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Handyman Letter - February 15, 2001


1) Unraveling Penelope's Web... 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!


1) Unraveling Penelope's Web... a message from the Natural Handyman

A classic tale of ancient Greece was the story of Odysseus in Homer's epic "The Odyssey". Odysseus was the king of Ithaca... one of the smaller Greek islands. He was married to the fair Penelope but was compelled to leave her for a while to engage in nearly ten years of "guy stuff"... warring with Troy and other testosterone-inspired adventures.

During the long period of his absence, Penelope was a woman much in demand by the local bachelors, since marrying her would give a man the power of a king... the ultimate trophy bride! As much as her suitors tried, though, she could not accept their claims that her husband was dead and she should "move on"... to use the current vernacular.

Even with her indomitable spirit and fortitude, she found herself sapped by the constant assault of eager males. So she devised a clever ruse to forestall committing herself to any of them. Penelope began "weaving a web"... actually a burial shroud for Odysseus' father Laertes, who was near the end of his life. She informed her suitors that she would be prepared to remarry only after the shroud was completed. Out of respect for Odysseus's father, they agreed.

The shroud took a little longer than expected. In fact, it was never completed in the three years till her husband finally reappeared. No... this was not a miracle... clever Penelope, with the help of her handmaidens, would unravel much of her day's work each night to slow the shroud's progress.

We can marvel at Penelope's ingenuity! We should also marvel at her suitor's lazy inattentiveness! But the real fun in this tale is in the universal truth that can be found amidst these neat rows of twice woven yarn. This story... this myth... begs the question of what webs we are weaving in our own lives? I know that many of my own webs have grown for far less noble causes than love or loyalty. And I have sometimes too eagerly stripped row upon row of my hard work to avoid the fruits of my labors. All fruits are not sweet... especially those plucked from the tree before they are ripe.

Inspirational speakers urge us to form goals and then to do whatever it takes to get there. Reach for the stars... go for the gold... climb to the mountaintop! Have you ever gotten so close to the mountaintop that you could smell the thin crisp air... and then realized that the thin air gave you a headache? Or worked for years for a prize that, once won, seemed hardly worth the effort?

Penelope knew that the obvious, superficial goal... the finishing of the shroud... was not HER goal. It was a hidden reflection of her real purpose... to keep striving... to keep surviving... to keep working... to keep treading water until SHE felt the time was right to move on. To another man... or perhaps another web.

Few days really move us into the future... most days spin us back into the past. Just as no home can be truly strong without a rock-solid foundation, the foundations of our lives must also be built on the bedrock of experience and the wisdom that comes from paying our dues. Sometimes we are not ready for what appears to be the inevitable. That is why, like Penelope, we each have a hidden web ready to weave... and unravel... until our own time is right.




Dear NH,

Have you heard of a tool that attaches to your power drill that is made to remove old window glazing? I have been searching for the tool (I know it is made), found your article on reglazing, but noticed you don't mention the tool.

Any help would be appreciated. A friend thought DeWalt made it, but DeWalt says no!



Yes, I am familiar with the tool. It's called the "Putty Chaser". It works in your electric drill and has rotating carbide blades that remove the putty. There is a built-in guide to help you avoid chewing up the wood sash. The wood in old windows, especially if they have been weathered for many years, can be somewhat soft and easily damaged.

I have been looking at the product for years but, honestly, have not used it. Call me old fashioned... plus, I don't do too many glazing jobs these days. I have heard from other folks that it does indeed save time... but take this as "hearsay".

Though the manufacturer claims that storm window frames can remain in place, it seems obvious that some wide triple-track frames may restrict the tool's access to the leftmost and rightmost edges of the windows. Even with this caveat, it probably would still save time for the 3/4 of the job it can do.


Dear NH,

What is the proper way to install kitchen cabinets to metal studs?

RB from Lockport, IL


That is a tough question. Unlike wooden studs, steel studs are not the best material to hang anything from, let alone cabinets! The first time most people see a steel stud they are amazed at how flimsy and seemingly weak they are. And... they are! That is, until they are part of a completed wall. The weaknesses of the stud, mostly related to twisting and bending, are eliminated when attached together and then to drywall to make a complete wall. Here are some tips... use them to help you decide the BEST way for your wall!

In a kitchen, wood or plywood strips are often installed between the metal studs to give a strong nailing/screwing surface to attach the cabinets to. Some contractors install additional metal cross pieces between the studs instead of wood to allow for this additional screwing surface. If you are dealing with old work, though, you have to first try to determine if there are any "nailers". You can use a magnetic or electronic stud finder to look for horizontal nailers. There are special self-tapping screws that are used with steel studs that are available at most hardware stores and lumberyards. An air or electric powered screwgun or an electric drill with a screwdriver bit must be used.

If there are no nailers to be found, you have a few options. Screwing the cabinets up to the metal studs with special self-tapping screws used for this purpose will offer some measure of support, but I wouldn't trust them as the sole support for the cabinets, especially if they are large and heavy. You can try these two techniques to add additional support... 1) retrofitting nailers or 2) using toggles.

1) Retrofitting nailers can be dusty and messy but allows you to install the cabinets in the traditional way... all screws! First, cut out neat, horizontal strips in the dry wall behind the cabinets at the height you are planning on screwing them to the wall. Then install wood crosspieces between the steel studs, screwing them to the studs. The size and type of wood will depend on the size and type of studs... the largest piece you can get into the wall! You might have to custom-rip the 2x3s or 2x4s to get a good fit. Replace the drywall scraps to make the wall level and put up the cabinets. You don't even have to "finish" the entire repair, since it will be mostly behind the cabinets.

If for some logistical reason you cannot attach the wood strips to the studs or if it appears that the wood strips will be too flimsy, you can still make use of this technique by reinforcing the wall instead. This can be useful if the wall is a very thin, nonstandard (less than 4 " thick) interior partition wall. Cut a piece of 3/4" plywood and insert it into the wall so that it overlaps the uncut drywall above and beneath the cut at least a few inches and extends between the studs. Screw and glue the nailer in place. Positioning it can be tricky since there isn't anything to grip once the entire nailer is in the wall. To give myself something to hold onto so I can pull the plywood to the wall, I partially screw in a couple of 2 to 2 1/2" screws as "handles" to help me position the wood. I remove them once additional supporting screws have been installed through the drywall. Again, replace the scraps to level the wall and put up the cabinets.

2) You can also add additional support by using 1/4" toggle bolts or togglers. I have done this with good results, but I have to warn you that it is a little tricky to get the cabinets up using toggles!

As always, it helps to have a helper! Figure the location of all toggles and self-tapping screws and mark them on the inside of the cabinet. Pre-bore holes for the toggles that are just large enough for the "toggle" to go through the cabinet. When you install the toggle, use a large washer to keep the screwhead from dropping through the hole. Figure on one toggle between each stud. The easiest way to install the toggles is after the cabinet is hung with the self-tapping screws... minimum two per stud. Once the cabinet is up, use the toggle holes you already drilled into the cabinets as guides and drill through the drywall. Install the toggles or togglers (with washers preinstalled) and tighten them down securely.

With either of these methods... depending on the room aesthetics... you can also attach a 1x2 wood strip on the wall to give the cabinets some support along the bottom edge during installation. This makes alignment a little easier, especially if you are working solo. This strip can be left on the wall after cabinet installation to provide additional permanent support or removed and the wall repaired.



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

Dear NH,

Here is a handy tip I heard on the radio recently. To make cleaning your dryer vent easier disconnect the vent from the dryer and use a leaf blower to blow out the dirt and lint! Works like a charm! Thanks for the great newsletter and website!



Thanks for writing and for the great tip. This method, tried and true, will indeed remove many blockages that occur within dryer ducts.

Over many years lint tends to build up in dryer ducting even with regular blowouts. The dampness of the lint is the culprit as well as any protrusions into the pipe that may give the lint a place to "catch" and start to accumulate. The folds in flexible ducting can also contribute to this buildup by slowing down the air movement in the hose. Once this "plaque" begins to seriously block the hose, blowing and other mechanical methods may or may not work. In the case of flexible ducting, replacement is the repair of choice.

In-the-wall ducting... not uncommon in many older homes... is both difficult to clean and even more difficult to replace since the walls have to be cut open to do it! There is no duct cleaning equipment that will work in flexible ducting since the equipment can damage the ducts. However, if all your ducting is modern solid metal pipe, heavy-duty cleaning is possible but unfortunately the equipment is not readily available to the amateur. This forces you to hire a duct cleaning service.

By the way, I hope the radio announcer said to only use an "electric" blower, not a gas powered one! Could make things in your laundry room a little stinky and a lot dangerous!


Dear NH,

Love the site - keep up the good work. I believe I found a simple mistake. On the web page  titled, "Heavy Duty Garage and Basement Storage", it says "...has four shelves. Each shelf is 2' x 8', giving you a total equivalent storage of 128 feet of 12" shelving!!

I believe 4 shelves at 2'x8' are equivalent of 64 feet of 12" shelving and not 128 feet.



Thanks, Ken... you're absolutely correct. Oops... did you hear that sound? That was the sound of my abacus hitting a distant tree in my back yard!


Dear NH,

Referring to your last newsletter, kindly refrain from feeding your LINKMEISTER to the sheep in the future. Scientists have determined that feeding LINKMEISTER to sheep is a major cause of "mad sheep" disease. Thank you.

JC for S.P.F.L.S. (Society for the Prevention of Feeding LINKMEISTERs to Sheep)


I couldn't help myself, but for the sake of civility I will refrain from such inhumane practices in the future!! Plus the world surely does not need any more angry sheep!



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