Click HERE to return to our newsletter's home page to select another issue!

Handyman Letter - October, 1999


1) BOO!!... 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!




Boo... a message from the Natural Handyman

Of all the holidays, Halloween was #1 in my book! Sure... there was no roasting turkey, no family sitting around a multi-candled cake and no artificial tree shedding plastic needles onto gaily wrapped mysteries. But there was a different mystery to be unwrapped in the darkness and the mock terror my young compatriots and I engaged in on that unholy night. For me, that night held something I rarely tasted... a breath of freedom and danger which left me breathless and yearning for more.

Looking back on those days, I wonder at the strange power of that night. My mother, bless her soul, was a firm believer in discipline and order. My usual school day schedule consisted of little more than school, homework and sleep. She had her plan and who was I to question it! Reflecting how she would drop all the rules... her rules... for that one and only night amazes me. I wish I had asked her why she felt it was so important to let me fly on that one night... but she is gone and I will never know for sure. Perhaps it was her way of balancing out the other 364 days of rigidity... shore leave in a strange port. But I know that underneath it all was an assumption that we can no longer make today. She assumed that I was safe.

The world is a different place today... over 30 years since my last trick-or-treat. "Leave It To Beaver", "My Three Sons" and "My Little Margie" were the moral compass of my young generation. As we did, they lived, loved, fought and struggled in their miniature vacuum tube world. Yet, through all the imperfection of their humanity, found some way to resolve their differences. Their first or last recourse was rarely violence or sadism. Instead, they used the seemingly lost art of negotiation, conversation and caring to find common ground. And humor was the lubricant and the glue that bound them together.

Back then even the monsters had their soft sides. The pitiful Phantom, the childlike Frankenstein monster and the Wolfman were all terrifying but still human. Their lives were also moralistic allegories... tales that taught compassion, demonstrated human weakness and also gave us a sense of the importance of knowing right from wrong and battling evil. Many of today's monsters wreak havoc for havoc's sake... slashers, aliens and demons without conscience... sheer malevolence without hope of redemption. Stopping them means killing them, so there is no moral lesson to be gained... only the vision of the pain and destruction they bring and the guilt only the good-at-heart must abide. When good battles evil, good seems most always to suffer.

My neighborhood was a typical post-WWII housing project... small homes on small lots. And everybody had kids! Reproduction had a high priority and our war-weary parents had no clue that they were giving rise to a human wave that someday would be known as "baby boomers". And on Halloween, we were like swarming insects creeping through the darkness seeking goodies! No other night saw such activity or such spirit! We visited the homes of strangers and were welcomed with open arms. We were rulers of the earth on that night, with unfurled miles of toilet paper in our wake and sickening amounts of candy in our stomachs. But my mother thought I was safe...

Or maybe she didn't. Even then the press trumpeted the warnings about tainted candy though I must admit that it seemed to us kids more of an urban legend than fact. And thankfully, none of us fell victim to such adult depravity. Not that WE never crossed the line... an egg throwing incident left us brambled and trembling as a group of older teens decided to use us for target practice. But it was still a game... we ran, they chased, and in the end everyone laughed. We all knew the rules and made peace with our differences.

What of Halloween? It no longer exists in many local schools, being replaced by more generic celebrations known as "Spirit Week" or "Fall Festival". The candy manufacturers and costume makers still try their best to promote it, but I sense that my favorite holiday is mortally wounded. Adult concerns of religious freedom, satanic overtones and intolerance have driven a wooden stake deeply into the heart of what was a simple and basic celebration, with children's reverie and joy again quelled by the unfortunate but necessary injection of adult protection... or obsession.

Life will go on, with or without Halloween, but those of us who shared the camaraderie and shivered together on cool October nights will always remember those moments when somehow the earth was at peace and it was alright to just be a kid. On that night, I will always have my porch light ablaze, even to a possibly deserted and empty street. And near the front door, a dish of devilishly tempting sweets will be awaiting tiny shadow goblins who can be sure that, at least in my home, they will indeed be welcome... and safe.




Dear NH,

I need to insulate a metal pole barn. I am going to have a wood burner for heat and want to make it fire resistant, but was told that fiberglass insulation would cause a moisture problem and rust out my metal siding. Need your viewpoint. Thanks.


Dear AP,

Because metal surfaces do not 'breathe', moisture can get trapped within the insulation when room moisture condenses on the cold metal. And the more weather-tight the building is, the greater the problem since the moisture can't escape. If the barn is galvanized metal, the rust process will be undeniably slowed but not indefinitely. Add to this the fact that wet fiberglass insulation is not much more useful than no insulation, all your work will be wasted.

The only way to avoid this is to either 1) install a moisture barrier over the insulation such as plastic sheeting or 2) use a type of insulation that has vapor barrier qualities. The only moisture resistant insulation that also acts as a vapor barrier is plastic foam insulation.

Plastic foam is available in rigid sheets or as a spray. Both are excellent insulators, but the spray foam will also deaden sound and add to the strength of the structure while keeping moisture away from the metal. Foam is not fire resistant, so it is important to keep fire away from it. I can only suggest that you consult with your local building inspector on this matter. Generally, these products should be covered with a more fire resistant material such as wallboard.

There is a pole barn builder online, BCI Barn Builders, at . Their site has many photos of complete barns and some construction detail. They told us that, for their barns, they use a rigid plastic foam insulation faced on both sides with a reflective aluminum foil.

An extensive article on insulation is available on the NH website at



Dear NH,

I'm installing a kitchen backsplash using tumbled marble tile. Really nice stuff. Question: Do I mount the tile flush to the countertop and cabinets or should I provide for grout between tile & countertop, and tile & cabinet?

BB from Canton, CT


When grout is used in the crack between the tiled wall and the countertop the job will look great for a little while. Then the grout begins to break out in the counter/tile joint as expansion/contraction between the dissimilar materials puts stress on the grout line. Most tile installers prefer to finish the grout job in one trip. The cost of the job increases if caulking is involved since she has to make at least one additional trip after the grout dries to apply the caulk.

Now for my humble advice. First, during tile installation, leave a small space between the tiles and the wood surface or countertop... no more than 1/8 of an inch. Now you must make a decision... how do I seal this joint? You can either 1) try to keep the joint-in-question clear of grout and use a flexible caulk (latex or silicone) to fill this small gap or 2) grout the entire job now and apply the caulk down the road when it begins to look unsightly.

Of course there is a third alternative... you can do the job like "the pros" and grout the entire job. Just keep some grout in an air-tight package for the inevitable touchup down the road! This is not as weird as it sounds. Sometimes the appearance of the caulk is not acceptable making periodic regrouting preferable... the home repair equivalent of "planned obsolescence".

You must also choose the correct caulk. Latex caulks can be successfully applied 24-48 hours after grouting while silicone caulks need full drying, so a wait of at least 3-5 days is preferable for proper adhesion. If you use a latex caulk, be sure to choose one designed for kitchens and bathrooms. They include a stronger mildewcide and are more water resistant.


Dear NH,

I am looking for links on chainsaw repair and maintenance. Can you help?


Dear JJ,

OREGON at has a great FAQ on maintaining, adjusting and sharpening your chain. This site also covers some safety issues, when to replace your chain or bar, and the different types of bars and chains on the market.

STIHL USA, at, is a very popular manufacturer of chainsaws. They have full length safety manuals available at their site for download. These manuals include proper cutting techniques and also a maintenance chart to help you remember what needs to be done. Though the STIHL name is ubiquitous in the manuals, these manuals are very generic and can be helpful to anyone.

I am unaware of any links to sites dealing with actual chainsaw motor repair, but that is perhaps a good thing. You can purchase service manuals for chainsaws at a local dealer, but be aware that there are skills and tools needed that are peculiar to small motors, making this a somewhat expensive and time consuming sideline. Unless you want to take up small motor repair as a hobby, of course! In my experience chainsaw motors are very reliable. If you perform regular maintenance, keep the saw clean and don't drop the saw off too many trees, you should not have to do any major servicing for many years aside from chain and bar related issues... well within the abilities of most handy homeowners.

I can't broach the topic of chainsaws without at least mentioning safety, a chainsaw being one of the most dangerous tools you can own. And the most important safety issue in using a chainsaw is the condition of the operator... you! Using a chainsaw when you are not stable... mentally or physically... can lead to some of the most horrendous injuries imaginable. I have cut at least a hundred cords of wood over the last 25 years... no Guinness record but enough to have had a few close calls and a few minor (fortunately) injuries. When something bad happen with a chainsaw, it happens very quickly. The more stable your footing; the more your mind is focused on the work; the better condition of your saw and chain... the better your chance of survival... intact.

Dear NH,

I need to remove my broken ceramic soapdish from the tiled shower wall. Is it done the same way as removing a broken tile?

SW from Temple Hills, Maryland

Dear SW,

No. The removal method depends on the way the soapdish was mounted. There are two installation methods commonly used depending on the design of the fixture. By the by, these methods also apply to other ceramic fixtures such as towel bars, toilet paper holders and toothbrush holders.

The first method is the retrofit method where a specially designed ceramic fixture is mounted using a metal or plastic plate that is attached to the wall with screws or wall anchors. The ceramic fixture is shaped to slide tightly over this plate and then gently tapped with a cloth-protected hammer or wood block to seat it firmly. You can tell if your fixture is this type by looking underneath it for a wide opening with tapered edges. You might even be able to see the mounting plate. To remove the fixture, simply tap it upward with your hand, a rubber mallet or a hammer covered with a nice soft towel to cushion the ceramic from cracking (unless, as in your case, the fixture is already broken).

Traditional permanent ceramic fixtures are held in place with a glob of plaster that "keys" or spreads into a hole in the wall cut behind the fixture. The plaster sets very hard to hold the fixture in place. To remove the fixture without damaging the surrounding tile requires you to break the ceramic fixture apart. Otherwise, you will pull the tiles off the wall and break the wall to boot!

Since possibly sharp pieces of ceramic are going to be flying around, it's wise to wear eye protection and skin protection. Put a soft tarp underneath the fixture to collect the broken pieces.

There are two steps to freeing up the fixture. First, you should scrape off any grout or caulking that seals the perimeter of the fixture. You can do this using a heavy duty utility knife. Be careful not to cut yourself! Second, you should drill a number of holes in the fixture with a carbide masonry drill bit to weaken it. This will lessen the amount of force necessary to break it into pieces. The holes don't have to be large... 1/4 inch is fine... but they should be fairly close together to form a "breaking line" which will yield more easily to the chisel.

Now that you are emotionally prepared, begin to whack the fixture apart with a hammer and chisel... a piece at a time! Using a chisel (either an old, dull wood chisel you don't care about or a masonry "cold" chisel) concentrates the force in a small area of the ceramic so that you have less risk of breaking the wall or cracking the surrounding tiles with the impact.

This is not a quick job, so don't expect to be done in five minutes. The quicker you try to finish, the more likely you will damage surrounding tiles. Take your time and measure your force, using the least amount you can that still gets the job done!



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

Dear NH,

I like you already. I am a very handywoman and love that you used that terminology. There are very many woman who love to or need to be handy. At this very time I am installing a garage door. Not just a garage door but one that is 12 inches wider than the old one. I am glad I found your site. Looking forward to some future tips and good reading.


(PS: Even my spellchecker didn't know the word "handywoman"!)

Dear C,

I have always known many women who were tool-savvy and made no bones about their home repair prowess. So it has always been difficult for me to use the term "handyman" in my writing. But until I find a word that feels comfortable to me ("handyperson' has already been taken by syndicated home repair guy Mark Hetts, a.k.a. Mr. Handyperson), I will continue to use "handyman" to refer to do-it-yourselfers of either sex. However, be assured that I will always be thinking of the few or the many... the proud and the positive... the handywomen!!


Dear NH,

In "my day" (please do not ask how LONG ago), women seldom did anything more 'handy' than hang pictures. But having used a high heeled shoe as a hammer, I began amassing my own little tool bag. And before long I knew JUST what to give girlfriends as Wedding Shower gifts! Of course...small toolboxes, with a few screwdrivers, a hammer, pliers, tape measure, etc.

JH in New Hampshire

You are so right! I have heard from more than one reader that giving a basic toolbox to the bride-to-be is not only empowering her independence (yes, you can be married AND independent) but also one of the few gifts that will be remembered for years and years.



Dear NH,

Just wanted to let you know that we have created a whole specialty group of GOOP users--race cars! We race a 1986 Chevrolet Monte Carlo at the local dirt track Potomac Speedway here in Southern Maryland. The front nose of the car is made from a rubbery composite and frequently becomes damaged during races. We use GOOP to keep it together, and it works great! Other owner/racers couldn't imagine how we could keep coming back week after week with the car repaired so quickly. We finally let them in on our secret. Now, GOOP is racing around the track on a whole bunch of cars! Thanks, Eclectic Products-- GOOP is a great product.

By the way, we just won the class championship with our "GOOPED-up racer, 2nd year in a row!

Ron Nord, Burch Racing (The "GOOP Team")

Dear Ron,

Thanks for your comments on GOOP adhesive from Eclectic products. I love the stuff too and I am always finding new uses for it. GOOP's three best qualities are that it is clear, it sticks tenaciously to most any clean surface, and it dries to an amazingly tough but flexible material. But your use is one I would never have thought of in a million years! It makes me wonder... do horse jockeys have any unique uses for it? Hmmm.

Thanks for sharing your creative imagination and pragmatism with us!



Dear NH,

I love my subscription! Here at work we are no longer allowed to get on the web, but we can get all the email we want. Crazy place! Anyway I loved the short story from the handywoman from Australia.  By the way, I call myself Handy Honey and I am.


Dear MV,

Handy Honey? I like it! And thanks.



Copyright 2018 G George Ventures Inc.