brass nipple ordeal
Sunday, August 23 2020
This morning Stacy the prisoner advocate and one of Powerful's recently-released prison pals showed up almost unannounced (they'd told Powerful but not Gretchen), so before Gretchen went to work, she and I joined them briefly for socially-distanced socializing out on the east deck, and Gretchen made smoothies for those who wanted them. I didn't participate much in the conversation except to say that I had no interest in sports, something Powerful's friend said was most unusual in men. I did, however, allow that if I were in prison, I might well play prison football, given the meagerness of the available choices of activities.
Gretchen had gotten a late start on the day, so it fell to me to walk the dogs. Most of the way down the Farm Road, I found a beautiful chicken of the woods. Though it seemed a bit woody, I brought the whole thing home.
I still had a few little tasks to complete in the upstairs bathroom related to the new bathtub. One of these was to reassemble the control apparatus for the eastern showerhead (there are two showerheads, and the eastern one is controled from an apparatus on the partial wall separating the tub area from the toilet area). For some reason one of the screws holding the apparatus' wall plate against the wall couldn't reach the place it is supposed to screw into, so I improvised a solution using the plastic piece from a drywall anchor.
Because the new tub is narrower than the old tub and it is further from the south wall, it made sense for Gretchen to buy longer showerhead pipes (along with new showerheads) to nearly center the showerheads in the vertical plane rising up from the central axis of the new tub. I'd made the mistake of installing one of these pipes the other day without bothering to use plumber's tape, thinking I could just remove it and install the tape later. But the pipe turned out to have a half-inch-to-half-inch brass nipple at its base that came out and remained in the wall when I removed the arm. The nipple did provide a way to extract it even recessed completely in the wall, but it relied on my having a massive hex key, one measuring about 9/16 inches in thickness. I have a lot of tools and several hex key kits, but none anywhere near that size. When Gretchen went to work today, she inquired at one of the Woodstock hardware stores to see if they had any hex wrenches this size, and they did not. But she did some research and suggested I go to Advance Auto Parts. So this afternoon I set out in the Nissan Leaf (Gretchen had taken the Prius, as at the time Stacy had blocked the Leaf with her car). There were no actual hex keys of the size I needed, though there was an expensive ($37) toolkit featuring a range of large hex wrench ends driveable by an impact driver. Not having any other choice, I bought the set (even though the salesman told me opened tools couldn't be returned).
Back at the house, to my horror, I discovered that the hex wrench fasteners were not long enough to reach down the throat of the brass nipple to the hexagonal hole that doubles as a water conduit. So I fell back to plan B -- making my own 9/16 inch hex wrench from a piece of rebar. It didn't take much bending and sanding before I had a nice hex wrench, judging by how it fit in a loose example of that same brass nipple. But when I went to use this handmade hex wrench to extract the nipple from the wall, all I did was ream out the hexagonal hole, leaving it essentially circular. That hex hole was the only way the nipple could be conventionally extracted. This left me to use non-conventional methods. So I tried soldering a brass bolt-like object from some salvaged piece of plumbing. This worked well, but then I couldn't develop enough purchase on its hexagonal head to extract the nipple I'd soldered it to. Increasingly exasperated, I tracked down a bolt extractor, the kind with left-hand threads, and then bored out the bolt-like object to make a place to screw the extractor in. In the process of doing this, the damn battery fell out of my Black & Decker powerdrill (years ago I'd hacked it to accept Dewalt batteries, but in so doing I made it battery-gripping mechanism unreliable; earlier this year a fallen battery had destroyed a plastic stackable chair on the laboratory deck). The battery hit the tub with a thud, leaving three ugly black skid marks on its shiny vinyl surface. (I was later able to scrub these marks almost, though not quite completely, away.) Amazingly, though, when I went to turn the bolt extractor counter clockwise, I had sufficient purchase to remove the underlying nipple. I think this might be the first time I'd ever had any luck with a bolt extractor. By this point the brass nipple was too destroyed (mostly from solder and vise-grip damage on its threads) for me to reuse. So I ordered a replacement online, though one without an internal hex wrench socket.
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