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Rebuilding a Toilet Tank; Lawn Watering; Building a Simple Bookcase - Recap

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This episode opens with Rich Trethewey, discussing the most used plumbing fixture in the house: the toilet. Inside the toilet must flush water from the storage tank, which causes it to drain into the flush rim and then into the bowl. It must also eject waste from the bowl through a “P” trap formed from the ceramic of the bowl and into the waste plumbing. When the storage tank finishes draining, a valve must close and a regulator must operate to properly refill the tank for the next flush.

Richard walks down the table, and through history, showing a copper float (one of the first he worked on), a plastic float on an arm, and finally the modern integral arrangement, where the float rides up and down the fill column, and operates a lever that opens or closes the fill valve.

The most common problem people have is the constantly running toilet. This happens when the flapper doesn't quite drop properly, or when the fill valve is worn or misadjusted. Sometimes this can lead to a “leak” on the outside of the tank: cold water constantly entering the storage tank causes condensation to form on the outside of the tank, leading to drips and apparent leaks.

Rich next moves on to leaks between the tank and the bowl. These require more work. First, he shuts off the water and the angle stop – the valve that allows water to enter the toilet tank. Next, he flushes the toilet, which removes most of the water from the tank. He removes the connection between the angle stop and the tank – more water may drain here, so have a rag handy. A turkey baster or a wet vacuum helps remove any remaining water from the tank. Next, he uses a large blade screwdriver and a ½” open end wrench to loosen the bolts (on most tanks there are two, but some have three) that hold the tank to the bowl. Sometimes these are hard to remove, if corrosion has affected them. Removing the tank to the workbench, Richard shows the possible leak locations – around the water outlet controlled by the flapper, around each bolt, or around the fill valve inlet. Because removing the tank is a big job, he'll replace all the necessary seals. With a large slip-joint wrench, he removes the large nut around the outflow, then removes that nut and the rubber gasket. Next, he removes the fill valve. Finally, he removes the bolts.

For about $20, Richard has purchased a complete rebuild kit. At that price, it makes sense to do a complete rebuild. These kits are generally universal; they may require minor adjustment for some tanks. First, he puts in the new fill valve in place – a single plastic nut secures this. Then he puts the new flapper in place, also secured with a plastic nut. He hand tightens that nut and then uses a wrench to give it about another half turn. A spud gasket goes over that; this will form the seal between the tank outflow and the bowl inflow. Finally, he pushes three brass bolts with rubber washers through, and secures them to the tank with brass washers and nuts. That takes care of the internal tank parts. He secures each bolt to the bowl using a rubber washer, a brass washer, and a wing nut, taking care not to overtighten, as this could crack the tank. Both (or all three) bolts should be tightened at the same time to ensure the tank sits properly on the bowl instead of at a slight angle.

Back inside the tank, Rich puts the refill tube from the fill valve into the overflow pipe, and checks the height of the overflow – it should be below the height of the flush lever (if it is not, water will leak around the hole where the flush lever passes through into the tank). The overflow pipe is commonly plastic and may be easily cut down if needed. Once he turns the water back on, Rich will adjust the fill valve so the tank fills to the correct height.

Kevin goes outside the loft to speak with Roger. He takes with him a sheaf of viewer questions about watering lawns. Roger explains that proper summer care of lawns includes watering them deeply and infrequently. Roger's rule of thumb is one inch of water per week. He measures the water using a range gauge set near the sprinkler, and waters until he sees that one inch has accumulated. By taking care to note how long this takes, he can water by time in the future. But the gauge can help when natural rain falls: by looking at how much rain fell, the homeowner can determine whether he must water and if so, how much. Roger spreads his watering out – he prefers two waterings a week, ½” each time. That keeps the lawn well-watered but at the same time lets it dry between waterings.

Roger discusses sprinklers. The oscillating type creates a large rectangle of water, and is excellent for lawns of that shape. He also mentions a sprinkler with a small fan shaped deflector that creates a square pattern, and a sprinkler with several arms for round lawns. Finally, there's the arc sprinkler. It has a spike that may be driven into the ground, and it may be adjusted to water in a large circle, or by setting the stops the homeowner may select any angle of arc he needs. Roger also mentions quick connect fittings that make moving the hose from sprinkler to sprinkler very easy.

It is important to water at the right time. Roger recommends against watering at night, as this encourages fungus disease. Watering when the sun is high leads to excessive evaporation, which is wasteful. Roger recommends watering 4am to 5am! But most folks aren't awake then, so Roger has an answer to that problem: a timer.

One timer has a spring dial. Turn it to the amount of time desired, and it will slowly wind down until it shuts off the flow. A more sophisticated timer permits the user to program the day and times for watering with a keypad. An electronic circuit opens and closes a valve automatically. A “manifold” can split the water supply into several independently controlled paths. It has separate small valves permitting each “zone” to be operated independently. Finally, for viewers who saw it on a project, Roger shows a semi-permanent sprinkler installation. One digs a shallow hole and buries it. To operate it, Roger lifts on lid and connects a hose to the revealed quick connect, then turns on the water. The sprinkler pops up out of the other side; it is the arc variety and the angle it waters may be adjusted.

Viewers have sent in many emails about furniture projects. Tom decides to help them with a simple bookcase. He starts with cabinet grade birch veneer ¾” plywood. This may be painted or finished as desired. Tom's bookcase design is 32” wide, 42” high, 12” deep and has a pair of adjustable shelves.

He'll use a sheet of ¼” birch veneer for the back, but before he does that, he'll use it as a straight edge to guide his saw. A pair of spring clamps hold the panels together at the correct position. Tom cuts the sides first. He doesn't want to see the edge of the back panel, so he'll next cut a rabbit into the back edge of the side panels. To make the rabbit he'll use a router with a rabbiting bit. This bit has a ball bearing that rides along the edge of the piece and keeps the bit properly positioned. Measuring from the front to the start of the rabbit, Tom reads 12 1/8”, so that is the size he'll cut the top and bottom pieces. Once again, he uses the back as a straight edge. Once he's cut that piece, he cuts the shelves about ¼” shorter to they are slightly inset. With all the pieces properly ripped to width, Tom crosscuts them to the correct length, using a square to guide the saw for each cut.

Next, Tom sets a piece of stock on the sawhorses. This will become the arched toe kick. He measures in a bit from each edge to define some legs, and drives a nail into each sawhorse at that mark. To create an arched base, he measures to the desired height of the middle of the arch, then lays a piece of Masonite against the nails and presses it against the arch. By tracing this, he defines the arch. He picks a side for the front (based on the quality of the veneer) and then cuts the arch from the backside (to minimize chipping) using a jigsaw. Finally, he rips the toe kick to the correct width. Using the same technique, he creates arches in the bottom of the side panels.

To make the holes for the shelf pins, Tom first makes a jig by carefully drilling several 5/8” holes in a scrap piece of pine. These accommodate a 5/8” collar that fits around a smaller cutting bit on Tom's plunge router. This arrangement, with proper clamps, ensures that the shelf pin holes are properly positioned. Flipping the template over allows Tom to make the holes for the back of the shelf.

To cover the edges of the shelves, Tom uses heat activated edge banding. He cuts and trims this to fit the shelf's edge, and then irons it on with an ordinary clothes iron. He finishes by rolling it in place with a “J” roller, and then trimming the overhang off with a special tool. A few passes with some sandpaper touches it up.

To attach the toe kick to the side piece, Tom uses a pocket screw system: a special jig helps him drill the pockets, and special coarse-threaded, self-tapping pan-head screws attach the pieces. This unit is small enough that Tom does not use glue. While Kevin holds each piece in place, Tom carefully drives the screws. In this way, he assembles the carcass. He finishes by cutting a piece of the ¼” plywood and securing it to the carcass with a few nails. Finally, he adds a top made from the same plywood, securing it with the same self-tapping screws. This top adds structure and conceals the pocket screws that help hold the carcass together. It's overhang adds some visual interest, which Tom complements by wrapping the underside of it with some molding.

Plumbing or carpentry in the loft, or lawn tips outside the barn – whatever the question, Ask This Old House can help.