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Handyman Letter - June 1, 2001


1) You don't need my permission; you need yours! ... a message from the Natural Handyman

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

3) Sweepstakes Central

4) What's new at

5) Q&A with our readers


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

9) Recommend our newsletter to a friend... or rate our newsletter!!



The other day I received a rather unexpected email message from a major manufacturer of wood finishing products. The message wasn't addressed to me exactly. It was addressed to an author who had submitted an article to our website. I received a courtesy copy.

The company representative, in a tone less nasty than sarcastic, expressed astonishment that the contributing author's "original" work was virtually identical to a brochure his company had been producing since the early 1900's! The major difference, it seemed, was all mentioning of the company or its products had been deleted.

Sounded fishy to me, so I contacted the author who seemed to be in a panic over the prospect of being sued by the company! All's well that end's well and the issue was amicably resolved for all parties. The company held no animus; hopefully will not take the plagiarizing author's eldest child into bondage and the innocent "victim"... the article... remains in our archives with an attribution to the "real" contributor. (I will leave it to my more astute and motivated readers to figure out which article... embarrassing the copycat is not my purpose here).

The issue of copyrights and permissions seems straightforward but, as with most legal issues, nothing is simple. Or straightforward. Not that I don't have an opinion. Very simply put... if you write it and publish it you own it. If you write it for someone else, the ownership is determined by agreement. If you didn't write it... keep your hands off unless the owner grants you permission to use it!

As the example above demonstrates, permission is usually thought of as a license granted by someone else. "Mr. So-And-So from City Hall, in an uncharacteristically magnanimous act, gives you permission to erect a fence in your yard, park your kid's unregistered car on the lawn and get married"... and all in one breath!

Permissions hog-tied to laws are so pervasive that most of us break these little laws everyday and don't even know it! Hooking up an extra TV to your cable system? Better check to see if you are allowed to! Oh... you've decided to install an antenna on the roof? Ahhh... be sure you're not violating some local zoning ordinance! Making a copy of a magazine article to lend to Uncle Harry? You could be breaking that nasty copyright law!

Now that I think about it, it seems as if there aren't too many things you CAN do without getting permission from someone... even with the doors closed and the shades down. BUT... would you believe me if I told you that there is a whole realm of permissions that you have total control over? Hint... you grant them to yourself!

Sure... every day you make decisions. We all do. But some of these decisions are so important they require introspection, reflection... and permission! Giving yourself permission is not to be taken lightly. These special decisions can be life changing. For example, if you are on a diet and break it, you have essentially given yourself permission to break your own rule! To cheat yourself is the ultimate chicken dance!

Or you are driving home in a rush to see "Jeopardy" and suddenly come across a serious fender bender. You quickly pull over to see if you can offer any assistance. You gave yourself permission to help someone else... instead of doing what had seemed important enough to rush home for.

Think of giving yourself permission as a way to control your life. No, I don't have any illusions we "really" control anything! John Lennon was quoted as saying "Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans". But the permissions we grant ourselves lay the foundation for what comes afterwards.

With the complexities of daily life, anything that can simplify the rush of events is welcome. It seems evident there are two "ultimate" permissions that override all others... that by themselves can make or break a life. They are "permission to succeed" and its evil twin... "permission to fail".

Always give yourself permission to succeed! Don't let fear of winning and its responsibilities stop you from doing your best every time! You don't have to do everything... that is a fool's game! Instead, choose your battles wisely based on self-knowledge. But once you jump in, swim as hard and fast as you can! Don't undermine your confidence by setting up unrealistic goals... instead take the little bites of life that add up to a satisfying banquet!

But shouldn't we be allowed to fail? No one's perfect. Ah... but that is not the same as giving yourself "permission" to fail! Giving up should never be considered an acceptable option. Success may not come easily. It rarely does. And even with your best effort you might fail. But hear me... honest failure is NOT the same as quitting. Honest failure can be a learning experience... quitting leaves you with nothing but emptiness. After all, can anyone succeed when they are paying more attention to failure? Does Tiger Woods think about what will happen if he misses a putt? Does anyone strive to be second best?

I think you can draw from the strength you gained fighting the good fight as long as you keep looking towards new successes... not your failures. I know... it's easy to say but not so easy to do. As my daughter would say, "And your point is...?" If life seems too hard... if the road seems too long... jump off the treadmill and catch your breath. Take a mental health break... regroup... go on vacation... or just waste a little time. Fix something around the house. Paint. Hang a picture... a shelf... a wall??

Now that's relaxing! And, for sure, you have my permission. Though, honestly, you don't need it.




Dear NH,

We love our chiminea and have been very careful with it...however, we've noticed a few small cracks in the back of it. Is there anything we can do to stop them from getting worse? I would appreciate any advise you can give us...our "Chimi" is like another member of our family! Thank you.



In scouring scores of articles on chimineas as well as the instructional handouts of a number of companies, I have come to the conclusion that chiminea repair is an “iffy” proposition. People have suggested using drywall compound, plaster of Paris, caulk... on and on. The problem with chimineas is they are heated... none of the products mentioned above are designed to withstand significant heat. And even a lightly-fired chiminea can get pretty darn hot!

After looking over a number of product options, I have concluded the best material to use is a high-temperature epoxy adhesive... for three reasons. First, it can “take the heat”. Second, it dries hard and sticks well to most dry, dust-free surfaces. Three, it can be sanded smooth and painted. (Just make sure the brand you purchase is sandable! You don't want a lumpy repair now, do you?)

PERMATEX manufactures another high temperature epoxy. If you can't find it locally, you can order it from CARPARTS.COM. When you get there, run a keyword search for "Permatex Hi-Temp"... the actual page address is four lines long!!

Another product that has been successful in chiminea repair is RTV high temperature silicone caulk. This material is used as a liquid gasket for automotive engines and also for high temperature duct sealing. This can be purchased from CARPARTS.COM also.  One problem with RTV caulk is that it is not paintable. Since it comes in brilliant red, you have to be the final arbiter of good taste... aesthetically speaking!

I can't advise strongly enough NOT to try to repair a badly cracked chiminea with any adhesive unless you are absolutely sure that 1) no one will be injured if the repair fails and 2) you have eliminated any fire hazard by placing your chiminea on a fireproof surface! Please!!

By the way, a few months back one of our readers performed some miracle surgery on his broken chiminea. Though not for the faint of heart, we have posted his short-but-sweet story and a picture of the recovering patient at: 


Dear NH,

I've been visiting your site periodically when I'm in the office and have a minute to spare. I am giving serious consideration to starting a one man "fixit' service. From what I can find in asking around, there really seems to be a demand for it in my neck of the woods, and if I might say so, I'm pretty good at it.

I am planning to get listed on your website. Other than that, I'm mainly counting on word of mouth for advertising at first. Do you have any words of wisdom or suggestions? I am 61, in good health and like woodworking and fixing stuff.



You sound like the perfect handyman... young (by my standards), handy (of course), motivated and available! The last criteria... available... probably won't last for long once you hang out your shingle! You will undoubtedly have more work than you can possibly handle within a few years... maybe sooner if you live in a very populous area.

In many areas, there are too few reliable handymen serving too many needy clients. This unfortunate situation (for the customer, anyway) has occurred for a number of reasons. The first is that many very skilled people don't want to take the chance of striking out on their own. And I understand their concerns... until a handyman business becomes well known and develops a following of loyal customers (and the endless flow of referrals), there is always the risk of "cash flow" problems... e.g. not enough income to pay the bills!

Another reason is that many handymen are overwhelmed by the demands of their successful business. Though it may seem inconceivable that "too much business" is possible, it is a fact of life in a one-man (or woman) independent trade! After all, how much work can one person do in a day? And how many hours can one person work before the quality of ALL his work deteriorates? What about personal life and recreation? Yes... a small handyman business can own YOU if you let it get out of control. To some people, a regular "9 to 5" job can look pretty good when the weight of overwhelming business becomes unbearable!

So, you asked for advice. In a nutshell, here is a list of important considerations...

1) Develop your skills as you go! Don't be afraid to try something new but also be honest with your clients about your skills. If you are wary about a certain type of job OR if you prefer not to do certain types of work, be upfront with your customers... you will gain their respect and trust.

2) Control your destiny by controlling your business! Make a few fundamental decisions now regarding the type of work you will do and the job size you feel comfortable with. These parameters will change as your business matures but you must decide from the get-go the kind of home repair business you want. If you like long-term projects, then you will use small jobs to fill in the gaps. If you hate long commitments, then only schedule larger jobs during slow times. Again, these are things you will learn by trial and error as you get a sense of seasonal workflow in your area.

3) Don't be afraid to refuse work! This is the biggest mistake a handyman can make. Friends, former colleagues, etc. may approach you to take on projects you are not ready for or just flat-out don't want to do. Well, my advice is to just say NO! Keep in mind one thing... it is YOUR business and YOUR life. Balancing the needs of your business with your personal goals will keep you sane in the long run.

4) Understand the state and local rules regarding your business! Some areas require registration or licensing. Some areas severely limit the handyman's ability to do certain types of "protected" crafts such as plumbing and electrical work. Keep yourself legal and keep yourself in business.

Good luck and have fun... loving the work makes it much easier!



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

Dear NH,

Amen to your opening letter of the May 1st issue of your newsletter. Out here on Long Island's (NY) East End, all that one sees are huge houses with an equally huge property tax bills. I wonder who can afford these monster mansions? In contrast, the "affordable" houses being built are wooden two-story tenements called condos with no land, garden... essentially bedrooms. I live in a fifty-year old small ranch it was, 30 years ago, very affordable. Thanks again for your great newsletter.

GD from Center Moriches, Long Island, NY


My concern with the financial trouble a family can get into by buying too large of a home is shared by many... at least judging from the number of letters I received from readers! But at second blush there are a couple of plusses to the super-sized house boom. Those large property tax bills help pay for services we all use! Even more important, those big houses keep lots of my favorite handymen, plumbers, electricians and landscapers off the welfare rolls!

As far as condos go, I have grown fond of them over the years after my initial shock when they came on the scene some 30 years ago. Many of the early condos were built like the Titanic... strong-looking but deeply flawed. Nevertheless, there are some tremendous economic advantages to homeowners sharing maintenance costs and not having to mow the lawn or shovel snow... especially for the disabled and senior citizens. And those of us who get tired of the chores! I definitely see a condo in my future!


Dear NH,

I just wanted to say thank you for your well-written and easy to understand site. After pulling my hair out for three days over a compression fitting that I just couldn't assemble without a slow leak, your site was a godsend. After reading your tips and information and following them I was FINALLY able to install the fitting with no leaks.

SM from Tampa, FL


That article has particular sentimentality for me, because I WAS YOU once a long time ago... with a handful of useless home repair books and horribly leaking compression fittings in the basement of my first home some 27 years ago.

I try my best to put "hands-on" common sense into all my articles and to go beyond the clinical description of a repair. I am very glad I was successful helping you!



Dear NH.,

Concerning the person who wrote about paint odors, here is a suggestion. After the paint dries, adding ventilation fans will reduce the "smell in the air." I have found another way. Take a saucer of water and put in half of a peeled onion, cut side down, in the saucer and add a little water. I don't know why it works. All I know is it does. The smell is gone really fast. Bigger rooms use two saucers of onions.



Interesting solution... brings tears to my eyes! (P.S. I'll have to try this myself.)


Dear NH,

A handy tip. I have found that adding 1/8 teaspoon of clear vanilla extract (real stuff) to a gallon of paint will limit the bad paint odors, although probably not the VOC's.



Always liked vanilla smell over onion. Wonder which works best? Hmmm. Anyway, you are correct... eliminating odor is one thing. Eliminating the VOCs... volatile organic compounds... from a paint can only be accomplished by purchasing paints with low VOCs to begin with. The effects, of course, can be reduced by adequate ventilation.

Unfortunately, the toughest stain-sealing jobs such as smoke, tobacco and water spots are still best accomplished with high VOC primer-sealers. Water-based products are getting better but still have a way to go... in my opinion.



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