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Handyman Letter - October, 1998


1) Does Life Have Meaning? ... 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) NH's readers speak their minds!

4) What's new at

5) Ask the Natural Handyman!

6) *LINKMEISTER's Corner...


8) Keep watching your email for a special holiday contest announcement from The Natural Handyman...



The words "life" and "meaning" are juxtaposed so often that a truth is implied... that life has a meaning. This assumption gives strength to opinion, behavior, and religion. Prophets, politicians, and philosophers
cite their flavor of the "meaning of life" as a sometimes nudge, occasionally a carrot cum stick, and at other times a flailing sledgehammer to gain our attention. This "meaning" is equated with motivation and laced with universal assumptions. They purport to have found success through discovering this elusive element of the nature of life, and feel that they can impart a secret wisdom to you... for a vote, a fee, or perhaps just to gain simple loyalty. You can rally to their siren song, but it can gnaw at you... does all this add "meaning" to life, or is it just a way to pass the time? Can life have more than one meaning? Or any meaning?

For those who reject the "meaning" concept as it is incorporated into religion and secular philosophy, its elusive nature elevates their sins to an art form, and makes all pursuits outside of self-gratification seem
ludicrous and unnecessary. "Is that all there is, my friend... then let's keep dancing" drones the refrain from a once popular song. Indeed, the rejection of meaning can isolate the human from his tribe. But is this schism necessary, or is there a missing answer in need of the right question?

This is truly a silent controversy. When was the last time that the "meaning of life" replaced the daily chat about the weather or the latest scandal next to the water cooler? In a way, this silence is beneficial.
Just as any disturbing reality tends to be ignored or conversely railed at in anger, the fact that we don't routinely dwell on this "meaning" question gives us some breathing room from a harsh physical truth which underlies the flowery, inspirational words of the prophets. In the world of molecules and
atoms, of cells and flesh, of minerals and air, life has no meaning.

But life is far from random and chaotic. And the organizing force is not "meaning"... what life has is purpose! And this purpose? To survive, to procreate, and to die. The wheel of life, spinning on its axle so relentlessly and timelessly, takes us for a brief ride and then unceremoniously punches our tickets.

Animals know it. They work feverishly to prepare the world for their offspring, not knowing that their end may be at hand in but a moment. They mate with abandon according to the way of their species with no thought of meaning. And it seems too obvious that they really don't need any abstractions or philosophy in their lives. Looking for "meaning", after all, would confuse the issue, making survival less sure and the future of their kind less certain.

Ahh... don't forget the plants. They too move deliberately through their lives, feeding, growing, exploring, and then, whether their purpose has been fulfilled or not, moving on to their own version of the afterlife... or oblivion. They are not distracted nor do they moan or complain or whine about how the plant next to them gets more light or water. They act... they move to the light, to the water. Fairness is relative... effort is the only thing rewarded. But not always... and death takes no holiday.

Surrounded by all of this power... the organic irresistible strength of countless lives not human... we still search for "meaning". Silently, we pursue one meaning that will give us the strength to carry on, and the will to persevere through our self-defined hardships. Sorry... I really don't think it's there.

Don't lose faith. I think that sometimes our minds have a hard time focusing on those realities so close to us. And, of course, you have to ask the right question... and it is not "What is the meaning of life?"

You are very important... all of life revolves around you... your actions, your faults, and your successes. The view you have of life is through your senses, making you the center of your universe. But if you sit on your hands and wait for meaning to knock, it will arrive just a few minutes after Godot!

So, you see, life itself has no meaning. You and only you have meaning... life reflects it back to you as a peculiarly human way to know yourself. A world that glows with the strength of your vitality and vision is a world with meaning. Your actions... the way you fulfill your purpose... a unique purpose not defined by you but by life itself... this is the source of the meaning of life. Your life. Your meaning.




During the course of each month we receive lots of feedback from you folks. Much praise (thank you!), some legitimate criticism, and a hodgepodge of suggestions, tips, and a few corrections. We take all mail very seriously here, and while it may be impossible to respond to every letter personally, we want you to know that your feedback is important to help us plan what we do and how we do it here at! Thank you.



Dear NH,

I've been searching the web and couldn't find much on the topic of steam heat radiators. I live in New jersey and just bought a house that is over 60 years old. All the radiators are working but one. The unit in questions was converted several years ago to a baseboard steam radiator. There is no warmth in the unit at all. Family advice was to "bleed the unit". I have never lived in a house with radiators before so I am completely unfamiliar with the process of "bleeding". Also I can't seem to locate a "bleed" bolt. any idea?

MY from South Plainfield, NJ

I haven't even seen a steam radiator since my first home, a hundred year old one-and-a-half bedroom shack I bought for a song back in 1973. I fondly remember the banging and clanging of the rapidly expanding iron pipes as the boiler did its work. The first night I spent there I slept on the sofa... didn't have a bed yet. When the heat went on, I thought the place was haunted!

Steam radiators do not need to be "bled". Bleeding is done in hot water systems to allow trapped air to escape. There is no air trapped in steam radiators... it is blown out by the steam!

Steam radiators have a valve that allows steam to escape at a slow rate so that the radiator can heat up. If this valve is clogged with mineral deposits or stuck shut, no steam can enter the radiator, so it doesn't heat up. These valves can be unclogged sometimes, but you would be better off getting a replacement. You should be able to find the valve under the end cover of the radiator.

Another possible problem is that the house has settled causing the pipe leading to the radiator to no longer slope downward towards the boiler. If this has occurred, the condensation within the radiator that would normally flow back to the boiler is instead pooling in the pipe. This can block the movement of steam to the radiator, or cause a very noisy hammering as pressurized steam bursts through the water "dam". The easy solution is to raise the radiator on wood blocks to restore the downward slope.



Dear NH,

My question concerns garage doors. I checked your index and found some good information, but not what I need. My door, which is about 12 years old, same as house, believe it or not, will hit the header above as it opens. I have only been here 2 years, so I don't know if this has been an ongoing problem. It jammed some time ago, and broke the chain wheel to my garage door opener. It is a double door roughly 16' x 8'. I checked the obvious, like the rollers and hinges. It has torsion springs, which seem OK. I fixed one hinge and noticed that there is some slop between the roller and track, but I have concluded that the rollers are OK, since all are about the same. I have temporarily re-positioned the top hinge to clear the header, however, this leaves too large of a gap that wasps seem to easily find. I also lose too much heat in the winter, when I work out there on my car.

I'm sure there must be some method of checking and positioning the track so that the door does not hit the header. I suspect that the door was not properly installed, but I don't really know. Any thoughts on how to check the track position relative to the attaching wall? Perhaps there are some general rules of thumb for garage door installation and set-up that I'm unaware of. I was also unable to find any information in any of the home repair/maintenance books I have or have seen.

Thanks for any thoughts,

MG from Mason, Ohio

Dear MG,

There is an accessory available from Sears, called a low clearance bracket kit. It can be used on any sectional garage door that has clearance problems due to low ceilings or obstructions, allowing the garage door opener track to be mounted much closer to the top of the garage door than is usually possible.

The top guides (which hold the uppermost garage door rollers) on your door are replaced with specially designed brackets that cause the top of the top panel of the door to move inward further as the door opens than standard top guides. The result is that the top of the panel does not rise as high as the door opens, giving the additional ceiling clearance.

This should work for you. Good luck.


Dear NH,

I'm preparing walls for wallpapering and need to patch a couple of small holes. I've found that my big old tub of spackling paste is very thick. Do I need to go out and buy a new tub or can I add water to what I have? I've tried it in a couple of small holes and it spreads fine, it's just not real goopy. Thanks in advance.

MG from Mentor, Ohio

Dear MG,

Partially dried spackle is... partially dried. This is the equivalent of adding sand to fresh spackle. It loses some of it's strength and smoothing ability, and if the holes are more than tiny... screw holes, picture hanger holes... it may not even hold in the wall.

I am not a big fan of old-time spackle. It doesn't work "off the knife" very well and it dries very hard. This was fine when all the walls were plaster, but today's softer walls of drywall do better with a softer product. So instead of plain old spackle, get a container of the newer lightweight spackle. It is a relatively dry product that is very workable, and dries so quickly you can paint over it within a half hour under normal circumstances. In fact, you can paint over it immediately with latex paints if you find a very small hole, such as a nail or picture hanger hole, as you are painting!


Dear NH,

I am from New Jersey... the climate is Ugh!! I found you through the "search" button on my Web TV. I have 2 questions.
1. I am trying to install a chain guard on front door, and don't know which side of the lock goes on the door??
2. I have a sliding door (hung on slider), and it gets stuck sometimes. Can I adjust the hanger, and how??

Thank you for a terrific site. I do appreciate your time and attention.


Dear TS,

Thanks for the kind words. You do know how to get on my good side!

The chain is mounted permanently on the interior molding on all the chain locks I have ever seen. The catch or slide is mounted on the interior of the door near the molding.

As far as the sliding doors go, go into the closet and take a good look at the mechanism. There are different types. Some (Stanley) have a large knob that is turned to raise and lower the door. Others require you to loosen screws to make this adjustment.

Look closely at the wheels and the hanger holding the wheels. Are the wheels worn or wobbly? Is the hanger bent? You will want to replace the hanger if either of these situations exist.

Sliding door hangers have a backset. The inside doors are often set further back than the front doors to prevent rubbing, so they have slightly different hangers. Bring the old hanger as a sample to the hardware store, and replace the hangers on either or both doors as a pair.

The door should clear the floor or carpet. If you have raised the door to its highest position and it still drags, you will probably have to cut a small amount of wood off the bottom of the door.

Good luck,



Dear NH,

I live in St.Louis, Mo. I'm tall, hairy and dangerous. Your site was brought to my attention from a friend. Well, anyway, my parents have cement statue of a woman named Mary. They read about her in a book; their favorite.

Per their request I have erected what can only be described as a shrine. I am all done, except for painting the masonry lady. Not wishing to be cut out of the will, I've summoned all the knowledge that our modern correctional facilities can teach a man. But, alas, I can't figure out if the statue should be sealed (what product?) or if enamel or latex would be most appropriate. It will be exposed to the elements. Please help!

I'm regular with my P.O. and I attend all the classes, so you know I'm a stand-up guy.

SUG from St Louis, Missouri

Dear Stand Up Guy,

Sealing a cement statue is not a necessary step if plan on painting it.

As far as the type of paint, the consensus is that you should use an exterior latex paint, rather than an oil. There are paints specifically designed for masonry, so they should be your first choice.

Give her a good scrubbing down with a TSP and bleach mix (see the TSP page on the website) to prepare her for painting. If you want the finish to stand up longer, have the paint store add an exterior-grade mildewcide to the paint.

Good luck


Dear NH,

How can I restring the slats on my blinds and what type of stringing material would I use?



You are going to have to hunt for the right material. Some of the better blind companies actually sell repair kits for their products. If you are unsure of the manufacturer, you will have to let your fingers do the walking (in the phone book) and call around to curtain and blind stores to see who stocks replacement string. You might even try a home store.

Don't make the mistake of trying to use hardware store string... it will not last. The strings used for many blinds are very strong for their small size, and are specially woven so they don't unravel easily. Also, the texture of the strings is smooth and more resistant to abrasion and wear.

The only exception would be the old style large wooden Venetian-type blinds. For these you may be able to get a suitable grade of string in a hardware or home store. Bring a sample of the old string for a comparison... just to be sure.

Since each set of blinds is constructed somewhat differently, I can't really coach you from here. You will have to summon up your handyman skills and analyze how the blind works. All of the blinds with metal top tracks disassemble by removing a cap on the end... usually the end with the string. In some cases, though, you may be able to do restringing without completely taking them apart.


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