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Handyman Letter - July, 2003


1) America's greatest gift... 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!

"Understanding Wood Finishing" by Bob Flexner


1) America's greatest gift... a message from the Natural Handyman

It's odd to be an American, a truly a schizophrenic existence being both good and evil at the same time! Our better nature makes us want to spread our special mix of freedom and self-government around the world. Intuitively, we know that what is best for the world at large can only benefit us, just as our neighbor's success can only spill over into our lives. (Come on, you know you loved it when the guy next door cleared out that lot full of junked cars and wild weeds!)

Yet, we are perpetually the source of derision and ridicule from those within and without our land. As a thinking person, it's puzzling to ponder how we could be less a country because our success and greatness has not been fully exportable! It's as if our inability to solve all of the world's problems somehow diminishes our humanitarian, social and technological triumphs.

But any doubts I may have of our motives or our resolve evaporate when I look at the fundamentals that are at the heart of this land. Our perseverance, self-questioning and refinement continues to expand and define America. We may not always agree with our courts or politicians, but one thing most American's believe in is the process... the way we handle our internal disputes within a civilized, non-violent framework.

You don't have to look very deeply to see a broad, pervasive strength in this country, with roots that have made it both tough and resilient. These roots were planted by a group of well-to-do lawyers, merchants, doctors, ministers, politicians, plantation owners and farmers... the winners of "life's lottery" if you will. Yet, in spite of their good fortune, many signed their death warrants on that July 4th morning in 1776 when they met to debate and finalize the Declaration of Independence.

In all, a mere 56 people signed the Declaration. For their bravery, none were untouched by the British Crown's wrath, with many dying during the Revolutionary War, others left destitute and still other losing their children to war's fury. In spite of their hardships, none of these level-headed conservative men went back on their pledge to each other and the birthing of a country they did not know but loved nonetheless...

"And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm Reliance on the Protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor."

America was founded on the assumption that a people's freedom arises from God-given rights, not those bestowed on us from government or royalty. In our 227-year adolescence, we have and always will struggle to balance the freedom of the individual against the freedom of a society. Our strength comes from our people and their resourcefulness, based on a constitutional structure that more fully protects freedom, self-expression and protest than any other country in the history of mankind. Our strength also arises from the multitudes that wish to make America their home, hoping for greater opportunity for success and a brighter future for their children.

Our founders would undoubtedly nod in approval of our daily struggles to save ourselves! They knew firsthand that true success is always in the struggle. But even the fact that every American cannot be rich or even comfortable does not diminish the sacrifices of those 56 men and the uncounted men and women who have given their lives to the goal of freedom and liberty for all.

Virtually everyone has the opportunity for success in our country, be it financial, cultural or spiritual. At the end of the day, though, it is the opportunity to strive for a better life, and not the success itself, that is America's greatest gift to us all.




Courtesy of the PROPANE EDUCATION AND RESEARCH COUNCIL, a down and not-so-dirty look at propane grill safely and maintenance. Plus some homespun tips on the very best cooking techniques! 

If you've tried to get your gas grill's propane tank filled, you might have been surprised or even angered if the local refiller gave you a hard time! Since April, many propane stations have refused to service tanks built after Sept. 1998 because they lack a new safety feature... the overfill protection device or OPD. Read this informative article from the NATIONAL PROPANE GAS ASSOCIATION, which will answer many of your questions concerning this new policy.

We have 2 new articles for all of the swimming pool aficionados in our audience...

Each year, hundreds of children are killed and thousands injured by falls into swimming pools, spas and hot tubs! If you, your friends or neighbors own a pool, please read this CPSC report on what you can do to prevent these needless accidents. 

When we first received permission to reprint this article, LADWP's webmaster George Duddles warned us that (1) the organization who sponsored the article has been disbanded so long that no one even knows who they were and (2) some of the energy references may be outdated due the increased efficiency of modern pump motors.
Pooh, we say!! Warts and all, we know this articleit will help you save money maintaining your pool, even if the savings might be a little less than indicated. Cheers!



Dear NH,

Is there a way to replace the plastic dryer vent without tearing up the wall? I recently got a new dryer and the serviceman would not hook it up to the plastic venting because it is no longer acceptable. The dryer is in the basement and the vent runs up the wall, about 10 to 12 feet. I really don't want to cut into the wall. (P.S. Someone told me that a liner could be put in there.)

SW from Sandy, UT


A typical residential clothes dryer is designed for a 4" circular vent hose, preferably solid metal with smooth interior walls to allow maximal air flow. Smaller diameter hoses cause a pressure backup into the dryer, slowing clothes drying and possibly leading to dangerous overheating!

A typical wall today has only 3 1/2" of open space inside. Though this slight squeezing of the hose may not cause a noticeable reduction in air flow, it does make replacing the hose impossible without cutting open the wall!

You need to evaluate the venting arrangement for your dryer. Is there a more direct path to the outside than the one you are currently using? If there is an unfinished attic above, basement below or an adjacent closet with an outside wall, can you run the hose through these areas to avoid carpentry/drywall repairs? A dryer vent hose can be boxed in with minimal carpentry skills, so it is often possible to make the hose disappear in an attractive fashion.

Regarding a liner, it cannot be done with a flexible dryer vent hose because the reduction in hose size would cause the problems mentioned earlier.



Dear NH,

I have a few wooden exterior shutters that are beginning to bend and pull away from my house. Also, some of the slats are falling out! Can they be repaired?

PB from Scranton, PA


Oops! I occasionally run across this problem, though less now that so many people are installing non-wood shutters. I have found that warping often occurs when the shutters have not been properly sealed. Professional siding contractors know that it is important to seal the inside of wood siding (called "back priming") prior to installation, and this applies to wood shutters as well. By controlling the amount of moisture that is absorbed by the siding on BOTH sides, twisting and buckling is virtually eliminated. Since the inside of the siding (and the shutters) is not exposed to the elements (except for moisture migrating through the vapor barrier on the house's sheathing), a one-shot sealing is good enough for the life of the home. Even if the house is stone or brick, enough moisture from the air can be absorbed through the back of a shutter to cause warping over time!

Regarding repair of your shutters, if they are not warped too badly they should be repairable with a little loving kindness. Gather up all the slats and set up a table for the shutter. I use an old door for this purpose. You will notice that the shutter frame has probably separated, allowing the slats to fall out. You will need to do two things simultaneously... align the slats and then glue/clamp the separated shutter back together. I would also recommend using long wood screws to reinforce the separated area to give the glue a little help! You may find the shutter resists reassembly, so if clamping does not completely close the gap use a little "gently persuasion" via a hammer and wood block to complete the job. A slight gap is not unusual, since there may be some old glue in the way. You can use a little caulk to seal the small gap prior to repainting the shutter (or just touch up the area after caulking if the shutter is not to noticeable or on the second floor).

Then, before the glue dries, use additional clamps to pull the shutter flat against the table to reshape it. Have the "cupped" side upwards... this would usually be the painted or stained side. Leave the shutter be for at least 24 hours before removing the clamps. If there is still excessive bowing, you can try clamping it again but this time put a small block of wood under the center to force the shutter to slightly overbend. Don't overdo it or you may break the shutter. Again, leave it for a day or so, remove the clamps and check your work. If it is straight enough for you (a slight bend can be held in check by the shutter's mounting screws), use a clear sealer and coat the entire backside of the shutter. This should stabilize the shutter and prevent bowing in the future.




Dear NH,

THANK YOU! THANK YOU! THANK YOU! I purchased a cabin built in the 30s that has cracked window glazing. Your site is the only one I could find with pictures and humor. I now know what is in store for me for quite some time (There are over 200 of these windows and I plan to do this myself.). You are so appreciated!

DR from Forsyth, MO


Quite a project, but in the end you'll save enough money to add on a two-Jeep garage!



Dear NH,

Really enjoyed your section comparing "child-like" behavior with "childish" behavior-very interesting and thought provoking.

I only disagree with one statement, that perhaps selfishness is a talent to be guarded. Selfishness is never a talent in my opinion. It is an imperfection that needs constant suppressing in order for humans to be truly happy. How could we ever be happy if we only look out for our own interests? When caring includes others then ultimately everyone benefits not just a few.

Children are a wonderful inspiration as you said, for their lust for life, their imaginations and yes their openness to trust with all their heart. It is sad that most adults are forced to lose a lot of those qualities because the realities of life have forced that upon us.

Anyway, thank you for such a well-thought out article- never expected to find that on a handyman site!



Thanks, WD. Actually, I was posing the question to you and my other readers, "Is selfishness a curse to be controlled or a gift to be tamed?" I avoided answering it because I think we each have to decide how much such a powerful drive can be used for good in our lives without consuming us.

Remember that selfishness is a natural byproduct of our drive to survive. This is true of all so-called sins. Lust, greed, jealousy, envy, etc. are all rooted in primitive emotions, which can be overpowering and ultimately destructive if left uncontrolled.

Though any of our drives can lead us to danger via addictions and other unhealthy pursuits, these same drives can lead some of us to greatness by giving power to our better natures. For example, look at the good done by people who have reformed their lives after visiting humanities "dark side".

Again, to return to your point, only you can decide how much selfishness is right for you.


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