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Natural Handyman 
January 15, 2002


1) Starting over... 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!!



Over the last few weeks we have been buried in lists... lists of "bests", lists of "worsts", lists of deaths and other endings. Some are amusing, some disturbing and some just plain silly. Philosophically, this annual New Year's ritual is supposed to symbolize a fresh start and maybe even energize us to action... to make the positive changes in our lives, which somehow eluded us in the last year. Let me see... I think we can develop a list here!

Of course you know that "saying" and "doing" are two different things. Can we really become "new" this year and work some magic to diminish the power our history has over us? Wouldn't it be nice if we could! Then we could bundle up our "faux pas" and drop them to the bottom of the nearest lake, never to again float by at an inopportune moment. Oh, if the past were so forgiving and could be so easily "lead-weighted"! But as you surely know from your own experience, most New Year's resolutions qualify for the top-ten list of "Promises Most Frequently Broken".

For all its sharp edges and smooth whispers, last year remains part of the foundation for this year. Ignore that reality at your peril! It is ironic, though, how the events we most want to forget are often the ones most important to remember. So what are we to do with this imperfect past, which tries to alter our vision of the future? Hold it closely as a lesson learned, not a lesson lost... or push it away and seek out a new beginning?

Inspiration, like life, happens when you least expect it. A week ago I was at the home of a young couple whose young son is autistic. As you may know, autistic children tend to interact in limited ways with the world. Though I was always polite, I was accustomed to being ignored by the boy during my visits.

Being a good host, his father had poured a steaming cup of coffee for me and left it on the kitchen counter as he went back to his newspaper. While pouring the cream a small hand began tugging at my pant leg. I looked down to see the boy, who was staring up at me with such intent and focus that both the father and I were amazed. He was yanking so strongly I almost spilt my coffee! I quickly placed the coffee down and yielded to his insistent pull, following him as he led me to the den where he usually played.

He led me to a low bookshelf where there was a small audio cassette player securely lashed to the center shelf. He made some word-like but unintelligible noises while handing me a cassette and pointing to the player. I paused for a moment and then inserted the cassette into the player, closed the top and pressed, "Play". As the music began, the boy released my hand and walked to the center of the room, sat down on the floor with his back to me and fell into solitary play. He never even glanced my way again.

The father was astounded, saying that it was quite unusual for his son to respond in such a way to a relative stranger. I shook my head with some vague understanding, though I don't pretend to truly grasp the hopes and struggles of this family.

Later in reflection, the event began to make more sense to me. I recalled how his mother had introduced me to the boy during a previous visit. "This is the Natural Handyman," she said. "He comes here to fix things... to make broken things better."

The past is the nest from which our inspirations fly. We should all be thankful to have yesterdays to remember. After all, no matter who you are... big or small... some things just are too important to leave at New Year's door!




Dear NH,

We just bought an older home. Our list of to-dos is long, but the most pressing one is our toilets, which both have these awful stains. They don't respond to the toilet bowl cleaner I have been using for years. I am embarrassed to have company use them! Do I have to get new toilets or are their other products that I use to clean them?

DB from Raleigh, NC.


Most toilet bowls can be restored unless they are severely scratched or cracked. The inside surface of a toilet bowl is extremely hard, smooth and resistant to most chemicals. Toilets are formed from a ceramic clay similar to wall or floor tile, and are specially glazed to have a glass-like or "vitreous" surface... hence the name "vitreous" china. This silky-smoothness inhibits the growth of germs by making it difficult for waste to stick to the surface after flushing.

Over time, constant exposure to water-borne minerals and chemicals can cause discoloration and staining, even on vitreous china, requiring more-than-superficial cleaning. Effective heavy-duty cleaning products fall into two general categories, acid-based or chlorine-based.

NOTE: Please... NEVER MIX DIFFERENT CLEANING PRODUCTS... the resulting chemical reaction can be very dangerous!!

1) Commercial toilet bowl cleaners are acid-based, allowing them to chemically dissolve mineral deposits and stains caused by hard and iron-rich water. They are also very strong disinfectants.

Because of their high acidity, though, these cleaners are highly corrosive to the skin and eyes and can damage a wide variety of surfaces. Always follow the label directions carefully and wear gloves and eye protection.

There are other products designed strictly for stain removal. These are also acid-based and come in powder or liquid form.

2) Cleaning products utilizing chlorine bleach may be used for cleaning and disinfection, but chlorine will not have any significant effect on mineral stains. In fact, a good way to know if the stains are from minerals is if they are resistant to chlorine!

Just add a half-cup or so of liquid household bleach to the toilet water. Swish it around with a toilet brush to get it under the rim and let it sit for a few minutes before flushing.

Try not to slosh it out of the bowl, as the chlorine is also dangerous to skin and some materials. It can give your bathroom carpet leprosy in a New York minute!


Dear NH,

A switch that controlled the chandelier in my dining room recently broke. I accidentally purchased a three-way switch instead of a single pole switch. I returned the three-way switch but I wonder if I wasted gas! Could have somehow wired it to work correctly?

BB from Tampa, FL.


First, a little background for our readers. Three-way switches are used when a fixture is controlled by more than one switch. A common example would be the switches at the top and bottom of a stairway (or at opposite sides of a room) that control the same overhead fixture. On the other hand, single-pole switches are used when a fixture has a single switch controlling it.

Normally, you wouldn't use a three-way switch for a single-pole application because (1) there are no "on-off" labels on the switch (admittedly a weak argument since the labels are virtually unreadable) and (2) they are a little more expensive. However, in a pinch you can use one IF you wire it correctly.

Three-way switches have four wire terminals. One is for the ground wire... usually indicated by a green "hex-head" screw. The "common" terminal is "differently colored"... usually copper-plated. The other two are what I fondly call the "uncommon" terminals.

To use a three-way switch in place of a single pole switch, connect the wires as follows: 1) Connect the ground wire to the ground terminal on the switch. 2) Connect either one of the two switch wires to the switch's common terminal. Connect the other switch wire to either of the remaining "uncommon" terminals. Whichever uncommon terminal you choose will determine which switch position is ON and which is OFF. Since vertically mounted wall switches usually are ON in the "up" position, stick to this convention so you don't confuse your visitors... or yourself.

If you were to inadvertently attach both switch wires to the uncommon terminals, heaven would not fall from the sky or fire rain on your head... the switch would just not work! But careless mistakes like this are why only the most conscientious people should do their own electrical work!

It is also interesting to note that some companies are now selling dimmer switches that go both ways... single-pole or three-way. More space on the hardware store's shelves for other goodies! Hallelujah!



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

Greetings, NH!

Found your article on chimineas after I bought mine. No information came with it. I didn't buy a stand for it. It is on our concrete slab patio. From reading your article I think a stand is probably wise to stop moisture getting in at the bottom. Is this correct?

I've put about a foot of sand in the bottom (its a large one) and built two relatively small fires in it before I found your article and the part about sealing, ugh. Is it too late to seal it after it cools? I take it you prefer the acrylic floor sealer. No rain or moisture has reached it so I hope its not too late.



No... you are still in great shape. Sealing your chiminea can be done at any time as long as the chiminea is cool and clean. The purpose of using a sealer is to minimize the amount of moisture that is absorbed into the clay (which could cause cracking when fired) and also to minimize staining of the outside surface. Any staining that has occurred will not be removed by sealing, but a good cleaning with a detergent might clean it... if it doesn't remove the paint, that is!

I have received a few "complaints" from chiminea owners saying that the color of their chiminea's darkened or became "muddy" when they were sealed. This does happen... many clear finishes will slightly darken surfaces they are applied to. I can't tell you what will happen with yours, though in general the darker the surface to begin with the less change will be apparent though an increase in "sheen" will always occur.

And yes, I would definitely recommend purchasing a stand. It will protect the bottom from ground moisture as well as making the chiminea more stable. Most chimineas are not very symmetrical and their bases tend to be crooked. Chiminea bases allow you to position it so it is more upright.

Chimineas are delicate, need some care and are each a little different. These personality quirks are what make them such a unique and fascinating toy!


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