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2:53pm on Sunday, 2nd March, 2014:



As we're redecorating my home office, we got some new electrical fittings. Today, I took out the old fittings and replaced them with new ones. There was a light switch and two wall sockets — easy!

It took me nearly two hours to fit them.

The light socket was the main problem, because one of the screws wouldn't come out. It seemed to be made of soft metal rather than steel, and when I tried to turn it the screwdriver started to smear the slot across the head. I managed to get it out by around two millimetres, but then it was useless. I had to use a hacksaw to cut the head off.

Inside, I could see the problem. The screw, which was quite long, was bent. Oh well, all I needed to do was to unscrew it using a pair of pliers instead of a screwdriver. It might have worked, too, if the screw hadn't sheared in two...

Based on the now apparent universal softness of the metal, I decided to bend the rest of the screw to give me better leverage in rotating it. This only succeeded in snapping off another piece of it, down to the level of the hole in the circuit box that the screw screwed into.

Only one thing for it, then: drill it out. If I'd known I was going to have to do this, I might have taken the time to see which circuit the lights were on and only switched that one off. However, I didn't know I was going to have to do this, so had switched off all the power. I had to switch on the power again, then switch off the circuits marked "lights". Bearing in mind that the house's wiring is idiosyncratic (our freezer is attached to a circuit marked "lights", for example) this meant there was no guarantee that the naked wires sitting in the circuit box were not live. I needed power to do the drilling, though, so chanced it. The fact that I am alive here to type this demonstarted that my gamble paid off.

I had to step up through three drill sizes before I got the screw drilled out, except for a bit at the back that wouldn't come loose (although it later yielded to my wife's smaller fingers and razor nails). Eventually, though, it was clear. I put a test screw into it and it worked. I attached the switch to the wires, pressed it against the wall and put in the screws.

Oh. Too short.

After searching through my box of assorted screwsm I managed to find an electrical screw of the right length if not the right colour, and forced it into the holes. I found a slightly shorter one that I fitted to the other side. I screwed them both in and finally had something that I could test.

It worked!

Sadly, it worked only in the sense that if you pressed the switch the light would come on and if you pressed it again it would go off. I'd put it on upside-down. It looks as if it's on when it's off and off when it's on (although to Americans it would be the right way up, unlike every other wall switch in the UK).

I decided to leave it as it was until I got some long brass screws to use instead (which I've just got back from buying at B&Q). The screws for the wall sockets were also too short — even though I could use the originals — because the new socket assemblies are thicker than the old ones and the screws go in at the sides, not at the top and bottom (which is where the old ones were attached). They seem to work, though, in that my wife didn't die when she plugged the vacuum cleaner into one of them.

No wonder I never get any time to do research.

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Copyright © 2014 Richard Bartle (richard@mud.co.uk).