Thursday, September 25, 2014

Expensive Paint Brushes

Until about a year ago when it came to painting, I always bought cheap brushes and such, figuring that way, if I didn’t feel like cleaning them when I finished, I wasn’t out much.  How an expensive brush could be that much better than a cheap one escaped me.  Then last year for whatever reason I started handling a nice brush in the store (Wal-Mart, to be exact.)  The handle was rubberized for better grip, and molded to fit in my hand, and its bristles were soft like a chick’s hair, but firm enough to keep its shape when soaked with paint (rather unlike a chick’s hair, but I digress.)  So I bought a set of them, sized between 1” and 4”… that changed everything.

A good brush is more efficient, it makes painting go faster, it’s easier to control and it doesn’t drip as much.  But it quickly becomes worthless if not cleaned properly. 

I now rinse my brushes until they squeeze clear in the water – if you can see paint in the water you wring out of it, the brush isn’t clean yet.  I also scrub the paint off the metal part and the handle – it surely doesn’t change the way it works… I don’t really know why to be honest, maybe just a pride thing, but when I put them away, my brushes still look brand new.  I even go so far as to rinse them out every hour or two while I’m painting, to keep the paint that soaks up to the top of the bristles from drying to the point it won’t come out. 

As a result, the next time I go to use them, my brushes work just as well as the day I bought them, the bristles are still soft and absorbent and the handles still feel good in my hand.  Maybe the reason for keeping the handles clean is just to benefit my frame of mind each time I start to paint?  I may never fully understand the reasons, but I know for sure I like it, it’s well worth the extra time.

I also figured that bigger was always better, but now I realize that, for starters, a bigger brush takes longer to clean than a smaller one, which logically means it also wastes more paint each session.

Beyond the Harshness of Reality

The harsh reality I have to live with is that my hopes and dreams of finding a soul mate are now, always have been, and forever will be, worth absolutely nothing.  This condition is acceptable only in absence of any other context, for once I see what’s been missing, I tend to long for it… and it hurts.  Thus the dark Irony: loneliness, lack of companionship, and the sometimes paralyzing despair that comes with them, are only made worse by the times when they are briefly interrupted. 

Only the cruelest of souls would fuck with my perception of this reality for profit or gain.  You’d think such souls would would be few and far between,  yet I seem to not only encounter, but embrace and encourage them, regularly.  It takes way too little to draw my heart into these deals, and way too much abuse before it will finally concede and cut its losses.

For whatever period of time the illusion seems real, it does bring some real happiness… alright, a lot of real happiness… if only the highest highs were not immediately followed by the lowest lows, this roller coaster ride wouldn’t be quite so sickening.

Erosion of Life

In the beginning each day’s experience is exciting and new, it has a palpable flavor that is decidedly zesty – leaving to question not even for a moment that you are alive and connected and a vital part of what’s going on.  Even the unpleasant things aren’t so bad, note to self: don’t do that again, is usually enough to restore an inward facing smile.

Challenge is opportunity.  Change is opportunity. Opportunity is everywhere.  A day in the life converts directly to knowledge, and the point of being seems inescapable.

Unfortunately the everyday tedium of life erodes that flavor, badly, to the point that in the end, even that which used to bring delight becomes so dull and boring and omnipresent it makes you want to throw up in your own mouth, on purpose, if only so that, please oh please for the love of all things large and small, at least it tastes like something.  (Somehow the acrid sting of bile is the only flavor that never loses intensity.) 

Challenge saps energy.   Change is annoying -- particularly when it seems to serve no useful purpose.   Change is infuriating when it costs you in trade for someone else’s benefit.  Opportunity taunts those who’ve become so jaded they refuse to recognize it.  A day is just another incremental move toward the inevitable, and the point of being was lost so very long ago, it’s difficult to imagine there ever was one.

When exactly was your connection to the world’s goings-on lost?  Was it like bad music playing forever on hold, did you set it down and forget about it?  Would it answer if you called it back now?  Do you even care enough to try?  There was a time you might’ve pondered these questions at length, but by now apathy is by far the path of least resistance.

And so it goes, day after day, caring less and less about more and more, until you reach the point that there’s absolutely nothing left about which you could give a flying fuck.  But does that event mark the end of life?  Of course not, that’d be much too merciful, that’d prove that the universe has a heart, a soul and/or a conscience – it has none of those, it just is. 

In the immortal words of Tom Petty, “life goes on, long after the thrill of living is gone.”  Truer words have yet to be spoken.

How to Do Yardwork Without Getting Blisters

Ever had to work all day, or even all weekend raking a large area, and/or digging holes or trenches?  The blisters on your hands and fingers can hurt for a week, turning even the simplest of everyday activities into a new experience in pain.

I work behind a desk five days a week, and the hour or two per week I spend mowing the lawn is nowhere near enough to make my hands tough and keep them that way.  So when the fire department gave me only 14 days to clear the 3' tall wild grass and thistles out to 100' from my house (a job usually done by a guy on a tractor) it could've been a recipe for turning my hands into chopped meat.

Fortunately, about a year ago I discovered a way to cheat those blisters.  After borrowing the maintenance man's old rake a few times I broke down and bought my own.  One day, having used my new rake for a few hours to rake a large area, somehow I ended-up with the old rake in my hands again, and I felt the difference after only a few minutes.

That’s when it dawned on me: it's not the work, it's the condition of the handles on those tools that destroys your hands!
It's very common for the wooden handles on garden tools to crack along the grain of the wood with age and exposure.  For many years, like most people, I thought nothing of it.  But when you think about it, it makes logical sense: those longitudinal cracks are a worst-case surface to grip with the skin on your hands – squeeze tight, move back and forth against resistance – absolute worst case.  (Well, broken glass or razor blades would be worse, but of things most people would pick up without a second thought, cracked wood is worst-case.)
Fortunately those cracks are as preventable as they are destructive.  By investing only 10 minutes per tool every six months, you can keep those handles smooth and crack-free -- and that in turn will save your hands from pain, no matter how much yard work gets dumped onto your lap.  (In reality a more descriptive title would've been, "how to maintain your garden tools with wooden handles," but who would've read that?)
  1. The secret is to always keep a coat of urethane on the wood; any time that finish starts to flake or peel, it needs to be renewed.
  2. Sand the handle with medium-to-fine grit sandpaper. A small power sander makes it much easier, especially if much damage is already done.  Sand the handle until it's reasonably smooth, but you don't need to take it all the way to bare wood, unless the wood has turned gray under the coating.
  3. Wipe the dust from sanding off with a rag dipped in mineral spirits or turpentine -- even a barely damp rag will do in a pinch (but if you use water you'll need to let it dry before applying urethane.)
  4. Shake or stir the urethane well before applying -- I know that shaking a can of urethane causes air bubbles in it that can be a problem for fine finish work, but these are garden tools, let's get real about it.  I have a separate can of urethane in my workshop just for tool handles, so i don't have to worry about bubbles or dirt getting into it.
  5. If possible use marine grade urethane, it's more expensive, but it's highly UV-stable and weather-resistant.  A quart of it will be enough to take care of an average set of tools for many years.
  6. Apply a thin coat of urethane to the wood, let it dry for 30-60 minutes, then apply another thin coat; if it's all absorbed by the wood, repeat this step until that's not the case.  I usually just snap on a rubber glove, dip a paper towel in the urethane and then wipe it on the handles, it's fast, cheap and easy, no brushes to clean.
  7. If you put it on too thick, and there are any runs or drips, wait a day or two for it to completely dry, sand-down the drips, and apply another thin coat.
  8. Let your handles dry for half a day, and you should be good to go for a season or two!
  9. If any of the handles are cracked so deeply they can't be sanded smooth, consider replacing just the handle, not the whole tool.  (A handle costs about 1/3 as much, or less, depending on the tool.)
  10. If you leave a tool in the sun for any length of time the urethane will degrade more quickly, so keep them out of the sun as much as possible, and apply extra coats when not.
  11. Note that as the can of urethane gets used up, it may start to dry up on you.  This can be avoided by transferring it to soft plastic bottles, and squeezing the air out when sealing it after use.  (It's the air in the can that causes the problem.)