Sunday, August 18, 2013

Screwdrivers: Buy American

You are walking through a Home Improvement store, and you see a full set of impressive looking
screwdrivers on sale for only 5 dollars! You can't pass that up, right? I mean, they are on sale! While the pliers on sale right next to them might be passable for the average homeowner, I would put the cheap screwdrivers back!

Craftsman Screwdrivers
Craftsman Screwdrivers: Product Link
Normally I recommend buying a product just on its own merits. I still do, it's just that there's really no reason even to be looking at Chinese screwdrivers until something changes. I own lots of Chinese made metal type stuff: knives, carabiners, tweezers, etc. However, the same limitations in manufacturing technology which are acceptable for other products make for pretty much useless screwdrivers.

1. Steel

It's all in the steel, baby. There's nothing inherently wrong with Chinese steel, it's just too soft to make a good screwdriver. It's pretty much OK for other types of tools which don't require a harder steel, like knives, pliers, hammers, etc.

Craftsman Screwdrivers - Closeup of Flathead

2. Heat Treatment

USA made steel has better heat treatment than most other steels, and better uniformity in its application. Which means that other steels such as Chinese steels, even though they are softer, are usually more brittle. Some factories are getting much better about their heat treatments, but for the average person, there is no easy way to tell.

3. Precision Machining

Here is where other countries are gaining the most ground, but the USA still leads in the precision machining needed to make the perfect screwdriver. Slight imperfections or irregularities can render a screwdriver near useless, and you are playing the lottery with Chinese screwdrivers when it comes to machining.

Craftsman Screwdrivers - Closeup of Philips


Craftsman Screwdrivers - Closeup of Handle
There are a few tools like screwdrivers and sockets I will only buy USA made. But these days it's difficult to even know which tools are made where. And US companies that have been around for ages are playing a shell game where you the consumer end up paying premium prices for certain high-margin cheap tools.

What I do is look on the packaging. If it doesn't say it's made in the USA, I don't buy it. I usually buy Craftsman screwdrivers, but these days I don't think all their lines are made here. So I still pay close attention to the packaging. Never assume that an American company like Husky or Kobalt makes all their tools in the USA.

For some tools that I will keep cheaper versions of, I make sure the place it was made is reflected in the price. I recently bought some Craftsman combination wrenches that were made in China. The store had them prominently displayed at a premium price next to all the other made in the USA tools, but I got this set for half off, so it was a good deal.

Craftsman Screwdrivers - Another Closeup of Handle

Sunday, August 11, 2013

How To Fix A Leaky Igloo Ice Chest

We bought an Igloo ice chest a couple years ago. We used it for one trip and it leaked all inside the truck. It was put away in the garage and forgotten about. But I'm doing some more camping, and this ice chest has thicker insulation than my Coleman. It's a very nice ice chest other than the fact that it's leaked from day one. I bought it on the way out of town for our original trip, so the receipt didn't make it home the first time.

The Tools

The tools I used were really basic, and just about every one of them could be substituted with something else or improvised. This is a very easy project, which doesn't happen to me all that often.

Folding Work BenchUsed to set ice chest on. You can set yours on the ground or a table, or wherever
Robo-Grip PliersUsed to take the spigot off the ice chest
Pocket Knife 
(or Box Cutter)
Used to cut the plastic shavings from the drain hole.
Emery ClothUsed to smooth out the drain hole once you cut the shavings off
5 Gallon BucketTo fill the ice chest for testing. Or you can just use a hose to fill it. I don't buy these from the Internet since you'll find them at almost every local store in existence.

The Project

I took my trusty folding work bench because the ice chest didn't fit on my big workbench the way I wanted. But that turned out well, because having it on the Workmate made it really easy to work on. I set the Igloo up on the Workmate and it kind of slid into the position you see it in the pictures. It was stable like that, so that's how I worked on it and photographed it.

Taking A Look

I really thought I would end up just rigging something to plug this thing and stopping this leak in the final sense of the word. But the drain assembly is held in there by a big plastic nut, and it comes off easily with slip joint pliers--I used my RoboGrip pliers.

All the "hardware" looked fine. Looks like I will be fixing a leak today.

...and right away I see the cause of the problem! There's all sorts of plastic debris left over from the manufacturing process. What's worse, a human being probably looked at this, thought "it's fine" and attached the spigot assembly, sending it on its way to ruin someone's camping trip.

It also looks like the plastic washer dug into the side of the ice chest from being mounted askew. But the rubber seal will sit solidly inside that circle, so it won't affect the seal.

This was a nice little setup to work on the ice chest. It put everything at eye level.

There were probably 5 or 6 big pieces of plastic debris that I cut off with my Delica pocket knife. I like to keep my pocket knives nice and sharp, so the pieces came off with no effort and cleanly. You could also probably use a box cutter style knife. The Delica has a long blade so it seemed like the better tool.

In the picture below, I have cut off all excess plastic from the drain hole. The excess bits you see in the picture aren't sticking up, so they don't affect the seal. It's like pulling a loose thread from a sweater and getting the whole sweater, so at some point I just said "good enough."

It didn't use many tools for this job. The RoboGrip pliers were perfect for taking off the spigot assembly. Notice the emery cloth I used to clean up the surface before I put it all back together.

Everything looked to be in good working order. The plastic nut looks really rough around the edges but it's fine. It's only job is to put pressure on the rubber seal, which it does fine. The seal itself looked perfect. Not surprising since I've used this leaky cooler very little!

I sanded smooth the whole area around the drain hole using some emery cloth. I even cleaned the area with some simple green solution just to make double dog sure the rubber seal would not leak. Be sure not to over-do it with the sand paper. You don't want to create a groove or uneven surface. You just want it uniformly smooth.

 I flipped the ice chest over just to make sure everything looked good on the other side. There is no seal on this side, but I wanted to make sure there weren't any cracks or something obvious that would compromise the water-tight seal I am looking to achieve.

I put the spigot assembly back in tightened it good and tight with the RoboGrips. It's a rubber seal so you don't want it too tight--just past hand tight should be sufficient.

I set it on the deck and grabbed my 5 gallon bucket. I put a little more than two half bucketfuls, so about 5 gallons total into the ice chest. I made sure to be careful not to spill any while I was pouring, so not to get the deck wet and ruin my paper towel test.

I put a little piece of electrical tape just above the fill point so I can keep an eye on the water level. If it drops by any noticeable amount, it doesn't get to go camping with me and it'll either be plugged and epoxied or dropped in the trash can .... we'll see !!

I put a paper towel under the spigot to detect even a couple drops of water. In this dry weather, anything on the paper towel should really stand out.


And the results of the paper towel and water level tests ... It hasn't leaked a drop! I bought this model because it had a decent amount of insulation and it would keep ice longer. But obviously leaking inside my vehicles was a deal breaker, so it sat in the garage. Now it is going to be put back in service for my big camping trip in a couple of weeks.

One less thing off my to do list!

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

How To Replace The Tank Seals On A Toilet


This toilet has been bugging me for some time. The handle sticks, and causes the toilet to run for long periods of time. And the tank to bowl seal was leaking, making the toilet turn on about every 10 minutes. This bathroom sits right above my home office, and I would have to listen to the water click on and off, for what was probably several weeks before I got around to fixing it.

It was very aggravating, so I decided to spend some extra time on it and make everything perfect. I don't have time to fix the same stuff twice.

The Tools

Channellock PliersTake off the water supply to the tank and for the overflow tube nut
Large Flathead ScrewdriverUsed to loosen / tighten the tank bolts
Half Inch Box WrenchUsed to  loosen / tighten the tank bolts
ScissorsUsed to trim the rubber refill tube
Small HacksawUsed to cut off the old tank bolts if necessary, which it usually is
Putty KnifeUsed to clean out the bottom of the tank

The Job

First I turned off the water supply, then I flushed the toilet. Then I removed the tank lid and kind of scooped as much water as I could into the drain. Then I disconnected the water feed from the tank using a pair of Channel Locks.

How To Rebuild A Toilet - Figure 0

We've owned the house for almost 10 years, so I knew the tank bolts were old and I could see they were badly corroded. I didn't spend much time trying to get one off before I went and grabbed a small hacksaw. They were a real pain to saw off.

How To Rebuild A Toilet - Figure 1

But I got them off, and this was the only real hassle of the project. It's all down hill from here.

How To Rebuild A Toilet - Figure 2

Now, I don't have much experience repairing toilets, but the old tank to bowl gasket below doesn't look like any of the pictures I have seen, or any of the ones I saw at my local hardware store. The wife was going to be at a hardware mega-store the same day, so I had her take the picture below. The guy in the plumbing aisle looked at her and said "Lady, I've been doing plumbing blah blah years and I've never seen a gasket that looks like this one."

How To Rebuild A Toilet - Figure 3

The dogs were helpful as always. Whatever that thing is, Lenny isn't sure he likes it.

How To Rebuild A Toilet - Figure 4

When I got the tank bolts off, and before I did anything else, I took the entire tank as-is and dumped the remaining water into the bathtub right next to the toilet. I guess if you don't have a tub there, you could pour it into a bucket, since it's not that much water.

Next I flipped the tank on its side, as shown below. My Channel Locks barely fit on the big plastic nut, but I did get it off. And then I pushed the overflow tube and the bolts through from the bottom. At this point the tank could sit flat on top of the toilet seat. Well, once I cleaned with with bathroom cleaner.

How To Rebuild A Toilet - Figure 5

My new overflow tube didn't come with a cap on it, and the original cap didn't fit the new tube, so I decided to reuse the old tube, replacing the nut and the seal but leaving the tube and cap.

How To Rebuild A Toilet - Figure 6

The seal wasn't in terrible shape. But it can only be replaced with the tank off, and since I just happened to have a new one, and since I just happened to have the tank off, it was a no-brainer. It'll be 10 more years before the tank has to come off again.

How To Rebuild A Toilet - Figure 7

 This cap looked pretty grungy when I took it off. I scrubbed it in the sink with a scrub brush and disk soap and it actually looked pretty good when I was done.

How To Rebuild A Toilet - Figure 8

With everything cleaned up and a new seal and plastic nut, the whole assembly looked good as new.

How To Rebuild A Toilet - Figure 9

 I even scrubbed the threads on the overflow tube. This is as good of a rebuild as I can get.

How To Rebuild A Toilet - Figure 10

 It's easier to work with the tank when it's just sitting like this on top of the seat. I will not subject my readers to the picture of what the toilet looked like under the tank. Let's just say that most people will want to take the opportunity to clean the whole are before mounting the tank back up. It ended up pretty clean though.

How To Rebuild A Toilet - Figure 11

I kept the water inlet assembly with I replaced a couple years ago. I'm not too worried about it since it's very easy to replace. The whole assembly can be replaced without taking the tank off.

How To Rebuild A Toilet - Figure 12

The handle was sticking, and I would go to use the bathroom in the middle of the night and notice that the water was running. It seemed to stick every few times we used it. This was one of the problems I set out to solve with a rebuild. I took the handle out at this point, for further attention.

How To Rebuild A Toilet - Figure 13

The tank had a lot of silt and debris at the bottom, including some type of silicone beads which came in through the city water supply a couple years ago and really screwed our plumbing up. Good thing we have a water filter or we would've been drinking those things.

How To Rebuild A Toilet - Figure 14

 I used a putty knife to clean the debris out, and then cleaned it out with some bathroom cleaner and paper towels.

How To Rebuild A Toilet - Figure 15

Now the tank looked MUCH better after I cleaned it.

How To Rebuild A Toilet - Figure 16

Much, much better.

How To Rebuild A Toilet - Figure 17

At this point I cleaned off the bottom of the tank and mounted the overflow tube.

How To Rebuild A Toilet - Figure 18

The parts below were all the parts I replaced, except for the new flapper, not shown. The gasket, tank bolt kit and overflow tube kit cost less than $20 total.

How To Rebuild A Toilet - Figure 19

I bought a tank bolt kit from my local Ace hardware store. It came with an extra bolt, but I needed all the nuts and washers that came with it because I have a slightly different tank to bowl gasket than it had before.

How To Rebuild A Toilet - Figure 20

The tank to bowl gasket, also from Ace. I think it was about 5 bucks.

How To Rebuild A Toilet - Figure 21

 First I took the handle assembly into the kitchen and cleaned the handle out in the sink. There was some debris inside the handle, and cleaning it out made it feel much better. Then, I took it out to the garage and sprayed some silicone lubricant spray in it.

How To Rebuild A Toilet - Figure 22

Here the tank bolts are mounted, the new tank to bowl seal is mounted, and the tank is ready to mounted on the toilet. Since I wasn't using whatever gasket/grommet I took off, I had to use the nuts from the tank bolt kit with the rubber washers on both sides. This made for a really robust seal. This thing isn't gonna leak.

On the underside of the tank, I used the remaining 2 nuts, metal and rubber washers, with the rubber washer always going against the ceramic surface.

How To Rebuild A Toilet - Figure 23

I ended up replacing the flapper from the overflow tube kit I had laying around the garage. Notice how long that rubber refill tube is. I ended up cutting most of it off.

How To Rebuild A Toilet - Figure 24

The refill tube was kind of flopping around in there but I decided to leave it that way for now, fill the tank and test the new tank seals. Everything is tight.

How To Rebuild A Toilet - Figure 25

Just a quick check with the level. Wait, what? The whole think is tilting to the right! I must have seated the tank wrong or something.

How To Rebuild A Toilet - Figure 26

So I drain the tank, loosen the bolts, re-position the tank and refill it. After playing around with it some, this is about as good as I can get it. I noticed that Ace had toilet tank shim kits. If my OCD sets in, I'll go buy the shim kit. It's probably always been this way, so I decide to leave it be.

How To Rebuild A Toilet - Figure 27

I ended up digging through the garage and I found the little filler but nozzle and clip I was looking for. Score! The refill tube was really bugging me, so I cut it and attached it to the nozzle, which I attached to the overflow tube.

How To Rebuild A Toilet - Figure 28

At this point, I am done! It has been about a month and not so much as a peep out of it. And the handle hasn't stuck a single time. It's actually a little noisier with the refill tube hooked up correctly, but hey, I'd rather have it working correctly. Now I don't hear it from my office. And I've probably made my 20 bucks back by not having the water click on every few minutes over the last month. Another successful job. The sawing sucked because I'm old and had to stoop uncomfortably and it was hard to get the right angle on it. My friend the plumber says it just takes him a minute, but it took me considerably longer than that. I saved quite a bit of money, though, so it was worth the extra hassle. And I doubt a plumber would've scraped the tank clean or scrubbed some of the components with soap and water. The beauty of doing it myself means I don't need to rush.