Judge John Hodgman Episode 177: D-I-Why?!


Chuck brings the case against his wife Emilie. Chuck performed a little surprise home renovation while Emilie was away. But Emilie isn't a fan of the finished look. Should Chuck fix it, or stand by while a contractor takes over?

You can find Chuck's podcast online at Stuff You Should Know.

Thanks to Rick Amick for suggesting this week's title! To suggest a title for a future episode, like Judge John Hodgman on Facebook. We regularly put a call for submissions.


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Submitted by Chuck


I love sysk and listened to

I love sysk and listened to this after Chuck mentioned it at the beginning of that podcast. I have never laughed so hard - everyone on the bus would have thought I was crazy. My partner has done exactly this same reno widening the doorway to one of our kitchen doorways and so I made him listen to this episode when I got home. Every single moulding and doorway height and width is different leading into our kitchen and loungeroom. And I am definitely going to use cut once measure nonce.

Better Than What I Thought...

This was much better work than I'd originally thought while listening to the show. Surprisingly, I am less concerned about the trim than I thought. During the show I may have gasped upon hearing he didn't match it, but there's slightly more leeway when it comes to painted trimwork. The floor? Ugh... There's not a great solution, particularly for the tile. He can use a slightly bigger threshold to cover the wood, but will need to match or get something close on the tile front. Good show!

Love & thingbetweens.

1. This was my favorite Judge John Hodgman podcast that I have listened to thus far. I can relate to this argument on so so so many levels.

2. I am going to start using the word "thingbetween" in my vocabulary on a regular basis.

Tuba Four!

I heartily enjoyed the Judge's old-timey pronunciation of two-by-four.

"But I wanted the one on the television!"

The work is less-than-professional. Fine. Chuck prioritized a lower priority project. Fine. It should be fixed. Fine. But sweet mercy, what is wrong with this world when you don't even acknowledge a sh'load of effort except a tiny tack-on at the end about some other successful projects?! Sexism against males is rarer, but I think this is one that needs to be called out. Emily, I'm afraid, comes off sounding extremely ungrateful in this. Yes all of the crapsmanship blah blah blah, but the guy spent his Saturday trying to fix your house! He could have spent his time in a myriad of other much more self-serving activities. I dare say, if the roles were reversed and Chuck was out of town and Emily re-painted the dining room an awful color and the podcast was spent belittling her and talking about her terrible painting ability and how she should accept she's terrible and grovel to a professional we would think you all were male chauvinist pigs! And rightly so! But apparently it's okay to do that to men?! I certainly enjoyed the ribbing of Chuck the nice-guy plenty, but not even once acknowledging his immense efforts and good intentions is a mistake in my view.

* Subject line is a reference to the granddaughter in Babe. Which is what this reminds me of.

C'mon Hobson, your judgement wasn't square!

Let me start out that I'm a total Chuck fan. I listen to sysk all the time. Chuck is awesome.

Judge Hobson missed the point when he heard the case. The heart of the issue was not that Chuck messed up their house (sorry Chuck but it's kind of the truth) but that he did it in a sneaky way when Emily was out of town. He knew he wouldn't get her to agree to fasttrack that project when they had agreed on other priorities. The doorway had gotten under his skin and instead of talking it out, he started the project when Emily was out of town and couldn't stop him. I love Chuck and think this was probably justified to himself as a surprise for Emily. He is a good guy, but it was not above board.

Judge was way too harsh on Chuckers as well. He should have had a contractor come in and fix it when Chuck wasn't there. Chuck shouldn't have to pay to have the work done(terrible for the DIY-er) and be humiliated on top of it. Instead, let Chuck take a class on this aspect on carpentry with dignity intact.

I really respect Emily for speaking up for Chuck and the projects that have turned out. Go Emily! They have saved money and been pleased with the results in the past. We all want Chuck to continue to grow as a carpenter and respect his learning process. Go Chuck.

The crux of the issue was the way Chuck went about the choice and timing of the project. For that reason Chuck should have to pay for a contractor to fix it right away as restitution and as a compensory gesture he should also pay for another of Emily's top projects as well; also done by a contractor. Humuliation goes too far Hobson!

please fix it

The studs that he took out were supporting the header in the preexisting doorway. It would benefit the plaintiff greatly to put in a new header and support it properly. It looks to me like it supports the ceiling joists in the kitchen and the dining room. He may have to jack up his ceiling now but can do that with the new header. But I would support both rooms with temp friction walls spanning the opening while the old header is being replaced. Not difficult stuff, just a process. In construction everything is a process.

No shame in not being a Pro

Chuck has got to got over the man-shame he feels because he is not a professional-grade handyman. Professionals are good at what they do because they do it all the time. Does he think that his contractor would be ashamed and embarrassed because his podcasting/sidekicking skills are not as good as Chuck's?

As Elvis said "You know someone said that the world's a stage, and each must play a part."

Span needs support!

The idea of load-bearing and stress cannot be overstated! Chuck, love that adventuring spirit, but he needed to measure the width of the other openings. They're a particular width for a reason. A 10" larger opening is asking for trouble. Plaster cracks are the least of them! Cracks in a wall like that are warnings. My husband and I were tearing out a wall to make a more open design in our front room, and my dad, who knows everything, casually commented, "If this is a bearing wall, you kids don't want to be messing with that." We weren't clear on the idea of structural integrity, obviously, and his next words made our blood turn to ice: "You could bring down the roof..." and that ended that project, especially when a carpenter assured us it was indeed a bearing wall we were so cheerfully undermining.

Chuck, you and your wife have a lovely old home. Don't bring it to ruin! All DIY is not to be engaged in casually, especially when you're talking about the structure of your home! Install new doors, change windows, fix plugs on lamps, change out fixtures, fix a leaking sink, install tile, finish woodwork. Don't screw with the possibility of bring down the second floor. Pay somebody to do it right.

Know Your Limits

I agree completely. The best skill a DIY homeowner can have is to know their limits. Some home projects are easy and you can just "wing it" like Chuck seems to love to do. But others require real planning and a good amount of know how to get them done properly and safely.

You need to know when you have reached the limit of your knowledge and when it is time to call in a professional. There is no shame in knowing your limits, there is a lot of shame in wrecking your house because you don't really know what you are doing.

If you know your limits you don't even start a project you can't finish and just pay someone else to do it. If you start it and get in over your head, you'll spend some money doing it yourself, more money to have the pro undo what you did and then the cost for them do the job properly from the start, inevitably costing more than just having a pro do it from the start.

Oh god, so timely. My husband

Oh god, so timely. My husband bought our 90 year old house about a month before we met, and for the five years we've been married, I've been obsessed with the mismatched molding that the previous owner has strewn throughout the house. It's my winter plan to finally get everything back to matching the original woodwork.


The thingbetween is called a threshold -- a great word that ties back to the days of dirt floors. The threshold was there to keep the straw/thresh that was spread out across the floor from falling out at the doorways.

Just looking at the direction the flooring planks run the structural floor joists below and above almost certainly run perpendicular. Meaning that this butchered wall does in fact bear a structural load. As others have said, a sound header needs to be installed over this new opening or there will be major issues down the road.

Looks Great

I think the renovation looks pretty good!


Not only are kitchen doors smaller because it's considered a more private part of the home than the dining room, but a smaller, closable door can also keep the rest of the home from smelling like whatever you're cooking (like when you're deep frying fish or making something with a lot of chilies) and can keep the rest of you house cooler during the summer (when you absolutely need that perfect peach pie or blackberry crumble). Just sayin', the historical reasons for kitchens with doors are more than aesthetic.

Also, I'd love to come home and find that my boy-o had finished painting the hallway ceiling (or whatever) because it's wonderful to come home and find that a project that's been an issue for a while is finally done and you don't have to worry about it anymore. It sucks when it's just one more half finished project among several.


It might be a little pricy but you can take a piece of the existing trim into a Millwork shop and they will be able to match it. You might want to have them make up a few extra pieces while they have the template set up for future renovations. Most of the cost is in the set up of the template. They can probably make you a nice thingbetween while you are there.

Credit where credit is due

I'd love to see some of Chuck's successful projects. Even his wife admitted that this particular debacle was an anomaly.

Architecturally cringe inducing

I'd HIGHLY recommend having a professional repair the door expansion as soon as possible. It appears Chuck did not remove enough plaster and lath above the door to indicate that he replaced the existing door header with a new lintel appropriate to span the opening. Chuck's renovation may appear sound, however the makeshift framing could deflect under the existing load. This new loading may cause cracking in the plaster along the wall, and possibly around other openings. If Chuck is concerned with a consistent finish between plaster and lath and Gypsum board, there is the option to refinish the whole wall with a skim coat of plaster.

Do it right

The old trim moulding takes a bit of work to reproduce, but it is worth it. You need to get primed finger-joint one by six and trim it down. Then use the right type of back bend to form the outer trim. If it is a style common in the area, you can usually find a lumber yard that carries it. For a really good look, router the inside edges slightly round like the original.

I am a major DIYer, but there is one excuse for this. Chuck, pay to fix it!

Not structurally sound

I appreciate Chuck's willingness to jump in and get his hands dirty but this door is not done correctly. It is obvious he didn't install a new lintel over the door. About 6 inches of plaster above the door would be have to be removed to do this properly.

My Dad is a carpenter. I spent every summer while growing up, going to work with my Dad building and remodeling houses.

This doorway will start to sag in the middle. If there is a floor above it, that floor is going to bend and sink. The ceiling will crack, the walls will crack. I hope you don't have a heavy piece of furniture on the floor above this doorway. If you do, move it. This doorway could seriously collapse.

You do need an experienced carpenter to fix this. $2,000 would be a fair price if he did the whole job: Reframing the structure, putting the light switches in their proper locations, replacing the wall removed to add the new lintel, and replacing the molding. Oh wait. I forgot about fixing the floor. I wouldn't be surprised if it cost $2,500. That would not be unreasonable.

Doing things like replacing fixtures, fixing plaster, repairing windows, ... are safely done by DIY amateurs but Never Make Big Holes in a wall unless you know exactly how you are going to transfer the load of the building above the hole, down to the foundation. If there are not structural studs below the floor to carry the weight of the studs supporting the new lintel, it could be much more.

If you can't afford all that. He may be able to put your narrow doorway back in.

Agree to Disagree

This wall may very well NOT be a load bearing wall, in which case, most of which you're writing about does not apply. Shut your piehole!

A couple of Hundred Dollars to Fix?

I think the price of "a couple hundred dollars to fix" is very optimistic. A "real" contractor would need permits, a real electrician, and real carpentry skills. (Not that Chucker's is not real). This job is all about the details, and they are not right. My estimate is $1,200.00. I would call in "Ask This Old House".


Completely agree. It's one thousand plus.

Great show, everyone.

I appreciate that Chuck

I appreciate that Chuck worked hard, and had good intentions. But, the casing is driving me crazy, and the light switches not being even is a total no go. I live in an old house, (1929 dutch colonial), and one thing I do appreciate is that the amount of quality and craftmanship that has gone into the various renovations before we bought it.

I do love their furniture too. :)

Widening doors

In some case a wall carries a significant load, such as the weight of second floors, etc. Often walls are not load bearing, but often they are. You need to know if the wall is load bearing. If it is the span of the wider opening must be reinforced with a substantial beam, called a Lintel. This is important for the structural integrity of the building.

For a really fun look at this problem please watch episode 2 season 1 of Fawlty Towers, The Builders.


I don't see any evidence that Chuck put in a header to support the load that the removed studs used to support. I hope he follows Judge Hodgman's order ASAP, before something falls down.

New t-shirts

Two new t-shirts:
"Get a Clawpounder" and "Measure Nonce Cut Once"

Me too!

I want a shirt too!
Put Chucks picture on it.


I concur - I would like a "Measure nonce, cut once." shirt.


Poor Chuck.

Wow, this was a good one.

This episode really made me laugh, and I love Chuck and his show, but I must say, his poor wife was 100% right. Glad a contractor is coming in to slightly narrow the doorway, and make it match the others.

Looks great chuck!

Wider is better, cracking up listening to this and not missing my reno days!!!

Is it already podcast sweeps week already?

This is better than when Dr. Frasier Crane and Lillith visit wings! Seriously though, this is a great episode! Also, those light switches look pretty terrible Chuck haha