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HANDY MAC: Teach skills from past for kings of the future

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Having good skills and proper training in building trades is imperative to maintaining old standards, many of are being lost and forgotten

So here I am, on the banks of the Klein River in Stanford, the only ou toppie in a group of 11 30-somethings primed for a two-night bachelor party, but I have a beautiful view across the valley and I can listen to the banter of a group of young men enjoying a break from the stressful world we all live in.

We have two ship’s officers, a British master carpenter, a doctor, a model, an up-and-coming rugby coach, a quantity surveyor, two accountants and a jewellery designer. Quite a varied bunch, but all guys that are soon going to have to make the decision as to whether to fix the problems with their properties themselves or to call in “The Guy”.

The UK carpenter is probably the only one who has a chance of doing it himself, not that the others wouldn’t had they been given the skills. It is interesting that seven of the guys went to Wynberg Boys’ High School which, as I have been writing about over the last year, is the first school in South Africa to introduce a fully fledged technology wing offering a whole range of “practical” subjects to provide alternative careers for our children.

If I had my time over again, I would insist that my boys did a trade before heading off to university. We are reaching a point where the people entrusted with maintaining our homes are not the artisans of the old days and pretty soon we are all going to have to live with “plug and play” as there is no one left to maintain what we have.

I seriously believe that properly qualified artisans will become the “kings of the future”. There is always going to be a need for people who can restore or maintain the past. I am currently involved with restoring a fire-damaged guest house in Mowbray where the owner and architect are committed to retaining the old finishes and features.

From day one the owner insisted that timber is an extremely resilient product and that the floorboards could be re-used, and he was right. We need to ensure that we impart the skills of the past to the artisans of the future to ensure that we don’t lose our valuable heritage.

Q and A

Staircases should have handrails, ensuring safety for young and old alike. Picture: Jimmy Chan

Dave has mobility problems.

Q: Hi Don, my wife and I are starting to get on in years and the stairs are beginning to become a problem. Is installing a lift in our house a good idea?

A: Mrs Mac has never quite understood why I did not want to buy or build a double-storey home and has always accused me of thinking too far ahead, but it is one of those decisions where your chickens will eventually come home to roost.

I would love to have a home with a wide-sweeping timber staircase, but already my back is not what it should be and I would hate to be seen dragging myself up by the handrail. Talking about handrails, please make sure if you have a staircase you have the requisite handrails and that they are safe.

I am surprised that the house we are staying in this weekend does not have handrails on the lower six treads, as elderly people can do themselves a lot of harm falling 1.5m. I am not a great fan of chair lifts fitted to staircases – to me it says I need help – whereas a modern internal lift is efficient and if necessary you should be able to fit a wheelchair inside.

Modern technology has seen home lifts improve to the point where they are almost “plug and play” depending on the design of your home and what you are prepared to see. Aesthetically, the worst case scenario is that you might just need a hole in the floor.

However these lifts do come at a price, probably in the region of R250 000, but if you put that against the cost of moving, complete with all the fees, I doubt that there is much in it and the other upside is you get to stay in the home that you love for longer.

Or of course like me you can upset your wife and never move to a double-storey home. We have to remember though that due to the space we have in South Africa, we are fortunate that we can build larger footprint single-storey homes, unlike the situation in the UK for example where most of the homes are double-storey ones.


Direct complaints to the right person. Picture: 1IconS8 Team R N

I receive many letters of complaint across a wide range of building-related issues and on the surface it appears that we are all accepting lower standards as the workforce expects to be paid more for doing less.

If you need to get a lawyer involved, the costs just keep escalating. No one is trained to take charge anymore; it is so much easier just to pass the buck.

I do believe though that we certainly don’t have enough training especially in the field of interaction; we forget that we have a workforce that nowadays operates on the principle of “see one, do one, teach one”. I am teaching myself to explain and help rather than just venting at the wrong person for the wrong thing. 

Tip of the week

Getting colours right is paramount. Picture: Mika Baumeister

What better place to continue our painting journey than with me sitting looking over an array of colours and hues which are constantly changing as the sun slips below the horizon and the artificial lighting in our rented house comes on.

I drove into our local shopping centre last week to see it was being repainted. 

This was an illusion: there were huge squares of suggested colours on every façade, all in a greyish/blue hue, but they were big enough to be seen, unlike the little patches you get from sample tins.

Getting your colours right is more important than all the prep we have gone through over the last couple of months.

The secret is to put a big sample on a few different walls which are subject to many different light variations during the day, and then make your decision.

The darker the colour, the more it is will cost, as the paint needs more pigments added. The other problem is that when you have had enough of the colour they are much harder to paint over and it can take a good few coats to get back to a lighter colour.


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