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Handyman Letter - June, 2003


1) Be child-like, not childish... a message from the Natural Handyman

2) Our appreciation to sites and publications that have recently linked to or featured NH!

3) Sweepstakes Central... win great home repair stuff!!

4) News from the Basement Annex!!

5) Q&A with our readers

6) Linkmaster's Corner

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

1) Be child-like, not childish... a message from the Natural Handyman

A day doesn't go by that I am not in a home with children. It is inspiring to see their imaginations adjust so quickly to their world and the people who compose it. Looking at them as magic mirrors to my own youth, I can't help but envy the abandon at which they throw themselves into everything they do with their overly loud voices, overly silly gestures and a humor born of discovery and naivet.

Of course, our childhood does not last. In short order we are "socialized"... rubber-banded and crazy-glued by the well-meaning restrictions of adult life. One by one, rule supplant spontaneity... we must not speak so loudly, or sing in bed, or throw our food (though the crumpled fast-food bags lining one road I frequently travel somewhat belay that last notion!)

Childhood's end for most of us was not a sudden lurch but rather a ride down a bumpy road in a somewhat cushioned buckboard with unreliable seatbelts! Early on, we realize that everyone who enters our "comfort zone" is not our friend, that many things hold unseen danger. We fashion walls around ourselves to protect our most vulnerable parts, be they physical or psychological. In a sense, the sadness of adulthood is that we must temper one of the greatest freedoms of youth... trust... as it falls victim to the realities of survival in this often-dangerous world.

Most children don't have a developed concept of mortality, evidenced in their impetuous, daring, uncaring, and headstrong behaviors... qualities often revered in adults but can also put one in jeopardy. Young adults, many still drunk with the freedoms of childhood, tend to be society's risk-takers and ground-breakers... witness the behaviors of our brave, youthful soldiers against their enemies in battle, extreme sports, or the computer gamers and programmers at the technological edge of computer development.

Dangers lurk, though, when adults act inappropriately child-like... and not just for them! Let's consider "child-like driving". Take the unthinking driver who cuts in-and-out of traffic, assuming other drivers will (1) keep their speed constant, (2) stay in their lanes like good little boys and girls and (3) not be equally child-like and take some aggressive action! I'm sure our subject driver's assumptions aren't part of any reasoned process such as...

"Okay, I'm approaching this group of cars. If I can just swing wildly to the left (the person I cut off will understand the importance of my actions), they'll all see me coming and (because I am so perfect and wonderful) they will gladly yield to me so I can get home thirty seconds sooner." He should thoughtfully add, "If I make it at all."

Drivers, of course, are not the only manifestation of this reversion to immaturity. There is also child-like accounting (envision Enron and Arthur Andersen playing Monopoly in the crib), child-like governing (choose your political party!) and child-like athletics (a mountain of bent golf clubs surrounded by armed sports doctors). Why, there's even the oxymoronic child-like parenting... a vast and disruptive behavioral category that just may be the "missing link" in some children's learning and developmental problems!

Not being exempt from the occasional stupid driving trick myself, or symbolically stomping off to my room when frustrated, I wonder why we don't grasp the permanence of the risks we take or the ultimate effect such actions have on ourselves or others? Is it that we are not as human, as compassionate as we would like to be? Is selfishness a curse to be controlled or a gift to be tamed? Is part of being human maintaining some level of risk and childishness in our lives?

I think being child-like can impart a power to us that adult sensibility would deny. Occasionally ignoring the "adult way" of prudence and constancy can lead us to personal and spiritual breakthroughs, and allow us to do and see things our overly stifling consciences may deny us. Though we should not do evil, we should also not be so tight-fisted that we miss opportunities to do good. Being child-like opens possibilities to us... possibilities to continue learning and growing in strange and unusual ways even when childhood itself is a dim memory.



Is your home on the market? According to Gail McCauley of the Paint Quality Institute, a little paint will soon have you beating buyers off with a stick! (Paint stick, perhaps?) 


Dear NH,

I am putting a ceramic tile floor down in our bathroom. I will be installing a cement tileboard before I put down the tile. Some say thinset should go under this board others say it is not really a must. The subfloor is solid, level plywood floor that was under wall-to-wall carpet.
JD from Centerville, OH


I can't imagine why you would put thinset under the tile board. You can, if you wish, use construction adhesive (caulking-tube type) to give it a more secure hold onto the plywood. Though thinset is an adhesive, it's adhesion to plywood is questionable... witnessed by me literally hundreds of times in loose tiles and sometimes entire loose floors! Plywood's absorbency can cause thinset to dry too quickly.

In all honesty, if your floor is strong and solid, you can do away with the tileboard (which is difficult to work with) and use 1/2" plywood instead... screwed and glued to the old floor. The rule of thumb is 1 1/4" of solid floor under tile. Thus a 3/4" subfloor with a 1/2" AC plywood (not lauan... mastic doesn't always take to it) over it is plenty strong. Of course the seams between the new floor must be staggered over the old seams.

Instead of using thinset I recommend using either a mastic or Laticrete "Quick Trowel", which is a pre-mixed sand-fortified mastic that is so much like thinset it fools people!

As you can gather, I am not a fan of thinset for do-it-yourselfers. It's too easy to (1) mix it incorrectly or (2) let it get too old in the bucket. Even the pros mess up with thinset, which can literally turn back to sand if not used properly! It is almost impossible to mess up a tile job with premixed adhesive.


Dear NH,

I purchased a new aluminum light post, but the instructions say I should set the post in cement. Is this really necessary?

BR from Bridgeport, CT


If you read my article on installing mailbox posts (link below), my first commandment is "Never set a mailbox post in cement!!" This rule holds for virtually any buried post with a few notable exceptions... tall flagpoles, posts under stress such as clotheslines and some metal fences (where required by the manufacturer). Even wooden fence posts should not be set in cement.

The reason is not immediately obvious. Filling the hole with cement will definitely give you a more sturdy post that will resist tilting. However, the rub is that we assume this beautiful, straight post will not be broken or bent! I have seen enough mailbox posts damaged by snow plows and light posts run over by homeowners to know that someday that cemented post will need to be replaced. And believe me, you won't want to dig out two or three hundred pounds of cement!

So save yourself problems later! Install the post directly into the ground, with a depth of 18" to 24" being adequate for most soils and climates. For better compaction around the post if you have very "airy" soil, mix some sand with it before refilling the hole.

For our article on mailbox posts, visit this page:

Dear NH,

When placing an over-the-range microwave along an exterior wall is it best to vent to the outdoors or recirculate the air with the filter? What are the advantages/disadvantages of each option?

MH from Lincoln, NE


In my homes, one of my first repair priorities has always been to vent the range hood to the outside. Of all the appliances in your home, the kitchen stove is by far the most polluting. Steam-carried particles and the byproducts of frying or baking will make a mess of your kitchen walls and ceiling in short order, while in other rooms not only painted surfaces but draperies and furniture will also become soiled.

Of course, venting is sometimes impractical due to cost or impossible due to structural features in the home. In these circumstances, a recirculating vent hood is better than nothing. Though the combination charcoal/mechanical filters have some effectiveness, they have some serious drawbacks. Just the resistance in the filtering medium alone decreases the effectiveness of the fan, allowing more smoke to escape filtration completely. Also, the well-intentioned charcoal filters in many hoods do a meager job of odor removal because they contain minimal amounts of activated charcoal.

You would think that a manufacturer would offer a range hood with serious air-cleaning capabilities. So far I've yet to discover one.

Till then, I must recommend external venting, without reservation, for any home that can accommodate it.



Dear NH,

After reading your toilet clog section, I would like to mention my method. I work maintenance at an apartment property. I have lots of calls for toilet clogs.

First, I flush the toilet. When the water level in the bowl approaches the rim, I push the flapper down. Then, I put the plunger all the way in and push it in slowly till it bottoms out... then I jerk it quickly upwards. This pulling motion hopefully sucks back any debris lodged inside the toilet bends.

If I know there are "little ones" in the apartment, anything goes! I found Big Bird wearing a toilet paper tutu in one toilet. I've found toilet paper rollers and even a Skoal can. I can understand dropping it into the toilet, but then flushing it?

I've started telling the residents to buy their own plungers. I figure they'll have to live with porcelain ponies for the rest of their lives, and I live too far away to make trips for plunging only.

SS from Long Beach, MS


I like your deft touch. Pushing the flapper down fills the toilet bowl, which gives the plunger greater power and lessens splashing... one of the more disgusting parts of using a plunger! Also, the upward motion can sometimes loosen solid objects, though as you said it's not a sure thing by any means.

Yes, and little ones can sure put imaginative things into their parent's toilets! But a Skoal can? Children down your way sure start early!!


Dear NH,

I am also a professional handyman. I find that WD-40 removes silicone from the hands. But don't skimp on the WD-40, either, if you want it to work!

YP from Haiku, Maui, HI


I'll have to try that next time I suffer from SSS... slippery silicone syndrome! I have fewer problems with it since I gave up using silicone caulk in favor of latex for tubs and showers. Latex sticks better and lasts longer, at least in my opinion.

Occasionally, I do get a dose of the slips when using silicone spray, so I will keep your tip (and a can of WD-40) handy!


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