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Handyman Letter - June 15, 2002


1) Never easy... 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... win great home repair stuff!!

4) News from the Basement Annex!!

5) Q&A with our readers

6) LINKMEISTER's Corner...

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



Like many of you, I watched the evolution of home repair go from a personal challenge into a media event. Just twenty-two years ago, "This Old House" on public TV treaded into this virgin territory. Now, virtually every station has either a home repair series or resident handyman "guru". (As well as a chef, a gardener and a psychic.)

The lifeblood of this glut of do-it-yourself information is the myth that we can do anything we set our minds to. I like this myth. It gives me a warm feeling inside. I try to pretend it's true. Sadly, it is not.

No amount of training, vitamins or divine intervention will ever have NH finishing a marathon race in less than five hours. Or five years, for that matter! Similarly, some people will never get the knack of swinging a hammer, turning a screwdriver or painting a straight line.

I have known defeat, and it can be overwhelming. People can forge monuments to their own failures, build sturdy walls made from layers of defeat, loss and disappointment held together with anger, hopelessness and broken dreams. But, ironically, once a person stops making meaningful contributions to the world, the world responds by passing them by.

No person should ever let defeat stop him or her. People, regardless of their apparent limitations, have an incredible ability to succeed. The trick is to choose our battles wisely and know our limitations. Just because you may never be a player on JEOPARDY doesn't mean that you might not complete the Wednesday "N.Y. Times" crossword one day. Or be able to install your own computer software without asking for your kid's help. Or turn your brown thumb (and browner garden) into lush greenery!

All it takes is a change in perspective; a different sense of what is truly important. The joy of success and achievement is not only in the results... it's in the participation and the process.

Part of the wonder of living in a society, one where people are free to choose their life path, is how amazingly we dovetail with each other. In isolation, most of us would not survive. Together, our skills compliment each other, and allow us to rise as a people far above what any of us could accomplish alone.

Indeed, the most successful societies of the world have not been planned, but instead have developed around the varied skills of their members. No one can or should be left behind. For every person has something to offer, even if it is nothing more than a steady hand or watchful gaze.




SUBSCRIBERS PLEASE NOTE: We will not be publishing an issue for July 1, 2002. Our next issue will be sent on July 15th!


Have your ever wondered how much it is costing you to run your refrigerator... or your electric chainsaw? Visit a newly posted article on APPLIANCE ENERGY USE and check out our list... and put your calculator to work!

From fish tanks to skylights, ACRYLIC PLASTIC is all around us... especially those of us with gills. Glub! Learn how to work with this versatile glass-replacement the professional way!



Dear NH,

I need some help painting doors. I used semi-gloss with a brush but I got brush lines. How to avoid this?

RJ from Fremont, CA


First, a few words on paint preparation. Be sure the doors are clean and dust free. If the surface is shiny, dull it with sandpaper OR a chemical deglosser... or both. I personally like deglossers because they also remove oils and grease, which can cause the paint finish to chip later!

Also, use of a primer is optional unless you are changing from a latex finish to an alkyd (oil) finish. Your paint supplier should be able to help you select the best primer!

Brush marks can occur for two reasons... problems with the paint itself or problems with your technique. Paint problems are caused by paint that is too thick OR drying too fast. This dilemma can be solved easily by adding a conditioner to the paint... either Floetrol for latex paints or a Penetrol for oils. These products from the FLOOD COMPANY do not thin the paints but condition them, improving the paint performance without damaging the quality of the finish. Do not add mineral spirits (paint thinner) to oil paints... it is not recommended by any manufacturer. If you add water to latex paints, do so sparingly and in accordance with the manufacturer's recommendations.

Regarding painting technique, the best way to avoid brush marks when painting doors, especially flat panel or "smooth" faced doors, is to use a roller for most of the work. A small-diameter six or seven inch long roller will not only make short work of a flat door but will apply just the right amount of paint to cover uniformly without sagging. If the "old" paint job showed brush marks, though, they will also show through the new work unless you can sand them off, regardless the paint application method!

Don't overapply the paint... spread it enough to fully cover the surface but don't apply it thickly... better to apply a second coat than to have the paint sag and ruin your job!

You will need to use a brush to "cut in" around the hinges and the lockset. I am not suggesting that you leave the lockset on the door when painting... it's far better to remove it. But I know that some older locks and deadbolts can be difficult to remove and many have been "painted on" by unknowing (or lazy) homeowners or painters. If this is your situation, as long as the lock works well it's better to paint around it than to remove it. You might end up damaging the door or the lock in the process and add to your work!

The best technique in painting doors to do one side completely, then the vertical edges, then the other side. Always look over your work to be sure you aren't leaving any roller marks, drips or lumps at the edges. If you find any, IMMEDIATELY brush or roll them out. Depending on the paint you use (latex or alkyd) and the temperature, you may only have from a few minutes to remove these errors. If you go back after the paint has begun to set you will cause unsightly and permanent smears or brush marks. If you notice any defects too late all is not lost... but you will have to wait till the paint is completely dry before repairing them.

To do one door side, first roll the door panels, overlapping slightly into the flat areas of the door face. Then use a brush to get paint into all the corners that the roller missed. You shouldn't have to add too much more paint... if you do your may be applying the paint too lightly with the roller. Always make your "final" brush strokes in the direction of the wood grain (or in the case of a fake wood door the "apparent" direction of the grain).

Roll again over the flat areas in the panels to smooth out the brush marks. Do this from top to bottom. Once all the panels are done, roll all the other flat areas of the door side. Unless you want to introduce brush marks (some painters like the appearance of brush lines along the length of the door stiles and rails) there is no need to do any brush work once you have applied a smooth layer of paint to the flat areas of the door. Using newspaper or plastic sheets under a door allows you to roll right to the floor. Note... if there is a carpet that rubs the door bottom, leave the newspaper or tarp in place till the paint is dry to protect the carpet. It may stick slightly but it's better than having the door stick to the carpet!

To repeat, it is important when using a roller to not produce drips along the edges of your work. Rolling inward from an edge tends to "scrape" paint off the roller, leaving a drip at the edge.

One way to prevent this is to develop good painting habits... NEVER roll (or brush) inwards from an edge. Always move your roller TOWARDS the edge. If you must move the roller parallel to an edge, always move it at a slight angle towards the edge.

Manufacturers recommend painting all sides of a door, including the very top and bottom edges. If these "invisible" edges were painted once, they don't have to be painted each time the door is done, since they usually don't get any wear (at least on interior doors). However, if the doors have been trimmed or shaved because they wouldn't close, it is wise to apply some paint to these areas, too. As an alternative, you could use a wood sealer instead. This is especially useful for the bottom of the door, since it allows you to use a cloth for application and doesn't require you to remove the door! However, it would be wise to wait until AFTER the paint on the rest of the door is completely dry before doing this. Most wood sealers will not accept paint for weeks after being applied.

One final note about rolling doors. Though some people like the "orange-peel" texture of a rolled door, some don't! If you prefer to have a smoother finish gently brush out the paint (along the "grain" of the door), immediately after rolling, to "level" the paint surface. If you wait too long, the brush will leave marks in the finish!



Dear NH,

How can I easily remove the glue from the backsplash in my kitchen. I have removed all the ceramic tiles and am left with a mess? I will be retiling again after my new countertop is installed?

GH from Sudbury, Ontario, Canada


For small areas, the easiest way is to use a heat gun and a 1" to 3" putty knife. Use paper towels to keep the knife clean as you work. Also, be careful not to burn yourself or the wall! Use the lowest temperature that will get the job done.

As long as you can get most of the old glue off so there are no lumps or bumps, the new tile will glue up nicely with standard mastic.

There are chemical adhesive removers but they can be more mess than they are worth, especially on vertical surfaces.


Dear NH,

We have several leaded stained-glass windows in our 1936 home. Someone has gotten paint on a lot of the lead part of the stained glass. How can I clean the paint from the lead safely?



Paint strippers... with or without methylene chloride... will completely remove the paint on both lead and glass without causing any damage to either surface. Of course, it goes without saying that you must take care to keep the stripper off any surrounding painted or stained surfaces. Use masking tape and/or lay plastic tarps UNDER where you are working to catch stray drops. Adding a few newspapers along the floor will give added protection, too.

One approach that might work for you would be to apply the stripper to small areas using a little brush (natural bristle) or even a "Q-Tip". Let the stripper remain on the surface for at least ten minutes (possibly more for non-methylene chloride strippers) and then rub off the loosened paint with a clean cloth or paper towel. It is important to not get stripper anywhere on your body so gloves and eye protection are recommended. Long pants and sleeves can offer protection, too.

If all the paint is not removed the first time, apply a little more stripper. You can also apply some stripper to a cloth for a final cleaning. Don't use any abrasives... they are unnecessary and may damage the lead or the glass!

Once all the paint is off, you can wash the windows with a glass cleaner to remove any residual stripper.




Dear NH,

I truly enjoy my newsletters from your site. The topics are never boring and often are quite lighthearted in how some tasks are described as challenges.

In your recent newsletter there was a commentary on landscape and digging holes with rocks as obstacles. I live on Prince Edward Island, Canada where the soil is primarily clay and humus with very little rock content. It is not difficult to dig holes with post hole diggers to a depth of 4ft with no real problems. We actually import gravel and crushed rock at high costs as the material has to come by ship or transport over our bridge or summer ferry service.

We lived in Newfoundland for several years where it wasn't uncommon to hire specialist to dig basements with explosives where there was huge rock cliffs. My vegetable garden is usually tilled to 18 inches turnover.

I wonder if rocks are simply a pain for some and precious stones to others.



To paraphrase an old idiom, the rocks are always smaller on the other side of the fence. And though we New England rock hounds rarely use the word "dig" and "easily" in the same sentence, we are a proud people... especially of our skills in dealing with the travails of life both above and below grade!

Why, I can find a bottle of aspirin or box of Band-Aids in my house with my eyes closed!

Between you and me, though, I would gladly trade three feet of clear soil for my glacial rock garden anytime!



Dear NH,

I visited your "Ask a question" page and noticed that the page address uses the letters "AITIKIA"? What does that mean? Is it an English word? Looks a little like a breed of dog I once read about.

PL from Fort Worth, TX


All these years and you're the first person to ask! No... the breed of dog you refer to is an "Akita"... a large, very protective Japanese dog that, without the proper breeding and training, could make a nice snack of an unwary handyman!

The origin of "AITIKIA" goes back to the first days of this website when I was learning the basics of web design. One basic principle is "titling" pages and directories to help organize the information.

In labeling pages devoted to reader questions, I wanted to express the fact that NO ONE knows everything, but in a way that most everyone could relate to. A few words that would summarize the foolishness of the obnoxious "know-it-alls" in our lives and express the humility that comes from realizing that we are all fallible. In short, that none of us knows everything.

Suddenly, like a bolt from above, the perfect name for this page appeared...
"And I thought I knew it all".

But it was a little too long, so I went with the acronym. And "AITIKIA" was born.



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