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

Handyman Letter - February 1, 2001


1) Moving on... 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!



In each of our lives we can feel fortunate... no, blessed... that another soul may touch us in a way that nudges us towards our better selves. Not every person can do this and, sadly, the most frequent failures are those who try too hard. Occasionally, the force of a person's spirit can separate and rearrange our reality.

Occasionally, this is even a good thing. Over thirty years ago I met a man by the name of Don Benham. Don and his wife Florence lived in a small WW2 vintage neighborhood of tiny three-bedroom modular homes in what has today become the anchor of Connecticut's "Gold Coast"... Greenwich. Greenwich of the day was hardly a rich town. In fact, the affordability of housing was what drove them to the small but rapidly growing town in the first place. As many young couples with small children, they quickly laid roots both deep and strong. Surrounded by like-minded people who had survived a devastating war, they began building a life surrounded by camaraderie and love. The neighborhood was alive with promise and, soon, with scores of infants... the baby-boomers to be. Working together, the men raised their houses, added foundations and shared their tools, their joys and their sorrows. The women kept them fed and full of just enough beer to keep them motivated.

Don was the father of a young woman who would someday be my wife. We met under the most strained of circumstances. I was not exactly the type of boy a girl should bring home to meet the folks... at least back then when there was still a common sensibility in dress and hygiene. I was a somewhat scruffy college sophomore wrapped in a fringed, cowhide jacket that was slept in too many times. My hair by the standards of the day was uncomfortably long and wild, and I had the penetrating eyes of one who substituted too much stimulation for sleep.

Our meeting at the front door was a moment frozen in time. Florence was a high school home economics teacher with a strong sense of self and a powerful confidence that instilled more than just knowledge in her charges. She had begun seeing the changes in culture and fashion that the late 1960's were bringing to America. Don, though, was not riding the same train and was noticeably strained, though polite. He was a hardware man with many years of strong male opinions, bawdy jokes and bathroom door poster girls behind him. This scrawny young man at his door did not fit neatly into his worldview... not at all!

Over a period of years, I became a fixture around their home... my second home. Don realized that I was actually human, and he began sharing more of his life and experiences with me and we began bonding through his tools and projects. Though my own father was an auto mechanic in the days when the "laying on of hands" was an approved repair technique, he sadly never passed his knowledge on to me. Don, however, was eager to allow me to use his gear and pick his brain. I learned quickly and soon developed an expertise and love of wood and handiwork.

Not that Don was a craftsman. As much as he enjoyed his home and his projects, his work never became the stuff of home repair lore. In that sense, you could say he was balanced, for he had many loves. Though he never attained any real wealth, he nevertheless built an impressive collection of stamps and Abraham Lincoln memorabilia that would see him well into retirement. He was a Boy Scout leader, rising to the highest ranks in the local organization though was never a Boy Scout himself. As a child, he was rootless with a mother in advertising sales who was always on the run. Perhaps this is what led him to develop such steel-strong ties to his passions. I will never know for sure...because I never thought to ask him.

He was a man like many men, imperfect yet strong and directed... when the spirit moved him... a grown-up boy who never lost that childish glimmer and sense of wonder at the world. He was not the best at anything but he was able to find joy within his limitations... the true measure of a self-confident man. His work may not stand the test of time but his humanity will last as long as any of us remember him.

Don passed away this past week after a long and disheartening battle with Alzheimer's disease. His end was quiet and peaceful, just as was his life. Though a part of me wants and needs to feel sadness, I more strongly feel a sense of pride in knowing this man who gave me many gifts, a strength and confidence of purpose and... most of all... a small piece of his heart.




Dear NH,

I had a 3/4" copper pipe (leading to an outdoor spigot) in an outside wall burst due to freezing. I removed the damaged portion of the pipe, inserted a new piece, covered each connection with a 2" sleeve and attempted to solder the connections. The problem is that the pipe is pretty snug against a cinder block wall, so I can't seem to get it watertight all the way around on the ends of the sleeves. I was thinking of using a double compression fitting instead. I read the information regarding compression fittings from your site. Will expansion and contraction caused by temperature changes make compression fittings leak?


Dear BH,

You should have no problem... temperature changes should have no effect on the compression fittings. Most leakage in compression fittings is caused by one of two things... 1) movement in the connection and 2) not completely seating the pipe in the socket. I wonder, though, if there might be a better way for you to do this job without compression fittings, since they are the least strong of plumbing connections.

Sometimes in plumbing repair, you need to "cut away" more pipe than just the repaired area to be able to reconnect everything. For example, if there is an elbow near your work forcing you to work in cramped quarters, cut the pipe "after the elbow", not between the elbow and your work, do the repair "on the bench". Reattach the "below the elbow" cut in the pipe with a union instead of a compression fitting. This is a much stronger connection and can be reused if the freezing recurs. Of course your measurements have to be fairly precise for everything to align properly but flexibility in the pipes and the small amount of "give" in the union allows for some wiggle room.


Dear NH,

How can wallpaper be removed when it has been directly applied to the wallboard. The builder did not put ANYTHING on the walls prior to the paper, including paint! A small corner I tried to remove would not budge.



I have seen wallpaper applied over raw, unpainted wallboard many times in both private homes and condominiums. The most commonly used technical term for this timesaving contractor technique is CHEAP. Other widely used terms are LAZY, INCOMPETENT, and UNPROFESSIONAL. The builder may have saved a few dollars, but the homeowner pays dearly for this breach of trust... trust that the contractor had done the job right.

You must use either a wallpaper steamer or chemical stripper to remove the paper. Either method may damage the wallboard surface, especially if you have to make intense use of a scraper to remove the paper. Once you get the paper off, your job has only just begun. Now you have to repair all the damage done to the surface of the wallboard to give you a smooth surface for either wallpapering or painting. Even if you were to "texture" the walls, some preliminary smoothing will be necessary unless you were going to use a very heavy stucco-like texture.

Have you considered the possibility of not removing the wallpaper at all? If the wallpaper is well stuck and doesn't have a textured surface that might appear through the paint (big embossed jungle flowers are my favorite), you can prime the paper with an oil-based primer. This will seal the wallpaper so that the moisture from water-based paints or patching compounds will not loosen it or cause it to "bubble". Any loose areas or imperfections should be cut out prior to priming. This is especially true of the seams... even the slightest looseness will cause later attempts to hide the seams (read on) to fail. So trim back the seams to where there the paper is absolutely solid.

Seams can be a problem because they will show through the paint unless given special treatment. Prime all the wallpaper first. Then apply a few thin coats of wallboard compound to the seams just as if they were taped wallboard joints, tapering the coating out at least 10" on either side of the seam. This will thoroughly mask the seams making them virtually invisible.

Once all the miscellaneous repairs and seam repairs are sanded smooth, prime the repairs alone or (if it's easier) prime the entire surface again. Then you are ready to paint the walls with the paint of your choice. Proper sealing will ensure that your job will last!



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

Dear NH,

Several years ago I owned a 3-bedroom rental unit. The tenant complained of water mysteriously appearing in her dishes in a kitchen cabinet. An inspection of the attic disclosed a furnace gas flue with holes in it. The gases had escaped into the attic, condensed on the sheathing, joists, rafters, etc. The warmth of the south-facing roof melted the frost during the day, it ran down the sheathing until it dripped onto the drywall, found a small hole and drained through the ceiling into the cupboard. Replacement of the flue solved the problem. I hope this might be assistance to someone.



Great story. I credit you for making the connection between the leaky gas exhaust flue and the moisture problem. Most folks don't realize that one of main components of natural gas exhaust is water vapor! A leaky vent pipe in the attic will release significant moisture, along with CO2 and CO... all undesirables! This is worse than venting a clothes dryer into the attic, since the heat runs when it is the coldest outside and the most likely time to condense on freezing attic surfaces!



Dear NH,

Thanks for your great newsletter -- much appreciated! I especially got all teary (fortunately had my tissues handy) at your lovely "love letter" -- thanks for including us readers in your circle.

Re: the cold weather and ice dams -- those of us in the sunny southwest are grateful that we only have to deal with real heat in the summer (and of course occasional earthquakes, floods, mudslides, etc.), as opposed to the range of miseries that people in colder climes have to deal with on a regular basis. I have to say that I don't miss it and would not willingly move back to it, but I am a native of Southern California, I admit, and that
may color my thinking.

The worst thing we are dealing with right now at our house (aside from soaring utility rates) is the fact that our house is not sufficiently insulated and weather-stripped to handle the very cool weather we are having (you know, lows in the upper 30's, highs around 60 -- 10 to 15 degrees lower than the normal or average temperatures for this time of year!). We know what to do, having lived in the Northeast (my husband is even from Massachusetts, and we met and married in Pittsburgh), but it's so rarely necessary that we usually just survive the weeks here and there when the weather gets cold, dreary, and drippy like today. (Lucky, lucky, lucky....)

Anyway, I hope you have a truly wonderful 2001 (yes, it is the beginning of the new millennium -- couldn't resist!), with no more painful or sad losses this year. I wish you all the best at least a thousand times over....

LR from Palm Springs,


Thanks so much for your letter. Could you pass one of those tissues, please!

Anyway, I hope that you haven't been a victim of the "rolling blackouts" that our media have been reporting (at times with a little untoward and self-righteous glee). What a mess you folks are in! Give me the snow anytime. Not that I don't have my Y2K generator ready and waiting... that I still haven't needed since purchasing it back in the summer of 1999!


Copyright 2018 G George Ventures Inc.