And how did you waste your evening?

I wasted mine trying to install this hanging ladder for my ten-year-old in one of the finished rooms in our basement. The hardware that the ladder hangs from is supposed to be lagged into ceiling joists. The room has a drywall ceiling, but I know which way the joists run, and the various ducts and recessed light cans give a good indication of where the joists are. It should be easy to locate and drill the pilot holes for the lag screws, right?

The stud finder couldn’t find the joists, so I started doing some exploratory drilling. The first hole missed, so I move dan inch to the right and tried again. Another miss and another shift to the right.

After the third miss, I realized something was seriously wrong; I couldn’t be that far off in my estimate of where the joist is. Since spackle and paint was inevitable, I decided to just keep drilling that line of holes, to the left and the right. Never hit a joist, even though the line of holes was more than 16 inches long.

At this point, I began questioning my sanity. I knew the line of holes was perpendicular to the joists because I knew the direction of the joists. And I knew the direction of the joists, not just because there was only one direction that made sense structurally, but because I could see them from one of the unfinished rooms in the basement. I knew the joists were 16 inches apart, not just because that’s the standard spacing, but because I could measure the spacing in the unfinished room. How, then, could such a long line of holes fail to hit at least one joist?

I needed to probe up into the holes. I pulled the bit out of the drill and poked it up into the first hole. It hit wood about two inches in—just a little farther than I’d pushed the bit when it was in the chuck. The same thing happened in one of the adjacent holes. I didn’t hit wood in any of the other holes.

I’ve never seen a ceiling shimmed so far away the joists. I assume the contractor built it that way to have a consistent ceiling height throughout the finished portion of the basement. Or maybe he was just crazy and sadistic.

The line of holes across the ceiling mystified me, because I couldn’t imagine that the ceiling was shimmed out so far. I should have remembered what Sherlock Holmes told Watson:

How often have I said to you that when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth?

Did I finish hanging the ladder? No. I found a long bit and finished drilling the pilot holes. I also spackled the many, many worthless holes and will repaint that area when it’s dry. But I didn’t have lag screws long enough to both span the inch-and-a-half of air and drive far enough into the joist to be secure.

So there’s more fun in store tomorrow.