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Handyman Letter -  April 15, 2001


1) The taxing man cometh ...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) Q&A with our readers


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

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



A wise person once said that only two things in life are assured... death and taxes. With the increases in both health and longevity cloning and genetic research promise, death may become a less than dependable companion. This, for better or worse, leaves us with taxes as the "assured rock" of our civilization... the only thing left we can really depend on. The mind conjures images of stability, constancy and, most of all, dependability. The rock is always there. Like your lucky socks. Or your dog Spot. No matter what!!

Then again, a large rock deftly tied to one's ankle prior to swimming ala "Sopranos"... suddenly turns a positive image into... an anchor and an effective one at that! So here I sit, between a rock and hard choices... how to pay as little taxes as I legally can and not get sucked under by a swirling financial whirlpool.

Bob Dylan wrote "Everybody must get stoned". I didn't realize he was writing a tax protest song! Fortunately, since Bob's heyday, a few very heavily taxed individuals brought personal computers into our homes... and software to lighten the load of tax preparation. Hopefully! Unless the software is more complicated than your finances!

The term "tax" not only means an obligation to support the good works of government but has other curiously related meanings. For example, "tax" can mean a charge levied by a court; including but not limited to tax court. You know... like when you forgot to declare the income from those noisy early morning garage sales you run on Saturdays? Careful... your neighbors may call the 1-800 IRS Criminal Investigations hotline. (I have the number but you tattletales out there will have to look it up yourself. Nothing truly worthwhile is ever easy!)

I wonder if the IRS has an official motto. A friend thought it might be "Stand and Deliver" but that sounds a little more appropriate for a shorthand backup for the Postal Service. Then again, maybe they lent it to the IRS in return for favorable tax treatment.

Dave Barry, syndicated columnist, author and comedian has offered a few possibilities... "We're human being just like you, except we breathe via gills." "We'll answer the Taxpayer Assistance Hotline when you pry the coffee cup from our cold, dead fingers" "We acknowledge that there is a possibility, however remote, that you are not criminal scum."

Recent news articles suggest the IRS' answers to taxpayer questions are more often wrong than right. Now THAT instills confidence. Holy moley! "Our answers to your questions are guaranteed to be correct at least 50% of the time"... or "Your overpayment will be refunded to you. Eventually." Back to our definitions... a "tax" can also be a difficult burden or an obligation. Tote that barge, lift that bail, send that check! It all fits... paying taxes can indeed be taxing... filling out all the forms can tax one's patience but not paying them can get you taxed in front of a judge!

Enough of this silliness! I know the solution. I just have to keep laughing and laughing, and hope the good humor is contagious enough to keep my favorite tax person smiling. Ear to ear!



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

GARDENING GURU David Daehnke has a winner site with a good mixture of articles and links to satisfy your horticultural appetite. He has wide experience in horticulture, landscaping and landscape management. Grab the guru at .

Also... appreciation to the following media for giving us a mention... ** The London Free Press (London, Ontario, Canada) ** The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Thanks for helping spread the word!



Dear NH,

Could you give a small explanation of steam heat ? My girlfriend heats her home with a steam furnace. She has a 7 room house, and what we are wondering about is the noise that comes from the valves on the radiators. Not all 7 rooms give off this annoying hissing sound when the furnace is running, right now 3 of the rooms hiss like crazy .. We have changed the valves, that seems to work for a while and then either the same room or another room will start the hissing sounds ... Is this hissing sound a normal function ? And if it is, then why don't all the radiators give off that noise ?



Residential steam heating systems typically incorporate a single pipe that leads from the boiler to each radiator. When the water boils, the steam rises into the radiators to heat them. When the steam reaches the cooler radiators, it condenses to water and drains down the pipes back to the boiler, where it is reheated.

The pressure release valves are designed to keep the steam moving throughout the system. The "hissing" is a normal function and, generally speaking, the more steam that is released, the quicker the radiator heats up. Since the escaping steam adds moisture to the air in the cooler months, it should be accepted as a positive, not negative, quality of steam systems... even though having lived with a steam system for ten years I sympathize that the noise at times can be irritating!

You didn't mention whether all the radiators had pressure release valves. If the non-hissing radiators don't have them, that would explain the lack of hissing. If they do, the valves may be malfunctioning. Generally speaking, the adjustment and/or size of the pressure valves affects how much hissing each radiator produces. Radiators on upper floors and radiators that are further from the boiler are adjusted to release more steam to compensate for the increased condensation due to the distance from the boiler. Since these distant radiators take longer to heat up, they also take longer to begin hissing.

If you haven't, you should have a plumber or HVAC service person check over the furnace to be sure everything is working as it should. Sometimes minor adjustments can have a major impact of the efficiency of the system AND your comfort level.

However, as mentioned earlier, a certain amount of hissing is normal and does not in and of itself indicate any problems... except annoyance.


Dear NH,

It is my understanding that if a refrigerator is laid down for any length of time, it must be allowed to stand upright for awhile so there are no bubbles in the coolant.

The question is... is this also true for portable dehumidifiers, which also use coolant like refrigerators. I have looked at the operating manuals for a number of them and there is no mention of this issue.



According to our friends at, dehumidifiers have refrigeration systems identical to refrigerators and freezers. To quote... "The compressor of a dehumidifier is like a tiny car engine with a piston (or screw in a rotary compressor) and valves. To keep all of the parts lubricated there is oil in the compressor that sits at the bottom when the compressor is turned off. If the compressor is laid on it's side the oil will drain into the refrigerant tubes. If the compressor is then switched on, it will try to compress the oil... an impossibility. The compressor will then either stall or blow out an internal valve.

While conventional wisdom says you should let a system sit upright to let the oil drain back into the bottom of the compressor, this is no guarantee that it will. Many compressors are ruined when the oil doesn't all drain back down."

So the rule is... NEVER lay an appliance down that has a refrigeration system. This includes refrigerators, freezers, dehumidifiers, window air conditioners, free standing room air conditioners, stand-alone ice makers and wine and beverage coolers.

(For more appliance repair information, visit Repair Clinic at ) ..............................................................

Dear NH,

How do I fix squeaky floors in the apartment above me? The lady upstairs gets up to "pee-pee" twice a night, then gets me up at 5:30 AM when she starts the dance of "getting ready for work". I am retired. Been there, done that. I would like to sleep all through the night and get up when I am ready, rather than be forced up when it is still dark outside. Grrrrrr...



Since the squeaky floor is above you and if you don't have any access to the underside of the floor your repair options may be limited. Determining the cause of the squeak is your first mission. All floor squeaks are caused by rubbing between different floor components. Examples are the edges of plywood or hardwood flooring rubbing together, the movement of the floor due to loose nails or even movement in your floor's "substructures" such as loose bridging or trusses. With any of these scenarios, you need to be able to either 1) tighten up the loose members or 2) lubricate the squeaky area.

Tightening up the floor is the preferred repair since it is more permanent. First, the squeaky area must be located. If there are visible nails that are loose, pound them in and then install additional nails or screws on either side of the loose one for additional support. Of course, you need to attach these fasteners into SOMETHING solid, such as a floor joist, for the repair to be effective. This can be the most difficult part if the flooring is tongue and groove hardwood, since the nailing is concealed. However, you can cheat and use a magnetic or electronic nail sensor to locate the nails.

Many floors have two layers... a plywood subfloor of one or two layers and then a layer of hardwood. These two layers can become separated and move against each other or against loose nails. They can be screwed back together by first applying weight to the squeaky area and then installing screws or nails through both layers to reattach them. Be prepared to do lots of nailing/screwing... even "the masters" have trouble stopping a squeak with the first fastener!

If there is carpet, you will have to roll it back. Though there are some products on the market that suggest you can locate the floor joists through carpet, I don't have confidence in this method.

If the floor is a covered with self-adhesive tiles, sheet linoleum or sheet vinyl, you may have no choice but to nail or screw through the floor covering. Lubrication... typically spraying powdered graphite into the cracks to make the movement more silent... can work in some circumstances but is hardly a permanent solution to squeaking. It can also be messy since graphite is black and can stain some surfaces. Other lubricants such as silicone spray can create a dangerously slippery floor and should be avoided for this use unless used under carpet. Of course, lubricants can cause staining in carpets if overapplied. Wipe off any excess lubricant from exposed surfaces to minimize this possibility.

There are also a number of repair methods IF and ONLY IF you have access to the underside of the floor. For example, if your ceiling is a suspended ceiling... square or oblong tiles laid into a metal gridwork... you can lift a tile or two to see whether you have access. If you do... or if you want more information on squeaky floors... visit the squeaky floor article at our website:



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

Dear NH,

Just wanted to tell you I enjoy your philosophical thoughts. If in the scanning any article doesn't interest me I scroll to the next article. If I am not in the mood for any of it I save the newsletter for later. So easy to do.

Yes, I don't believe telling the single woman with basement boarders to get an electrician can be stressed enough. One of my husband's classmates isn't around for their 30-year reunion this year because he made a fatal error doing his own electrical repairs during remodeling. The cost of having the local certified electrician do the work would easily have been less costly than having his wife come home to find him dead.



As your sad example demonstrates, electrical work can be a dangerous game. Even though taking certain precautions... the simplest being to just turn off the power... can virtually eliminate the risk, many novices jump into electrical work in the same fashion as they do into other home repairs... flying by the seat of the pants! Many DIYers don't even bother to purchase a quality electrical repair book, and those who do often skim to the most relevant parts when they have a specific problem. I have known many... I was one myself!

With electrical repairs, it is important for the novice to understand the entire system first... then do the specific repair. Most other home repairs are forgiving. A spilled gallon of paint can be cleaned up. The damage caused by a broken water pipe can be fixed. Severe electric shock, though, can be fatal or permanently debilitating.

There are three types of home repairs that put the DIYer at most risk... electrical work, ladder work, and ANY attempts to repair or install gas appliances. I neither encourage nor discourage anyone from either learning or doing. I just pray the learning comes first.


Dear NH,

You mentioned in your last newsletter that using a plane to shave the tops or bottoms of doors was not desirable. I will have to strongly disagree with you on this one!

Take an opportunity to view one of the video tapes on tuning a plane and watch them plane curls off end grain with a run-of-the-mill #4 plane. I also use a sharp (key word here) low angle block plane when only a few lick are necessary.

But by and large, I use my Makita motorized plane all the time to plane the tops and bottoms of doors. All you have to do is go from one stile almost all the way to the other and then move to the other side and come back to finish it off. With my plane I can take off less than 1/64 of an inch per pass. I use the plane to clean up my saw cuts and to save on dust when sanding. Typically I will saw, then motor plane and then use the block plane to chamfer the edges, before I give it a light sanding with an orbital sander or a sanding belt on a block of wood.

Try it you will like it. It is very fast and loads less dust.



Thanks for writing. You caught me making a cardinal mistake... I expressed a strong personal preference as a rule! Bad handyman! To clarify... IF the homeowner has a very sharp hand plane or power plane, freehand cuts can indeed be made across the grain as you describe... inward towards the center of the door. In fact, a person can plane across the entire piece... even off the edge and against the grain... if a piece of pine is strongly clamped at the edge of the door (level with the edge to be planed). The clamped wood prevents splintering as the plane moves off the edge of the door by offering support to the weak end grain.

However, in my specific example... "tapering" the top of a door that has begun rubbing due to settlement of the home... a plane would not and, in my opinion, should not be the first choice of a tool to use. Most minor door rubbing on the top does not require cutting completely across the top. Hand and power planes can be "finessed" to make slight tapers or cut a little bit of wood off the very end of a rubbing door, but they are specifically designed to make a cut of uniform thickness across a surface... hence my preference for the belt sander for very minimal wood removal or a circular saw for more substantial cuts. I am sure a skilled craftsman as yourself has no problem doing this. However, the potential for serious damage to the door wielding a plane this way is much greater for the novice than with a belt sander (or circular saw with a guide, for that matter).

It is a rare and unusual circumstance that the entire width of a door needs to be planed EXCEPT during installation OR if the installation was somehow botched by the carpenter. Bottoms of doors are another issue. Usually cutting at the bottom is precipitated by changes in the flooring... installation of new, thicker carpet can cause doors to rub. In this case, I have found that sometimes a taper cut is required. Even when a straight cut is needed the amount to be removed can be too much to make planing a practical solution. Again personal preference... I would rather make one cut with a circular saw than twelve passes with the planer.

I also own Makita 3 1/4" motorized plane, and find it useful in some situations... for example when taking a smidgen more wood off a door edge AFTER making the initial taper with a circular saw. But frankly, the power planer is a messy tool, turning every bit of wood into a flying chip! Not my first choice when used inside the home! The dust collection system on the sander is fairly efficient... on the planer nonexistent! So yes, I use the planer, but sparingly.

I respectfully must stick with my feelings towards planing tops of doors, though. It is just as easy to use a circular saw for cuts fully across and don't have to futz with planing back from the edges as you describe. Using a 7 1/4" thin-kerf 36 tooth Matsushita carbide combo blade in my trusty circular saw, one cut and it's done. Sometimes I even end up with a useful piece of kindling!!

I doubt that very many do-it-yourselfers (aside from cabinetmakers) keep a hand plane of the sharpness and quality you describe. It's not that the tools don't work... they do with a bullet! I just feel uncomfortable inferring someone purchase a block or power plane they will rarely use instead of a great multifunction tool such as a belt sander... again in my opinion.

Home repair is like politics... both sides can make reasonable arguments and both sides can be right at the same time. This is one such case! All DIYers find comfortable ways to solve problems but there is always room for divergent views and alternate methods. As with many letters I publish here, yours offers food for thought and a sound alternate opinion. Thanks very much for expressing it!



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