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Handyman Letter
November 15, 2000


1) Every Monday... a message from the Natural Handyman.

2) Hello and thank you to Websites and publications that have recently linked with or featured The Natural Handyman

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...



Forget "hump day"... Monday is always my toughest day! Not that getting out of bed is a problem. My finely tuned internal clock rarely fails me and, unfortunately, does not have an off switch. So I am always up with the chickens. And though I do lots of writing on the weekends and fixing up stuff around my own place, for some reason I start the "official" workweek with a discomfort I can't quite understand.

A handyman's weekend is more often than not a "busman's holiday". I often wonder what it would be like to find bliss by leaving a nice, air-conditioned office to spend Saturday under a bug-infested crawlspace running wires for a new telephone! Not that I don't find joy in my work... if I didn't, I would have found gainful employment long ago... but there is a time to reap and a time to sow. Weekends are sowing time... or at least should be. To that noble end, much of my off-time is spent writing and entertaining myself with whatever distraction presents itself. On the floor, a cleanly cut umbilical from dear Mother Work.

But maybe I am too successful in escaping the workweek! I have neatly stuffed my torn reality into a pair of worn but still sturdy boxes... weekday and weekend. And it's not unusual to find a (blanket, sweatshirt, towel) over the top of my answering machine on Friday evening... my retreat is too complete! But the new week looms ahead regardless and sometimes the weekday box is a little too overfull to be totally ignored. Could this futile effort to escape be whipsawing back like a psychic slap-in-the-smacker as the weekend disappears over my shoulder?

Luckily, a combination of grim teeth-grinding determination and old-fashioned fortitude usually turn the day from chicken poop into chicken salad. After all, Monday is just another day. Ah... yes... I feel better now.

Then again, there ARE those dreaded Mondays after a long, pleasant vacation... Yecch!!




Dear NH,

I have a problem with the temperature of the water in my home. I have a hot water heating system, and my water is heated by the same furnace. I do not have a hot water tank. Instead, the water comes directly from the furnace. According to my oil burner company, I must keep the temperature of the water in the furnace above 140 degrees or my heating system will not work properly. This seems to be extremely hot and I am concerned that my little one (when he is old enough to reach the faucet) may burn himself. Should I insist he lower the furnace temperature?

PB from Scranton, PA


You are without-a-doubt correct to be concerned about your water temperature. Back in the good old days, it was not uncommon for water heaters to be set at 160 degrees, more than hot enough to cause immediate severe scalding burns! Nowadays, the standard setting for hot water is between 110 and 120 degrees.

However, I would advise against changing the water temperature of your furnace. Your furnace guy (or gal) is absolutely correct... lowering the temperature will radically change the built-in efficiency of your furnace and of your heating system as a whole.

Think about it... if you lower the temperature of the furnace, the temperature of the water circulating through your radiators will likewise be lowered. This will in turn increase the amount of time it will take for your home to be heated. All things being equal, it takes the same amount of oil to keep your home at a certain temperature regardless of how hot the water is. Therefore, your oil burner will have to cycle on and off more often to maintain this lower temperature because it will take longer for the temperature to rise. This will cause increased wear and tear on the furnace without any gain (or even a loss) in efficiency. The most inefficient moment in your furnace's operation is when it first starts up!

So instead of focusing on the furnace as the culprit, you can take measures to lower the faucet hot water temperature AFTER it leaves the furnace. This is done through the installation of a "mixing valve". A mixing valve is a simple thermostatically-controlled mechanism that mixes a little cold water with the hot water to lower the temperature. Mixing valves are adjustable to product the desired water temperature, but it is wise to use a thermometer to verify the temperature at the tap. Installation does require some plumbing skills such as pipe cutting and soldering, but the end result is worth it!


Dear NH,

I want to install tile inside the front door of my house. I have an ugly square of linoleum there now. When the tile installer came to look at the job, he said that I couldn't install tile because the bottom of the door would hit the tile after he installed some new plywood and the tile. The door is steel and he said it can't be cut. What can I do?

BB from Peekskill, NY


You have three options. The first and most difficult is to modify or replace the existing door assembly. If you want to use your existing steel door, then the door and jamb assembly must be removed and reinstalled high enough so that the door will clear the floor. This might require some modification in the framing above the door, also. Obviously you will need to do trim replacement and painting/staining both inside and outside the frame.

Another option is to replace the steel door with a wood door, which can then be cut at the bottom. However, if the new gap between the door bottom and the original threshold is too wide for bottom weatherstripping, you may have to cut out the original threshold and install a "generic" threshold slightly raised to accommodate the shorter door.

The less labor-intensive solutions are to use different materials for your entryway. Of course, installing fresh new vinyl flooring is one obvious option. Another is to use slate instead of tile. Slate flooring can generally be installed over thinner floor surfaces than ceramic tile because it is much less prone to breakage over typical 3/4" plywood. Another option is tongue-and-groove laminated flooring. It is often used in kitchens and bathrooms because of its durability and is available in a wide range of styles from simulated wood to subtle colors.



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

Dear NH,

I recently bought a cast iron chiminea because of the inherent fragility of the clay. I have read that the cast iron gets to hot and can leave a nasty burn. Well, that's what I want, a nice heat source. The only other problem I have is the rusting. Mine is new so it isn't rusted yet, but I'm sure its coming. Is there any product I can use on a hot metal surface to keep it from rusting? I thought of engine paint but I like the look of the chiminea now. Paint would ruin that effect. Any ideas???



I didn't realize there were cast iron chimineas! Back to the library...

For rust protection, you can do what cooks have done for years to protect their valued cast iron cookware. Coat the entire outside surface with cooking oil... any one will do... and then heat the stove to "burn it on". The oil will provide a somewhat clear protective coating that will have a more natural appearance than paint. Reapply the oil every dozen burns (or if your poor chiminea gets an unexpected bath!) to build up an adequate protective coat.

You shouldn't have to worry about the inside... the build-up of soot and creosote will offer plenty of protection under most circumstances. But don't allow the chiminea to remain wet for any length of time! If an unexpected storm gets it soaked, dry it as best you can and burn off the remaining moisture.

Don't assume these techniques will give you a perfect seal... even treated cast iron cookware will rust if left soaking in water for a length of time. Use a cover when possible.