in A&E the doctors announced they were amazed. I had managed to both avoid severing fingers and the axe had slid right past the bones in my hand without breaking anything. There was a lot of tissue damage with stitching, antibiotics and strapping needed for some time, but I had been very lucky.

A painful lesson to learn about being careful with hand tools and stepping away from a job before you loose patience with it and do something stupid!
 
Tyler Ludens
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Holy cow, Sherwood Owl!  Let that be a lesson to us all!    I'm sure glad it ended up relatively ok. 
 
Jake Van
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Worst Blunders:

1) Getting a mortgage (did you know that it means deathgrip in french?). All my life I was told "Your house is your biggest investment". A 130,000$ house costs 275,000$ if you stay for the 30 years. If you add the taxes in for 30 years you paid 395,000$. Then you have water, power, road improvements etc. Basically buying a house even before the big housing bubble is a Guaranteed Loss Of A Lot Of Money.

2)Putting even 1 penny into the stock market (I put considerably more than 1 penny)

Luckily I'm young enough to undo the damage
 
Marla Kacey
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Location: Wyoming Zone 4
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I have a long list, but the most recent and most damaging to my future was hiring a building contractor without getting anything in writing.  Based on conversation with the man, I could more than afford to have him build my garage.  Then he showed up with his wife to help (double the labor costs).  Then he spent hours talking to neighbors about future work for them, on my dime.  He also charged for lunch hours.  I finally told him "I'm out of money; don't come back."  He had the nerve to suggest I sell some of my assets; shoot, he would even help.  Then I realized that they had been using my computer and I had never password protected my financial software.  Apparently he opened my QuickBooks and found lots of experimental, pretend investments, and thought I was secretly rich!

So many lessons learned:
1.  Always get a written estimate!
2.  Password protect your computer and your files!
3.  Don't trust someone just because they are friendly and *seem* to share your values.  After reviewing all that had gone wrong, I realized that they never stated their goals or beliefs until after I had mentioned mine.

So, now I have a half finished garage.  I did find some great friends to help me put in the windows so it wouldn't fill up with snow, but no longer have the money to finish it.  AAARRRGGGHHH.

And people wonder why I am so paranoid and depressed.  At least my land has lots of clay and sand.  Add a few straw bales (or a hundred), and I will eventually have a cheap, sturdy RMH heated cob home.  Gotta keep planning, right?
 
Dale Hodgins
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  Dale here. I thought this subject would be popular since whenever I get together with other demolition guys we swap stupid stories. These are stories about ourselves, our employees and customers who have done some really dangerous and costly things.

    Today I'll give you a couple of big blunders one work related and one to do with a home that I salvaged 14 years ago. These are both biggies but you won't be treated to my best work right away. I'm saving the worst and by far silliest screwup until last.

     Sorry to dump on you guys but since this thread is meant to be cathartic as well as entertaining and instructive I'm going to start with the project that ended my marriage. My other posts will be much shorter and funnier.       14 years ago I got a superior quality house for free. I had gotten into the demolition business specifically to put myself in a position for this eventuality. The house was moved successfully to a beautiful yet inexpensive lot. I had it delivered and set on blocks 10 feet in the air to facilitate the construction of another story. I had my brother build this other story and including materials and labor it only cost me nine dollars per square foot for the 1100 square-foot addition. Sounds great right?     And it was, but the whole plan was conceived with the idea of renting out a lower apartment which would occupy two thirds of the added portion. I went into the project with very little money but was able to get financing for the lot based on the fact that I was the proud owner of this house and that I had the $14,500 to have it moved. I was new in my business and did not need a financial rope around my neck in the form of a mortgage. The income from the rental would have covered the mortgage completely. But my wife was adamant to the point of sabotaging my efforts that she did not want to have any other family living in the house with us. We fought about this constantly and it became clear that there was no middle ground. There was also a constant battle during the process since I brought large quantities of materials and had numerous people involved with the building process. Although it went quite well financially she became consumed with fear. Fear of getting caught with a secret apartment, fear of what might happen if I became unemployed and most of all fear that somehow I was unqualified to do this and that the house would fall down. I built the thing with 2 x 10 wall studs insulated to R 35 and use plywood under the drywall in some areas to provide a sheer wall in the event of an earthquake. When finished it was a truly sound structure. But this did nothing to alleviate the fears of my now ex-wife who had absolutely no faith in anyone without credentials. She had come from a family where men wear suits to work and there is never any mud and mess. Manual work was for dumb guys. Houses are something you buy and then pay for for 25 years. In the country where she was born class is everything and it's largely tied up with your occupation and style of dress. This third world mentality is still alive and well in some families.

   18 months after starting the project I signed the home over to her and she raised the children in it for the next 12 years. It was my only asset of any account so I effectively had to start over financially. I took care of all maintenance on their home for another decade. So for 12 years this 2200 square-foot house was occupied by my ex-wife and two daughters. Both of my kids had bedrooms which were 12' x 17'6" +18 feet of bifold closet space. There were also "spare" rooms which could have produced income. During this period I lived in various vehicles at my job sites so that I could afford to support my children and rebuild my assets. The basement apartment was never rented out. During this time my ex-wife worked as a cleaning lady and at other low skilled jobs which provide just enough to get by on. The house was sold two years ago for $293,000 and she was able to buy a three-bedroom townhouse in town for cash and still have 20,000 left over. At a get-together recently she complained that I haven't done enough for them. My oldest daughter who is now 23 pointed out that everything she owns is due to my efforts and that her meager income wouldn't have even rented them an apartment.  "Mom, how many part-time cleaning ladies have a house that's completely paid for and an ex-husband who lives in a van but still sends money every month". She was told to shut up

   I have since acquired a really good 7 1/2 acre property not far from the city and also have bought a tour bus which will allow me to phase out of being a full-time demolition guy. But this has been a Herculean struggle. I have lived at job sites and in various vans for 12 years. I live in Canada but have never heated any of these vehicles and have become quite accustomed to this lifestyle. I am currently developing this property and will spend next winter living indoors      But none of it had to go this way. I am a hugely productive and intelligent guy who's life and career was set back by at least a decade simply because I married someone who was not on my side.
   So I had committed a marital blunder which turned into a home-building fiasco primarily because the true potential of the building was never realized. If you look at the various ways we can screwup in our lives marital blunders are right up there.

  And now that I'm thinking of this I think I'll categorize potential screw ups and put them in order. You can chime in and add some or disagree with me on the order.

        Ways To Seriously Screw Up Your Life!!    1. Serious injury--- there are many ways to hurt yourself badly while building and depending on the injury this can have lifelong physical and financial consequence.  1B. destroying your health with cigarettes, alcohol or other drugs or through obesity. This list could go on indefinitely but those are the biggies.    2. Marital error--- marry someone who doesn't respect you or who doesn't believe that you can do things and they may very well prevent you from reaching your full potential.    3. Reproductive error----I have a brother who has produced children with women he was barely interested in. Not too bright.  4. Create crushing debt----it's quite easy to fall in love with some bright idea you have but caution should be used if you're borrowing the money. Using credit to buy fancy shoes and vacations is surely a step down a slippery slope. 5. Involving yourself in a huge project that is beyond your means to complete.      I better stop here so that there's something left for others to add

    I think I'll leave the work stuff for another day since this post is already long enough to become a flagpole
 
Dale Hodgins
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Looks like I almost killed this thread with that long drawn out woman done me wrong rant .

   Here's one for the record books.

    Six years ago I got a number of good demolition jobs which contained high-quality materials suitable to build a new house. One was an upscale house on the ocean which was started but never completed. Probably $15,000 worth of windows and doors, very upscale. I brought all this stuff to my property in preparation for building. I also hauled in enough lumber, bricks, steel roofing, and other components to easily build a 2500 ft.² house.

   Then I hurt my hand by driving a giant sliver into the thickest part. I dug it out myself which was quite an excavating process. By far the most painful thing I've ever done to my own body on purpose . It got badly infected and four days later I made my first trip to the doctor in many years where they had to slice it open with no anesthetic since it was too swollen for that to have any effect. I was out in the bush and had continued working figuring I was tough enough to do it on my own.

   After my hand healed I returned to the property to find that everything was either stolen or broken. They took all of the good metal roofing and windows and other high end items and then smashed all the patio doors and even my personal items such as a collection of pottery I had made. Two weeks ago I found a painting I had done on driftwood. It must have been good paint because it spent six years out in the weather. They also stole my car, an old one, an old van and a high ab crane truck.

    This loss set me back years in my building plans and in my financial plans and life generally. My nomadic existence could have ended years ago had I not screwed up.

   There were two big mistakes made here. Firstly I shouldn't have left so much valuable material on the property without installing someone there to keep an eye on it. It's not wise to have too much faith in your fellow man.     Secondly, it could've all been prevented had I sought medical attention immediately. It's quite likely that I would have been ready to work in a couple of days and I could have got the house or at least some portion of the house in a finished enough condition that I could have recruited someone to live there for free and be a watchdog.   If you can top this silly blunder I feel for ya.

   The sliver in hand and subsequent infection stands as the worst injury I've ever received. This is remarkable when I consider some of the very dangerous jobs I've taken on. My cat like reflexes and observant nature have saved me. I've had dozens of near misses which could have resulted in permanent disability. In that way I've been very lucky.

   Things are going much better now and I am developing the property.
 
Peter DeJay
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Location: Southern Oregon
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I had a close call once that I amazingly avoided a more dire outcome.

I was working on this upper mid scale house in a quaint tourist town, there was a section of 9 foot high plated wall with a bundle of trusses sitting across the corner. It was a relatively small section, so there were maybe 8 or 10 trusses about 14 or 16 feet long, all bundled together with straps, that had been craned onto the plates. I was inside the room up on a step ladder, clipping the band to free the trusses, when they gave right as i clipped the band, because they were leaning slightly to one side and as the strap freed them they expanded and kinda of fanned out slightly, but it happened with such a quick force it knocked me back. Fortunately my instinct was to grab onto it as it hit me, so I ended up hanging suspended over the floor, by the bottom chord of a roof truss. It was intense.
 
Dillon Nichols
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This old thread seems like it should have more legs than it did; anyone want to join in reviving it?


I think most of my really life-fucking mistakes were about sticking with something or someone way past the point where it made any sense. The little voice in the back of my head knew better all along... I try and listen a bit earlier now. But those stories are long and not very entertaining, and (fiscal) damage was minimal all things considered...


Dale, your splinter story made me cringe. Most painful thing I've ever done to myself on purpose worked out better, but it could have gone that way easily enough. I had a fungus of some sort under my thumbnail on my left hand, and the dry ice the doctor tried had no impact, so I carved it out with a pocketknife. Had to cut back the nail and the flesh below making sure every last bit was gone, in from the side to the center of the nail, right back to the base... one little bit at a time, since I kept having to clear the blood off to see what I was doing. Fortunately it worked great, and the nail healed totally normal, to my great surprise.



When I was wwoofing last fall, one of the places I stayed was building a cabin. The front wall was 24ft long by 16ft high, framed in 2x4s but with lots of reinforcement around the several large window openings and where some interior beams would connect. Heavy. The cabin was only 12ft wide, so to lift it we had to start on the ground, and then somehow step ~3ft up onto the cabin floor with this wall held above us.

We had 4 guys. I voiced my skepticism, and was suckered by the far more experienced property owner's assurance that it was a total piece of cake, nothing to even think twice about, he'd lifted hundreds of walls, 12-y/o schoolgirls could do this one.

He took one of the middle stations; I was the next biggest guy, so I took the other one, and the other two took the outer edges... We got it above our heads and made it to the edge of the floor. No fucking way was I able to step up on that. I didn't get a chance to say so, cuz Mr Confident next to me goes "Uhh, let's put it back down!!!"

So we start backing up and carefully lowering it, and when it's still two feet off the floor Mr Confident decides that's good enough, and lets go with no warning. The guy past him loses his grip, and it knocks the other two of us over. The guy on the end falls out from under it; I go straight down with my ass digging into the hill behind me and my knees bent a bit farther than intended. Doesn't seem to be any noticeable long-term damage, but I was worried for a couple days.

People who should know better... don't always. We cut that wall in three equal parts, and they were just right at that size.
 
Deb Rebel
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Building, sort of. We were moving stuff up and down after some remodeling in our rancher with a basement. We had a 50" projection TV. We did not have an appliance dolly. Spouse had bright idea we could just slide it up the stairs. I have powerful legs and he has back problems so I was on the bottom. It stuck. It also took a wall sconce out and showered me with glass across back and one shoulder, I still have glass in there. It's halfways up, it hung up, I can't go back down the stairs. Nothing can get past this obstruction. My choices are stand there or it has to go up. I am holding this on my back. He declares he needs a break. I start screaming, he's pleading for a break and says just let go of it. I tell him if I do it's coming right over me. It's stuck on ascend, not descend.  In a weak voice with all the conviction I had I said I will stand here until my strength gives out, then it will run me over and you can put the shreds of me and the splinters of this in the same crate and bury us together. Time passed, I'm still there, and I hear him with a neighbor. He backed a pickup up to the back doors (these stairs went to the back door landing) got a comealong strap and winch, and they got a strap down to me and pulled that deleted thing off me. I remember sitting down on the stairs. Two days later we bought an appliance dolly.

The TV broke some connections on the main board and I got my revenge by stealing the focus lenses, the dichroric glass bits in the light path, and the big fresnal lens front. I still have some glass shards imbedded in back and left shoulder after 20 years. I'm also still married to him.

The most self painful things involve dental (blacking out level stuff) and sewing myself up in the ER. Doc on duty had a mashed hand, his doctor student wife was having issues with blood that day, and the nurse was brand new. I was not going to be ambulanced an hour away. I said you supervise and had the nurse bring me stuff and I pulled my own shots, then used butterfly tab bandages to line things up and sewed and knotted. (when a plastic surgeon sewed my forehead shut after a stained glass incident I learned that trick). My leg was laid open because my spouse was messing with some 9 gauge wire and I told him to put a bend in the end and clamp the visegrip on to retain control REPEATEDLY (at that time my day job was wire wrapping jewelry, I KNEW wire and what he was trying to do to the outdoor fish setup...)and of course he lost it, and I was in a helper position I couldn't go anywhere. Laid my calf open good. I survived, spouse was mad at me because he was mad at himself for not listening for a week... and the doctor student quit her degree work. Five stitches and it doesn't really show anymore.
 
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