The hole in the wall gang

Something there is that doesn’t love a hole in a wall*. Especially a stone wall. Especially one that’s 65 centimetres, or two feet plus one and a half inches, thick.

How do I know this? Because we are having our kitchen replaced, and one of the many improvements will be an extractor fan over the cooking surface that vents to the outside world, instead of upstairs.

Right from the start, the kitchen specialists who are doing the renovation — including making all the new cabinets and shelves and sourcing all the new appliances — said it was our job to drill the hole for the extractor fan.

Easy, said various people; you just rent a massive drill and go to it. The drill makes short work of the job, because it has diamond teeth. To my mind, that could mean only one thing: It would be nearly impossible unless you know what you’re doing, and have done it before.

Now before you think that I never do any physical labour around the house, here is Exhibit A: It shows me as Mr. Do-It-Yourself,  pounding away on our old kitchen walls to blast off the yellow ceramic tiles:

A work animal, I'm proud to say. (Now I need a rest.)

A work animal, I’m proud to say. (Now I need a rest.)

Admittedly, Exhibit A is the only exhibit of me working, so let’s move along.

To get the hole drilled for the extractor fan vent, we thought that the simplest solution would be to ask a contractor who has done lots of work for us; his answer was no. How about the electrician/plumber we’ve used many times, and who has drilled smaller-diameter holes for us, with no complaints? Again, no. Our plasterer? No. Friends who are skilled in home renovation? No. Did anybody know anybody who did this sort of thing? Well maybe; they phoned, and left a message, but nobody phoned back. And so it went, literally for days on end.

In desperation, this past Thursday morning I phoned the senior representative of our kitchen specialist company, who dropped by our house as the company’s two installers were already at work. Evidently the installers are independent tradesmen, as opposed to salaried employees, and so they might be tempted (or pressured) to do the work for us. And sure enough, they were — although clearly they weren’t exactly thrilled.

But at least we had our own hole in the wall gang.

So the deal was that yesterday morning, they would show up at our house with a rented drill, and tackle the job. And boy — whoever said it would be easy (“just rent the drill, and you can do it yourself!”) was sadly misinformed.

Here are the two installers, soon after getting started. As you can see, it takes both of them just to support the drill, aim it properly, and press it against the wall.

It takes two men to hold this drill.

It takes two men to hold this drill.

To give you an idea of the effort involved, see how the lead man is grimacing as this huge drill bit chews — ever so slowly, but very noisily — through solid rock and cement:

This close-up shows the size of the drill.

This close-up shows the size of the drill.

At one point, the drill managed to loosen up a single large stone, and so we figured it would be easy for our tradesmen to pull it out of the hole. Again, nothing about this job seemed easy, and the rock came loose only after being hit with a chisel several times. As I carried it outside, it was hot from all the friction of the drill. Here’s the stone, propped against a flower pot on our front steps, to give you an idea of its size:

This shows the size of the rocks that had to be extracted.

This shows the size of the rocks that had to be extracted.

After well more than an hour of drilling, our installers used a smaller-diameter drill to get through the 65 centimetres of rock and reach the outside world. In the photo below, to the right of the shutter, you can just see a horizontal fissure in the rock where the drill bit poked through:

They opened a small hole with another drill (above and to the right of the shutter).

They opened a small hole with another drill (above and to the right of the shutter).

Again and again, our hardy and patient tradesmen pressed the drill into the stone and then stopped to rest and let the drill cool. After virtually two solid hours of work, my wife Jan and I were waiting and watching on the outside of our house. Every now and then, a tiny puff of white dust would emerge, as the drill bit got closer to the outside surface. Finally came the first real burst of dust, signalling that at least part of the drill bit had reached the exterior of the wall:

A white puff of dust announces the news: We have a hole in the wall!

A white puff of dust announces the news: We have a hole in the wall!

At last, some two and a half hours after the drilling started, the circular bit reached the outside of our house, with a rock firmly wedged in the centre of the bit.

Even then, the drama wasn’t over, because it turned out to be very difficult to pull the drill bit out of the wall, and then to remove the pesky rock that was stuck in the centre of the bit.

At last, the drill emerges -- with a rock stuck in the middle of it.

At last, the drill emerges — with a rock stuck in the middle of it.

Eventually our two-man drilling team did get the drill pulled out of the wall, and did manage (with a lot of pounding and chiselling) to get the stone out of the centre of the bit. Then they mounted a vented plastic covering on the outside of the house, which we think blends in quite nicely with the stone:

This discreet vent cover is now hiding the hole in the wall.

This discreet vent cover is now hiding the hole in the wall.

Meanwhile, on the inside of the house, the hood over the cook top was installed, and the flexible hose from the fan was inserted into the newly drilled hole:

This is the business end of the hole -- where the fan will do its work.

This is the business end of the hole — where the fan will do its work.

As for now (Saturday), we only have to wait until Tuesday for the kitchen specialists to return; it turns out that they have another job to do on Monday. Then they will finish installing all our cabinets and appliances, and hooking up things like the kitchen sink. So Jan and I have just a few more days of washing dishes in the bathroom sink!

*In case you’re wondering about the grammatically odd start to this posting (“Something there is…”), it’s just my clever play on the beginning line of a Robert Frost poem, “Mending Wall,” which goes: “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall.” See, and you thought those poetry lessons just went to waste.

Furthermore, if you thought today’s title seemed familiar, it is of course a reference to the Hole in the Wall Gang memorialized in the 1969 film, “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.” On reflection, I think our kitchen renovation should have a much happier ending.

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3 Responses to The hole in the wall gang

  1. Rosemary McCaffrey says:

    Great post and photos, Loren. I cannot believe anyone expected you to do this job! Thank goodness for your persistence in finding someone willing to do the work. As always, I truly enjoy your writing.

  2. loren24250 says:

    Thank you so much, Rosemary. I love doing the writing — and I especially love that someone enjoys it!

  3. Lesley says:

    Judging by the trouble it was to do, I can understand why the other artisans gave it a wide berth.
    I note that M.s Red & Black tee shirts were not wearing Gloves, Ear defenders or Goggles.

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