Logo 1 #topThe Poor Man's Fix-it shop.[not for the proficient craftsman] . . . .Logo 2


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    Strange things happen to the body when we grow old, however things can happen to the very young as well.

    On occasion my back will go out to the point that I'm immobile for weeks at a time. Before I can even move my legs a few inches to the side I have to take a couple large pain pills. Some things like putting on my socks and pants and picking things off the floor and putting on my trousers is out of the question. To remedy this handicap I came up with this solution.


    For retrieving small things from off the floor I bought a plastic tube from the local hardware store and taped it to the front (and a little to the side) of my cane. In this I inserted a long pickup tool also purchased at the hardware store. With this I am able to pick up things I drop anywhere I happen to be as long as I have my cane with me. This little tool draws some stares, as well as a few comments.

    For putting on my pants I use a large cup hook screwed to the end of a 2 foot dowel. This last item is not my idea, having been given one like it by someone who no longer needed it. I made several of the hooks and place them in various places. They come in handy for hooking to the loop at the back of shoes and boots, which at times I have trouble with.

    This and other of my creations such as the sock putter-oner I made duplicates of and gave to a friend who often has more problems than I do.


Sock slip thm.jpg


    This is another item available from specialty stores. It's used for putting on socks. You slip the sock over the trough and slide your foot into the trough allowing the sock to come up high enough to be reached. I used an old scrap piece of flat-bottom rain gutter to make this one, and several others like it which I gave away. I keep one handy at all times just in case.


Push pull


    A couple years ago I met a lady we'll call Sandi who has an advanced case of rheumatoid arthritis. She's wheel chair bound and her hands are like hooks, essentially useless. At the time I met here she was able to walk with a walker. Now she's at the point that even getting from the chair to her bed is a great chore. Eventually she'll be unable to take care of herself at all.

    Sandi was at a point that she felt everything was hopeless because she was unable to do anything for herself. Being the curious person I am I set out to make some tools that would enable her to do some things outside her abilities. First I made this push-pull, as I call it. It's a heavy duty paper clip wrapped solid against a wood dowel with a piece of surgical tubing over the exposed part of the clip. At the end of the stick I placed a pencil eraser that I cut the end off of making it flat. My thinking was that with this tool Sandi could push thing away from her and draw them to her. This first idea was a flop. It wasn't strong enough. But the concept put me on the right track. For one thing I saw that the leather strap I put at the end of the dowel worked well, but I misjudged Sandi's need. 

    Next I made a bunch of sticks like the one above, only instead of 24 inches I made them only 16 inches because I saw that Sandi  would hold the handle in the middle rather than at the end of the handle. The sticks were too short because the loops were needed for support up Sandi's arm. So I had to remake all the tools with longer handles.

    I might add here that after the tools are made I brush them with a good coat of varnish.

    I made several tools of various kinds. I installed a plastic spatula on one, a small brush on another, and a bottle brush end on another, and a heavy hook on another. A lot of the tools didn't work for her, but some did. The bottle brush turned out to do well for cleaning spots on the carpet (Sandi had to reach whatever she wanted from her wheel chair, and this without bending over very far). The larger hook allowed her to bring things toward her, and the hook like the one in the first picture I made several of because it worked for just about everything. She now has a hook in various locations throughout her apartment.


Hook big thm.jpg    Some hooks Sandi uses. She says the big hook is one she uses often, whereas I expected it to be a failure, just an experiment. The fingernail file she uses for her toenails. I didn't make this one, someone else did. I made one like it, but it bent. This one is made better than the one I made, using dowels through the stick and holes drilled through the stick and the file, like pop rivets. Very professional.
Hook rack thm.jpg       The hook rack near the door.

book holder


    Another problem Sandi has is reading in bed. To aid in this endeavor I made this folding book rack out of foam core. I used fabric tape for the hinges, and a strip of foam at the bottom of the platform to rest the book on. Even though the stand works very well and is convenient, it didn't work for Sandi because the books are too heavy for her with the rack. Although she wasn't able to use this device, another person in the apartment (assisted living) was able to use it. There were several things she was unable to make use of but found someone else who could use it.


Book rack


    A picture from the back. As you can see, the ears fold in allowing the stand to lay flat when not in use.

    I glued a piece of non-slip material to the bottom of the stand so it wouldn't slip while being rested on the bed covers while in bed.




    Whenever I made something I would try to use it in the same way Sandi would hold it, which is with her thumb against the side of her hand. I made these variously shaped wooden tweezers out of ice cream sticks (craft sticks) all with different tips. I could thread a needle using these with my hand held as previously described. She chose not to use them however, but she found someone that could use these very instruments.



(Photo not available at this time)


    Some time ago Sandi told me that one problem she was especially having is getting from her chair to the stool. This problem seemed a bit beyond my ability to deal with. And since she was still managing without such a device, I set the idea on the back burner while I handled what I considered more immediate problems and tasks. After almost a year she told me that I might bring the project to the forefront because she had deteriorated to a point the task was almost unmanageable. So I  set my thinking cap in motion and this is what I came up with.

    At the time I was looking for parts for what I had in mind I discovered that a thrift store had a small bicycle for sale cheap. The bike had training wheels which is a good indication as to just how small it was. I strapped the bike to my bike rack (a challenge in itself) and brought the bike home. I used the handlebars for the pivot support, and I taped a foam pipe insulation to the top of the bars so she could have something comfortable to rest her arms on. Then I inserted the neck of the handlebars into a thick piece of PVC that I had reinforced at the top so the pipe would be able to handle her weight. At the bottom, against the floor, I attached a lead pipe connector with screws countersunk into the wood from the bottom. As you can see I've added some reinforcement wood to the base so the handle would have lots of strength to withstand the pressure Sandi's weight would exert. Then on the bottom of the base sheet I glued a piece of non-slip material to keep the device in place, and so the floor wouldn't get scratched from the wood and the screws. 

    In the PVC pipe is a lead pipe that runs from the floor base to the very end of the handle bar neck. Without this pipe the PVC could never survive Sandi's wright. 

    My thought was that Sandi could ride her wheel chair onto the board, which would hold it in place, and swivel to wherever she wanted to go. Since I saw that she had to mount the device from the right side of the stool, I angled the plywood about 30 degrees toward the left so she could run the wheel chair well on the piece of plywood that serves as a base. Sandi said the device works ok, but she can't use it for that purpose.

    By the time I finally got the device made Sandi had deteriorated so far that she didn't have the strength to use it. However she's happy with it because she says she uses it as an exercise machine, and it's helping her build strength in her arms and even in her legs.    

    Even failures can turn out to be successful.

Blinds cord thm.jpg     This is the cord attached to the blinds.  
Jersey knitt thm.jpg     Sandi says these are strips of jersey knit she bought from a thrift store. The ones I made had been destroyed by some workmen during an accidental water leak in the apartment above her..  

Frig jersey knitt thm.jpg

    Some other ideas, attempts and failures.
    Life isn't set up for people without use of their hands. For instance these new smooth doors without handles. These are used throughout Sandi's apartment. Her sister visited her and tied a cloth strap to the refrigerator door, allowing Sandi to put her arm through the loop and by backing up in her chair pull the door open. I expanded on this idea and tied a ribbon of material around all her closets and doors, and left a loop on the end through which Sandi can put her arm as leverage to pull the door open
    The door to the apartment opens to the inside. This would be no problem except that when Sandi pulls on the door, it bumps against the foot of her wheel chair. I made an extension for the door handle and tied a loop around it to help solve the problem, It worked, but Sandi was unable to use it. She prefers to use the old method, especially after this next alteration.
    Sandi's door was nearly impossible to open. I couldn't figure out why at first, then I went on the web and found that fire doors have a single adjustable hinge that forces the door closed if there's a fire. Sandi's door had three of these, all adjusted to their maximum. I loosened them all until the door would close, but softly, allowing it to be much easier to open. This made a world of difference, and when the maintenance man heard of this he did the same with all the rest of the rooms in the complex.
    The window shades were impossible for Sandi to reach from her chair. I thought to tie a loop at the ends of the cords so Sandi could use her hook to lower and raise the blinds. Someone who was visiting her had a better idea and they tied a long, decorative sash from the cords that Sandi could reach and utilize..
    Sandi was unable to put on her house slippers because she couldn't reach them. I took a piece of matching fabric and sewed it over a piece of heavy string, which I stitched to the back of her slippers like many shoes come with. With her hook she is now able to reach the back of her slippers and pull them on.
    Sandi has dropped her cell phone in a store as well as in the house. Retrieving it was near impossible. I put a small metal ring (like what comes on a key chain, only very small)on the phone to which I fastened a strap of leather. She can now fasten the phone to her arm, or over the arm of her chair when it's not in use. If nothing else, she now has something to hook on to if she drops it.
    I made a hook like before described that she could carry with her at all times. This was her idea. It's only about 12 inches long and it's carried in her bag which she hangs over the arm of her wheel chair. This is her favorite tool because it's right there at all times. She says people tease her saying "Oh, no, Sandi's about to pull out her hook, be careful."
    A few expensive failures I tried. One problem Sandi has is that if there were to be a fire, or if she was in trouble, she has no way of telling anyone in the building of it. Also if anyone comes to the door and she's in a far room she can't notify them she's there and to come in. In an attempt to overcome this problem I bought two very small walkie talkies, one for outside, and one she can carry with her. This idea might have worked well if Sandi had enough strength to press the button, which she didn't.
    Another attempt at communication was to install a baby monitor outside, in the hallway, through which she could say what she wanted to say wherever she happened to be in the apartment. This worked, but she wanted it to work both ways, so it would require two baby monitors, hooked up in opposite directions. This she didn't want to do.
    Trying to cut something with scissors was out of the question. I got her a pair of those tiny battery operated trimmers, and that seemed to help.
    Picking something up off the floor was difficult at best. I made one of the dowels with a nail on the end, and she says she can pick up about anything with it..
    This little goody amazed her. When I saw that Sandy was unable to pick up a magazine if it fell on the floor, I came up with this idea. I drilled a hole near the bottom of a dowel and drove a 3 inch finishing nail all the way into the hole. Then I drilled another hole about an inch above the first hole, and angled it down toward the first nail. Again I drove a nail through this hole causing this nail to angle down toward the first nail at a shallow angle. The points of the nails are now about a half inch or less apart. When I demonstrated the tool, picking up a magazine from the floor by scooping it between the nails, causing the nails to work against the pull of the magazine's weight, she was amazed. Later she told me she's even picked up books with this device.
    I was in the process of making a type of prosthetic hand out of a store-bought pick up tool which could attach to Sandi's arm. But before I completed it I saw she would be unable to use it, so I abandoned the project. The idea was that instead of having a trigger you operate with your fingers as you and I would do, I would have the device strapped in two places to the arm, and with the other arm press the trigger to release the grip rather than compress the claw.

    Something to keep in mind when working with the handicapped. They, like most people, don t know what they want or what they need. As I said above, the first time I visited Sandy at her apartment I asked her if she needed anything. She said she didn't. I suggested she think about any problem she might be having and to let me know the next time I saw her. In the meantime I had seen her need to exit the door and to get into her cabinets. I made the first tool in hopes of helping her bring things near., and to open her cabinets. The next time I visited she had come up with some ideas, to which I put to the test in effort toward finding a solution. Over the course of about a year we had solved about every problem that was in the realm of solving. After I began working on these tools for a short while Sandi told me that she had reached a hopeless state, that it appeared she would be unable to do anything for herself. And now she says she feels that she can do anything. What a difference a few simple instruments and a little time can make in a person's life.
    I haven't visited Sandi for some time now, getting so involved with other things. But I've seen her a couple times in town, and I asked her if there was anything she needed. She said no, she had everything in control now, even though her body has deteriorated since the last time I visited her. Probably one reason I haven't been to her apartment is for that reason, she has everything she needs.

ramp thm.jpg
(More photos to come)
    I have a friend who has difficulty climbing stairs. The few steps from his porch to the ground has become more than he can handle at times, especially on the days he has to use a walker. I built him a ramp to make the job easier. Many years ago I made a single step ramp for my father so he could traverse the back step with his wheel chair.  This ramp I found to be similar in construction, only many times larger.
    The ramp itself was not much of a challenge, only needing some uprights in a few locations and the lumber (2x6's) used for the ramp itself. Then, because I was using uprights that extended about 6 feet above the ramp with the intentions of (and accomplished) building an overhead cover with bent PVC pipes and a tarp, I needed to make sure the base of the uprights were well attached to the steps where possible, or to one another with added 2x4's along the ground, under the ramp.
    The tricky part for me was how to cut the part of the 2x6 runners that rested on the ground and that attaches to the upper step, since it's the top of the runners that have to line up exactly, not the bottoms. I decided to try resting the edge of the upper end of the runner on the upper step, and let the bottom part rest naturally on the ground. Then I laid a straight edge along the top step vertically, and drew a line on the runner causing the line (cut) to line up with the front of the top step. Then, with the runner still in this place, I took a piece of 2x6 and laid it on the ground next to the runner, and drew a line. Now the lines matched the surface they were to rest on.
   After cutting the runners at the lines I drew, I rested the runners in place. Then using a piece of half inch plywood similar to what I was going to place over the runners as a guide, the leading edge angled to meet the step smoothly, I marked where the runner would have to be fastened to the steps. (Note, many people use 2x6s, fastened as cross members, as ramps rather than plywood, which allows for better drainage and a more secure foundation, but it's not as easy to traverse with a walker.) Because the steps are so wide, the runners had to be notched to accommodate the protruding steps (where the notched runner failed to meet the step since it was a guess-and-by-golly process, I filled in the gap with pieces of wood to insure a strong support). When the ramp was installed, I placed reinforcment pieces of 2x4s at the steps, attaching them to the front of the step and outside the runners. I did this also along the rest of the runners to give it added support where the long uprights were too distantly spaced. The uprights were spaced 4 feet apart, and I used the added supports allowing for only 2 feet of distance to remain unsupported.
   At the top of the stairs, under where the ramp meets the step, I fastened a 4 foot 2x4, which is the width of the finished ramp. This new piece of lumber provided a rest for the runners while I made the final connections. Although I screwed the runners to the step, I added extra strength to this upper attachment by insuring that the upright was firmly attached both to the step and the runner since this was the most critical connection. If this point of the construction sags or comes loose it will cause the ramp to become difficult to use at best, and dangerous at the least.
    Once the ramp was covered with the sheets of plywood, I made hand rails on each side of the ramp using well sanded 2x2s. I also ran another hand rail on the outside of the ramp so there would be a rail usable for either hand since there was already a rail on the far side of the steps.
    There was no problem making a smooth contact with the ground end of the ramp, but at the top I made sure the plywood was tightly pressed against the porch, and filed the edge so the transition was as smooth as possible.
    Two more features were added to this ramp. One I made a simple triangular, somewhat decorative gate for the foot of the ramp that had a double-swinging hinge on it that allowed free access (latched open), but that could be locked in order to keep the young grandchildren from riding their bicycles on the ramp (which, I've heard, has not been totally a success).
   Bob used to work at a plywood mill and was familiar with the 4 foot wide belts of sandpaper they use. These are thrown away when no longer suitable for their purpose. Bob acquired some of these and applied them to the ramp, thus making the surface that much more secure, especially during the wet and the icy winters we have here. The tarp cover also serves this purpose, causing the ramp to be that much more attractive, but safer as well.
   I might add that even if the ramp is to be covered this way, it's a good idea to use a coating of primer and floor paint on the ramp to decrease the possibility of built up dirt and water that will rot the wood and make the ramp dangerous. I made sure the ramp was painted before I left for this very reason. It was February when I built the ramp, and we were very fortunate to have enough of a break in the weather to allow for this job to be completed.


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