Q. Regarding what a previous person wrote about home-improvement TV, I wonder if I should try doing work to finish my basement myself, and whether there are any restrictions, since you wrote a column about basements that mentioned some problems with building codes. What do I need to know?
A. TV is a wonderful thing. It makes us laugh, it makes us cry, it tells us stories. And stories they are. Remember that TV and videos are entertainment, not often the whole truth. In time-lapse episodes, they show just enough to make people think that life is really pretty simple and that you can do just about anything.
Videos have made it that much easier to see, step by step. The problem is that there’s really much more than you see in those videos. I show videos to my clients and employees just so they understand the process, and I often have to stop the video to point out what material just got left out or what tool is being used dangerously. Ignorance is bliss, and there are many happy people who watch a video and pick up a tool, not knowing how it kicks back when held at the wrong angle, or gouges the finish if held too loosely, etc.
In my home, I had a room I wanted to finish with large, multi-layered trim molding. I bought the molding, began measuring twice, not just once, as the phrase goes, then proceeded to use my electric miter saw. I cut both pieces very carefully, then went back to hold them up, just as I had been shown when I worked for a finish carpenter while still in high school. Ugh, I was a quarter-inch short, and there now would either be a big gap, I would have to use a lot of filler or start over with another long, expensive piece of replacement molding.
Why did this happen? Well, when I broke down and hired a finish carpenter, whom I know from the experience of working with craftspeople, he showed me that he had to trace everything out, take into account the bends and curves, two different distortions in the ceiling/wall connection and then “back cut” the material, also taking into account the thickness of the blade, a much finer blade then I had used, on a much more expensive and sophisticated “compound miter” saw that had more adjustment capability in three dimensions.
Decades ago, we used a wooden, U-shaped box with angle cuts for the saw to guide through. Most of what I did was trim for simpler molding around standard-sized doors. Today, most of that molding is factory-cut and delivered with the doors or in kit form, ready to fit, nail with a pneumatic nail gun, tap the finish heads in if necessary, then sand and paint. Simple, right? Not really, but you get the idea. Permits require code compliant notes, details and accurate plans. Each case is different, so hire professionals. Good luck!
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