Home Improvement   

Dante's Blow Dryer

by Rich Sheppard

When things get a bit stressful in my life, I take refuge in projects around the house. I detest house projects so much that doing them blasts my thoughts away from what's troubling me and provides a measure of consolation.

Underestimating a Job

My first big task seemed a snap, promising fast stress release: painting the decorative wood frame surrounding my front door. Resolutely, I purchased paint and brushes. I'd be done in time for dinner -- ready to absorb a meal, a ballgame, and additional stress.

 About to start painting, I finally took a closer look at the door frame. Even to this novice, "surface preparation" was an obvious requirement. The existing paint was ancient -- crustily, crackling, and peely. A minor setback. A short cellar rummage yielded a worn wire brush and rusty paint scraper thoughtfully left behind by the previous owners. Back to work!

But this is a House Project, and Projects are never easy. The wire brush simply doesn't do the job that a motivated new home owner wants. It just scratches the surface, removing little flecks of the curly, already loose paint. The scraper is promising, but can't penetrate the dense, thickly-applied paint layers. The stuff is like tank armor. I need something brutal. The more brutal, the better. Where to turn?

Public TV to the Rescue

I'm no fan of the people on those cooking and home-improvement shows on public TV. They make things easy, when sure for them they are because they do them for a living. They're often smug about their talent.

But I sometimes have those shows on in the background while I read or dine. Even if it's annoying to suffer people doing things you can't, it's sometimes strangely appealing and relaxing to watch other people work. Burning food, hammering thumbs, whatever. Amazingly, something useful surfaced, and just in time.

I was half-watching a handyman show when they had a helluva paint scraping task. They were using an electric heat gun. Perfectly brutal! In an ugly conventional war against paint, the heat gun is splendidly nuclear. At forty bucks, the affordable answer to my woes. (Until I see my electric bill.)

The heat gun resembles a blow dryer -- even the attachments are identical. The directions clearly read, DO NOT USE AS A HAIR DRYER, and for good reason. Trials prove you can incinerate a diamond-hard frozen pizza back to crunchy black carbon in twenty seconds. It's a blowtorch with no visible flame -- a fiendishly potent and perilous apparatus. Handheld Hell. Licensing may be appropriate to keep it out of the wrong hands (mine).

If you're stripping paint in the bathroom, please don't leave the heat gun lying around. The innocent will come along and accidentally grab "heat gun" instead of "blow dryer." That person's whole head will surely be ablaze too quickly to amend the ghastly error. I'm certain (and troubled) that this has occurred somewhere.

The heat gun is so dangerous that it fascinates -- daring you to find senseless new uses for the searing heat. But like the automobile cigarette lighter, the electric pencil sharpener, and the heavy-duty blender, the heat gun is not a toy. Sometimes, however, tools are more fun that way -- used as hypnotic distractions from real work.

Toys in the Cellar

An inquisitive toddler, I occasionally conducted "tests" on the capabilities of electrical appliances. The devices often "failed." (I can tell Sunbeam how "heavy duty" their blenders really are.) Cigarettes don't cause problems if you put them in an electric pencil sharpener; pens or straws do. Don't get your finger in there, either. That's all behind me now -- I believe I'm responsible enough to own a heat gun without licensing.

Or am I? The heat gun is so tempting. Setting "1" puts out a wicked 600 degrees, heat that boils and bubbles armor-tough paint layers for easy scraping. Plenty of heat for anything, really. But why, if not to encourage childish stunts, do the makers provide setting "2"? Setting "2" produces 1200 blistering degrees, far more heat then the public (especially me) needs for any purpose whatsoever.

Cellars are ideal laboratories. Some sick humans use the cellar for bad things -- kidnapping and such. I use my cellar strictly to endanger my own life: finagling with electrical boxes, moving crushingly heavy objects by myself, and startling plumbing mishaps. Plus the inevitable scientifically useless heat gun trials.

Just Desserts?

The sirens grow reassuringly louder. Here come the fire trucks -- hurry boys! Experiment #122c: "Effects of 1200 Degrees on Glass Bottle" is a failure. The bottle shattered, and a glowing glass shard ignited a gauzy curtain. I was slow with the garden hose. The cellar is an Inferno, with the entire house soon to become a smoking, radiating ruin. Is my fire insurance okay? I'll find out. Of course like most, I could blame someone else and sue. Those devilish heat gun builders never included a warning about stripping paint from glass bottles....  


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