Renovation & Design

Juggling tools and tasks tectonic to the trades

Broken drywall lift a minor inconvenience

Without warning, one of the welds of the three tripod legs at the base of the drywall lift failed, and the lift collapsed as a sheet of drywall had just been hoisted to the ceiling.

Photos by Marc LaBossiere / Winnipeg Free Press

Fortunately a new MetalTech lift was located at a local Princess Auto location, allowing the day’s tasks to continue after a slight delay of one-hour or so.

As spring approaches, it becomes ever more evident how tightly queued upcoming jobs have been scheduled. And with every passing moment, the looming prospect of falling behind schedule creeps into my thoughts. Fortunately, current jobs remain on track to be concluded on or before the anticipated completion dates. Careful pre-planning, the ordering of materials well in advance, and proper timeline allocation have greatly contributed to this — one day before this past Christmas however, I thought my schedule would unravel due to an unforeseen event that caught me completely off guard.

Installing drywall can be somewhat time-consuming. Although erecting full sheets can typically occur quickly along the walls, notching and cutting specific angles or corners, as well as access points for electrical boxes, requires a meticulous approach — cutting errors simply waste time. As such, it’s best to exhibit a modicum of patience and do it right the first time. Ceiling drywall is a completely different adventure altogether and requires the use of a drywall lift (sometimes called a panel hoist).

At a jobsite this past December, the plan was to install the four or so sheets of drywall needed along the freshly strapped dining room ceiling area, and continue into the neighbouring kitchen that required six or so sheets. The first full sheet was loaded onto the lift, cranked to the ceiling and promptly fastened using one-and-five-eighths coarse drywall screws, for rapid fastening. Adjacent to this newly installed sheet, another full sheet would be installed offset by two or three feet. Once on the lift, I again cranked the wheel and the sheet began to rise. Shortly before reaching the ceiling however, I heard a snap — and then it fell as though the sky was falling.

Unbeknownst to me, one of the welds along the tripod base had weakened to the point of fracture. With that second lift, the leg completely broke free from the main spine, removing the sturdy and rigid support from the entire lift. And with the sheet of drywall no less than two or three inches from the ceiling (nearly eight feet in the air), the sheet as well as the drywall lift’s upper support arms had nowhere else to go but down. Thankfully, I had the quick reaction and wherewithal to move below the no longer supported side of the lift to essentially “catch” and “halt” the sheet (and upper support arms of the lift) before it all came crashing down.

The moment just after the halt, I recall looking at the drywall sheet in my hands, and support arms partially balancing on my shoulder (and collar bone), thinking to myself that this could have been much worse, while realizing the jolt of preventing the total collapse and using my body to do so was going to cost me in the coming days. No matter, the priority at this point was to figure out just how to ease this full sheet of drywall and injured lift towards the floor, without causing any damage to the surrounding walls — and it needed to happen fast, because my arms were awkwardly strewn about and could not carry the weight for much longer. A quick glance to the right, and another to the left allowed me to indeed negotiate the sheet of drywall back to the floor, as I did my best to also balance the wounded lift and prevent it from crashing down. Once the drywall was resting along a wall, I then laid the lift on the floor to inspect the weld failure. In all my years of using lifts, a tri-pod leg break was the first failure of this type. Usually, a lift is replaced due to wear and tear — the repeated load on the lifting mechanism tends to bend things out of shape. And when you can’t bend it back to usefulness, it’s time for a new lift.

With the lift now broken beyond repair, it was evident that my morning would not progress as expected, hence potentially hindering my overall timeline. After a few calls to my suppliers, it became increasingly apparent that drywall lifts were no longer available at the locations to which I had become accustomed to finding them — this could have been a huge problem, and my anxiety was on the rise. What if I couldn’t find a new lift that day, or at all for that matter?

Luckily, after half a dozen calls or so (the last few made from my truck — I was already on the move in the event a lift was located), Princess Auto on Portage Avenue advised that they had just two MetalTech lifts remaining in stock. I immediately requested one be placed on hold, and I made my way to the store. Within 15 minutes after leaving the jobsite, I had a new lift in hand. I returned to the jobsite, unpacked the new lift and assembled it for the impending tasks at hand. No more than an hour and 15 minutes after the demise of the old lift, was I back in business. The dining room ceiling was completed just before lunch, and the kitchen ceiling by end of day. Thankfully, and despite a total lift failure, the planned tasks for the day were completed and the entire project remained on schedule. Phewf!

Homeowners sometimes fail to realize the amount of co-ordinating required to undertake a major remodel. In order for the project to run smoothly, a contractor must remain vigilant at all times. It can sometimes be a juggle regarding when to have certain materials onsite, not to mention what tools are required for the day’s tasks. And when tools unexpectedly fail, it then becomes of utmost importance to address that issue immediately — without the proper tools, tasks cannot be (properly) achieved. As diligent as I try to be, there was absolutely no way to have predicted this tripod base lift failure. Fortunately, other than a few scrapes and bruises, no worse for wear. And most importantly, the job was eventually completed on (or a day ahead of) schedule.


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