Opinion: My friend, the carpenter is back


Who remembers “My Friend the Carpenter?” You know, the guy who designed and led construction of the addition to our home a few years ago? I wrote about it back then, referring to it as “The Project: the never-to-be-completed addition to my house.”

My Friend the Carpenter is back. This time he’s taking the lead on a much smaller project – a leaking shower in the master bathroom.

I actually considered taking this one on by myself. After all, it’s just the shower. Take out the old shower pan, shore up the floor joists, put in a new shower floor and, easy-peasy, job done. How hard could it be?

I jotted down a few notes and headed for the tile store. The clerk looked over my notes and shook his head.

“This is a big job,” he said, enunciating slowly to make sure I understood the gravity of the undertaking. “If you have rot, you will have to reinforce wall studs, and you’ll have to sister new joists to the old ones.”

From there he assembled a list of things I needed to do and the things I would need in order to do them. As the list grew, so did the price tag.

When I left the store, my truck was overflowing and my checking account was empty. There were bags of cement, rolls of underlayment, cans of something called thin-set and several cartons of plastic grids that would serve as formers for the cement.

“Screed it properly,” the clerk added, “and you will have a smooth, slanted surface ready for tiles.” As I left the store he handed me a detailed set of instructions. I fervently hoped they would include a definition of the word “screed.”

Back home I unloaded the truck and surveyed the shower. How could all of this stuff be necessary for such a simple job? I sat down with the instructions. There were long paragraphs detailing each step. Important details were highlighted. “It is critical that the entire base be level to assure water flows smoothly toward the drain.” Another one urged me to “assure the walls are plumb to avoid unnecessary strain on the structure.” I know what “plumb” means, but what kind of strain could a lack of it cause?

I suddenly felt out of my depth. I called My Friend the Carpenter. Would he know how? Would he be willing?

“Sounds like the same system I’ve used before,” he said, happily. He didn’t actually say it would be a piece of cake, but the implication was clear. He agreed to help.

He even knows what “screed” means.