Things to know when working in ceilings

The past few days, my day job has found me crawling through a ceiling space installing permanent hardware (all-thread) into concrete. This combines all the problems of working at height with all the problems of working in confined spaces. However difficult this seems when you first picture it, it’s probably worse than that.

Here’s what we’ve learned:

* Only step on things that you can visibly see are attached to the concrete above you.

*If in doubt, you have to crawl.

* The hardest part will always be turning around. If you can plan a circular route – do that.

* A 5′ 2×4 is the most mobile (and this a relative term) means to span the typical and frequent 4′ gaps of spaces where nothing will hold your weight.

* Don’t wear clothes you care about – or ever want to wear again.

* Have extra batteries for your headlamp.

* Before you move, make sure you have all your tools ready to move with you. OK? Check again. There is little worse than crawling 30 feet inch by inch under conduit and over exposed drywall screws to discover that your wrench is still sitting where you left it.

* We spent the better part of the first day just measuring things – and as a result, we’re ahead of schedule.

* Even with a cap or bandana, you’re going to need to wash the concrete and insulation dust out of your hair every night.

* Unless its an active construction site (and this is not) no one is going to crawl into the ceiling to steal your tools.

* God made cordless Hilti TE6 hammer drills because He loves us, and He wants us to get shit done.

* And if you’re not in shape for this sort of thing, remember that you’re going to wake up 20 years older every morning until the job is done.

(And don’t plan on having energy to blog when you get home…)

Oh – and hey, because some people apparently are not aware of this, Little League Games are not an appropriate venue for drinking beer. Really.

Now you know.

What suspends everything above our heads [9/22/08]

Today’s gig was going into a new church, and straightening out some lighting pipes that had been hung crookedly. Now, when we got into lifts and ladders and lifted the drop ceiling panels, we saw stupid things. But, you have to realize, these were hung several months ago, before there was a drop ceiling, or AC ducts, or even interior walls.

That meant a lot of guessing as to what would be level and/or straight, and they guessed wrong. It wasn’t crooked because the hardware was mounted improperly (although that didn’t help). It was crooked because the floor, the surface they must’ve measured from, was not level.

Correcting the height is no big deal, but there was one pipe we had to move, and to do that we needed to create a new place to hang it, where there was otherwise only AC duct. So we ordered some all-thread.

All-thread, to a certain but real extent, is what keeps western civilization – or at least its casula architecture – from falling down upon our heads. Look up in the ceiling in some large, public building,sometime. Anything heavier than you are is likely suspended by all-thread.

(It’s more properly called threaded rod, but everyone calls it all-thread.)

All thread is nothing more than a contnuously threaded metal rod, usually coming in 10′ lengths (in the US). Like a 10′ long bolt. That’s a bit too long for what we usually do, so we cut it. The trick is, cutting it almost always boogers the threads, so you can’t thread the nut – which defeats the purpose of getting all thread in the first place.

What I learned today is that you simply cannot make a clean cut through all-thread with a hand-held reciprocating saw. I’ve tried everything. Long ago I learned that carefully leveling and securing the rod before cutting it merely means it takes longer to booger the treads with the saw. And today, I dispelled (for myself at least) the myth that laboriously running to bolts to either side of the cut will help preserve the thread. It won’t. And your co-worker will merely sigh.

The only thing for it is to de-booger the threads with a metal file (the one on my Leatherman works great for this). Make sure you get this step done before you go in the ceiling. I can usually clean the thread enough to force a nut on within five minutes, even after my own hasty, sloppy saw cut.

Speaking of things held up with more faith than the skill involved probably merits, Cramer – yeah that Cramer – went on for the better part of his show about how you need to sell stocks and buy gold because the sky’s about to fall. You, in the late innings of a close game, Cardinals manager Tony LaRussa will change pitchers for almost every different batter. So there are a lot of commercials. So I watch whichever cable news show isn’t running a commercial right at that moment, and tonight it was Cramer. And he said the same thing every time. If the bail-out doen’t pass, it will be Great Depression II. Buy gold before it gets to $1000/oz.

Diamondbacks pitcher Brandon Lyon had two Cardinals in scoring position with no outs, and got a double play and a pop up to leave the inning with a 4-2 lead intact. Almost gives a man hope for the future.

Banking is like rigging. It’s gonna get fixed because it has to get fixed. The only questions are how long and how much.

Tomorrow, I’m getting up in the morning and going to work as if the paper economy is going to sort itself out, and walk under the ceiling as if the all-thread is rigged correctly. The Diamondbacks are back in the pennant race whether the banks seize up or not. So now its up to the lawyers and bankers to fix their mistakes.