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The Louisiana workman's trusty tool

To repair a screen porch, use a staple gun.

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Screen door: Emmerson Hardy opens the screen door of her family’s house in Gastonia, N.C.

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My grandfather's office stapler was a classic Swingline No. 4, the size of a camshaft. It resided on a phenomenally overladen oak desk, along with stacks of ledger books, pens, letters, envelopes, and a 1929 adding machine – an apparatus as crammed and turreted with levers, buttons, and gears as the German Enigma cipher machine of World War II.

Office staplers of that era had flat black surfaces, a wide pedestal base, and an unmistakable report – a kind of sharp, chewy, metallic scrunch, which was composed of the stapler arm's abrupt impact, along with the quick piercing of four or five pieces of paper, the bending of the staple's two metal tangs, and the hinge of the pivot spring snatching the arm back up in a hundredth of a second to a set, re-loaded position.

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I've owned numerous staplers over the years. Most of them, naturally, are broken and inhabit a desk drawer with a few half-empty boxes of staples. This is my dead stapler bin, since none of the staples fit the unbroken tools, no matter how many times I try to mix and match them.

Then there are staple guns. Sears, Arrow, Bostitch – one-handed little pistols that pack a lot of power. I've watched workmen use them to install acoustic ceiling tiles, stapling through the little fins of each tile directly into pine laths, or, with a glop of adhesive, onto a Sheetrock ceiling.

Mostly though, workmen around here use staple guns to repair screen doors and windows, sometimes whole screen porches – a maintenance project recommended every few years in Louisiana.

Our state's Amazonian climate is a repairman's dream: In only a year or two, your recently completed house project is guaranteed to begin peeling, rusting, mildewing, or decaying.

To repair a new screen porch, you first remove the thin white lattice strips that cover the screening at each frame point. These lattice strips mask the joints and create the pleasing geometric designs everyone associates with a back porch: diamonds, diagonals, ladder-backs, or plain rectangles.

Because they are old and brittle, nearly all the lattice pieces break when you remove them. Underneath the lattice lies the screen itself, stapled to the frame. You then use pinchers to dispose of whatever brads remain in the frame – rusty little nails, sometimes broken and barely visible in the gray/brown surfaces. The exposed surface of the wood frame is an archeology of past screen jobs – remnants of copper, steel, aluminum screening, leaves, and tiny mountain ranges of paint stubble where the lattice has tried to pull away from the frame in the long Louisiana summers.

Now you rip the sheets of screening from the frame in vertical batches – with greasy dust flying in your face. Then you roll the old screen into bats and tie the bats with hay twine for disposal.

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Shorn of its screen wire, the naked framework of a back porch is eerie, like a house with its roof taken off. This is a good time to watch a workman loading his staple gun with fresh ammunition, taking a few practice shots.

Next comes a critical moment in the project: the unrolling of the new screen wire. The workman pushes any stray patio chairs or picnic tables out of his way to clear an area in the backyard. He then holds the free end down with a scrap of wood and begins stretching out the roll. But invariably, before he can finish rolling out the wire, the end, held down by the piece of wood, suddenly comes loose and begins to curl – a long metallic carpet shimmying all over the lawn, twisting itself into crazy knots and wrinkles – a huge mess that wraps around the workman's legs and catches him in his own trap.

With an embarrassed smile, he looks around, hoping no one has noticed that he's fastened himself to the backyard.


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