John Ford: Fixing leaky faucet not quite as easy as it looks

John Ford

It’s a good thing I became a journalist and not a plumber -- I would starve to death.

On a rare day off from my job, I decided to fix a constantly running faucet in the kitchen. We’d turned the water off at the cutoff valves under the sink so we wouldn’t be faced with a horribly high water bill. But after a few days of washing dishes in the bathroom sink, my wife, Phyllis, was understandably fed up.

“No problem,” I remember telling her. “Dad was a good plumber, and I’m sure I picked up a couple of things from him along the way. I’ll have that fixed in a jiffy.”

That jiffy turned into a five-hour project that necessitated no fewer than three trips to the hardware store.

I had learned a few things from Dad along the way, namely “righty-tighty, lefty loosey,” how to tell a pipe wrench apart from, say, a Phillips screwdriver, and to use a little WD-40 to bust loose rusty or corroded parts.

Other than that, I was lost.

At first, I thought my constantly running faucet was the result of a worn or broken washer. I remember Dad replacing several while growing up, and I even assisted a few times. I thought I could handle it.

So, remembering our work in the past, I knew the first step would be to unscrew and remove the handle.

But what tool to use? I couldn’t see the screw, so I tried a flat screwdriver, then a Phillips.

Then I had a bright idea -- why don’t I get a flashlight and see what type of screw it is?

Well, our battery-powered home flashlight needs a fresh battery. And the truck flashlight was all the way out in the truck. So I got our emergency flashlight, one of those battery-less windup jobs.

After about a minute of cranking, I had a light bright enough I could see by, and I peered at the screw.

An Allen head? Geez. So I walked out to the truck, and after a 20-minute search in my toolbox, I found my Allen wrenches. A few minutes later, the offending handle was off.

But no washer was present. Instead, I had to take the faucet apart.

Years of lime scale had pretty much sealed the faucet into a cohesive lump. After several liberal applications of WD-40, I was finally able to take it apart, and lo and behold, there was the washer.

That doesn’t look too bad, I thought -- but looks can be deceiving.

So it was off to the hardware store for a new washer.

While I was at it, I decided to fix the sink sprayer, which had a broken handle for the past four or five years. That’s right, years.

So about $9 later, I had my parts and was on my way home.

I replaced the washer fairly quickly and with a minimum of fuss.

The sink sprayer was another matter.

It came with a small metal clip that either looked like the spring off of a clothespin or the curved end of a paper clip. That clip held the spray head attachment onto the sprayer hose.

So I got a trusty pair of needle-nosed pliers, as I knew my fat fingers would likely not be able to grip the little clip. I attached the little metal doo-dad onto the hose and pressed.

BOING! The clip bounced off of the house and promptly went down into the garbage disposal. I got my windup flashlight, cranked for a minute or two, then peered down into the disposal.

The clip had disappeared.

Aw, no! No!

Another trip to the hardware store later, I came home with another head attachment, as they don’t sell just the clips.

Again getting my trusty pliers, I applied the clip to the end of the house. But first, I blocked off the garbage disposal with a drain plug.

BOING! The clip flew off of the end of the hose, and went flying around the kitchen. A 30-minute search proved fruitless.

Well, I wasn’t about to spend another $6 for another spray attachment, so I made a clip out of an old guitar string.

I finally got that project done, and turned on the water.

The faucet still ran continuously.

“That’s it. I’m beat. I’ll do the dishes out in the yard under the garden hose if I have to!” I exclaimed.

An hour later, I’d sufficiently calmed down enough to try one last trip to the hardware store. I explained my problem to one of the workers there, who grinned and said, “I think I know what your trouble is.”

Well, I thought he would launch into a sermon about do-it-yourselfers, but he didn’t.

Instead, we went back to the plumbing aisle and pulled out a packet of washers and springs from the shelf.

“Your valve seats are worn out. Replace these, and you should be good to go. You can poke them out with a pencil or a little screwdriver.”

Fifteen minutes later, I was back in business. The water flowed when I wanted and didn’t when I didn’t.

I gained some confidence in doing this project, but I think I’ll leave bigger projects up to the pros. Or at least ask lots of questions from the guys at the hardware store before I begin.

Neosho Daily News