The Handy-woman Chronicles

The Handy-woman Chronicles

For every woman with her own toolbox, this is for you.

I enjoy doing things around the house. Over the years my handy skills have expanded from basic painting, to caulking (which took me four years to perfect), to plumbing, installing chandeliers, tile floors, thresholds, cleaning gutters, and after my latest—hanging doors.

Tip 1: Know the location of your fuse box and water main. This will help many of your handy-woman projects. Also makes you look knowledgeable when the handyman comes.

Some of my attempts have been successful, like my experimental mosaic tiling of my bathroom sink and reupholstering of my loveseat. Others, not so successful, like my drywall disaster that was later fixed by my neighbor who took pity on me. In all, however, I’ve learned many new things, tool lingo, necessary items to have on hand, the many uses of caulk, and above all, perseverance and patience—with minimal choice swear words, a few tears, and many, MANY prayers.

I precede each project with a gung-ho attitude and an optimistic time-table. “Oh I’ll be able to finish this one in 45 minutes!” (Painting my laundry room.) In nearly every project, my time-table has been WAY off. When working around writing and raising four kids, a general time-table is essential.

Tip 2: When planning, whatever time you think you need, triple it. 

Like all creatures who age, our houses need upkeep and repair. My husband is handy, but he’s a busy boy. I work at home, I have deadlines and mouths to feed. I need to prioritize, so I pick and choose when and what I do. I enjoy doing projects. It’s part of my “creative therapy.” I don’t usually mind tackling time-consuming tasks. I love shouting to my kids, “Oh yeah, who’s the handy-woman?” (I do mind when my husband makes comments like, “If you’re so handy, why am I always fixing what you’ve done?” Love you honey!)

Whether it’s out of sheer enjoyment or an “I’ll show him” attitude, women, take heart! You are strong, smart and able to wield a power drill! Take it from me, it can be done. If not, I at least hope to provide you with a few good laughs.

Hanging my laundry-room bi-fold doors:

Tool Terms Learned in this Project:


Home/shop tool kit


Racket wrench

Tip 3: Learned the hard way: measure the door length and the doorway where doors will hang—twice!

Tools needed:

According to the package, “Installs Easily.” If all goes well, then you will only need:

Electric drill/screwdriver

Measuring tape


Items on hand if installation doesn’t go so easily:

Electric Saw





Beer (Not really, just in case…)

In our last home, we had bi-fold doors enclosing our closet-laundry area. They were there when we moved in. Over time, these doors started falling off the track, several times falling on me while doing laundry. Twice I replaced the pivots (a term I learned in the process, which are the little nubs, or wheels, at the top of the doors that hold the doors in the track and slide, allowing the door to open and close).

To begin, obtain track system. Measure panel width and door opening. Very important! As I discovered, there are many types of tracks based on width and weight.

  1. Read directions before starting—always!
  2. Following step-by-step “easy to install” directions, take down old tracking system using an electric screwdriver or drill (with the screw tip inserted). This went smoothly. No problems, fast and easy, after this I was convinced this would be a 30-minute job. (See tip on time estimates).
  3. If necessary, install new hinges on door.

TIP: At this point, I reiterate, measure the length of your doors to make sure they are the correct length. According to my directions, my doors should have been 2” shorter than the door frame, which they weren’t.

  1. Install pivots on bottom and top of doors. Fairly straightforward, if your doors are already the correct height.
  2. Install pivot holders in track and on floor, according to the “easy to install” directions.
  3. If all is well, at this point you simply snap the top of the doors in place. They should be able to hang freely while you position and snap the bottom pivots in place. Voila! Done. Step back and admire your handiwork.

What went wrong: Per “easy-to-install” directions, the upper pivot holders, the ones in the tracking system, were in the unlock position. However, my doors simply wouldn’t slip into place and hang like they were supposed to. To start troubleshooting, I unscrewed bottom pivot and moved it lower. I thought this would help the door “snap easily into place.” No luck. Continued to lift 80-pound doors in and out of pivot holders, repeatedly, for two hours. I unscrewed and re-screwed the bottom pivot holders,  At which time, my door no longer went in and out of pivot holders; it was stuck. Out of frustration, I pulled on the bottom of the door with all my strength.

I got it out. However, I also split the wood at the bottom of the door.

From there, I completely removed the door, carried it into my dining room/workroom, and laid it flat. To cool down my sweat-drenched body and relieve the crick in my neck, I took a break, drank some water, and proceeded to re-read the directions. At this point, I noticed the arrow in the diagram of my “easy to install” directions indicated my doors should be 2 inches shorter than the opening. I re-measured doors.

Minor setback. I carried 80-pound door to the garage, removed bottom pivot. Measured and re-measured. Took out the power saw (another favorite power tool), balanced the door on my child’s stepping stool, and shortened the door by ¾ inch. No problem. Went to replace bottom pivot and discovered that my 80-pound bi-fold doors were, in fact, hollow, except for the thin framing strip at the bottom designed to hold pivots, which I had just sawed off. Merde!

Tip 4: Never be afraid to improvise!

Using the bottom of the door that I had just removed, I measured a strip that would smoothly fit into the bottom opening of said door. Using the power saw, I nicked away at the original strip until it fit the dimensions of my improvised piece. When finished, my improvised piece fit into door bottom, though a bit loosely, as one end of the strip was slightly narrower than the other. Using my electric drill, I screwed in three screws to hold strip in place. Still a bit wobbly, but at this point I really didn’t care. Reinstalled pivot. Pivot was a bit wobbly since the strip holding it tended to move. Better add some nails to the pivot, I thought. Hammered in a couple.

Carried in the door. Slid upper pivot in place. The door hung on its own from the upper pivot like the “easy-to-install” directions indicated! Pressed lever on bottom pivot holder, door popped in place! Yes! Went to close door. Door would not close. One of the nails caught on bottom pivot holder.

At this point, five hours have passed. I must get kids from school, so I cleared the dining room floor of all tools, shoving them into my closet. I quickly took off the remaining door, carried it out to the garage, and stood it neatly out of the way, where I hoped my husband wouldn’t notice. I’d have to wait until tomorrow. Picked up kids from school, 15 minutes late.

Tip 5: Prioritize your time. Take note of what needs to happen, when.

The next day:

Started early! First thing, I hung the door from the overhanging pivot. Door hung in place! Unfortunately, after struggling to snap bottom pivot into the suspiciously harder-to-use pivot holder (foreshadowing), the door still wouldn’t close. New problem: The door would no longer come out of its upper pivot holder. I had loosened and tightened the locking deadbolt so many times that I had stripped it. The locking deadbolt was locked and immovable. (“Easy-to-Install” directions had reiterated that this pivot should remain in the unlocked position during hanging process.

New tools: My least favorite of my husband’s tools is his home/shop wracket wrench set. It was time to reintroduce myself to this tool once again. After trying eight different sizes, I finally found the correct 11” nut wracket wrench, so I could use this least favorite of all tools. Despite finding the correct size, I had stripped the bolt so much that the only way I could get it to budge was by pressing and turning the wrench overhead with every bit of strength that I possessed.

Tip 6: Keep tools nearby so you don’t have to keep going in and out of garage to get different sized bolt screwers.

With my neck in spasms, I managed to loosen the locking mechanism enough to get door to slide in minuscule amounts, but despite my shaking, the door would still not come out of the upper pivot holder. It barely snapped into the bottom pivot, and when it was in place, the door wouldn’t close. Merde!

At this point I improvised. Since I couldn’t get the door out of the upper pivot, I laid down on the floor and discovered that my uneven sawing job left a section of wood that seemed to be catching on the bottom hinge. Laying on the floor on my side and using my steel file (like a nail file but steel, don’t use on nails!), I proceeded to file away at the door bottom.

File. Try closing door again. File, try again.

No luck, still stuck. Eventually, my filing caused my improvised strip of wood to come out, so the bottom pivot was no longer attached to the bottom of the door.

More improvising. Door remained stuck in hanging position. (I would like to add that this was an improvement on the day before, in which I couldn’t get the door to hang at all.) Lying on the floor, I proceeded to hammer a variety of different-sized nails into the bottom pivot. One nail had to be inserted at an angle, leaving the exposed nail head wedged sideways. However, this slight imperfection didn’t stop me from trying to close the door yet again. No surprise, it didn’t work. Filed nail head with steel file. Didn’t work.

Filed harder. Shook door in frustration. Suddenly the door was no longer hanging! Great, I thought. My shaking finally got it out.

Wrong. The entire track had just come off of the frame.

I stared in disbelief as the drywall dust settled around me. Calmly walked to my telephone and called my handyman friend to see if he could please come over and fix this problem before my husband got home. Sorry, he happened to be working, but his advice: “Get a cup of coffee, take the whole thing down, and start all over again.”

Fortunately, after the initial shock and my blood pressure returned to normal, I knew what had to be done with the doors. I re-hung the track. Took the enemy door to the garage, removed improvised bottom strip and reinserted it using correct screws so it was quite secure. Reinstalled bottom pivot. Adeptly used the socket wrench to loosen the top pivot holder, re-hung bottom pivot holder so door was hung straight. (Minor discovery, apparently I had snapped he door in and out so many times that the bottom pivot holder had bent and lost its hold, so I reshaped using pliers.) Brought door back, easily and securely hung in the upper pivot. The door stayed in place! I snapped the bottom pivot into hole. It worked! I closed the door. It closed! I did the happy dance!

Re-empowered, I took the other door to the garage. Since I had gone through the process twice already, the re-sizing of the door went much more easily. Sawed off bottom, inserted another improvised piece of wood. Attached all necessary hardware. Brought the door into the laundry room, hung it from the top. It hung on its own! Snapped bottom pivot in its holder. It worked! Closed the door. It closed! I wanted to cry tears of happiness!

The final moment of triumph, I closed both doors. My elation deflated like the burst balloon I had found behind the washer. The doors were too close together. They would not close.

End of story: Took the doors down again, filed them to resize, and eventually rehung—successfully. This is one of my slightly less successful handy-woman stories. Next up, cleaning out the gutters!

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