Matt Springer has been giving presentations around San Francisco about home earthquake preparedness since 2008 (for more information about the presentation, go to his earthquake preparedness website). This blog is devoted to posts ranging from technical "how-to" articles to more philosophical "should-you" topics. New articles will be posted at most about once a month, so people who subscribe won't be subjected to lots of e-mail.

Saturday, March 31, 2018

How to protect fine wine glasses from themselves and their brutish cousins

I’ll start this article with material that many of you know already, and then hit you with something you may not have thought about.

Here’s what you might already know, especially if you have attended one of my talks.  Even if you have taken measures to prevent your kitchen cabinet doors from swinging open in a quake*, which would allow the contents to fall out and shatter or cause other problems, those contents can still get jostled around inside the closed cabinet and break.  I think the most likely candidates for getting broken inside a closed cabinet are delicate crystal wine glasses.

[*See my discussion of push latches, including some recent questions about conditions under which they might fail; a large article about different latches is forthcoming.]

If you don’t use those glasses very often, you can take steps to preserve them by sticking them down with several small pieces of quake putty under the edge of the base.  Now if you do this, you need to be able to pick them up again to use them, and this ironically risks breaking the glasses if you try to hold them by their bowl sections (the drinking part), since the stems will easily snap.  The secret is to grasp a glass by its flat base and gently twist the base while slightly tilting the glass (again, only by holding the base).  At first, it might seem like you can’t do this, but a gentle insistent twist/tilt will ultimately convince the base to separate from the shelf.

Ways to prevent them from getting too difficult to lift up include using really tiny pieces of putty (smaller than the ones in the old photos above, like the size of a coriander seed), and not pressing them too hard onto the shelf when placing them initially.  Using quake putty usually involves twisting an object and pressing hard onto the surface, but in this case, just gently press the base down, no twisting, and don’t flatten the putty balls too much, just enough for the glass to feel firmly attached to the underlying surface.  Also, don’t put them too close together, because that little tilt means that the top of the glass moves sideways, and if there is another glass in its way, you could have problems.

I’ve noticed that if you pick up a glass within a year or two, the putty easily peels off the base without leaving any trace to be cleaned up; but if you pick up one after many years (like eight, in my case), they can be a little harder to lift up, and there might be a trace of putty that you end up needing to clean off.  It’s still better than cleaning up shards of shattered crystal wine glasses on the floor after a quake.  Remember to leave the putty balls on the shelf because you can reuse them when you put the glasses back.

Ok, now for the part you may not have considered.  It’s admittedly a pain to do this to your wine glasses, and you will probably only do it for the expensive delicate ones, leaving cheaper wine glasses and also regular drinking glasses un-fastened.  But that means that in a substantial quake, the delicate glasses might not fall over, but the crude and thick cheap glasses will be flying around and will crush the fastened delicate expensive ones!  I solved this problem in my previous home, and have recreated it in my new home, by putting a wire shelf divider like the one shown in these photos, onto the shelf between the cheap ones and the expensive ones.  These are available at places like the Container Store (not an endorsement; it’s just where I got mine) and most certainly from online merchants.
Click image for larger photo
One limitation of these dividers is that they have large gaps through which smaller glasses, pieces of glasses, or edges of intact glasses could still hit the adhered delicate glasses.  I actually did not think that the following idea would work when I first tried it, but it was magnificently successful: I put a piece of white card on the side of the divider closest to the cheap glasses, and adhered it to the divider with… guess what… quake putty!  The uses for that stuff just keep getting more numerous!  It is on the side closest to the cheap glasses because those are what we are trying to stop from going through the divider; if they were on the putty side rather than the card side, they could theoretically push through and knock the card off, and proceed to cause the mayhem we are trying to avoid.

Click image for larger photo
If you get the type shown in the picture, it is very stable and does not easily slide on the shelf or tip over; it’s a very solid combination.  I assembled the one shown in the photo in 2009 for my old home, it was still solid in 2017 when I pulled the divider off of the shelf, and it remained solid through the move and being tossed in a pile so that when I put it on the shelf in my new place as shown in the picture, I didn’t have to do anything to it; it was as strong as the day it was put together.

Note that this card was somewhat glossy and smooth, and made a good surface for the putty to stick.  Had it been more fibrous or porous paper, I doubt this would have worked.  But any smooth, non-floppy surface to which the putty will stick, including smooth card, plastic, light weight metal, etc., will work well.  Of course, if you want, you can use any of a number of glues or cements.

The moral of this story is: always be thinking one step ahead of potential earthquake-caused problems, including putting up a fence to keep the bullies out.


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