Sunday, December 20, 2020



     So we're remodeling the downstairs TV room. A new light maple floor over the hideous old white linoleum one. New cool blue paint. It seemed criminal to return the dented, chipped, rusty beige metal baseboard heater covers. So into the garbage with them, and in with fancy baseboard covers that look great. Cover Luxe from Plastx. I was hesitant to order an element of the house made of plastic. But we have a small bathroom with even more foul baseboard covers—you don't want to know—and I ordered a small Plastx cover for that, as an experiment, and it looks awesome. I grew up with plastic being a shoddy, flimsy material. But it seems they've gotten better at it. The plastic is sturdy, looks better than the metal, and won't corrode like metal does. 
     I might have hired somebody to put the covers in, but during the small one in the bathroom experiment, I seemed to manage, even though it involved the
Cirque du Soleil level calisthenic trick of folding myself into a corner behind the toilet while drilling, I seemed to manage. 
    The fancy baseboard covers require brackets to be put into the studs. I usually shrug off the whole "put-it-into-a-stud" aspect of home improvement—the framed posters and paintings never fall off the wall. But these fancy baseboard covers really need to sit flush. Tight. My wife urged me to and, reader, she was right. This demanded a stud finder. Off to Ace, where they had one that cost $30, a Zircon, the substance that Frank Zappa encrusts a pair of heavy duty tweezers with in his ode to dental floss, "Montana." I held it in my hand and thought. "This can't work." It looks like the data recorder from some 1970s Chinese line of knock-off Star Trek toys. 
     On Amazon, checking its dozens of cautionary reviews, frantically waving off potential buyers—"Doesn't work" and "Garbage" and "More accurate randomly guessing" and "You couldn't give me a free one"—I got the impression it was an unwise purchase. To work, it seems a stud finder must cost $75, at least.
      If you live 60 years without a particular device, the temptation is to keep going through life without it. I strolled through YouTube, the home improvement amateur's friend. First looking at videos evaluating the vast universe of stud finders when I noticed this one, "5 genius ways to find a stud ... without a stud finder." Intrigued, I gave it a look, and they said basically, to get a general idea where the stud should be, since the electrical socket box will be screwed against one, then wave a strong magnet up and down and you'll find a nail in the stud (for readers even more clueless about construction than I am, "stud" refers, not to a certain kind of man's wildly-inaccurate self image in the 1990s, but to the vertical 2x4 lumber within a wall). 
     I looked at the metal bulletin board in our kitchen, and there, holding coupons, was a red magnetic dart from a long-ago dart set—I guess the idea was that these would not be as injurious if the boys started throwing them at each other. It needed a pretty strong magnet to affix itself to a target when thrown from a distant, and the tail made a handy way to hold it.   
    Damn. It worked. I passed the dart up and down the wall by the electrical socket, then at 16 inch intervals, and found the studs to put the anchors in so my brand new baseboard covers would be flush to the wall and not pull away. I loved having the little red dart just stuck to the wall, boldly outing the deeply closeted nail head, bird-dogging the stud, telling me where to screw the baseboard bracket. It was an arduous morning of lying on our new floor, concentrating not to somehow drag the spinning drill bit across it, putting in those brackets, cutting the moldings to length. But I put an entire wall's worth in. Only two more walls to go.
     Plus—and this is the surprising part—I felt happiness at denying the Jeff Bezos Pricy Ineffective Electronic Stud Finder Cabal its pound of flesh, and clawed back $30 or $75 from a the project, which could turn out to be as much as 1/2 a percent of the total cost.


  1. You were spared the aggravation of pounding a nail, or three, at a false positive location of that cheap stud finder. Fortunately, you could have returned the device when you went to purchase spackle, since any on hand had probably dried beyond a useful state. The outlet trick or a simple tapping test is as good as any stud finder I ever borrowed.

  2. Lovely when a project comes together — especially when your own ingenuity is the reason!

  3. This is great. The satisfaction of simplicity.

  4. I never do my own repairs, no patience. I was briefly a bit of a machinist in my salad days, so i do know my way around a tool box, but hire someone to do it (i can afford it-spread the wealth and all, especially these fraught days). but i must say, that magnetic dart carries with it an almost poetic elegance. nicely done.

  5. Hmm. My Zircon Studfinder Pro seems to locate studs just fine and has lasted for at least a decade, probably more. I can't believe I paid more than $20 or $25 for it. I like the magnet idea, though, and I'll try that next time, just for grins.

  6. I've acquired a few stud finders over the years. They're very convenient. I just handed the best one to the handyman I hired last winter, to put a pair of those "geezer grab-bars" above our bathtub and shower. No way was I going to try to use it myself. The wall would have ended up looking like the one on N. Clark Street, after the St. Valentine's Day Massacre.

    "If you live 60 years without a particular device, the temptation is to keep going through life without it." For me, it's over seventy years, and it's phones. After almost twenty years of getting by with various flip-phones, AT & T made our perfectly serviceable device "obsolete"...thanks a lot!

    So we had to buy our first smartphone last month, and we're totally flummoxed and bamboozled by it. Never been much of an early adapter when it comes to technology. And our three liberal arts degrees (English, journalism, English) are useless when it comes to figuring out all the bells and whistles on a new smartphone.

    Perhaps we should have gone with a basic dumbphone, or a good geezerphone (a Jitterbug?) instead. Or else we need to take a course in phones. Via Zoom, natch. Bought one of those cameras, too. Still haven't installed it yet. This is where sons and grandsons come in handy. No such luck. No kids.

  7. I have the Zircon model. Works just fine.

  8. loved the montana reference. great song. I love pygmy ponies...
    I too have the ($25) zircon model and it works fine.
    But yes a simple magnet will find drywall screws/nails.
    Congrats on successful home improvement job.


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