minimally invasive surgery to remove a box

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  #1  
Old 02-08-06, 01:38 PM
wgc
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minimally invasive surgery to remove a box

Does anyone have pointers for minimally invasive surgery to remove a box without needing much of a wall patch? I don't have a reciprocating saw, only a saber saw or a hack saw blade. Is that still practical?

If I don't see any fasteners on the inside of a switch box, is it safe to assume there is a side strap attaching it to the stud with nails above and below or are there other likely configurations. Is it reasonable to try to cut the strap immediately above and below the box or do I really need to open up the wall a little more to cut the nails? Does lack of the reciprocating saw limit me? Attempting an ASCII picture, should I expect a box like:

<pre>
|
+--+
| |
| |
+--+
|
</pre>
Thanks
 
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  #2  
Old 02-08-06, 01:43 PM
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Your picture is typical.

What you will have to is to remove enough or the "mud" so that you can slip your hack saw blade along the outside edge of the box. This will usually allow you to determine that in fact the box is fastened as you imagine it to be. You then use your hack saw blade to cut the box out.
 
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Old 02-08-06, 02:08 PM
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which edge

Which edge am I likely to have the most luck at? The top and bottom edges would wreck the least wall (which I'm horrible at patching), but only work if it is reasonable to use a hacksaw blade on whatever strap is there. The edge between the box and the stud will create more of a mess but might be able to cut the nails if I can get the blade in there.
 
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Old 02-08-06, 02:11 PM
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You will need to enlarge the hole when you are done anyway (to remove any material that extends over the box), so that you can install the new box.
 
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Old 02-08-06, 03:34 PM
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Originally Posted by wgc

If I don't see any fasteners on the inside of a switch box, is it safe to assume there is a side strap attaching it to the stud with nails above and below or are there other likely configurations. Is it reasonable to try to cut the strap immediately above and below the box or do I really need to open up the wall a little more to cut the nails? Does lack of the reciprocating saw limit me?
There is probably a side strap. Sometimes a back strap, but then there is usually a fitting in the back of the box.

The problem with opening the wall more is that if you want to cut the nails on the strap, you will have a hard time getting under the nail head unless you also cut the lath. I would try the mini-hacksaw to cut thru the strap, with the blade parallel to the top of the box first. Maybe after you get the top cut you can pry the box away from the stud enough to pull it loose without the exertion.

As long as you have plenty of hacksaw blades and muscle power, you can do it. When recip saws work well, they are great. When something goes awry, the damage is greater, of course. Here you can rent one for four hours, and you'll spend more time driving to & from the store than it will take you to cut the box out.
 
  #6  
Old 02-08-06, 04:58 PM
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Why are you trying to remove the box? Is it to replace it with a larger box?

If you are replacing it with a larger box, make the larger hole, then just pry the nails out from the stud.
 
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Old 02-08-06, 05:12 PM
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Originally Posted by pcboss
If you are replacing it with a larger box, make the larger hole
What if the larger box is only wider or deeper but not taller?
 
  #8  
Old 02-08-06, 05:57 PM
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If nailed On

Here's my experiences removing nailed on boxes. Find the box side with the stud. Slip a thin screw driver and pry the box away a few mils. Then insert sawzall or close qtr hack saw blade and cut nails. Then you have to cut out the plastic nail channels on the top and bottom of the box to allow removal space. Done carefully--no wall damage.
This is assuming drywall with a plastic nailed-on box. Hopefully you don't have plaster and something else.
 
  #9  
Old 02-08-06, 06:10 PM
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If you are replacing a single gang box with a 2 gang or larger box, just cut the wider hole first. This will make it easier to cut off the nails, or brackets.
 
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Old 02-08-06, 06:13 PM
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re-wiring

Originally Posted by pcboss
Why are you trying to remove the box? Is it to replace it with a larger box?

If you are replacing it with a larger box, make the larger hole, then just pry the nails out from the stud.
I'd prefer not to remove the box but it seems a lot easier than fishing new wire into it. I have a crowded box with 60 year old fabric covered ungrounded wire that is securely stapled so I haven't been able to pull it. I'm installing a new ceiling fixture so I believe I'm required to use new wiring. Also, it would be nice to have a ground and to pull an extra conductor to allow a three way switch.

Actually, this same idea works for most of my dining room. Outlets are ungrounded and on seemingly random circuits. I have to add a few and I'd prefer to have new grounded wiring and put them on the same new circuit. Then there's the outlet that's on a switch, and was attached by an exposed junction buried in the insulation.

See anything you'd want to fix yet? Things always turn into a bigger project than you expect, if you don't want to add to the ugly hack job of previous owners.
 
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Old 02-08-06, 06:18 PM
wgc
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that's about 60 years off

Originally Posted by Capt
Here's my experiences removing nailed on boxes. Find the box side with the stud. Slip a thin screw driver and pry the box away a few mils. Then insert sawzall or close qtr hack saw blade and cut nails. Then you have to cut out the plastic nail channels on the top and bottom of the box to allow removal space. Done carefully--no wall damage.
This is assuming drywall with a plastic nailed-on box. Hopefully you don't have plaster and something else.
Yeah, I have plaster, and no, plastic wasn't invented yet. I'm bad enough at patching wallboard, it never ends up smooth, and I would rather not try any significant patches on plaster.

On the other hand I'm really impressed with how quickly the chicken wire in the plaster ceiling wrecked a saber saw blade.
 
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Old 02-08-06, 07:12 PM
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I have plaster walls - and I'm replacing every box but one in the house. It's hard to know where studs are also - I have one studspace less than 4" wide with a switch in it.

Here's what I do:

First check to see if the box has been nailed through into a stud. You can see the nails passing through the box. All this does is make you feel a little better because there's less sawing...

Use a utility knife - a sturdy one with one piece blades not the break off blades - and start cutting around the outside edges of the box. Use a digging motion - or push the blade in and pull it out like a saw - your gap will only be the width of the blade. Go as deep as you can with the blade. Take your time and be careful not to chip the plaster top coat. I can extend the blade on my knife by installing it with just one of the retractor tabs engaged. Don't cut yourself.

Now you can use a hacksaw blade to find the bracket. It will likely be on the side. It will also likely be spot welded to the box from the outside, so you'll need to carefully trim out plaster to the thickness of the metal so that you can get the saw blade on the part you need to cut. You can also flex the saw blade when you get ready to cut - but unless you've done it - don't want to practice here...

Most of the bracket mounted boxes I had were mounted to the face of the stud or blocking - so the part you have to cut will be towards the front of the box. This is good. If you have 2X6 studs, then maybe the bracket is at the rear of the box. This is bad.

I've had good luck with an adjustable speed reciprocating saw - with a fine metal cutting blade. Go slow - you don't want the blade to catch and yank the bracket and box against the plaster. Your sabre saw may work for this, but I've found the blades for these to be lacking... However, it has the advantage of a shorter stroke and shorter blade and you can hold it up against the plaster.

OK - now you're ready to cut. Remove all the cable clamps - mark and separate the cables/wires as to where they go - I tape a bit of pull string to each one in case they disappear and I can't find them....

Cut the box off the bracket. Then push the cables out of the holes and carefully remove the box from the hole. If you can't get it out, work the pull strings through the holes and let the box drop inside the wall. Don't lose the cables!!!

Size the hole to accept you new "old work" box. I use a wood rasp for this in a pushing motion - pulling can crack and chip the finish plaster coat.
Fish in your new cable, put the cables into the old work box and install the box. Take your time and you should have no patching worries....
 

Last edited by rodek01; 02-08-06 at 07:55 PM. Reason: correct spelling of untility
  #13  
Old 02-08-06, 07:27 PM
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I'm going to run into the same problem, and removing the box seems simple enough, but the old works box, at least the ones that I have seen, have the flats that turn out, but how do you use those when one side of the box, and flap, is up against a stud? The flap cannot 'turn' out.

Thanks.
 
  #14  
Old 02-08-06, 07:54 PM
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The flap on the plastic Carlon (blue) boxes I use turn up - not out to the side - for that very reason. I don't know if those are the ones you need.

But I'll add that with plaster walls that I've had to unscrew the flap screw as far as I can without the flap missing the little ledge that forces it to pop up when you tighten the screw. Do this BEFORE you put it in the hole. Also, remember to push the flap screw all the way in its hole before you tighten anything....
 
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Old 02-09-06, 09:11 AM
wgc
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we'll see

Originally Posted by fuente
I'm going to run into the same problem, and removing the box seems simple enough, but the old works box, at least the ones that I have seen, have the flats that turn out, but how do you use those when one side of the box, and flap, is up against a stud? The flap cannot 'turn' out.

Thanks.
I don't know about that, but I got one of each type to try to answer that exact question. The plastic boxes have the flaps on the top and bottom, so it should not be an issue. However I prefer metal, plus the metal ones have a larger surface area pressing on the plaster, which seems like a good thing. The flaps attach to a metal hoop near the front of the box so I wonder if I can take one off and drive a nail or screw diagonally into the stud.
 
  #16  
Old 02-09-06, 09:40 AM
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you know what, I think I screwed up. The problem with my box, as I recall, was that there was fireblocking right BELOW the box, which did not allow the flap to turn DOWN, not to the side.

Thanks and sorry for the confusion. Looks like these boxes will work just fine.
 
  #17  
Old 02-09-06, 11:29 AM
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Originally Posted by wgc
plus the metal ones have a larger surface area pressing on the plaster, which seems like a good thing. The flaps attach to a metal hoop near the front of the box so I wonder if I can take one off and drive a nail or screw diagonally into the stud.
My metal old work boxes all had plaster ears on the top and bottom as well as the toggle flaps. If I couldn't snug the "flaps" I screwed the ears into the lath board. Seems to me though that after tightening the non-stud-side flap, I could tighten the stud-side flap just a bit and firmly wedge it in place.

If you're smarter than me, you'll make sure you've got your BX or NM or whatever in the box before you mount the box. I was using 1/2" flex conduit which was a little tricky but doable once I figured it out.
 
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