You would never imagine so much fuss and bother could attend the backing out of a single screw from a carefully made repair in the leg of an antique of no particular value.
However, because the leg in question happened to be my left one, and the removal of the screw culminated a restoration process so costly it would have put the most moribund furniture shop in the black for the rest of the year, the commotion was perhaps not unwarranted.Those of you with either exquisite taste or remarkably bad luck may recall a column some months ago in which I described the repair made to my thoroughly broken tibia and fibula, a procedure not unlike one that might be undertaken for a table leg.
The craftsman in question, Dr. Steve McCollum, chiseled a slot in my knee, clamped the broken parts together, and, with a mallet, drove a stainless steel dowel through the center of the tibia all the way down to the ankle. Then - still following the precepts of fine woodworking - he firmed up the repair by running screws through the whole assembly, top and bottom.
Unfortunately, no one has yet developed any sort of Titebond for bone, so we have waited 10 weeks for internal repairs to get along well enough that the cast could be removed; it came off six days ago from the time of writing.
A young lady cut it off with a remarkable kind of circular saw that cuts glass fiber but not skin; it even appeared to have its own built-in dust removal feature.
The cast fell away to reveal a leg that looked rather like the substrate on an old and badly used table-top from which the veneer has peeled away.
A few hours ago, I brought the leg to McCollum's shop in the minor surgery section of Piedmont Hospital to get the lower screw out. The upper one, and the dowel, will remain in place.
McCollum was held up for more than an hour on another job, and I suggested to nurse Jane that perhaps between the two of us, we could get the screw out without waiting any longer. Seemed rather simple to me - all you'd need would be a shop knife and a screwdriver.
"Oh, no," nurse Jane exclaimed. "You have to have a very special kind of screwdriver."
Once we finally got the procedure under way, it required not only the doctor and nurse Jane, but nurse Edna as well, both ladies treating me with such sympathy and tenderness you'd have thought my life hung in the balance.
As it turned out, it was just as well we didn't try it without McCollum. It seems the screwhead was a good inch below the surface, and it took him a while to find it. Once he did, nurse Jane handed him a rather primitive-looking T-handle driver with interchangeable bits and he unscrewed it.
It was quite simple, although I did recall, while he was turning the handle round and round, the many times I've broken the heads off screws trying to get them out of hard, dry wood. I felt it necessary to caution McCollum against this, and he indicated considerable relief that I'd reminded him of the danger.
The screw, which lies on my desk as I write, is a round-headed, 11/2-inch model with a tip of the sort you see on some sheet metal screws, although it's not self-tapping.
Nurse Jane, it turns out, was putting me on. The head of the screw is rather peculiar-looking, but an ordinary square-drive screwdriver turns it easily. Being stainless steel, it might run as much as a nickel at the store, although I suspect if I could find it in the hospital bill it would prove to have been somewhat more expensive.
This, I hope, is all you're going to have to hear about this repair job, and perhaps before long I'll be able to get back to woodworking.