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Handyman Letter
January, 1999


1) A new year in the garden of good and evil... a message from the Natural Handyman.

2) Hello and thank you to web sites and publications that have recognized the Natural Handyman in the past month!

3) What's new at

4) Q&A with our readers


6) "Pass the hammer, would ya?"... NH's readers speak out!

7) Featured in the Natural Handyman Bookshop... "Clean It Fast, Clean It Right" by Jeff Bredenberg




It is easy to understand why the New Year is such a big deal. After all, we humans bear the burden of the gift of knowledge...

In the biblical Garden of Eden, knowledge was given to us from that infamous tree... with a little coaxing from a well-known serpentine interloper. Some of you believe that this story is a recounting of fact, and others view it as a morality tale. Wherever you stand religiously or philosophically, one thing is certain ... the author had human nature nailed! We are surely as curious as cats, and our curiosity is the source of both good and evil. And curiosity is the path to knowledge...

The tree of knowledge bore fruit both delicious and poisonous... no wonder mankind was warned away from it! "Beware humans... to possess self-awareness could lead to your ruination!" Indeed, the future of humanity and its potential to make life more productive and meaningful... or to annihilate it... was sealed under the shady bows of that tree.

An undeniably religious image that has leapt into secular conventional wisdom is that we are all children before the forces of Nature, be it God, god, or Mother. And those of us who have raised human children are indeed aware of the power of the word "no". Would you agree that an effective parent is defined by her/his willingness to exercise authority, to say "no" and mean it even when unpleasant? In a sense, doesn't a parent represent a "force of nature" to the child? One way effective parents rule the roost is by the metered use of the word "no".

But that "no" is not "no forever"... it is a "no" until the child becomes its own parent and has internalized both a conscience and learned values. We tell our children not to do things that we do because they are not ready... too early exposure to adult reality without guidance and training can increase stress, anger, and withdrawal. But the "no" effect is even more subtle... is gives order to the life of a child whose world can be both overwhelming and chaotic.

Was that "no" at the garden a forever "no", or a challenge to become human, and strive for the joys of life in spite of the risks? If we were indeed the children in the garden, surely our parent knew that we would have to leave its safe walls and become parents ourselves. Our knowledge of ourselves and our world has given us the sense of time, of the past, and of new beginnings. It gives all parents solid roots from which to draw strength and experiences from which to educate and guide their young.

And here we are, at the start of the New Year... a time for reflection upon the meaning of each of our lives. What do you think New Years resolutions are if not an attempt to quantify our own place in the world and to improve it by defining our goals? And, if I may be blunt... what have you done this past year to make your own parent proud? What will you do this year to carry on the good and resist the evil around you? In a year from now, will the memory of your accomplishments be cause for cheer, or for regret?

You will decide... not that you can control fate... none of us should be so foolish to believe that! Rather, you must make choices every day which lead you towards the "yes" or the "no", the good or the evil, the creative satisfied self or the empty blaming ego. All this from eating the forbidden fruit. Amazing... isn't it all absolutely amazing!

I wish you and yours a glorious and fulfilling New Year!!




Dear NH,

I recently saw a home improvement program where they installed a small television behind a two way mirror. It was operated by the remote. How did they do this?


Dear T,

Well, the specifics would depend on your home's design, but the basic procedure would be something like this:

First, decide where you want the TV. Since TV's have quite a bit of depth, even the small ones, you will either have to 1) build a cabinet deep enough to completely absorb the depth of it, or 2) open up the wall behind the TV to allow for less cabinet depth. If you have a closet behind the proposed location of the TV, you could install the TV on a shelf within the closet, and put the mirror flat on the wall. Can you spare the closet space?? Most of us can't, so our options are limited!

For the mirror, you can purchase (or order) a piece of one-way glass from any good glazier. It must be precisely sized, of course, so measure it well. If you wanted to be really fancy, you could install the one-way glass into an existing hanging mirror, contemporary or antique, rather than just mounting the mirror on the wall with wall-mounting mirror clips.

If you are using the mirror alone as a cabinet door, you may be able to purchase the proper mirror mounting hardware (hinges and handle) from the same glazier. If you have a wooden panel door already installed, you may be able to remove the panel and replace it with the mirror by carefully cutting out the inside of the door frame to release the panel. Then, use a small molding deftly nailed in place with small brads to hold the mirror in place. You could also glue the mirror in with construction adhesive or clear caulking.

Don't use any thinner than 1/4" thick glass for any mirror. For a wall mount, thinner glass can be used, but I personally think the heavier mirror is a better choice.

Aside from these considerations, you will also have to supply electrical power and your cable or antenna wire to the rear of the TV.

It is important that the room/space behind the TV be either totally dark or enclosed. I have seen TV installations where the rear of the TV opens into an attic or storage space. If there is any light entering from the rear of the mirror, it may show through. Remember the movie Absolute Power with Clint Eastwood?


Dear NH,

I live in a two-story house with the foyer open to the second floor balcony. Heat from downstairs rises and tells the thermostat located at the top of the stairs that it is 70 degrees. When we get up in the morning, the master bed and bath are freezing but the hallway is warm. Would relocating the thermostat further down the hall help read the actual temperature. By the way, if we turn down the heat downstairs, it's unbearable at breakfast!

LM from Conyers, Georgia

Dear LM,

You must sleep with the bedroom door closed at night! A good practice, really, since it offers you some protection from smoke in the hall in case of a fire... but you can still hear the smoke detectors wailing! You do have a smoke detector in each bedroom and the upstairs hall, don't you?

I would suggest that instead of moving the thermostat down the hall, you run the thermostat wires through the wall into one of the bedrooms. This would allow you better control over the temperature in them, and allow you to leave the downstairs thermostat set at a comfortable level. Just hand a picture over the old hole until you repair it or leave it if you decide to return it to its original location.



6) "PASS THE HAMMER, WOULD YA?"... NH's readers speak out!

Dear NH,

Why is it whenever I see someone doing new construction,, that they put on the house-wrap after they have stood up the walls! I was driving to work and saw this kid dangling on a ladder, struggling with an 8ft roll of Tyvek and thinking,, this looks like a trip to the hospital!! Doesn't it make sense to put the house-wrap on while the wall is still laying on the deck?? Seems like it would be a heck of a lot easier to me! Its what I have always done and it looks neater and you can ensure good coverage and less waste! (Tyvek ain't cheap!!) Just a thought!



Good question! The reason may be as simple as union job-description regulations on some jobs, or just not wanting to pay carpenter rates for a job that can be done by a helper!


( Note from NH... please read the following letter if you live in a home that has electricity... which probably includes most of you! You may never want to go as far as troubleshooting a three-way circuit, but there is an important lesson here for all)

Dear NH,

I am currently working as a commercial electrician in Springfield, OH. I got a service call to an old house in Urbana, OH a few weeks ago, to repair a three way switch which had been replaced by their in-laws.

After looking at it for two hours, unable to find but one traveler, I excused myself, and returned later with help. What we found, and I suspect some of your readers may find, was a VERY strange, way to connect the switches, but it worked!

The traveler I had found was in fact the common, or white, wire. As opposed to the normal way of connecting, these switches had hot and neutral on the non-common terminals (at both ends), and the load (the room light) between the common terminals. It Works! But I doubt any sane inspector would approve it! If both switches are switched to the neutral side, the light is off. It is also off when both sides are HOT! Only when one side is at neutral, and one at hot, would there be current flow, and the light, connected between the common terminals, would light!

We would have run new wires, and correctly wire the circuit, but one of the switches was located in the stairwell, on an outside wall, and we could see no way to get a cable to it! You should also consider that the house probably has knob and tube wiring, and NO GROUND wires. So the room light could well become HOT, but with no accessible place to find a ground (in the middle of the dining room), the homeowners are probably safe, or as safe as can be in a knob and tube wired house!

I mention this only for your benefit, since some of your readers may have this odd wiring on their 3-way switches, and will have no better luck than I originally did in troubleshooting them. I certainly don't want to encourage anyone to wire a new installation this way, but you might want to somehow include it on your 3-way circuits page, maybe as a footnote, to help the next guy who blindly runs into this!



Quite an interesting story. I can see why this wiring method would work, and I think it is an ingenious solution to a difficult problem. There is no more danger posed by this wiring setup than the standard setup... especially considering that there is no ground available. Whether it would be code acceptable is another issue... since there is no power going to the fixture when the switch is in the off position, and you don't have two different circuits serving the fixture (even if on the same leg of the service, this would be unacceptable), I think it just might pass inspection with an explanation.

I know all our readers will not understand this discussion, but it really is not necessary. Rather, it presents a valuable concept concerning electrical work that is worth repeating. Many homes have unusual and sometimes dangerous wiring, done by inexperienced folks and never inspected by a professional. When in doubt about your wiring, don't be cheap... hire a licensed pro to troubleshoot the problem! Sometimes there is no textbook answer, so it takes an experienced hand on-site to find the answer!! Unlike most home repair goofs, which may cause a bump, bruise, or hurt egos, electrical wiring errors can KILL!