27 July 2008

July 7-9: I can be such a sap

We were in Alajuela trying to get the necessary paperwork for arranging utilities and other “official” stuff when I spotted a hardware store. I’d already had no luck at the Atenas hardware stores finding a special anti-corrosion paint that I wanted and I figured that this might be a source (here in the “big city”.) Pat probably rolled her eyes as she heard me say, “Oooo. Hardware store!” At least, she should have.

No, they didn’t have the paint either but there were a number of little things that we needed so I stood by while Pat took care of ordering them in Spanish.

ASIDE: Anyone know where, in CR, to buy zinc-rich primers, also known as cold-galvanizing coatings, such as Z.R.C., or, Sherwin-Williams Zinc Clad, or, ICI-Devoe Catha-coat, or, PPG Dimetcote? Everybody I ask, in Costa Rica looks at me like I’m from Mars. I should think that with the humidity and salt air of CR that these coatings would be all the rage.

A young worker-looking lad standing next to me suddenly turned and said, in clear English, “Hey, if you ever need any iron work or welding, that’s what I do,” as he pressed his business card into my hand.

Wow! What a coincidence! We needed somebody to produce both a trash stand (for our garbage pickup) and to create a rather special burglar bar assembly that I wanted. “What the heck,” I thought, “this kid looks clean-cut and honest … and getting him going today, here in the hardware store, would be really hassle free.”

So, I told him what we wanted and he seemed to immediately know exactly what was needed. He instantly launched into an animated, detailed discussion with the hardware store clerk about the steel and consumables he’d need for the job. The next thing we knew, we’d purchased $200.00 of steel and our “soldador” was scheduled to be at our casita at 8am the next morning.

Pat discussed directions to our place from downtown Atenas and everything sounded good.

“I’m sure the taxi will know how to find you,” the eager lad said.

(Taxi? I’m not too good at understanding Spanish yet. Did I miss something?)

On the way back to the house, Pat explained that the welder-lad lived in Alajuela and he’d be taking a taxi from there to Atenas and out to our property. I felt so confused. I thought iron-work welders had big trucks with big welding machines and tools and a torch set and, well, lots of stuff.

O.K. – Pura Vida. I’ve learned to assume that the Ticos can do just about anything with just about nothing to work with.

The steel was delivered that afternoon and everything was set up for some get down burnin’ and weldin’. Except, wasn’t that awfully puny steel bar that had been delivered? (1/2” square bar and 1” angle iron) I figured that I just needed to learn to trust. Have faith.

The next day, at 9am, I was starting to wonder about our welder-lad. No sign of him. We called his cell phone number listed on his business card. “Well, no, the bus was running a little late, but he’d be there real soon.”

(Bus? Now what did I miss?)

At around 10am, a red Corolla taxi came bouncing down our road and turned up our little “servidumbre” (service road.) The grinning welder-lad jumped out of the taxi, opened the trunk and eagerly began unloading tools; and, then, the littlest, itty-bitty buzz-box welder that I ever saw.

But he had great enthusiasm!

Wanting to spare you details, I’ll just bullet the highlights of our DAYS together:

  • No torch or chop saw, so every cut was with a right-angle hand grinder and a little abrasive cut-off blade.
  • Wow, 1/2” square bar and 1” angle-iron sure does make flimsy looking stuff.
  • Welder-lad brushing black oil-base paint onto bare steel, in the rain, with a partially dried out brush doesn’t get a good rust-resistant coating of paint onto new weldments.
  • We needed more steel. The hardware store clerk made a mistake. (Certainly NOT the welder.)
  • We needed another cut-off blade.
  • The hardware store sent the wrong kind of pipe for a post for our trash stand. The welder would come up with a novel design that used 4 legs of angle iron.
  • We ran out of angle iron for the burglar bars.
  • I decided to add a security cage around the air-conditioner compressor. We needed more steel.
  • Pounding the trash stand into the ground with a hand hammer is almost impossible, even for a determined welder-lad.
  • Pounding on the flimsy trash stand with an 8 pound hammer for a half hour made one side-bar fall out and two other welds break, but, “That’s O.K., Meester John, because that will make it easier for the trash collectors to reach through the side of the stand – they will be very happy because they don’t have to lift it over the top.” Yeah, right.
  • The burglar bar frame and the burglar bar insert warped out of shape when they were welded together, but, “That’s O.K., Meester John, because that way the bar will pop way open when you release the emergency exit latch.” (I don’t want the bars to pop open.)
  • "Meester, John, I don't have enough steel for the last leg of the air-conditioner cage."

Nah. At this point I just had to step in and take over the design and utilization of steel for the welder-lad. Within 2 minutes, we had the air-conditioner cage redesigned and we’d have steel to spare.

We convinced the welder to wrap it up and took him to the bus stop in Atenas.

The next day I repainted the trash stand, burglar bar assembly and the air conditioner cage. Except I didn’t do it in the rain and I used a good paint brush. I drilled the holes and hammered the cage down into its anchor holes. A load of epoxy finished off that task. Finally, I bent and warped and tugged on the burglar bars until they sat somewhat straight within their frame and didn’t have any propensity to explode off the wall of the house when simply unlatched.

I never knew hiring a contractor could end up being so much work.

Next time I’m checking references and credentials.

Sometimes I’m such a sap.


  1. Meester John, I built my whole house near San Ramon in the same fashion. They try to do their best and, most of the time, it's fine, but often you have to step in and take over DIRECT supervision. My guys didn't have any ego problems, so it ended up okay. But it's amazing what you miss even when you're there all the time. Stay in control, dude.


  2. Oh yeah, any pics of your bars? How did they turn out?


  3. Nope, no pictures but I'm still really impressed with the emergency release latch system. The whole idea was that I demanded that burglar bars be openable from within the house, in case of fire. Rather than design my own latch I found this guy on the web and bought his componets. Really slick. http://www.security-bars.com/
    I'm thinking of promoting this product in CR. Way too many people live behind "death trap" bars over every window in the CR bigger cities.