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Handyman Letter - December 1, 2001


1) Passing through life... 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... winners and new contests!!

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!!



In December of 1990, an intruder armed with a knife entered the Henley-on-Thames estate of George Harrison. Crawling through a kitchen window, the assailant aggressively attacked Harrison, critically stabbing him. His wife Olivia was also injured in the sudden, seemingly unprovoked attack, gained heroine status as she knocked the intruder unconscious with a lamp.

Harrison, his wife and son Dhani had lived in this gated community for over 20 years. His palatial home rested within a walled community heavily protected with fences, guarded gates and an elaborate security system. Harrison valued his privacy. There is little security, though, against insanity.

The public always considered Harrison to be the "quiet" Beatle, less attracted to the limelight than the others... a strange, contradictory place to be when you are both famous and recognizable. Not that his obsession with privacy ever reached the absurd levels of the most famous recluse of all, billionaire Howard Hughes. According to all accounts, Harrison was friendly, charitable and well-liked in the community. Except for the person whose soul he possessed, Mike Abram.

Abram, a 33-year-old father of two, was charged with attempted murder. As testimony was heard in his trial, a picture emerged of a man with a history of turmoil. Abram was described as a paranoid schizophrenic who thought the Beatles, and especially George Harrison, possessed his soul. To quote Dr. Phillip Joseph, the psychiatrist who testified at Abram's trial, "He thought the Beatles were witches flying on broomsticks from hell."

Abram was found to be innocent by reason of insanity and awaits "cure" in a psychiatric facility. The remote possibility of Abram's release back into society was not at all comforting to the Harrison family. George's son Dhani reacted, ""Naturally the prospect of him being released back into society is abhorrent to us."

Harrison was no stranger to mortality, having faced death before. In 1997 he had been diagnosed with throat cancer. A longtime smoker who had quit on and off, Harrison acknowledged that his own behavior probably caused his disease. In spite of the grim prognosis, he remained publicly upbeat and expressed confidence hat the radiation treatments had stopped the disease.

Sadly for all those who loved him, he was wrong. How ironic that his album "All Things Must Pass" was re-released earlier this year.

George Harrison was an accidental success. The son of a bus driver, he found his "niche" as many people do... first realizing that they have a talent, whatever it is, and then grabbing any opportunity to use it! Harrison's mother bought him his first guitar and, though he insisted he couldn't possibly learn to play it, her steady motherly nagging bore fruit.

It's interesting how "what ifs" can define our lives. What if his mother, who had three other children, had not been there to "really" know him and support him? What if George Harrison had not been a friend of Paul McCartney, who made the introduction to John Lennon? What if Harrison had blown off the meeting? What if?

Harrison's formidable musical gifts are not what made his life important. If his legacy is only musical, then it is shallow one. It was his courage to use this God-given talent that should be the inspiration to us all. It is too easy to let our fears lock our lives into self-defeating patterns. It is too easy to let opportunity pass us by as we sit in comfort. After John Lennon's murder, Harrison could have easily spent the rest of his life hiding! He didn't. With his wealth he could have done anything he wanted to... including nothing! Yet, in spite of all the forces that would have made a lesser man disappear, he did not.

Cheers to the spirit of George Harrison now flying free of all worldly pain... and condolences and peace to everyone who knew and loved him and his work. And think of him fondly next time your hear a distant guitar...

Gently weeping.




As many of you know, Excite@Home, the provider of high-speed Internet access for much of the civilized world, has gone bankrupt and pulled the plug on nearly a million subscribers this past weekend. With over 4 million people using their network, this is truly an awful situation. If you have ever "voluntarily" changed your email address, you know what a nightmare it can be remembering every person and publication who has your old address.

Closer to home, we regret that over 500 of our subscribers will not be getting this newsletter because their email addresses have disappeared into the ether! As users of the Excite@Home service ourselves, we have also been affected and scrambled to get a temporary solution for our own Internet access to get this newsletter posted.

Once this situation resolves itself, we will update all our @Home subscribers to their new addresses. We hope.


Do YOU live in a RADON HOTSPOT? The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has gathered data from home radon inspections nationwide and developed "Radon Risk Maps" of the both US and individual states by county. These maps give a good general overview of your area's radon risk... though only a radon test can provide definitive information about YOUR home! The amount of radon released from the earth varies widely even in small geographic areas. For example, neighbors can have wildly different radon test results even with similarly constructed homes. Knowledge is strength...

NORM FISHER has graciously allowed us to reprint his article on the financial returns on home improvements. Will the cost of installing a sprinkler system "pay you back" when it's time to sell? What adds more value to your home... painting or new siding? Get some common sense advice BEFORE you lay down your hard-earned bucks!



Dear NH,

I notice that my second floor guest bathroom toilet bowl will become empty after sitting unused. I also have a water spot on the ceiling directly below the bathroom. There is no evidence of water on the floor in the bathroom, though. Can the water in the bowl water leak around the seal under the toilet without showing on the bathroom floor?

EN from Loveland, OH


Leakage around the toilet flange seal, or "wax ring", and the water draining from your bowl have no obvious connection to each other. The water in the bowl cannot escape any more easily than water in a coffee mug (unless you're a klutz and knock it over). This leads me to believe your toilet bowl may have a small crack in it.

Since you have evidence of a leak via the water spot on the ceiling below, I would take action immediately. This would consist of draining the toilet of all water, disconnecting it from the supply line, unbolting it from the floor flange and turning it over for a "look-see". It should be fairly obvious if the toilet has a crack because water leaks generally leave telltale signs such as discoloration or mineral deposits.

The wax ring can also develop a leak but that would not account for the water disappearing from the bowl. The only water that passes by the wax ring is the water leaving during a flush. The water that remains in the bowl is there precisely because it is below the level of the toilet's built-in trap. Of course, you could have both problems. Removing the toilet will allow you to diagnose both.

You could also have a leak in the drain pipe, but I would err on the conservative side and leave that issue out of the repair equation... for now. Once you are sure that toilet is not broken (or you get a replacement) AND a new wax ring is properly installed, you should then be concerned if the water stain on the ceiling becomes larger. Before repainting the ceiling, give it at least a few weeks to thoroughly dry out.

If the leak still exists, the next step would require cutting open the ceiling beneath the toilet... not a conservative effort to say the least but in some cases necessary!

Can a toilet leak with no obvious evidence? The answer is an unqualified yes! Fact is, most slow toilet leaks are NOT detectable because they develop slowly. This has to do with the design of a toilet drain. The drain flange, the top part of the toilet drain to which the toilet is attached, comes through a hole in the floor. Most small leaks will not appear around the base of the toilet but instead either travel down the drain pipe OR creep under the flooring material since the flange is at the same level or slightly beneath the level of the finished floor. This is true regardless of the flooring material... tile, vinyl sheet, vinyl tile or one of the newer plastic laminate floorings.

This stealth-type of leak is the most damaging because it can go undetected for many months or even years until the ceiling below becomes stained and moldy or, worst case, the plywood subfloor under the toilet begins to weaken, rot or warp. Vinyl flooring can cause the worst subfloor rot because it is nonporous; the trapped water cannot easily evaporate. Tile is a close second since it is also nonporous. Unfortunately, a wobbly toilet is often the first symptom of serious deterioration in the floor.

About 5 years ago, a client needed a toilet removed for a vinyl flooring installation. When I lifted the toilet, the floor underneath was soaking wet, the dampness extended for a few feet on every side of the toilet under the old vinyl flooring. The wood was thoroughly soaked and quite rotten in spots.

As if that wasn't bad enough, within minutes the room was flooded with carpenter ants! They had detected the soft, rotten subfloor and made a substantial nest... right between the layers of plywood! All in all, a four-foot square section of floor had to be replaced before the new flooring could be installed. The customer afterwards commented that they had an ant problem for years, but spraying never seemed to help... now we know why! Who would have thought that the ants were nesting under a second floor toilet!


Dear NH,

I inherited an electric circular saw. I need to change blade but am not sure which way the bolt should be turned in order to loosen it... clockwise or counterclockwise? Also how do I keep the blade from turning when I loosen the mounting bolt?

H from Ormond Beach, FL

Dear H,

First, a little theory is in order. The "hand" of the thread... whether it tightens clockwise or counterclockwise... is critical in designing a rotating device such as a saw, router or drill. In order for the mounting bolt to stay tight, the threads on the bolt must tighten "opposite" of the rotation of the blade... otherwise the turning of the blade would eventually cause the bolt to turn out! Therefore, if the blade on your saw rotates counterclockwise, then the bolt is tightened clockwise. So, if you blade turns counterclockwise, then loosen the bolt counterclockwise. Right-handed circular saws all have blades that turn counterclockwise... left-handed saw blades turn clockwise. My head's spinning... glug.

For ease of blade removal, many saws utilize a sliding lock or lever that holds the blade in place for loosening the bolt. Look for such a lever on the motor-side of the saw. If your saw does not have such a built-in blade lock, clamp a pair of Vise Grips or a clamp to the blade and turn the blade till it is locked in place. Then you can loosen the bolt.



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

We received quite a few positive comments on last issue's essay using the Plague as a metaphor on how history tends to repeat itself. However, our reader "JP" took issue with NH's mention of the nursery rhyme "Ring Around The Rosie" as originating during the Plague years. She pointed us to the following link of a website known as "". is an "urban legend" buster, researching various myths and shining the light of truth on them!

We won't go into the meat of the article on "Rosie"... you can do that yourself... but after reading the article, NH is determined to only believe half of what he sees and less of what he reads.  The internet and email are by design free, and unintentionally a great method of perpetrating hoaxes and spreading untruths.  You be the judge.


Dear NH,

The question you answered in the Nov 15th newsletter made me think about a house we owned that was built in 1912. Someone painted over the custom made staircase - yuck! We are now trying to restore it. We had an older carpenter in our house and he mentioned that sometimes the builders would spit their tobacco juice into the stain to make it the color they wanted!

Sure enough, my husband punched through the banister cap (it had been damaged and he was trying to remove it) and found what looked like dry, almost odorless tobacco inside. The carpenter also said that if the builders wanted a more reddish stain, they would mix in pig's blood. I don't know if any of this is really true, I haven't looked into it, but the evidence we have would say it is. Thank you for your newsletter, by the way. I enjoy it, especially the Q and A portions!

CM from New Hampshire


Interesting story. However, I don't believe it for a minute... even if it's true. Well, maybe I do. Or maybe not. Maybe...


Dear NH,

I would like to compliment you on your informative newsletter. For a divorced single grandmother like me, it's been very helpful!! However, the part of the newsletter I enjoy the most are the well thought out, timely and wonderful "editorials". Whoever writes them has a deep and abiding spirituality and understands the workings of the universe. I really admire that person and have great respect for him. Thank you for the messages...please keep it up for what this world needs the "old" song "Love, sweet Love!" And understanding. And caring.



What the world needs is about ten million more people like you... to praise me on a continual basis. Thanks for your kind thoughts.



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