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My wife, Lucy, is fearful that her four cats are going to get trapped inside the walls of our house. And it’s my job, as a woodworker, to prevent this from happening.

Before you think I should have her committed to the Cat Rancher Institute for Disturbed Females, let me explain.

Right after graduating college, the plumbing in our apartment bathroom melted down. So we went to work “French style” (rustically unshaven and unbathed) while the plumber took apart our pipes.

When I returned home, the plumbing was fixed, but our tabby had disappeared. I looked outside. No cat. After calling for her I could hear her meowing, but she was nowhere to be found. Eventually I unscrewed the plumbing access door next to the shower and found the tabby amongst the pipes , she had sneaked in while the plumber was working.

Years passed. My wife’s nightmares about the incident faded. We bought an old house. After a couple years the drain in the upstairs bathroom disintegrated, so when my oldest daughter took a bath it started raining in the dining room.

To fix the problem, the plumber had to cut an access hole to get to the pipes. When he left, the daily rainfall had stopped in the dining room, but there was an 8″ square hole in the bathroom wall.

This time two cats disappeared. I think one made a nest in there. My wife stopped cutting the pills in half.

We rescued the cats and taped up the hole. I vowed to make an access door that matched the bathroom’s dÃ?©cor. After all, it would take just a few hours to build with my woodworking skills.

That was 11 years ago. And I have yet to begin the project.

Why do I hate home improvement projects? After all, I’m going to use the same tools. Plus wood, glue and finish. What’s not to like?

During a focus group years ago, one woodworker explained it so perfectly that it has stuck with me to this day.

It’s like oats, he said. “I hate oatmeal,” he explained. “And I have to eat it every day for my health. But I love oatmeal cookies.”

This morning I took pity on my poor spouse, measured the dang hole and made a SketchUp drawing of the door. I have just enough cherry left over from my last project to make this access panel.

I guess I like the smell of oatmeal better than I like the smell of rotting cat carcasses trapped in the walls. But it’s a bit of a tossup.

– Christopher Schwarz  

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Showing 27 comments
  • Keith Whitmore

    I have always said, whatever trade you have learned is what you don’t do at home. Seems like that how it works out.

  • Graween


    Well Been French, I was struggled about how you see us, going to work 😉 unbathed and unshaved. I rebuilded my bathroom a few years ago, took me 2 monthes, and though managed to wash and shave anyway everyday.
    I’m going to tell you how we see M’uricans 😉

    However I find it funny and no offense. I just like this blog.
    Hope you’ll manage to come fo France one day for a teaching class. I’ll be the first to subscribe !


  • Ned Moore

    Great fun in reading the responses and reliving my constant state of hyper-alertness, during our kitchen remodel, in trying to keep two of our four cats from being sealed in behind the circular back panels of the two Lazy-Susan corner cabinets. I am happy to report that both sets of panels and curious cats are safe and unmodified. The other two cats? Thankfully, they could not have cared less. Now if I can just keep them off of the counter tops.

  • John Rowe


    Tangential item: I noticed you identified them as "her four cats". Sounds like the assignment of ownership that happens at our house when our critter misbehaves (we have a dog).

    john rowe

  • Ray Knight

    Chris – Now if you just screw up a piece of plywood, nail some trim around it, you can do it before the plumber gets out the backdoor, no sketchup, no delay, no ticked off wife, no lost kitties, but no blog article material. Or you can have dogs and just leave the hole. Easier to fix the next time. Life has it’s decision we must make. Ray

  • Alfred Spitzer

    Until your cat article, I thought I and my wife were one of the few nutty people with four cats (use to be 6, gave two away). See what you get when you help a stray, it improves your woodworking skills.

  • Ron in Wissconsin

    Well Chris I can understand the delay in making a plumbers cat door. 22years ago I was remodeling an older home and my wife’s pregnant cat crawled into the attic and had her litter. (you do understand it was my wife’s cat). You can only call Here Kitty, Kitty so many times when you hear these tiny cries in the wall behind the sheet rock. Yes, they had fallen down the inside wall between the outside wall and the bathroom, sorry I didn’t have to do any plumbing, but I did have to remove a wall to retrieve those little buggers.
    So despite your plight, you have my sympathy, please don’t tell your wife.

    Ron in Wisconsin

  • Christopher Schwarz


    Yup. That’s the kind of nutjob I am. And it helps explain why I’m 11 years behind the curve here.


  • Chris F

    Let me get this straight…you’re making a 9 1/2" square access door with haunched tenons?

    Are you expecting people to hang from this panel perhaps, or stand on it? Surely stub tenons or a domino or four would be sufficient unto the task?

  • Bill

    "Right after graduating college, the plumbing in our apartment bathroom melted down."

    Your plumbing went to college?

    Anyhow, I have a similar access panel, but in my case, it took me less than one year from promise to completed access panel. That’s some kind of new record for me.

    Mine is a raised panel with frame. I used hand planes to raise the panel and to apply a side bead to the inside perimeter of the frame. Being that I don’t do that often, I’m pleased with how it came out. It’s held in with rare earth magnets epoxied into the back of the panel and the studs. Looks great; works great.

  • tms

    Hey Chris,

    A bit off topic, but you reminded me of another ‘oatmeal’ analogy I heard once.

    "If you want fresh, clean, new oats from the mill, you should expect to pay a premium price.

    If, on the other hand, you are willing to settle for used oats, those can be purchased at a considerable discount"


  • Alan

    I feel so much better now, knowing that it took you 11 years to get this off the honey-do list.

    In fact, I’m going to show it to my wife so she understands that I don’t have any monopoly on procrastination! 🙂

  • Dena at York Saw & Knife

    I thought that I was the only person paranoid about the cats! Two years ago, my mother had a bathtub replaced. Needless to say the cat disappeared only to be found days later sealed beneath the new tub…

    Needless to say, we have an access panel now too.

  • Ross Graham


    I got a chuckle out of this one. I have a similar hole in the wall that is over 2 years old – will get to it some day, even my wife has given up. Now that you have a sketch up drawing how long will take to actually do it?


  • Charles

    Seems like a reasonable timetable thus far. I’d plant the seed for the tree you want to use soon though…

    I never knew cats were so intrigued by plumbing up till now. Silly things probably think they are hamster tubes or something… Just another reason that I can’t take cats seriously (Dogs rule!!).

  • Larry Gray

    Such a small project … surely the Roubo, the Nicholson, or even Megan’s new LVL bench would be overkill? I reckon that for this little job, that apartment-dweller’s bench you mentioned in the previous entry ought to be about right. Suggest you move the design and construction of same to the head of the queue — replacing the usual Kitchen Door Test with the Cat Non-Access Door Test, of course.

  • Christopher Schwarz

    Me stalling?

    Now I just have to make a full-size mock-up of the door in an inexpensive wood to check its feng-shui.

    I’m almost done.


  • Mark Stephens

    Yummy. Oatmeal cookies. I’d have bartered. "Sugar, you make the cookies, I’ll make the access panel."

  • Greg

    How many haunched-tenon framed panels have you made? Point being, does this really warrant a SketchUp plan? I suspect a delaying tactic of some kind … 🙂

  • TS Jones

    It’s kinda like the "Shoe Cobbler’s children have no shoes" syndrome. I once knew a top notch auto mechanic that had a clunker for a family car. Piece of junk that continually broke down. Same thing. When I was a computer programmer I couldn’t stand working on computers when at home. My kids had to learn computers from taking school courses (and it was probably a good thing). I also read that it took Norm years to finish his house. It’s the syndrome, man.

  • Mike Siemsen

    "This morning I took pity on my poor spouse,"

    We all take pity on your poor spouse!
    I think if you make about 20 of those doors you could sell them all, I need three and it is going on 10 years at least.

  • Bill Dalton

    A number of years ago while running wire in the attic I made a mistake and found myself laying in the entrance way of our home. One sprained ankle and a couple of scratches. A piece of plywood covered the hole and I told my wife when I get better I’ll patch it and you won’t be able to tell the difference. Fast forward 10 years still have the plywood, but we want to refinance the house and the appraiser came through and asked about the plywood? "Oh, that’s where I’m putting the whole house fan." My wife looked at me, and mouthed, you are so full of ….well you know. The appraiser smiled and said oh well in that case that adds $300 to the value of the house. We got the loan and 18 months later I installed the whole house fan. Didn’t make any new holes either. I like oatmeal cookies, especially if you add pecans and kahlua.

  • Doug Fulkerson

    Academic opinion is divided on the accuracy of this theory, but it is believed that in medieval times cats were buried alive in the walls and foundations of homes to ward off evil spirits.

    I think you missed a golden opportunity to add value to your house. (He said tongue in cheek.)In England they make it a selling point. Check out this link.

    If properly mummified it should be hardly noticeable. I’m not advocating the senseless slaughter of animals, but if one of your wife’s cats should pass on from "natural causes" someday I imagine a good taxidermist is cheaper than a kitchen and bathroom remodel if you ever need to sell your home. 🙂

    Now, where did the nice nurse leave that medication I’m supposed to take…

  • David B.

    I understand your plight. I have gotten this little speech every week for the last 5 years, "You said if I bought you the planer with the molding head cutter you would make moldings for the house." Someday I’ll get around to it. 🙂


  • Ethan

    I like oatmeal, as long as I can mix in some brown sugar and raisins. I think that equates to something like not minding a home improvement project as long as you can use it to justify a new tool purchase.

  • Edgar Allen Poe

    This sounds like a great idea for a short story….

  • Christopher Schwarz

    It took 11 years to do the drawing. Hmmm. I’ll have to think on that for a while.


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