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Handyman Letter - October, 2002


1) Come into my smoke-filled room... 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!! We have two NEW CONTESTS!!

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!



In these marvelous days of crashing stock prices, political shenanigans and accounting fraud, my favorite image of corruption is the "smoke-filled room". As we go about our workaday lives, these finely-suited portly males make real decisions amidst choking blue clouds. Behind that door where only the "privileged" may enter, countless lives are being manipulated and countless pockets being picked by these unknown power brokers!

Though we may alternately chuckle or gag at this image of "fat cats" planning their next scam, my fertile handyman imagination can as easily visualize another room. What if the room was instead filled with the damp, fragrant steam from espresso machines and the fat cats were a less imposing (though no less formidable) group with casual dress, athletic bodies and a not-so-subtle hint of perfume. Yet, with the same mythic ability to change lives and pick pockets. Hardly farfetched and just as scary!

Fortunately, the classic image of the smoke-filled room is for the most part a convenient myth. Granted, powerful business people, social activists and political leaders meet and make decisions... but they have nowhere near the power we attribute to them. Why? Because attached to each of their legs is the anchor of their own self-interest. Ultimately, they all want to be the big dog! If you have ever seen a performance of "divas", you have a sense of what I mean. They don't really sing together... you can almost sense the discomfort as they try to upstage each other. I'm not being critical of their talent. What they don't do well is stand in the shadows!

Like so many myths, the image of an omnipotent group performs a valuable function... it give us a way to simplify our worldview. The smoke-filled room is both a symbol and scapegoat for lives spiraling out of control and our need for answers... any answers! Unfortunately, reaching outside for an answer is futile... reaching outside for inspiration is a more realistic pursuit.

I would even venture to say that we all own a smoke-filled room. Yours may have the scent of pizza or potpourri instead of Cohiba Esplendidos. You enter that room every time you decide to be honest about the way you feel concerning your life and your real place in the world. You may enter alone, or you might invite others in with you.

In your smoke-filled room, you can really debate the issues in a meaningful way by leaving your game-face at the door. You can be free to say what you really think... wrestle with the tough issues that of necessity must stay among friends... sing songs of war and of peace without fear or embarrassment... in a private place where only the "privileged" may enter.

Most importantly, your smoke filled room does not have to be the birthing place of sinister plots or diabolical notions. Some such rooms gave birth to Habitat for Humanity, the Lions Clubs and other benevolent organizations. Not too shabby!

And just like the "fat cats", in your smoke-filled room you can change lives... and your own.




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Our article about proper flag handling is at:



Dear NH,

The chain has pulled out of the switch assembly on my ceiling fan. How can I repair the switch?

JY from Glenside, PA


Pull switches as a rule cannot be repaired... they must be replaced.

Turn off the power and open up the bottom of the fan body. If you have lights mounted under the fan you will have to disconnect the light unit first and remove it ... then you can get to the switch.

If you need to disconnect any wires except for the switch wires, be sure to label them or draw a diagram, lest you forget how they were connected!

The switch will probably be connected to the power source and fan motor with non-removable connectors, so you will have to cut the wires. Cut them as close to the switch as possible to be sure you have enough wire to connect to the new switch. Use wire nuts of the proper size to connect the new switch, though the connectors may come with the new switch.

If you don't have a local parts dealer try ALL ABOUT FANS at


Dear NH,

We are in the process of changing our sink and vanity in the bathroom. We want to add a linen closet on the right side. We have to change the size of vanity and the countertop the present countertop is 48 in. The new one will be 43 in. We will have a countertop made to order. We have to give the company the measurement for the faucets holes How do we measure for the faucets holes on an offset vanity top? We don't want to move any pipes. Any information is appreciated.



There are two standard faucet hole spacings, 4" and 8" (center to center). 4" is the typical spacing for a bathroom faucet and 8" for a kitchen faucet. Both types usually require a center hole, too.

I would suggest selecting the faucet you want and then use that measurement.

As far as moving pipes is concerned, it is unnecessary in most installations. The faucet supply tubes from the shutoff to the faucet are flexible, regardless of the type you choose to install, so no moving of pipes will be necessary. Similarly the drain-trap setup of a modern home is adjustable within limits. If the existing pipes don't reach, there are generic drain parts available that will solve most any connection problem. Just bring what you have (between the wall and the old faucet drain) to the hardware store, describe how it is deficient and they should be able to supply you with the proper parts.

About the only time I have had problems with existing plumbing is when the new vanity has drawers or interior dividers that hit the drain or shutoffs. So you should also make note of the location of these fixtures when deciding on the type of vanity. Cabinets are usually often easier to modify than plumbing connections, especially the drain location!

About 8 years ago my wife fell in love with a two-draw vanity for our smallish master bathroom. Rather than disappoint her, I was able to disassemble the problem drawer, cut it down to a smaller size and reassemble it. Since many vanities now come "broken down", this might be a simple matter if the problem arises for you. Losing a few inches of drawer space was hardly noticeable.




Dear NH,

Your piece "The Roar of the Greasepaint" in the 090102 newsletter is a real delight. Best of all, it's so true. Acting is, indeed, not like life. If the scene goes poorly, we can do it again. Words spoken can be once again sent forth. Rehearsal is a wonderful way of getting it right.

Beyond that is an even greater truth, as you say,... "[B]ut the skills, training, and dedication, learned in its exercise have true value that walks off the stage and lives on."

When the final curtain falls, what then walks from the stage of life for us all. May it be humility and charity and joy.

Well done!



Dear NH,

I noticed your comments on sliding shower doors. I made a trackless sill for my shower many years ago. I used a piece of 1.5"x1.5" angle aluminum that worked just fine. The added bonus of not having that center guide was I could remove the doors for cleaning without any tools.

You don't need that little nylon guide for the center that the manufactured doors come with. It doesn't really serve any function when you are in the shower and you are really not supposed to lean on them from the outside.



Very creative solution. However, I disagree that the nylon guide that keeps the doors in line has no use. Though the nylon guides are not extremely strong, someone with balance problems or a child who leans on the door may take a fall. Falls in bathrooms are never pretty, with all the unforgiving hard surfaces.

Also, when an adult leans on a shower door most of the force is against the upper track, not the bottom guide.



Dear NH,

Love your site! Please add natural gas poisoning to your report. I almost died from gas leaking in my home for many months. I was told a small leak is nothing to worry about on too many occasions by repair workers. It is hyped as "SAFE" like crazy!!!  I am not hoping for a ban on the use of natural gas, but to have warnings of the health dangers made more public. Doctors misdiagnosed me and argued with me about natural gas poisoning.

There is a big cover-up going on. MONEY, of course. Sincerely appreciative of your honesty in your website!

RB-C from Olathe, KS


I agree that our homes are full of potential health problems... from common dust mites to more serious problems like black mold and chemical exposure. Some affect most anyone, others affect a sensitive few.

I really can't believe any sane person would think that long-term exposure to natural gas would not cause harm. But then again there are still people who downplay the dangers of smoking, so I will believe anything!

I love a conspiracy... if you read my message this month you'll get the flavor of one of my favorites. However, I also don't see conspirators under every rock. Though it may seem that companies are trying to cover up their problems, often it is nothing more than standard business practice... maximizing profit and minimizing loss. Nevertheless, it is important that we all examine the motives of businesses and government when our health is concerned.

It is the job of the public to "lean" on their elected officials to oversee business and keep it working for us, not against us. I am not a fan of government intervention in the affairs of business, but unfortunately private individuals have no power over large business without the collective clout of government. And, as we know from the scandals of recent memory, we cannot trust in business to treat us with respect or dignity. It isn't their job!



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