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Handyman Letter - September 1, 2001


1) What is your big dream? ...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) NH's Toolbox "Tool of the Month"...

6) Q&A with our readers


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

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



The other night I was watching the news and an advertisement appeared for the latest "iteration" of the never-ending Star Trek saga... "Enterprise". This new series stars Scott Bacula as captain Jonathan Archer. Bacula is well known in science fiction circles as a body-borrowing time-traveler who moved in and out of other people's lives in the fascinating series "Quantum Leap", which aired from 1989 to 1993. QL was a showcase for his talents as he walked the edge of TV censorship by portraying people of various sexes, races, ages and disabilities in his quest to leap back to his own body and time. It is still leaping on the Sci-Fi Channel. "Enterprise" is a prequel, taking place a century before the original "Star Trek" which made William Shatner a household name.

What is the fascination that so many people have with this "Wagon Train to the stars", as the original series creator, Gene Roddenberry, so aptly described it in his sales pitch to the networks? At least for me, it is the dream. They live a dream every day, but it is so substantially different from most of our dreams that, after almost 35 years (the first episode is on Sept 9th. 1986), millions upon millions of people across all racial, cultural and ethnic barriers still find strength, hope and comfort in this endless series.

These off-world adventures could be a glimpse of our future. Though often unsuccessful, they continually strived towards non-violence in a systemically violent and unforgiving universe by reaching out and trying to work with creatures far different than any you may find in your "hood". Money is never an issue, rarely mentioned and hardly ever used except in relations with "primitive" cultures. Health care? Free for all, though even with their advanced medical technology they still could not conquer death. Issues of race, ethnic background, religion? There were some interplanetary hostilities and prejudice was often a central theme. But the dream, the quest, was everything!!

Amidst the heroism and virtue of the travelers, there was never the illusion that universal harmony was a given right. Evil walks the universe in many forms... you don't have to travel to Mars to appreciate that! However, their reaction to evil and social injustices... tempered with an open mind and an eye towards change and reconciliation... was a unique and refreshing escape from the meaningless, self-aggrandizing postures so often displayed by some of our leaders... both then and now.

John F. Kennedy had a dream borne of fear... the space program grew from that dream to quell a perceived threat from the Soviets. Yet today the space program begs for money and the notion of a normal human traveling anywhere he can't get a plane ticket for is laughable. The dream of space travel is still there, but has been subverted for a while as we attempt to make some sense of our own planet.

Big dreams... they drive us to do great, impossible things. I believe that "dream pieces" like "Star Trek" that display humans at their best... humans at least trying to overcome the weaknesses which are part of being human... are the vitamins of the spirit that keep us moving through most difficult part of life... living.


(Not to tread on anyone's copyright, there is a novel titled "Wagon Train To The Stars" by Diane Carey, which is a Star Trek novel. However, the phrase was first used by Roddenberry!)



Dear NH,

What is a good product to apply to our outside wicker chair? It is cracking and very brittle?



There isn't too much you can do to restore wicker if it is totally "over the hill" and broken, aside from actually reweaving it with new wicker... a real skill! But if it is merely dingy looking and dirty, you can give it many more years of life.

Briefly, wicker care is a two-fold process... proper cleaning followed by a finish coat of protectant. Take the piece outside (oops... it is outside, isn't it?). Wash it thoroughly with a detergent such as TSP or TSP-substitute to remove all dust and dirt. If you think there is mildew on the wicker add a cup of household bleach to each gallon of cleaning solution. Mildew usually appears as small black dots or discoloration that may not wash off.

Let the detergent/bleach mixture remain on the chair for at least 5 minutes before rinsing thoroughly with clear water. If you have already washed the piece and find lingering mildew, you can spray it with a 50/50 bleach water mix and rinse after 5 minutes or when mildew disappears. Bathroom mildew removing sprays work well too, but be sure to rinse thoroughly with fresh water!

The wicker should dry for at least a day before applying a finish. Water that becomes trapped in the weaves can take a long time to evaporate.

Any clear finish such as varnish, shellac or lacquer can be used to keep that "natural" look. Flat finishes will give the most natural look... glossier finishes will add more durability and cleanability. Exterior polyurethane works great, too! You can also paint the piece if desired. If the piece is always outside, be sure to only use products designed to take the wrath of Mother Nature.

For ease of application, the clear sealers can be sprayed on with an inexpensive plastic spray bottle, available at most hardware stores. After 10 minutes, wipe off excess sealer to prevent the formation of "tacky" spots.

Paint can be either sprayed or brushed. Canned spray paints work particularly well, but expect to use quite a few cans!



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

After publishing an answer to a question about accumulations of dirt or dust tracing the locations of wall studs and ceiling joists, I received a number of calls from HVAC people who thought my answer was incomplete since I did not address the SOURCE of the dust. One writer, GB of Euclid, OH suggested the owner must consider the possibility of improper venting or inadequate fresh-air supply to the central heating system as the culprit. If this dust is indeed from the furnace exhaust backing up into the home, the homeowners may also be at risk for carbon monoxide poisoning. Needless to say, I sent this follow-up to my comments to the original questioner...

First and foremost, you should have your heating system checked for adequate ventilation. You may have a dangerous health problem in your home! HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) pros have often associated large amounts of very fine particulate matter in a home's air to "negative pressure" in the home.

Energy efficient modern homes can be too air-tight, not allowing enough fresh air to enter the home to compensate for the fixtures and appliances that blow air out, such as ventilation fans, clothes dryers, fireplaces, wood or coal stoves and your central heating system. Running your clothes dryer, for example, can cause some of the exhaust from your furnace to be sucked back into your home, bringing with it dust-like "particulates" and deadly carbon monoxide!

If this is true in your home, your furnace or water heater can be given its own fresh air supply. Contact a HVAC specialist to have testing done and get professional recommendations.


Dear NH,

I was really surprised to see such an issue as "personal responsibility" discussed on a 'handyman' website. I'm very glad for it though. You are 100% correct. I very much enjoy your site, and now I feel like this site is more to my liking, knowing that such an insightful, open-minded person like yourself is behind it. Keep up the good work, of educating people in the art of woodworking, and in personal responsibility.

JW from Garden City MI.


Thanks for your letter. All strokes graciously accepted here!

You should look into our newsletter archives... our "messages" traditionally stray from home repair to philosophical and moral themes.


Dear NH,

In the last newsletter you ran an ad for a child identification system. Do you seriously believe their statistic that 1,800,000 children are reported missing each year? Let's see how the numbers work out.

1.8M/365 = 4931 per day 4931 / 50 = 100 kids per state per day. This means that 36,500 children got reported missing in your state last year. And this isn't on the news every night? And in the papers every day? Yeah, right.

As an advocate of personal responsibility, you need to take some before you go quoting statistics which obviously don't stand up when minimally thought about. Spreading that kind of scare story is irresponsible.



Thanks for writing. You are of course quoting an advertisement from our last newsletter, which neither I nor any member of my staff composed. I do believe in truth in advertising AND I am also a world-class skeptic. But I also don't spend all my time fact checking each and every statement from our advertisers.

However, since you were obviously concerned about the seemingly overstated number of missing children quoted, I thought I would look into it to satisfy my own curiosity. According to the "Center for Missing and Exploited Kids" at , 2300 children (under the age of 18) are reported missing each day. That is almost 840,000 kids in the US alone.

The advertisement does not restrict their numbers to the US, so their worldwide number might not be too far off. Though these numbers seem high at first blush, they include children missing for a variety of reasons... including runaways, abandonments and lost children... not just abductees. If the ad only included children who were actually abducted by family members or strangers, the number would obviously fall. But the ad does not make that representation.

I know first hand the panic and fear in a parent's heart when a child disappears... it happened to me about 15 years ago. A few minutes can seem like an eternity as store security closes the doors and searches aisles, dressing rooms and bathrooms for a missing child. Maybe your missing child. So excuse me if I am not unsympathetic to a little "puffery"... if that's what it takes to get attention to this issue.

British politician Benjamin Disraeli is quoted as saying, "There are lies, damn lies, and statistics." It is no secret that statistics are massaged and manipulated to emphasize a point of view. Exaggeration is common in advertisements. It should not be expected to be any less common when for a just cause! Mix the two together and you make a strong case for that timeless truth "Caveat Emptor"... let the buyer beware and "be aware" that only he is responsible to search for the truth.


Dear NH,

You are misleading in stating that a grounding wire is needed for GFCI (ground fault circuit interrupter) protected outlets! Shame on you! The added cost of adding a grounding wire will stop most people from adding GFCI units.

And you are wrong in that a GFCI without a grounding wire will not protect a person using a 3-wire tool! Please get your facts straight!

CM from Huntsville AL


Respectfully, maybe you are misreading what I said. This is a confusing issue and there is quite a bit of "heat" on each side of it.

If you read my article on GFCIs, I make it very clear that a ground is NOT needed for a GFCI to function properly. However, do you disagree that certain tools and appliances have a third grounding plug for a good reason? Are the manufacturer's crazy... or is there a reason, perhaps related to safety?? Of course there is... it is because these appliances do not meet the UL (Underwriters Laboratory) standards of "double insulation", thus posing a potential shock hazard when the appliance is touched under certain conditions.

Grounding is required in all new electrical work... but there is an "exception" for GFCIs used in "old", ungrounded wiring. As you imply, it is better to have a GFCI in a bathroom than NOT have one... I couldn't agree more.

Obviously cognizant of the potential hazard of using three-pronged appliances in ungrounded circuits, though, the NEC (Nation Electrical Code) requires that ungrounded GFCIs must be identified with a label as "ungrounded". In other words, ignore the warning at your peril. Like the labels on cigarette packs, right?

GFCIs are designed to prevent electrocution, NOT electric shock. In my reading on this subject, there seems to be quite a bit of rancor on whether or not the NEC should allow this grounding exception for GFCIs. It has been demonstrated that the amount of shock a person receives before the GFCI activates can be enough to cause injury or death related to the uncontrollable muscular reaction that can occur.

I am a realist and also at times been a risk-taker. I know people will use GFCIs and not ground them! And many people use those little three-prong adapters and don't attach the grounding wire or lug to the outlet cover screw.

So be it... I can't control other people's reckless behavior. Sometimes I can't control my own! Just as long as they realize they risk a shock hazard when using appliances that require a ground. It is their responsibility to live with the consequences. At the least, they should take the NEC's advice and label the outlet as "ungrounded" or (as a personal option and NOT specifically recommended by the NEC) disable the grounding hole with a nonconductive plug of adhesive or epoxy to prevent needless risk.



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