The Simple Hinge Replacement Story
Written 7/18/2016 Revised 8/20-2016
In September of 2001, when we purchased a property located on 160 Palo de Oro Drive in Venetian Shores in Islamorada, the house, as well as the property it was on, had been neglected by the owners for several years, so we purchased it with the intentions of doing a complete renovation.
The home that was on 160 Palo de Oro drive was built back in 1967, by a local contractor named Gene Rhodus, the owner and designer of the home was a Mr. Wittman, who was a retired engineer from Wisconsin. Mr. Wittman had sold his wood burning stove business to Sears Roebuck and then he had gone on to teach engineering at the University of Chicago and then in Japan.
When Mr. Wittman, returned to the states from Japan, he purchased a building lot in a new development in Islamorada called Venetian Shores.
Once Wittman owned a corner lot, he set about designing a house, and while doing so, he incorporated a lot of features into the homes design that were considered pretty revolutionary in the Keys back in 1967.
The front of the property and the house faced the Snake Creek water way, which is a major thoroughfare for boats traveling from the Gulf of Mexico to the Atlantic Ocean, so when Mr. Wittman designed his seawall, it was totally his design, a design that had never been seen in the Keys before. It was, a two level concrete seawall that ran all along the 150 feet of property frontage facing Snake Creek. He designed the seawall with two levels. The lower level he called the fishing deck and the upper level of the seawall he called the promenade deck, the upper deck even had a shuffle ball court painted on to it.
Directly in front of the house, facing Snake Creek, Wittman designed and built right into the seawall, a 20 feet wide boat slip, and that is where he installed two hand crank davits to lift his small boat out of the water. His boat slip was a masterpiece of design, it went all the way under the second floor patio of the house he designed, a feature that the building code would never allow today. Mr. Wittman then designed a 4 feet wide concrete walking bridge that crossed over the top of the boat slip. The bridge constructed over the boat slip had been designed by Mr. Wittman, but it had a beautiful butterfly staircase on both sides. The butterfly stairs were a unique design invented and patented by the building contractor Gene Rhodus.
Underneath the concrete bridge, on each side, Wittman had designed storage lockers. The built in lockers were 4 feet wide by 4 feet deep and four feet high. Each locker had two ¼ inch thick plywood doors. The doors closed and locked together with a simple household sliding bolt type lock. It was Wittman’s intention to use the lockers for the storage of boat and fishing related items like extra anchor ropes, safety gear and the storage of plastic ice coolers.
By the time we purchased the property in 2001, the plywood doors on the lockers were already warped and deteriorating. The sliding bolt lock still worked with a little jiggling, but the salt water had taken its toll on the plywood, and because plain old steel every day household hinges had been used, and now everything was falling apart.
It was around the summer of 2010, when my wife Katherine and I attended an art show at a local high school where several local Keys companies had booths set up displaying items they manufactured.
What caught our attention was a vendor making outdoor Adirondack chairs and tables out of a material called TREX, which is a white, manmade composite plastic lumber. Not only was he making outdoor chairs and furniture but he was also embossing in them pictures of palm trees or fish. The vendor said that he could make anything we wanted out of TREX, so I asked him if he could make new doors for our storage lockers, he said yes.
The vendor eventually came by the house and measured each locker. He said that he would fabricate two door frames one for each locker, each frame was to have two TREX doors mounted in in it, and he said he would supply a finished molding to go around the exterior to be installed once I mounted the doors and the frames into the lockers. We told him to emboss green colored palm trees on the doors, just like we had seen on other items he had on display in his booth, he said that was no problem.
About three weeks later, the vendor showed up with the doors mounted in the frames. He said that they were ready for me to install, but I immediately saw that the green palm tree design we requested was missing. When I brought it to his attention that we had ordered it with green palm trees cut in to the doors, the fellow said that it would be an additional $150.00 for each set of doors.
Well we were in the Florida Keys, and my wife and I were already used to dealing with vendors, that do not do what they say they said they would do. As we had already paid him for the doors and frames, we reluctantly told him we would pay the extra money to have the four palm trees embossed into the doors.
We paid him the extra money, and he did emboss the green palm trees. He delivered them and I installed both sets of doors onto the storage lockers. In the next few months, the vendor came by a couple of times in his own boat, to admire the locker doors.
Around the year 2013, we had started using the lockers to store the extra tile left over from our renovation of the house. One day when I went to open one of the locker doors it seemed to be very stiff, I found that it was because the hinges inside were completely rusted. It appeared that the vendor had used regular indoor iron cabinet hinges, not salt water resistant or stainless steel, which he should have been used when something is exposed to a salt water marine environment.
I removed one of the rusty hinges off the locker door, it was not easy as the screws were so rusty. My wife and I then went to Home Depot to look for salt water resistant replacement hinges. After wasting a lot of time at Home Depot, it was off to Lowe’s, and then it was stopping at all the local hardware stores in the keys. It see0ms that everyone had similar style hinges but they were not exactly the same, and none would work properly. We found there was not even one hardware store that had any style of stainless hinge that we could convert to use.
Several weeks went by and my wife Katherine started searching the internet, and that project, became a nightmare, as no one that she could find, had a similar hinge. Now there were tons of hinges available on the internet, but none of the hinges looked the same as what we needed. After we made several attempts looking on
Amazon, and Ebay, we were starting to get depressed. It appeared that the brand of hinge that we needed was discontinued and no longer being made.
We debated as to what to do next, because several internet companies said that we should send them our rusty sample, but we were hesitant to lose our sample. The remaining seven hinges were all so rusty it was not easy to remove them from the locker doors, and if I removed any more hinges, I was afraid the doors would start to fall off while we were waiting to hear from the internet companies.
We were extremely hesitant to call the original fellow that built the doors for us, because of the bad experience we already had with him in the past regarding the embossing of the palm trees. I decided to just go out and buy a completely different style of stainless hinge and I would eliminate the style of hinge that was on the door. I then went out and I bought several different styles of stainless hinges hoping that I could convert them to work. Incredible as it seems I learned that not all hinges work the same, and none of the stainless hinges I bought would work on our locker doors.
Finally, after a year had passed, and I had spent quite a bit of money trying every style hinge available that might work.
After much debate, we reluctantly called up the fellow that had originally made the doors for us. He said yes he would get us hinges. We waited several months, and we called him several times to remind him, but eventually a year went by with no hinges from him.
One day in the fall of 2016, we attended an art show at a local church, and the outdoor furniture vendor’s wife was working their booth. We told her that we had been waiting for over a year, for her husband to call us with the replacement hinges and she said that she would look into it immediately. We were so sure that she would be a more responsible person but there was no such luck, neither she nor her husband ever called us.
After another 3 months, my wife decided to make one last try, and she called the vendor up. He said that he had the stainless steel hinges waiting for us. He said they cost him $70.00, and we could pick them up anytime, so we said we would go to his shop and get them that very day.
Once we were at his shop, the vendor changed the whole hinge story. He now said that the original style of hinge was now a discontinued item. That was not what he had said to my wife on the phone, he had intimated that what he had was the original hinge in stainless steel. Now, he was saying that the one he had was similar to the original, and he said that it would bolt up almost the same as the original. Then he said that all we had to do was slightly alter the doorframe.
As we sat there, he was talking to me as if I were a professional carpenter or cabinetmaker. He held two small pieces of TREX in his hand as well as the new hinge and he explained how easy it all was to do.
Standing next to his office door, he had prepared 4 pieces of TREX boards that were 3-1/2 inches wide by 4 feet long by ½ inch thick. He said, all we needed to do, was to cut the TREX boards to length, and then install them in the doorframes. After that we could easily install the replacement hinges, he assured me that all l the screw holes in the doors would be the same, and our bill was going to be only $115.00 for the eight hinges, the 4 pieces of TREX board and he screws.
Well, as soon as we got home, I immediately removed one of the locker doors. He had said this was going to be a simple project so I thought we could get it all done quickly.
The first thing I found was that TREX boards he gave us were too long, but luckily I had a professional carpenters cut off saw down in our utility room, so I set it up and cut the pieces of TREX the correct length.
When I tried to fit the newly cut TREX Boards into the sided of the existing door frames, I found that they needed to be notched top and bottom in order to fit properly. Luckily, I just happened to have a carpenter’s casement saw to do the job, and I just happened to have a bench mounted vice in our utility room. I used the vice to hold the TREX boards while I was notching them.
When we removed the other rusty hinges from the locker doors, we found that the new replacement hinges he had sold us were completely different from the original hinges, also all the screw holes were all in different locations. We debated, should we drive back to his shop in Key Largo and demand our money back.
So much for the new hinges being an exact fit, they were completely different, but luckily, I happened to own a battery powered hand drill and a very large selection of drill bits, and also we had a big selection of the right size stainless screws to install the new hinge onto the four doors.
After re-drilling all the holes, I installed the hinges into one of the doors. Then we found that the one half inch thick piece of TREX board he gave us was much too thick to allow the hinge to work properly if we used them. Why the fellow said they would work, I will never know.
There was no question about it, we felt that installing these hinges was obviously a project better suited for a professional carpenter with a lot of cabinet making experience, it certainly was not a project for amateurs like us.
It now appeared to us that not even one thing that the hinge fellow had told us was true. We studied the
hinges over, and over, and we eventually determined that the long TREX board pieces he gave us might work if its 1/2 inch thickness could be milled down to 1/4 inch.
Fortunately, we just happened to have a professional carpenters Dewalt wood milling machine in our utility room, and we milled the TREX down to the correct 1/4 inch thickness. The white sawdust from our milling the plastic TREX boards completely filled our yard just as if it was snowing. What a mess, but luckily we had an industrial size shop vacuum at our disposal left over from when we did our renovations, and Katherine vacuumed up all the plastic shavings before a breeze came and blew the stuff over the entire neighborhood.
We went to use the stainless screws that the hinge fellow had given us to mount the hinges to the TREX boards. It was then we found out they were all indented square drive screws. After turning our utility room upside down, we could not find a square drive bit to use to install the screws, but fortunately we did have a bench grinder in the utility room and I was able to utilize my machining skills to grind down a Philips head bit to fit the square drive screws. It was then that I noticed that the square drive screws he gave us were all too long to use. Fortunately, we had a large selection of our own stainless screws to use.
We had now worked almost an entire Saturday on the project, used every carpenter’s tool in our possession, and we had only finished one set of locker doors. My knees were raw from kneeling inside the cement lockers to screw the hinges in place. On the following Sunday morning, we made our only trip the hardware store for more stainless screws. We then finally mounted the last two locker doors. It had only taken us a day and a half of labor, a wood milling machine, a cut off saw, an industrial vacuum, and every single carpenter’s tool we owned, to do the job.
Katherine says that if we ever met the lying bastard who sold us the hinges, she would thank him, and tell him we easily installed the hinges in 30 minutes, and that they were a perfect fit.