A few Sunday mornings ago, I was sitting at the computer working on something, when all of the sudden a large crash! came from the kitchen. I looked over and saw nothing amiss.
It wasn’t until I opened a cabinet later in the morning to get my oatmeal pan that I saw the problem: the top anchor of the shelves had detached from the wall, right.
Under the weight of the pots and pans, the shelves were leaning away from the wall and stressing to the bottom anchor, too. I quickly removed everything from the shelves and placed it on the counter, eliciting quite a shocked look from Tawn when he woke up later in the morning and sauntered, bleary-eyed, into the kitchen.
“What happened?” he asked. “Are you cooking something?”
When our handyman installed the the Haeffle wire swing-out shelves, he behaved in the manner most familiar to Thai handymen: pure improvisation. The corner of the cabinet to which the anchors attach isn’t truly 90 degrees. Instead, it has a lip. As a result, one side of the anchors does not have a flush surface into which the screws can go.
I noticed this during the original installation, but the handyman assured me it wasn’t a problem and shooed me away. That was back in the days when I still trusted a Thai handyman’s words. No more.
His solution was to create a small piece of wood to fill the gap, gluing together several layers of the veneer used on the cabinet until they were thick enough to fill the gap.
He then screwed the anchor into that glued veneer. But the layers of veneer were never actually attached to the structure of the cabinet – just sort of clamped to the lip of the cabinet!
Left, the top anchor of the shelf, still screwed into the layers of veneer that are glued together. Notice that the holes on the left have been stripped out by the heads of the screws, as the shelf pulled away from the wall.
This left me with a bit of a dilemma: how to repair this problem? Calling the handyman back didn’t seem a very good idea, but the essence of his fix – finding something to fill the gap created by the cabinet frame’s lip – was sound. I just had to figure out what to put in there and where to find it.
Unlike life in the United States, Canada and other western nations, Thailand doesn’t have any Home Depot, Lowe’s, Orchard Supply Hardware or even Ace Hardware stores. With the exception of some completely useless “Home Pro” stores that sell lightbulbs and sinks, all of our hardware is sold from small mom-and-pop (mostly pop) stores.
The first thing I needed was some wood. Again, no obvious place to go if you need a few small lengths of wood. But I recalled that in the old city, the area surround the Golden Mount temple is a woodworking district, handcrafting teak doors. We headed there after brunch with friends.
It was already mid-afternoon. Many of the shops were closed and the few open ones looked to be closing soon. At the first shop, a grizzled old Chinese-Thai man listened as Tawn explained the problem and looked around his shop. He wanted to sell us a length of teak wood – about 3 meters long (10 feet) – when all we needed was about 15 cm ( 6 inches).
We walked down the soi to a shop where they were still out on the sidewalk, sanding a beautiful teak door. The trio of men listened as we explained the problem and one started rummaging around the shop, wonderfully crowded with pieces of wood of all sizes, and found a few small scraps. We tried them out and found a width that was a close fit, then he cut it down to the desired length, leaving us with two 15-cm pieces.
“How much?” Tawn asked the owner. He laughed with a half-toothless smile. “If I wanted to sell it, I would sell it for 10,000 baht (US$285). But I’ll just give it to you.”
We thanked him profusely and walked away with our two pieces of wood that, given the difficulty we were expecting to encounter in finding a solution, we would probably have gladly paid 10,000 baht for.
Returning to our neighborhood by canal taxi just a few minutes before 5:00, we rushed to a hardware store around the corner, just as they were pulling their wares inside from the sidewalk. We explained what we were looking for – longer screws with larger heads and maybe some washers, too – and the owner browsed the shelves lined with tattered paperboard boxes of various sized hardware until he found eight of each item we were looking for.
Back at home, I pulled out the power drill and started the fix. First, screw the piece of wood to the cabinet lip, creating a flat surface and ensuring that there is something solid for the shelf anchor to mount to.
This was a little difficult as I couldn’t face the work area head-on but had to hold the drill from the side. Not so good for my neck.
Next, with Tawn holding the anchor and the shelves in place, I screwed the anchor to the cabinet, starting with the side that had the new piece of wood. This processes worked pretty well, and although the wood split near the bottom screw, it seems to have a firm hold as the screws I used for the anchor actually sank through the stop-gap piece of wood and into the cabinet frame itself.
I decided that before loading things back into the now-secure shelf, I should reconsider just how much weight I was putting on it. This required a complete reorganization of the kitchen cabinets, moving several heavier items (especially dry goods – flour is much heavier than a skillet) to the cabinets above the countertop.
The resulting arrangement – which is more organized in real life than it appears in the photo above – places heavier pots and pans on the lower shelf and lighter items on the higher shelf, including the backup stash of vodka in the Absolut disco bottle!
Meanwhile, I used this opportunity to tidy up all my other cabinets and complete a labeling project I started when we first moved in. This is similar to how my maternal grandparents have their cabinets organized – lots of plastic storage containers, each with a printed label. This sort of anal retentiveness actually appeals to both Tawn and me. Arranged from left to right as you look at the area above the stove:
The big white thing in the center cabinet is the overhead vent for the cooking surface.
So there’s another project done by Chris the handyperson.