Saturday, November 15, 2014

How to replace stop-valves and feeder-lines on a bathroom sink

The previous post explained that metaphor is an example of the descent of an idea down from the realm of mind and into the world of physical form, where it clothes itself by putting on the outward clothing of matter, all for the purpose of enabling our minds to make the leap from that physical manifestation up into the realm of invisible spirit from whence it came.

Herman Melville's Moby Dick powerfully illustrates this process. Deep, protean, and nigh-ungraspable questions such as free will versus fate, or the individual's relationship to the supernatural, come down to earth and take on the outward trappings of gruff, scarred, and gnarled sailors, iron whaling implements,  tarred wooden planks, flapping canvas sails, tropical storms, twisted hemp lines, and selected denizens of the murky deep. 

In doing so, in deigning to descend to our level, these nebulous and majestic concepts whose proper realm is the plane of pure spirit condescend to dwell for a time in the hard, grubby, imperfect world of matter, the better to enable us to wrap our minds around them, and in doing so to use them as a stair or a springboard by which to launch our spirits back upwards towards those ethereal planes.

And indeed, it can be seen that this motion may describe our own motion of "condescending," if indeed we ourselves are beings of spirit and of mind who have clothed ourselves for a time within the imperfect skins of material beings, in order to somehow participate in experience which will similarly serve as a stair or a springboard by which we will ascend to spiritual understanding that we could not have grasped without this physical sojourn.

Melville's Moby Dick truly demonstrates that nearly every physical experience can be seen to have its metaphysical lesson: no aspect of ship-board life, no matter how mundane or how menial, is described by the book without some hint that this too can point us to some higher lesson, some hidden message.

If even the most humble and mundane of physical tasks can hide within it some message about the meaning of this human existence, then perhaps the task of changing out the hardware of a common bathroom sink can point out some metaphysical truths as well. Finding that one of my faucets was leaking, I assayed into the breach with all optimism, only to commit (as usual) just about every mistake in the book, on the way learning various lessons which led me to conclude that perhaps having to fix faucets (along with the other mundane tasks of maintaining houses with parts that tend to wear out and need repair) can be seen as analogous to descending into incarnate human existence, where we are "forced" to have experiences and gain new knowledge that we wouldn't have learned if we just lived in a hotel or something where a maintenance staff did all the repairs for us (which might be akin to staying in the spirit world and avoiding the griminess of incarnation altogether).

For those who may not already have become enlightened regarding the intricacies of bathroom faucets, my experience is described below, in hopes that it may help anyone facing a similar repair, or serve as an amusing comedy of errors for those who already know all this stuff already and can't believe that anyone could be so ignorant.  

Realizing that the faucet fixtures themselves were old and leaky, I bought new ones to replace them, thinking that a simple swap would solve the problem. Shutting off the water at the main, I pulled off the feeder lines from the old fixtures, swapped them out, tightened up the nuts and turned on the water, only to find a little leak at the point of attachment. Pulling out my trusty vise-grip pliers, I proceeded to tighten up the nut still further (experienced plumbers are no doubt cringing at this point), without turning off the main again -- and immediately over-tightened it (a common pattern in most of my repair-work), resulting in a positively spectacular shower of water flying in all directions in the cramped little box-like cabinet under the sink (where my head and shoulders were uncomfortably wedged). 

It resembled the inside of a submarine after springing a leak, and I could hardly extract myself fast enough to get turned around and shut off the stop-valve at the wall before I was soaked, the floor was soaked, the cabinets were soaked, the floor-rugs were soaked, along with all the towels that I had on-hand nearby for wiping up any minor spills.

Having determined that I had probably ruined the nut at the top of the feeder-line, I proceeded to the store to buy some new feeder-lines, without taking a good look at the old ones. If I had, I would have realized that they were the old-school corrugated feeder-lines that are soldered to the angle-valves that go into the wall, as you can see from the photo above (if you look closely, you will see that each line has a base that goes right into the stop-valves, with no possibility of removing the line itself to replace it), and in the close-up photo below. 

So, I was going to have to replace the stop valves as well, with the newer variety that have a threaded attachment for the feeder-line. But, were my stop valves the kind that threaded into the pipe coming out of the wall, or did they attach to a smooth copper pipe using a compression nut?  I hadn't noticed that, so it was back home to look and then return to the store to get the kind I needed: the kind that attached directly to a smooth copper pipe using a compression nut. I purchased the new stop-valves, and the feeder lines to go with them, and headed back to remove the old stop-valves.

Of course, to remove the old compression nut, I had to use two wrenches: one to hold the old stop-valve still and the other to turn the compression nut to loosen it. Here's what my set-up looked like:

That's two pairs of vise-grip pliers, the closer one being kind of a "needle-nosed" vise-grip (holding the old stop-valve housing on either side of the soldered-on feeder-line), and a larger, rounder vise-grip behind it (you can barely see it) gripping the compression nut (which is green with corrosion, enabling you to see exactly where it is in this photo).

Of course, experienced plumbers would probably use different pliers in this case, but this is what I had on hand, so that's what I used. After all, "brute force and ignorance" should be able to make up for a lack of experience or proper tools in most cases, I figured. Holding the closer, needle-nosed set of pliers steady, I proceeded to turn the rear set of pliers with all the strength I could muster, in a counter-clockwise direction. After all, everyone knows that if you want to loosen a nut or other fastener, you turn it in a leftward direction ("lefty-loosey"), just as everyone knows that to tighten a nut or other fastener, you turn it in a rightward or clockwise direction ("righty-tighty").

Those who know all about compression nuts and pipe-fittings are undoubtedly cringing (or laughing) again at my complete ignorance. It felt like the more I turned, the tighter that compression nut was getting. That's because, as I soon began to suspect, I was actually tightening it instead of loosening it. 

I thought to myself, "I wonder if bathroom-sink stop-valve compression nuts are traditionally reverse-threaded?"

Of course, I could have simply picked up one of the new stop-valves I had purchased, to see how their compression nuts were fastened, which would have solved the mystery, but instead I went to the computer and poked around on YouTube, where I found this very helpful video, by Leah from See Jane Drill:

As soon as the video got to about the 2:45 mark, I could see that Leah was turning the compression nut towards the right, or clockwise, in order to loosen it! Ah ha! Finally picking up one of the newly-purchased valves, I realized why: the compression nut actually goes onto the stop-valve from the direction of the wall forward, and therefore "righty-tighty" and "lefty-loosey" must be imagined from the point of view of someone looking at the stop-valve from the wall, rather than from the point of view of someone looking at the stop-valve from the little handle. To loosen the compression nut, I had to turn it "to the right" as I was looking at it from my cramped space inside the cupboard under the sink, which was really "to the left" if I imagined myself looking back outwards from the wall where the copper pipe came out and went into the stop-valve.

After that, things got better, and soon enough I had replaced all the stop-valves, tested them out by turning them to the "off" position and turning the water main to the house back on, tightening them some more where they leaked (I didn't want to be guilty of over-tightening again, so I purposely  tightened them in several stages until all the drips stopped with successive small tightenings), and then hooked up the new feeder lines.

Hopefully, this little episode will prevent others from making some of the same mistakes (that is, if there is anyone out there who didn't already know all of the above already -- probably most readers are shaking their heads in disbelief at the level of plumbing ignorance displayed in this post).

But the bigger point is this: perhaps we come down to this world, messy as it is, in order to be doused with showers of water, and struggle with turning the compression nut in the wrong direction, and to curse and grumble and bang our knuckles inside the cramped confines of our physical cupboards, as we learn the lessons that cannot be learned through any other medium -- lessons that the spirits who do not incarnate (if there are such spirits, and the ancient scriptures of many cultures seem to indicate that there are, including the scriptures that we call "the Bible") don't have the same opportunity to learn.

If Herman Melville's Ishmael could find metaphysical truths about the meaning of human existence in the salty, oily, dangerous, monotonous, and uncomfortable situations aboard the Pequod in the midst of the wide ocean in Moby Dick, then perhaps we can do the same in our own corners of the sea of human existence -- and in doing so, perhaps these seemingly dreary aspects of physical existence can point us towards the spiritual truths that we may in fact have come here in order to learn, and perhaps they can become a cause for us to bless the material world, instead of (sometimes) cursing it.