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Handyman Letter
December, 1997

IN THIS ISSUE:

1) A holiday message from The Natural Handyman... THE BEST GIFT OF ALL!!

2) Christmas tree tips direct from the North Pole!!

3) Have a crooked tree? Homeowner "cooks up" a simple solution!

4) Christmas tree lights... too much of a good thing? NH expounds again!

5) What's new at Naturalhandyman.com... SHELVING AND STORAGE for the clutter in your life!

6) Q & A with our readers.

7) Seasonal checklist... we told you last month... don't wait until it's too late!!

8) Humorous Sign of the Month!!

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A PERSONAL MESSAGE FROM THE NATURAL HANDYMAN... THE BEST GIFT OF ALL!!

Here we are again! The New England winter is slowly creeping up on us here at Naturalhandyman.com. To those of you who already have been hammered with winter's fury, and to those who are still sweating in your T-shirts and shorts... we feel your pain!

But this time of year brings into our lives more than meteorological turmoil. For many, this is a time of spiritual and social gathering. Whether you see the weeks approaching the holidays in a religious light, or take a more secular view, there is a commonality that is shared... and that is the spirit of giving that marks this time of year.

The argument has been made that the commercial "theft" of these holidays somehow diminishes them. I think that is a shortsighted and foolish view. We live in a society that is strengthened by its consumerism and competition, and it is hard to ignore the positive effects of commercialism. Think of how the cycle of buying and giving improves our lives, brings us together, creates jobs, and feeds families. Don't view the commercialism as greed... instead view it as a community coming together to work harder and share in this country's amazing bounty!

As children, we may have focused on the more superficial aspects of the holidays. As we matured, we found that fond childhood memories can be transformed into positive action. Instead of being the receivers, we became the givers. Instead of thinking solely of our pleasure, and ourselves, we begin to see how much joy we can give to others by even the simplest gesture of compassion and sharing.

The best gift of all is the gift of ourselves... our time, our energy, and our abilities. My children have given me these special gifts... wash Dad's van, clean the garage, or 2 hours of whatever task I could dream up! I have also given gifts of my time... to help a friend or loved one complete a project, to pledge to finish that task around the house that always seemed to slip down the to-do list. Reaching out to help serve a need in the community by joining a benevolent group, or doing something more personal for a stranger in need, are the gifts not easily forgotten, and most appreciated.

So, when you look at the list of those your feel are deserving of a special gift, before you run to the Super Colossal Mall, think of those things you do well... and offer those things unreservedly to those you love.

Happy Holidays!

NH

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CHRISTMAS TREE TIPS... FROM THE NORTH POLE!

We had no idea that anyone at Northpole.com was watching us, but I guess Santa has to do a few home repairs himself from time to time!! That is, ever since the elves union filed a grievance concerning non-toy making related work!! Anyway, Santa is now a subscriber, and he has sent us a few tips about handling live Christmas trees.

***** Always cut off at least an inch from the bottom of your tree before putting it in the stand. This reopens the pores in the trunk and allows the water you put in the base to absorb into the tree, slowing down the inevitable drying process.

***** Keep the tree away from the wood stove... it causes quicker drying and makes for a really dangerous fire hazard. If you run the wood stove for heat, put the tree on the other end of the room... and keep water in the base.

***** Mix floral preservative in the water you add to the base.

***** Though this is not widely known, Santa and Mrs. Claus are cat lovers! And their cat Toybox loves to climb the Christmas tree. So Santa uses fishing line and eye hooks to secure the tree to the wall. Since he puts the tree in the same corner of the living room... away from the wood stove... every year, he painted the eye hooks to match the wall so that they hardly show when the tree is down.

***** When that sad day comes to take the tree down, we know what a mess it can be to get it out of the house. Santa said that he first uses a sponge to remove the water from the base. Then, he goes into the Toy Shop and gets a heavy tarp... 4 mil or thicker plastic or a canvas painter's tarp... and lays the tree into it. He wraps it up and slides it across the floor and out the front door, base first.

Thanks Santa!!

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HAVE A CROOKED CHRISTMAS TREE? A homeowner 'cooks up' a simple solution

There is a reason why NH labeled his customer Q&A home page "And I though I knew it all...".

After struggling for a half hour with a lush 12' pine, he just couldn't get the tree standing perfectly straight... close, but no cigar! Then, out of the blue, the homeowner chimed in," I have a trick that I've used in the past... be back in a sec."

She disappeared upstairs, and reappeared carrying a small three ring binder... her trusty Weight Watchers Cookbook!. NH carefully tipped the tree back, lifting one edge of the base slightly off the floor, and she slid the binder under the base. Voila! Straight tree. As a finishing touch, they decided to secure the tree to a window molding behind the tree, using strong cord (fishing line is ideal for this) and thumb tacks (through the edge of the molding, not the face)... just in case. NH wanted you to know that this might not work with all tree bases, and that you may need more than one cookbook. Time to trim that tree!!

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CHRISTMAS TREE LIGHTS... TOO MUCH OF A GOOD THING? NH expounds again!

Dear NH,

This is maybe a little out of your normal line (or maybe not). I've got shards and remains of all these mini Christmas light strings around the house. 100 light strings where only half of them light. Strings where the bases of the bulbs aren't the same as the other string. We're talking more than a couple of strings here. It's been easier to buy a new string than fix the old. But that seems wrong. I suspect I could cross switch some of the bulbs to get half of them working but, even when I try, they seem to burn out quick and then the whole string sometimes goes out. I gather some of the bulbs are different voltages. Is there any way to determine which are interchangeable and which are not?
I've tried searching the net on this one. No luck. Found lots of other stuff though.

P

P,

Because I value both my time and my customer's money, I hesitate to do tasks that I feel are not cost effective. Last week, I trashed about 30 strings of lights of a total of 46 one of my clients had accumulated over the years. She, like yourself, wanted to save them. Against my better judgment, I began to test them, tangled mess that they were, and only found about 10 that functioned immediately.

I looked for strings that had missing bulbs and did a little switching around. Though the wattages (voltages are all 120v) do vary among different company's bulbs, the effect is the same as if you replaced a 75 watt bulb with a hundred watt bulb... different light output per bulb. Mixing wattages should have no effect on the life span of the string. However, your quick burnouts are more likely caused by the domino effect... since all the bulbs were brought into service at the same time, there is always another bulb a few hours away from failure!

To make a long story short, I managed to salvage another 6 strings. All this took about two hours. So, she saved 16 of 75 light strings, and it cost her about the same as if she had bought around 17 new ones... net loss of one string.

Trying to salvage those lights is not worth it! A new string of 100 bulbs right now is about $3.50 at a local store... and will be cheaper still on DEC 26!! Place a value on your time... even non-working hours have a value! What other glorious things could you do with the countless hours that you will spend trying to repair them?

I sense from your letter that you abhor waste. And I'll bet you hate to give up! So do I. But there is a time to let go! These light strings are the spawn of Satan... the poster boy for planned obsolescence.

NH

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ASK NH... ANSWERS TO OUR READER'S QUESTIONS!!

We have culled a few choice questions from this month's abundance of email. We reserve the right to edit all letters for content, veracity, and plausible deniability. In some cases, NH's original answers have been edited or expanded with additional last minute information or afterthoughts! Let the games begin...

Dear NH,

We have an Admiral side-by-side refrigerator. The right-hand door squeaks loudly when opening and closing. Left-hand door is fine. We've tried leveling the refrigerator and lubricating (with oil and silicone spray) the top pin of the right hand door where the squeak appears to be coming from. We started to remove the top pin but it feels like it is attached to a spring. Any danger in pulling out this pin? Any ideas? This is driving us crazy! Thanks!

SW

SW,

There are no springs in refrigerator door hinge pins. The resistance you feel is probably just a close or snap fit. Are you sure you removed all fasteners? Be careful to keep track of all spacers and washers, and reassemble them in the exact order you took them apart.

Though spray lubricants like silicone and WD-40 can often quiet this kind of squeak, in your case I think you probably can't get the spray to where the squeak is. After disassembly, use a solid grease like plumber's grease or even, in a pinch, Vaseline, slop some into the hole and onto the pin, and reassemble. Note: Don't use KY Jelly... it won't last, and may cause corrosion.

NH

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(The following is a two letter exchange concerning building furniture and shelves from melamine-covered particle board.)

Dear NH,

I want to make desks and shelves for an office out of Plastic laminated particleboard. What are my options for fastening systems and which are the strongest? By the way, I like your site!

SK

There are a few problems with using this material, which, by the way, is called melamine. Particleboard, the material under the melamine laminate, has no grain, like real wood or plywood, so it does not have any inherent rigidity. Weight on an unsupported length will over time cause permanent bending. This is true of wood also, but to a much smaller degree.

Particleboard products do not hold screws very well if they are placed under any significant stress. Manufacturers of unassembled furniture have gotten around these problems by designing their products with extra support and by using fasteners that you can't usually get in the local hardware store.

My first impulse is to tell you to chuck the whole idea of building desks out of this stuff and instead shop the home stores, department stores, and office supply stores for a good deal on a kit. Most of the unassembled melamine is fairly inexpensive when compared with wood furniture. Believe it or not, I assemble more of this stuff for lawyers' offices than you would believe... for non-partners and support staff, that is!

If you compute the materials costs, and add in a reasonable labor cost for your own efforts, you may find that it is not economical to build your own furniture. However, if you still want to do this, there are two good ways to fasten this stuff together without any special hardware.

The first and strongest is to use cleats of real wood in all concealed inside corners. Use construction adhesive (not wood glue) to glue the cleats, and use screws to hold everything together until the glue dries. Always predrill, and wipe off the excess glue from any exposed surfaces prior to drying with the appropriate solvent.

The second best is screwing the parts together. To improve the gripping power of the screws, install a glued-in piece of hardwood dowel in the path of each screw.

Mark the screw locations on both pieces. Take the piece you are screwing into, not the one you are screwing through. Bore 3/8" or larger holes into the melamine through the side that will be concealed... one for each marked screw location. The holes should be located at least 3/4" in from the edge along the intended path of the screw. You don't want to pierce the other side of the melamine, so use a drill press or a depth stopper on the drill bit. Do not use a spade-type drill bit... it will poke a hole through the face of the melamine before you have gotten enough depth for the dowel. Use a standard drill bit or a forstner-type bit.

After all the holes are drilled, put some wood glue in each hole and press in the dowel. Since this is not "finish" work, it is okay to precut the dowel to approximate length prior to installation. However, if you wish, you can do it the traditional way and glue in an overly long piece cutting off the excess later. The problem with this method on melamine, of course, is that you may scuff or score the melamine, and there is no repair possible for the damage.

After the glue is dry, predrill the holes for the screws through the melamine and into the dowels. Then assemble.

Low stress joints can, of course, be screwed together without this extra effort. You should predrill before installing the screws. You can also use steel right angle braces to add additional reinforcement anywhere on the unit, but the screws will pull out of the particleboard if placed under too much stress.

If you must expose a screw head (nails don't hold that well in this stuff), there are decorative screw covers available that push into the Phillips "X" on the head of the screw to conceal it. Another option is to use finishing washers under your screws (for flat-head screws only). They make the screw head look neater, and you can even use brass if you want to get really fancy!!

Another trick the manufacturers use to reinforce their furniture is to use dowels in conjunction with other fasteners to stabilize the joints. Easy to do in a factory, but tedious to do at home.

Avoid shelves longer than 3 feet without reinforcement. Also, try to use full 3/4" thick melamine if you can get it... it is virtually unavailable in my area now, having been supplanted by the inferior 5/8" stuff.
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"Well, SK had some problems with construction adhesive failing in other projects, so he wanted more information. Also, another home repair web site told him to use what they called "knock down" fittings to attach the melamine. NH's response follows":
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NH recommended against using wood glue for the same reason that wood glue is inadequate for previously glued furniture joints... wood glue requires some level of porosity in the materials. Melamine is non-porous.

Construction adhesive does not require the materials to be porous, though it is helpful. The bond you get is dependent to some extent on the thickness of the bead. It also adheres best to rough materials. Scuffing up the melamine would help. Wood glues, on the other hand, are designed to adhere in very thin applications to porous surfaces, such as edge-gluing used to make table tops, etc.

I have had some similar experiences with construction adhesive failing for no apparent reason. If the surface is oily or extremely smooth, the chance for failure is increased. As far as the brand of construction adhesive I use, I try to use PL200 if it is available.

If you don't feel confident with construction adhesive, try my all time favorite lifesaver, GOOP. There is some info on it at the web site in the Home Repair Index http://www.naturalhandyman.com/iip/iip.html. I have yet to find any repair needing an adhesive that GOOP can't handle. It is, however, expensive when compared with more conventional products, so I reserve it's use for the more difficult jobs. I have no doubt that it would adhere to melamine... with a vengeance! Give the melamine a wipe with alcohol first before gluing, to be sure there is no oil on the surface.

About "knock down" fittings...

Knock down fitting is a vague term describing a whole galaxy of interlocking, temporary fittings that allow for easy disassembly. For example, many old beds were assembled with a knock down fitting that connected the sideboards to the head and footboards. Temporary doesn't mean they are weak connections, just that they can be disassembled with a minimum of tools... in other words, you can (carefully) knock the joints apart with a hammer or rubber mallet!

The fittings are used by the manufacturers of melamine furniture are not really knock down, since they are assembled using bolts. As I mentioned earlier, the more critical joints are reinforced with glued wood dowels.

If you would like to experiment with this type of joinery, there is a mail order company known as The Woodworker's Store. They have a good selection of fasteners that may suit your needs. I'm sorry I didn't think to refer you to them earlier. You can get a copy of their most recent catalog by calling 1-800-279-4441.

NH

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Dear NH,

I have a synthetic carpet with 4 small (less than 1") burn spots. The top fibers are melted but not down to the base of the carpet. Any suggestions on how I fix them? Thanks.

SS

A tough one! First, have you contacted your insurance company? Just checking. Most of them do cover burns in carpets.

You can sometimes improve the appearance of the carpet by using a razor blade and carefully shaving off the melted ends, taking off as little material as you can. This works best with shags.

You can also try the "Hair Club for Men" method of repair. Find an area that you can "borrow" some fibers, such as inside a closet.

Using a razor, trim the damaged area down to the backing. Apply a waterproof adhesive, such as Goop, carefully onto the backing, using a toothpick or very small flat screwdriver. Press the strands of fiber into the Goop.

A variation on this is to actually cut out the damaged patch of carpet. Take a "plug" from a remnant or inside of a closet (on either side of the door near the molding is a good spot if the closet isn't a walk-in), and use it to replace the damaged section. Trim and test fit the plug before applying any adhesive.

Work a piece of heavy fabric under the carpet to shield the carpet padding from the adhesive. Apply the adhesive to the edges of the cutout and to the backer material, not to the plug. Press the plug into place and allow 24 hours for drying.  If necessary, trim the fibers back to the level of the carpet.

I have a section on Goop at the web site, and I have used it successfully for carpet repair. If you have an aversion to using a solvent based product, you can use a clear latex adhesive caulk. I prefer the Goop because it has more initial tackiness and is more indestructible when dry.

The "trick" with this type of desperation repair is to not cause more damage than you already have. Remove as little material as you can and keep the glue off the surrounding carpet. The possibility of a visually pleasing repair decreases with the height of the pile and the age of the carpet. You can hope to improve the look, but don't expect miracles.

NH

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SEASONAL CHECKLIST: Get on track with NATURALHANDYMAN.COM!!

t seems impossible to remember all those important maintenance chores we have to do at regular intervals during the year. Well, let's try to make it a little easier. Not all items will apply to everyone, but hopefully this list will give you one less thing to have to enter into long-term memory!! A repeat of last month's list, with a few enhancements, for those of you who need a little more prodding!

* Change the batteries in all smoke alarms. There are long life batteries now available that can last up to five years!! Visit your local hardware store for details and prices on lithium batteries.

* Change or clean your furnace filter. Don't even think about trying to wash a fiberglass filter! It will just dissolve into a useless heap. Make sure you get the right size for your furnace, too. If the hardware store doesn't have the size, special order a case... you know you are going to need them, and they are fairly inexpensive.

*Put the cover on your outside Central AC unit. CAUTION: Don't cover a heat pump if you use it to heat your home as well as cool it!! It's also a good idea to turn off all power to the AC unit at the circuit board. Then, when the winter is a distant memory and you go to turn on the AC at the thermostat, you won't fry the poor device because you forgot to remove the cover! In fact, if you are especially busy and forgetful, put a note to yourself inside the circuit breaker box!!

*Clean and winterize the pool. The cleaner the pool is when you winterize it, the more likely you will open it in the spring with clear water, not bilge slop dotted with unattractive floating chunks of algae!

* Change the filter element in your water purification system. Be sure to clean and lubricate the seal before reassembling the filter. You should change these at least annually, more often if there is a noticeable drop in water pressure.

* Schedule annual heating/cooling system maintenance. Even NH has a service contract... just in case!

* Give the snowblower a test run. And make sure each of your children has their own snow shovel... just in case!

* Turn off the water supply to all outside faucets, drain sprinkler systems and bring in garden hoses. If you have the so-called freeze-resistant outside water faucets, turn the water supply off to them also, unless you plan to use them during the winter months. You should leave the faucets in the open position after shutting off the water supply. If you have a slight bit of leakage in the inside shutoffs, water won't accumulate behind the outside faucet and present a freezing hazard as the winter progresses.

* Winterize the lawnmower: Change the oil and either drain or put a preservative in the gas. Be sure to run the mower long enough for the treated gas to circulate through to the carburetor. If your lawnmower uses an air filter, remove it from the mower, throw in your car, and stare at it until you get to the shop to get a new one! Hopefully you will get to it before spring... this is from the personal experience from a semi-pro procrastinator... all memory jostlers are helpful!! Oh, and write down the model # of your mower too if you know it, just in case.

* Don't forget to put on the snow tires, oh you lucky snowbelters!!

* Are all the leaves down yet? Time to clean the gutters, before they freeze up. If you have installed gutter guards to keep debris out, don't think you are out of the woods'! After a couple of years, enough small stuff can accumulate in the gutter to clog the leader openings. So you should at least take a peek at the tops of the leaders to be sure they are free from blockages.

* Cover (at least) part of your seasoned firewood.

* Order plane tickets for your midwinter jaunt to Hawaii!!

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