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Handyman Letter - April 1, 2001


1) The First Law Of Motion Is To Get Moving! ...a message from the Natural Handyman

2) Our appreciation to sites and publications that have recently linked to, listed or featured NH!

3) Contest Central

4) What's new at

5) Q&A with our readers


7) "Pass the hammer, would ya?"... NH's readers speak out!

8) Recommend our newsletter to a friend... or rate us!!



From the feedback I have received over the years I have been publishing this letter, I have come to realize that our readership is a diverse group. When many people share an event, there develops a sense of community... a bond that somehow ties us together. If you had asked me three years ago, I would have naively said it was the love of home repair. I have somewhat changed my view. Surely those in total loathing of home repair would never have discovered this letter, but I also know that many of you would rather have stomach cramps than try to fix another balky toilet! Some days, even this dedicated repair guy shares that sentiment, too!

But I am puzzled. How can it be that we can so thoroughly enjoy DOING something, but have to be dragged kicking and screaming to the starting line? Some days, I literally have to bungee-cord myself to my van's steering wheel to keep from running back inside to (choose one) 1) have another cup of decaf, 2) watch another half hour of morning television or 3) reinstall Windows 98 for the eightieth time.

This phenomenon is more than a personal quirk... it is a disease of universal scope! Virtually everyone I know who works out in a gym or tries (again) to lose that last, painful ten pounds would admit that they find taking that first step... getting out the door with their leotard, weight-lifting belt or Slim Fast in hand... is the most difficult part. Yet, they also find that once they have begun their training or dietary regimen, the pleasure of success and the magnetism of the goal seems to increase with a fury!

And we could never hope to count the number of people with a garage corner piled with materials for an unstarted project... somehow the time for it has evaporated. Or perhaps the desire to make the time has lost the battle to the "status quo".

In physics, there is a principle know as "inertia", also known as Newton's 1st law of motion. By definition, inertia refers to the tendency of a physical object to either stay perfectly still OR continue moving UNLESS acted on by an external force. Your car will continue to roll through the stop sign unless acted upon by you... via your car's braking system. "Sorry, officer... the inertia made me do it!" I am convinced that it is not only physical bodies that are affected by this universal law, but mental states as well.

Just as our bodies need a jolt of physical activity to improve, likewise our minds need stimulation and variety to keep them healthy. Reading, exploring new activities, meeting new people, exploring new career possibilities, trying something new and different... these are the breakthroughs that overcome inertia and change lives. These are the steps that make us feel more self-worth and make us a vital part of our community. These are the things that make us both wiser and a bit more satisfied with lives and ourselves!



2) OUR EVERLASTING APPRECIATION to Websites and publications that have
recently linked to, listed or featured NH:

"Thanks for the plug" to an old friend, Jack Etzel, on 1360AM WPPT in Pittsburgh, PA, who hosts the "Handyman Show" Saturdays from 10 till noon.

The Hamilton Spectator of Hamilton, Ontario, Canada featured us on Thursday, March 22, 2001 in an article by Lise Diebel titled "Net neat resource for do-it-yourselfer". Neat!

James Cummings of the "Cox News Service" (Dayton, Ohio) mentioned us in his February article "Top Sites for Handy Home Advice". He characterized NH as "a little long-winded" and that NH's attempts at humor are 'often less successful than he seems to think". Nevertheless, we are not ones to hold a grudge, and his generosity in placing us in his "top ten list" is graciously accepted.

Also, thanks to "The Ledger" of Lakeland, Florida for an early March citation!

We really appreciate the support!



Dear NH,

I have a crack in my bathroom wall that leads from the ceiling to the top of my bathroom door. In the winter, the crack expands so I cannot totally close my bathroom door. In the summer, the crack contracts and the door closes normally. My house is 30 years old, and we have a slab foundation. How can I fix this crack so my door shuts normally all year long? Your help would be much appreciated.



Thanks for writing. Many homes have similar "seasonal fits"... wild expansion and contraction in doorframes and moldings. I have seen homes where crown moldings (the moldings around the top of the walls) separate from the ceiling up to a half-inch in the summer, only to settle back in the winter! So take faith... you are not alone!

Frankly, it is impossible for me to tell you how to fix the seasonal movements since there are many possible causes. You may be able to slightly modify the structural frame above the door to take the pressure off the doorjamb. This would require at the least the removal of the doorframe moldings and probably some of the wallboard. Then again, there may also be other framing problems that may need the trained eye of an engineer to discern. However, if your interest primarily lies in the repair of the symptom... the difficult door... here is my advice.

I am going to assume that, with 30 years under its belt, your home is stable and not in need of serious structural assessment. With that as a disclaimer, the best and most efficient way to solve your problem is to deal with it when it is at it's worst. For example, if the rubbing problems manifest themselves mid-summer, then that is when you should do the repair. If you try to do the repair during the season when the door is working properly, you may either 1) over cut the door or 2) under cut the door. Hey... what's the point, right?

The repair itself is not complicated. Get up on a step stool and see just where the door is hitting the frame. There will be telltale-signs such as damage to the paint (or stain) on the frame. You need to make a judgment as to how much of the top of the door needs to be trimmed off to allow for proper closing. Usually, it is the latch-side that is the culprit though the rubbing area can extend almost all the way to the hinge side! Once you determine how much of the door top needs to be removed to allow for proper closing, make a mark with a pencil on the door.

The trimming can be done with the door on or off, depending on the amount of wood to be removed and (of course) the tools you have available. If the trimming required only involves around half the width of the door and is less than an eighth-inch in maximum thickness, I would normally leave the door on the hinges and use a belt sander with a fairly coarse grit belt (36 to 50 grit) to trim the top of the door. I use dust collection equipment and drop some tarps on the floor to catch the wood dust. Be warned... belt sanders can be quite heavy so it takes a strong, steady hand to do this repair "au naturel". Steady back and forth movements allow the sander to give a taper to the sanded area. Keep the sander moving, but spend more time in the areas with the most material to remove. If you need to practice, put a 2x4 in a vise and go for it!

An aside... some folks are under the mistaken impression that the top of a door can be "planed" with either a hand or power planer. No way, Jose... a plane will rip the bejesus out of the door, especially the edges of the door where the wood grain is vertical. Planing is only for the edges of a door, regardless of the type of door you are working with!

If the door requires more severe trimming, remove it from the doorjamb by extracting the hinges and place it across two padded sawhorses or on a clean, covered tabletop. Then, I would use a circular saw (with a saw guide clamped to the door) to cut off the excess wood. The guide is important since the cut is usually at a slight angle. Even after over 20 years in the business I still prefer to use a guide... the chance for error is minimized. A trained hand on a circular saw is a marvelous thing. However, when you are making a very thin cut, it is too easy for the blade to wobble. The result could be a very amateurish-looking cut! When placing the guide, be sure to allow for the thickness of the blade... the "kerf" in technical terms.

Certain types of doors tend to chip when crosscut. Birch veneer on flush (flat-faced) doors is especially chip-prone. To counteract this tendency, make a "precut" with a utility knife along the cutting line most of the way through the veneer. Taping the area with masking tape and cutting through the tape can also help to minimize chipping, though this method is less reliable.


Dear NH,

I recently got involved in a renovation project. Well, someone decided it would be cool to put Contact paper onto the walls. The walls are plaster of some sort and underneath that cement. Is there a special method of getting rid of this? Will conventional methods used for wallpaper removal work?



The adhesive on contact paper is very strong and is designed to be difficult to remove. Because the adhesive is also water-resistant, standard wallpaper removal products will not have any effect.

Instead, use a hair dryer to heat the contact paper. The heat will soften the adhesive and make removal much easier. Start at a corner and pull on the paper as you warm it. The warmth may also restore a little of the flexibility to the plastic so it is less likely to split as you remove it. Be patient and take your time or you may do incredible damage to the walls... especially if they are paper-faced wallboard!

Once the paper is off, you can use an adhesive remover on the walls to strip the adhesive residue, if any.  Use a "citrus"-type adhesive remover rather than a solvent-based one since you may soften or even remove the paint with the solvent. Prime the walls before repainting to assure proper finish paint adhesion.


Dear NH,

Please help me. I am a single woman with a problem! I recently let out my basement to boarders and they lost power in the outlets they had their television and stereo plugged into and also in the back room where their refrigerator is. These outlets just don't work! I checked all the fuses and they are fine. I tried shutting off the main power and turning it back on again but this did nothing... except I had to reset all the clocks! I don't know what else to do!



As you describe the problem, I can see three possibilities. The first is that there is a second "fuse" or circuit breaker box in the basement that you are missing which controls the affected rooms. Sometimes when doing renovations, secondary boxes are added to allow for more electrical circuits rather than replacing the main board. Take a good look around if you are unsure!

The second is that a wire has come loose SOMEWHERE. Since this power loss affects so many outlets it would have to be a wire in either the main panel (a.k.a. "fuse" box) or in another electrical box that acts as a feeder for all these outlets. Repair would require you to turn off the power and manually inspect every likely electrical box for a disconnected wire and properly reconnect it. If you don't have any electrical savvy, though, this could be very dangerous and ill advised! Making the wrong connection could be more than just shocking... it could be deadly. Getting an electrician would be a wise idea.

The other possibility is that the circuit is protected by a ground fault circuit interrupter (a.k.a. GFI or GFCI). These nifty devices act as a first line of defense against electrical shock and are normally installed to protect outlets and fixtures in damp locations such as outdoors, garages, near kitchen and bathroom sinks, etc. It is not uncommon for them to be installed in basements or in mixed circuits that include bathrooms.

There are two types of GFI's. One type takes the place of a wall outlet and has "reset" and "test" switches clearly visible on its face. One of these outlet-type GFI's can protect a number of other outlets if wired correctly. If one is tripped, the power is restored to the circuit by simply pressing on the "reset" switch until it clicks.

The other type of GFI is a special circuit breaker in your main panel. The face of the circuit breaker would have a white or colored button labeled "test". To reset it, you must flip it completely off and then back on.

I know you said you checked the "fuses", but I remember that my folks always called the circuit breaker box a "fuse box". Old habits die hard, so just in case you really meant circuit breakers I have included this info (and for all our other readers, too!)

It is possible that your boarders used an appliance such as a hair dryer or a vacuum cleaner that caused the GFI to mistakenly think an electrical short or "ground fault" had occurred, shutting down the circuit. They should be told about the GFI so that they can reset it themselves if this happens again. A GFI that begins to trip frequently may need to be replaced.

I have an article at the website on GFI's at the following URL:



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

Dear NH,

I enjoyed reading your "Television Dreams" thoughts and comments, because I have similar memories and I agree with you. I wonder how sociologists and psychologists could scorn those early shows when they offer children a sense of security and happiness. Look at the profound effect "Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood" had on at least two generations of children. Children should be comforted and nurtured, shown what's right and good; they have plenty of time later on when their minds can understand it, to see the real world, and perhaps realize that it should not be that way. Without seeing and learning good, how will they recognize bad and know that it needn't be? Where do children get the idea that carrying guns to school is good? Not from the Cleavers or the Nelson family, whom you forgot to mention.

Thanks for those thoughts.

DB, MD of Sefrou, Morocco


I appreciate your comments... more than you know. Yes... the Nelsons of "Ozzie and Harriet". Then, there is "Father Knows Best". On and on...

D, I sense that there is a war going on in America today. Most people hardly recognize it, because it is a very subtle war. Little by little, the fabric of strength and morality that gave people a basis for positive action is being replaced with a secular morality that has no grounding. The problem is that it doesn't affect adults for the most part... our ties to our society are "bound"... so mature adults can indulge in modern media without consequence. However, our youth are left without any firm footing to stand on! Where there is no "judgment", there is neither good nor bad... only "personal choice". Without any "absolutes" with respect to acceptable behavior, there are no boundaries. Without boundaries, youth becomes aimless and... dangerous. As you so rightly mention, is the gun problem a problem with guns, or instead with a disrespect towards the value of life in general?

I can only hope that this tide will shift, as all tides do... with a little help from real adults!


Dear NH,

Stick to being a handyman!!! Not standing your soapbox!



Last time I looked, it wasn't a soapbox I was standing on... it was a workbench! Seriously though, I don't expect everyone to agree with me when I wax philosophical... just as I don't expect to agree with everyone else. Keep in mind that were I to "stick to being a handyman", we would not be communicating, for there would be no website and no newsletter! I would be instead dealing with a ten-mile circle around my business... not a 12,000+-mile circle around the web.

I have in the past wondered why media people, be they actors or news personalities, always seem to move from their initial work into different "creative" endeavors. Actors become directors and producers, news reporters become commentators and editors become authors. After years of writing, I have come to realize firsthand that people grow within their professional lives. The person you knew ten years ago may not be the person of today. Though we may not tire of their character, even actors tire of playing their familiar roles!

Though my roots are in "handyman" home repair, my life philosophy has grown, not in spite of my work, but because of it. I enjoy what I do and I can only hope that others find some use and perhaps occasionally share the joy with me through my writing.



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