Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Parent-Proof Child-Proofing

We moved into a cute little house with a split foyer.  Really, cute house.  Not loving the split foyer thing, though, because it means we absolutely had to install a top-of-stairs baby gate. Okay, simple, right?

Well, not so much.  It was an $80 gate which ended up costing closer to $150.  It said it was a simple install, but it took us 5 days.

We have several extra pieces of wood attached to stuff and a banister with countless extraneous holes drilled in it, as well as several pieces of shrapnel embedded in it.

We have a 3-year old who knows a couple extra swear words.

But we do, luckily and finally, have a baby gate.

Now, normally, the way this works is this: you buy a gate and read the instructions and install it with the supplied hardware and you're good to go.  With us, however, we had problems from the very beginning.  We started down the path of failure by purchasing a gate that was not wide enough for our opening, necessitating a return trip and ordering a 2nd gate online.  Once it arrived, we meticulously read the instructions and discussed our plan of action (i.e. that we would install it while the kiddos napped one afternoon) and amassed the requisite tools: tape measure, tape, pencil, drill and screw-driver.

Essentially, the first step for us was: mount the brackets directly into the banister on one side and into a stud on the opposite wall, being sure that the gate would not be more than 3 inches off the ground.  Well, we busted out our stud-finder (insert husband-jokes here; and try to be creative as I've made probably every single stud-finding husband-related joke in the universe) and realized that it didn't work.  I told Justin it had never worked (keep the jokes rolling, here, folks) but he said it just needed a battery.  So, off to the grocery store I went in search of a 9v battery.

Nope, it wasn't the battery.

Off to the hardware store I went, in search of a stud finder.

Lo and behold, there is no stud directly across from the banister.  Womp, womp.  Back to the drawing board...

We determined that it would probably be okay to find a board that we could anchor into a stud and then mount the gate to THAT.  So, I went back to the hardware store to procure a board and screws that were long enough to go through the board into the stud and make us feel warm and fuzzy inside.  By this point, the kids had woken up and were VERY interested in what we were doing.

So, our next step was to drill holes through our board and into the stud, then use screws to attach it.  Well, we ended up stripping the screws to the point where we needed pliers to back the last one out and start all over.  (Who knew brass wasn't a good material to make screws out of?  I mean... why sell brass screws if they're wussy screws?)  Yikes... back to the hardware store I go for new screws and, while I'm at it, a new screw driver in case that was the problem to begin with.

At this point, we are thoroughly sick of this project and we've only just attached our anchor board to the wall and measured for the holes on the banister for mounting the hinges.

Next, we have to attach the hinges to the banister, so we measure the holes based on the instructions and start drilling.  Since Justin was sick of this (and we're on day 2 of the project) and I happen to enjoy my power drill, I volunteered to make the holes.  The top one went fine, but the bottom hole did not.  In fact, as I was backing the drill out of the hole to clear the sawdust off the bit and start in again, I realized that the drill bit that came out was significantly shorter than the drill bit that went in.


The bit broke off inside the banister.
How does that even happen?!  Durr.  Back to the hardware store; this time, for a new drill bit and wood putty to fill in the holes.  Since there's now a chunk of metal in the banister, there's no way a 2-inch screw can go into it, so we have to move the whole thing over half an inch and start all over.  Ditto for the wall-board on the opposite side.  So we hung  up the tools for the day and went on to day 3...

This is where the next bit of fun comes in.  We've now realized that the square parts of the banister are too far apart based on the dimensions of the gate and locations of the hinges.  Those hinges must be mounted to SOLID wood, which isn't possible based on the distance between the two pink arrows.


So now we need to build off our earlier solution and create a piece of solid wood to mount to the banister to bridge the gap between the top and the bottom.  Back to the hardware store.  We purchased some wood, some stain, some sand paper and more freaking screws so that when we mount the gate's hinges, the whole 2-inch screw will be sunk into the solid wood that we need to mount to the banister.  At this point, we've got the holes all measured and drilled and things are going well.  I went to change a few diapers and came back to find Justin pouting in a corner and Jack dancing around singing an expletive-laced song about broken tools.  Confused (since things seemed to have been fine - with a new drill bit and steel - not brass - screws) I asked what had happened only to be told that Justin, in his studly manliness, had torqued the head of the top screw off.  With an inch of it embedded in the banister already.  Leaving a small amount poking out of the wood.  Not enough to get ahold of with pliers and not enough to keep the thing secure.

Sigh.  We can't win.  We have no idea how to get the screw out... it seems that it's just plain stuck there until we take the whole contraption down.  (...at which time I'm sure there will be yet another post about our continued epic failure.)

Oh, and did I mention that this is a rental house?  Because it is.  Otherwise, I would have given up long ago and built a brick freaking wall at the top of these stairs.

Isn't this awesome?  So, at the conclusion of the 4th day, we figured we'd won a small victory in that we were finally able to assemble the gate itself and begin looking at the hardware to hang it.

Turns out, that part wasn't too horribly difficult and by the end of day 5,

all systems were a "go" and we had a functioning gate.

So, that's what 34 years of combined education, 3 college degrees and 5 years as a nuclear engineer will get you: a total inability to function when faced with a 10-step instruction manual for a product made in Indonesia.  Now, I have no idea what made that banister so absurdly difficult to work with.  Maybe it had a metal core that we didn't realize was inside.  What I do know is that it will survive a nuclear holocaust.

At least our stairs are parent- baby-proofed now!


Amber said...

Wow! What a nightmare! We bought a great gate and installed it for the downstairs...upstairs, we are just using 2 ottomans! Ah! Our issue is banister to banister, which I think you can buy a kit for? You'll have to let me know....Are your landlords going to kill you for the banisters? ;)

Tanya said...

So, why don't y'all just move back? ;o) Tee hee hee. This sounds more like a "single married mom" story than a "Justin is home with me" story. ;o) Still, Jordan's head thanks you...that much I am sure of.

Katie said...

Ahahahahaha...I am laughing at two parts of this story 1) that you guys have been (almost) defeated by a "simple" home project...making me of two college degrees married to a amazing woodworker who has also been (almost) defeated feel a little better about herself and 2) that you took step-by-step pictures of the utter ridiculousness thus proving that motherhood really does cause insanity! I'm sure you will have your chance to laugh at us in return with all the projects we have to tackly in this house :)

Christine:) said...

Our front hallways look very similar!
I am sad to admit that we haven't installed our gate yet. Parents of the year right here...When we DO finally do it (*when MATT finally does it, because I don't even touch the drill after breaking his drill bit while installing curtain rods a few years back when he was out to sea), we will be checking back to this post for advice;) LOL. Miss you and hope you all are doing well!

blunoz said...

Oh man this brings back so many memories of home improvement projects around our house. I'm not exactly a good handy-man, and I can't ever seem to get any project done without at least TWO trips to Home Depot - because I got the wrong size or the wrong style part or the part broke or the tool broke or...

I love the way you used the annotated photos to help tell this story. Great job!

Alan, Bobbi, Hank & Belle said...

crazy concept but they make gates that you don't even have to screw into the wall :)

that is what we bought here and they are fantastic!

glad to know the gates did not defeat you in the end.

Melis said...

Hahahaha, oh Bob - I wish one of those would have worked for us. I researched and researched and measured and remeasured... our biggest problems were that a) the opening was an inch too wide for most gates and b) the banister post didn't have any surface that regular gates could push against. Oh, and my children wrestle and have a tendency to roll into anything and everything and have knocked down our non-screw-in at the top of our deck several times. ;o) Special children, Bob. Special children... they require special consideration and apparently, lots of extra effort and money. Argh!

LadyFi said...

Ah yes - I remember the days... In the end we had to drill into the wall to get our fancy gate to work...

Cricket said...

Yup... I know. that's all I can say. I know.

My gate is at the bottom of my stairs, where I have a beautiful 2x4 screwed onto our lovely Victorian era woodwork. Plus the similar additional wood on the opposing side. Oy.

Our problem was needing a gate where the opposing wall was plaster & lath. No studs to be found anywhere in the vicinity.

Btw, the way you get the broken screw out is to drill a hole alongside it, being careful not to break the bit (but you know that). Then you grab it with a vise-grip if you can, a needlenose if you can't, weasel it out through the newly enlarged hole, then fill the hole.

Pictures and captions are too funny. thanks for the laughs and congratulations on the potw mention.

Tabor said...

Congrats on your POTW and I must say this event takes the cake. I have many similar memories when my now adult children were small...but you guys have stamina!

Daryl said...

Its never easy ... but it resulted in a fabulous post ... congrats on the POTW mention from Hilary


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