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HANDY MAC: Raised on rock and roll

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A great industry has built a great city but the checks and balances must be kept in place, despite the tough economic climate putting the squeeze on firms

I’d like to begin by wishing all the best for 2020 and hope it proves a special year. I would also like to thank all my readers who took the time to send well wishes for Christmas and the New Year.

As I have said before, it is these little notes that make writing this column enjoyable. Last year ended with the annual Master Builders Association past presidents lunch, an event at which I always enjoy catching up with old friends who have left their mark on this town. This was echoed in the new president Roy Hendriks’s welcoming speech.

He said: “The song by the band Starship ‘We built this city on rock ’n’ roll’ plays over and over in my head every time I attend this event and what comes to mind is that ‘rock’ represents the foundation you laid with sweat and tears and ‘roll’ signifies the celebration and enjoyment when it all comes together.”

So, we have a great industry that has built a great city, now we need to keep it going by keeping a careful eye on what is now being built without many of the correct checks and balances in place.

Hendriks ended his address on a sobering note: “As we are all aware the economy has been in constant decline over the last couple of years and we have reached a point not seen before, with an unprecedented number of construction companies being liquidated and others applying for business rescue.”

So, what do I think 2020 is going to bring? Unfortunately, I see more of the same to come. The continuing downturn is going to force more and more contractors closer to the edge, which means there will be more and more cutting of corners. So, for those of you who are planning to have work done, ensure you are dealing with a reputable contractor who is going to last the distance. And… I have to stop writing because… we have load shedding.

Q and A

Don’t go into panic mode in dealing with load shedding. Picture: Riccardo Annandale

James is worried about the future. Q:Hi Don, with load shedding back on the horizon what do you recommend I should do to ensure we have a back-up plan?

A: Mrs Mac has been asking me the same question and I have spent a large part of my leave thinking about this because we have a wedding coming up with overseas guests in the house. I have a feeling Mrs Mac is going to be keeping me busy; but back to the question. I am not sure if we should go into panic mode just yet and I have not yet seen shop shelves being stocked with generators or inverters and the like, but I guess the shops are just being careful as last time around they were left with a lot of unsold stock.

This is an interesting topic, though. For example, the fire-damaged guesthouse I am rebuilding at the moment is considering different alternative power sources because previously they had guests who were not sympathetic to the problems of South Africa. My biggest fear is losing food in the freezer and the simple answer there is to not fill it. Of course, I love to cook so being without a stove would also be a problem but I have been cooking on gas for years.

I would recommend that everyone has a twoplate glass stove hidden in the cupboard. I believe you need to cut your coat according to daily needs, so I would not recommend spending a fortune on anything at the moment. I acquired a generator while we were living in Clanwilliam but to be honest, I have maybe used it twice – noise and fumes tend to make it a no-no in congested areas.

What we do use, but I need to buy a new battery, is an inverter. This is handy when you want to hook up your decoder and TV so you don’t miss any Liverpool football matches. Mrs Mac also has six solar lanterns that are always fully charged, so we don’t stumble around in the dark.

Tip of the week

Sanding is one method of stripping. Picture: Ian Schneider

At the end of November, I was helping you with the steps to redecorate your home. We had reached the stage of stripping your timber surfaces (you can find these articles under Handy Mac). Obviously, not all items need to be stripped to a bare surface, but there is nothing worse than patchy painted timber.

The paint used on timber tends to be thicker than other paints, so where paint has chipped off it is not easy to repair and obtain a smooth new surface. If you are going to tackle stripping your old timber surfaces yourself, be prepared to put a fair amount of time aside. It takes forever and a day, but the result will leave you with a feeling of satisfaction.

Of course, you could call in a contractor, but this is a job that many contractors will back away from, as they tend to overprice to ensure they don’t lose money. Conversely, if they underprice, you are going to get a bad result. 

There are three main methods:

1 Sanding is best kept for small projects. A quick word about sandpaper and wire wool, both of which can cause damage to wood unless you take it easy. When you sand wood, you take the surface off and you need to do it as evenly as possible without rubbing it thin. Power tools help because their design forces you to apply even pressure. Whatever method you use, I recommend you take it slowly and easily until you get a feel for it.

2 An electric hot-air gun removes paint in no time, but can scorch the wood if you’re not careful. Scorching is less important, of course, when you’re planning to re-paint the wood. Bear in mind also that a hot-air gun can only be used as a paint remover, not a varnish remover, as varnishes tend to go gooey.

3 Chemical stripping is the best method for stripping carved wood with hard-toreach, intricate areas, but in reality, you will probably use a combination of mechanical and chemical methods for your project, especially if you have layer upon layer of old paint to remove. Chemical paint removers deliver the best results, removes varnishes and paints faster than sanding and tend to be the least harsh.

Care needs to be taken when using chemical strippers, however, as these present their own care and safety issues.

If you have a question for Don, send it to or SMS only to 0824463859. 


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